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After a two-day delay, Jesus finally arrived in Bethany. John 11:17 says,
17 So when Jesus came, He found that he [Lazarus] had already been in the tomb four days.
It appears that Lazarus had died shortly after the messengers had been sent to find Jesus. It must have taken at least a full day to walk down to Jericho and to cross the river to Bethany beyond the Jordan. Jesus then remained two more days there before walking to the other Bethany where Lazarus and his sisters lived.
The Number Fifteen
John 11:18 continues,
18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off.
The Greek text tells us that Bethany was about 15 stadia from Jerusalem. A stadios is about 202 yards, or just under 200 meters. So the actual distance was about 1.75 miles, or 2.8 kilometers. In order to find the prophetic meaning of this distance, one must go with the Greek measuring system, because this gives us the number fifteen to examine.
In my book, The Biblical Meaning of Numbers from One to Forty, I show that fifteen is the number of new direction. The number is written in Hebrew with the letters, yod (10) and hey (5). The yod is a hand, signifying one’s work. The hey is inspiration, the breath of God. So fifteen signifies the outworking of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The outworking of the Holy Spirit brings a new direction in our lives.
The Jews did not normally write fifteen as yod-hey, however, because this also spelled Yah, the shortened form of Yahweh. So they substituted teth (9) for the yod, which actually reduced the number to just fourteen. (Teth-hey is 9 plus 5.) They had many such traditions. This one was based on a presumed respect for the Sacred Name. Because they also refused to pronounce the name YHWH for fear of profaning His Name in some way, they eventually lost its actual pronunciation.
Fear is not a proper motive; in this case, it put distance between the God and His children, whereas God’s desire was to draw near to them. God saw the people as temples of His Holy Spirit, where His very presence could reside.
But the people were taught by the traditions of men to remain at a distance, which perpetuated the original problem at Mount Horeb (Exodus 20:18). By refusing to draw near to God at that first Pentecost under Moses, their fear prevented them from experiencing the Holy Spirit and the blessings of the New Covenant.
I believe that this prophesied that the Jews (as a whole) were too steeped in their traditions of men to believe in Christ and thereby receive the promise of the Holy Spirit which would have given them a new direction in life.
So the number fifteen appears in John 11:18 as part of the seventh sign in John’s gospel. It was a resurrection sign that foreshadowed Jesus’ own resurrection. Those who believed in Him were able to appropriate the New Covenant, which turned their course in a new direction and put them at odds with Old Covenant Judaism.
The Seventh Sign is Resurrection
The seventh sign was not about the death of Lazarus but about his resurrection. So also, the new direction is possible only because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. While we all honor Christ for His death on the cross, recognizing that this act paid for the sin of the world, His death would have been in vain had it not been for His resurrection.
So Paul says in Romans 5:10 that “we shall be saved by His life.” Again, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17,
17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
It is the resurrection that gives us life (immortality). Many seem to emphasize His death more than His resurrection, and in so doing, they miss the significance of the seventh sign. Lazarus’ death set the stage for the seventh sign. Obviously, death was a necessary event, without which there could be no resurrection.
Yet resurrection was (and still is) the new direction, described by Paul as “newness of life” (Romans 6:4, 5) when applied to one’s current change when immortal life is imputed to us through faith. The historic fulfillment is even greater, for it moves from imputation to actualization when the dead are raised in the manner that Jesus Himself was raised.
These two steps are set forth in the law. It takes two “birds” (Leviticus 14:4) to cleanse us from spiritual leprosy (i.e., mortality), and these prophesy of Christ’s two comings, each with a distinct mission.
Likewise, it takes two “goats” (Leviticus 16:7) to deal with the sin problem. Christ’s first work on the cross covered sin and brought us an imputed righteousness, where God calls what is not as though it were (Romans 4:17 KJV). At His second coming as the second “goat,” Christ removes sin altogether, making us actually righteous.
When the church cast out the law, most of the people abandoned a study of Leviticus 14 and 16, thereby making it very difficult to understand the two distinct works of Christ.
John 11:19, 20 says,
19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Martha, therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house.
As even today, it was customary for friends of the family to comfort the bereaved. It appears that their house was full of friends and relatives. “Therefore,” we read, someone had to remain behind while the other went out to meet Jesus. Since Martha was the oldest, it appears that she decided to go while Mary remained behind with the friends and family. Both were obviously disappointed that Jesus had not come sooner. When He did come, they had been grieving four long days and had lost all hope for their brother, except for their belief that He would be raised “on the last day.”
John 11:21, 22 says,
21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
This was a remarkable profession of faith in light of the circumstances. It shows that in spite of her disappointment, she yet knew that whatever Jesus asked of His heavenly Father, His prayer would be answered.
Jesus’ response was typically obscure with a double meaning. John 11:23, 24 says,
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus set forth the fact that Lazarus would “rise again.” Martha added the factor of timing. While she misunderstood, her answer was not actually incorrect. Scripture is full of teachings about “the resurrection on the last day.” Neither Paul nor John dispute this in their dissertations on this topic.
Not Dying for the Eon
John 11:25, 26 continues,
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
These well-known verses have been quoted often in memorials to those who have died, often without a full understanding. Part of the problem is in the translations, which are done according to men’s biases. The Emphatic Diaglott reads this way:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he believing into Me, even though he die, shall live; 26 and no one living and believing into me shall die to the age [eis ton aiona]. Dost thou believe this?”
There is a significant difference between “never die” (NASB) and not dying “to the age.” Each translation expressed the idea of time, but in vastly different ways. The Concordant Literal New Testament reads this way:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who is believing in Me, even if he should be dying, shall be living. 26 And everyone who is living and believing in Me should by no means be dying for the eon.”
By understanding the meaning of “The Age,” or “The Eon,” we can see what is hidden from most people who read the mistranslations that set forth the idea of never dying. Jesus was not telling Martha that people could avoid death altogether, for Lazarus himself had already died. Neither was He teaching the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul, for “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20 KJV).
Others say that this teaches “conditional immortality,” the idea that no one has immortality until they have faith in Jesus Christ—all others have mortal souls, they say, which go out of existence when they die physically.
But when we translate Jesus’ words properly, we see that Jesus was teaching that by faith in Him, we could “by no means be dying for the eon,” that is, we would have immortal life in and during The Age that is to come. Jesus was talking about the first resurrection that is reserved for the overcomers who will reign with Him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:5, 6).
John was obviously familiar with this teaching, since he wrote about it in his book of Revelation. Not all will be raised to immortal life in the first resurrection, he says. There will be another resurrection at the end of the thousand years wherein all are raised, some to life and others to judgment (Revelation 20:12-15).
John had already written about this universal resurrection earlier in John 5:28, 29,
28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
This was Jesus’ teaching about the second resurrection in Revelation 20:12-15, wherein the non-overcoming believers will be raised at the same time that the unbelievers are raised. The first resurrection is distinctly different, for they will be raised at an earlier time so that they may “by no means be dying for the eon,” that is, the Messianic Age, the Sabbath Millennium.
The type of faith required of overcomers is the faith of Abraham, set forth in Romans 4:21,
21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.
In other words, it is faith in God and in Jesus Christ Himself, faith that He has the power to fulfill His promise. This stands in contrast to faith in one’s own promise or vow that is patterned after Israel’s Old Covenant vow in Exodus 19:8, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do!” Our faith is based either on the will of man or the will of God. We are either confident in our ability to keep our own promise, or we are “fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.”
Jesus’ seventh sign was about raising Lazarus (and all of us) from the dead in order that God might make good on His New Covenant promise. To fulfill that promise, the Father had sent the Son into the world, where He would take upon Himself our mortality (death) and then overcome it through resurrection, ensuring that all will be raised “on the last day.”
But some will be raised early, and that is the point of Jesus’ words in John 11:25, 26. Verse 25 says that “he who believes in Me will live, even if he dies.” Jesus did not dispute the fact of death. One might read this to mean that at death one’s spirit returns alive to God. Verse 26, however, indicates (by way of contrast) that even if a person dies during the present age, he will live again at the time of his resurrection. Verse 26, then, should be understood in light of 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52,
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery [secret]; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment [atomos, “in the atoms”], in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
In other words, some will not die at all, for if they are alive at the time of the resurrection, they will simply be “changed.” In fact, that is the purpose of the feast of Tabernacles, to which these signs apply prophetically. The dead will be raised at the feast of Trumpets, which is two weeks prior to Tabernacles. The living overcomers will be changed on the first day of Tabernacles, and these will not die into (or “for”) the age.
Martha apparently understood enough to respond with faith. John 11:27 says,
27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
Her confession of faith is similar to Peter’s great confession (Matthew 16:16). To believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is to believe that He is able to accomplish the mission and calling assigned to the Messiah. That mission is to give life, either by raising the dead or by changing the living from mortality to immortality.