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The figure of Lazarus appears prominently in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospel of John, where his story is recounted as a powerful demonstration of Jesus Christ’s divine authority and compassion. The narrative unfolds in the context of Jesus’ public ministry and serves as a pivotal moment in the unfolding drama of the Gospel. To delve into his significance, we must explore the biblical passages that chronicle his life and resurrection.
His Story (John 11:1-16)
The first mention of Lazarus is found in John 11, where he is identified as the brother of Mary and Martha. The narrative opens with the sisters sending a message to Jesus, informing Him that their brother is critically ill. The deliberate use of the term “the one You love” in verse 3 suggests a close and affectionate relationship between Jesus and the siblings. However, instead of rushing to his side, Jesus intentionally delays His departure, stating that this illness is not unto death but for the glory of God.
Jesus’ Arrival and the Death of Lazarus (John 11:17-37)
As Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, the sick man has already been dead for four days. The gravity of the situation is palpable, as both Martha and Mary express their grief and faith in Jesus’ ability to heal. Martha, in particular, articulates a profound theological understanding, proclaiming that even now, God will give Jesus whatever He asks. This sets the stage for one of the most iconic moments in the New Testament—the resurrection of Lazarus.
His Resurrection (John 11:38-44)
Approaching the tomb, Jesus instructs the stone to be rolled away, prompting Martha’s concern about the stench of the decaying body. Undeterred, Jesus prays aloud, acknowledging the Father’s role in His ministry. Then, with a commanding voice, He calls out, “Lazarus, come forth!” In a breathtaking moment, the dead man emerges from the tomb, still bound in grave clothes. This miraculous event serves as a powerful testament to Jesus’ authority over death and foreshadows His own impending resurrection.
Theological Implications (John 11:45-57)
The resurrection of Lazarus triggers diverse reactions among the witnesses. While some believe in Jesus, others report the event to the Pharisees, intensifying the religious authorities’ resolve to eliminate Jesus. The narrative underscores the escalating tension between Jesus and the religious establishment, foreshadowing the climactic events leading to His crucifixion.
There is no mention in the whole story that the soul of Lazarus left his body at the moment of death and ascended to heaven. If this was the true, Jesus would have addressed the conscious soul rather than the dead body. He could have said, “Lazarus, come down and live again in the flesh.” But like David the prophet, the dead man had “not ascended into the heavens” (Acts 2:34). Further, Lazarus had nothing to say a about life after death or of heaven. Because the past four days had been to him a period of unconsciousness (Psalms 146:4). For more on the state of the dead, check out The Intermediate State.
The Sadducees denied the possibility of the resurrection (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). So, they were greatly ashamed at having one of their major theories disproved. Now they joined with the Pharisees in open rejection and enmity to the Son of God. And they planned to kill the very one that Jesus raised from the dead, because so many believed in the Lord (John 12:9–11).
Lazarus at a Dinner Table with Jesus (John 12:1-11)
In the subsequent chapter, Lazarus reappears, this time at a dinner hosted at Simon’s house (Matthew 26:6), where Jesus is present. Here, Mary anoints Jesus with expensive perfume, foreshadowing His imminent death and burial. Lazarus, a living testimony to Jesus’ power, sits at the table, a visual representation of the transformative impact of Christ’s resurrection power on individual lives.
A Symbolic Figure
Lazarus serves as a symbolic figure in the Gospel of John, representing humanity in its spiritual deadness and need for the life-giving power of Jesus. His resurrection is a vivid illustration of the overarching theme of John’s Gospel—the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God and the source of eternal life.
Lazarus in the Context of Other Gospels
While Lazarus is a central figure in the Gospel of John, it’s interesting to note that he is not mentioned in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Each Gospel writer emphasizes different aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, and the inclusion or omission of specific events and individuals serves their unique theological purposes.
Lazarus and the Last Days
The account of Lazarus sets the stage for Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem and His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. The resurrection of this man not only foreshadows Jesus’ own resurrection but also anticipates the general resurrection that will occur at the end of the age. In this way, he becomes a significant part of the broader narrative of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.
While the New Testament does not provide further details about Lazarus after his resurrection, his story continues to reverberate through Christian tradition and theology. Early Christian writers, such as Augustine and Chrysostom, explored the spiritual significance of Lazarus’ resurrection, emphasizing themes of faith, new life, and the victory over death.
The story of Lazarus in the New Testament is a multifaceted narrative that encompasses themes of faith, divine power, and the triumph over death. Lazarus, once dead and entombed, becomes a living testimony to the transformative power of Jesus Christ. His resurrection is not merely a historical event but a theological signpost pointing to the central message of the Gospel—the offer of eternal life through faith in Jesus. Lazarus’ story, in the Gospel of John, continues to inspire and challenge believers to embrace the life-giving power of Christ in their own spiritual journeys.
In His service,