Please read John 11:1-54
Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with perfume, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. John 11:1-2 NASB
Bethany lay on the south-east slope of the Mount of Olives, and, according to John 11:18, nearly two miles from Jerusalem. The village was known, then, in the circles of the first disciples, as the village of Mary and Martha, by way of distinction from the “Bethany beyond Jordan” referred to in John 1:28.
“Lazarus,” the Greek form of Eleazar = God is my Help . Many commentators conclude that Lazarus was younger than his sisters.
So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
The sisters knew well what peril Yeshua and His disciples would encounter by returning to Bethany in Judea, so close to those in Jerusalem who were seeking His life, and they must have known that He could have healed Lazareth by a word; so, they simply state the case.
But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not meant for death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” (Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus.)
So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. John 11:3-6 NASB
Yeshua was teaching the people throughout the region of Peræa, beyond (to the east of) the Jordan River, when the sisters in Bethany sent word to Him about Lazarus’s grave sickness. He could have prayed for Lazarus’ healing right there and then, effecting the cure from a distance as He had done for the Centurian’s servant – but He did not. He could have left what He was doing and hastened back to Bethany to lay hands on Lazarus, but He did not. Instead, He said some cryptic comment about it being for the glory of God and then stayed where He was for two whole days more, neither continuing to travel further afield nor returning back towards Judea. Those whom Christ loves are no more exempt than others from their share of earthly trouble and anguish. Yeshua loved Lazarus, and his sisters, but still He only did what He saw the Father doing, knowing this would also prove best for those He loved.
Yeshua delayed His return to Mary and Martha not only though He loved them, but because God loved them. He loved them, and therefore He designed to do something great and extraordinary for them; to work such a miracle for their relief, as He had not wrought for anyone else. If Yeshua had gone immediately, and had arrived at Bethany while Lazarus was still alive, and had cured his sickness, He would have done no more for him than He had done for many; if Yeshua had come to him, and raised him when he was but just dead, He would have done no more than He had done for some; but deferring His relief so long, Yeshua had an opportunity of doing more for Lazareth than He had done, or ever should do, for any other. Observe that God has gracious intentions even in his apparent delays. (See Isaiah 54:7-8). Christ’s friends at Bethany were not out of His thoughts, nor was His affection to them lessened, though when He heard of their distress He made no haste to give them relief. His lingering so long after their message came, did not proceed from want of concern for his friends, but happened according to the counsels of God’s wisdom. For the length of time that Lazarus lay in the grave put his death beyond all possibility of doubt, and removed every suspicion of a fraud, and so afforded Yeshua a fit opportunity of displaying the love He bare to Lazarus, as well as His own almighty power, in his unquestionable resurrection from the dead. It is true, the sisters were thus kept a while in painful anxiety, on account of their brother’s life, and in the conclusion were pierced with the sorrow of seeing him die.
Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”
The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and yet You are going there again?”
Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks during the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” John 11:7-10 NASB
Yeshua does not identify their destination more definitely, and the word “again” recalls the dangers from which they had escaped at the close of their last visit to Jerusalem in Judea. His talmidim (disciples) expressed some unwillingness to undertake the journey back into danger; not imagining that it was proposed on Lazarus’s account, whom they supposed out of danger because Yeshua had said of his sickness that it was not unto death.
Are there not twelve hours in the day? — The Jews always divided the space from sunrise to sunset, whether the days were longer or shorter, into twelve parts, so that the hours of their day were all the year the same in number, though much shorter in winter than in summer. Day represented the time for Yeshua teach the people before the dark night of His crucifixion. The length of the day was set, they could not make it longer or shorter. While ever it was day no efforts to kill Christ could succeed (and various opponents had tried). Not one moment of this time was to be wasted worrying about their personal safety instead of moving forward with proclamation of the kingdom of God.
Because there is no light in him — Or rather, in it, as εν αυτω, should be translated, referring to the noun, κοσμου, world, in the end of the preceding verse. For his stumbling in the night is occasioned by the want of that which prevents his stumbling in the day, namely, light, the sun not being above the horizon. Dr. Campbell, however, thinks that, in it, or, in him, is better omitted in English, where it would encumber rather than enlighten the expression. He therefore reads, He stumbleth because there is no light.
He said these things, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him.”
The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be saved from his sickness.”
Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of actual sleep.
So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.”
John 11:11-15 LSB
Yeshua’s disciples were soon going to witness His death. They needed to believe that He had authority over death. What appeared to be a heartless delay was actually a merciful show of love and care. Often, what feels unfair and as though God has forgotten us in the moment is actually an expression of His lovingkindness towards us as He prepares us for what we don’t know is to come.
Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” John 11:16 LSB
The threat of stoning Yeshua in the temple (John 10:31) was still very fresh in their minds (The Divine Council – Renewal Blog). Yeshua’s disciples felt it not only as a threat against Him, but a threat against themselves as well as His followers. Each had times of being brave and willing to face those threats, willing to die for Him if that was the cost of following Him. But they did not yet have the empowering of the Holy Spirit to be able to stand unmovable in such.
So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia away; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them about their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.
Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever. Do you believe this?”
She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, the One who comes into the world.”
And when she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and was coming to Him.
Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews—who were with her in the house and consoling her—when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to cry there.
Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus therefore saw her crying, and the Jews who came with her also crying, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?”
They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” John 11:17-37 LSB
The Jewish custom was to bury on the day of death (see Acts 5:6-10), followed by a weeklong mourning period (“shiva“) during which mourners are visited at home by family and community. It was Jewish belief that after death the soul lingers near the body for three days, hoping that it will return to life (Tanhuma, Miqetz 4; Pequdei 3), but after those three days, the soul returns to God (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 90b-91a). It was after those three days had passed, but still during the shiva, that Yeshua came to raise Lazareth from the grave.
We do not know where in Peraea Jesus was sojourning when He received the message announcing Lazarus’s illness. We do know that Yeshua had spent some time walking through Peraea – ministry on two separate shabbat days has been specifically recorded. So, He could have been at least four day’s walk from Bethany when He received the news from Mary and Martha.
Bethany was near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia away – possibly 2 miles or 3 km; a Roman stadion was around 607 ft. or 185 m long. Many of the Jews from the nearby city of Jerusalem had come to comfort Mary and Martha during shiva. Lazarus had been deeply loved by many.
Yeshua wept. He didn’t lack faith. He knew He was going to raise Lazarus back to life and very soon would be enjoying his friend once more. But He wept. He mourned. His grief was real and all could see how much He had loved Lazarus.
So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time he smells, for he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they removed the stone.
Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd standing around I said this, so that they may believe that You sent Me.”
And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”
The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.
Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:36-44 LSB
They all knew that Yeshua could have kept this man from dying, but none believed that after four days Lazarus could be raised from the dead. By that time his soul would have departed and his body stink from the process of decay. It was too late now, all hope had gone, nothing could be done. Or so they thought.
Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. John 11:45-46 NASB
But some of them went off to the P’rushim (Pharisees) and told them what He had done. So the head cohanim (chief priests) and the P’rushim called a meeting of the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? — for this man is performing many miracles. If we let Him keep going on this way, everyone will trust in Him, and the Romans will come and destroy both the Temple and the nation.”
But one of them, Kayafa (Caiaphas), who was cohen gadol (high priest) that year, said to them, “You people don’t know anything! You don’t see that it’s better for you if one man dies on behalf of the people, so that the whole nation won’t be destroyed.”
Now he didn’t speak this way on his own initiative; rather, since he was cohen gadol that year, he was prophesying that Yeshua was about to die on behalf of the nation, and not for the nation alone, but so that He might gather into one the scattered children of God.
Acts 6:7 tells us that: And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. John likely learned of what happened in this meeting through believers (like Nicodemus) who were there and those priests who later became obedient to the faith. Notice God’s hand even in what appears to be the evil plans of Yeshua’s enemies: since he was cohen gadol that year, he was prophesying that Yeshua was about to die on behalf of the nation…
From that day on, they made plans to have him put to death.
Therefore Yeshua no longer walked around openly among the Judeans but went away from there into the region near the desert, to a town called Efrayim (Ephraim), and stayed there with His talmidim. John 11:46-54 CJB
Yeshua had returned to where His ministry began, Bethany beyond Jordan (John 10:40), immediately after leaving Jerusalem following Hanukkah (the feast of Dedication). It was the winter month of Tevet, in the middle of the wet season, as it had been when He was baptised by Yochanan three years before. Yeshua had continued teaching throughout the region of Peræa for some weeks before He heard that Lazarus was sick. Returning to Bethany four days after Lazarus’ death to raise him from the dead, Yeshua then departed to Ephraim in the month of Shevat. Here He continued till the week leading to Passover. The crowds had been bigger than ever in Peræa but now, after His most spectacular attention getting miracle, Yeshua hid away in Ephraim for around six weeks, about the same time He had spent alone in the wilderness being tempted at the beginning of His ministry. Ephraim was a secluded spot on the edge of the wilderness where He could avoid the observation of His enemies until the appointed hour had come. How little the people at large knew where He was, appears from the fact that those who went up early to the feast, sought Him at Jerusalem. These days of preparation, it seems, were spent in times of solitary communion with His Father and fellowship with his talmidim .
It is believed that the Biblical town of Ephraim is now called Taybeh. This Palestinian village is the only Christian town left in Israel or Palestine. The people of Taybeh hold fast to their heritage of Yeshua seeking refuge there shortly before his crucifixion. They also see the pomegranate as a symbol of the fullness of Jesus’ suffering and Resurrection. This fruit appears as a motif in religious art in Taybeh. A tradition says Jesus told the villagers a parable relating to this fruit, whose sweet seeds are protected by a bitter membrane. Using this image, Jesus explained that to reach the sweetness of his Resurrection he had to go through the bitterness of death.
1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
2. Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998.
3. Holy Bible. New International Version. s.l. : Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
4. —. New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, 2020.
5. Bible Commentaries. John 11:1. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: October 1st, 2023.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/11-1.htm.
6. My Jewish Learning . Jewish Death and Mourning 101. My Jewish LKearning. [Online] [Cited: October 9th, 2023.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/death-mourning-101/.
7. Jews for Judaism. Does the Talmud talk about a ressurection 3 days after the end of the world? Jews for Judaism. [Online] [Cited: October 9th, 2023.] https://www.jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/does-the-talmud-talk-about-a-ressurection-3-days-after-the-end-of-the-world/.
8. Administrator. Jesus’ Final Journey to Jerusalem. Bible Mapper. [Online] September 5th, 2022. https://biblemapper.com/blog/index.php/2022/09/05/jesus-final-journey-to-jerusalem/.
9. See The Holy Land Editors. Taybeh. seetheholyland. [Online] [Cited: October 10th, 2023.] https://www.seetheholyland.net/taybeh/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Describe a time in your life when God didn’t appear to answer your prayer, but looking back you can see how what He did was better than what you were asking for?
* When has God directed you to do something that didn’t appear to display your care for ones you loved?
* What is a trial that you have gone through that you later realised had been God’s mercy in preparing you for what was to come?
* What comfort do we get from knowing that Jesus wept here?
* Has there been a time in your life when it seemed that God had waited too long to help you and all hope had gone?
*How can we see God’s hand even in an enemy’s attack and so walk confident in His sovereignty and goodness towards us?
* What is the significance of Jesus’ time in Ephraim?