Jesus’ visit to Bethany to raise His friend Lazarus spurred the final events that would lead to His crucifixion.
Jerusalem at the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22-39)
Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, what we call Hanukah today. It celebrated the re-dedication of the Temple in 165 BC, which the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes had half destroyed and desecrated. Judas the Maccabee was the leader of the rebellion against the Seleucid Empire, no relation to Judas Iscariot!
Jesus was in the Temple when a number of Jews surrounded him and told Him to say plainly if He was the Christ or not. So he did. They tried to stone Him for it but He “escaped their grasp.”
North to Samaria (John 10:40-43)
Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem and followed the Jordan north to the site of John the Baptist’s baptizing ministry, which was in Samaria. Many people there still revered John the Baptist and believed in Jesus because of what John had said about him. There was probably a mix of Samaritans and Jews. Contrast this with the reaction of the Jews in Jerusalem!
While there, Lazarus – the brother of Mary and Martha – was sick. The family lived all the way back down near Jerusalem in the town of Bethany. They must have know where Jesus was because they sent a messenger to Jesus to come and heal Lazarus. It took 1 day travel on foot for the messengers to reach Jesus.
In fact, Lazarus was already dead by then as we find out later on in the story. He must have died shortly after the messengers left, but there was no way to catch the messengers and tell them that.
When they gave Jesus the message he replied “This sickness will not end in death.” His listeners thought he meant Lazarus would not die; instead he meant that he would raise Lazarus from the dead.
Knowing Lazarus was already dead, Jesus waited for 2 more days to set out on his journey. He told the disciples he was returning to Judea, or central Israel whose capital city is Jerusalem. He told the disciples that Lazarus has died but that Jesus was going to raise him. The disciples were more interested in the fact that the Jews had just tried to kill Jesus in Jerusalem and now he’s going back?! Bethany was just a couple of miles from the great city.
Thomas – who we sometimes call “Doubting Thomas” – told the others “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” I changed my opinion of Thomas after reading this.
It took 1 travel day for Jesus to reach Bethany. So 4 days passed since Mary and Martha sent the messengers to Jesus. Note that Jesus did NOT wait around for Lazarus to die! Lazarus was already dead by the time the messengers reached him.
Bethany (John 11)
Jesus arrived in Bethany. Martha greeted him (Mary and the other mourners stayed in the house) and Martha told him that her brother would not have died had Jesus been there. Jesus told her that her brother would live, and Martha confirmed that she believed he would be resurrected at the last day. This was true of course for believers, but Jesus went a giant step further – he reminded her that “I am the resurrection and the life.” Martha answered in faith and trust and went to get her sister Mary. Mary and the mourners now join them and both women are crying. And…
“Jesus wept.” The word means quiet tears running down his face, in contrast to the shouts and cries of the mourners. Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus but he also fully felt his friends’ pain and agony. God doesn’t shrug when bad things happen to us and tell us to get over it because it’ll end up OK. It will end up great – but God cares about our pain and helps us through it.
Jesus approaches the tomb, which was a cave in a hillside with a stone rolled in front of it to keep predators out. This is similar to what Jesus’ tomb would look like! In fact, Jesus knew EXACTLY what he was doing!
Now we find out why Jesus got there 4 days after Lazarus’ death. He told the bystanders to roll away the stone but Martha told him that the corpse would smell after 4 days. Get this: in Jewish tradition, the spirit of the dead lingers about its body for 3 days. Then it goes to the afterlife. Lazarus was dead, dead, dead!
And Jesus responds “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Then he prayed out loud to the Father so the people could hear and know where Jesus’ power came from. Then Jesus shouted “Lazarus, come out!” I’ll bet that was a shout that shivered the earth!
And Lazarus came out!
Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem. Many of the witnesses believed in Jesus because of the resurrection of Lazarus. Others ran back to Jerusalem and told the Pharisees what had happened. So the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin, which consisted of the Pharisees and Sadducees, some of whom were also priests.
Caiphas was the high priest at that time, serving from 18-36 AD. He was the son-in-law of Annas who had been deposed by the Romans in 15 AD. The high priesthood was supposed to be for life but the Romans often deposed the high priest. If Caiphas lasted as long as he did, it was because he got along just fine with the Empire!
People complained that “everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Note that the Sanhedrin were more worried about losing their positions, that came first on their list of fears.
Now Caiphas speaks and he prophesies without knowing it! “Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (John 11:49-53)
In spite of his personal evil and sin, Caiphas prophesied through the power of the Holy Spirit — even though he didn’t know it! God is sovereign.
Jesus however was on his own timetable and knew that he would come back to Jerusalem during the Passover to die on His own terms. So he and his disciples withdrew to the desert town of Ephraim to wait. I’ll bet the disciples thought they’d dodged a bullet, not dreaming that Jesus would shortly return to Jerusalem again – this time to die.
Study: What are the parallels in this story and Christ’s coming passion?
Meditation: Picture yourself lying in that tomb. See your body covered with graveclothes. Silent. Cold. Alone. Then hear the stone scrape and fall aside and a strong and loving voice call out your name — “Come out!”