Have Assurance of Life After Death


Sunday School Lesson for November 17, 2002


Background Passage: John 11:1-57


Focal Teaching Passage:  John 11:1-45




The miracle of the raising of Lazarus is highly significant in that it reveals Jesus as the “resurrection and the life” (11:25). Also of critical importance is the fact that this miracle led directly to an effort by the Chief Priests and Pharisees to kill Jesus (11:47,48). As D. A. Carson observes, it is precisely this miracle of bringing His dead friend back to life that “precipitates the Sanhedrin decision against him (vv. 45ff.) and, therefore, his own execution” [405].


The place of this miracle was the town of “Bethany” near the city of Jerusalem (11:18). This location is to the east of the Mount of Olives approximately two miles from the holy city.


The time of the miracle was most likely January/February of AD 30, just two months before the triumphal entry in April of that year.



Lazarus’ Sickness (11:1-3)


The miracle of resurrection would involve a man named “Lazarus,” meaning “he whom God helped.”  He was the brother of “Mary and her sister Martha,” and was from the city of “Bethany.” The two sisters “sent word to Jesus” that Lazarus “lay sick.” Apparently Jesus had a special relationship with him—a relationship revealed in the tender words of the women, “the one you love is sick.”  At the time of his illness Jesus and His disciples were far away beyond the Jordan.  Some have suggested that it may have taken a messenger three days to travel this distance with the news of Lazarus’ sickness.


Christ’s Delay (11:4-16)


Verse 4

Having heard of Lazarus’ serious illness, Jesus sent back the message to the family that “This sickness will not end in death,” meaning that physical death would not be the final outcome of his illness. The result would be “for God’s glory,” and the glorification of “God’s Son.”  This reference to Christ’s glorification indicates that this event would serve as a distinct opportunity for the disclosure of Jesus’ identity as the divine Son of God. Note the following passages where the glory of God is a major theme in the Gospel of John:  1:14; 2:11; 5:41,44; 7:18; 8:50,54; 11:40; 12:41,43; 17:5,22,24.


The point here is that the glory of God would be radiantly manifested not simply in the healing of Lazarus, but in his resurrection from death. Thus, his illness serves the interests of God, namely the display of His glory as the Author of life and the Lord of all.



Verses 5-6

A secondary objective in the accomplishing of this miracle was that of strengthening the faith of the disciples.  Therefore, the Lord delayed His appearance at Bethany for “two more days” until Lazarus had been in the tomb for a total of “four days” (11:17).  In addition, this delay, deliberately planned by the Lord, represented His refusal “to be manipulated” by men, as well as His determination to provide sufficient time between Lazarus’ death and resurrection so that no one could “misinterpret the miracle as a mere resuscitation” [Carson, 407].


Verses 7-10

In this section Jesus’ disciples attempted to discourage Him from journeying to Jerusalem—“Let us go back to Judea.”  They could not understand why He would wish to return to an area and a people who had earlier attempted to stone Him (10:31,39). In verses nine and ten Jesus answers them with a peculiar statement regarding the length of the daylight hours: “A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light.” William Hendriksen has provided a helpful paraphrase of this passage:


The time allotted to Me, to accomplish My earthly ministry, is definitely fixed (just like the day-time is always exactly twelve hours).  It cannot be lengthened by any precautionary measure which you, My Disciples, would like to take, nor can it be shortened by any plot which My enemies would like to execute.  It has been definitely fixed in the eternal decree.  If we walk in the light of this plan (which was known to Jesus), willingly submitting to it, we shall have nothing to worry about (we cannot suffer real injury); if we do not we shall fail  [142].



Verses 11-13

Note that in verse eleven Jesus refers to death as “sleep.” This is a common way of speaking of death in both Testaments (see Gen. 47:30; 2 Sam. 7:12; Matt. 27:52; Acts 7:60; 1 Thess. 4:13).  Jesus meant that as a man rises from his sleep, so Lazarus will rise again from the dead. This, however, does not imply or teach that there is any immediate state of “soul sleep” after death.  Note Paul’s very clear words on this subject in Phil. 1:23; 2 Tim. 4:6 and 2 Cor. 5:8. 


John observes that the disciples took the words of Christ quite literally, and totally misunderstood His point—“Lord, if he sleeps he will get better” (v. 12). 


Verses 14-16

Here, Jesus speaks very plainly to the disciples telling them “Lazarus is dead.”  Following this pointed statement, Jesus affirmed the secondary reason for the miracle, “that you may believe.”  Then in verse sixteen, Thomas declared that the disciples should accompany Jesus to Judea where they could “die with Him.”  Apparently he was convinced that Christ would find a hostile crowd in that region and would be rejected and ultimately murdered. 



Jesus Arrives at Bethany (11:17-29)


Verses 17-26

Death and burial customarily occurred on the same day.  Rabbinic tradition held that the soul hovered over the dead body for three days in the hope of reunion, and would depart when decomposition began.  It is likely that some of the people in this story had such a view of death.  Thus, it is significant that Jesus waited until the body of Lazarus had been entombed for “four days.” 


Verse nineteen records that “many Jews” came to “comfort” and console the sisters “in the loss of their brother.” These were possibly some of the Jews who had expressed hostility to Jesus and His teaching.  As noted earlier in our studies, John frequently employs this term “Jews” to speak of those who opposed the ministry and teaching of the Lord.


In verse twenty-two we note certain evidence of faith in the life of Martha.  She is confident that if Jesus asks the Father for a resurrection, He will grant it. Yet, note that she was apparently thinking of the resurrection on the “last day,” and not a more immediate one (v. 24).


In verses twenty-five and twenty-six we see the fifth of the seven great “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John.  The phrase  the resurrection and the life” is very significant and profound in meaning:






Jesus and Mary (11:30-37)


Verse 33-35

In these verses we see a clear and unmistakable demonstration of the humanity of Christ.  That John states, “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” indicates not only our Lord’s genuine sympathy for the family members, but also the fact that He was deeply disturbed by the painful effects of sin and unbelief, namely sickness and death.  The Greek word translated “deeply moved” comes from a verb that means “to snort” or “to groan.” Coupled with “troubled” it indicates a deep emotional outburst of both sympathy and anger. Carson suggests that this phrase, when applied to human beings, “invariably suggests anger, outrage or emotional indignation” [415].


Verse thirty-five, the shortest verse in the Bible, simply records that “Jesus wept.”  This again provides dramatic evidence of the genuine sympathy, love, and concern Jesus experienced in the light of His friend’s death.  The word translated “wept” means to “cry out loudly,” to “burst into tears,” or to “wail.”  Thus, the very same “sin and death, the same unbelief, that prompted his outrage, also generated his grief” [Carson, 416].



Lazarus Raised from the Dead (11:38-45)


Verse 38-42

Being “once more deeply moved,” Jesus approached the “tomb” of Lazarus.  This burial place consisted of a chamber hewn into a rock.  Here it is described as “a cave” covered by a large “stone laid across the entrance.” 


In verses thirty-nine through forty-two Jesus commanded the stone to be removed from the cave where Lazarus’ body had been placed—“Take away the stone.”  Martha objected, expressing her fear that, since the body had begun to decompose, a “bad odor” would be present.  In verse forty the Lord again called upon her to believe in order that she might “see the glory of God.” Then as the stone was being removed, Jesus looked heavenward and offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God —“I thank you that you have heard me.” Here, once again, we find a glimpse of the greater issue in view with the granting of the miracle—“that they may believe that you sent me” (v. 42).


Verses 43-45

Then Jesus called out loudly, “Lazarus, come out!  This was not done out of necessity but for the benefit of the witnesses present at the tomb. Verse forty-four records that Lazarus “came out” from the tomb still wrapped in his burial garments, “with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”  Jesus then commanded the onlookers to “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”


Verse Forty-five reveals that an immediate result of this miracle was that “many of the Jews . . . believed in Him.” 



                               Major Themes for Reflection and Application



One: All events in life have an ultimate purpose and goal, the glory of God.  What may on the surface seem random, accidental, tragic, or unexpected is actually part of a wonderful plan designed by God.  If there was ever an illustration of Romans 8:28 it is here in this passage.



Two: In Lazarus, we see a picture of our salvation.  Lazarus’ death represents our spiritual deadness in sin, and our total inability to save or resurrect ourselves.  Compare this with Ephesians 2:1ff.



Three:  We also see in Lazarus’ resurrection the power of the Word of God to raise the dead.  As Lazarus was raised to new life by the command of Jesus, we are also raised to salvation by the power of His word (see 1 Peter 1:23).  Also note the New Testament’s emphasis upon the call of God which leads the lost to salvation. See 1 Cor. 1:26ff; 1Thess. 4:7; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 3:1.



Four:  Finally, we see in this story the work of Jesus as our High Priest.  He is loving, faithful, merciful, and powerful to save all those who trust in Him.  See Hebrews 4:15ff.