Vincent's Word Studies
Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
Three words for anointing are found in the New Testament: ἀλείφω, χρίω, and its compounds, and μυρίζω. The last is used but once, Mark 14:8, of anointing the Lord's body for burying. Between the two others the distinction is strictly maintained. Χρίω, which occurs five times, is used in every case but one of the anointing of the Son by the Father With the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; Acts 10:38; Hebrews 1:9). In the remaining instance (2 Corinthians 1:21) of enduing Christians with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus the word is confined to sacred anointing. Ἁλείφω is used of all actual anointings. See Matthew 6:17; Mark 6:13; Luke 7:38; James 5:14. The same distinction is generally maintained in the Septuagint, though with a few exceptions, as Numbers 3:3.
Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
Thou lovest (φιλεῖς)
See on John 5:20. "They do not say, come. He who loves needs but know" (Bengel).
When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
Not to have death as its final issue.
For the glory (ὑπὲρ)
Here, as elsewhere in John, in behalf of. Canon Westcott remarks: "The sickness is regarded in a triple relation; unto, in respect of the actual result; in behalf of, in respect of the suffering born; in order that, in respect of the divine purpose."
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.
Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.
His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?
Of late sought (νῦν ἐζήτουν)
Rev., much better, giving the true force of νῦν, now, and of the imperfect: were but now seeking.
Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.
Walk about, in the pursuit of his ordinary business. Wyc., wander.
But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
Awake him out of sleep (ἐξυπνίσω αὐτόν)
Only here in the New Testament.
Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
Shall do well (σωθήσεται)
Literally, shall be saved. Rev., he will recover. Wyc., shall be safe. Tyndale's Version of the New Testament, shall he do well enough.
Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
Taking rest (κοιμήσεως)
Akin to the verb in John 11:11. Wyc., the sleeping of sleep. Tyndale's Version of the New Testament, the natural sleep.
Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.
For your sakes - to the intent ye may believe
These two clauses, which are separated in the A.V. and Rev., are, in the Greek order, placed together: for your sakes, to the intent ye may believe; the latter clause being explanatory of the former.
That I was not there
Bengel's comment is beautiful and characteristic. "It accords beautifully with divine propriety that we read of no one having died while the Prince of life was present. If you suppose that death could not, in the presence of Jesus, have assailed Lazarus, the language of the two sisters, John 11:21, John 11:32, attains loftier meaning; and the Lord's joy at His own absence is explained."
Unto him (πρὸς αὐτόν)
Most touching. To him, as though he were yet living. Death has not broken the personal relation of the Lord with His friend.
Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
Not a surname of Thomas, but the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic name, twin. See on Mark 3:18. The word occurs only in John's Gospel.
Only here in the New Testament.
We may die
"He will die for the love which he has, but he will not affect the faith which he has not" (Westcott).
Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.
Had lain in the grave four days already (τέσσαρας ἡμέρας ἤδη ἔχοντα ἐν τῷ μνημείῳ)
Literally, found him having already four days in the tomb.
Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off:
About two miles.
And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
Many of the Jews came
Rev., rightly, had come. The tense is the pluperfect. Lazarus' friendship with Jesus had not caused him to be regarded as an apostate, at whose burial every indignity would have been shown. People were even to array themselves in white, festive garments in demonstration of joy. Here, on the contrary, every token of sympathy and respect seems to have been shown.
To Martha and Mary (πρὸς τὰς περὶ Μάρθαν καὶ Μαρίαν).
Literally, to those about Martha and Mary; a Greek idiom for Martha and Mary and their companions, or attendants. Compare οἱ περὶ Παῦλον, Paul and his companions (Acts 13:13). Somewhat analogous is our familiar idiom when we speak of going to visit a household: I am going to Smith's or Brown's, by which we include the head of the household with its members. Westcott and Hort and Tregelles, however, read πρὸς τὴν Μάρθαν κ. Μ., to Martha and Mary. So also the Revisers' text.
Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.
That Jesus was coming (ὅτι ὁ Ιησοῦς ἔρχεται)
Literally, is coming. The exact words of the message: Jesus is coming.
Went and met (ὐπήντησεν)
The verb means to go to meet.
Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
Wilt ask of God (αἰτήσῃ τὸν Θεόν)
The verb αἰτέω is used of the asking of an inferior from a superior. Ἑρωτάω is to ask on equal terms, and hence is always used by Christ of His own asking from the Father, in the consciousness of His equal dignity. Hence Martha, as Trench observes, "plainly reveals her poor, unworthy conception of His person, that she recognizes in Him no more than a prophet, when she ascribes that asking (αἰτεῖσθαι) to Him which He never ascribes to Himself" ("Synonyms"). Bengel says: "Martha did not speak in Greek, yet John expresses her inaccurate remark, which the Lord kindly tolerated." See on Matthew 15:23.
Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
In the resurrection
Wyc., the again rising.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
I am the resurrection and the life
The words I am are very significant. Martha had stated the resurrection rather as a doctrine, a current tenet: Jesus states it as a fact, identified with His own person. He does not say, I raise the dead; I perform the resurrection, but I am the resurrection, In His own person, representing humanity, He exhibits man as immortal, but immortal only through union with Him.
The life is the larger and inclusive idea. Resurrection is involved in life as an incident developed by the temporary and apparent triumph of death. All true life is in Christ. In Him is lodged everything that is essential to life, in its origin, its maintenance, and its consummation, and all this is conveyed to the believer in his union with Him. This life is not affected by death. "Every believer is in reality and forever sheltered from death. To die with full light, in the clear certainty of the life which is in Jesus, to die only to continue to live to Him, is no longer that fact which human language designates by the name of death. It is as though Jesus had said: In me death is certain to live, and the living is certain never to die" (Godet). On ζωή, life, see on John 1:4.
He were dead (ἀποθάνῃ)
The aorist denotes an event, not a condition. Hence, much better, Rev., though he die.
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
I believe (πεπίστευκα)
Literally, I have believed. The perfect tense. So Rev. Martha goes back to her previous belief, which consists in the recognition of Christ as her Lord. Whatever faith she has in this new revelation of Christ rests upon the truth that He is the Anointed, the Son of God, even He that cometh into the world.
And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.
The Master (ὁ διδάσκαλος)
Literally, the teacher. Westcott remarks that this title opens a glimpse into the private intercourse of the Lord and the disciples: so they spoke of Him.
Is come (πάρεστιν)
Literally, is present. Rev., is here.
As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.
Arose and came (ἠγέρθη καὶ ἤρχετο)
The aorist, arose, marks the single, instantaneous act of rising. The imperfect, was coming, the progress towards Jesus.
Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.
The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.
The best texts read δόξαντες, supposing. So Rev.
She goeth (ὑπάγει)
To weep (ἵνα κλαύσῃ)
Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,
He groaned in the spirit (ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι)
See on Mark 1:43. The word for groaned occurs three times elsewhere: Matthew 9:30; Mark 1:43; Mark 14:5. In every case it expresses a charge, or remonstrance, accompanied with a feeling of displeasure. On this passage there are two lines of interpretation, both of them assuming the meaning just stated. (1) Τῷ πνευ.ματι, the spirit, is regarded as the object of Jesus' inward charge or remonstrance. This is explained variously: as that Jesus sternly rebuked the natural shrinking of His human spirit, and summoned it to the decisive conflict with death; or that He checked its impulse to put forth His divine energy at once. (2) Takes in the spirit, as representing the sphere of feeling, as John 13:21; Mark 8:12; Luke 10:21. Some explain the feeling as indignation at the hypocritical mourning of the Jews, or at their unbelief and the sisters' misapprehension; others as indignation at the temporary triumph of Satan, who had the power of death.
The interpretation which explains τῷ πνεύματι as the sphere of feeling is to be preferred. Comp. John 11:38, in himself. The nature of the particular emotion of Jesus must remain largely a matter of conjecture. Rev. renders, in margin, was moved with indignation in the spirit.
Was troubled (ἐτάραξεν ἑαυτὸν)
Literally, troubled Himself. Probably of the outward manifestation of His strong feeling.
And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
A different verb from that in John 11:31. From δάκρυ, tear, and meaning to shed tears, to weep silently. Only here in the New Testament. Κλαίω, to weep audibly, is once used of our Lord in Luke 19:41. "The very Gospel in which the deity of Jesus is most clearly asserted, is also that which makes us best acquainted with the profoundly human side of His life" (Godet). How far such a conception of deity is removed from the pagan ideal, may be seen by even a superficial study of the classics. Homer's gods and goddesses weep and bellow when wounded, but are not touched with the feeling of human infirmity (see on John 3:16). "The gods," says Gladstone, "while they dispense afflictions upon earth, which are neither sweetened by love, nor elevated by a distinct disciplinary purpose, take care to keep themselves beyond all touch of grief or care."
"The gods ordain
The lot of man to suffer, while themselves
Are free from care."
"Iliad," xxiv., 525.
So Diana, when appealed to by the wretched Hippolytus for sympathy, replies:
"I see thy love, but must not shed a tear."
Euripides, "Hippolytes," 1396.
The Roman satirist unconsciously bears witness to the profound truthfulness and beauty of this picture of the weeping Savior, in the words: "Nature confesses that she gives the tenderest of hearts to the human race by giving them tears: this is the best part of our sensations" (Juvenal, "Satire" xv., 131-133).
Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
Of the blind (τοῦτυφλοῦ)
Referring to the restoration of the blind man in ch. 9. The A.V. is too indefinite. Rev., rightly, of him that was blind.
Have caused, etc.
This saying of the Jews may have been uttered ironically, in which case it throws light on the meaning of groaned in the spirit (John 11:33) and of groaning in Himself in the next verse. But the words may have been spoken sincerely.
Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
Lay upon (ἐπέκειτο)
This would be the meaning if the tomb were a vertical pit; but if hollowed horizontally into the rock, it may mean lay against. The traditional tomb of Lazarus is of the former kind, being descended into by a ladder.
Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
Take ye away
The stone was placed over the entrance mainly to guard against wild beasts, and could easily be removed.
The sister of him that was dead
An apparently superfluous detail, but added in order to give point to her remonstrance at the removal of the stone, by emphasizing the natural reluctance of a sister to have the corrupted body of her brother exposed.
Only here in the New Testament. Not indicating an experience of her sense, which has been maintained by some expositors, and sometimes expressed in the pictorial treatment of the subject, but merely her inference from the fact that he had been dead four days.
He hath been dead four days (τεταρταῖος ἐστιν)
A peculiar Greek idiom. He is a fourth-day man. So Acts 28:13, after one day: literally, being second-day men, The common Jewish idea was that the soul hovered about the body until the third day, when corruption began, and it took its flight.
Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
From the place where the dead was laid
And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
The people (τὸν ὄχλον)
In view of the distinction which John habitually makes between the Jews and the multitude, the use of the latter term here is noticeable, since Jews occurs at John 11:19, John 11:31, John 11:36. It would seem to indicate that a miscellaneous crowd had gathered. Rev., the multitude. See on John 1:19.
And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
Come forth (δεῦρο ἔξω)
Literally, hither forth.
And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
A napkin (σουδαρι.ῳ)
See on Luke 19:20.
It is interesting to compare this Gospel picture of sisterly affection under the shadow of death, with the same sentiment as exhibited in Greek tragedy, especially in Sophocles, by whom it is developed with wonderful power, both in the "Antigone" and in the "Electra."
In the former, Antigone, the consummate female figure of the Greek drama, falls a victim to her love for her dead brother. Both here, and in the "Electra," sisterly love is complicated with another and sterner sentiment: in the "Antigone" with indignant defiance of the edict which refuses burial to her brother; in the "Electra" with the long-cherished craving for vengeance. Electra longs for her absent brother Orestes, as the minister of retribution rather than as the solace of loneliness and sorrow. His supposed death is to her, therefore, chiefly the defeat of the passionate, deadly purpose of her whole life. Antigone lives for her kindred, and is sustained under her own sad fate by the hope of rejoining them in the next world. She believes in the permanence of personal existence.
"And yet I go and feed myself with hopes
That I shall meet them, by my father loved,
Dear to my mother, well-beloved of thee,
Thou darling brother" (897-900).
"Loved, I shall be with him whom I have loved
Guilty of holiest crime. More time is mine
In which to share the favor of the dead,
Than that of those who live; for I shall rest
Forever there" (73-76).
No such hope illuminates the grief of Electra.
Dear brother, in thy death thou slayest me;
For thou art gone, bereaving my poor heart
Of all the little hope that yet remained
That thou wouldst come, a living minister
Of vengeance for thy father and for me" (807-812).
"If thou suggestest any hope from those
So clearly gone to Hades, then on me,
Wasting with sorrow, thou wilt trample more" (832-834).
When she is asked,
"What! shall I ever bring the dead to life?"
"I meant not that: I am not quite so mad."
In the household of Bethany, the grief of the two sisters, unlike that of the Greek maidens, is unmixed with any other sentiment, save perhaps a tinge of a feeling bordering on reproach that Jesus had not been there to avert their calamity. Comfort from the hope of reunion with the dead is not expressed by them, and is hardly implied in their assertion of the doctrine of a future resurrection, which to them, is a general matter having little or no bearing on their personal grief. In this particular, so far as expression indicates, the advantage is on the side of the Theban maiden. Though her hope is the outgrowth of her affection rather than of her religious training - a thought which is the child of a wish - she never loses her grasp upon the expectation of rejoining her beloved dead.
But the gospel story is thrown into strongest contrast with the classical by the truth of resurrection which dominates it in the person and energy of the Lord of life. Jesus enters at once as the consolation of bereaved love, and the eternal solution of the problem of life and death. The idea which Electra sneered at as madness, is here a realized fact. Beautiful, wonderful as is the action which the drama evolves out of the conflict of sisterly love with death, the curtain falls on death as victor. Into the gospel story Jesus brings a benefaction, a lesson, and a triumph. His warm sympathy, His comforting words, His tears at His friend's tomb, are in significant contrast with the politic, timid, at times reproachful attitude of the chorus of Theban elders towards Antigone. The consummation of both dramas is unmitigated horror. Suicide solves the problem for Antigone, and Electra receives back her brother as from the dead, only to incite him to murder, and to gloat with him over the victims. It is a beautiful feature of the Gospel narrative that it seems, if we may so speak, to retire with an instinctive delicacy from the joy of that reunited household. It breaks off abruptly with the words, "Loose him, and let him go." The imagination alone follows the sisters with their brother, perchance with Christ, behind the closed door, and hears the sacred interchanges of that wonderful communing. Tennyson, with a deep and truly Christian perception, has struck its key-note.
"Her eyes are homes of silent prayer,
Nor other thought her mind admits
But, he was dead, and there he sits!
And He that brought him back is there.
Then one deep love doth supersede
All other, when her ardent gaze
Roves from the living brother's face
And rests upon the Life indeed."
Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.
The things which Jesus did
The best texts omit Jesus. Some read ὃ, that which He did; others ἃ, the things which.
But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.
Some of them
Not of the Jews who had come to Mary, but some of the Jews, some perhaps who had joined the crowd from curiosity.
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.
The chief priests
Of the Sadducean party. This should be constantly kept in mind in reading both John's narrative and that of the Synoptists. The Sadducees, represented by the chief priests, are the leaders in the more decisive measures against Christ. Throughout this Gospel the form of expression is either the chief priests alone, or the chief priests and the Pharisees. The only mention of the Pharisees in the history of the passion is Matthew 27:62, where also the expression is the chief priests and Pharisees. The chief priests are the deadly enemies of Christ (Matthew 26:3,Matthew 26:14). Similarly, in the Acts, the opposition to the Christians is headed by the priests and Sadducees, who represent the same party. In the two instances where the Pharisees appear, they incline to favor the Christians (Acts 5:34; Acts 23:6).
A council (συνέδριον)
Correctly, and not the council, which would require the article. The meaning is, they called a sitting of the Sanhedrim; probably as distinguished from a formal meeting of that body.
What do we?
The present tense, indicating an emergency. This man is at work teaching and working miracles, and what are we doing?
If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.
Place and nation (τὸν τόπον καὶ τὸ ἔθνος)
Place, the temple and city (Acts 6:13; Acts 21:28; Matthew 24:15). Nation, the civil organization. See on 1 Peter 2:9; see on Luke 2:32. In the Sanhedrim were many devoted adherents of Rome, and the rest were well aware of the weakness of the national power.
And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all,
A Sadducee, who held the office for eighteen years.
This has been cited to show that John is guilty of a historical error, since, according to the Mosaic law, the high priesthood was held for life. The occurrence of the phrase three times (John 11:49, John 11:51) is significant, and, so far from indicating an error, goes to connect the office of Caiaphas with his part in accomplishing the death of Christ. It devolved on the High Priest to offer every year the great sacrifice of atonement for sin; and in that year, that memorable year, it fell to Caiaphas to be the instrument of the sacrifice of Him that taketh away the sin of the world. Dante places Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas, far down in Hell in the Bolgia of the Hypocrites:
"to mine eyes there rushed
One crucified with three stakes on the ground.
When me he saw, he writhed himself all over,
Blowing into his beard with suspirations;
And the friar Catalan who noticed this,
Said to me: 'This transfixed one whom thou seest,
Counselled the Pharisees that it was meet
To put one man to torture for the people.
Crosswrise and naked is he on the path,
As thou perceivest; and he needs must feel,
Whoever passes, first how much he weighs;
And in like mode his father-in-law is punished
Within this moat, and the others of the council,
Which for the Jews was a malignant seed."
"Inferno," xxiii., 110-129.
Dean Plumptre suggests that the punishment described by the poet seems to reproduce the thought of Isaiah 51:23.
Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
People - nation (τοῦ λαοῦ - τὸ ἔθνος)
The former the theocratic nation, the people of God: the latter, the body politic. See on 1 Peter 2:9.
And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;
And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
John does not used the word λαός, people, which Caiaphas had just employed. The Jews were no longer a people, only one of the nations of the world. He wishes to set the Gentiles over against the Jews, and this distinction was national. Moreover, John points out in this word the fact that the work of Christ was not to be for any people as specially chosen of God, but for all nations.
Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.
Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples.
The wild hill-country, northeast of Jerusalem.
The site is uncertain. Commonly taken as Ophrah (1 Samuel 13:17), or Ephraim (2 Chronicles 13:19), and identified with el-Taiyibeh, sixteen miles from Jerusalem, and situated on a hill which commands the Jordan valley.
And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves.
Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast?
Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.