Some of the most powerful concepts in the Bible come in short books, passages, and even little verses. Studying these passages can be informative and spiritually nourishing. One tiny verse, considered the shortest verse in the English language, that contains a lot of important spiritual truth and shows a great deal about Jesus Christ is John 11:35. “Jesus wept.”
It reveals aspects of His human nature, though He was God incarnate, as well as His great care for the people He came to save. By understanding that even the Lord Jesus grieved, experienced sorrow, and felt the weight of loss, this gives believers permission to feel sad when a loved one passes away, even though believers who die go to be with the Lord and will be resurrected bodily one day when Jesus returns. For those left behind, there will be tears, but Jesus understands and is there to provide comfort and hope.
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What Does it Mean that 'Jesus Wept'?
The direct meaning of this verse is simple, when He went to the tomb of Lazarus, He shed tears. Its deeper implications touch on the complicated nature of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is God the Son, He is one with God, and even participated in the Creation of the world with the Father and the Spirit.
The Book of John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus knew the will of God and that Lazarus would be returned to life. He did not weep because He was uncertain of His ability to do this miracle or because He feared Lazarus would stay dead. Jesus wept because He experienced and understood the same feelings as the people around Him.
The Lord Jesus lived a perfect life, overcoming sin, suffering, and even death itself despite being clothed in flesh and subject to human weaknesses. Despite living a perfect life, standing before a tomb, He cried. For people, it does show that it is okay to grieve, to process strong emotions and terrible situations, and to cry.
Some Christians suppress their emotions, or mistakenly believe because there are verses which make statements such as, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice,” (Philippians 4:4) that it is sinful, wrong, and inappropriate for them to grieve. They fake joy in moments when they should feel upset. Some people do not allow themselves to grieve out of misplaced pride. Jesus being willing to cry demonstrates this misplaced pride is not appropriate. In fact, Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Jesus was humble to the point of shedding His glory, coming down from Heaven, and even humble enough to cry with people in mourning.
What Is the Context of Around John 11:35?
Surrounding this small verse is one of the important accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. He had friends in the town of Bethany, which was situated outside of Jerusalem in what is now the West Bank area. This family was made of two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus.
At the beginning of the chapter, they ask Jesus to come quickly to see them, because Lazarus was sick. Unbeknownst to the sisters, Jesus had to wait to fulfill the Scriptures and the prophecies about the Messiah. When Jesus finally arrived, his friend had been dead for three days. He speaks to the sisters who both affirm they believed Jesus could heal Him, and their faith that He was the Messiah had not been shaken. When He saw the tears of Mary, and the sisters offered to take Him to the body, the Bible records this is when He wept.
This picture of the Messiah weeping powerfully shows the dichotomy of being both fully-God and fully-man. He had the full power to restore His friend to life and knew that He would be doing so imminently. Yet He was moved by the sorrow of those He loved and cried alongside them.
The Book of Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would be a man of sorrows. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4a). Jesus was burdened by the grief of others. Though He knew everything was about to change for the better, He cried and mourned with others because He was keenly aware they could not know the miracle about to be performed.
Is This Really the Shortest Verse in the Bible?
This verse is the shortest verse in many, but not all languages. In certain languages, the grammar structure requires an extra word for it to be correct. In different languages there are other sentences that are shorter because of the variety of language structures in the world. In the Hebrew Bible, Job 3:2 is the shortest verse. In English, it reads, “And Job said,” in part because of the Hebrew practice of removing vowels.
Some translations of John 11:35 include:
- English: Jesus wept
- German: Jesus weinte
- French: Jésus a pleuré
- Spanish: Jesús lloró
- Arabic: بكى المسيح
- Greek: Ο Ιησούς έκλαψε
- Korean: 예수가 울다
The length of the verse varies depending on the language, but the importance and meaning of the verse do not change. All these translations refer to Jesus Christ crying out of grief at the tomb of His friend Lazarus.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Ben White
How Can We Know That God Understands Our Pain?
God is omnipotent, and He knows all things, including how His creation feels. In fact, humans were created to feel, because God feels.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:26a, 27). He created people with emotions and He understands them. The Bible tells its readers that God loves, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
It also says that He sorrows. One example of God’s distress is when speaking through the prophet Jeremiah to the nation of Israel; “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me…. I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me” (Jeremiah 8:18a, 21b). He desires to see everyone saved and is grieved that people reject eternal salvation, and turn from His love.
Ultimately, believers can be assured that God understands the pain of His creation, for many reasons. He gave them, created them, and feels them Himself. For those who are currently mourning, His Spirit is with them. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Jesus reaches out to those who are poor, in pain, and who suffer because He has experienced that same loss. By the time He comes of age, it is implied He lost His step-father Joseph. His cousin and prophet John the Baptist was beheaded. Lazarus was a good friend, and Jesus grieved. He wept, and He understands why people cry.
When mourning, reach out to Him, pray for comfort, and He will respond.
Brownlow, Leroy. Jesus Wept Trusting the Good Shepherd When You Lose a Loved One. Fort Worth: Brownlow Publishing Company, 1969.
Omokri, Reno. Why Jesus Wept. United States of America: RevMedia, 2015.
Tozer, A.W. Jesus Our Man in Glory: 12 Messages from the Book of Hebrews. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1987.
Photo credit: Pexels/Daniel Reche
Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.
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