(Vs. 1) The town of Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem. Christ was not at this time in Judea but was probably in Galilee. Bethany was the town where Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus, lived. The Lord knew and loved this family, having been in their home before (Luke 10:38-39). Lazarus was very ill.
(Vs. 2) In this verse John identifies Mary, which is necessary because there were several women called by that name. John says that she is the woman of Mark 14:3-9; and he will give his own account of the story in John 12:1-8 and add what Matthew and Mark did not mention, "and wiped His feet with her hair."
(Vs. 3) The sisters sent word to the Lord Jesus that Lazarus was sick. They did not plead their merit nor that of their brother. They said nothing of their kindnesses to Christ when He had been the guest in their home; nor did they instruct the Lord as to what He should do, though it is evident that they desired His help. What they did plead was His LOVE, His GOODNESS, and His PARTICULAR AFFECTION for Lazarus. "He whom THOU LOVEST is sick." They did not try to obligate the Lord by saying, "He who loves you is sick."
(Vs. 4) Our Lord knew that Lazarus would die and that He would raise him from the dead. We know that what the Lord was saying here is, "This illness will not terminate the life of Lazarus on earth (which is our ordinary notion of deaththe separation of soul and body until the resurrection), but God has sent this illness and experience that He might be glorified in His Son's raising Lazarus from the grave." God is glorified when the Son is glorified (John 17:1), and Christ is glorified when His Divine power is manifested and men acknowledge Him to be WHO HE IS!
(Vs. 5-6) Though the Lord loved Lazarus and his sisters with a tender love, He did not go immediately to them either to cure Lazarus or to comfort the sisters, but stayed two more days where He was. The ways of God are sometimes strange to us, but we must not judge His love to us and His care of us by outward circumstances. These trials are for our good, to prove and strengthen faith and to glorify our God and accomplish His eternal purposes.
"His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower."
(Vs. 7-8) After two days were over and Lazarus was dead, the Lord said to the disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." They did not know that Lazarus was dead, nor did they understand that the Lord Jesus MUST go to Jerusalem to suffer and die to redeem them (Matt. 16:21-22); so they objected to His going back to the place where the Jews had only recently tried to stone Him.
(Vs. 9-10) There are, on the average, twelve hours in a day. If a man walks about and does his work during the daylight hours (allotted for work), he will not stumble over obstacles because he can see. But if he tries to work at night (especially in a country where there was no artificial light), he will stumble and be hindered in many ways. What He meant was this: "The time given Me by My Father, to accomplish My earthly ministry and redemptive work, is definitely fixed as the hours of daylight (John 9:4). This time cannot be lengthened by you, my friends, nor shortened by My enemies. My time on earth is fixed in God's eternal decree. If I walk in the light and time of His purpose, I do His will. If I do not, it is evident there is no light in Me." (Acts 4:27-28.)
(Vs. 11-13) The death of believers is often compared to sleep (Gen. 47:30; Matt. 27:52; Acts 7:60; I Thess. 4:13). This comparison is very appropriate because in Christ we expect a glorious awakening in that great day. Lazarus' resurrection is a picture of our resurrection, for like him we shall rise. This sleep of the believer is not a state of unconsciousness or soul-sleep. The body sleeps, but the soul is with the Lord (Luke 16:19-23; II Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21-23). "I go to raise Lazarus from the dead," which He calls awaking him. The disciples still did not understand, and so they said, "Lord, if he is asleep, it will be good for his illness and he will probably recover."
(Vs. 14-15) Then the Lord declared plainly to them, "Lazarus is dead." "I am glad FOR YOUR SAKES, that I was not there; for if I had been there, I would have healed him and you would have witnessed another miracle of healing. But now Lazarus is dead and will be in the grave several days before we arrive. The miracle of resurrection from the dead will be performed for the glory of God and FOR YOUR SAKES, that you may believe that I am the Son of God and the true Messiah" (John 20:31).
(Vs. 16) This is the Thomas who, to the last, showed greater difficulty in believing than the other disciples (John 20:25). In the spirit of despondency and yet devotion to His beloved Master, the doubting disciple said, "Let us go to Jerusalem also that we may die with Him" not with Lazarus, but with JESUS! He felt that the Lord Jesus would certainly be killed in Jerusalem. I know that, with the others, he left Christ and fled; but this was not his intention at this time (Matt. 26:35).