Who Was Lazarus in the Bible?
Lazarus was a friend to Jesus and a brother to Mary and Martha. His story appears in the scripture of John 11:1-44 when a messenger shows up where Jesus was ministering and requests Jesus come immediately to the home of a sick man. Lazarus lived in a nearby town, Bethany, two miles southeast of Jerusalem, and was the brother of Mary and Martha.
Jesus had previously visited the three siblings and had enjoyed the family’s hospitality. His sister, Mary, would sit at the Master’s feet and listen to his words. Martha, Mary’s sister was the one who complained to Jesus that her sister needed to help her in the kitchen (Luke 10:38-42).
Bible Story of Lazarus Raised from the Dead
According to John, Jesus receives a message that Lazarus is ill, and his two sisters are seeking his help. Jesus tells his followers: "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."
Jesus then delays his departure two days. The disciples are afraid of returning to Judea, but Jesus says: "Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him." when the apostles misunderstand, he clarifies, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe."
When they arrive in Bethany, Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. Before they enter the town, Martha, Lazarus' sister, comes to meet Jesus and tells him: "if you had been here, my brother would not have died". Jesus assures Martha that her brother will rise again and states: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Martha's affirmation that she does indeed believe, "Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world", is only the second time (after Nathanael) that someone declares Jesus as Son of God and the first time someone equates him as 'Messiah' and 'Son of God' together. The only other time this happens in the entire gospel is in the explanation the author of the Gospel gives for writing his Gospel at the very end.
Upon entering the village, Jesus is met by Mary and the people who have come to console her. Upon seeing their grief and weeping, Jesus is deeply moved. Then, after asking where he was buried, the shortest verse in the four Gospels, and the entire Bible is found - Jesus wept. After that, Jesus asks for the stone of the grave to be removed, but Martha interjects that there will be a smell. To which Jesus responds, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said: "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
Lazarus is mentioned again in the Gospel of John chapter 12. Six days before the Passover on which Jesus is crucified, Jesus returns to Bethany and Lazarus attends a supper that Martha, his sister, serves. Jesus and Lazarus together attract the attention of many Jews and the narrator state that the chief priests consider having Lazarus put to death because so many people have come to believe in Jesus on account of his raising Lazarus.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/sedmak, Padua - painting of the resurrection of Lazarus scene from the 17th century.
Who Was Lazarus in the Bible?
The major portion of the well-known and stunning miracle found in the narrative about Lazarus is recounted in John 11:1-43, with further mentions of Lazarus found in John 12:1-2, 9-10, and 17. Lazarus was brother to Martha and Mary, and their family lived in Bethany, which was located in Judea, south of the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. Including the accounts listed above in John, the Bible tells us Jesus visited their home on several occasions (Matthew 21:17, 26:6; Mark 11:1, 11-12, 14:3; Luke 19:29, and 24:50).
John 11:5 tells us, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” The word for “loved” used here is agape. Jesus was fond of them and loved them dearly. It is safe to say Lazarus and his sisters were beloved friends.
We discover in John 11:1, Lazarus was ill, which prompted Martha and Mary to send for Jesus. In their message to Him, they said, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Jesus, after he received the news about Lazarus, did what we consider a peculiar thing. He lingered where he was for two more days. When Jesus told His disciples they were going to Bethany, they questioned Him because during His previous visit, the Jews sought to stone Him. When He did arrive at Bethany, He found Lazarus had died. Jesus then raised him from the dead.
Why Didn't Jesus Heal Lazarus Right Away?
Jesus answers that question in John 11:4. He said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” That’s a jam-packed theological statement worthy to be dissected both within it and through what Jesus said in a later verse.
This illness does not lead to death. Jesus revealed His omniscience to His still-doubting disciples. They would soon see His power at work even over death. And far from death—it would end in resurrection.
It is for the glory of God. In everything He did, Jesus’ sole focus centered on God’s glory (John 17:4-5).
…so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. When Jesus calls Himself the Son of God, He is saying He is God and He is of the same nature as God (Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:2-3). The title, Son of God, also signifies the Father loves Him in a unique manner as His Son, the Son of God’s love (Colossians 1:13, Matthew 17:5). It is crucial to our faith to embrace Jesus as the Son of God.
The ultimate purpose for Jesus’ delayed trip to Bethany was so He would be glorified. Since God wastes nothing, other lessons were realized. Jesus also took that opportune time to express His compassion, encourage Martha and Mary, and teach His disciples. Because of His omniscience, Jesus already knew of Lazarus’ condition.
Another good possibility Jesus delayed was to make sure Lazarus was indeed dead so that when He raised him, there would be no question as to the miracle of his resurrection. The other two instances of Jesus raising people to life were immediately after their deaths (the widow’s son in Luke 7:11-16 and Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8:40-56). Resurrecting Lazarus took place four days after he died.
But there is much more at work here. In verse 14, Jesus told His disciples, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” Jesus used this event as an amazing opportunity to teach His disciples He is Lord of all and has conquered death (Revelation 1:18).
At the tomb, after Jesus instructed the stone covering the grave be removed (John 11:37-40), Martha protested and said there would be a stench because Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus told her in verse 40, “Did I not say to you that of you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Once the stone was removed, Jesus lifted up His eyes and prayed to the Father in the hearing of all in attendance, “…that they may believe that You sent me.”
Why Did Jesus Weep over Lazarus?
As Jesus made His way to the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, Martha went out to Him before He arrived and lamented that her brother would not have died had Jesus been there. She further displayed her belief in His power by saying God would have given Him whatever Jesus asked of Him. Jesus told her Lazarus would rise again and she replied she knew he would rise again in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus replied with this resounding message: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). He then asked Martha if she believed that, to which she responded, “Yes, Lord. I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, Who is coming into the world” (John 11:27). Martha showed us how we are to grieve—with hope.
Mary, upon hearing Jesus was close, also went to Him, followed by the large crowd of mourners and the Jews. In verse 33, we see Jesus “groaned in His spirit and was troubled.” When the word “groaned” is used (as in the NKJV), it means outrage or emotional indignation. Jesus faced people who had no belief in Him nor in the resurrection and the Scripture that guaranteed it. And they—those unbelievers—acted like those who had no hope. The Way and the Truth and the Life stood before them, and they remained unmoved toward Him. It was with this ire for a fallen world that Jesus arrived on the scene, and “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). His tears, as identified by the word used for “wept” connotes those as “bursting in silence,” a marked contrast to the showy tears of the Jewish mourners.
Yes, Jesus loved Lazarus (John 11:5), but He knew He would raise him; therefore, He held no grief over his death. He was emotional about the lost people He came to save, as evidenced here and in other Gospel accounts (Matthew 23:37, Mark 6:34).
7 Important Lessons from Lazarus' Story
Paraphrasing John 21:25 were every one of the things Jesus did put down in ink, the world could not contain the books that could be written. So too the lessons from every one of Jesus’ activities while on earth. We can list at least seven from Lazarus’ story.
Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life
When life’s trials get to be too much, it only takes thought of our Lord and Savior to get us back on track. For a Christian, this earthly life isn’t all there is, because one glorious day Jesus will raise us and bestow upon us the glorified bodies He promised (John 11:26). Therefore, every day is a day to rejoice (Philippians 4:4), for we are His and no one can snatch us out of His hands (John 10:28). Romans 10:9 and 1 Corinthians 12:3 both proclaim this truth and 2 Timothy 1:10 states Jesus abolished death. Our lesson? Belief in Jesus means we too are overcomers.
Believers are to grieve with hope
1 Thessalonians 4:13 reminds us we are not like those who have no hope. Our hope is in the Eternal One, the One Who will one day resurrect us to eternal life with Him (John 11:25, Romans 6:5, 1 Corinthians 15:42).
Jesus has compassion for each one of us and calls us by name.
“Lazarus, come forth!” Can you imagine what that was like? Not only to be Lazarus but to witness such a stunning event by the One who is sovereign over death? It has been stated that if Jesus had not called Lazarus by name, and had simply said, “Come out,” every dead soul would have resurrected!
It’s easy to create the image in our heads of an omnipotent God Who oversees the events of mankind without personal involvement. After all, how could He have time to relate to the day-to-day life of billions of people? Not so with our Lord. The Bible says He loves us, and to love someone is to engage with them. John, the beloved disciple (John 21:20), would have a greater sense of the love displayed by Jesus. We, too, can infuse that amazing love into everything we think, speak, or write of Him. “We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Jesus does everything for God’s glory. Get in on what He is doing—for His glory.
Romans 14:23 says whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Whoa! In order to glorify God, we must first have faith in Him. We, in the belief of what He has done, is doing, and will do, are privileged to take part in bringing glory to God (Matthew 6:9). Study how Jesus glorified the Lord. Get in on the joy!
Jesus’ wisdom and knowledge supersede that of man.
It seems everyone around Him questioned Jesus’ decision to delay his visit to his sick friend. God’s timing is always perfect, for He is omniscient. Trust the wisdom of Scripture; it’s God’s message to each of us.
Jesus came to have a relationship with everyone, not just the Jews
1 John 2:2 tells us He did. Jesus, in contrast to the Jewish leaders, interacted with all peoples. Because of Jesus and the love He imparts to us, we can share the good news with everyone. We are commanded to meet regularly with our Christian brothers and sisters (Hebrews 10:24-25), and we are commanded to go out into the world (Matthew 28:19-20). In the account of Lazarus, Jesus said, “…everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
Jesus is our ultimate teacher
The sisters called Jesus, Rabbi (teacher). Once again, imagine being there to sit at His feet. We can do this every day as we read and meditate upon Scripture, therein our faith grows.
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