Teaching series from John

"I Am the Resurrection & the Life"

John 11:1-53

Teaching t05629


All through this gospel, John presents Jesus as the giver of life (1:4)--not physical life (bios), but spiritual life (zoe), God's life that humans were created to contain, the life that centers in a personal love relationship with God (17:3).

This is the life Jesus offers to Nicodemus, the religious leader who seemed to have it all (3:16).

This is the life he offered to the woman at the well, whose life was so empty (4:13,14).

This is the life he offered to multitude after he fed them with bread (6:35).

This is the life he offered to the worshippers in Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths (7:37,38).

This is the life he offered to man born blind and those who were like him spiritually (8:12).

This is the life he offered to those who wanted to be in God's flock (10:10).

Now to a man who is in the ultimate state of death, Jesus presents himself as life in its ultimate expression--resurrection life.

You may not think about death that much, but you are going to die, you don't know when it will be (OKLAHOMA CITY), and hiding from this fact only promotes dishonesty with yourself in this life (OSTRICH). Why not think through this issue in light of Jesus' claim and offer?

The Setting (vs 1-24)

The controversy over Jesus' claims at the Feast of Booths came to a head (10:39), so Jesus went into hiding in Judean wilderness (10:40).

Read vs 1-6. Vs 4 means that Lazarus' sickness will not ultimately end with his physical death, but rather with a tremendous manifestation of God's power and love (through his raising). Jesus stayed where he was for two more days (vs 6), not to wait for Lazarus to die (he evidently died shortly after the messengers left to find Jesus), but to set the stage for an indisputable raising from the dead.

APPLICATION: Sometimes it seems like God isn't listening/doesn't care--but this is not true. He is delaying, etc. because doing so provides opportunity for a greater disclosure of his glory (for your and others' good).

Read vs 7-16. Trace disciples' "concern" for Jesus (vs 8) to their relief that the trip is unnecessary (vs 12) to their resignation (vs 16).

So off they go to Lazarus' funeral, and to Jesus' funeral--and to their own funerals . . . 

Read vs 17-24. Martha isn't rebuking Jesus, but expressing her faith in his authority to heal sickness and her regret at his absence. She interprets Jesus' statement (vs 23) as orthodox Jewish condolences (vs 24). She is overwhelmed by the untimely death of her brother.

The Claim (vs 25-27)

Read vs 25,26. What a titanic claim! She believed he had the authority to heal sickness, but he claims to have the authority to defeat death! Jesus claims to be the source of a life that overcomes even physical death. To believe in Jesus is to receive this life immediately and therefore to ultimately overcome death. No one has ever made such a claim as this!

These verses sound contradictory at first glance (" . . . even if he dies . . . shall never die . . . "), but they are not. The key is understanding that Jesus refers to two kinds of death.

" . . . will live even if he dies . . . " "Die" here refers to physical death. Jesus does not promise that believing in him will prevent physical death. As implied here, physical death is the norm until Christ returns. But he does promise that physical death will not interrupt the believer's conscious communion with God. Rather, physical death will be the transition into the direct presence of God (2 Cor. 5:8; Lk. 23:43).

" . . . shall never die . . . " "Die" here (literally: "die unto the ages") refers to eternal death. The Bible teaches that there is a hell--eternal, conscious separation from God's presence (2 Thess. 1:9). Since Jesus is the sole source of eternal life, those who do not have his life will experience this eternal death. But those who have his life will never experience this death (Jn. 5:24).

This life is a gift available to everyone, regardless of their sins. But there is a condition: "Do you believe this?" Read vs 27 for the correct response. Jesus asks you this. How do you answer his question?

Having made this incredible claim, Jesus now backs it up with a "sign." As he validated his claim to be the bread of life by feeding the multitude, and as he validated his claim to be the light of the world by healing the man born blind, he validates his claim to have authority over death by raising Lazarus. But first, a surprise . . . 

The Emotional Reactions (vs 28-37)

Read vs 28-32. Read vs 33-37. John, as an eye-witness, records Jesus' emotional reaction to this situation. He describes two distinct emotions.

He "wept" with sadness. Why did he weep? Not because he was despairing about losing Lazarus (like the rest of the people)--he knew he would raise him in just a few moments.

He wept because of his empathy for our tragic state. Death is not "the final stage of growth" (KUBLER-ROSS). It is not nature's beautiful way of recycling people so they go on as flowers and trees (UNITARIAN MINISTER). It is an obscenity, a terrible abnormality that God never designed for human beings. God created humans as personal, spiritual beings who were designed to live forever. Physical death is the horrible and unnatural result of humanity's revolt against God. The fact of physical death itself, and the painful separation from loved ones caused by it--all of this broke in upon Jesus and he wept.

What if he had not wept? What if God was unmoved by our condition? What of God is an all-powerful Being who made the universe--but doesn't personally care about what we experience. Because of Jesus, and because he wept, we know that God does care (read Heb. 4:15).

But Jesus also expressed another, very different emotion. He was "deeply moved in spirit." This word (embrimaomai) means to be "outraged" or "enraged" (see LXX Lam. 2:6; Dan. 11:30). The Greek author Aeschylus uses this word to describe "Greek stallions before battle, rearing up on their hind legs, pawing the air and snorting before they charged." [1] It is the same word John uses in vs 38 to describe Jesus as he "charged" Lazarus' tomb.

What if he had only wept? God would be like Rabbi Kushner's God in his book When Bad Things Happen To Good People: God is saddened, God cares, but he cannot do anything about our situation.

Jesus not only empathizes with our condition. He is also outraged by it and he has the power to do something about it! He will do this for all his people when he returns. He authenticates his claim of vs 26 by providing a foretaste of it here . . . 

The "Sign" (vs 38-44)

Read vs 38-44. He prays so that the crowd, when they see this miracle, will recognize that Jesus had been sent by God and believe in him. "Lazarus, come forth!" echoes Jn. 5:25 and is a foretaste of what it predicts.

The Results (vs 45-53)

Read vs 45. Of course they believed! Who wouldn't believe after seeing something like that? "If I had evidence like that, I'd believe too." Well, we do have more than sufficient evidence for the truthfulness of Jesus' claims. If evidence is what your looking for, please pick up Christianity--The Faith That Makes Sense. But it's not true that enough evidence will make you believe.

Read vs 46. Others who saw the same miracle ran off to tell his enemies! Once again we see that saving faith is not caused by miracles (read also 12:37). Miracles and other kinds of evidence provide a basis for saving faith, they make unbelief more inexcusable--but saving faith is a choice we make. It is the choice to humble yourself before God, to admit that you are lost, to acknowledge that you have rebelled against God and need his forgiveness, to personally entrust yourself to the Person of Jesus.

Read vs 47-53. How do we know what they said behind closed doors? For one thing, Nicodemus was there.

On one level, Caiaphas is simply saying "We need to waste this guy before he starts an insurrection and Rome wastes us. Better that he die so the nation can be spared than that he be spared and we all die."

But John says his statement was prophetic in a certain sense. Not that Caiaphas was an Old Testament prophet (man of God), but that on an ironic level his words described God's sovereign intention. Because God is sovereign, he can accomplish his redemptive purpose even through the sinful choices of rebellious people. But it didn't work out the way Caiaphas thought it would.

Caiaphas is talking about the nation of Israel being saved from the wrath of Rome through Jesus' death. But Jesus' death saved believers from all over the world from the wrath of God.

Israel would experience a great dispersion because of her rejection of the Messiah (Lk. 19). But Jesus's death would gather together all God's spiritual children into one body/temple/flock.


[1] See Os Guinness, The Dust of Death (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 384,385. See also D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), p. 415.