Father MacEVilly’s Commentary on John 11:1-45
Posted by Dim Bulb on March 18, 2017
1 Now there was a certain man sick, named Lazarus, of Bethania, of the town of Mary and of Martha her sister.
It is supposed generally that an interval of about three months elapsed between this and the occurrences recorded in the last chapter, at the Feast of the Renovation. These took place about the middle of December—and those mentioned in this chapter, took place about the middle of March, at the near approach of the Pasch, when our Lord was put to death.
“Now there was a certain man sick named Lazarus,” etc. He was supposed to be in good circumstances, quite different from the Lazarus mentioned in connexion with the rich glutton. (Luke 16.) “Of Bethania, of the town of Mary and Martha, her sister.” These latter words are put in apposition to the former, meaning, “Bethania,” that is to say, the town or village in which Martha and Mary lived, just as Bethsaida is called, “the town of Peter and Andrew” (1:41), not that they were owners of it, but only lived there. This Bethania was about two miles from Jerusalem, to the east of Mount Olivet. The Evangelist narrates every thing in detail, connected with the great miracle, which He is about to describe.
2 (And Mary was she that anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair: whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
The more probable opinion, though warmly disputed (see Corlui, in hunc locum) is, that Mary Magdalen (Luke 8:2; Matthew 28:5, 6, and 7), the Mary referred to here, the sister of Lazarus, as also in Luke 10:38; John 12:3–8, and the sinful woman, Luke 7:36–50, are one and the same person (see Matthew 26:7, Commentary on).
3 His sisters therefore sent to him, saying: Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
The sisters of Lazarus respectfully hint, or rather modestly request, that our Lord would cure their sick brother. This expresses their great faith in our Lord, their confidence and love. Their faith, shown in their belief that our Lord, though absent, could cure him. Their hope, in the expectation that, on receiving the message, He would restore him. Their charity—“behold whom Thou lovest,” etc., which implied reciprocal great love on their part. They say, “whom Thou lovest,” etc., not Lazarus; not our brother, to excite our Lord’s tender compassion and pity, the more effectually, to move Him to cure their brother.
4 And Jesus hearing it, said to them: This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God: that the Son of God may be glorified by it.
“Said to them,” viz., the sisters, through the messenger, “not unto death,” will not terminate in death, but has for object, the glory of God; or, is not meant to end in the death which, as you apprehend, will close his mortal life; since, he was to be soon again resuscitated.
“But for the glory of God.” To promote and manifest God’s glory; when men seeing the miracle, would believe in our Lord, as Son of God, and thus glorify the Father and the Son. This is explained in the following words, “that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” The glory of the Father and of the Son is the same. The death and resuscitation of Lazarus was meant for a signal display of the glory of God, by proving the Divine mission of His Son.
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary and Lazarus.
He loved them with an eternal love, as God; with a human love, as good, virtuous people, and also on account of their singular love devotion and liberality, in hospitably entertaining Himself and His disciples, on several occasions.
6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he still remained in the same place two days.
He did not wish to go to Bethania till Lazarus would be some time dead, and no cavilling questions raised about the reality of his death, and the subsequent miracle of his resuscitation. It is likely, that Lazarus died soon after the messengers left our Lord, on their return home. The circumstance of our Lord’s remaining two days at Bethabara, thirty miles from Bethania, where this disconsolate family lived, whom He knew to be plunged in the deepest sorrow, would seem to indicate, that He meant to compensate for this apparent indifference in remaining so long away, by raising him, as He did, from the grave.
7 Then after that, he said to his disciples: Let us go into Judea again.
“Then after that.” After the lapse of two days, from the departure of the messengers. Up to that, He said nothing of His intended journey, or of the death of Lazarus.
“Let us go into Judea”—the portion occupied by the Tribes of Juda and Benjamin—“again.” They had left it not long before when the Jews meant to stone Him (10:31–39). He knew the disciples had no wish to return to Judea, from a sense of danger. He now prepares them for it by this announcement of His intention.
8 The disciples say to him: Rabbi, the Jews but now sought to stone thee. And goest thou thither again?
His disciples, who were ignorant of His design to die, wish to dissuade Him from encountering certain death. They knew not His designs of Redemption, which was now on the eve of accomplishment.
9 Jesus answered: Are there not twelve hours of the day? If a man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world:
10 But if he walk in the night, he stumbleth, because the light is not in him.
Since the return from the Babylonish captivity, the Jews divided their days from sunrise to sunset into twelve parts, which were longer or shorter, according to the season of the year. This was the division in use among the Romans, to whom the Jews were now subject. Our Lord means to employ an allegory wherein the twelve hours of the day denote the period of human life; the night, death. He, therefore, means to convey, that as a man walking in day-time, is sure to avoid all obstacles, against which he might impinge, and thus stumble, because he has the light of the day to guide him; so, as there is a certain time marked out for Him in the decrees of His heavenly Father to continue in life, they need not fear any danger till “His hour is come,” and the time has expired. Now that time will expire then only, when He shall voluntarily hand Himself over to His cruel executioners. Hence, they need be under no apprehension in accompanying Him now into Judea.
11 These things he said; and after that he said to them: Lazarus our friend sleepeth: but I go that I may awake him out of sleep.
After having strengthened them against indulging in fear, He announces the death of Lazarus. “Sleepeth.” Death is but a kind of sleep. The SS. Scriptures often term it such, in view of the future general Resurrection.
“Awake him.” He thus modestly refers to the exercise of His Almighty power, soon to be displayed in the resuscitation of Lazarus.
12 His disciples therefore said: Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
13 But Jesus spoke of his death: and they thought that he spoke of the repose of sleep.
If he only sleeps, he is sure of recovery. Let us allow him to sleep. It would seem that by the observation, “he shall do well,” they meant to dissuade our Lord from undertaking an unnecessary journey.
14 Then therefore Jesus said to them plainly: Lazarus is dead.
The messenger only spoke of Lazarus’s illness. Our Lord showed His Divine insight into secret, hidden events, by saying, “plainly,” literally, without any figure, “Lazarus is dead.”
15 And I am glad, for your sakes; that I was not there, that you may believe. But, let us go to him.
“I am glad … not there,” because, if there at the time of Lazarus’s death, He would have been moved by the tears and entreaties of his sisters to ward off death, or to raise him up at once. Neither course would so strongly contribute to the faith of His Apostles, as did what took place in his resuscitation, after he was in the grave for some time. “That you may believe,” that is, be more and more confirmed in your faith.
16 Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples: Let us also go, that we may die with him.
“Thomas, called Didymus.” The word, “Thomas,” translated into Greek, means, “Didymus,” or twin, just as Cephas, in Greek, means, Petros or rock.
“Let us go and die,” etc. He did not seem to understand our Saviour’s words (verses 9 and 10). Hence, fancying our Lord meant to go to death, he intrepidly encourages his fellow Apostles to share in his fate.
17 Jesus therefore came: and found that he had been four days already in the grave.
“Four days already in the grave.” Commentators explain it thus: most likely, Lazarus died on the day the messenger was despatched to our Lord, and was buried the following day. Our Lord set out from Bethabara the third day after Lazarus’s death, and the second of his burial. The distance was rather long; and our Lord, on the third day of Lazarus’s burial, travelled leisurely, delivering instructions as He went along. Most likely, He remained for the night at some midway place. The following or fourth day He arrived near Bethany about mid-day. It would not be congruous, that the miracle, with all its circumstances, should occur at any other time save the day time.
18 (Now Bethania = Bethnay was near Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off.)
Bethany was about two miles distant from Jerusalem.
19 And many of the Jews were come to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
The family of Lazarus likely occupied a respectable position, and had many friends in the neighbouring city; probably, men of eminence and learning. They came out to condole with the sisters of the deceased. The testimony of these, some of them, no doubt, hostile to our Lord, would have great weight in regard to the stupendous miracle of which they were witnesses.
20 Martha therefore, as soon as she heard that Jesus was come, went to meet him: but Mary sat at home.
It is clear our Lord did not, at this time, reach the house of Martha; but only came to the place of the sepulchre, which was outside the town or village, according to the custom of the Jews. “Martha,” to whom, as mistress of the house (Luke 10:38), the tidings of our Lord’s arrival was communicated, on hearing of His approach went out at once—without waiting to intimate it to her sister—to meet our Lord, sure to receive greater and more practical consolation than she could expect from any of the sympathizing Jews.
“But Mary sat at home,” receiving the expression of condolence from those who came to sympathize with them. Likely, too, she had not at once heard of our Lord’s arrival (v. 28), and Martha, in her hurry, did not tell her at the time. Moreover, had she left, all the Jews in the house would have followed: and confusion at their meeting our Lord, to whom some of them were hostile, might ensue.
21 Martha therefore said to Jesus: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
22 But now also I know that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
Martha’s faith in our Lord’s power was somewhat imperfect, since He could as easily operate when absent, as when present. And although she believed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 27); still, it is likely she did not clearly apprehend His identity of nature and power with the Father; since, she regards His power as dependent on the Father, who would surely grant all His petitions. She does not say, if Thou wilt, Thou canst raise my brother. It may be, she tacitly expects He would, in virtue of His acceptance with His Father, raise her brother again, relying on the message received from Him (v. 4. He had already cured men on the point of death. Hence, she says, if present, He would have cured her brother. It is hardly likely, that she hoped, He would perform the stupendous miracle of raising the dead to life. The words of this verse, clearly denote that she expected our Lord would obtain any thing from God necessary to console them in their affliction. Possibly, even to the extent of raising up her brother, though, it does not seem clear that she expected this (vv. 24–39).
23 Jesus saith to her: Thy brother shall rise again.
24 Martha saith to him: I know that he shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day.
“Thy brother shall rise again.” Our Lord, while referring to the near resurrection of Lazarus, uses ambiguous language, which would apply to the General Resurrection, as Martha understood it, possibly in order to prepare her for the miracle He was about to perform, and to elicit from her the act of faith she expressed in reply to His question, arising out of this subject (v. 27). Martha heard our Lord often treating of the General Resurrection of all men; and now she hears Him in language harmonizing with His former teaching, proclaim the same doctrine, but, in her words, would seem to be implied, the latent or suppressed complaint, viz.: what particular consolation does this bring us now in our excessive grief? What particular or special favour is now conferred on us?
25 Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live:
Our Lord then said to her, “I am the Resurrection,” etc. I am the cause, the power by which all men are raised from the dead, raising up and giving life to whom I will—“the life,” the source of life eternal to all the good who deserve it. For, as regards the life to which the reprobate are restored, this is but a living death, a perpetuation of everlasting torture. Better for them, they were never born (“Melius illi fuisset si natus non esset iste homo”—Matthew 26:24), never raised to life. By saying, He is “the Resurrection and the life,” our Lord wishes to convey, that every one who is resuscitated, is raised by Him and Him alone; that every one, who lives, lives by Him alone. Hence, it would be just as easy for Him now to raise up Lazarus, as it will be to raise up all men, at the General Resurrection.
“He that believeth in Me,” etc. In this, He points out the means of securing a happy Resurrection and everlasting glory. This means is faith. He that hath faith in Him, with the other dispositions, during life, “although now dead—in the body”—“shall live,” shall be raised to a life of everlasting glory, both in regard to soul and body.
26 And every one that liveth and believeth in me shall not die for ever. Believest thou this?
“And every one that liveth,” etc.—now living in the body—“and believeth in Me,” although his body may soon return to earth, still, “he shall not die for ever.” The bodies and souls of men, like him who believes, shall, after a time, be restored to a life of glorious immortality. Our Lord wishes to convey a proof, not only of His Omnipotent Power in restoring to life all who die; but, a still greater manifestation of His Power and boundless beneficence as well, in bestowing on them everlasting happiness. Hence, as Martha’s brother, though now dead, believed, and had faith in our Lord, she should not be disturbed at what has taken place, she should expect for him a glorious immortality; nay, perhaps, a near resurrection.
“Believest thou this?” That is to say, My assertion regarding Myself, as the source of Resurrection and life?
27 She saith to him: Yea, Lord, I have believed that thou art Christ, the Son of the living God, who art come into this world.
Martha, not fully understanding what our Lord wished her to believe and profess, makes an act of faith which fully contained all she was asked. She professes to have believed Him to be the natural, genuine Son of God, God Himself; and that, therefore, every thing He taught was true, and that He was, therefore, as He asserted, “the Resurrection and the life.”
“I have believed,” heretofore, and my faith still continues the same, “that Thou art the Christ,” the promised Messiah, nay, more, “the Son of the living God,” the true, genuine, natural Son of God, “who art come,” or as the Greek has it, “who was to come,” long before predicted and expected, “into this world,” to enlighten and save the entire human race, Jew and Gentile alike.
Some Commentators, think that Martha did not believe as St. Peter did (Matthew 16.), though the form of words is similar. While expressing her belief in Him as the Son of God, she did not distinguish whether He was the natural or adopted Son of God. (St. Chrysostom, etc.) They in proof of this refer to Martha’s words (v. 22).
28 And when she had said these things, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying: The master is come and calleth for thee.
“She went,” evidently at our Lord’s instance. “The Master is come, and calleth thee.” But for brevity sake, it is omitted here by the Evangelist, that our Lord suggested this to Martha, “secretly,” to escape being noticed by the Jews, who were with her.
29 She, as soon as she heard this, riseth quickly and cometh to him.
30 For Jesus was not yet come into the town: but he was still in that place where Martha had met him.
Our Lord remained outside the village near the tomb, which, according to Jewish custom, was outside the town or village. He did not wish to go to the house of Mary, in the first instance, as He should return again to perform the miracle at the grave.
31 The Jews therefore, who were with her in the house and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up speedily and went out, followed her, saying: She goeth to the grave to weep there.
“When they saw that she rose up speedily,” as Martha had whispered into her ear the tidings of our Lord’s arrival, “followed her.” It was thus providentially arranged, that they should witness the miracle.
32 When Mary therefore was come where Jesus was, seeing him, she fell down at his feet and saith to him. Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
“Fell down at His feet,” in testimony of her great reverence and gratitude for His having rescued her from her passions and sins. This she did, regardless of the presence of the Jews, who entertained hostile feelings against our Lord.
33 Jesus, therefore, when he saw her weeping, and the Jews that were come with her weeping, groaned in the spirit and troubled himself,
“Groaned in spirit and troubled Himself.” There is a great diversity of opinion regarding the meaning of these words, owing to the peculiar signification of the Greek word ενεβριμησατο), which generally means, to be indignant. However, this word, rigorously speaking, denotes the commotion or excitement of any of the violent passions, anger, sorrow, etc. Looking to the context, the circumstances of the people weeping around Him, it, most likely, denotes the commotion of tenderness and sympathetic sorrow caused by our Lord’s seeing the tears and affliction of those present, and especially of His dear friends, who were plunged in sorrow; and by His own free will, which always kept in check all His passions, He excited Himself to feelings of tenderness and humanity, which manifested themselves afterwards in tears. Some who understand, “groaned in spirit,” to mean indignation, say, He was indignant at the hypocritical expression of sorrow on the part of the Jews, mingling with the sincere lamentation of Mary. He always showed His horror of hypocrisy.
34 And said: Where have you laid him? They say to him: Lord, come and see.
“Where have you laid him?” He spoke thus, as if He were acting in a human way. For, He knew it Himself. He wishes to excite their attention to the great miracle about to be performed.
“Lord, come and see.” They went before Him to point out the precise spot.
35 And Jesus wept.
“Jesus wept,” in sympathy with His friends, to show His true humanity and sympathetic feelings of tenderness. He conformed to the admonition, “lugere cum lugentibus” (Rom. 12:15). As He meant to display His Divinity in the miracle He was about performing; so, He here manifests His humanity in sentiments of tenderness and compassion, proving He had not a hard, unfeeling heart.
Only on three occasions have we any record of our Lord’s weeping. 1. Here. 2. When weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). 3. On the cross (Heb. 5., “Cum clamore magno et lacrymis”). No doubt, in each case, there were strong mystical reasons. Most likely, He wept over the dreadful evil of sin, the havoc it wrought, and over the ingratitude of man.
36 The Jews therefore said: Behold how he loved him.
Some of the Jews, who were well affected towards our Lord. said, “Behold,” etc. Tears, in a grown man, are a great sign of sorrow. These Jews admired our Lord’s fast friendship and humanity.
37 But some of them said: Could not he that opened the eyes of the man born blind have caused that this man should not die?
But others, who were unfriendly and unfavourably disposed, attributed it to weakness. If He had the power of warding off death from this man, and did not do it, why now weep over what He could have prevented? They sneeringly ask, “Could not He that opened the eyes,” a more difficult thing, do what was easier, viz., cure this infirm man and ward off death? All admit the death of Lazarus. All admit the cure of the blind man. Yet still they refer to it, out of malice, in a sneering, sarcastic manner.
38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself, cometh to the sepulchre. Now it was a cave; and a stone was laid over it.
“Groaning in Himself.” The near approach to the grave excited His sensibility and compassionate tenderness.
“It was a cave,” sunk into the earth, “a stone laid over it.” unlike the grave of our Lord, which was over ground, and “a stone rolled to the mouth of the sepulchre.”
39 Jesus saith: Take away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith to him: Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he is now of four days.
“Take away the stone.” He might, if He pleased, have removed it by the sole act of His will, and have raised up Lazarus without removing it. But, He preferred calling on them to remove it, to leave no possibility of doubt regarding the identity and death of Lazarus. Martha imagined our Lord only wished to see the remains. It would seem she did not anticipate or expect that He could raise him up in this state of decomposition. Hence, the reproach addressed by our Lord to her in the following verse. All these circumstances detailed by the Evangelist take away all grounds for suspecting imposture.
40 Jesus saith to her: Did not I say to thee that if thou believe, thou shalt see the glory of God?
“Did I not say to thee?” It is disputed at what time He said this. Some say, through the messenger (v. 4). “His sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God.” etc. Others refer it to verse 25. “Thou shalt see the glory of God,” which shall be manifested in the great miracle of the resuscitation of Lazarus. This shall promote My glory, by showing the power I possess, and the proof it gives of My Divine mission. He confirms the faith of Martha, which would seem, at this critical point, to be somewhat wavering (v. 41).
41 They took therefore the stone away. And Jesus lifting up his eyes, said: Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me.
The removal of the stone left no doubt of the identity and death of Lazarus, his remains approaching a state of decomposition.
“Lifting up His eyes,” to heaven, to His Eternal Father, thus showing whence the power of performing the great miracle emanated—and referring all to Him. said: “Father, I give Thee thanks, that Thou hast heard Me,” in regard to the resuscitation of Lazarus. It may be, too, that whilst He groaned in spirit, He prayed to His Father—the Evangelist makes no special mention of any expressed prayer—or, He may have simply wished it in His heart, and His Father attended to this desire, “desiderium animœ ejus tribuisti ei” (Psa. 9:1). Our Lord teaches us how to commence our petitions to God. It is, by thanking Him for past favours, so as to render Him propitious and bountiful in granting those we now ask.
42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people who stand about have I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
It was not on My own account, I thanked Thee, for hearing Me. This is not new to Me. For, “I knew that Thou always hearest Me;” “but, because of the people who stand about have I said it,” that is, have I said the words. “I give Thee thanks”—uttering them aloud—“that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me,” on beholding the miracle, I am now about to perform by Thy Divine power, in proof of My mission from Thee to earth.
43 When he had said these things, he cried with a loud voice: Lazarus, come forth.
“With a loud voice,” to render those present more attentive, and to demonstrate His own great power and authority, whereby this miracle was accomplished; and some add, to show that He summoned the soul of Lazarus from afar, from Limbo, where it reposed in the bosom of Abraham; or, it may be, that he spoke in a loud voice, as to a dead man, just as we speak in a loud voice to the deaf. Theophylact observes, that this loud voice of our Redeemer was a symbol of the loud trumpet of the Archangel, which is to sound at the General Resurrection.
“Lazarus, come forth.” He mentions him by name, lest it might be supposed that any of the others who might have been laid in the tomb, answered the Divine call and command. “Lazarus,” the person of Lazarus, soul and body, “come forth,” from the tomb. This implied his resurrection, the union of soul and body, effected by our Lord’s power. For, He invokes no other power to assist Him. He does it all by His own sole command and authority. “Come forth,” and show yourself, resuscitated by My power, to all here present.
44 And presently he that had been dead came forth, bound feet and hands with winding bands. And his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus said to them: Loose him and let him go.
“And presently,” without any delay, the power of our Lord producing an instantaneous effect.
“He that was dead,” Lazarus, who in person, was summoned by the voice of God, burst forth at once from the embrace of death.
“Bound hand and feet with winding bands,” according to the custom of the Jews, in burying their dead. “And his face was bound about with a napkin,” quite common among the Jews in preparing their dead for burial.
45 Many therefore of the Jews, who were come to Mary and Martha and had seen the things that Jesus did, believed in him.
“Believed in Him.” On seeing the proof they just saw of His Divinity. They were aided by Divine grace.