Gospel of John #13 – John 11, Session 1

John 11 – A Change in Direction

Session 1 – John 11:1-16
“…So that you may believe.”

  • John has recounted for us already that Jesus has presented Himself as the Water of Life, the Bread of Life, and the Light of Life. Now He reveals Himself as the Resurrection and the Life.  It is now that Jesus accomplishes the seventh “sign miracle” in John, an important milestone for Jesus as He moves toward the Cross.
  • About four months have passed since the events of John 10:22-42.  He spoke clearly in that confrontational debate about the Father giving Him the power to lay down His life.  John 11 introduces a major transition in John’s gospel as Jesus now turns steadfastly towards Jerusalem & the Cross.  Jesus’ public ministry is coming to an end with two great events: the raising of Lazarus, and the Triumphal Entry.
  • Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and John has given us a thorough account of the ministry Jesus had in chapters 7-10.  These chapters are rich in the discipling ministry of Jesus, but also heavy with hateful attacks by the Jewish leaders.  In John 11,  Jesus’ public ministry begins to close and the hateful agenda to kill Jesus takes center stage.  Although this event is public, many people stream in later to see what had happened, but this encounter focuses on Jesus’ private ministry to Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
  • Click here to see an excellent summary of all the events for all four gospels from Jesus’ Galilean ministry.  (The link will open an image, then click on the image to open the PDF file.)
  • At this point, according to John 10:40, Jesus has left Jerusalem proper because of  increasing hostility.  He went northeast of the southwest area of the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan River takes up its course towards the Dead Sea (10:40).  He went to southern Perea to the town of Bethany.  This is where John the Baptist had been ministering, and baptized Jesus as His ministry began.  After only a few days of rest, Jesus hears from His friends who live in another Bethany 20 miles away down in Judea, 2 miles from the Temple in Jerusalem, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.  The messenger brings news that His good friend Lazarus is dying and his sisters beg Jesus to come.  His words of response are heavy with truth, not just for the sisters, but also for believers of all ages.  As Weirsbe points out, the word “believe” is in this account at least eight times – Jesus wants to emphasize the importance of our steadfast faith.  Jesus gives us a message of hope in the midst of despair (11:4).

  • Meet Mary & Martha
    • Read more about these special sisters here – Matt.26:2; Mk. 14:3-9; Lu. 10:38-42; John 12:1-11
    • Luke 10 is the account of the sisters hosting a dinner in their home for Jesus earlier in His ministry
    • John 12 is tells us about Mary anointing the Lord with precious oils, sitting at His feet, wanting to hear more
    • Martha loved the Lord too, yet always busy and a little distracted
  • John’s attention to time frame continues
    • John uses four unusual words in John 11, each marked by the Greek particle “oun”, to show time and sequence – he actually uses oun 19 times in this chapter.  John shows commitment to bring glory to God in a context of very human circumstances.
    • This emphasizes the Father’s predetermined plan for the special event in Bethany.
      • V6, “when” or “therefore”, Jesus purposely delayed
      • V17, “when”, Jesus finally arrives
      • V33, “when…therefore”, Jesus’ planned response
      • V38, “again being”
  • Always consider a passage’s context
    • The Synoptic gospels don’t mention Lazarus, Luke doesn’t even mention that the event is in Bethany.  John’s detail in this account shows how important He thought it was for the account of Jesus’ life.
    • This event occurs in the last few hours before Jesus enters Jerusalem.  This scene in John becomes even more emphatic because instead of emphasizing the hatred of the Jews (10:39), it radiates the power and glory of Jesus Christ.

Bible Study Journal
Here are some background texts that can help our understanding of John 11:

    • Consider Jesus’ resolve to complete the Father’s mission – Lu. 9:51-56
    • Read carefully all of 1 Cor. 15 and make notes about Resurrection and victory over death
    • Note what Paul encourages us about in Tit. 2:11

John 11:4-16, Lord, Increase Our Faith

  • 11:4, God’s Perfecting Love
    • Mary & Martha’s struggle is the same as it is for us: Death, our fear of the ultimate enemy.  Suffering, loss  & death always confuse & distract us.  Weirsbe (p171) states that our love for God is sincere yet it stumbles.  Note that God’s love for us is perfect yet it is also “perfecting”. Here He seeks to strengthen the believers’ faith in the midst of despair.
    • The Lord’s promise here as Weirsbe points out, isn’t that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but gives assurance that Lazarus would not suffer the final death, a reference to the events John depicts in the last chapters of Revelation.
    • The apostles suggest Jesus is delaying – Jesus was on the Father’s divine timetable, there can be no delay!  This timetable is an important theme in John:  see John 2:4; 7:6,8,30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1.  Lazarus’ sickness is “not unto death”?  God is going to glorify Jesus Christ because of this.
  • 11:9-10, Deep Thoughts
    • Jesus speaks about “walking in the light” – this is a metaphor, speaking of daylight, picturing the true believer walking in the light of God’s guidance & will; walking without God’s Light, without divine illumination, the disciples (and us) would stumble; see Psa. 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  He leads us along each step of the way.
    • Even though the guys were hesitant about taking the 20 mile journey, going to Bethany is the only right place to be. Jesus notes that Lazarus is actually only “asleep”.  Weirsbe explains that the disciples didn’t understand “sleep” and so they conclude “if he’s getting better, why go there and endanger Yourself??”
    • Just as people normally wake up from sleep, we as Christians have faith in Christ which helps us to understand that when we die physically, we know we will one day “wake up”  See 1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-18.  We sleep with physical death, but we are awaiting resurrection, knowing we will be awakened.
  • V14-16, Increased Faith
    • When Lazarus is raised up, observers (disciples included) would have increased faith.  Tom Constable comments:  “The sign that Lazarus’ death made possible would be the clearest demonstration of Jesus’ identity so far and would convince many people that He was God’s Son.”
    • Jesus was glad Lazarus died – Sorrow often creates the ideal environment for our faith to grow!
    • Faith “resolved” – interesting that “Doubting Thomas” was the one God chose to speak these words of resolve, perhaps like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh – “Oh, alright, I suppose we should go…” (spoken with a low downtrodden voice).  Are his words those of bravery or resignation? He may have been protesting the risk, or he may have been aligning with Jesus’ own resolve.
    • The guys needed to recognize the commitment Jesus had to His Father’s mission.  Note Jn. 11:11, 15, Jesus “set His face” towards Jerusalem.  See Isa. 50:7; Lu. 9:51-54.  The toughness of an impossible task, the inflexibility of unwavering determination, persevere in an excruciating task.

Bible Study Journal
As followers of Christ, we are often challenged to understand and demonstrate God’s plan for us.

  • What was Jesus’ initial reaction to the news about Lazarus?  What did His disciples think He meant by this?
  • Why did the disciples try to discourage Jesus from going to Bethany? Why did Jesus respond that He “must” go?
  • To what extent were Mary & Martha each grasping and living this plan?
  • Were the disciples, including Mary & Martha, walking in the light of God’s guidance.