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Apostles Fifth Sunday

Season of Apostles

APOSTLES FIFTH SUNDAY
JOHN 11:1-16 LET US ALL GO AND MAY DIE WITH HIM

INTRODUCTION

When Jesus revealed his divine identity, the Jewish leaders accused him of blasphemy and attempted to stone him to death. So, Jesus moved out from Judea across Jordan. Then he received the message that Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, was seriously sick. After waiting two days, Jesus decided to go to Bethany, in Judea, to meet the family of the deceased. The apostles were reluctant to accompany Jesus, and they dissuaded him from going there because of the life threat. Thomas took a bold step and persuaded his colleagues to accompany Jesus, even if the journey would end up in the martyrdom of all of them. Thus, the first part of the narrative of the sickness, death, and raising of Lazarus becomes the focal point of Thomas motivating the apostles to support Jesus at a time of crisis. After the reception of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the apostles daringly preached the gospel. All of them, except John, became martyrs. Let us also commit ourselves to follow Jesus along with the church he established.

BIBLE TEXT (JOHN 11:1-16)

The Raising of Lazarus

(Jn 11:1) Now, there was a man named Lazarus who was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (2) It was the same Mary who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. Their brother Lazarus was sick. (3) So the sisters sent this message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (4) On hearing this Jesus said, “This illness will not end in death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (5) Now Martha and her sister and Lazarus were friends of Jesus; (6) yet, after he heard of the illness of Lazarus, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (7) Only then did he say to his disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.” (8) They replied, “Master, recently the Jews wanted to stone you. Are you going there again?” (9) Jesus said to them, “There are twelve hours of the daylight, are there not? Whoever walks in the daytime does not stumble, for he sees with the light of this world. (10) But if anyone walks by night, he will stumble for there is no light to guide him.” (11) After that Jesus said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him.” (12) The disciples replied, “Lord, if he is sleeping he will recover.” (13) But Jesus had referred to Lazarus’ death, while they thought that he had meant the repose of sleep. (14) So Jesus said plainly, “Lazarus is dead (15) and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go there, where he is.” (16) Then Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go that we may die with him.”

INTERPRETATION

Background

While Jesus was walking in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon, the Jews ask him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (Jn 10:22-42). As part of his answering, Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” The Jews picked up rocks to stone him, accusing him of blasphemy. Jesus further clarified, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.” The Jews again tried to arrest Jesus. But he escaped from there and went across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized. People kept coming to Jesus, and they believed in him.

(Jn 11:1) Now, there was a man named Lazarus who was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

Now

The Greek word for “now” and “but” are the same. So, this expresses the contrasting situation that developed from the previous events. Jesus had escaped from the stoning and arrest attempt of the Jewish leaders by moving to Jordan. The sickness of Lazarus, the dear friend of Jesus, obliged him to return to Bethany.

There was a man named Lazarus

Lazarus, in Hebrew, Eleazar means, “God has helped.” Jesus used this name for the poor man in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). In that parable, the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house to warn his five brothers about the place of torment in the afterlife. Abraham's reply was, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead” (Lk 16:30). In contrast to this story, Jesus raised Lazarus back to earthly life to share with the people his experience in the afterlife. Many people believed in Jesus because of Lazarus’ resurrection. However, the Jewish leaders, instead of accepting Jesus as the Messiah, attempted to kill Lazarus and crucified Jesus.

who was from Bethany

Bethany was a small village about two miles (Jn 11:18) south-east of Jerusalem at the slope of Olivet on the way to Jericho. The literal meaning of Bethany is “House of Dates” or “House of the Afflicted.” It shared its border with Bethphage and was part of the Mount of Olives. Biblical references to Bethany are:

1. The hometown of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who were the best friends of Jesus, and he used to visit them.

2. Jesus raised Lazarus there (Jn 11:1-44).

3. Simon the Leper gave a dinner for Jesus at his house in Bethany when a woman anointed the feet of Jesus (Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9).

4. Jesus prepared for his triumphant entry into Jerusalem from here by sending two disciples to get the clot for his ride (Mk 11:1-2; Lk 19:29-30).

5. Jesus cursed the fig tree here (Mk 11:12-14).

6. After his solemn entry into the Temple and driving out the unjust merchants and money changers there, Jesus went to Bethany for an overnight stay (Mt 21:17).

7. Jesus led his disciples to Bethany, where he blessed them and ascended to heaven (Lk 24:50-53).

8. The second coming of Christ must be at Bethany (Acts 1:11; Zec 14:4).

The village of Mary and her sister Martha

Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus were close friends of Jesus (Jn 11:5). They lived in Bethany and invited Jesus as their guest. He had enjoyed their hospitality (Lk 10:38-42; Jn 12:2). The evangelist identifies Bethany as “the village of Mary” to distinguish it from another Bethany beyond Jordan (Jn 1:28) where John used to baptize.

Though Martha was the eldest among the three, the evangelist gives prominence to Mary here because of her special role in the ministry of Jesus. When Jesus started preaching at her house, she halted what she was doing and fully engaged in listening to him. When Martha complained to Jesus against her sister for not helping in the serving, Jesus appreciated Mary’s approach (Lk 10:38-42). A week before the crucifixion, while Jesus was dining at their house, “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (Jn 12:3). According to Matthew and Mark, this happened at the house of Simon the Leper (Mt 26:6–13; Mk 14:3–9). When Judas criticized her for spending so much money instead of helping the poor with it, Jesus justified her, “The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me. In pouring this perfumed oil upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial” (Mt 26:11-12). Hence, the evangelist gave prominence to Mary than her sister.

Martha must be the eldest in the family because John gives her name prior to the others in 11:5 and 11:19. Martha represents hospitality, service, and responsibility in the family. She welcomed Jesus into her house (Lk 10:38) and prepared food for him and his companions (Lk 10:40). She served food for Jesus and the guests (Jn 12:2). So, she got less opportunity to listen directly to Jesus while he was at their home. After the death of Lazarus, “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home” (Jn 11:20). Some interpreters consider Martha as married, and Mary and Lazarus single, who had a close affection for Jesus.

The house is not known in the name of Lazarus, and the evangelists list him last (Jn 11:5) because he was the youngest among the three. Jesus raising him from the dead is our hope for the afterlife. Mary and Lazarus might have been more popular in the ancient church. Like Mary, we have to listen to the Word of God and worship Him. Martha is a model for Christian service. So, both represent prayer and charity that Jesus taught.

(2) It was the same Mary who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. Their brother Lazarus was sick.

The evangelist distinguished this Mary who washed the feet of Jesus from other women with the same name in the gospels, especially the sinful woman who washed the feet of Jesus at a Pharisee’s house (Lk 7:37-38). John was referring to a later event that happened after Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb. One week prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, the family offered him a dinner. While Martha was serving and Lazarus was reclining at a table with Jesus, “Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (Jn 12:3).

(3) So the sisters sent this message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When Lazarus was critically ill, his sisters remembered the healing power of Jesus and his generosity to help those in distress. They wanted Jesus to come and heal him. Their faith in the healing power of Jesus is clear from Martha's words to Jesus later, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:21). So, they sent messengers to Jesus, believing that he would come, especially because of his special affection to Lazarus and to themselves. Jesus’ love for Lazarus is clear from the weeping of Jesus at Bethany and from the response of the Jews, “See how he loved him” (Jn 11:36). When Jesus spoke of Lazarus to his disciples, he used the expression, “Our friend Lazarus.” (Jn 11:11).

Martha and Mary did not specify the details of the sickness or what they had expected from Jesus. The message to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick,” is an affectionate expression of the sisters’ appeal for help during that crisis. They believed that Jesus, who healed many strangers, would come to their relief instantly. They let Jesus decide whether he should come and heal Lazarus or heal him from where Jesus was because he had healed others from remote places. Jesus had healed an official’s son in Capernaum (Jn 4:46-54), a centurion’s servant (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10), and a Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Mt 15:21-28; Mk 7:24-30) from afar.

The sisters did not mention Lazarus by name, because by the statement “the one you love” it would be clear to Jesus that the person would be their brother. Another person the Bible specifies as the one he loved was John the Evangelist (Jn 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20).

Martha and Mary did not go themselves to Jesus because he was a day’s journey away from Bethany. They had to take care of their sick brother. So, they might have sent friends or neighbors to Jesus to communicate the sad news on behalf of them.

(4) On hearing this Jesus said, “This illness will not end in death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

On hearing this Jesus said

When Jesus heard Lazarus was sick, he replied to Martha and Mary through the messengers, to the disciples, and to the people standing around him. His were words of hope, though the recipients could not grasp the meaning of what he said.

“This illness will not end in death."

Lazarus died from the illness. However, Jesus said it will not happen, though in a spiritual sense. Life and death have physical and spiritual meaning in the Bible. Though physical death is inevitable, Jesus foretold the resurrection from the dead, followed by eternal reward or punishment, depending upon how one follows the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, death is not the end, but separation of the soul from the body for a while until the second coming of Christ. For the virtuous, death is a passage from this to a life of eternal joy. For the sinners, loss of spiritual life is the death of the soul that can lead to eternal punishment. According to Paul, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

When Jesus said, “This illness will not end in death,” he foresaw the death followed by his raising of Lazarus from it. So, this death was temporary, and it was to manifest the glory of God through Jesus. He predicted the Jews, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death” (Jn 8:51). However, his listeners could understand it only in a literal sense.

It is for God’s glory

Though Jesus performed countless miracles during his public ministry, John presents only seven of them, intending to reveal how Jesus manifested them to glorify God. After the first miracle at the wedding at Cana, John documents, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (Jn 2: 11). Before raising Lazarus from the dead on the fourth day, which is the greatest of his miracles, Jesus said that it was for God’s glory. Isaiah had predicted the manifestation of God’s glory through the Messiah. “Then the eyes of the blind shall see, and the ears of the deaf be opened; Then the lame shall leap like a stag, and the mute tongue sing for joy” (Isa 35:5-6). John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Lk 7:20). His reply was, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Lk 7:22). When Jesus met a man born blind, his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” He replied, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (Jn 9:2-3). Jesus was not seeking his own glory, but the glory of God who sent him. “I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the one who judges” (Jn 8: 50). Hence, besides alleviating the sufferings of the people, Jesus used the miracles to manifest the glory of God through him so people would recognize him as the Messiah.

The Son of God may be glorified through it.

The Father and the Son are one with the Holy Spirit. So, when the Son glorifies the Father through miracle, he also achieves glory. Jesus told the Jews, “All may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (Jn 5:23). He continued, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’” (Jn 8:54). After the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist saw God the Father glorifying the Son (Mt 3:13-17). Peter, James, and John watched God glorifying Jesus during his transfiguration on a mountain (Mt 17:1-8).

The miracles of Jesus, especially the raising of Lazarus from the dead on the fourth day, convinced people to accept Jesus as the Messiah. “While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing” (Jn 2:23). After the resurrection of Lazarus, “many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him” (Jn 12:11). Through the miracles Jesus performed, people saw the glory of God manifested in Jesus. That made them to acknowledge him as the Messiah.

(5) Now Martha and her sister and Lazarus were friends of Jesus

Though Martha was the eldest, John mentioned Mary prior to Martha in John 11:1. He qualified Bethany as the “village of Mary” because of Mary’s special affection for Jesus. Because of that, she might have been more popular in the early Christian community than Martha. However, considering Martha as the eldest, John lists her first here and in 11:19. John records Lazarus last because he was the youngest in the family.

Though Jesus had friends and supporters in Galilee and Judea, Martha and her siblings had a close relationship with Jesus. He could find a place to rest and instruct the people at their house in Bethany that was close to Jerusalem and on his way from Jericho. Martha was hospitable to Jesus and Mary was devotional to him by listening to his preaching and publicly anointing his feet. Jesus loved Lazarus, who was the youngest in the family, like John was the youngest among the apostles. The sisters expressed that love Jesus had to their brother, in their message to Jesus: “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

(6) yet, after he heard of the illness of Lazarus, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

The messengers took one day to reach Jesus from Bethany to Bethabara across Jordan (Jn 1:28), thirty miles away from where Jesus was (Jn 10:40). Lazarus might have died and been buried on the same day. Jesus spent two days in the same location where he was. He and the apostles had a one-day journey to Bethany. So, he reached there on the fourth day after the burial of Lazarus (Jn 11:39).

Why Jesus delayed two days?

1. Lazarus might have died soon after the messengers left Bethany in search of Jesus. Hence, he could not reach there before the burial. So, he let the funeral take place and raise Lazarus on the fourth day, manifesting God’s glory. The other raising from the dead were immediately after the death and before burial. Hence, the raising of Lazarus would be a greater manifestation of God’s glory. As with his first miracle at the wedding in Cana, he might have felt that his hour for this miracle had not arrived (Jn 2:4). So, he had to wait for an appropriate time to exhibit the glory.

2. Jesus might have delayed for assessing the faith of Martha, Mary, and their friends in the resurrection of the dead. They were expecting Jesus to come to them immediately. However, they did not see him even on the day after Lazarus’ death. That time was enough for Jesus to return and console them. But he delayed two more days. Since Jesus was so close to the family, that could have caused a faith crisis in them. However, they did not complain to Jesus. Martha and Mary expressed only their wish, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:21, 32). Martha did not give up her hope and said to Jesus, “even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (Jn 11:22). She confessed her faith in Jesus, saying, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27).

3. Jesus had a better plan in mind. Jesus did not respond immediately, not because of his lack of affection towards Martha and Mary. Though he loved this family, he purposefully delayed his journey to manifest the glory of God.

(7) Only then did he say to his disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.”

When the messengers of Martha and Mary reached Jesus, he was outside Judea. The enemies of Jesus were mostly in Judea, and they had attempted to arrest Jesus and kill him. However, he had escaped with his own power. They were still waiting for another opportune time to assassinate Jesus. So, his proposal to the disciples on the third day to return to Judea was challenging for his team.

(8) They replied, “Master, recently the Jews wanted to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Only a few days had elapsed since the Jews attempted to stone Jesus, accusing him of blasphemy (Jn 10:31-33). Besides, “They tried again to arrest him; but he escaped from their power” (Jn 10:39). So, it was risky for Jesus and his disciples to return to Judea. The apostles were more concerned about the security of Jesus than offering support to their close family in Bethany.

(9) Jesus said to them, “There are twelve hours of the daylight, are there not? Whoever walks in the daytime does not stumble, for he sees with the light of this world. “

There are twelve hours of the daylight, are there not?”

Regardless of the variation in the time of sunset and sunrise, the Jews considered 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM as night, and 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM as daylight. Day and night have spiritual meaning. Those who walk with Jesus are in the light and those who are under the influence of Satan are in darkness.

Whoever walks in the daytime does not stumble, for he sees with the light of this world.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). Like the daylight from the sun helps us to walk without falling, Jesus helps us to walk without falling on our spiritual journey. The disciples were worried about going with Jesus to Judea. However, they do not have to worry because the timing of Jesus’ passion had not yet arrived. It would happen only when the Father determines. So, they could safely walk with Jesus even amid the enemies. They must continue the work until the force of darkness takes over. Jesus said, “The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going” (Jn 12:35).

Jesus was sure that during his travel to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the tomb, the enemies could not arrest him. He knew the duration of his public ministry was at its eleventh hour and the sunset of the public ministry was nearby. He had to use the time left efficiently to complete his mission until the enemies take control over him. Jesus foresaw his resurrection as the sunrise. Thus, Jesus was easing the fear of the disciples in returning to Judea and warning them of the dark hours ahead.

(10) “But if anyone walks by night, he will stumble for there is no light to guide him.”

From the physical reality of walking in the light or darkness, Jesus shifts to a spiritual truth. The world entered spiritual darkness because of the sin of the first parents. Jesus came as the light of the world to guide us from darkness to the light in heaven. “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” (Mt 4:16). Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). Jesus came into the world when the blind leaders were leading the blind because of lack of light in them. He said about the Pharisees, “They are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit” (Mt 15:14). Jesus said to the crowd, “The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light” (Jn 12:35-36). The disciples were in the light of Jesus, and they could walk with him and do not have to worry about stumbling in the spiritual darkness. Though the children of darkness were plotting to attack them, they were safe with Jesus. As long as they have the light of Jesus within them, they could see the right path. If they lose the light, they will slam against the spiritual obstacles and fall into spiritual darkness. So, like the wise virgins who brought flasks of oil with their lamps, the disciples should stock grace from Jesus (Mt 25:1-13) so they have enough light when needed.

(11) After that Jesus said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him.”

 “Our friend Lazarus”

The sisters of Lazarus had sent the message to Jesus referring to their brother as “the one you love” (Jn 11:3). Jesus confirmed his affection to Lazarus in his address to the disciples. Jesus said of Lazarus as the friend of the disciples as well because whenever Jesus went to the house of Martha, the disciples were with him. They also had received the hospitality of the family and had developed a friendship with Lazarus. Since the disciples were reluctant to go to Bethany, Jesus reminded them of their close friendship with Lazarus to motivate them for the trip to Bethany.

Though Jesus delayed two days, he was constantly remindful of the sickness and death of Lazarus. Now the time came for him to go to Bethany to console the grieving sisters and to raise Lazarus from his tomb. The purposeful delay was to manifest the glory of God and to bring more people to salvation.

“Lazarus has fallen asleep.”

Death has been symbolically expressed as sleep in the Biblical and non-biblical literature, especially for the righteous people. It is a softer way of referring to death. Besides, the human dead body resembles a sleeping person until the body is decayed. The usage of sleep for death does not always mean hope of resurrection, especially for the nonbelievers.

Death as sleep in the Old Testament

Old Testament has several references to sleep or rest when it mentions death but deals with resurrection only on few occasions. Referring to the death of Moses, God said to him, “Soon you shall sleep with your ancestors” (Deut 31:16). God spoke to David through Nathan, “When your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you” (2 Sam 7:12). “David rested (slept) with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David” (1 Kgs 2:10). “Hezekiah rested with his ancestors, and his son Manasseh succeeded him as king” (2 Kgs 20:21).

Death as sleep in the New Testament

Death, like sleep, has hope in waking up according to Paul (1 Thes 4:13-15). People go to bed at night hoping to wake up in the morning. Similarly, the righteous sleep in Christ, believing that God will raise them up at the second coming of Christ as Jesus promised.

As with Lazarus, Jesus used “sleeping” for death before racing the Jairus’ daughter from deathbed. (Mt 9:24; Mk 5:39; Lk 8:52). Luke documented Stephen’s death, saying, “he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). Paul spoke in the Synagogue, “David, after he had served the will of God in his lifetime, fell asleep, was gathered to his ancestors” (Acts 13:36). Paul wrote about the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection, “to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:6). He used the phrase, “those who have fallen asleep in Christ” for the deceased (1 Cor 15:18). Peter also used “asleep” when he mentioned about the ancestors who have died (2 Pet 3:4).

The word 'cemetery' comes from the Greek word 'koimeterion' meaning dormitory or sleeping place. It is used for the land meant for burial. This term was originally used for the Roman catacombs and later for most burial grounds.

When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus fell asleep, he meant a physical death. However, the apostles took that in the literal sense. Jesus used a tender word to avoid shock feeling for the apostles who were also friends of Lazarus. Biblically, the death of a righteous person was also considered as sleep. Since no one reported the death of Lazarus to Jesus, he came to know it by his divine intuition.

“I am going to wake him.”

Just as Jesus used the gentle term “sleep” for the death of Lazarus, he used another humble team “wake” to refer to raising Lazarus from the dead. Previously, Jesus had taught, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (Jn 5:25). Though Jesus had mentioned this for his second coming, he showed that during his public ministry, with Lazarus. Another event of resurrection for a temporary period happened at the death of Jesus. “The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Mt 27:51b-53). These are assurances of the resurrection of the dead at the second coming of Christ which Daniel had prophesied centuries ago: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; Some to everlasting life, others to reproach and everlasting disgrace. But those with insight shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever” (Dan 12:2-3).

(12) The disciples replied, “Lord, if he is sleeping he will recover.”

The disciples took the sleep and waking up in the literal sense. Jesus had mentioned before, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4). So, they had genuine reason to believe that Lazarus would not die out of that sickness. Often Jesus used worldly facts to teach the spiritual matters. Because of the life threat in Judea, the disciples were looking for an excuse to avoid the trip there. So, they expressed a general principle that if the sick person was sleeping, he would recover and wake up by himself. According to Rabbinic teaching, sleep was one symptom of recovery and a decline in the disease's violence. Since the self-recovery was happening, they could avoid that risky trip to Judea.

(13) But Jesus had referred to Lazarus’ death, while they thought that he had meant the repose of sleep. (14) So Jesus said plainly, “Lazarus is dead

Jesus often used parables, metaphors, figure of speech, or symbolism in his teachings. So, often the listeners had a hard time understanding him. Even disciples misunderstood him, and some “returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (Jn 6:66). The reason was that he was speaking of a spiritual realm while his listeners took them in the literal and earthly sense. The same happened in this case. When Jesus spoke of the death of Lazarus as a sleep and his raising from the tomb as waking up, the apostles understood as sleep leading to recovery. So, Jesus had to plainly reveal them that Lazarus had died.

Since the disciples misunderstood Jesus, he told clearly that Lazarus had died. However, he did not express any grief because of his plan to raise Lazarus from the dead. The disciples might have doubted why Jesus did not prevent the death of their close friend Lazarus. So, Jesus explained his intention.

(15) and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go there, where he is.”

For your sake

Some miracles had identified Jesus as the Messiah and increased the people’s faith in him:

1. The divine intervention at the baptism of Jesus helped to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. When Jesus came towards John the Baptist, he testified, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (Jn 1:32-34).

2. The disciples of Jesus were present when Jesus performed the miracles revealing his glory. After describing the first miracle at the wedding in Cana, John the Evangelist notes, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” (Jn 2:11).

3. While Jesus was talking to some Greeks who approached him through Andrew and Philip, Jesus prayed, “‘I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it and will glorify it again.’ The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered and said, ‘This voice did not come for my sake but for yours’” (Jn 12:27-30).

4. John wrote as a conclusion of his gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:30-31).

Though the primary intention of most of the miracles of Jesus was to help the people in distress, they helped the disciples who witnessed them to strengthen their faith and for others to believe in him. That was the reason for Jesus’ response, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.

Instead of expressing grief at the death of their close friend Lazarus, Jesus express joy. That would seem startling. Jesus was joyful not at the death of Lazarus but at its outcome of a greater miracle that could reaffirm the faith of the disciples. However, when he met Martha and Mary, he wept and empathized with them (Jn 11:35).

If Jesus had reached at the sickbed of Lazarus, he would have cured him as Martha and Mary told Jesus (Jn 11:21, 32). He could not resist the request to heal Lazarus. People would consider that as one among the many miracles Jesus performed. However, raising Lazarus after his death on the fourth day was the greatest of all his miracles during his public ministry. That helped to increase the faith of the disciples and many others in Jesus. He was joyful about having such an opportunity. So, the intention of the delay in curing Lazarus was a purposeful decision of Jesus for the sake of increasing the faith of the public in him.

But let us go there, where he is.

After two days of delay, Jesus decided to go to Bethany to help Martha and Mary, to bring back the life of their brother Lazarus, whereby revealing the glory of God amid the people there. Though the disciples were afraid of returning to Judea, Jesus expected them to accompany him to witness what he was going to do.

(16) Then Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go that we may die with him.”

Thomas, called the Twin

Thomas is the Hebrew and Aramaic word for twin, and Didymus is the Greek equivalent of the same. So, he could have a twin brother or sister who is unknown now. His original name given in some other books is Judas. John uses Thomas and Didymus together also in 20:24 and 21:2.

In the Synoptic gospels, Thomas is coupled with Matthew (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15). So, some doubt Matthew as the twin brother of Thomas. Whereas in Acts 1:13, Philip is coupled with Thomas. Some believe Jesus gave Thomas that name because of his twin nature in spirituality. He had doubts followed by firm faith, and fear replaced by boldness.

Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples

Usually, Peter was the spokesperson and leader of the apostles. Here, Thomas took the lead to motivate the other apostles to accompany Jesus to Judea, guessing that they also might face martyrdom. Acknowledging the heroic proposal of Thomas, all the apostles traveled with Jesus to Bethany in Judea.

“Let us also go that we may die with him.”

Though Jesus told the disciples that daytime was still available for his public ministry and the night was imminent, the disciples did not grasp at the moment everything Jesus taught. They were still in dismay whether they should go with their master to Judea where there was risk of assault on them (Jn 11:8).

“Let us also go that we may die with him.”

Thomas was sure if Jesus was going back to Judea, the Jews would kill him. The apostles did not remember that Jesus escaped all previous assassination attempts on him because his time for self-sacrifice had not arrived. Probably they thought that he narrowly escaped during the past attempts. Since the apostles were not warriors and Jesus did not want them to defend themselves from physical enemies, he had no way to escape from the trap of the Jews. Thomas did not presume that Jesus would use any miracle for himself to escape from the enemies.

“Let us also go that we may die with him.”

Since the apostles were defenseless, they could also be arrested and stoned to death. They had left everything and followed their master. So, if the master would face martyrdom, they also would end up with the same fate. Hence, Thomas told his colleagues that they should not abandon their master at the time of his demise. They should also sacrifice their lives for him.

“Let us also go that we may die with him.”

Thomas encouraged the other apostles to team up with Jesus and travel with him to Judea, expecting martyrdom. This sentence must be the summary of a motivation speech by Thomas to persuade the other apostles to accompany Jesus to Judea.

At the last supper, Peter had expressed his willingness to offer his life for Jesus. Despite the pledges of Thomas and Peter to sacrifice their lives for Jesus, Thomas did not accompany Jesus after his arrest. Peter could reach up to the backyard of Annas. Only John could follow Jesus during the trial and crucifixion.

MESSAGE

1. Though Jesus was a close family friend of Lazarus and his sisters, Jesus did not prevent him from getting sick or even show up on time before his death. Comparable situation can happen in our lives even when we are close to Jesus. In our tough times, let us believe that God has a better plan for us which we may not be aware at present. Let us do not lose our faith when we have tragedies in our lives.

2. Martha and Mary might have been disappointed that they did not get the help of Jesus in time to prevent his death. He did not even show up for the burial. They knew Jesus was not far away. That was why they complained, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Still, they continued their hope or friendship with Jesus. We should not lose faith when God delays answering our prayers.

3. When Martha and Mary send a message to Jesus saying, “the one you love is sick,” Jesus understood it was about Lazarus. Jesus also used the term “our friend” for Lazarus, acknowledging his good affiliation with Jesus. Can we also consider ourselves as close friends of Jesus?

4. The sickness of Lazarus ended up in the glory of God and gained popularity for Lazarus after his resurrection and as a popular person recorded in the Bible. Let us assure ourselves that if we are faithful to God and patient with Him, our sorrows would turn into joy, as in the story of Job and with Lazarus.

5. Before receiving the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the apostles were afraid of losing their lives for Jesus Christ. However, when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they became bold messengers of Jesus Christ. We also need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to continue our Christian witnessing in our life situations.

6. Jesus qualified himself as the light of the world. We need this light to walk without stumbling and to attain eternal life in heaven.

7. Jesus presented the death of Lazarus as a sleep. Let us live and welcome death when it is our time with the hope in the eternal glory of the righteous.

8. Like Thomas, we should be able to take up risk in our lives for Jesus and the church he established. Following Thomas’ example, Christians should encourage one another in difficult times.