The Gospel of John – Lesson 29 – John 11:1-16

Now a certain man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother, Lazarus was sick, was the same Mary who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one you love is sick!” When Jesus heard it, he said, “This sickness is not going to result in death, but it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed in the place where he was two more days. Then afterwards he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, recently the Jews were trying to stone you. And you are going back there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? If anyone walks around during the day, he does not stumble because he sees this world’s light. 10 But if anyone walks around at night, he stumbles because there is no light on him.” 11 He said this and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 Then the disciples said, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.” 13 Jesus had been speaking about his death, but they thought he was merely talking about ordinary sleep. 14 So Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go too, so that we may die with him.”

It’s always hard when someone close to us becomes seriously ill, especially if the illness is one that could be fatal. When the Son of God became true man to live among us, he experienced what it was like to have a close friend become seriously ill. Lazarus lived in the village of Bethany along with his sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus had been a guest in their home before. (See Luke 10:38-42) When Lazarus became seriously ill, John records that Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus “Lord, the one you love is sick.” The ancient language of the Bible had several words that were translated “love.” The word for love that was used in this case emphasized a close friendship. Mary and Martha now appealed to Jesus to assist his close friend,  knowing that as the Son of God, Jesus could help them through this time of serious trouble.

But if Jesus had such a close friendship with Lazarus, why did he respond to the news of Lazarus’ illness the way he did? If you found out someone who was a close friend was seriously ill, wouldn’t you go and visit if it were possible. Even if you couldn’t visit, you’d probably at least send word expressing your concern and telling your friend that you’re praying for them. Yet Jesus did nothing initially other than to speak to his disciples about the situation.

Here we should look closer at what Jesus said to his disciples. It might seem confusing at first because we know Lazarus did die. If we do a literal translation of Jesus’ words from the original language of the Bible his statement goes like this: “This sickness is not to death but for the glory of God in order that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus didn’t say that death wouldn’t occur. But death wouldn’t be the final victor. Jesus would be glorified which would also bring glory to God the Father. God was in full control, death would only be used to achieve God’s purpose.

For further insight into Jesus’ actions consider how verse 5 tells us that Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Here the original language of the Bible used a different word for “love” than the one used in verse 3. In this case the word means the unconditional love that our Lord shows to us. He loves us because he chooses to love us. God wants us to have eternity with him in heaven. The special unconditional love described in verse 5 moved Jesus to act in the way that was best for Lazarus and his sisters, even if it would cause them a time of sadness.

Finally, two days later, Jesus decided it was time for them to go to Judea. The disciples were stunned by the news. The last time they were in the area, the people tried to kill Jesus. Why would Jesus want to go back there now? Jesus made it clear that Lazarus had died. Jesus had waited until the proper time to go, in order to carry out his Father’s will. He announced his intentions to go and awaken Lazarus. In doing so he would strengthen the faith of his disciples, as well as the faith of Lazarus and his sisters.

Clearly the disciples’ faith needed a boost. Thomas saw no hope in the situation. He was devoted to his Lord to the extent that he was willing to accompany Jesus and to die with him. But he failed to trust that Jesus was in full control of the situation and that God would be glorified by what he was about to do.

We don’t always see God’s divine purpose when a loved one dies or when we are put in what seems like a dangerous situation. But remember, Jesus loves us, just as he loved Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. His love for us is also unconditional. He may allow us to suffer hardship for a little while. But ultimately he will use even such troubles to strengthen our trust in him. Let us always be ready to follow Jesus, even unto death, knowing that an eternal crown of life is waiting through faith in Him.

Discussion Questions

1 – When Jesus heard about Lazarus, he said this had happened so that God would be glorified. What did he mean by that?
Everything Jesus did was according to his Father’s will. God’s will is that we would come to believe in Jesus as our Savior and to come to eternal life in heaven. Whenever this happens, God is glorified. In this case, Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead. God would be glorified as many people would turn to Jesus after seeing him do this powerful miracle.

2 – When Jesus announced they were going back to Judea, his disciples tried to dissuade him. They were afraid they would all be killed if they went back there. What did Jesus say in response?
Jesus was following his heavenly Father’s timetable. He needed to keep working during his time of public ministry. Jesus didn’t worry about death, because he knew his time hadn’t come yet. No enemy could arrest him and condemn him to death before God the Father allowed it.

3 – What comfort did Jesus give us concerning death in verse 11?
He first of all, said Lazarus was sleeping. Death is nothing more than a temporary sleep for our bodies. Jesus also said he was going to awaken Lazarus. Jesus has full control over life and death. He could call Lazarus from the grave and death would have no choice but to release him. In the same way, Jesus will one day call our bodies from the grave so that body and soul, we will dwell with our Lord forever.

4 – Jesus plainly told his disciples in verse 14 that Lazarus was dead. He also said he was glad for the disciples’ sake that he was not there at the time. Why would he say that?
Jesus said he was glad he was not there so that his disciples would believe. It was time to teach the disciples that he has full authority over death. By displaying this power, his disciples would become all the more certain that Jesus is the true Son of God. This miracle and all the other things Jesus said and did are recorded that we may trust in him as well. (See John 20:31)

If you have any questions about the Word of God we studied in this lesson please contact Pastor Greg Tobison. You can send your questions to