Exegetical Notes – John 11.1-45


 I.                    ACQUAINTANCE:


A.   Comparison of texts:

v.11 – sleepeth, but I go that I may awake him out of sleep (KJV)

        – fallen asleep, but I’m going there to wake him up (NIV)

– at rest; I’m going to wake him (NJB)

– fallen asleep, but I’m going there to awaken him (NRSV)

     v. 12 – shall do well (KJV)

              – will get better (NIV)

– will be saved (NJB)

– will be all right (NRSV)

     v. 33 – groaned in the spirit and was troubled (KJV)

              – deeply moved in spirit and troubled (NIV)

– was greatly disturbed and with a profound sigh (NJB)

– greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved (NRSV)

     v. 39 – stinketh (KJV); bad odor (NIV); smell (NJB); stench (NRSV)

     v. 44 – loose him and let him go (KJV)

              – take off the grave clothes and let him go (NIV)

– unbind him, let him go free (NJB)

– unbind him, let him go (NRSV)


B.      Greek Criticism: v. 4 – “of God,” not found in P66, P45, and Coptic versions; here and in

v. 25 are the only 2 places in John that Jesus uses this term - “son of God” - for himself;

v. 12 – “fallen asleep,” in Hebrew, Greek, and LXX sleep is equated with death; “will be saved” (passive of sozein); could also be rendered “to recover from illness;” P75 reads “will get up”

v. 16 – “Thomas” (Hebrew, te ōm; Aramaic, te  ōmâ ) means “twin” which is what Didymus means in Greek. In the list of the 12 disciples he’s simply known as Thomas. One tradition says that Thomas was the twin of Jesus, at least in appearance.

v. 21 – “Lord” is not found in Codex Vaticanus nor OSsin.

     v. 23 – “rise” found in vv. 23-25 (anastasis and anistanai); the only time in John that a word 

     from this root is used for resurrection. Egeirein in the passive voice is the common term for    

     the common term used for the resurrection in the Synoptic Gospels.

     v. 33 – “shuddered, moved with the deepest emotions” is from the word embrimasthai which       

     can mean anger. It’s used in LXX to display indignation.

     v. 39 – “dead man’s sister” is an identification not found in OL, OSsin , and late Codex


     v. 43 – “shouted” from kraugazein, is found only eight times in the Greek NT, six of which

     are in John. The irony is that this word is also used for the shouts of the crowds to crucify

     Jesus. However, here Jesus shouts for Lazarus to come to life from the dead. That is, the

     same word for “shout” brings death in the former, but life in the latter.

C.     Rough Translation: 1 Now there was an ailing man, Lazarus from Bethany of the village 

of Mary and Martha, the sister of her. 2 and it was Mary, the one anointing the Lord with ointment and wiping off the feet of him with the hair of her, of whom the brother Lazarus ailed. 3 Sent therefore the sisters to him saying, “Lord, behold whom you love ails. 4 and hearing Jesus said, “This sickness is not to death but for the glory of God that may be glorified the son [of God] through it. 5 Now loved Jesus Martha and the sister of her,  and Lazarus. 6 when therefore he heard that he ailed then he remained in which he was place, two days. 7 then after this he says to the disciples, “let us go into Judea again.” 8 say to him the disciples, “Rabbi, now were seeking to stone you, the Jews and again you are going there?”  9 answered Jesus, “not twelve hours are there of the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because the light world of this he sees; 10 but if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 these things he said, and after this he says to them, “Lazarus the friend of us has fallen asleep; but I am going that I may awaken him. 12 said there the disciples to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep he will be saved.” 13 now had spoken Jesus concerning this death of him; but those men thought that concerning the sleep of slumber he says. 14 then therefore told them Jesus plainly, “Lazarus died and I rejoice because of you, that you may believe that I was not there but let us go to him. 16 said therefore Thomas being called twin to his fellow disciples, “Let go also us that we may die with him.” 17 coming therefore Jesus found him four already days having been in the tomb. 18 now was Bethany near Jerusalem about away furlongs fifteen. 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, that they might console them concerning their brother. 20 therefore Martha when she heard that Jesus is coming met him; but Mary in the house sat. 21 said therefore Martha to Jesus, Lord is you were here would not have died the brother of me. 22 and now I know that whatever things you ask God will give you, God. 23 says to her Jesus, “will rise again the brother of you.” 24 says to him Martha, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day. 25 said to her Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life the one believing in me even if he should die will live, 26 and everyone living and believing in me by no means dies unto the age. Are you believing this? 27 she says to him, “Yes Lord. I have believed that you are the Christ, the son of God the into the world one coming. 28 and this saying she went away and called Mary the sister of her secretly saying, “the teacher is here and calls you.” 29 and that one when she heard rose quickly and came to him. 30 and now not yet had come Jesus into the village, but was still in the place where met him Martha.  31 therefore the Jews the ones being with her in the house and consoling her, seeing Mary that she quickly rose up and went out followed her thinking, “she is going to the tomb that she may weep there. 32 therefore Mary when she came where was Jesus seeing him fell of him at the feet saying to him “Lord if you were here would not of me have died the brother?” 33 Jesus therefore when he saw her weeping and the coming with her Jews weeping, groaned in the spirit and troubled himself  34 and said, “where have you put him?” they say to him, “Lord come and see.” 35 shed tears Jesus. 36 said therefore the Jews, “See how he loved him. 37 but some of them said, “Could not this man the one opening the eyes of the blind man cause that even this man should not die?” 38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself comes to the tomb; now it was cave and a stone was lying on it. 39 says Jesus, “you lift the stone.” Says to him the sister of the one having died Martha, “Lord now he smells; for fourth it is.” 40 says to her Jesus, “Not I told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” 41 they lifted therefore the stone. And Jesus lifted the eyes up and said, “Father, I thank you that you did hear me. 42 and I knew that always me you hear, but because of the crowd standing around I said, ‘that you me did send.’” 43 and these things saying voice with a great he cried out, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 came out the one having died having been bound the feet and the hands with bandages, and the face of him with a napkin had been bound round. Says to them Jesus, “Loose him and let him go.” 45 many therefore of the Jews the ones having come to Mary and having beheld what he did, believed in him.


II.                 DISPOSITION:


A.      Genre: According to Raymond Brown, the public ministry ends with chapter 10.40-42. Chapters 11-12 were added later to the Gospel. The key term for this view is “the Jews.” This term was not an early use nor historical reality. Further, he states the problem of sequence. This story is placed between the Feast of Dedication (winter) and Passover (spring). If we place this sign near the end of this three or four month period, then we have Jesus leaving the Transjordan (10.40), going back to Bethany, and then after the sign, going back again to Ephraim near the desert (11.54). Then, six days before Passover, going back to Bethany (12.1) only to go into hiding again after only one day. This sequence is difficult to reconcile with the Synoptic versions – Jesus came to the Transjordan through Jericho to Jerusalem with Bethany as his residence. Also the Synoptics place Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansing of the temple as the sealing of his fate. According to Culpepper, this story is an illustration of Jesus as the giver of life – a common them throughout this Gospel. This view, then, would hold that the narrative was a later addition to the original text.

B.       Personal interaction/questions & observations: What was the cause of death? Most other signs reveal the illness, infirmity, or explanation of the need for healing. What was the root of Jesus’ anger (enebrimēsato)? Part of the grieving process? Indignation of the others? A theodicy statement is once again answered in passing (v.4). I wish that Jesus would’ve dealt with this in more depth.

C.      Organization: This narrative serves as the climactic sign in John’s Gospel. It is in this sign that the fate of Jesus is sealed leading to arrest and crucifixion. In the Synoptics, the triumphal entry followed by the cleansing of the temple is the event that is crucial. Source critics then say that the account of the cleansing in John was moved to chapter 2 so that this story could occupy that position. The key theological theme in the story of the raising of Lazarus is that Jesus is the giver of life. More than that, Jesus doesn’t only give life, he is the resurrection and the life. The story of Lazarus is found in the following form:

1.) v. 3 – Lord, he whom you love is ill.

2.) v. 4 – this illness does not lead to death . . . he stayed two days.

3.) v. 7 – the supplicant persists.

4.) v. 39, 43, 44 – Jesus gives instructions to grant their request: move the stone (39), Lazarus come (43), dead man came out (44).

5.) v. 44 – Lazarus comes out.

6.) v. 45 – the Jews believed in the sign when they saw what Jesus did.

This story differs from most sign stories in the Synoptics (for one thing, it has no parallel) and not like other healings in John. A pattern seems to be reversed here. Usually there is the sign, then dialogue. Conversely here, dialogue precedes the sign. This allows the action to move quickly from the raising of Lazarus to the plotting of his opponents against him. Also, this story gives emphasis to the journey of faith – for Martha. She arrives at a level of faith before the sign and in anticipation of it. For others in John, they see the sign first, then believe (the recurring theme of “sign faith” in John). Once again John places a woman as a model for faith (also Samaritan woman, and later the women at the empty tomb of Jesus).


III.               COMPOSITION:


A.      Immediate context: This pericope follows the “good shepherd” narrative and the rejection by the Jews. It is a bridge between this and the plot by the Jews to kill Jesus.

B.       Organization of the compositional whole: This story in John is the pivotal event leading up to the passion. Again, this differs from the Synoptics’ version of the pivotal event that led to the passion.

C.      Authorship issues: This story is believed to be a later addition and also juggled with the cleansing of the temple story (see II. C above).


IV.              CONTEXT:


A.      Primitive Christianity: There is not parallel in the Synoptics of this story. The name Lazarus comes from the name, La΄ zār, which is a shortened form of Eleazar. It appears to have been a common name in the NT era. Luke 16 tells of another Lazarus who was a beggar, a totally different story in every way. The name means, “God helps,” but the writer of John does not reveal that. Since Lazarus is referred to in this story as “he whom you love,” it has led some to attach this person to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” mentioned in five other places in the Gospel.

B.       Old Testament & Judaism: In the first century A.D., belief in the resurrection from the dead was a relatively newly-held view. The first clear trace of a hope in resurrection is found in Daniel 12.2. Greeks believed in the immortal nature of the human soul. The Hebrew view was that there was nothing inherently immortal about the human soul. The Pharisees and Essenes believed in resurrection , but the Saducees did not. This view was held by some, but still there were many who did not embrace it.

C.      Hellenistic world: : It was a widely held belief in the ancient world that the soul lingered near the body for as many as three days before leaving. “When a human being dies, the soul remains two days without being judged, and it travels around with an angel wherever it wants to go. . . . and on the third day the angel takes the soul to heaven.” According to the ancient view, then, Jesus waited until the soul had finally departed. (Storyteller’s Companion 111).


V.                 DISTILLATION:


A.        Summary of salient features: This story reveals once again that the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem is a journey towards death. In typical Johannine fashion, revelation comes in paradoxical ways. It is in this story of raising Lazarus from the dead that reveals Jesus as sent from God to be the giver of life. The Prayer of Saint Francis reminds us: it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. The film from 1996, Dead Man Walking, was about man’s journey to death by lethal injection. It was in the midst of his death that he experienced love as shown by Sister Helen Prejean. The paradoxical analogy resonates in this story of Lazarus as well. Such is the nature of God’s working – in the very face of death, life is revealed.

B.         Smooth translation: Now there was a sick man named Lazarus who was from the village of Bethany; his sisters were Mary and Martha. It was Mary who anointed Jesus with ointment and wiped off his feet with her hair. The sisters sent for Jesus with the message: Lord, the one you love is very sick. Hearing this Jesus said, “This sickness is not unto death but it is for God’s glory that the son may be glorified through it.” Jesus also loved Mary and Martha, but when he heard the news he waited two days before he came. Then he said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.” The disciples said to Jesus, “Rabbi, the Jews are wanting to stone you there. Are you sure that’s where you want to go?” Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours of daylight in which to work? Those who walk in the day don’t fall because the sun gives light. But those who walk in the dark, will fall because the don’t have any light.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen into a deep sleep, and I’m going there to wake him.” The disciples said, “Lord, if he is asleep, he’ll be saved.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his own death, but they thought his was just talking about sleep. Then Jesus put it into plain words for them, “Look, Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I wasn’t there so that you may have faith. So let’s go to him.” Thomas, who was called the twin, said to the others, “Yeah, let’s go too, that way we can die too.” When Jesus got there, he found that Lazarus had already been in the cave four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, nearly two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here my brother wouldn’t be dead right now. But even now I ask that God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus replied, “Your brother will get up again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will get up again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus replied, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone one who lives and believes in me, will never die. Do you believe this?” she said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are Messiah, the son of God, the one coming into our world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister, Mary, and told her in private, “The teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she hear it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village but was still at the place where Martha had met with him. The Jews who were with her in the house, comforting her, saw Mary get up quickly and leave. They followed her because they she might go to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who came with her also were crying, he was greatly disturbed in his spirit, and deeply moved. He said, “Where is the body?” they said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus also started to cry. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Couldn’t this guy who healed a blind man have saved this man from death?” then Jesus again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead one, said to him “Lord, already there is a stench because he’s been dead here for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see God’s glory?” so they moved the stone. And Jesus looked up and said, “Thank you, Father, for hearing me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of these people here, so that they may believe that you really did send me.” When he had said this he shouted out loud, “Lazarus! Come out of there!” the dead man came out, his hands and feet were all wrapped up with strips of cloth and his face was wrapped in cloth too. Jesus said to them, “Loose him and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, and they believed in him.

C.        Hermeneutical bridge: This story reminds us – as does our funeral liturgies that quote from this text – that God is indeed with us in our journeys that lead to death. Likewise God gives life to our lives I the midst of death.




A.          Description of audience: I’ll be preaching this sermon at Perry United Methodist Church. Perry is a farming community between Waco and Mart. They are salt-of-the-earth type people, many of them related. My hunch is that they’ve experienced death on many occasions through the years since many of them are elderly.

B.           Intended goals for address: This sermon is a primer for Palm Sunday. In some ways it fits the Synoptics’ version of the climactic event since they’ll hear that account on the following week. I’ll try to connect this story with the irony and paradox of how God bring about life even today.

C.          Address:





Brown, Raymond. The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (New York:        Doubleday, 1966)


Brueggeman, Walter, et al. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV – Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)


Culpepper, R. Alan. The Gospel and Letters of John (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)


Marshall, Alfred. The Interlinear KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975)


Sloyan, John. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – John (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)


Smith, Dennis E. and Williams, Michael E., eds. The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible: Volume Ten – John (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)