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John 11:38-46 Commentary & Lesson
for September 27, 2020
New Revised Standard Version

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L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.
Teaching the Truth in Love


John 11:38-46

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INTERNATIONAL BIBLE LESSON

Many of the Jews therefore,
who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did,
believed in him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees
and told them what he had done

(John 11:45-46).

Signs That Point to the Savior

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Praying Through John 11:38-46

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John 11:38-46

(John 11:38) Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

Jesus received a message that Lazarus was sick, but Jesus knew Lazarus had already died. Jesus could have healed Lazarus or raised him from the dead from a distance even before the messengers reached Him, but Jesus chose to do something better than heal Lazarus before he died or do so from a distance. Jesus chose to go to Bethany to glorify God the Father and also himself so those who believed in Him (the disciples and His friends in Bethany) would have more reason to trust Him and their future to Him as the Son of God. Jesus knew He would soon be temporarily taken from them, suffer, die on a cross, and then rise again. By going to the home of Martha and Mary to raise their brother from the dead, He would also influence those mourning, who did not yet have enough evidence to believe in Him, to believe in Him with a reasonable faith. Though all hope of the mourners that Lazarus could be healed or come back to life had been crushed, Jesus would soon prove that believers in Him always have reason to keep hoping in Him, for He will always do what is best for all concerned. John’s description indicates that Lazarus’ tomb was like the tomb in which Jesus would soon be buried after His crucifixion. When Jesus was “once more deeply moved,” Jesus simultaneously expressed His grief and anger at death, the last enemy to be defeated (see 1 Corinthians 15:26). Perhaps He grieved because He saw those He loved grieving at the death of Lazarus, and perhaps He looked ahead and saw the grief He knew they would suffer when He was unjustly crucified at the hands of sinful men who would crush their hopes that He was the Messiah and Son of God. The words and actions of sinners always grieved Jesus, but He died on the cross that sinners might come to believe in Him, be saved from their sins, and receive the gift of eternal life.

(John 11:39) Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

Jesus loved Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha, and Jesus knew that raising Lazarus from the dead would endanger all their lives. Jesus knew the Jewish leaders would want even more to kill Him and even want to kill Lazarus, because Lazarus could speak as a living example of Jesus’ power as the Son of God to raise the dead (John 12:9-10). To raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus could have moved the stone with a word and made a big display before the crowd, but Jesus never did things just for show to impress people as magician might do—some might only think of Him as a great magician, and then think raising Lazarus from the dead was only a magic trick. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the writers of the gospels never exaggerated about Jesus’ abilities just to impress people and make believers. Love for His Father and others motivated Jesus to say and do whatever He did to help people believe the truth. Jesus commanded the mourners to move the stone as an act of faith on their part. Did they have the faith to trust and obey Jesus in this situation, in every situation, and even in “hopeless” situations? As Martha said, after four days the body would have been in a state of decay and cause a stench, so those who moved the stone at Jesus’ command needed to trust that Jesus knew what He was doing and had a good reason to ask them to move the stone.

(John 11:40) Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

Jesus did not ask Martha for permission to move the stone. He told her that by believing in Him and by moving the stone she would see the glory (at the very least, the loving power) of God. In some sense that John did not record, Jesus’ question of Martha increased her faith and she trusted more in Jesus. When people believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and their Lord and Savior, they will see the glory of God all around them every day.  Jesus planned to demonstrate the glory (the loving power and truth) of God when He spoke the word of God as the Son of God and raised Lazarus from the dead. Later, Jesus would demonstrate the glory of God when He died on the cross for our sins, when He rose from the dead on the third day, and later when He ascended into heaven. As children of God, we see God’s glory in special ways and all around us and no situation is hopeless in Jesus: for as He promised, if we die we will with rise again on the last day and be with Him until and forever after that day.

(John 11:41) So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.

As they rolled away the stone from the cave, a cave like Jesus’ burial place, those who moved the stone and those nearby could tell by the odor that Lazarus was truly dead. Some have speculated that Lazarus’ body did not decay in answer to a previous unrecorded prayer of Jesus, because John did not report an odor; however, if there had been no stench, some might have thought that Lazarus had not really died and Jesus was only performing a trick to deceive people. As the Creator with the Father through whom all things existed, Jesus could certainly completely and instantaneously restore a body that had decayed and smelled after four days in a tomb. We know that Jesus’ body did not decay in the tomb (see Psalm 16:10, and Acts 2:27, 31 in the NASB and NIV). Jesus’ body was the first known dead body not to decay. Most believe that Lazarus’ body did see decay and there was a real odor. The odor affirmed that there could be no doubt that Lazarus was dead and not in some type of coma. Lazarus truly died physically and was resuscitated by Jesus to die again and await the resurrection on the last day. Jesus truly died physically, but Jesus rose from the dead in a resurrected and glorified human body to never die again because He is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus prayed to the Father previously and the Father and the Son always agreed in everything. The power in Jesus’ prayer came from the perfect agreement between the Father and the Son to pray and do according to the will of God. Jesus demonstrated His power and the power of praying to His Father. Jesus probably did not pray His complete prayer aloud before the crowd, because some might take His words as magic words that anyone could pray to raise the dead. Jesus did not teach special prayers for healing or prayers for raising the dead. We know Jesus acted and prayed according to what He preached in Matthew 6:5-7, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” In one short sentence, Jesus thanked the Father for having heard His prayers, even His silent prayers on the way to Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus and the Father together would bring Lazarus back to his family alive. The crowd learned that Jesus prayed and thanked His Father for hearing His prayer, and that is an example He set for all who believe in Him.

(John 11:42) I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

Jesus thanked God the Father aloud for the benefit of those who heard Him. The Bible tells us to always give thanks in our prayers: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Jesus gave this last miraculous sign before His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead to lead more to believe in Him personally as the Person He said and showed He was and is. He showed that true believers can pray aloud for the benefit of others to show the loving power of the Father and the Son to answer prayers if they do not do so hypocritically to be seen and applauded by others. Since the Father had sent the Son and the Son and the Father always worked together, the Father answered the prayers of the Son. Jesus wanted everyone to believe these facts. Jesus also showed that it can be appropriate to pray aloud before a crowd. Jesus’ motive was sincere and approved by His Father, and the motive of those who pray aloud can be the same as Jesus’.

(John 11:43) When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Jesus did not need to pray a long prayer. His prayer included an address to the Father who answers prayers, thanks to the Father, acknowledgment that the Father hears His prayers, and the reason He prayed aloud before the crowd. Our prayers can address God the Father, as in the Lord’s Prayer. Our prayers can give thanks to God, acknowledge that God hears our prayers, and the reason we are praying to God aloud or silently. Without hypocrisy, Jesus prayed for the focus to be on the Father and on the sign that the Father had sent Him so many might believe in Him as He is, the Resurrection and the Life. After Jesus prayed, He called in a loud voice for everyone to hear Him call, “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus did not need to shout for Lazarus to hear Him, but for the crowds to hear Him call to Lazarus so they could hear and see the sign that He is the Messiah and Savior of the world.

(John 11:44) The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

In obedience to Jesus’ command, Lazarus came out, still wrapped in his grave clothes. John did not describe in detail how Lazarus was wrapped. If he were wrapped with his legs bound together, perhaps he was miraculously drawn out of the tomb, because he could not have walked until he was unwrapped. Unlike a mummy’s wrappings, perhaps his legs had been wrapped separately and not together so he could walk, and perhaps he could see enough of the light through the cloth wrapped around his face to walk toward the light. Jesus himself is the Light of the world, so perhaps Lazarus walked out toward Jesus. Jesus ordered that Lazarus be unbound. Jesus also unbinds those who are slaves to sin and Satan so they can walk freely with Him. Through their faith in Jesus, believers in Jesus find freedom and receive the power to love and obey God. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus, and Jesus set Lazarus free, free from the chains of death to live again. Jesus frees and becomes friends with those who honestly believe in Him and they come into a new life as from the dead. In some sense, what Jesus did when He raised Lazarus proved the truth of His promise to all believers, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32). The fact and truth that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life set Lazarus free. Jesus commanded the people to take the grave clothes off Lazarus, which enabled everyone to see that Lazarus was not a ghost but a real, live, flesh and blood person (whose body would die again someday). Spiritually, Lazarus would never die again, because in John 11:26, Jesus promised, “everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” The Gospel of John keeps the focus on Jesus, but no doubt Lazarus could report what he had seen in heaven because he had believed in Jesus and had not died even though his body had died and was buried in a tomb. He could report having seen Abraham and others, even as the Lazarus in Jesus’ parable had seen Abraham and others (see Luke 16:24-25).

(John 11:45) Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

As with some of His other teachings and miracles, some believed in Jesus and some did not. Many of the mourners had heard Martha and Mary talk about Jesus during four days of their grieving together. When they saw what Jesus said and did when He raised Lazarus from the dead, they believed what they had been told. They had good and sufficient reasons to believe that Jesus was all Mary and Martha said He is, because they had seen Jesus confirm what they had told them.

(John 11:46) But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.

In Luke 16:29-31, as Jesus concluded His parable about a rich man and Lazarus, both of whom had died, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers about the place of torment where he suffered, but “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” The results of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (not the Lazarus of His parable) proved the truth of Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Despite all the evidence, some would not believe in Jesus even though He had raised Lazarus from the dead, so they rushed off to tell Jesus’ enemies what He had done. Neither they nor the enemies of Jesus listened “to Moses and the prophets,” so they would not believe. Their actions were like the man who could not walk and who had been ill for thirty-eight years. He really did not want to be healed, so after Jesus healed him, he rushed to tell the Pharisees that Jesus had healed him. So, when Jesus saw him again, in John 5:14, Jesus warned him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” Jesus never forced people who did not want to believe in Him to believe, nor did His signs and wonders compel those who did not want to believe in and obey God to believe. The same response of belief or unbelief is true today among people who learn the truth about Jesus.


Questions for Discussion and Thinking Further

1. Commentators seem to agree that the Greek word for “deeply moved” or “greatly disturbed” includes the meaning that Jesus was angry at death. How might this teaching influence how you look at death?

2. Why do you think Jesus waited four days before seeing Mary and Martha?

3. What is one result of our believing in Jesus as our Lord and Savior according to this lesson? Can you think of other results?

4. What is one reason Jesus prayed aloud for everyone to hear Him pray?

5. Why did Jesus tell the mourners to remove Lazarus’ grave clothes rather than simply remove them miraculously himself when He could have easily done so?



Signs That Point to the Savior

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done (John 11:45-46).

If you see a sign pointing toward a city, that sign does not compel you to go there. You choose to go there or not. In his gospel, John called Jesus’ miracles “signs.” Jesus did not intend for His signs to compel anyone to believe in Him, but they did help people believe in Him. Believers do not irrationally place their faith in Jesus. His miracles pointed to who He is and who He claimed to be as the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior of the world. His signs told people that if they chose, they could go to Him, believe in Him, follow Him, and receive the gift of eternal life from Him. Jesus’ signs and teachings give people good and sufficient reasons to entrust their lives and futures to Him. John’s gospel shows that after Jesus healed the sick or raised the dead some people believed in Him and saw His glory, while others did not. The man born blind that Jesus healed believed in Him. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, many believed in Him. However, after Jesus healed a man who had been ill for 38 years, he refused to believe and reported what Jesus did to Jesus’ religious enemies. Some who saw Lazarus raised from the dead and had the opportunity to talk to Jesus and Lazarus refused to believe in Jesus, so they rushed to report Jesus’ actions to His enemies. After they crucified Jesus, He gave His most miraculous sign when He rose from the dead. — LG Parkhurst Jr.


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