Lazarus

Lazarus was the only man outside of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples that was referred to as his friend. Because of their personal relationship, it says in John 11:3, “Therefore his sisters sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” The Greek word translated lovest, phileo (fil-eh´-o) means to “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)” (G5368). Jesus’ attachment to Lazarus may have been a result of them spending a lot of time together, but it could also be that Jesus’ feelings stemmed from his compassion toward this man’s unfortunate circumstances. Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem where the cost of living was likely very high. There is no indication that Lazarus was married or had any other family members besides his two sisters Martha and Mary, who also appeared to be unmarried. It is possible Lazarus was about the same age as Jesus and had never been married because he was too poor to support a family.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The Greek terms translated glory and glorified have to do with the reputation Jesus gained through his self-manifestation (G1391/1392). In other words, how people interpreted his actions. It says in John 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus’ reaction to the situation showed that he was in complete control of his behavior in spite of his feelings about what was going on. Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead (John 11:14), therefore, he refrained from going to Jerusalem because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there right away. The problem was that Jesus’ presence in the city would have ignited the wrath of the Jews that had already tried to stone him (John 10:31). He may have avoided this by waiting to go to Bethany until after Lazarus’ burial.

The key to understanding Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany in spite of the danger that awaited him was his determination to do the will of his Father. We know it was God’s will for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead because he stated “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4), but in order for him to do God’s will, Jesus had to put his own life at risk. Jesus’ motivation for doing what was expected of him was likely the love he felt for not only Lazarus, but also for his sisters Martha and Mary. When John stated that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5), he wasn’t talking about the same kind of love that Martha and Mary identified when they asked Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:2). John used the Greek word agapao (ag-ap-ah´-o)which is an expression of God’s love. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others seek the Giver” (G25).

Jesus’ disciples expected him to be killed when he returned to the area in and around Jerusalem (John 11:16). Their trip toward Jerusalem had already been filled with numerous warnings of Jesus’ imminent death (Matthew 20:18, Mark 10:33). When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he added, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11:15). Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was likely meant to be a preview of his own resurrection in order to demonstrate his power over the grave. Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone else to know that he had the ability to bring someone back to life that had been dead for several days.

How much?

Jesus paid tribute to John the Baptist and said of him, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). Jesus’ acknowledgment of John was meant to be understood in the context of all the Israelites that lived under the Old Covenant, or more specifically, the promises God made that were fulfilled prior to his birth. Jesus’ association of John with those that are “born of women” suggested that he was comparing John with unbelievers. Jesus followed up his comment about John with this statement, “but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). Perhaps, the best way to interpret Jesus’ commendation of John the Baptist would be to see it as a way of explaining John’s doubts about who Jesus was. It says in Luke 7:19, “And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” John didn’t know for certain that Jesus was the Messiah because he wasn’t born again.

Jesus went on to explain that forgiveness was a byproduct of faith, not the other way around. He used an example of forgiveness to explain that faith was the determining factor of genuine belief and that love for Jesus was the measure of how much someone had been forgiven. The only way that someone could know for certain that Jesus was who he said he was; Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, was to demonstrate faith. Speaking to a Pharisee named Simon that had invited him to have dinner at his house, Jesus said:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one ought five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (Luke 7:41-47)

According to Jesus’ story of the creditor with two debtors, both the Pharisee and the woman’s sins were forgiven. The difference between these two sinners was that the Pharisee only had his sins forgiven, whereas the woman was justified in the eyes of God. Jesus’ statement to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50) indicated that she had obtained much more than just the forgiveness of her sins. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated peace, eirene (i-ray´-nay) indicated she had a harmonized relationship with God. In other words, she was fully restored to prosperity and was a blessed child of God.

God is watching

Sometime between the start of construction in 536 B.C. and 520 B.C., work on rebuilding God’s temple stopped completely (Ezra 4:24). More than likely, it was shortly after the foundation was laid that people began to lose interest in the project. Due to the continual harassment they received and disruptions to their work, the remnant of people that returned from exile in Babylon were unable to keep their momentum going. Beginning on August 29, 520 B.C., and continuing until December 18 (Hag 2:1,10,20), “the prophet Haggai delivered a series of messages to stir up the people to resume work on the temple. Two months after Haggai’s first speech, Zachariah joined him (Zech 1:1)” (Note on Ezra 5:1). As a result of their exhortation, it says in Ezra 5:2, “Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.”

The prophets of God were not engaged in building the temple. The help they provided was most likely intercessory prayer, a spiritual intervention that no doubt caused their enemies to seek a different method of delay. At this point, a change occurred that was critical to the building project’s success. In response to their accusers’ threats to notify king Darius of their actions, it says in Ezra 5:5, “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned the answer by letter concerning the matter.” In other words, God came to his peoples’ rescue and prevented the troublemakers from once again stopping their progress. In fact, God caused Darius to pay close attention to what was going on and made it possible for the Jews to receive additional resources to complete their project (Ezra 6:8).

The Chaldean phrase translated “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews” (Ezra 5:5) corresponds to a Hebrew expression found in Deuteronomy 32:10, “he kept him as the apple of his eye,” which refers to the pupil, a delicate part of the eye that is essential for vision (note on Deut 32:10). In other words, God began watching his people again and his desire to be with them was restored. As the designated seventy year period of their exile drew to a close, God’s affection for his people made him to want to be a part of their lives again. He took an interest in what they were doing and wanted to help them be successful in their attempt to rebuild his temple. Another way of looking at the situation would be to say that God cared how things turned out and therefore, did everything he could to make sure the Jews were successful in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.