Friday, September 21, 2012

Lazarus, Lying About

We are about to enter Jerusalem on Jesus' final approach there, but lately we have been tracking along the Synoptic Gospel route, where just before this study we discussed Luke's Parable of the Minas. Now we need to catch up to the same point in the Gospel of John. In John's timeline, recently Jesus had an altercation with the Jews in the Temple in Jerusalem, where Jesus told them that they should believe in Him because of the miracles He has performed, despite the fact that God said in the Old Testament that miracles were not enough to prove a prophet. They tried to seize Him there, but He escaped and went across the Jordan river to the region where John the Baptist had been baptizing. There, many people believed in Jesus based on John the Baptist's words (John 10:39-42).

Lazarus, Lying About
Resurrections, up until modern medical technology, training, and definitions came into play, have been very rare events, but they have historically happened. At least some of them were due to a lack of an accurate assessment of the condition of death. As recently as 1882, a patent was granted for a "safety coffin" to prevent killing a person through "premature" burial. Yet the concept of someone passing from life to death, and then back to life again, is so enticing that such mistaken "deaths" may have worked their way into mythology.

The Bible records many resurrections, besides Jesus' own resurrection and those involving the yet-unfulfilled prophesies. Elijah resurrected a dead boy by lying on him three times, and with God's help (1 Kings 17:17-24). Elisha also laid on a dead boy, but only twice, to bring him back alive (2 Kings 4:18-37). Contact with the dead Elisha's bones brought a man back to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). Jesus resurrected a widow's son by touching his coffin (Luke 7:11-17). Jesus resurrected a girl by taking the girl's hand and telling her to get up (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56). There are some verses which imply other unmentioned resurrections by Jesus (Matthew 11:5, Luke 7:22) and the Disciples (Matthew 10:8). After Jesus died, many "Holy people" came back to life and visited Jerusalem (Matthew 27:51-53). Peter raised a woman from the dead by prayer and telling her to get up (Acts 9:36-42). Some people consider the incident where Paul was stoned to be a case of resurrection (Acts 14:19-20). Paul (in a sense) talked to death a man named Eutychus and later resurrected him by lying on him and hugging him (Acts 20:7-12). Finally, Hebrews 11:35 possibly suggests some additional resurrections, but may be referencing the Elijah- and Elisha-based resurrections stated above instead.

There is one more Biblical resurrection which is arguably more famous than any of the ones mentioned above, except Jesus' resurrection: Lazarus. In John 11:1-46, we find the story of Lazarus' resurrection through Jesus. John's Gospel is the only one that records this resurrection. Keep that fact in mind, because it is going to become more and more strange as the story progresses.

John 11:1-5 sets the stage. Two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother, Lazarus, all live in the village of Bethany. Lazarus has become deathly ill. Jesus loved all three of them; not in the Jesus-loves-everyone kind of sentiment, but rather in the Jesus-has-a-close-relationship kind of love. In fact, when their brother was close to death, they sent word to Jesus to say "Lord, the one you love is sick." They did not even bother to say Lazarus' name; they knew that Jesus would know who they were referring to.

Speaking of knowing things, Jesus portrays divine omniscience in this event. In John 11:4 we see His response:
When He heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." NIV
Here, Jesus knows the end of the event before it takes place. Also interesting is the puzzle that this will happen for God's glory; where this is the glorification of Jesus. Or, in other words, honoring Jesus honors God. This could mean that Jesus is God, or it could be that Jesus is God's anointed one, so that honor for Jesus vicariously yields honor for God. But with Jesus showing omniscience here, there is a logical bias towards the former perspective.

Now because Jesus knows the end from the beginning, He stays where He is for a couple days before going to visit Lazarus, long enough to ensure that he has died. When He tells His Disciples that it is time to go to Judea, they fear for His personal safety there because the Jews had recently tried to kill him there (John 10:39), but ultimately they decide to go with Him there; choosing to all die together if it comes to that (John 11:6-16).

From that section, in John 11:14-15 Jesus provides these interesting words:
So then [Jesus] told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." NIV
We can see that this whole episode is being orchestrated, at least in part, so that the Disciples will believe. Why, did they not believe? On the contrary, when Jesus was gathering these "fishers of men," they were certain that Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:41), the one written about by Moses (John 1:45), the Son of God and King of Israel (John 1:49). The sincerity of their beliefs had been confirmed in John 6:67-69 after Jesus taught about the exclusivity of Salvation which caused several other followers to leave. Anyway...

As the story continues, Jesus and the Disciples arrived when Lazarus was long dead, having been entombed for four days. Martha met Jesus on His way there, and she confirmed her faith in Him. Mary came out to meet Him later, followed by several other Jews in mourning. Jesus wept. The Jews admired His love for Lazarus and wondered if He could have prevented his death (John 11:17-37).

There is a lot to say about the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35: "Jesus wept." This is the only place where Jesus wept recorded any of the Gospels. To see Jesus weep, for Jesus to have had such a public display of loss of a loved one, should have been a memorable experience, but we do not find this story in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. And why is Jesus crying? Jesus knew before it happened that Lazarus would be back alive in just a short time. Plus, as we will see, this soon-to-happen miraculous event will result in many new converts. These are very understandable reasons why Jesus would have no reason to cry. So where is that peace "which transcends all understanding" that Paul spoke about in Philippians 4:6-7 in Jesus?

The event concludes at Lazarus' tomb, where Jesus requested for the tomb to be opened. Martha protests because the body would surely stink by then. The tomb is opened. Jesus prays publicly just for the benefit of people watching Him, and then commanded Lazarus to walk out. Lazarus miraculously walks out, still bound in his funerary wraps (John 11:38-44)... the miracle being that he did not trip and fall due to those wrappings. ;-)

Fun Fact: Bethany, where this alleged event occurred, is only about two miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18).

The resurrection of Lazarus made an immediate impact; converting believers and spreading the news of the miracle (John 11:45-46). This resulted in large crowds coming to see the resurrected Lazarus and to put their faith in Jesus (John 12:9-11). In fact, this miracle had such an impact in converting believers that one Pharisee remarked that "the whole world has gone after Him!" (John 12:17-19)

Furthermore, the Gospel of John suggests that this miracle was the impetus for Jesus' crucifixion! While various Jews had tried to kill Jesus previous times (John 5:16-18, John 7, John 8:31-59, John 10:22-39), it was not until this event do we find that the Chief Priests and Pharisees of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem met and decided to plot to kill Jesus in John 11:47-53.

That Sanhedrin meeting is worth exploring deeper for a moment. It was called when Sanhedrin members heard of the resurrection of Lazarus and the story's efficacy in converting people to follow Jesus (John 11:45-47). Somehow, John provides recorded dialog of what was said in that meeting of elite religious rulers, despite not having any eyewitness from among Jesus' disciples there. The main concern expressed during the meeting was that everyone would start following Jesus instead of the Priests and Pharisees, which would then lead to the Romans stripping away the Sanhedrin's authority (John 11:47-48). (Based on the historical persistence of Jewish belief in the time of Jesus and thereafter, this was obviously an unfounded concern.) The best part of this dialog came from the Roman-appointed (not God anointed) High Priest Caiaphas, who allegedly had himself received a prophesy that year that Jesus would die for their nation and for the scattered Children of God. Caiaphas said that it would be good to Jesus to die for the sake of the nation (John 11:49-52). So when the Sanhedrin arrived at the conclusion to try to kill Jesus, it seems more like they are trying to do God's work and help to fulfill prophesy rather than acting out of their selfish interests (John 11:53)!

So let us review the situation we have here: Jesus had a loving relationship the small family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus became terminally ill. Jesus heard about the illness, but let Lazarus die; explicitly so that His Disciples would believe in Him through the events which would follow. Jesus' Disciples were concerned about His safety in traveling so close to Jerusalem. Jesus wept after arriving there. Jesus resurrected His beloved friend Lazarus. Many people were converted because of that miracle. The massive conversions triggered a meeting of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The High Priest had prophesied earlier that year that Jesus would die for the sake of God's Children. The Sanhedrin plotted to kill Jesus at that meeting.

This was not a trivial event, nor was it a typical story which had been played out time and time again, such that it would be easy to forget or regard with little significance. This was major; both in scope and in impact. Yet three of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, do not even hint at this event occurring. Matthew and Mark show absolutely no knowledge of the family of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Luke does mention sisters named Martha and Mary, but does so in regards to a relatively trivial event by comparison, and without any association to Lazarus. The only time Luke mentions the name Lazarus is in connection with a beggar in a parable.

An argument from silence is never an absolute proof. At best, it is circumstantial evidence, but circumstantial evidence carries with it degrees of strength in leading to one conclusion or another. For Matthew, Mark, and Luke not to record the major events found here in John strongly suggests that either those events did not happen or the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were derived from second- or third-hand accounts instead of from eyewitnesses and this information was lost in the retelling of the story. However, given the additional detail of the dialog from the Sanhedrin meeting that John included in the account, despite having no eyewitnesses of it, his Gospel has an additional layer of dubious veracity. So we can conclude with reasonable assurance, but not certainty, that the resurrection of Lazarus is a myth. The mythical nature of Lazarus is further demonstrated by church records indicating that, after his resurrection, he had lived out the rest of his life as both the Bishop of Kition (Cyprus) and the Bishop of Marseille (France).


  1. Just found your blog thanks to Grundy. Great stuff! When I read the story of Lazarus a few months ago the significance of it was largely lost on me, this was a good read.

  2. Thanks Hausdorff! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  4. Thanks for the link, Anon. It looks like a pretty decent site.