The gospel last Sunday was about the raising of Lazarus from the tomb after he had been dead for three days. The only account of this event is found in John Chapter 11, verses (1-44), and is the last of the signs through which Jesus showed who he was before his passion and death. It is clearly offered to us as the summation of Jesus’ divinity representing his ability to conquer death itself, through bringing the dead back to life.
We sometimes forget that Jesus had connections with other people outside the circle of the twelve disciples. Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha were special friends; indeed, we are told that he loved them. It is implied in the gospels that he would go to them from time to time, just to get away from the crowds.
The Last Miracle
Bethany, where they had their home was a small village in Judaea, about two miles east of Jerusalem. Lazarus was known in full as ‘Lazarus of Bethany’. Bethany is now the West Bank town of Al-Eizariya, which translates as ‘the place of Lazarus’.
It was dangerous for Jesus to return to Judea; the authorities there were determined to seize him, but he was willing to face death in order to give life to Lazarus. The positioning of this miracle in John’s narrative of Jesus’ life suggests that the event is meant to complement, and dovetail with Jesus’ own imminent death. His raising of Lazarus prefigures Jesus’ own triumph over death through his resurrection, three days after the crucifixion.
As the last miracle he will perform in this life, it paves the way for his own resurrection, with the detail of the stone rolling away from the tomb also paralleling Jesus’ revival of his friend.
The Wrath of Rome
His action in Bethany provokes further the fear and controversy that will lead to Calvary. By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus confirmed the eventual resurrection of all people. The Jews were thus confronted with the choice: to accept him as the Saviour and the Son of God or reject him finally. There was no middle ground left. It was not possible to act as if nothing had happened. Lazarus had not been in a coma. He had been dead for a long enough time for the rabbinic authorities to be able to say that the soul had left the vicinity of the body; decay would have definitely set in.
Reports soon reached Caiaphas, the high priest, and confirmed the feeling among the existing powers and the Council of Jews, that something would have to be done about Jesus of Nazareth.
The miracle caused such a stir among the local, and then wider population, that the religious leaders were afraid of what the Roman leaders might do in response: “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation” ( John 11:48). Although controlled by aristocratic families from Jerusalem the high priest was in office only for as long as he enjoyed Roman favour.
Broadly speaking the Roman Empire let conquered territories govern themselves. However, that freedom came with a price of overall submission. Taxes, travel access, and cooperation were required, and no person could challenge the authority of the Empire. Prior to Jesus’ public ministry, there had been several instances where Jewish rebellion was met with devastating Roman reprisals.
The Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees are correct in their assumption that any Jewish man leading an open revolt against Roman power will bring ruin to the Jewish people. At the same time, these men will push the idea of Jesus as a political rebel for their own ends. They are just as concerned about the loss of their “place” in the power structure as they are about the annihilation of their people. They know painting Jesus as a rebel is the only way that they have of getting him out of the way.
Jesus had returned to Bethany to restore Lazarus to life in full knowledge that he will pay with his own life. Indeed, not long after this he will be arrested and crucified.
When John wrote about Jesus healing the blind man, he demonstrated that Jesus was the “light” of the world; the raising of Lazarus shows that he is its “light” also. Literally bringing Lazarus from death to life emphasized the point that without Jesus who is both fully man and fully God, there is no life. Everything that ever was came through him and nothing will come into being without him (John 1: 3-4). He was there in the beginning; he was with God, and he was both God and the Word (John 1: 1-2).
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan