The Resurrection of Lazarus Explained

This post is the fifth and final of a series that explains the seven signs in the gospel of John. Important in this series is the difference between a sign and a miracle. See this previous post to understand that difference. To summarize, a “sign” is something that has the elements of an analogy or a metaphor. While analogies and metaphors are verbal parallels to an outside reality, signs involve tangible parallels to an outside reality.

In the gospel of John, there are seven signs of Jesus:

This one is about the resurrection of Lazarus described in John 11 and 12. This post is in 6 parts:

  1. Who is this guy named Lazarus in John 11?
  2. Who is Lazarus in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus?
  3. Explaining the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
  4. The Significance of the Resurrection of Lazarus
  5. Explaining the Sign of the Resurrection of Lazarus
  6. The Character Arc of Lazarus and His Family in the Gospels

So let’s dive right in. Who is this guy named “Lazarus” in John 11?

Who Is This Guy Named “Lazarus” in John 11?

In the 11th chapter of the gospel of John, we are introduced to someone who seems to have not yet appeared in either this gospel or anywhere else. This person is named Lazarus. Here is the introduction of him:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (John 11:1-3)

From this description, we know a few things about Lazarus. First, his sister is Mary, who anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.

Second, we learn that Lazarus lives in Bethany, which is outside of Jerusalem.

Third, we learn that Lazarus is sick. What is he sick with? We do not know, but he is so sick, he could die.

Finally, we learn that Jesus is friends with Lazarus. Importantly, the word “love” in John 11:3 is the Greek word φιλεῖς (phileis). It is the present indicative active of the Greek verb φιλέω (phileó), which means a love of friendship, corresponding to brotherly affection. We’ll get more on that later.

Later, we learn that an event involving Mary and Martha and Lazarus happens at Lazarus’s home in Bethany. This is what we read:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)

That is an important event, so important that the gospel of John actually references it in the introduction of Lazarus. As such, it was apparently a very famous and well-known event in the early church.

We should also notice that this was a well-known event, and recorded in other gospels, however, the person who lives in Bethany whose house this took place is never called “Lazarus.” Instead, this is what we read:

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
(Matthew 26:6-13, ESV)

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
(Mark 14:3-9, ESV)

This is obviously the same incident. However, it is not described as occurring at the house of “Lazarus.” Instead, it is at the house of “Simon the leper.”

And here is where we need to explain that the gospel of John often uses different names than the other gospels. For example, when John explains Jesus giving Peter his nickname, John tells the story this way:

“You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter)” (John 1:42)

But in other gospels, notice who the father of Simon is:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:17-18)

That “Bar-” means “son of” in Aramaic, and therefore the gospels explain that Peter’s father is both named “John” and “Jonah.” That’s not to say that Peter has two fathers, instead, Jews living in Judea – a land occupied and ruled by foreigners – often had two names. As another example, in the gospel of John, there is a disciple named “Nathanael” whose name does not appear in any other gospel, even though all of the gospels list the disciples:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:43-46)

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
(John 21:1-3)

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:1-4)

The explanation of this inconsistency is quite clear: “Nathanael” is the Greek version of “Bartholomew’s” very Hebrew name. The explanation for this has been given by Peter J. Williams, who wrote an EXCELENT book called “Can We Trust the Gospels.” In it, he explains how some names were common in Judea (like “Jesus” and “Simon”), while others (like “Bartholomew” and “Thaddaeus”) were not. For this reason, whenever the name “Jesus” is spoken by an actual person, it is always given an identifier, such as “Jesus of Nazareth.” In contrast, strange names like “Bartholomew” are just left on their own, because they adequately identify the person. Williams explains that the proportions of the names in the New Testament matches the proportions of names used in other sources. Not only do the names appear in the correct manner, the features of the names also appears correctly.

In a presentation on this book, where Williams explains this fact, William also notes a unique thing about the name “Simon”:

“Basically the most common name inside the New Testament for Palestinian Jewish males is Simon. It’s the top name for the New Testament; the top name for Josephus, who’s a historian of the 1st century; top name in the bone boxes that they’ve found in the ossuaries, and it’s a second top name in the Dead Sea Scrolls. . . . you see it’s not just that we have the right proportions of names, they have the right features of names. You see, what happens if you call out “Simon!” Well, there are lots of Simons, aren’t there? So then we’ve got to do what Wikipedia calls “disambiguation.” You’ve got to distinguish one Simon from another Simon and you find that’s what they do in the New Testament. Jesus had two of his twelve disciples named “Simon.” One was “Simon,” with an extra bit “Peter” or “Cephas.” One was Simon with an extra bit “the Zealot” or “the Canaanite.” So you’ve got a disambiguation. And then you read other disambiguations. Jesus went and had a meal with someone called “Simon the leper.” But he wasn’t a leper at the time, because people were sitting around having a meal with him. Maybe Jesus had healed him. Simon of Cyrene carried the cross. There were lots of Simons around so you better distinguish this one. Simon Peter in the book of Acts stayed with someone called Simon the tanner or the leather worker. So you find they distinguished them.

Peter J. Williams, “New Evidences the Gospels were Based on Eyewitness Accounts” from The Lanier Library Lecture Series, delivered on March 5, 2011. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5Ylt1pBMm8&t=42s

At a different lecture (which I remember hearing, but cannot find immediately) Williams states that one of the reasons the name “Simon” was so common is that it sounded both Greek and Hebrew all at the same time. I assume it was a name like “Lee” that is easy for both American and Chinese people to insert into their normal speaking.

From Williams’ presentation, the name “Lazarus” (Λάζαρος) is a very common (third most popular) Jewish name in Palestine. It is Hebrew-sounding, not Greek. “Lazarus” was written in Greek text in the gospel of John, and therefore it is a version of the very-Hebrew sounding (and probably hard to put into Greek letters) name of “Eleazar,” which in Hebrew is written like this: וְאֶלְעָזָ֨ר. But to write that same name in Greek, you have to make it start with an L: As such, to write וְאֶלְעָזָ֨ר (“Eleazar”)in Greek, the closest you could do is Λάζαρος (“Lazarus”).

Look what else we learn about this man who is simultaneously named “Simon” and “Eleazar” and “Lazarus”: He is also a Pharisee:

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
(Luke 7:36-40)

Therefore, this “Simon” is the same “Simon the leper” and he is also “Lazarus.”

On the other hand, the woman who is anointing Jesus’s feet with ointment is NOT the same woman as Mary, who anointed Jesus just days before his burial. This is important, and we will get to it later.

However, at this point, all we need to do is notice that Simon being a Pharisee makes a lot of sense in the context of the gospel of John, when Jesus raised Lazarus. After all, note who comes to comfort Mary and Martha:

 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles [Footnote: Greek fifteen stadia; a stadion was about 607 feet or 185 meters] off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. (John 11:18-19)

“The Jews” is the name that John gives to the ruling Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. This would include the Pharisees. As such, it makes perfect sense that this “Lazarus” is a Pharisee and that the Pharisee is “Simon the Leper.” And here’s what we know about him:

  • Has two names (like many living in the Jewish/Roman world)
  • Lives in Bethany
  • Brother to Mary and Martha
  • Is a Pharisee
  • Friends with Jesus
  • Has dinner-parties with Jesus and others

Remember that. It will be very important.

Who is Lazarus in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus?

At this point, many people will remember that there is another “Lazarus” in the gospels. But upon first glance, he is not a real person, as he is a character in a parable of Jesus. Strangely, Jesus doesn’t name people in his parables. They are always identified as “the father” or “the dishonest manager” or “the master” or “the servants.”

As such, “Lazarus” is the only named character in Jesus’s parables. Isn’t that strange? I wonder if that’s a coincidence.

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus appears in the gospel of Luke. But it is important to notice the context of where Jesus is when he delivers this parable.

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things. (Luke 14:1-5)

Notice that the first question that comes up at the meal is what it is lawful to do on the Sabbath. This is where the identity of the “Ruler of the Pharisees” is important.

We should remember some generally known facts as well as things we proved earlier:

  • Jesus did not get along with Pharisees,
  • Jesus and Lazarus are good friends.
  • Lazarus is a Pharisee
  • Lazarus lives “in Bethany” which is “about two miles from Jerusalem.”

Based on this, I think there is a high probability that this lively debate between Jesus and the Pharisees (with many tax collectors and sinners watching, as Luke 15:1 describes) happened at the home of Lazarus.

We should also note that there are other supporting facts for this, because Luke also (without sharing the family connection) describes how Jesus became friends with Mary and Martha, even going to their home, which may have even been the same home:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:38-42)

Notice that Mary is at Jesus’s feet. This will be important later. But we need to get back to the lively discussion at the Pharisee’s house in Luke 14-16.

Beyond the circumstantial evidence I provided above, we should also note that it would be in keeping with Luke’s gospel to refer to Lazarus/Simon the leper in this way. Back when Luke tells the story about “Simon,” the person is only identified as “a Pharisee” in Luke 7:36. Only through Jesus’s speech is he named as “Simon.” In the setting where Jesus gives the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we are only told the following:

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. (Luke 14:1)

So, who is this person? We simply do not know. One possibility is Nicodemus, who is identified as a “ruler” of the Jews:

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” (John 3:1)

Another person it could be was Simon the leper. I want to explore this possibility, because there is something very interesting to note about the location of the house of Lazarus/Simon the leper. Remember that in Luke 14-16, there is a lot of discussion about what is lawful to be done on the Sabbath. If this “ruler of the Pharisees” was Lazarus, and if Lazarus lives in Bethany, look at that ACTUAL location of Jerusalem from the house of Lazarus:

According to Google Earth and the traditional location of the “Tomb of Lazarus,” Lazarus’s home is EXACTLY 1.2 km away from the gate of Jerusalem. This is important because 1.2 km is equal to 2,000 cubits, which is the limit of how far a Jew was allowed to travel on the Sabbath. This distance is mentioned in Acts:

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. (Acts 1:12)

This is important because the Jewish Targum, and explanation of Exodus 16:29 had the following command regarding leaving your home on the Sabbath:

“Let no man go walking from the place beyond 2000 cubits on the seventh day.”

Sabbath Day’s Journey, Encyclopedia of the Bible: https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Sabbath-Days-Journey

But here’s where things get funny, and a possible example of how the Pharisees could have been super legalistic. You see, Bethany was on the other side of the Mount of Olives, which the Bible says is a “Sabbath day’s journey” away. As such, no one would actually get to the house of Lazarus by going over the mountain. The house of Lazarus is only 1.2km as the crow flies. Below is the distance you would have to ACTUALLY walk to get to the home of Lazarus:

The ACTUAL walking distance is twice the distance you are allowed to “travel” from your home according to Jewish law. A pharisee would only be “TRAVELING” 1.2 km from their home, even though they would be WALKING 2.45 km from their home. Do you see the legalism?

And so if Jesus was eating at the home of Lazarus in Luke 14-16, this was the setting on which Jesus had his lively discussion with the Pharisees about what one is allowed to do on the Sabbath. They would have been sitting in a location that exposes their legalistic interpretation of the law.

Well-played, Jesus. Well-played.

However, even if it was not a conversation held at Lazarus’s house, it is still quite likely that Lazarus was present. After all Jesus and Lazarus were friends. Remember that, because this is where things get crazy.

The question in this section is “Who is Lazarus in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus?” Than answer to the question is this:

Lazarus IS LAZARUS. The parable Lazarus is the real-life Lazarus. They are one and the same.

This is where things get crazy.

Explaining the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

Notice the parable that Jesus delivers about a man named Lazarus, which definitely happened before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11. We know this because in John 11, Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, because they wanted to kill him. But when Jesus delivers this parable, he is conversing with the Jews. So now, let’s look at the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus:

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

The point I want to make in this post is that the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a very literal parable with very direct metaphors. Not only that, it is a prophetic parable about something that was going to actually happen in the future. This becomes clear when you understand who the “Rich Man” is in the parable.

We don’t know much about the rich man, except that he is rich, wears “fine linen,” has a gate, and feasts every day. So who could that be?

  • Well, if you do a word search of your Bible, and look for the phrase “fine linen,” you will see that place where this phrase is mentioned most is in Exodus 28, when it describes the garments of the priests who serve before the Lord at the tabernacle. Not only that, “purple” is one of the colors that he wears in his fine linen.
  • Also, if you are looking for something about “feasting” every day, you can see that in in Numbers 28:1-8, it describes that the sacrifices before the Lord which were done twice a day, every day. However, as described in Leviticus 6:24-30, these sacrifices were meals and eaten by the priests.
  • Next, when you at Luke 3:2, you see that the events when Jesus was preaching, it was during the high priesthood of Caiaphas, who was in the priestly household of Annas. What is funny about this is that Caiaphas married into the priestly family of Annas, and he quite literally had FIVE BROTHERS, just like the Rich Man in the parable.
  • Finally, the priests served in the house of the Lord, which was the largest “house” in Jerusalem.

Here’s a digital model of the Temple at the time of Jesus that I found on YouTube:

This also gives us information about who Lazarus is in the Parable.

Remember, Lazarus was also SIMON THE LEPER. And because it is leprosy, no one who was an Israelite and wanted to remain clean could care for Lazarus in his illness. This is what “dogs” licked his sores.

But this becomes especially clear when you see the geographic reality of Lazarus being laid outside of the gate of the rich man. Remember how I showed you the location of Lazarus’s house?

Look at what happens when you turn the landscape into something 3-D. When you do that, you see that Lazarus was QUITE LITERALLY outside of the gateway to Jerusalem. The mountains around Jerusalem serve as the “wall” of the rich man’s house, and the road to the eastern entrance to the city (called the “Golden Gate”) quite literally runs right by the home of Lazarus/Simon the Leper in Bethany:

Are you seeing it? The priests in Jerusalem who serve the Lord in the Temple are “the Rich Man.” And Lazarus in the parable IS LAZARUS in real life. And just as the Lazarus in the parable has “sores,” we also know that the real Lazarus is called “Simon the leper” in the other gospels. And this is where the parable and the real life start to overlap, because look at what the law of Israel would have mandated about Lazarus once he got leprosy:

“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

As such, it wasn’t the priests and ruling Jews of Jerusalem who would have comforted Simon the leper whenever he was suffering from leprosy. Instead, it would have been others whose very presence with him would have made them “unclean.” This is the reason for the other strange detail in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus:

“Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

Dogs are unclean animals. (Leviticus 11:27) Are you getting this parable?

The Significance of the Resurrection of Lazarus

But here’s where things get really weird. You see, Jesus is telling this parable ABOUT Lazarus and IN FRONT of Lazarus. However, he’s doing it BEFORE Lazarus gets leprosy and BEFORE Lazarus dies.

But at the time Jesus is telling this story, Lazarus still sees himself as one of the Pharisees. In fact, he may even be a “leader” among the Pharisees. These are his friends. We know that the leaders in Jerusalem are the friends of the real Lazarus, because these are the people who come to comfort his family after his death.

And this is where we need to return to this verse in John 11 about Lazarus and Jesus:

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (John 11:1-3)

And this is when we should remember that “Lazarus” is also “Simon the leper.” So, what was Lazarus sick with? The best guess is some sort of leprous skin disease. This is probably why “Simon” is called “the leper.”

Additionally, as we said before, the word that is used above is the word “love.” But Greek has multiple words for love. The word being used here is the Greek word φιλεῖς (phileis). It is the present indicative active of the Greek verb φιλέω (phileó), which means a love of friendship, corresponding to brotherly affection. But this is where things get complicated, and we need to talk about the difficulty of translation. Look at how the words correspond, which you can see here in an interlinear Bible:

Κύριε, ἴδε, ὃν φιλεῖς ἀσθενεῖ  
Lord, behold, [he] whom [you] love is sick.

This is important, because every other time that φιλεῖς (phileis) is used like this, it doesn’t refer to Jesus loving someone. Instead, it refers to someone loving Jesus. In other words, the Greek verb does not describe a DIRECTION of love from Person A > Person B. Instead, it describes a mutual relationship between Person A = Person B. This means something very significant.

THE MESSAGE IS NOT THAT SOMEONE JESUS LOVES IS SICK.
THE MESSAGE IS THAT SOMEONE WHO LOVES JESUS IS SICK.

And the specific type of love is one of brotherly affection, rather than the deeper form of “agape,” or ἀγαπάω (agapaó), it is the more friendly and egalitarian “philio” of brotherly love.

So this is very important. In contrast, look in Greek at how the love of Jesus is described for Lazarus and his family:

[Loved] [now] [-] [Jesus] [Martha] [and] [the] [sister] [of] [her] [and] [-] [Lazarus] Now Jesus loved Martha
Ἠγάπα δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν Μάρθαν  καὶ τὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν Λάζαρον.

While Lazarus “philio” Jesus, Jesus “agape” Lazarus. In other words, Jesus’s love for Lazarus and his family is deeper and more profound than their love for him.

This is the context of Lazarus being raised. Jesus is going to save Lazarus and his family in ways that they did not even know that they needed to be saved.

So understand the context. The man is sick. He is a Pharisee. He may even be a ruler of the Pharisees. He thinks he loves Jesus, because he “philio” Jesus. He asks for a favor. He wants to be healed of his leprosy, and he knows that Jesus can do it, because Jesus has healed many people.

Jesus hears this, and he was prepared for it when it happened. We know he was prepared for it, because he predicted it. This is the portion of the parable where Lazarus is outside of the gate, with dogs licking his sores.

However, there is first a big discussion between Jesus and his disciples about the fact that the Jews want to kill him. The disciples are quite worried about this fact, and seem to be a bit nervous about Jesus’s desire to go back. Look at what we read:

 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:6-16)

There is a significance to this. Remember when the Rich Man was speaking to Father Abraham? Remember how Abraham said that no one could go to the place of death where the Rich Man was? In a similar way, there are Pharisees in Jerusalem who want to kill Jesus. It’s a place of death. The disciples are not very happy with going to that place, but Jesus goes anyway.

This corresponds to the same cosmic geography that I brought up when Jesus walked on water. The “chasm” between Abraham and the Rich Man are the heavens themselves. Father Abraham would not cross that to visit the Rich Man, but Mary and Martha did not call out to Father Abraham. They called out to Jesus:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15)

And so Jesus comes. He’s coming to raise Lazarus from the dead. He’s coming to do what Father Abraham would not do and could not do.

This is the context of the sign of the resurrection of Lazarus. It is the final and ultimate sign that Jesus brings regarding his work on earth.

Explaining the Sign of the Resurrection of Lazarus

Then, we read about the resurrection of Lazarus:

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:17-44)

There are many things going on here, but I will point out some of the most significant things that I see. First, note the importance of the faith. The entire purpose is so that Mary and Martha will believe. The reason that Jesus let Lazarus die is so that they would BELIEVE. Lazarus “philio” Jesus before, but he wants more. He wants them to “agape” him, and they can only do this if they believe.

Second, we should note that after Lazarus is raised, he orders that Lazarus be “unbound.” In the context, this is obviously referring to the burial clothes that are wrapped around Lazarus, but there is something else. Lazarus is chained in the prison of the grave, and Jesus is symbolically commanding that Lazarus be released from the chains of sin

Third, as I have written before in this previous post, the last time that Jesus this passage contains the ONLY TIME that “the Jews” ever call Jesus “Lord” in the gospel of John. And immediately after after they do, Jesus weeps. But when he weeps, the Jews note how much Jesus loved Lazarus. What they do not realize is that Jesus weeps because he loves them, but they do not love him back. They are seeking to kill him. They also would not call him “Lord,” except in this polite occasion, out of deference to Mary and Martha. But for that one small moment, Jesus felt what it was like to have his love returned to him. And he wept.

Fourth, we should also note that Jesus, as opposed to Abraham, is fulfilling the request of the Rich Man. He is sending Lazarus back from the dead so that the “five brothers” can be warned. Jesus does it so that they will BELIEVE. But guess what happens? They do not turn. Instead, they seek to kill Jesus:

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. (John 11:45-57)

They do not heed the warning. And even as they reject the warning, God is still putting his messages into their very mouths as they plan to destroy Jesus, thereby destroying themselves. This is a tragic story of God reach, reaching, and reaching for people who refuse to hear. But it is even worse than refusing to hear. Because look at what else we read:

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)

Not only do they reject the message and the messenger that Jesus gave to the brothers of the Rich Man, they also seek to kill Lazarus for giving the message at all. As such, the resurrection of Lazarus is a tragic tale, which shows how lost and hopeless the people of Israel were.

Why are they blind? Why are they so long? Jesus himself told them the last time he saw them before he raised Lazarus from the dead. The following takes place in John 8, before the healing of the man born blind. It is immediately after this that the Jews seek to stone Jesus, putting him to death for telling them the truth about himself. But note what they say about who their father is, and look at how it corresponds to the prophetic parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus:

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:39-47)

This is the hopeless and tragic situation of Israel before the death of Jesus Christ. This is the state that Jesus is seeking to save Israel from.

But there is also hope. It is hope that comes from Jesus and leads to repentance.

The Character Arc of Lazarus and His Family in the Gospels

Remember how we noted that at the house of Lazarus (who is “Simon the Leper”), a woman comes and anoints Jesus’s feet with ointment? Remember how in response, Lazarus says something to Jesus, and Jesus wants to respond to him?

This is incredibly important. This is the Character Arc of Lazarus and his family. After explaining that passage in the gospel of Luke, I want to quote the entire story, and then I want to connect it to the gospel of John. Here is the entire story:

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

That event happened at the house of Lazarus (who is Simon the leper), but it happened before Lazarus was a leper, and before Lazarus died, and before Jesus raised Lazarus. But after this happens, Lazarus and his sisters remember it.

This is what they do in response:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)

Lazarus and his family now knew who Jesus was. They also knew who they were. They knew of their debt, they knew of their forgiveness, and they knew of their king. They joined themselves with the sinful woman whose faith had saved her. They spent the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars to correct their prior rudeness and pride of thinking that they were inviting an equal into their home for dinner.

They no longer had “philio” for Jesus. They now had “agape” for Jesus. And in response, as described in other gospels, this is what Jesus says about it:

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

It was a “beautiful” thing. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were no longer blind. They could see. Mary and Martha’s call to Jesus had saved their brother from death. But their faith now saved them from that fate. Lazarus would wear the title of “the leper” on himself from that point on. Mary, who had first made a name for herself by sitting at the feet of Jesus immortalized herself at the feet of Jesus by anointing his feet with perfume before the day of his death. To this day, it is remembered an astonishing and beautiful thing.

Conclusion

And that concludes my series on the seven signs of Jesus.

  • The first sign was turning water into wine, to show that the “ritual washing” with water through the old covenant would be transformed into “spirit” and a strong spirit, given freely to all.
  • The second sign was healing a royal official’s son, to show that humanity was sick and dying, but that from the moment Jesus came, humanity began to heal.
  • The third sign was to heal the man at the pool, who was lame and unaware that the one who was able to heal him was standing right next to him.
  • The fourth sign was to multiple the bread and fish to feed the five thousand, showing that it was Jesus who was the “bread from heaven” that sustained Israel when they were in the wilderness.
  • The fifth sign was to walk on water, showing that even though the spirit of man was pressing hard against the servants of the Lord, keeping them from entering their home and promised land, Jesus himself would come down off the mountain of heaven, and join them in the night.
  • The sixth sign was that a man born blind, never able to see from birth, was not judged by God, but that instead, he was made into a new creation, able to see is maker, healer, Lord, and King by the power of Jesus.
  • The seventh sign is that a sick, dirty, hungry, and lost Pharisee would die, but then, he would be raised from the dead. And by being raised, he would realize that he was blind to who he was and who Jesus, but now, after passing from death to life, he could see.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Alex Krause says:

    You have not established that Lazarus was Simon the Leper. Just because people are referenced with more than one name doesn’t prove that Simon the Leper was Lazarus. This is just bad detective work. A better solution to Simon the Leper (and Pharisee) is that this was Judas Iscariot’s father (see Jn. 6.71). This is why Judas speaks up the way he does in this instance and no other. Simon was hostile to Jesus and couldn’t have been Mary and Martha’s brother (Lk. 7.44-47). Jn. 12.1 notes that Lazarus lived in Bethany. Jn.12.2 notes that in Bethany a dinner was given but it doesn’t say that it was at Lazarus’ house but only that Lazarus was reclining at table. Mary and Martha helped out serving while the men ate though it wasn’t at their house. Mary “learned” that Jesus was eating at Simon the Pharisee’s house (Lk. 7.37).
    Simon the Leper was a leper no longer or the others could not have eaten with him. He was a Pharisee whom Jesus healed (possibly one of the “10”-Lk. 17.11-19), but he was not Lazarus. The account in Lk. 7.36-47 fairly conclusively proves you wrong.

    1. The Jones says:

      So, because Judas Iscariot’s father’s name is “Simon Iscariot,” that leaves you to believe that Simon the Leper is Judas Iscariot’s father? And you believe that even though Simon is one of the most common names in Judea at the time?

      In contrast, Simon the Leper and Lazarus have a Batman/Bruce Wayne relationship. You never see them together. John 12.1 says that Lazarus lived in Bethany. Matthew 26.6 says that Simon the Leper lived in Bethany.

      You’re right that it is technically possible for Simon the Leper and Lazarus not to be the same person, but it is not possible for them to have not been in the same room when Mary put a pound of pure nard on Jesus. For this reason, I don’t know why you’re so adamant that I’m wrong.

      And you’re assuming that the “woman of the city” in Luke 7.37 is Mary in John 12. But that’s not correct. Luke 7:36-47 is a different event than Mary anointing Jesus’s feet with pure nard. Mary anointing Jesus’s feet with nard happened the week he was crucified, and that time period is covered in Luke 19.28 to 22.1. And if the “woman of the city” who “was a sinner” was Mary, then Jesus’s speech to Simon the Pharisee would make no sense.

      So, sure, I may be wrong. MAYBE Simon the Leper and Lazarus are two different people, but Lazarus just happens to be hanging out with Jesus at Simon the Leper’s house in John 12. That is TECHNICALLY possible, because John 12 only says that Lazarus was there, not that it was his house, while Matthew and Mark say that it was the house of Simon the Leper.

      But you’ve got to do better than that.

      1. Alex Krause says:

        The Gospel of Luke is not chronological and therefore you cannot claim Lk. 7 and Jn. 12 are separate. Luke talked to eyewitnesses and constructed his gospel during Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea.
        Mary was a redeemed sinner like everyone else who became an ardent follower of Jesus.
        I am adamant that you are wrong because I have an upcoming post on Simon the Leper and my research leads me to believe different. Regardless, you have not made your case with Lazarus’ identity.

      2. The Jones says:

        You’re right that the gospel of Luke is the least chronological of the four gospels, but it is not completely unchronological. And so claiming that Luke 7 happens at the time of Jesus’s crucifixion is quite a stretch. You need to do some work there.

      3. Alex Krause says:

        You have no evidence to support your assertion. Prove that it is not the case, for what I argued. My research says it, or strongly implies it. I don’t have time to reopen the research and chase it down. Therefore, prove me wrong.

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