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Lazarus was dying, and his two sisters sent word to Jesus to come quickly so that their brother might be healed. However, Jesus did not go immediately. He seemed unconcerned and unhurried, for He was not moved by the words of men nor by the urgent needs of the flesh but by the will of God alone. Being led by the Spirit, He understood that Lazarus’ ordeal was for the glory of God.
As I wrote earlier, Lazarus was the Greek form of the Hebrew name Eliezer, “God helps” or “Whom God helps.” He thus represents the one helped by the Holy Spirit, who is also called “the Helper” (NASB), or “the Comforter” (KJV).
All of the prophecies of “comfort” in the Old Testament, whereby Israel was to be comforted, are rooted in the idea of Israel’s resurrection from the state of exile and death. But Israel’s resurrection was not possible apart from Christ’s own resurrection. In fact, no one can have a hope of resurrection apart from His resurrection, which initiated and established all resurrections that will ever come to pass. So Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:17 and 20,
17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins… 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
Christ’s resurrection also defines the term itself, though it may also be applied in other ways and on various levels. So Lazarus was raised to a mortal life and died later after being the bishop of Marseilles for the last ten years of his life. His tomb is still with us to this day. Christ, on the other hand, was raised to a higher form of life, never again dying as Lazarus did. So here we see two kinds of resurrection life on display.
Likewise, baptism signifies the death of the old man (or “old self,” NASB) and the resurrection of the new man (or “new self,” NASB). This form of resurrection involves a change of identity, where the law recognizes a new individual who is not liable for the sins of the old man. Hence, the new man is immortal while coexisting with the old man which is mortal.
Yet, like Lazarus, those who are baptized remain in a mortal body which eventually dies. This shows that even though believers are immortal in their spirits (i.e., the new man), they are still in process and have not fully apprehended the promise of God.
There is a greater fulfillment of the resurrection principle reserved for a future time that is associated with the time of the second coming of Christ, wherein we will be raised to immortality and incorruption (1 Cor. 15:54, KJV). The fact that we must yet put off mortality and put on immortality shows that our baptism and faith in Christ did not yet give us the final reward. Instead, we were raised to newness of life depicted by Lazarus, whose resurrection life was limited. Our resurrection by faith has given us much to enjoy at the present time, but it is only a starting point of greater things to come.
By not understanding the connection and distinction between Lazarus and Christ Himself, many have failed to understand the dual manner in which resurrection is applicable in the divine plan.
The numeric value of Lazarus is 144, signifying the overcomers who are raised from the dead. This is distinct from the number 153, which signifies the sons of God. The Hebrew term, beni h’elohim, “sons of God,” has a numeric value of 153. The two numbers are closely related, but in the end, 144 refers to “those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:18) and who must therefore be raised from the dead; whereas, 153 refers to those who are alive at Christ’s coming and who are simply “changed” (1 Cor. 15:51).
This will become more apparent later in Jesus’ conversation with Martha.
John 11:4 says,
4 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified by it.”
This shows us that the raising of Lazarus was one of the signs in John, which, like the first, “manifested His glory” (John 2:11). Jesus knew that in order to perform this sign, He needed to wait until Lazarus was dead, because the sign was not about his death but about his resurrection.
John 11:5-7 continues,
5 Now Jesus loved [agapao] Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that He was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
It may seem strange that Jesus loved this family and so “He stayed two days longer” before responding to their urgent call. It was His love that prevented Him from coming to them immediately. Agape love is the love of God, and it is not the same as lesser forms of love (such as phileo) that are more common in the earth.
If Jesus’ love had been just phileo, He might have left immediately and walked all night if possible to get there as quickly as possible. But the love of God is greater, and it sees a higher purpose. It is also subject to the command and leading of the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus was full of agape love for His three friends in Bethany, He remained two more days in Bethany beyond the Jordan. This way, Lazarus would have a greater testimony for those who fear death, and this testimony and faith would serve him well in his later ministry.
Jesus’ disciples probably assumed that He was not going to go back to Judea to heal Lazarus, because this would put Him in danger. Lazarus would just have to die, because the religious leaders had prevented Jesus from coming to him. But then they were taken by surprise when he finally announced after two days that He was going to return to Judea. John 11:8 says,
8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?”
We see from this that the Feast of Dedication had just recently been celebrated, after which time they nearly stoned Jesus for His teaching. It implies that this was the December feast a few months before the Passover in which He was crucified. The raising of Lazarus greatly alarmed the religious leaders, for it proved Jesus to be the Messiah. Something had to be done immediately.
As we will see, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead about two weeks before He Himself was crucified and raised from the dead.
John 11:9 says,
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
The light metaphor goes back to John 1:4,
4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
No doubt Jesus and His disciples crossed the Jordan and walked to Bethany in the full light of day. They did not try to conceal themselves by traveling at night. But more importantly, the “life” that was in Jesus was the “light” in which He walked constantly. In walking to Bethany by the light of revelation, He also brought life to Lazarus.
Once they were on the road, Jesus told His disciples that Lazarus had died. John 11:11-14 says,
11 This He said, and after that he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”
Sleep is a common metaphor for death. Paul often speaks of death in terms of sleep. The misunderstanding in the verses above was meant to show us the significance of the word sleep. The disciples themselves tell us why death is called sleep: “if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” In other words, death is sleep because it is not a permanent state. Death will always end in resurrection, or “recovery,” as the disciples put it. 1 Cor. 15:22 says,
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
While believers and unbelievers will be raised in different states, they will all be raised. So death is really just a state of sleep, from which all will awaken.
Likewise, we note that when God put Adam into “a deep sleep” in Gen. 2:21, there is no record that Adam was ever awakened. This prophesies—even before Adam’s sin—that the world was to come into a state of death, or sleep, until the great awakening at the end of days. This “deep sleep” was imposed upon all of creation, not of its own will but by the will of God alone, as Paul says in Rom. 8:20, 21.
Because God put creation to sleep by His own sovereign will, He assures us that He alone is responsible also to awaken all of creation. God always takes responsibility for His actions, even as (on a lesser level) He holds us accountable for our own actions that are committed by the authority of our own will.
He has sovereignty; we have authority. Responsibility is based upon the level of one’s authority. Hence, God’s sovereignty makes Him ultimately responsible for His creation, as the laws of God indicate. (See my book, The Problem of Evil.)
John 11:15, 16 says,
15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus [“twin”], said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”
Thomas, the twin, the doubter, the pessimist, the fatalist, was sure that this trip would not end well for any of them. He did not yet understand that Jesus had waited for Lazarus to die so that these disciples would see the glory of God manifested in his resurrection, thereby strengthening their faith and teaching them to lose their own fear of death.
All of the disciples were moved by what they saw in the seventh sign of John, and after the day of Pentecost, they remembered this lesson. Thomas himself founded the church in Alexandria, Egypt and later went as far as southern India, where his labor still bears fruit.