Raising Lazarus

Dodekaorton 6 Raising of LazarusThe Raising of Lazarus
Upon arrival at Lazarus’ tomb, the evangelist simply tells us, Jesus wept. How Jesus’ weeping is interpreted depends on how his being ‘perturbed’ (33, 38) is understood as described above. The weeping of Mary and ‘the Jews’ is denoted by the Greek word klaiō, found forty times in the NT and eight times in the Fourth Gospel, and very often in the context of weeping and wailing. There is only one other place in the Gospels where it is recorded that Jesus wept: when he wept over Jerusalem and its impending judgment (Luke 19:41). On this occasion the common Greek word klaiō is used of Jesus’ weeping. It may be significant that the evangelist uses a different and rare word, dakryō, for Jesus’ weeping in 11:35, the only place it is found in the NT. Perhaps he is showing by his choice of this word that Jesus’ weeping was of a different order from that of Mary and ‘the Jews’. He was not joining with them in their weeping and wailing, but expressing his sorrow at the faithlessness he found all around him.

Seeing Jesus weep, the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ They interpreted Jesus’ weeping as a sign of his love for Lazarus, and grief at his death. But did the evangelist agree with them? Has he included their comment because it correctly interprets the reason for Jesus’ weeping, or simply because that is what ‘the Jews’ thought (mistakenly) without endorsing it? Did ‘the Jews’ fail to realize he was weeping because of their faithlessness, not the death of Lazarus? The dead can be raised, but the faith can not be forced upon an unbeliever. They can only be given signs that they might believe.

The tomb is described as a cave (spēlaion), suggesting a natural cave, rather than a man-made rock tomb (in Heb. 11:38; Rev. 6:15 spēlaion is used in reference to naturally occurring caves). When the body of the deceased, Lazarus, was put into it, a large stone was placed across the entrance, as was later to be the case when Jesus was buried (20:1).

Standing before the tomb, Jesus said, Take away the stone. This instruction created problems: “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days” (v.39). Despite her earlier confession (vv.23–27) Martha was not expecting a miracle. She was concerned that the corpse by the fourth day would be starting to decompose and be giving off a bad odor. The fourth day has another significance in Jewish belief. As already mentioned, the soul of the departed was believed to stay near the body of the dead person for three days in the hope it might resuscitate. When it saw the change in the color of the face that takes place by the third day it departed permanently. The person was then well and truly dead. That Lazarus had been in the tomb four days indicated there was no hope of resuscitation, thus highlighting the greatness of the miracle Jesus was about to perform.

Unperturbed by Martha’s objection, Jesus reminded her of what he had said earlier (something not recorded by the evangelist): “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (v.40). Addressing Martha individually (using the second-person singular) and recalling what he had said before, he urged her to focus, not upon the apparently hopeless situation of her dead brother, but upon the revelation of the glory of God about to occur. Jesus’ reply was enough to satisfy Martha’s objections
But before Jesus acted he prayed (vv.41-42). Jesus’ prayer doesn’t ask for a miracle; but is one of thanksgiving to God and meant to be overheard by those standing by. Perhaps like the Eucharistic Prayers in Mass, while they offer thanks to God, it is also a proclamation to those who overhear the prayer.

Jesus’ shout “Lazarus, come out!” might echo Jesus’ earlier words: “Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). What is clear is that shout (kraugizo) in v.43 gives life. The same word is used of the crowds shouting for Jesus’ death (18:40; 19:6, 12, 15). (Its only other instance in John is 12:13 where the Palm Sunday crowd shouts their Hosannas.) It is in response to Jesus’ word that Lazarus finds life. It is also in response to Jesus’ word that Lazarus is freed from his restrictive bindings, by other people. Not all of God’s works take place supernaturally. Sometimes they require work on our part.

Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.


  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007). 467-69
  • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29a in The Anchor Bible, eds. William Albright and David Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 419-37
  • Neal M. Flanagan, “John” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 999-1001
  • Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003) 243-53
  • Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, vol. 4 in Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998) 322-46
  • John J. McPolin, John, vol. 6 of the New Testament Message, eds. Wilfred Harrington and Donald Senior (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989) 151-62
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 681-95


  • David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996) – Harold Remus, Miracle (NT), 4:856-70

Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 at http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm

5 thoughts on “Raising Lazarus

  1. Weeping: I disagree with scholars and commentary regarding why Jesus wept when he saw Mary crying. I cannot imagine Jesus upset with his mother. I think his tears were empathetic and caused by the sight of his mother’s sorrow. I believe, His response was generated out of love and compassion, not from disdain for “nonbelievers.”

    I am NOT an expert on scripture, but “weeping” seems to be an ongoing theme in the Bible. I often interpret “intense love” when it is cited. The image of Mary Magdalene weeping at Jesus’ empty tomb—why does she weep? I think she loves him and she has been separated from him and even though she eventually “figures out” where he has gone, she is still in agony. She was hardly a nonbeliever.

    Thank you for the blog—it is an interesting way to read, learn and think about scripture. 

    • It is always good to bring our human experience to the text, but not to impose it upon the text. As a note, it is not Mary, his mother, but rather Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

      • Thank you, father, when I read this I thought “I didn’t know Lazarus was Mary’s brother.” Scripture is overwhelming for a novice, but I am not giving up.

  2. Your last sentence concerning their “non-belief” reminded me of your comments regarding the Blind Man and the Pharisees’ non-belief. Their sin remained. These blog entries are so enlightening about Jesus, his life, and his continued journey to Jerusalem. The many signs that appear in John and their (the Jews) inability to recognize that Jesus is the true Messiah, the kingdom of God that he was proclaiming that they failed to recognize, and Jesus, our resurrected Lord and Saviour. “I am he,” said Jesus to the Blind Man. Three simple words. Your previous blog entry about Lazarus and Bethany was just as compelling, too, in the simple comment that it was close to Jerusalem and Christ’s pending/foretold death. It is so interesting to see that a single word or just a couple of words, their phrasing and their meaning, have a profound affect on our faith and our ability to understand that! Thank you!

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