As we work our way through this Fourth Gospel; we see that Lazarus has presented us with the story of a number of phenomenal signs that Yeshua preformed, and he tells us that his goal is that these signs should bring us to the confession that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God:
Now Yeshua did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Yeshua is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31 ESV
In working our way through the first ten chapters of this Gospel we have seen six signs, six miracles—turning water into wine, healing the official's sick son, restoring a lame man, feeding 20,000, walking on water and giving a blind man his sight. What is the point of these signs? Yeshua tells us in:
Yeshua answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, John 10:25 ESV
"The works that I do in My Father's name bear witness about me"—the signs that Yeshua performed gave evidence of who He was. Yeshua makes the claim to be God and then backs it up with a public display of supernatural power. Yeshua claims to be God and supports that claim with public miracles. So the miracles that are described in the Fourth Gospel are authenticating signs of His deity and His Messiahship.
Chapter 11 gives us the seventh and final sign. The whole of chapter 11 is about the miracle of our Lord raising Lazarus from the dead and its results. The raising of Lazarus is the climax of the Lord's public ministry.
The physical resurrection of Lazarus is a picture of our spiritual resurrection. This miracle is to confirm the statement of Yeshua in verse 25. "I am the resurrection and the life." This miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead authenticated Yeshua's authority to grant eternal life to those who believe in Him. The resurrection of Lazarus is an acted out parable of Christian conversion and life. It is a picture of what God does spiritually every time He saves a sinner. Our salvation is no less a miracle than the raising of a dead body. It requires the same power that Yeshua used when He raised Lazarus from the dead.
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. Yeshua said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." John 11:43-44 ESV
Standing at the open tomb of a man who had been dead for four day, Yeshua cries out,
"Lazarus, come out." And Lazarus comes out. Yeshua says to the witnesses, "Unbind him and let him go." This is a remarkable miracle done at a very strategic time just prior to the Passover, done in a place called Bethany, which is two miles east of Jerusalem on the road from Jericho that was literally filled with pilgrims heading to the Passover. So everybody coming that way would have heard the story about Lazarus. Because those who witness the raising of Lazarus are telling others about this miracle. Lazarus is walking about, very much alive. As more and more pilgrims begin to arrive in Jerusalem from afar, they hear about what has happened to Lazarus.
Wouldn't you like a little more information here? Lazarus comes out of the tomb and the scene changes to place us at a meeting of the Sanhedrin. We don't know anything more about what happened after the resurrection. We don't know anything about the shock and awe that must have just literally roared through the mourners. We don't know anything about the conversations that Lazarus had after this. Can you imagine the questions. "Lazarus, where were you? Tell us about the after life. What is the first thing you remember once Yeshua gave you life? We are not told anything of conversations that took place, but we are told:
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, John 11:45 ESV
So many of the Jews who were there mourning Lazarus' death believed in Christ. You may be thinking, Of course they did! When seeing a man raised from the dead who wouldn't believe? We'll see the answer to that in a moment. In Luke 16 the rich man in hades had argued, "If one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." Yes, you would think so, but the next verse says:
He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'" Luke 16:31 ESV
As we'll see in the next verse some of the Jews were not convinced even after seeing Lazarus raised from the dead. But here we are told that "many of the Jews...believed in Him." That's awesome! Right? What does this say to you about their spiritual condition? They believed in Him; they are Christians, right? Well there are some who conclude that these "believers" are not real believers. John MacArthur commenting on this verse says, "There is a kind of believing that doesn't save." What? Really? Where does the Bible talk about a believing that doesn't save? D.A. Carson writes, "They put their faith in Him. The caliber of their faith is not discussed." Why does the caliber of their faith need to be discussed?
If Lazarus records these selected "signs" to bring people to faith, how could we question the faith of those who "believe in His name" because of these signs? Lazarus tells us that these people "believed in His name." And I believe that that's what he meant, they became Christians, they received eternal life. Verse 25 tells us, "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." They believed and they were given the right to become children of God. Their sins were forgiven. They were redeemed. Period! Those who question their faith have an agenda to push.
but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Yeshua had done. John 11:46 ESV
Tattle tales! Since verse 45 says, "many believed" and this verse says, "some" tattled, it would seem that they did not believe. He is comparing the "believers," the many, with the "unbelievers," the some. So why do some believe because of the miracles and others do not? What separates the believers from the unbelievers? Is it intelligence? Are some smart enough to figure it out and others are not?
So why didn't the resurrection of Lazarus who had been dead four days cause all the Jews to believe in Yeshua? Yeshua told us back in chapter 10:
but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. John 10:26 ESV
Sheep follow the shepherd; the Jews refuse to follow Yeshua because they are not His sheep:
When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. John 10:4 ESV
Here He says His "own sheep" follow Him because they know His voice. The Jews will not follow Yeshua because they don't know His voice because they are not His sheep.
but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. John 10:26 ESV
The ultimate reason they did not believe in Yeshua was that they were "not of" His "sheep." Yeshua was telling His listeners that He had not called them. They had not been given to Him by the Father. They did not belong to His flock. So their unbelief was no surprise. And the reality is this: You can't come to God unless God calls you:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 ESV
Yeshua was emphasizing man's inability to believe apart from the sovereign calling of God.
"Went to the Pharisees and told them what Yeshua had done"—the Pharisees were very powerful. They dominated the people with their laws and rules and Sabbath restrictions and restraints. The people pretty much knuckled under the Pharisees.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. John 11:47 ESV
The Greek word translated as "gathered" is sunago, meaning "to collect" or "to convene." The council which was convened was probably the Sanhedrin, the Jewish law court which had jurisdiction over civil and religious matters with Roman approval. The Sanhedrin was made up of the "chief priests," who were mostly Sadducees, and the "Pharisees," who were mostly scribes. The chief priests dominated the Sanhedrin, but the Pharisees were a powerful minority. The third and smallest group in the Sanhedrin was the "elders," who were aristocrats with mixed theological views.
So this council gets together and asks, "What are we to do?—they are asking, what do you do about Yeshua who just raised a dead man? What's the logical answer to this question? You may want to rethink your view of Him. Who can raise the dead but God?
"For this man performs many signs"—this is the testimony of the Sanhedrin, the people who hated Yeshua, that what He was doing was miraculous. This wasn't the first miracle that these enemies of Yeshua had witnessed. They had seen the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years walking because Yeshua healed him. They knew that the man born blind, who used to beg by the Temple Gate, now saw, because Yeshua healed him.
They acknowledge that He is performing many signs. The Greek word used for sign here is semeion, which means: "a mark, an indication or a token." It can also mean: "an event that is an indication or confirmation of intervention by transcendent powers or miracle." It is used of miraculous acts as tokens of divine authority and power. These works performed by Yeshua are not just supernatural miracles, but are signs that unveil the glory and power of God working through Yeshua the Messiah. Now they have seen Him raise the dead and still reject Him.
The words that they speak are incredible, almost beyond belief. They express no doubt about the power of our Lord, or the legitimacy of the signs He has performed. They admit that it is all true. But in spite of all this evidence, they don't believe because they are not of His sheep.
If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." John 11:48 ESV
They didn't mean literally "everyone will believe in Him" because they weren't about to. They are using hyperbole here.
"The Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation"—the word "place" was often used to the mean the Temple. After the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC the Jews were almost paranoid about losing the Temple again.
The Jewish leaders had come to an understanding with the occupying Roman forces that allowed them to control considerable money-making schemes and enjoy a position of power and leadership within their own community. But for that to continue, they needed to ensure that there were no problems, that the Romans weren't aggravated, and that the people complacently accepted the status quo. Nationalistic expectations were rising and there was the fear that popular messianic expectations will be fired to fever pitch, and, with or without Yeshua's sanction, set off an uprising that would bring down the full weight of Rome upon their heads.
Lazarus expected his audience to catch irony here. It's not the nation's acceptance of Yeshua as their Messiah which brings about the downfall of the nation, but their rejection of Yeshua as God's Messiah. A generation after Yeshua's execution, Rome will march on this nation, capture Jerusalem, destroy the Temple, and kill countless Jews. And all this is because Israel rejects her Messiah.
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all. John 11:49 ESV
"Caiaphas"—this is a reference to Joseph Caiaphas who was the high priest at the time of the beginning of John the Baptizers' ministry (Luke 3:2) and during the trial of Yeshua. He was the son-in-law of Annas, who served as high priest from AD6-AD15 and who still had great influence.
"Caiaphas, who was high priest"—presiding over the Sanhedrin was Caiaphas. Joseph Caiaphas was appointed high priest by the Roman governor Valerius Gratus in AD18 and was deposed by Roman governor Vitellius in AD36; the same year governor Pilate was recalled to Rome. Caiaphas may have been the first to suggest that Yeshua would have to be killed to prevent a revolt.
The writings of the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, corroborates the biblical account of Caiaphas' tenure as high priest at this time (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.2.2; 18.4.6).
"Caiaphas, who was high priest that year"—some biblical scholars(Bultmann)
have accused Lazarus of not understanding Jewish traditions. They say that the reference to Caiaphas being high priest "that year" betrays a lack of knowledge about Palestinian customs, since according to Mosaic Law the High Priests of Yahweh held their position for life (Numbers 35:25), but the Romans controlled the appointment of the high priests and apparently saw a life time appointment as a position of too much power and influence.
According to Scripture the High Priest was an office for life. But as we said Rome changed all that. Between Herod the Great and A.D.70. when Jerusalem is destroyed, less than 100 years, there were 28 high priests. During this time this is a political position. People are buying and selling this position. You even have references in the New Testament to Annas and Caiaphas both being high priest at the same time.
If Lazarus was suggesting a one-year term that would certainly be an error, Caiaphas was the high priest for 18 years. But what is interesting is the connection between the triple phrase "high priest that year" [archiereus on tou eniautos ekeinou] and Yeshua' sacrificial death. Meaning he was high priest the year Christ was crucified. Three times in this Gospel we see the phrase, "high priest that year" and it is always connected to the sacrifice of Christ.
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish." John 11:49-50 ESV
He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Yeshua would die for the nation, John 11:51 ESV
First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. John 18:13-14 ESV
So every time it is mentioned that Caiaphas was "high priest that year" it also mentions Christ's sacrificial death.
What is the significance of the link between these repeated phrases? The high priest Caiaphas is linked to Yeshua's sacrificial death. In the Old Covenant system it is the high priest who makes yearly sacrifice for the sins of the people during the Feast of the Day of Atonement. In the early fall of that year,A.D. 30 Caiaphas chose the lamb and sacrificed it on the Day of Atonement for the sins of the people. In that same year in March he will chose the True Lamb and will be instrumental in offering His sacrifice for the sins of the world! This is why Lazarus uses the phrase 3 times. Yeshua's sacrificial death will be the full and complete sacrifice, which all other animal sacrifices prefigured.
So Caiaphas says to the council, "You know nothing at all"—this is the ancient equivalent of, "You're a bunch of idiots"! This fits with what Josephus said about the Sadducees. He said they were barbarous and wild even toward those of their own party [Bel. ii. 166]. But we need to remember that Josephus, was a Pharisee, and so was hardly an unbiased observer.
Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish." John 11:50 ESV
"It is better for you"—isn't talking about the good of the nation or the safety of the people. The Greek makes it plain that he was talking about the self-interest of the Jewish ruling party.
"That one man should die for the people"—this is sacrificial language (hyper tou laou) and would have reminded them of the sacrifices they offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. The basis for these sacrifices was substitution: one died in place of another. An animal was sacrificed to take the guilt of another. A scapegoat was sacrificed and another freed as a picture of someone dying in the place and for the sake of another. And this is exactly the imagery that Caiaphas used. He certainly did not mean this in a Christian sense. But he was unconsciously echoing a saying of Yeshua Himself:
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45 ESV
Caiaphas is thinking at the purely political level, had no clue that Yeshua would die, not in place of the political nation Israel, but on behalf of the true people of God; and He would save them not from physical destruction, but from eternal destruction. Lazarus expects his readers to think in terms of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29).
"Not that the whole nation should perish"—it's ironic that what Caiaphas was trying to prevent did occur. In A.D.66 the Jews revolted against Rome. The nation was destroyed, a million people died, and the rest were sold into the slavery. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D.70 (just as Yeshua prophesied in Matthew 24:1-2) and it was never rebuilt. So the nation perished anyway, not because of Yeshua's activity, but because of YAHWEH'S JUDGMENT.
Let me ask you something here: How do we know what happened in the meeting of the Sanhedrin? I would say that someone in the Sanhedrin, perhaps Nicodemus, must have reported to the disciples what took place in this meeting.
He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Yeshua would die for the nation, John 11:51 ESV
Lazarus interpreted Caiaphas' words for his readers. He viewed Caiaphas' statement as a prophecy. In the mind of Caiaphas, the substitution was, we kill Yeshua so the Romans won't kill us. We substitute Yeshua for ourselves. But in the mind of God, the substitution was, I will kill my Son so I don't have to kill you. God substitutes Yeshua for His chosen ones.
If saying, God was thinking, I will kill my Son, seems too harsh for you notice:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:4 ESV
It was God the Father who put God the Son to death.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 ESV
This is the heart of our Christian faith: God substituted Yeshua for us.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 ESV
God invaded human history in the form of the man Christ Yeshua. This Yeshua lived a sinless life and then died a substitutionary death at Calvary. On that cross, Yeshua took upon Himself our sin and received the judgment of God that we deserved as sinners. Because He was an innocent infinite sufferer, He satisfied fully and completely the righteous demands of a holy God, and God was propitiated. Propitiation is the removal of wrath by the offering of a sacrifice. It is the turning of God's wrath away from the sinner by a sacrifice made to satisfy God:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24 ESV
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
Christ bore our sin and gave us His righteousness.
From the human perspective, the words of Caiaphas looked like a hostile human plan that would bring the Messiah to ruin. But from the divine perspective, Lazarus shows us that the very words of execution were not just the words of Caiaphas, but God's words— and God had a totally different plan for these events that anyone could see.
Here's something amusing about this text. The Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection or angels and they didn't believe in predestination. They didn't believe that God really controlled the affairs of men. So here is the chief representative of a group of people, who don't believe that God controls the actions of men, who says, "It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish." And all the time God is controlling His tongue so that He expresses the Gospel in the words that He utters.
Notice how Young's words this verse:
And this he said not of himself, but being chief priest of that year, he did prophesy that Yeshua was about to die for the nation, John 11:51 YLT
"About to" here is the verb mello. Christ was "about to" die for the nation. This death happened in a few weeks.and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. John 11:52 ESV
The Greek verb for "gathered" here is sunago. This is the same Greek verb that was used in verse 47 for the "gathering together" of the priests and Pharisees. What is the importance of the contrast between these two "gatherings"? The priests and Pharisees are "gathered together" to kill Yeshua and God's dispersed children are "gathered together" that they may be given the gift of life.
In a purely Jewish context, "the children of God who are scattered abroad" would be understood to refer to the Jews of the diaspora, who would be gathered together in the Kingdom of God (e.g. Is. 43:5; Ezk. 34:12; 36:24ff.). Christians were quick to draw typological connections: the real children of God are those who receive the incarnate Word and believe in His name (1:12, 13). All of this anticipates the Gentile mission that Paul so clearly lays out in Ephesians 2:11-22.
This text talks about "gathering into one the children of God." Why are they called "children of God" before they are regenerated and gathered? The answer is in the predestinarian emphases in this Gospel: Yeshua already has sheep in other pens whom He must bring (10:16); certain people have already been given to the Son by the Father (6:37ff., 44, 65), even if they have not yet become believers. In other words, God has a people chosen for Himself all over this world (Ephesians 1:4-5).So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. John 11:53 ESV
They decide to kill the man who gives life! They are obviously liberals and have no thought of logic. He claimed to be the resurrection and life and then He gave life to a dead man, so let's kill Him. Here the Sanhedrin is deciding to commit murder.
When Peter was preaching in Jerusalem, in the Temple courtyard after the Day of Pentecost, he indicts the Jews with this accusation:and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. Acts 3:15 ESV
Peter says, You Jews killed the Author of life.
In light of this information, the later trials of Yeshua before the high priests and the Sanhedrin were simply formalities, designed to give the appearance of justice. The leaders had already tried Yeshua and sentenced Him to die. Maybe that's why Lazarus did not record Yeshua's trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, as the Synoptic writers did. He saw this meeting of the Sanhedrin as the real trial of Yeshua.
Lazarus must have had John 3:18 in mind as He wrote this section:Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:18 ESV
The Sanhedrin thought that they were judging and condemning Yeshua. In fact, they were pronouncing judgment upon themselves and the nation.Yeshua therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. John 11:54 ESV
Yeshua may have learned of the Sanhedrin's decision from a sympathetic member such as Nicodemus. He withdrew to a private place and no longer ministered publicly.
By leaving the area Yeshua avoided premature arrest. He had to die on the Passover in fulfilment of its prophetic symbolism. He, the real Passover Lamb, can only die at the time of the Passover.
The only two wildernesses mentioned in the Gospels are: the wilderness of Judea, south and east of Jerusalem, and the wilderness north of Perea, where John baptized. The site in Perea seems to be the more probable place of Yeshua's retreat. That is where He was ministering before He went to raise Lazarus.Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. John 11:55 ESV
Lazarus has connected all of Yeshua's trips to Jerusalem with major Jewish religious festivals. Passover, Tabernacles, and the Feast of Dedication all were contexts in which Yeshua ministered in Jerusalem. But John 11:55-12:1 places an extraordinary emphasis on the Passover. Three times within these four verses Lazarus mentions the Passover. It seems that he is trying to alert us that the most important visit of Yeshua to Jerusalem is about to take place.
The Passover originated in Israel's experience in Egypt the night before the Exodus. The first Passover was a prelude to freedom. Likewise, this Passover is a prelude to the freedom that God has appointed Yeshua to bring. The Mosaic Law required that the Jews who had become ritually unclean had "to purify themselves" for one week before participating in this feast (Num. 9:6-14). Therefore many of them went up to Jerusalem at least one week before the feast began to undergo purification.
Brown estimated that between 85,000 and 125,000 pilgrims were added to the normal Jerusalem population of 25,000. And the news of the day for all these pilgrims was that Lazarus had been raised from the dead by the Rabbi Yeshua.They were looking for Yeshua and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, "What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?" John 11:56 ESV
Why were they looking for Yeshua? Because He was the focal point of the previous two Passovers. And the word of Lazarus' resurrection was spreading like wild fire.Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. John 11:57 ESV
There was a warrant out for Yeshua's arrest. The reader can hardly miss the point that Israel's leaders had deliberately rejected their Messiah. The authorities were certain that Yeshua would show up at this feast because this is one of the three "Pilgrim Feasts" which by law every Jewish man must attend. Yeshua has previously attended each of these holy days of obligation even though His life had been threatened.
So what are the ramification of Lazarus' resurrection? 1) It demonstrates that Yeshua is the giver of life. 2) It serves to strengthen the faith of those who believe in Yeshua, especially the disciples, Martha and Mary. 3) It brings many to faith in Yeshua as the Messiah. 4) To those who are not His sheep it has no effect. 5) It brings about a unified Sanhedrin, intent on bringing about the death of Yeshua.