John 11:1-44 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. When Jesus receives word of Lazarus’ illness, what does He tell His disciples? See John 11:3-4 (printed below)

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, Lord, the one whom you love is sick. (4) But when Jesus heard this, he said, This sickness is not for death, but for the sake of the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it. (John 11:3-4)

Upon receiving word of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus informs His disciples, “this sickness is…for the sake of the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” That is to say, God will use this adversity—this “tragedy”—in the life of His child, Lazarus, as an occasion to glorify His Son, Jesus Christ. Note: It is only when we acknowledge and accept the truth that all things center around God and contribute to His glory that we are delivered from bitterness and resentment, and come to experience the blessing of God that He bestows upon those who glorify and honor Him by submitting to His will even when it is difficult or hard to understand.

2. How does John describe Jesus’ feeling toward Lazarus (see verse 5 printed below?) What does Jesus do when He learns that Lazarus is seriously ill (see verse 6 printed below?)

Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. (John 11:5)

Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed at that time in the place where he was for two more days. (John 11:6)

Verse 5 informs us of Jesus’ love for this family and for each individual member of it: “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” This word of commentary and assurance is important in the light of Christ’s unexpected response as recorded in verse 6. When Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick, He remained “at that time”—that critical time, that time when Lazarus’ life hung in the balance, that time when Lazarus’ life was ebbing away—in the place where He was. Can you imagine how difficult that must have been-for Jesus? He loved Lazarus; He had the power to heal him; He had enough time to get to his bedside, indeed, He did not even need to come personally, He had only to speak the word (note John 4:49-53).

3. What does Jesus tell His disciples in verse 14 (printed below?) What surprising comment does Jesus add in verse 15 (printed below?) Why do you think He said this?

Then Jesus told them plainly, Lazarus is dead. (John 11:14)

And for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe; but now let us go to him. (John 11:15)

When Jesus now explains to His disciples that their dear friend, Lazarus, is dead (verse 14), He again surprises them (and us) with the words, “for your sake I am glad that I was not there” (verse 15). But note that in the passage before us Jesus’ present actions only become intelligible when they are viewed from the perspective of His climactic act: the resurrection of Lazarus. Why did Jesus allow His dear friend to die? so that He could raise him again from the grave. Why did Jesus desire to resurrect Lazarus? so that His disciples might have their faith strengthened and increased (verse 15). Why was it important for the disciples to have their faith so strengthened at this particular time? so that they might be prepared for the events that lay ahead (Jesus is about to allow Himself to be taken into custody by the Jewish leaders and be put to death)—and thus have the assurance that despite Jesus’ crucifixion, He indeed is the Resurrection and the Life.

4. When the Jews witness Jesus weeping at the tomb of His beloved friend Lazarus, what question do they raise (see verses 35-37 printed below?) What does their question tell us about their faith in Jesus’ ability?

Jesus wept. (36) Then the Jews said, See how much he loved him! (37) But some of them said, Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have prevented the death of this man? (John 11:35-37)

When the Jews beheld Jesus weeping at the tomb, they raised the same question that had been asked twice before: If Jesus had been here earlier, could He not have prevented this man from dying? The implication of their question: now that Lazarus is dead all hope is gone, it is now too late; Jesus can do nothing more than join the mourners in weeping over the loss of their loved one. Thus their question reveals that they had faith in Jesus’ ability, but they viewed Jesus as having only limited ability.

5. As He stands before the tomb, what does Jesus command be done? What assurance does He give Martha? See John 11:38-40 (printed below)

Jesus, again groaning within himself, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, with a stone laid against the entrance. (39) Jesus said, Remove the stone. Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to him, Lord, by this time the body stinks, for he has been dead for four days. (40) Jesus said to her, Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God? (John 11:38-40)

Jesus gives the command to remove the stone that sealed the tomb shut. No doubt the crowd thought, “What an unusual request! Does He want to pay His last respects to the deceased? Does He not realize the traumatic effect of such a request on the bereaved? Has He no respect for the dead? How insensitive the Lord appears to be!” Martha, as the sister of the deceased, must step forward to remind Jesus that by this time the corpse stinks, for he has been dead for four days! Jesus now instructs Martha to trust Him–even though what He asks her to go through is extremely painful—and assures her that in so doing she shall see the glory of God. The faith she previously expressed in words (verse 27) she now affirms by her actions (verse 41a); and true to Jesus’ word, she sees the glory of God displayed in the resurrection of her beloved brother.