52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #21. The Raising of Lazarus (Part 1).
by Travis Bookout
“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men” (John 1:4). Those words are significant. They change everything. We just saw in the healing of the blind man what it means that Jesus is the Light. Now, with Lazarus lying dead in a tomb, surrounded by loved ones, the emotional Jesus will show what it means that He is life. John 1:4 is supported and explained by two of Jesus’ foundational “I Am” statements: “I Am the Light of the world” (John 9:5) and Jesus’ statement to Martha (Lazarus’ sister), “I Am the resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).
The healing of the blind man is the illustration of a puzzle, in which Jesus explains: “those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). In much the same way, the raising of Lazarus illustrates the puzzle that “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26). With Jesus, life and death are not mutually exclusive. Life both exists in death, and life eliminates death.
Remember when the disciples asked Jesus about the blind man, saying, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus’ answer is that his blindness is not the result of sin, but “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Similarly, when Lazarus contracts a deadly illness, Jesus explains, “This sickness does not lead to death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified by it” (John 11:4). John 9 and John 11 are climactic in proving that Jesus is what the Gospel of John says He is. He is the Light and the Life. Jesus will again say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The raising of Lazarus proves what it means that in Jesus is life.
But think about that phrase for a moment. Jesus says, “This sickness does not lead to death” (John 11:4). What a remarkable thing to say for a sickness that within a few days leads to death. This sickness did lead to death. In fact, if you read carefully, you’ll see that it results in two deaths. Lazarus died from the sickness. But then this “sign” is ultimately what leads to Jesus’ death also. In John 11:8 the disciples are concerned because Jesus wants to go to Judea to see Lazarus. And what happens when Jesus goes to Judea? “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him…The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him” (John 8:59; 10:31). His disciples say, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” (John 11:8). Judea is getting pretty dangerous for Jesus. In fact, after raising Lazarus, the chief priests meet together and decide that Jesus has to die, “So from that day on they planned to kill Him” (John 11:53).
Right after that decision, we are told “Now the Passover of the Jews was near” (John 11:55). This is the final Passover in which the Lamb of God will be killed to take away the sins of the world. Passover and Judea have developed a foreboding presence in the narrative. When Lazarus got sick, he died. This led Jesus back to hostile Judea. Where He would die. Jesus was willing to sacrifice His own life for His friend, Lazarus. Sacrificing His life for His friend? Sounds familiar. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Lazarus’ sickness did lead to his death, and indirectly to the death of Jesus. So why does Jesus say, “This sickness does not lead to death”? Because with Jesus, death leads to life. Death never has the final say. The final result of the sickness is not death, but something glorious. The glory of God will be seen (John 11:4, 40). Jesus will prove emphatically that He is the resurrection and the life. He will prove the statement “in Him is life” (John 1:4).
Jesus will do this, yes, by raising Lazarus. But that resurrection is a sign. It is pointing to something else. Jesus will not only raise Lazarus, but in a few days, He will be resurrected as well. The raising of Lazarus is a climactic sign that points to the singular moment that changed all human history: the resurrection of Jesus. When Lazarus is raised, he comes hopping out of the tomb still wrapped in his burial clothes. This may symbolize that while Lazarus was raised, he was not raised to immortality. He is still wrapped in death. Death is still in his future. Death is still in his nature. But when Jesus is raised, the wrappings were off, they were lying on the grounded with his face-cloth rolled up by itself (John 20:5-7). Death was removed, cast off, and laid aside forever more.
This moment not only shows that Jesus holds the power of life for Lazarus and Himself, but it also vindicates the claims made in John 5:28-29: “an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs, will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” This is the moment that Martha spoke of. After Lazarus died, Jesus told her, “your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). She heard this as a generic word of comfort that someday, there will be a resurrection at the end of time. A nice thought, but not overly comforting when she misses her brother right now. She says, perhaps despairingly, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:23). While that’s not exactly what Jesus meant, she’s not wrong. Jesus will raise Lazarus from the tomb, He will be raised Himself, and then all who are in the tombs, all who have ever died will be raised to life again.
In Jesus is life. And this is what it looks like. Sorrow turned to joy. Death loses and Jesus wins. Life wins. Life is eternal. Life wins both spiritually and physically. Death cannot destroy spiritual life and physical life will destroy death. Through Jesus, life is more powerful than death. “These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).