Now a certain man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived. (Now it was Mary who anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and wiped his feet dry with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, look, the one you love is sick." When Jesus heard this, he said, "This sickness will not lead to death, but to God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.) So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained in the place where he was for two more days. (John 11:1-6)
It is typically taught that Jesus waited two more days after hearing that Lazarus was sick so that he would die and thereby allow God to show more of His glory by raising him from the dead instead of simply healing him. Are those God's thoughts and ways?
I do not believe Jesus is saying that Lazarus is just sick and will not die (John 11:4). I do believe Jesus is saying that this sickness will be used to bring glory to God, not glory to death. Furthermore, If Jesus stayed away so that Lazarus would die that would be a completely different view of God than we see when Moses asked to see His glory.
And Moses said, "Show me your glory." (Exodus 33:18)
The LORD passed by before him and proclaimed: "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, (Exodus 34:6)
God declared that His glory is not seen in demonstrations of power but rather in His being merciful, gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. With that understanding let us examine the scriptures together to discover the truth in the passage concerning Jesus and the death of Lazarus (John 11:32-37. Psalms 116:15).
First, we need to establish the location of Jesus when the messenger from Mary and Martha arrived.
And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode. (John 10:40 KJV)
Where did John the Baptist first baptize?
These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:28 KJV)
The first mention of John the Baptist baptizing is at Bethabara on the Eastern side of the Jordon River.
Bethabara means house of the ford, a place on the east bank of the Jordan, where John was baptizing (Joh 1:28) It may be identical with Bethbarah, the ancient ford of Jordan of which the men of Ephraim took possession (Judges 7:24) The Revised Version reads "Bethany beyond Jordan." It was the great ford, and still bears the name of "the ford," Makhadhet 'Abarah, "the ford of crossing over," about 25 miles from Nazareth. (2)
Second, we establish the location of Mary and Martha.
Now a certain man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived. (John 11:1)
(Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, (John 11:18)
Bethany means house of dates. A village on the south-eastern slope of the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:1) about 2 miles east of Jerusalem, on the road to Jericho. It derived its name from the number of palm-trees which grew there. It was the residence of Lazarus and his sisters. It is frequently mentioned in connection with memorable incidents in the life of our Lord (Matthew 21:17;26:6 Mark 11:11,12;14:3 Luke 24:50 John 11:1;12:1) It is now known by the name of el-Azariyeh, i.e., "place of Lazarus," or simply Lazariyeh. Seen from a distance, the village has been described as "remarkably beautiful, the perfection of retirement and repose, of seclusion and lovely peace." Now a mean village, containing about twenty families. (2)
That is, Mary and Martha were at their home town of Bethany when Lazarus became ill.
The approximate mileage between Bethabara and Bethany is about 20 miles which was considered to be about a day’s journey on foot during this period of time. Consequently, it took the news that Lazarus was sick one day to reach Jesus.
So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained in the place where he was for two more days. (John 11:6)
Jesus decides to wait in Bethabara two more days after hearing from the messenger that Lazarus is sick.
Then after this, he said to his disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples replied, "Rabbi, the Jewish leaders were just now trying to stone you to death! Are you going there again?" Jesus replied, "Are there not twelve hours in a day? If anyone walks around in the daytime, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks around at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." After he said this, he added, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. But I am going there to awaken him." Then the disciples replied, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." (Now Jesus had been talking about his death, but they thought he had been talking about real sleep.) Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus has died, and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." So Thomas (called Didymus) said to his fellow disciples, "Let us go too, so that we may die with him." (John 11:7-16)
When the disciples questioned Jesus about going back to Judea, He explains that Lazarus is dead (in the original Greek language it literally says, “Lazarus has died” past tense)
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had been in the tomb four days already. (John 11:17)
That is, when Jesus arrives at Bethany He finds that Lazarus has been in the grave 4 days. Therefore, let us solve this mathematically:
- Time required for Jesus to receive the message of Lazarus being ill: 1 Day
- Time before Jesus decides to travel to Bethany: 2 Days
- Time required for Jesus to reach Bethany from Bethabara: 1 Day
Total: 4 Days
Since Lazarus has been dead for four days and it took Jesus four days to reach Bethany the only logical conclusion is that Lazarus must have died shortly after the messenger left Bethany to find Jesus. Therefore, when Jesus made the decision to continue ministering in Bethabara – Lazarus was already dead!
But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:60)
I believe by waiting the additional two days Jesus was showing that God the Father was controlling His ministry not Satan (John 5:19. John 8:28). Think about it, if God jumped every time something bad happened then Satan would control God by simply causing bad things to happen! Remember, God causes everything Satan does for harm to be used to serve Him; therefore, He does not panic (Romans 8:28. Psalms 115:3. Isaiah 40:21-23). Since Lazarus is already dead, letting him remain that way for a total of four days will make it even more convincing that he is really dead (1), and has not simply passed out (i.e., swooned), so that they could see that a genuine miracle from God has taken place.
(1) Left click on underlined phrase to open another article in a different tab with more explanation.
(2) Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, M. G. Easton, Thomas Nelson (1897)