John 11

The Word Made Fresh

1A man named Lazarus was very ill. He lived in Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2This was the Mary who had wiped his feet with her hair and anointed him with perfume. Her brother Lazarus was ill, 3and the sisters had sent Jesus a message: “Lord, your beloved friend is not well.”

4When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not terminal; it is to glorify God.” 5So, even though Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus 6he stayed where he was two days longer after having heard from them. 7Then he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

8They answered, “Rabbi, the Jews just tried to stone you. Are you sure you want to go there now?”

9“There are twelve hours of daylight,” Jesus answered. “Those who walk during the day don’t stumble because they can see by the world’s light. 10Those who walk at night do stumble, though, because they have no light.” 11Then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to awaken him.”

12The disciples said, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he’ll be all right.” 13But Jesus had been referring to Lazarus’ death. They thought he was referring merely to his being asleep.

14So Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I’m glad I was not there so that you will believe. But let’s go to him now.”

16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to the disciples, “Let’s go also, so that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived at their house, he learned that Lazarus had been buried for four days. 18Bethany was only about two miles from Jerusalem, 19and a good many of the Jews had come to console Martha and Mary. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was on the way she went and met him, leaving Mary at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know God will give you whatever you ask.”

23Jesus replied, “Your brother will rise again.”

24She said, “Yes, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

25Jesus then told her, “I am the resurrection; whoever believes in me will live even though they die, 26and all who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe me?”

27She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world.” 28Then she returned home and privately told her sister Mary, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29When Mary heard that, she got up and hurried to him.

30Jesus was not yet in the village, but was still at the place where Martha had seen him. 31The Jews who had come to the house to console her saw her get up quickly and leave. They followed her because they thought she was going to Lazarus’ tomb to weep. When Mary saw Jesus, she knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and saw the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?”

“Come and see, Lord,” they answered. 35Jesus began to weep, 36and they said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “If he opened the blind man’s eyes, couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38Jesus came to the tomb, deeply troubled. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against the opening. 39He said, “Take the stone away.”

Lazarus’ sister Martha said, “Lord, there is already a terrible odor, because he has been dead for four days.”

40Jesus said, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believed?”

41So, they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and prayed, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42I know you always hear me; I said this for the sake of the crowd that has gathered so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43Then he called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

44The dead man came out, hands and feet and face bound up in strips of cloth. Jesus said, “Unbind him and set him free.”

45Many of the Jews who had come with Mary and saw what Jesus had done believed in him. 46But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47The chief priests and Pharisees then called a meeting of the council. They said, “What should we do? This fellow is performing a lot of signs. 48If we let him get away with things like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and wreak havoc on our temple and on our whole nation.”

49But Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year, said, “You don’t know anything! 50Don’t you understand that it is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed?” He didn’t say this on his own. As high priest that year he had prophesied that Jesus was soon to die for the nation, 52and that his death would result in the dispersed children of God being gathered together. 53From that moment on they planned to have Jesus put to death.

54For that reason, Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left there and went to a town called Ephraim near the desert, and remained there with his disciples.

55The time came when the Passover of the Jews was near, and many of the people came from all over the country to Jerusalem to participate in the purification rituals before the Passover arrived. 56They were looking for Jesus and, gathering in the temple, they were asking each other, “What do you think? He certainly won’t come to the festival, will he?”

57The chief priests and Pharisees issued orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should inform them so they could have him arrested.


1-6: The incident mentioned in verse two about Mary anointing Jesus will be reported in chapter 12. We have met Mary and Martha before, however, but not in John’s gospel. They appeared in Luke 10:38-42 where Mary famously sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha slaved away in the kitchen. Lazarus was not mentioned in Luke, however. Now we learn that the two sisters live in Bethany (the one near Jerusalem, not the one beyond the Jordan) and that they have a brother, Lazarus, who has taken ill. We learn that Lazarus is a close friend of Jesus, so they send word to him. Jesus tarries, perhaps partly because he is not anxious to return to the vicinity of Jerusalem quite so soon.

7-16: A couple of days later Jesus announces that they are going back to Judea and the disciples are alarmed because of the opposition he has encountered there. Jesus tells them at first that Lazarus has fallen asleep, and although any idiot would have understood what he meant, he has to spell it out for them. Thomas, combining the information that Lazarus is dead with the memory of the threats already experienced in Judea, assumes that a battle of some sort is shaping up, and puts on a brave front (I do wonder, though, if Thomas was just being sarcastic). His bravado notwithstanding, it is the first evidence we have that any of the disciples are committed to Jesus enough to risk their lives for him.

17-27: To their consternation, as Jesus approaches Bethany they learn that some of the Jews have already arrived to console Martha and Mary. Martha comes out to meet Jesus. In their conversation we find the 4th of the seven “I am” statements catalogued above (in the commentary on 8:12-20). Being in the middle it is perhaps to be considered as the most important of the seven. “I am the resurrection and the life,” might surely be considered the foundation declaration Jesus makes in John’s gospel. We have already seen the important role the concept of eternal life plays in his story of Jesus.

28-37: Martha returns home and sends Mary out to meet Jesus. From the story in Luke 10:38-42 we might well conclude that Jesus is especially fond of Mary, and that conclusion is supported by his reaction when she kneels before him. There are only two places in the Bible that record Jesus’ weeping; when he first arrives in Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel (Luke 19:41), and here at 11:35 (where the KJV simply has “Jesus wept,” a much more profound rendition of the original Greek text). The Jews, ever looking to either validate Jesus or prove him wrong, wonder that Jesus did not come and heal Lazarus before he died.

38-44: We can hardly imagine a more dramatic scene. Jesus, obviously overcome with emotion, goes with a crowd to the cave where the body of Lazarus has been laid. Martha, concerned that Jesus might try to go inside the cave, reminds him how long the body has been in there. Jesus offers a prayer, then calls Lazarus to come out. Lazarus appears at the door of the tomb, wrapped in burial shrouds, and Jesus orders them to remove the shrouds and set him free.

45-53: A report goes back to Jerusalem and a council meeting is held. The fear they express is that the attention Jesus is getting will cause the Romans to interpret it as an uprising and all of them will suffer for it. Caiaphas lays out the route they have to take; Jesus has to die.

54: Jesus and his disciples withdraw to Ephraim, a town about five miles northeast of Jerusalem.

55-57: In Jerusalem speculation is rampant about whether or not Jesus will show up for the Passover, their anticipation fueled by the news of the miracles he has performed and by public knowledge that the chief priests and Pharisees are going to arrest him if he comes.


John’s gospel gives us a different perspective on Jesus’ travels. He has Jesus going to Jerusalem several times, during Passover celebrations and for Hanukkah. He also tells us that Jesus stayed away from Jerusalem during that Passover season in which he was arrested and condemned. I think this is more likely than the accounts we have in the first three gospels. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem are concerned that he will attract the attention of the Romans (verses 48-50) because of his popularity. They are also jealous of the attention Jesus is getting from the people. Faith in Christ means we must surrender our desire to be important so that we can allow Jesus to be important within us.