Atomic: Death (John 11)
They were terrified. They had a right to be. It was nearing the end of the First Century C.E. and the Romans were cracking down on insurrectionists – people who were rounded up and killed due to their loyalties that competed with Rome. Jesus-following Jews in Ephesus were no strangers to such persecution. They remembered the horror of Emperor Nero; their current Caesar, Domitian, so believed himself to be divinely imbued that he demanded to be addressed as “Lord and God”. One can only imagine this size of his ego and correlated tyranny aimed at those he felt were against him. This left the early Christian community looking over their shoulders – they only had each other and their deep-seated belief that the faith that was causing them their trouble was true.
The original characters remembered in the Gospel of John were no strangers to terror, either. Roman oppression was real and often resulted in torture and/or execution. Jesus and his followers knew of this danger, which is why they kept their distance from Jerusalem, where Rome was especially present and where the Jewish leadership – who were increasingly at odds with Jesus – ruled ancient Judaism. In John 11 we find the story of the raising of Lazarus, which inspired faithful action on the part of those who experienced it and heard about it. Martha and her sister, Mary, lost their brother to some form of illness and were in their deepest grief when Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus drew his last breath. Jesus had similar exchanges with both as they heard of his arrival and went to be with him. Jesus offered comfort and words of hope that would have been akin to “he’s in a better place” sort of talk. But that wasn’t common at that time – there wasn’t a lot to go on to support such hopeful talk. Death was quite final according to the ruling Jewish Sadducees. Day four marked the moment – the day when all hope in resuscitation was lost. Jesus was known for healing and miracles and had even brought some folk back to life – but four days in? Unheard of. Unhoped for.
Meadow Pollack was one of seventeen people killed in the Parkland shooting at a Florida high school on February 14, 2018. Her loved ones who have survived without her for a little over a year now have been forced to walk in the awful space of loss, much like Napa’s Housley family is doing right now. One of Meadow’s best friends, Sydney Aiello, was at school that terrible day but not in the building where her dear friend was gunned down. Since that day she had grieved deeply, struggled with survivor’s guilt, and was also diagnosed with PTSD which kept her from moving forward toward a college education – she quite naturally felt too vulnerable in classroom environments. Grief sometimes is too much to bear, messing with our brain chemicals so much that our despair leads to hopeless acts. Such was the case for Sydney, who took her own life this weekend. The feeling of “I can’t go on” was so great that she chose not to. Her loss is to be deeply mourned, but do not fall victim to some Christian doctrine that would have us judge and condemn her. God’s grace is not in any way, shape, or form conditioned by our various expressions of pain. Sydney, I fully believe, is in the arms of a loving God who empathized with her and loves her completely and eternally.
That level of despair and hopelessness was clearly evident four days into Lazarus’ death as crowds of people came to pay their respects with deep, expressive mourning. A handful of translations get it right when they describe Jesus’ anger at the scene of such agony. He wasn’t angry at the people. He was angry that the reality of death was so powerful that it robbed these mourners of the larger reality of the ongoing, never-ending presence of God that was the animating force behind Jesus’ teaching and miracles. He had seen and experienced what was there the whole time – and was articulated in the Jewish tradition but neglected – God was fully present during this life and well into the next experience of life post-death. Such a perspective has the power to change the atmosphere at times of suffering as was present on the fourth day. He knew why he waited to get there on that particular day, and it was time to play his biggest card yet. He called to a grave he ordered unsealed, “Lazarus, come out!”, and Lazarus walked out. I don’t know what exactly happened or how we can get our brains around such a miracle. This we know: a guy was presumed dead and then lived again because of the power of God working through Jesus on that day. He would eventually die again, of course, but I think it’s safe to assume that the second funeral had a much different feel than the first. Death lost its sting. There was life beyond the grave.
The original hearers of this story for whom the Gospel of John was written never knew Jesus or Lazarus, yet this story undoubtedly gave them confidence to hang their hat and hope on. No matter what this life held in store for them, something better awaited them beyond the grave.
What does this do for you, by the way? I don’t think John was fabricating the story. I think something happened here that resulted in Lazarus’ resuscitation. It was compelling enough for early believers to embrace. What about you? Do you believe in the reality of God and the hope beyond the grave? I do. Aside: I’ve learned that when I open myself up to the reality of the presence of God that permeates this life and necessarily extends into what’s next that I am infused with more and more hope. It has to be cultivated and managed, of course, because our cultural biases want to use the scientific method on absolutely everything, even though the method itself is not suited for everything. Curiosity within the scientific community is growing, which is good, but it is slow to trickle down. Relationship with God is a real relationship that requires ongoing care and feeding – when we don’t, it suffers and sometimes dies. When it does, hope often dies along with it.
As you can imagine, many of the original characters in the story believed in Jesus as a clearly anointed servant of God. They let their belief in the finality of death die so that something new cold be born in its place. Yet others saw the same thing as a threat to snuff out – this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Jewish leadership, who ramped up their plot to kill Jesus after hearing of Lazarus’ return to life. They maintained their belief in the finality of death and never allowed anything to be born anew in their thinking and perspective. The new idea was a threat to be reckoned with, which they did. This happens all the time.
Hundreds and hundreds of years after John’s Gospel was written, there was significant difference of opinion regarding how to interpret the Bible and apply it to life and faith. The Protestant Reformation was an obvious example of this, ignited by Martin Luther. This led to new theological insights and practices. New leaders emerged to guide the new expressions of the Church into maturity. John Calvin is one name with which you might be familiar. Huldrych Zwingli was another. These two served as leaders over Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland, respectively, creating a social order that was no longer controlled by Catholicism. A new day of freedom had dawned. Things were different now. Until Felix Manz began reading the Bible for himself and came to a “new” insight about baptism: it was never meant to be performed in infancy, but rather for only those who confessed their belief in Jesus and his message. He and others thought it would be cool to be baptized as believers, so they went for it. Unfortunately, their actions were seen as challenges to the new order. Manz became the first anabaptist to be martyred – drowned in the same waters he was baptized in. Many more would follow, including his wife.
Michael Servetus, a brilliant scientist from Spain (he discovered the circulation of blood) was also a well known and highly respected Protestant theologian. He was especially disturbed by the doctrine of the Trinity and infant baptism promoted by the Catholic Church, which wanted him dead because of it. Fleeing for his life, he went to find refuge in Geneva, hoping to find support for his free thinking from John Calvin. He was not aware, however, that Calvin was in favor of infant baptism and the doctrine of the Trinity. After Servetus attended a church service to hear Calvin, he was arrested. Shortly thereafter he was burned at the stake in Geneva on a pire of his own books and green wood to prolong his suffering.
What an interesting mix of responses to the Good News! Some take it to a certain point and then find themselves deciding with the Sadducees, hands bloodied with martyrs of their own choosing. Some, like Servetus and Manz, choose to build their lives on new insight that seems aligned with the grace of God even if it opposes the orthodoxy of the day. They did so because they saw beyond the power structures that ruled the day and instead focused their attention on the true source of the greatest power – God – who was guiding their thoughts and steps. It was reported that they both calmly and with faith suffered their death, confidently looking beyond the grave for their hope. Faith for them wasn’t simply finding a good theological reason for feeling inner peace. The power of God changed the way they thought about life, their timeline – everything.
A year ago our church lost a saint – Debbie Fatherree – who succumbed to a brain tumor that we knew from the outset would likely result in her much-too-soon death. Her spirit to the very end of her painful journey was filled with hope, love, and resolve. She was curious about what was beyond death’s door, but confident that is was going to be good. She lived her last 18 months fighting for her life and yet living fully – working to inspire others toward their health all along the way. She lived with such hopefulness because she experienced the raising of Lazarus herself. She was once Lazarus. She was once dead. Through the power of God working through Alcoholics Anonymous she was dead and lived again. That power was proof enough to her that there was more going on in the world than just flesh and blood. She allowed that hope to change her orientation to life itself.
One thing that is surely true – death comes before resurrection. Lazarus was dead before he was brought back to new life. You may get some foretastes of the presence of God in part in this life, but the banquet doesn’t come until we go through the door of death. Experiencing more and more of those foretastes requires death as well. As was the case with the notable Protestant martyrs and with Debbie Fatherree, embracing the reality of life after the grave deeply impacts how we understand our lives now.
Growing up, my family liked to get out on the water for water skiing and inner tubing. We had a boat we bought used that had a little sign next to the steering wheel which said, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” When we don’t take Jesus and his message seriously, this is the dominant idea in our culture. Others who hold the same values will celebrate your accumulation of wealth and stuff. But can I tell you something from my perspective as one who is very familiar with death and what happens to your wealth and stuff? You really don’t take it with you. Most of your stuff will quickly be donated or sold, and your accumulated wealth will lose your direct influence immediately. Your legacy will die quickly if you lived primarily with yourself and your own creature comforts in mind. When Jesus was confronted with people with this sign next to the steering wheel of their lives, he flat out challenged them to rethink everything, because their focus on wealth was killing them and others unbeknownst to them.
When we take Jesus’ message seriously about life extending beyond the grave, our vision changes. We realize that our goal for life must be bigger than our few decades, and our scope must be bigger than our own little circle. When we take Jesus’ message seriously, we are born anew to a different worldview that sees with God’s eyes. We see beyond our own needs alone and begin to see the needs of those around us near and far. Realizing that they are as much God’s children as we are, we are – and must be – moved. This changes our dreams, our calendars, and our budgets to include them because they are included in God’s. We don’t do it out of coercion but rather love, as we come to grips that God’s love for us is the same for them. Our love for God changes our hearts to love what God loves and put our lives behind it. This is ultimately why Manz and Servetus made their claims in spite of opposition that would threaten their lives – they knew they had a proclamation to make for the freedom of many more beyond them. This is why Debbie Fatherree invested so much time in the lives of others – she had all the time in the world even with a brain tumor that would end her life – her timeline was eternal, not temporal. We are invited thusly.
Do you believe in Jesus and his message that we see proclaimed in the story of the raising of Lazarus?
Study Notes (Gail O’Day, New Interpreter’s Bible)
As a first step in reflecting on this text, it is important to acknowledge the question that many hearers of the story of the raising of Lazarus will ask: Did this really happen? As the Overview discussed, there is no more reason to reject this story on tradition-historical grounds than there is to reject any of the other Gospel stories of Jesus raising someone from the dead or, indeed, of any of the accounts of Jesus’ miracles. Yet the question of whether it happened is usually not merely a question about the historicity of the event; beneath it lies a question about the very metaphysical possibility of the event. That is, the question that lingers in many hearers’ minds is “Can we really believe that something like this happened?”
For some people, even those who are eyewitnesses of events that others around them attribute to the miraculous, it is simply impossible to accept that the supernatural can overlap with the natural, that anything can occur for which there is no rational explanation. It is always a matter of reason over faith, of the known over the “might be.” Yet for many people, the experiences of their lives have led them to accept that there is genuine mystery in the world, that the world is full of evidence that the supernatural does overlap with the natural, that the line between the two is permeable. For religious people, this mystery, the overlap between the natural and the supernatural, is seen as evidence of God’s transcendence of the categories by which God’s creatures understand the world to be ordered and of God’s intervention in the workings of creation. It is thus a question of faith whether one can acknowledge the possibility and, indeed, reality of God’s miraculous intervention in creation.
It is against this background that the question, “Could it happen?” of the Lazarus story can be engaged. There is no way to prove the “facts” of this miracle. Rather, the Fourth Evangelist (and all the Gospel writers) confronts his readers with the ultimate clash between views of historical and metaphysical reality in order to lead them to make a decision about how they understand the world to be ordered. The only answer to the question of whether this miracle could have occurred is another question: Can we believe that God, acting through Jesus, has power over the course of life and death?
The Fourth Evangelist engages this question head on in John 11:1–44. As noted in the Commentary, the theological heart of this story is in vv. 25–26, because these verses explain the meaning and import of the miracle of vv. 43–44. The miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead concretely illustrates the truths that Jesus declares in vv. 25–26, but it is these truths, not the miracle, that have the lasting significance for the life of faith.
What truths do these verses offer the reader? First, they offer the truth of the identity of Jesus. When Jesus identifies himself with the images of the resurrection and the life (v. 25a), he uses those metaphors to give concrete expression to his unity with the Father, to show what it means that Jesus and God are one. Even though this “I am” saying has a predicate nominative supplied, it is closer in meaning to the absolute “I am” sayings (those without a predicate nominative; see also Fig. 10, “The ‘I AM’ Sayings in John,” 602), because Jesus’ self-revelation as the resurrection and the life points to his sharing fully in the power of God. The magnitude of this claim cannot be overstated, because it announces that God’s power over life and death, a central belief of OT faith (e.g., 2 Kgs 5:7; Ezek 39:3–12) is now shared with Jesus (see Commentary on 5:21–29). When one sees and hears Jesus, one does not see and hear God in some static sense (as frequently seems to be communicated in doctrinal formulations), but one sees God’s will for the salvation of the world at work in the world.
Jesus’ self-revelation as the resurrection and the life is the decisive eschatological announcement of this Gospel. His full share in God’s power over life and death marks the beginning of God’s new age, the age in which God’s hope for the world becomes a reality. What God wills and hopes for the life of the world is now available in Jesus—that is, the defeat of death’s power to remove people from life with God. Who Jesus is, not only what Jesus does (i.e., the works of God as in John 9), marks this decisive shift in God’s relationship with the world. As the resurrection and the life, Jesus defeats death in the future and in the present. The power of death to separate people from God is reduced to nothing by the presence of the power of God in Jesus. This defeat is no longer merely eschatological promise; it is eschatological reality.
Jesus defeats the power of death because in him the world meets the power of the love of God incarnate (cf. Rom 8:35–39). God’s full sharing of power over life and death with Jesus is an expression of God’s love for Jesus and for the world. Because God loves Jesus, God has given all things to him (3:35), culminating in the power over life and death. Because God loves Jesus, God has given him the glory that is revealed in the raising of Lazarus, in the defeat of death (11:4; 17:24). Because God loves the world, God gives Jesus to the world for its salvation (3:16–17), so that the world might come to know fully God’s love for it and live grounded in that love (17:23). Jesus’ own death is a measure of this love (10:17; 15:12), because in it Jesus’ power as the resurrection and the life comes to fullest expression.
Yet this decisive christological announcement is only half of the truth that vv. 25–26 offers the Gospel reader. These verses also offer readers the opportunity to claim that truth for their own lives. Significantly, then, who Jesus is in relationship to God is linked with who Jesus is for believers. As noted in the commentary, the hinge of the parallel phrases in vv. 25b and 26a is the expression “the one who believes in me.” Jesus’ words point to the “So what?” of his identity for the life of the believer.
Verses 25b and 26a are the most far-reaching promise anywhere in the Gospel of what relationship with Jesus offers those who embrace it. They are of a piece with the promises of living water (4:10, 14; 7:37–38), living bread (6:33, 35, 51), and even eternal life (3:15; 6:47; 10:28), but they supersede all those earlier promises by confronting head on the question of death. They are not idle words of hope, because they name the greatest threat to full relationship with God: death. They offer a vision of life to the believer in which his or her days do not need to be reckoned by the inevitable power of death, but instead by the irrevocable promise of life with God. The two parts of vv. 25b and 26a invite the believer to a vision of life in which one remains in the full presence of God during life and after death. The physical reality of death is denied power over one’s life with God, as is the metaphysical reality of death.
This promise is also an invitation, made explicit in Jesus’ question in v. 26b. The way to experience the power of God’s love for the world that defeats death, to receive the promises of God as the reality of God, is to believe in Jesus. When Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” he asks her to believe both that he is the resurrection and the life and that as the resurrection and the life he defeats the power of death. That is, he asks her whether she believes in the fullness of his relationship with God and the effects of that relationship on the life of the world.
Faith, therefore, is not assent to a series of faith statements, but assent to the truth of Jesus’ relationship with God and the decisive change that relationship means for the lives of those who believe. Schnackenburg has eloquently expressed what it means to answer yes to Jesus’ question of v. 26b: “The content [of faith] is what Jesus means for believers, and therefore faith is fundamentally an attachment to this messenger of God.… The relevance of faith lies not in the power of faith as such, but in the fact that faith creates communion with Jesus and that through Jesus believers receive the gift of life.”
Jesus’ claim in vv. 25–26, the claim to which he invites Martha’s (and the church’s) assent, is that the eschatological reality of God that is present in Jesus has decisively altered human experience of life and death. Martha confesses her faith in Jesus as the Son of God (v. 27), yet v. 39 shows that she is not really convinced about the “So what?” of her christological confession. Martha’s attempt to stop Jesus from opening Lazarus’s tomb (v. 39) shows that the full impact of that eschatological claim is beyond her comprehension (see Commentary). Martha serves as a mirror for the contemporary Christian, because the church responds to Jesus’ claims of vv. 25–26 in ways that often are as hesitant as Martha’s words in v. 39.
For example, Jesus’ “I am” statement of v. 25a, one of the christological high points of the Gospel, loses much of its eschatological and soteriological significance if the only time the church engages it is at Easter or funerals. The church preaches about death and resurrection at the time of death, but shies away from such topics in the midst of life. Yet it is in the everyday rhythms of life that the church most needs to talk about Jesus’ power as the resurrection and the life, so that death can indeed lose its sting. To proclaim the power of resurrection only at the time of death is both to impoverish the proclamation and to weaken the power of its witness in the face of death. There is thus a critical need to include conversations about death and the theological significance of Jesus as the resurrection and the life in the ongoing theological reflection of the church, not just in its reflection about death.
In the moment of crisis, at the funeral of a loved one, the immediate need is for pastoral care and reassurance about the power of the resurrection. Indeed, funerals do provide gospel witness to the power of God in Jesus. But a funeral is not the moment for believers to reassess their lives in the light of the new eschatological reality in which the incarnation enables the church to live, because the power of grief and loss is so palpable. Why, then, does the church so often save its most powerful proclamation about death and resurrection for funerals?
Jesus’ powerful announcement to Martha suggests that the church needs to embrace Jesus as the resurrection and the life not only at times of death, but also in the daily moments of human lives, because these moments, too, whether one names them so or not, are also lived in the face of death. John 11 asks the church to reflect that Jesus is the resurrection and the life not just for the crisis moment of death, but for all moments in life. Jesus as the resurrection and the life is the decisive eschatological announcement, because he announces that the world is now definitively under God’s care and power. John 11:25–26 invites the church to claim that death is indeed an inescapable part of the believer’s life, but that it also belongs to the ongoing, life-giving power of God in Jesus (“even though they die, will live,” v. 25b). And Jesus’ words here invite the church to claim that God’s life-giving power in Jesus is the power that determines the believer’s existence, not the power of death (“everyone who lives and believes in me will never die”). John 11 thus offers a promise about how those who believe in Jesus will live their lives, not just about how they will end them.
It is the church’s responsibility to reintegrate death into the mainstream of its theological and pastoral reflection and experience. The goal of such a reintegration is not to eliminate the pain at the death of those we love—that would be a gnostic exercise in denial—but to help the church experience the life of faith grounded in the affirmation that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The promises of God in Jesus offered in the face of death can equip the church to understand the promises of God in Jesus offered in the midst of life.
The Commentary on 11:45–54 noted the repeated instances of irony in the Fourth Evangelist’s presentation of the Sanhedrin’s decision to kill Jesus. This use of irony raises two important issues for the Gospel interpreter. First, it confronts the interpreter with the paradox of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus as the catalyst for his death sentence. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is the catalyst for his death sentence (see Commentary on 2:13–21), but by explicitly naming the Lazarus miracle as the precipitating cause of the Sanhedrin meeting, the Evangelist expands the arena of Jesus’ threat to the Jewish authorities’ power. That is, Jesus’ challenge is not interpreted simply as his challenge to the political power of the religious establishment; it is presented as a challenge to the very way in which the presence of God is known and approached in the world. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus demonstrated that all of Jesus’ claims about his unity with God are true: He does share God’s power for life; he does embody the fulfillment of God’s promises (see Commentary on 11:1–44).
The governing irony of the juxtaposition of the Lazarus miracle and the Sanhedrin decision is that even as the authorities resolve to kill Jesus, they are powerless in the presence of the one who is the resurrection and the life. Before performing the miracle, Jesus explicitly stated that Lazarus’s illness was not for death, but for the glory of God (11:4). Faced with that glory, the religious leadership nonetheless resorts to planning his death. Jesus’ gift of life is the most radical and dangerous threat to the authorities’ power, yet all of their political machinations will only enhance Jesus’ power for life, not impede it. The truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus gives exceeds all hopes and anticipations, and because Jesus’ gift of life redefines the power of death, all agents of death are rendered impotent in his presence. The Fourth Evangelist’s ironic commentary tells the reader that this decision for death contains the seeds of life for those who believe. It is a brilliant way of reinforcing the bold message of 11:1–44: Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, death has lost its sting.
Yet this thoroughly ironic treatment of Jesus’ death sentence confronts the interpreter with a second issue: How is the relationship between “history” and “interpretation” to be negotiated in this text? The Evangelist’s interpretive work is undisguised in this passage; he provides explicit narrative commentary on the theological meaning of the event he is recounting (vv. 51–52); he arranges details of the story to highlight his ironic reading. Yet as the Commentary on these verses has shown, they also offer glimpses of the workings of the Sanhedrin that stand up well next to other sources about life in first-century Palestine under Roman rule.
It is critical that the interpreter of the Fourth Gospel not fall into the anachronistic trap, shaped by Enlightenment understandings of science and history, of drawing a line between history and interpretation. The Fourth Evangelist did not separate recounting the story from interpreting the story, and that unity of purpose shapes all aspects of the Gospel. Details that give the reader a glimpse into the religious life of early and mid-first-century Palestine, stories that come from common traditions about Jesus, find their way into this Gospel, but they do so through the Fourth Evangelist’s literary and theological lens. The irony with which the account of Caiaphas’s pronouncement is laced is evidence not that the Fourth Evangelist had no regard for history, or even that he made the story up, but rather that he understood God’s purposes to be at work even in history and constructed his narrative so that his readers could see that, too.
More notes from other scholars…
q Jesus did not refrain from setting out in order for Lazarus to die. He was likely dead by the time the messenger arrived. One day for the messenger to get to Jesus, two days wherever Jesus was ministering, and one day for Jesus to travel to Lazarus equals four days. 188
q Disciples don’t understand Jesus’ insistence on going to Lazarus, since shortly before the Jewish opponents had tried to stone him. Also, since Jesus is saying the illness will not end in death, why risk it? 188
q Walking in darkness and light. Jesus had only a limited widow of time to do his ministry. This is a challenge to the disciples to continue walking with him, even into the darkness, since he is the Light of the world. 188
q “Sleep” was a common reference to death. Jesus waking Lazarus up from this sleep is a teaching for believers: we are to view death as a sleep from which we shall be awakened through Jesus. 189
q A common belief was that the soul would return to the body every day for three days hoping to return to it. After three days, the soul could recognize that as the color in the face has disappeared, so the soul would never reenter. The fourth day, then, represented certain death. 190
q Martha’s reaction is not critical of Jesus – just an expression of her grief. Her statement of faith is significant: even her brother’s death will not reduce her faith in Jesus. 190
q Jesus’ revelation is an assurance to Martha of the resurrection to the kingdom of God in its consummation through him who is the Resurrection, and of life in the kingdom of God in the present time through him who is the Life. 191
q Deeply moved/anger and tears suggest Jesus’ upset over the human condition of sin and death which he would soon prove to overcome. The tears were not, however, for Lazarus. 194
q Four day period significant. Jewish belief was that the soul would hover around the body for three days hoping to reenter. By the fourth day, the body’s color would leave and the soul would be shut out and force it to go to Sheol. Hope would be lost at that point. 354
q Jesus’ statement that Lazarus would rise indicates that Jesus’ power extends even to Sheol. 356
q Martha’s confession was not one of genuine understanding, for when they came to the tomb, Martha’s statement about Lazarus’ stench indicates she was only thinking on the eternal level of the resurrection. 357
q Evangelicals need to be reminded by this account that verbal confessions are not to be synonymous with life commitment. Lip service is not the goal. “Verbal confessions and life commitments are not always partners with each other.” 357
q Lazarus. A man deeply loved by Jesus; brother to Mary and Martha.
q Not end in death. An allusion to a greater principle Jesus was stating: with belief in him, a person’s story never ends in death.
q God’s Son glorified. Jesus clearly identifies himself as the Son of God, and indicates that the ensuing events will serve to validate the claim.
q Going back to Judea. The disciples’ allegiance indicated that their belief was more than intellectual – this represented a volitional component.
q Martha. Lazarus’ sister was stricken with grief. She already had a significant level of intellectual and volitional belief in Jesus. All three dimensions were about to experience growth, especially the emotional dimension.
q Resurrection. Pharisaic teaching represented the popularly held belief that the Messiah would raise the dead at the last day.
q I am. These two words of self-identification speak volumes to Jews – Jesus was declaring himself to be God incarnate.
q Resurrection and the life. Jesus was stating that not only is he the one who will provide for the resurrection on that last day, but that, as the author of life, he offers a qualitative experience of eternal life in the present for those who believe.
q Martha’s confession and contradiction. She confessed an intellectual belief, but her emotional belief was weak, as her lack of trust in Jesus to bring about Lazarus’ resurrection is evidenced by her declaration that her brother now stinks as a result of being dead for days and not having been embalmed.
q Jesus, deeply moved and troubled, wept. Jesus’ upset is related not only to compassion felt toward those in mourning, but also to their desperation resulting from their lack of faith regarding the resurrection.
q Four days. Jewish belief held that a deceased person’s soul would attempt for three days to reenter the body, and that when color would leave the person’s body, this symbolized the door’s closing, at which point the soul would enter Sheol, the place of the dead.
q Jesus’ prayer. Not PR, but a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God.
q Take away the stone… take off the grave clothes. God chooses to use willing people in his plan of redemption. Both of these requests were directed toward bystanders.
q Lazarus, come out! Jesus’ word has authority even over certain death. All who witnessed this no longer only believed intellectually in Jesus – they felt certain that Jesus was able to deliver salvation even from death, which signifies the emotional dimension of belief.
q Believes in me yet dies emphasizes Jesus’ impact on our view of death. For Jesus to be the life means that the believer’s present is also determined by Jesus’ power for life. 689
q “Unless one believes in Jesus and his word, the transformed life he offers is rendered void.” 689
q “Faith is not assent to a series of faith statements, but assent to the truth of Jesus’ relationship with God and the decisive change that relationship means for the lives of those who believe.” 694
q “Jesus’ words invite the church to claim that God’s life-giving power in Jesus is the power that determines the believer’s existence, not the power of death. John 11 thus offers a promise about how those who believe in Jesus will live their lives, not just about how they will end them.” 695