Let’s look back at John 10:37-38 where Jesus said to the unbelieving Pharisees, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Now let’s jump forward to John 14:10-11, where Jesus said to his disciples, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” And finally, back to John 10:25, “Jesus answered [the Pharisees], ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me…’”
Here we see Jesus speaking to two groups, the Pharisees who did not believe in him and sought to kill him in John 10, and his disciples just before the crucifixion, in John 14. Why was Jesus so insistent that even if they did not, or could not, believe because of his words, they could and should believe him because of his works?
Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus performed miracle after miracle, turning water into wine, returning sight to the blind, casting out demons, healing the sick, feeding thousands from the storerooms of heaven, and providing net-breaking boatloads of fish to incredulous fishermen! But in John 11, Jesus was preparing to perform his most incredible miracle to date. The resurrection of his friend, Lazarus.
John 11:1-4 sets the scene, reporting, 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.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” This is very curious, because in fact, Lazarus’ illness did lead to his death, and by the time Jesus and his disciples reached the town of Bethany where Lazarus, Mary, and Martha lived, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. This is significant because in the Ancient Near East, due to the hot climate, bodies were buried immediately because they tended to decompose quickly.
However, because burial took place in caves and medical practices at that time were somewhat hit or miss, the custom was to consider a person really, truly dead after four days. This is when Jesus and his disciples appeared on the scene, saying to his disciples, “…’Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there [to heal him], so that you may believe. Let us go to him’” (John 11:14-15). Now Bethany was two miles from Jerusalem, and many friends of Lazarus’ family had come to comfort his sisters.
When Jesus arrived, he found Martha at her brother’s tomb, weeping. She said to him, “’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’” (vv. 21-24). Martha believed that Jesus had the power to ask God to raise her brother up on the day of judgment, according to Jewish custom. But she had no idea what Jesus had planned, even after he reminded 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’” (vv. 25-27).
They had heard him teach and been witness to him performing miracles, but even though Martha believed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, she still did not understand what this meant. She had heard his words and seen his works, but when her need was immediate, personal, and desperate, her faith wavered.
After Martha had spoken to Jesus, she went and called her sister Mary, who had remained in the house, saying “The Teacher is here and is calling for you” (v. 28b). Mary and those who were with her made haste to go to the tomb. Mary fell at Jesus’ feet, and mourned, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 32). When he saw how Mary and the others grieved, Jesus was deeply moved, and he also wept until they cried out, “See how he loved him!” (v. 36). But they wondered amongst themselves, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (v. 37b).
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.” (vv. 38-44)
Chapter 11 ends by relating that because of this tremendous miracle of bringing Lazarus back from the dead, many of the Jews who were there believed in him. But others went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done, and thereafter, the Pharisees plotted to kill him, and made plans to arrest him (vv. 45-57).
A week later was Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where in just a few days he would be taken and crucified. But John 12:37 says that even though the people had seen Jesus perform so many miracles, they still could not believe in him.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead as proof of what he had told his disciples on the night of his arrest, “’I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’” (John 14:18-20). As we read above, the miracles that Jesus performed were proof that he is in the Father, and the Father is in him. Although he could have easily healed his friend Lazarus, Jesus allowed him to die so that by the power of the living God, he could be raised to life again as a testimony that his followers could take with them once he, himself, had been placed in the tomb.
This is why Jesus said to Martha, “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?” (John 11:25). Remember that Jesus said to Nicodemus “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Lazarus being raised from the dead was proof, not only that in just a few days Jesus would be resurrected, but that Jesus has the authority to raise up those of us who believe in him. Because Lazarus’ death took place before Jesus’ atonement at the cross, he was not raised to eternal life. He died again. And afterward, he would never die, because as Jesus proclaimed in John 10:27-29, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”
All scriptures are from the English Standard Version translation.