God’s Thoughts and Ways – Part III (Lazarus)

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 (his name means “God helps”) 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 merely 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 (John 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 two 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.  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)
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell, because he has been buried four days.” (John 11:39 NET)

When Jesus arrives at Bethany; He finds that Lazarus has been in the grave for 4 days. Therefore, let us solve this mathematically:

The time required for Jesus to receive the message of Lazarus being ill from the messenger –1 Day
The time before Jesus decides to travel to Bethany –2 Days
The time required for Jesus to reach Bethany from Bethabara –1 Day
Total Time4 Days

Since Lazarus has been dead for four days and took Jesus four days to arrive at 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! That is, Jesus was not waiting for Lazarus to die but rather waiting to resurrect him!

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 for the additional two days, Jesus was showing that God the Father alone was controlling His ministry and not humans or Satan (John 5:19. John 8:28).  Think about it, if God jumped every time something terrible 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 8:28,29. 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 merely passed out (i.e., swooned).

That is, Jesus did not wait for Lazarus to die but rather waited for him to be dead long enough that the Jews and their religious leaders could see that a genuine miracle from God had taken place. Thus providing another sign that Jesus was, is, and ever shall be their long-awaited Messiah!

Typological Meaning of the Four Days

In the West are more accustomed to starting our counting with one; however, similar to scientific communities today, when this was written, they started the count with zero. The result is the third day of scripture would be what we would typically call day four by starting the count with one instead of zero.

An example from John’s Gospel where the phrase “after three days” is the “third day” and what we would call “day four.”On the ___ DayAfter
On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining—this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God.” (John 1:29–34 NET)0th1
Again the next day John was standing there with two of his disciples. Gazing at Jesus as he walked by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”When John’s two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, “What do you want?” So they said to him, “Rabbi” (which is translated Teacher), “where are you staying?” Jesus answered, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus.He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is translated Christ). Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:35–42 NET)1st2
On the next day Jesus wanted to set out for Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” (Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.) Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replied, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!”Jesus said to him, “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth—you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43–51 NET)2nd3
Now on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine left.”Jesus replied, “Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come.” His mother told the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.” (John 2:1–5 NET)3rd4

Therefore, Lazarus was raised from the dead on day four which is the 3rd day which foreshadows Jesus our Lord and Savior being raised on the third day after four days (1)!

Our ways are not God’s ways… (Isaiah 55:8,9), but they will be…  (1 John 3:2. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

God’s Thoughts and Ways Series:

(Security, Wholeness, Success)

Dear friend, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. 
(3 John 1:2 NET)

(1) Select the link to open another article with additional information in a new tab.

(2) Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, M. G. Easton, Thomas Nelson (1897)

Hal has taught the Bible for over three decades. Through an interdenominational ministry dedicated to helping the local church build men for Jesus, Hal trained men, the leaders of men’s ministries, and provided pulpit supply. Before that, he was a Men’s Ministry Leader and an Adult Bible Fellowship teacher of a seventy-five-member class at a denominational megachurch. Presently, Hal desires to honor Jesus Christ through this Internet teaching ministry, thereby glorifying the Heavenly Father in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He believes, second to cultivating his relationship with God that raising his family unto the Lord is the most significant task for him while on Earth. Furthermore, Hal believes that being a successful leader in the church or workplace is no substitute for failing to be a successful leader at home. 


  • SonShine

    Lazarus and Jesus

    This comment makes much more sense to me: Furthermore, If Jesus stayed away so that Lazarus would die that would be a completely different view of God — than I or you ARE TO  have.  so often preachers use this to put the fear of God in us but that is so unwise and so unhelpful. We want to think and to believe our God is as you say merciful etc. Your visual processing mathematically helps me follow the rest of your train of thought and to see and understand that God is indeed merciful and He is indeed understanding and all of the rest that we want to know and to be assured of.

    Helpful insight.

  • Rabbi


    Wow so because of love Jesus never cared of what will happen to him, and that tells me, even at the point of death Christ Jesus doesn't care of what situation we are in, cause all he wants is us to be saved and have the access to him, wow this love is such a wonderful one. I shall be luck as Lazarus even me I am going to provoke Jesus to attend to my situation.