Commentary on John 11:17-45

by Christoph Starke
translated by Benjamin Foxen

This is a selected portion of Christoph Starke’s commentary on the familiar story of the resurrection of Lazarus. Here is an account of the true comfort to be found in the hour of death. Starke stresses this over and over again. He remains faithful to Scripture (but check the note on verse 25), although at times he stretches words beyond their intended meaning. Still, these sections can be used to make useful applications (a particularly interesting section is where Starke makes an analogy between the number of days Lazarus is dead in the grave and four steps to becoming totally dead in sin--v. 43).

Please take note of a few mechanical details throughout the translation. Brackets [] indicate that the translator has added his own words to the text in order to clarify what a word or phrase is referring to. The biblical text has been translated from Starke’s German to keep the original flow of his sentences. Abbreviations of the books of the Bible follow those established in the NIV. Please note, however, that Ecclesiasticus, a book of the Old Testament Apocrypha, has been spelled out to differentiate it from the book of Ecclesiastes.

With that, the translator would like to dedicate this first of all to the glory of God—may he be forever praised!—and secondly to those who have temporarily said goodbye to loved ones. May this strengthen their confidence in the final resurrection and that blessed eternal life to come!

The Resurrection of Lazarus at Bethany

V. 17. Then Jesus came near to Bethany (v. 30), and found that Lazarus had already been lying in the grave four days, because he had undertaken his trip willingly with the intention that he would not arrive in time, and his miracle would be that much more glorious.

Application. 1) Jesus comes early enough because he always comes for salvation, although at the time he often appears to come too late for us (Ps 13:2,6). 2) God’s power is capable of everything. It bodily raises those who have lain in the grave for either an hour or a thousand years, and spiritually raises those who have sinned for either a short or long period of time (Eph 1:19).

V. 18. Bethany was close to Jerusalem, about 15 stadia. That is a German mile [or two standard miles, according to the NIV]. Therefore the report of Lazarus’ death was able to get there soon.

Application. 1) It is to be recognized as a blessing of God when Christian friends live close enough to each other that they are within reach and are able to help each other that much sooner (Pr 27:10). 2) We are guilty when we do not help or comfort a neighbor because we think it would be difficult for us or would take trouble and work. We are that much more guilty when we are near to that neighbor and could easily and comfortably help him (1 Jn 3:16; 1 Co 8:13).

V. 19. And many Jews (of the Jews from Jerusalem) had come to Mary and Martha. They were there for seven days of mourning to give comfort concerning their brother on account of his death, as was customary among the Jewish people (Ge 37:35; 2 Sa 10:2; 1 Ch 8:21; Job 2:11; Ecclesiasticus 22:13).

Remarks. The Jerusalemites here are called kat e xochn1 Jews. One can reasonably conclude that there were many right-minded people among them, because they probably knew that these were friends of Jesus, and their associating with them would draw great envy and hatred towards them. Consequently there were many believers among them (v. 45), but the crowd also did not lack in evil-minded people (v. 37,46).

Application. 1) The rich and important have comfort enough when something adverse happens to them; the poor, however, have little or no comfort. Nevertheless Israel has God as their comfort etc. (Ps 73:1). 2) When mourners comfort, it is a piece of godliness (Ro 12:15).

V. 20 Now when Martha heard that Jesus had come, that is, when she first heard the report of Jesus’ arrival when she was occupied inside or outside of her house, she went to meet him as a welcome and well-esteemed guest (Ge 18:2,3; 19:1; 24:29; 29:13), before she said anything about it to anybody in the house. Mary however stayed (because she still knew nothing about the arrival of Jesus) at home in the house to sit on the ground, as mourners were accustomed to do (Isa 8:14; Ne 1:4; Job 2:8; Jer 6:26).

Remarks. Some think that it was wrong on Martha’s part that she said nothing to Mary about the arrival of Jesus. Yet indeed she is to be excused, since she wanted to know the truth of his arrival first. Also, her extreme emotion, which she received on account of the message, did not permit her to hasten first to her sister rather than to Jesus.

Application. 1) One must go to meet the Lord through heartfelt longing for him, and then must wait for him in patience (Am 4:12; Mic 7:7). 2) It belongs to reverence, esteem, and love to go to meet a friend, who visits us. It must be done sincerely and without any falsehood, though (Ac 10:25; 28:15). 3) Some people do not behave in the manner of the world, and do not have in themselves that which makes them popular with men. Nevertheless they can please God more than another on account of their inner beauty (Gal 6:12).

V. 21. Then Martha said to Jesus when she had come to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would indeed not have died (you would have made him healthy at our request).

Application. 1) We men usually want to prescribe for God when and how he should help (2 Ki 5:11), but here (1 Co 1:25) it is also clear that the divine foolishness is wiser than men are. 2) It is a great weakness of men that they worry anxiously about themselves. If we would have brought the doctor, if we would have done this or that, then our sick one would not have died, and we would not have looked to God, the Lord of life and death (Ps 90:3). 3) Pious souls always have a good comfort in Jesus and his omnipotence (Mt 8:2).

V. 22. But still, I also know now, although my brother is dead and has already lain in the grave four days, that what (only osa an2) you ask of God, God will grant that to you. [I know] that you can raise him from the dead, if you see that it adds to the glory of God.

Remarks. She means to say, “Although indeed I believe that if you had come earlier, and had caught my brother while he was still alive, then you would have unmistakably made him healthy; thus I do not understand it this way: that you are not still able to do a miracle in him and prove your love and power.” Yet her faith was weak and stood in conflict (v. 24,39). Martha wants to improve with these words, in case she had gone too far previously, and shows at the same time that not all hope of the resurrection of Lazarus is gone from her, although his body has already begun to decay. She also makes it easy to recognize that this is the thing after which her heart is longing, and she wants to move the Lord with that to undertake this important matter. However she does not want to say such a thing with her expressed words, but instead she leaves it to his wisdom. Yet not all interpreters voice this explanation. They conclude from v. 24, 29 that Martha did not believe that she would receive her brother again in this life. According to their opinion, she only meant to say, “We see from your current presence that you have not ceased to love our house, but will remain gracious to us and will be prepared to help us in any situation through your miraculous power.

Application. 1) Behold how faith wrestles and fights with unbelief. Faith has its weaknesses, but also its strengths. One testifies, that one with the strength of faith overcomes all weakness (1 Co 16:13). 2) A child of God, who prays rightly, obtains everything which is good and blessed for him from his heavenly Father (1 Jn 5:14). 3) God is rich towards all who call on him, and he can do abundantly more than we ask (Eph 3:20,21).

V. 23. Jesus said to her (to strengthen her in her faith, so that it would be mighty, and to make alive again the dead, who were already lying in the grave), “Your brother will rise” by my word and command.

Remarks. If we take these words in their closest sense, then Christ wants to comfort Martha, that he now will raise her brother. Only the immensity of her grief ascribes a different sense to the words of Christ. To others the words of Jesus appear to be spoken with a purposeful double meaning. Namely he wanted to make it recognizable how Martha expressed her emotion more than was necessary, when her sorrow was already sufficient to measure her piety, which revealed that she was hoping for a resurrection of the body. Also he wanted to give her the opportunity for further attention, and prepare her to believe before the miracle happened.

Application. The resurrection of the dead is the greatest comfort to Christians in misery of any kind, and also in the distress of death (Job 19:25, 26). Whoever grasps this in faith will be sufficiently comforted at the time of his death (1 Th 4:18).

V. 24. Martha understood this about the universal resurrection of the dead and said to him, “I know well, and am comforted by the fact, that he will rise in the resurrection on the Last Day (5:29; 6:40; Da 12:2; Lk 14:14).

Remarks. From this it is clear, that these truths were without doubt among the Jews, 1) that all men and bodies that have been here will rise again; 2) that a Last Day and Final Judgment will occur; 3) that there is an eternal life, without which the resurrection of the dead and the Last Day would be pointless; 4) especially that the pious will rise for salvation, of which Martha comforts herself here.

Application. 1) Those who believe in no resurrection are neither Jews nor Christians, but wicked people and epicurean pigs (Ac 26:8). 2) Reason fights against faith. Therefore learn to bind this animal well (2 Co 10:5). 3) Our faith and hope in God’s goodness does not compare with God’s generosity, which is prepared and willing to give much more than we ask and desire (Eph 3:20).

V. 25. Jesus said to her, to assure her that he would be able to raise her brother as soon as he wanted, “I (as God and man and as the Messiah) am in myself and from my own power, now as well as on the Last Day the Resurrection and the Life (6:40; 8:12; Dt 30:20), the author, the cause, the source of life, that men obtain their lost life again—spiritually, bodily, and eternally. I raise the dead and make alive whomever I want and when I want, and I am bound by no time. Therefore it follows that whoever believes in me, recognizes me as the Resurrection and the Life and places all his trust on me, will live (14:6)—they will be raised again according to the body, according to the soul they will always live blessedly (Lk 20:38; Heb 2:10; Rev 14:17)—even though he dies or has died of the bodily death, as all men must die (Heb 9:27). A great difference is between his death and the death of a godless person.

Remarks. Christ speaks in the present tense to convince Martha that he already now has the power to raise the dead, and that he also wants to make her brother alive. Therefore the words are able to have this understanding: Whoever believes in me, that I am the Resurrection and the Life and thus am able to raise the dead if I want, the same one will also be raised to this life by me after he has died; thus I consider it of service to the glory of my Father. Consequently a believer can also set his trust on me, that I will raise those, who are dead, to this life again; thus I consider it as good for him.

Because these words are not limited, thus one can understand them in reference to the bodily as well as to the spiritual resurrection; and thus also the word “life” will designate the beginning life in the rebirth of faith as also the life after the resurrection of the body to the awaited life, which are attributes that he not only possesses perfectly, but also works in others.

Life is in him (1:4). The resurrection is also in him: 1) as an attribute of his most high excellence, although not of the divine nature, for the divine cannot fall. For this reason it can also not be raised.3 Nevertheless he is the Mediator, because he has power to leave his life and to take it up again (10:18). Therefore he has also obtained all-sufficiency to make alive whomever he wants. 2) Therefore he also works this in others, partly as the meriting cause through his death and resurrection, and partly as the effecting cause through his omnipotence and Spirit. Along with this, the spiritual life of the pious person is especially seen after death. Such people will live 1) according to the soul in the perfect fellowship with God which begins after death, and 2) according to body and soul, after the resurrection, which therefore is called the resurrection of the life.

Application. 1) Christ is the mighty champion, who has overcome death (1 Co 15:54; Heb 2:14). Therefore he is not only a cause of the resurrection, but the Resurrection itself, Life itself, the Prince of Life (Ac 3:15). 2) Whoever does not believe in Christ is dead before he dies, dead when he dies, and will not see life in eternity (3:36). 3) O glorious quickening! Our bones shall grow green, and death, with its bitterness and strife, shall no longer rule over God’s children (6:39,40).

V. 26. And he who (everyone who) lives, bodily, and believes in me, and thus also spiritually lives, will never die. He will never die in eternity, but live eternally, because I am the Life. He receives power through faith to rule over the sin that dwells within him, that it may no longer be able to produce any more bitter fruits of death. His bodily death is in fact no death at all, but a gentle sleep, from which I will soon wake him. Faith will unite him with me, that he may remain a partaker of my life. The life-giving power which goes out from me will preserve and renew his life so that he cannot die. Do you believe this? Certainly, if you believe this firmly about me, then you will not doubt that I should be able to raise your brother again from death, provided that I want to do it.

Application. 1) Believe that you have no reason to fear death, for when you die, you will enter into eternal life (1 Co 15:54; Php 1:23). 2) Everyone must be prepared to give a reason for his faith and hope (1 Pe 3:15). 3) By observing the Scriptures everyone should test and examine himself, as Jesus did to Martha (2 Co 13:5).

V. 27. She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe everything which you have said, for I believe, I have already long believed, that you are the Christ, the Son of God (see 1:49 and Mt. 16:16) who has come into the world. He comes as he has been promised (Ge 3:15; 2 Sa 7:12-18) and he has been awaited with longing (Ps 14:7; 63:7; Ge 49:18). How could I be able to doubt these words now?

Application. Whoever wants to stand with his confession that he believes must recognize with the confidence of his heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and thus God himself, and that he has come into the world as the Savior, to save men (Mt 16:16; 1 Ti 1:15).

V. 28. And when she had said this, she went away, from Jesus and from the place where she had met him, and at his command called her sister Mary privately, that is, the ones who were with her (v. 19,31) did not hear, and they would have hindered her in that, so this was no stupid idea on her part but a clever one, and said, “The Master (master teacher, Jesus) is there, at that spot, and is calling to you, that you should come to him.

Remarks. When Martha pointed to the Lord in this designation [Master] as if with her fingers, she indicates that not only is Jesus very well known to them by this name, but also that she removed him from all the teachers in Israel, that she recognized nobody apart from him as her Master.

Application. 1) Rightly so! Where there is a small band of believers, there Christ should be called Master, Teacher, Chief, and King; but nobody else should be given these names. Out with the spirit of the world, which writes laws for the church and the ministry, and masters the Spirit of Christ in pious souls (13:23; Mt 23:8,10)! 2) Oh how good it is when a friend calls another to Christ (1:45)! 3) When God gives us joy in place of sadness, it is reasonable and Christian, to let others who are sitting in misery share in that joy (Mt 28:8). 4) Often it is more advisable to preach Christ privately than to proclaim him publicly (Mt 10:27; 7:6).

V. 29. The same one [Mary], once she had heard that Jesus was there, stood up and hastened to go, without telling anyone where she was going, and she came to him.

Application. 1) The beloved does not hesitate, but she tears herself free from everything to meet her bridegroom (Lk 2:16; 14:26). 2) Only with Jesus does one find comfort. He is the one who brings it into the heart (v. 31; Isa 61:2; 66:13).

V. 30. At that time, though, Jesus had not yet come to the place of Bethany, but was still in the place where Martha had come to meet him. That way, it would not be considered that he wanted to call onlookers to himself and seek glory for himself through the miracle he intended to do.

Remarks. Christ remained outside the town, either because he was eager to raise Lazarus, who was buried outside the town; or so that many more people might appear at the grave as witnesses to this wonder; or to test the faith of Mary, that he might not call upon her as soon as he otherwise would have done.

Application. 1) Whatever we should and must do according to God’s will, we must do excellently and not delay long with empty attempts or frivolous babble, etc. (Ecc 9:10; Lk 1:39). 2) Every place is suitable for standing still and speaking with the Lord in heartfelt prayer (1 Ti 2:8).

V. 31. When the Jews, who were with her in the house comforting her (v. 19), saw Mary hastily stand up and go out, and they did not know that she had been called to Jesus by Martha, they followed after her and said, “She is going to the grave of Lazarus, so that she might weep there. Therefore let us follow so that we may comfort her.

Remarks. Legonte" 4—One could also give it the meaning, “They spoke with themselves,” that is, “They supposed,” or “They had it in mind.” This was a custom back then, that they still went to the grave a few days after the burial and lamented their dead.

Application. 1) One should not leave alone those who have very troubled hearts, particularly those who are suspended in difficult trials (Jas 1:27). 2) The true way to visit someone is not to want to be with or around him out of pure curiosity, in order to see how he behaves and what he says and does, so that afterwards one might have something to blab about (Ps 41:7). 3) Some will do a pious thing, which still has a holy and God-pleasing intention, but it is explained incorrectly by those who misunderstand (1 Sa 1:13; 2 Co 6:10). 4) Although the pious and godless are in one society and pursue one business, their hearts are separated and their intentions different (Mt 24:40,41). 5) That which believers undertake, the world does not know, and nevertheless the ones ignorant of this often serve to carry out the divine counsel. 6) The people of the world have universally insignificant thoughts concerning the matters of the pious according to their own notions and practices (Ac 2:13).

V. 32. Now when Mary came where Jesus was, outside the town, and saw him, she fell at his feet, out of reverence and with weeping, v. 33, and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not be dead.” She addressed him with the same words as Martha (v. 21), because they had probably often had this conversation with each other since the death of their brother.

Application. 1) The believing knowledge of Jesus works holy reverence towards him and deep humility (Lk 7:38). 2) O you godless, who regard yourselves too highly to bend your knees in the presence of your Savior, look at pious Mary, who is not at all ashamed of this (Mt. 26:39; Eph 3:14)! 3) Pious Christians must not be ashamed to confess and honor their Jesus even in the presence of the godless (Lk 8:37,38). 4) Reason supposes that if God’s help is not grasped with the hands, then counsel cannot be drawn to us. But we should abandon ourselves on God’s Word, for his hand is not limited (4:49,50). 5) We men are able to be dissimilar in form, in possessions, in strength, in skill, and in cleverness; but in unbelief and human weaknesses we all conform—there is no one who does good (Ro 3:12). 6) Some weakness is still always found even with those who have a strong faith.

V. 33. When Jesus saw her and the Jews who had come with her weeping (v. 31), who were moved to compassion by her weeping, he became furious (he was deeply moved) in the Spirit. He had a violent urging of his Spirit and heart for compassion; it went straight to his heart (La 2:6 LXX 5). And he was troubled in consideration of human misery (Heb 4:15), he became troubled along with those who were troubled (Ro 12:15) to the extent that one could gather the compassion and grief from the change of his face (as the word etarexen6 points out). Therefore he did not want to wait any longer, but hastened to undertake the work of resurrection, for the sake of which he had come.

Remarks.enebrimhsato tw pneumati —he was deeply moved in the Spirit—Some explain these words in this way, that Christ has been introduced to the occasion of how Satan has brought men to death through sin, and he [Christ] has been violently moved to wrath by it (Mk 1:43). But we would do better to take all the circumstances together, which have caused such a movement in the soul of Jesus. To that end we are able to count 1) the glimpse of human misery, which is most visible in death; 2) the love for the departed Lazarus; 3) the compassion for the tears of the two sisters; and 4) the righteous indignation over the unbelief of several Jews, which they could not conceal here. Fremit Christus, ut caro reviviscat; fremit vita, ut mors fugetur; fremit Deus, ut resurgat homo; fremit Christus, debellans mortem, quia non potest non fremere, qui singularem rapit de hoste victoriam.7 There this word conforms to the Hebrew hebrew word8, which indicates the agitation of wrath (La 2:6). Thus one certainly believes that the agitation of wrath in our Savior has been provoked, through both the tears of Mary and through the wickedness and hardening of those Jews who were present. If, however, it is said that it happened in the spirit, then it is indicated that this agitation was not demonstrated so much in words and behavior, but had been awakened inwardly in his most holy soul. This word is very much like the previous one, except that it extends much further and also includes other emotions, such as grief, sadness, etc., and it fits the purpose of the Lord very well, and agrees with his most perfect holiness and trust. For the love of God could awaken a righteous wrath, the love of men could awaken a heartfelt grief, the unbelief of the Jews could awaken a burning passion, and the weakness of Mary could awaken a sadness mixed with the most tender compassion in this holy soul. The basis of this emotion is to be pondered here first of all, which was the truth of the human nature, according to which he had become like common men. Second to be considered is the purity of his emotions. With common men they occur with much sinful weakness, but with him they were completely without sin, according to Hebrews 4:15. The third thing to be considered is the cause. The Lord Jesus without a doubt saw further than that which was before his eyes at the time, namely to the kingdom of Satan and of sin, which he not only perceived in the deepest way according to his omniscience and knew that from that kingdom bodily death had come to the entire human race (and Lazarus too had been carried off by that death); but from the guilt of those Jews present he also knew in his undisturbed and imperishable dominion that it [the kingdom of Satan and of sin] would be found in them.

Application. 1) The afflictions of men grieve Jesus. We also should be grieved at misery, according to his example (Heb 4:15). 2) One may indeed lament and weep for those who have fallen asleep in Christ, nevertheless only to a certain extent, and afterwards they should be comforted with the joyful resurrection to come (1 Th 4:13,18; Ecclesiasticus 38:16). 3) Oh, how it hurts to see unbelief and hypocrisy ruling in this world (Ac 17:16)! 4) We have in Jesus the most merciful of all high priests (Heb 4:15). He truly speaks comfortingly (Zec 1:13; Ps 121:1,2). 5) Christ also had human emotions, but without sin (12:27). 6) Although some occasionally can silently let sin happen with a good conscience, still there is always a hatred and abhorrence of it in the heart of the pious.

V. 34. And he said, “Where have you laid him (show me the grave)?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see it.”

Remarks. Questions are not always a sign of ignorance, for they are asked by God himself (Ge 3:9; 4:9; 18:21). Christ wanted to avoid all boasting in his miracle. Whether Mary and the Jews supposed that Christ wanted to see his beloved friend in the grave once more, or whether they believed that Christ would raise him, is not yet determined among the commentators.

Application. 1) Jesus has disguised his divine glory with the form of a servant—blessed is he who is not offended by that (v. 14; Mk 11:13; 13:32). 2) Blessed is he, who has Jesus with him. Although he experiences sorrow, he will not be left helpless (Ps 23:4). 3) Sinner, say to your Savior, “Lord, come and see how I am dead for good, and raise me through your power” (Jer 31:18).

V. 35. And the eyes of Jesus overflowed. Jesus wept or poured out tears on account of his great and ever-increasing compassion (Rom 12:15).

Remarks. In the same way he also wept over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41) and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Heb 5:7) as a sign, that he had subjected himself to human weakness and has become like us in everything, excluding sin. First he gives a sign of his true humanity, and afterwards (v. 43) of his divinity. To say that weeping was improper for Christ is a very feeble objection of despisers of Scripture and is sufficiently answered by others.

Application. 1) Weeping over a dead person is permitted, but moderation, moderation! Do not act like the heathens (1 Th 4:13). 2) Weeping is better than laughing—joy follows the former, but eternal howling often follows the latter (Lk 6:25).

V. 36. Then the Jews said (when they saw that Jesus himself also wept), “See how he loved him [Lazarus]!

Application. Jesus wept in the garden, on the cross (Heb 5:7), yes indeed throughout his entire life for the sake of men. Oh how he has loved us!

V. 37. However, some among them took the opportunity to slander him and said, “He was able to open the eyes of the blind (9:6,7); was he not able to act so that this one would not die (then he would not require his tears)?”

Application. 1) Where Christ builds his Church, the devil builds his chapel next to it (2 Co 11:2,3). 2) Satan pursues his handiwork constantly still today and does not cease to do as he pleases and slander the words and works of the pious. For he is called diabolus, that is, a slanderer (Ge 3:5). 3) God often denies a more insignificant benefit to someone, and shows him a greater one in place of it (2 Co 12:7-9).

V. 38. But Jesusoun (now or therefore) became furious again in himself (v. 33), on account of the unbelief of the Jews, but he did not answer their talk, but immediately went his way, to shame them with the deed, and he came to the grave. It was actually a cave, as Jewish graves normally were, which one had in the natural or carved-out caves here and there, and a stone was laid in front of it, at the entrance of the grave (Mt 27:60), which was closed by it.

Application. 1) Blessed are those, who do not let their indignation, passion, and wrath get out of hand and break out unduly, but rather restrain and extinguish it (Ecc 7:9). 2) When Christ’s voice comes to those dead in the graves, then everything will become animated, awake, and alive (5:28, 29). 3) It is right and reasonable that we lay our dead in caves and graves of the earth and close them up, so that the ill fumes from the decomposition do not bother the living on the earth (Ge 3:19; 1 Co 13:5), and so that the bodies of the dead are preserved from the damage of animals.

V. 39. Jesus said, “Take away the stone,” so that everyone may recognize that the resurrection I will perform on this dead man is no deception. Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, he already stinks without a doubt; for he has lain there (in the grave) four days (v. 17).” Thus it would be of no use for someone to open the grave, for the dead man will only be troublesome to you and all those present because of his stench, and he will provoke nausea. It is indeed best to let the dead rest.

Remarks. The Almighty Savior would have been able to roll away the stone himself, but he avoided all boasting and did not want to perform a miracle at a time when natural means were sufficient.

Application. 1) God does not want to do, nor will he do, any miracles unnecessarily (Ac 9:17). 2) Do what you can, and leave the rest to God’s care (Ps 37:5). 3) Our hands must first do the utmost, before Christ wants to contribute his hand (Mk 5:25f). 4) It is God’s custom to conceal his greatest miracles under visible means. Likewise whoever is supposed to be converted must have the stone of sin and care of the world rolled away from himself (2 Ki 5:10; Heb 3:14). 5) Martha is a mirror of our corrupt nature and reason. Reason fights against faith—it does not want to have confidence in the future, if you can comfort yourself (Col 2:18,19). 6) The weak faith always has the habit of laying blocks and difficulties before the great works of God (6:9; Lk 24:21). 7) In this mirror examine yourself well, you arrogant and boastful child of the world; and at the same time ponder what a horrible carcass of sin you are in God’s eyes, and stop and repent. Observe well the words of Ecclesiasticus, “Why is the earth exalted?” etc. (c. 10:9f). 8) In great need it often appears to us, as if we were in the same condition as Lazarus in the grave: our bones are dried up, our hope is lost and is gone from us (Eze 37:11)—only then is the hand of God also undiminished (Ps 71:20,21). 9) By mischievously continuing in sin men continually become more wicked (Eph 4:22; Ro 6:19). 10) Jesus can again raise even the people who lie buried so deeply in the grave of sin that they have already become wretchedly odorous in the eyes of God, if only they give an ear to his voice (Eph 5:14).

V. 40. Jesus said to her, to lovingly rebuke their unbelief, “Have I not said to you, if you would believe that I am the Resurrection and the Life and can raise the dead if I want (v. 26), then you should (then you will) see the glory of God? Recognize the power given to the Messiah over everything, even to raise the dead, for the glorification of my Father (2:11).

Application. 1) Christ has always refreshed us, and spreads his power in water over us, just as doctors deal with their patients, when they fall into weakness. If we want to be strong, then we must not look to ourselves and our stinking Lazarus, but to Christ’s Word, which is able and capable of taking our reason captive (2 Co 10:5; Eph 3:20). 2) Even the most pious believers are certainly subject to the fall of unbelief and depression (Mt 16:8f). 3) If you are firm and unwavering in the faith, then you will even now experience God’s glory in and outside yourself with joy. Unbelief knows nothing about that (1 Co 16:13; Ps 33:4).

V. 41. Then they lifted the stone away, and there the dead man lay. They did as Jesus had commanded (v. 39), and the smell of death, which went out from the grave, gave enough proof that Lazarus had truly died. But Jesus lifted up his eyes, he lifted them on high (Mt 14:19; Mk 6:41,43) to his Father in heaven, as he ought to do according to his human nature, and said (with the ardor of his heart), “Father, I thank you that you have up to now heard me in my prayer, which I sent to you, and I have the assurance that you hear such prayers.

Remarks. It is entirely noteworthy that our Savior thought not as much about the asking itself as the hearing and thanksgiving. For with that he has indicated that his entire office is nothing other than a constant intercession, and with the cooperation of the Father it is nothing other than a constant hearing, concerning which he could be assured in the most certain way according to the council of peace. To that this also comes, that already in the blink of an eye, when the Lord Jesus said, “Lift the stone away,” he united the soul of Lazarus with his body again, and the resurrection had already actually happened, because it is not said to him, “Stand up!” or, “Become alive!” but, “Come out!” and in such a way the thanksgiving could take place that God had heard the prayer.

Application. 1) One must obey Christ regardless of all the objection of reason (15:14). 2) When we pray, we should raise our eyes to heaven, indeed not to intend by that, that our Lord God would be locked up in heaven, since he fills everything. Nevertheless we should raise our hearts, minds, and dispositions over this world to heaven and look at God the Lord in the throne of his majesty, so that we think nothing earthly of him (Col 3:2). 3) Learn here from your Jesus, that if you intend something important, do not begin it without prayer (Ac 9:40; 13:3).

V. 42. Indeed I know (I knew) that you always hear me. I give thanks not for my sake, to seek glory for myself, but for the sake of the people (12:30) who stand here, I say it, that they recognize from my words that I do this miracle through your power and according to your will, and so that they believe that you have sent me and that I am your Son and the Messiah, because otherwise you would not let such a thing happen through me and at my asking.

Application. 1) It is a great comfort that Christ is always heard, for he also always prays for us, and intercedes for us with his heavenly Father (Ro 8:34). 2) Everything should be directed to our neighbor’s need and improvement in the soul (1 Co 14:26). 3) Christ has subjected himself and prays to the Father for our sake. He does this to teach us that we too will be heard for his sake, when we call on the Father (16:23).

V. 43. When he had said this, he called with a loud voice, which was produced from his firm confidence in the will and cooperation of his Father, and was accompanied with a life-giving power, “Lazarus, come out!” He spoke to a dead man, as if he were speaking to a living man, because he spoke as the Lord of the dead and the living (Lk 20:38; Ro 4:17).

Remarks. The most likely purpose of the loud shout of Christ is that it happened for the sake of the people who were present, so that they would be able to understand his words and judge the result of them. However through the strength of his voice he also wants 1) to teach his very great power (1 Th 4:16), 2) to show his lordship over the dead, who had to obey his earnest word, and 3) to give an illustration of how on the Last Day all the dead will come forth from the graves at his loud command (5:28). That Christ called Lazarus to come forward by his name should have happened (according to some opinions) for this reason: because more lay buried in this place, who would have been awakened from their sleep of death, if Christ had not specifically called Lazarus. Also the Lord wanted to give us a picture in which to show how difficult the conversion of the sinner is, when he is confirmed in sin. The first day is like the desire, which one tastes in sin. The second is the approval and the agreement of the will. The third is the love for sin and for the pleasure in sin, and the fourth is habit. If one has come so far to this point, then one cannot be raised nor converted to God other than by repentance, tears, and the powerful and miraculous voice of the Lord.

Application. 1) This is testimony of the divine majesty of Christ, who with a call commands the dead to go once again into life (Ro 4:17). 2) At Christ’s voice the graves and the sea will give up their dead again (Da 12:2; Rev 20:13).

V. 44. And the dead man came by the mighty word of Christ out from the grave, fresh and healthy, so that no stench of death remained in him; wrapped according to Jewish custom with grave clothes hand and foot, and his face was concealed (or wrapped roundabout) with a cloth. This made it clear that he could only have been drawn forth from the grave by divine power, because otherwise it would be impossible for a living person to walk about, when he would be wrapped up in such a way. Jesus said to them (after he had come out from the grave), “Take them (the bindings and cloths, which he was covered with), and let him go where he wants, that you may clearly see that he has truly been made alive, and my miracle is no delusion. He should go his way and not die again so soon.

Remarks. Lazarus has been raised shortly before Christ’s suffering indeed to this end: first of all that by this the Lord Jesus was able to prevent the shock at his own death (which would have been too great for the weak); however, secondly, he was able to confirm the assurance given of his own resurrection from the dead. Also the cause is to be considered why the other evangelists did not recount this miracle. According to old tradition Lazarus still lived for thirty years after his resurrection. Thus they must have, out of cleverness so that they would not put the person of Lazarus into new mortal peril (12:10,11), silently passed over this miracle for as long as Lazarus still lived. John wrote fifty years after the resurrection of Jesus, when Lazarus had already died for the second time, and the witnesses of his resurrection were already dead. According to every view, the Christians of the time received news of this miracle through the oral tradition and they retold it, perhaps with some errors. Now so that the memory of this miracle, which had been performed on a well-known person, would be preserved, John included it in his gospel.

We find in the Holy Scriptures that eight people have been raised from the dead—three before Christ’s incarnation, namely the son of the widow at Zarapheth through Elijah (1 Ki 17:22), the son of the Shunammite through Elisha (2 Ki 4:35), and a dead man, who was thrown into the grave of Elisha (2 Ki 13:21); three by Christ, namely the son of the widow at Nain (Lk 7:15), the little daughter of Jairus (Mt 9:25), and Lazarus; after this Tabitha, raised through Peter (Ac 9:40), and Eutychus through Paul (Ac 20:9f). That such souls were in the place of the blessed before the resurrection is indeed to be imagined, for that their bodies were again enlivened, and that they had to abandon the blessedness for a time is not contrary to the righteousness of God, for God has indeed kept them in his fellowship, has used them as tools for his glorification, and subsequently without a doubt appreciated so much the greater glory. Also it is not contrary to their own will, for one is directed towards nothing other than glorifying God. Since now the Son of God joyfully abandoned heaven to accomplish the will of his Father; why shouldn’t the souls of the blessed likewise rejoice to do his will and go according to the same will into this valley of misery again for a time? As for their second departure from the world, some are of the opinion that because they have paid nature once, they would not have died a second time, but would have been taken in blessedness by God at a time that was pleasing to him.

Application. 1) The resurrection of the dead appears so strange and absurd to reason. Thus the Almighty will indeed gloriously carry it out to the praise of his majesty (1 Co 15:52). 2) You greedy people, why do you trouble yourselves day and night to gather temporal goods? You must indeed die, and you will take nothing along in death other than a pair of linen cloths and a shroud (1 Ti 6:7; Ps 49:18; Ecc 5:14). 3) It is the Christian way to veil the dead. Indeed, all luxury must be avoided (Ecclesiasticus 38:16). 4) If the bodily resurrection is a work of the majesty of God, then the conversion of a man stinking in the grave of sin and bound to it with the nets of hell also remains an inconceivable miracle. Therefore let no one think that conversion happens of one’s own will, at a self-appointed hour or with a repentance of anxiety on the deathbed (Isa 36:26, 27; 2 Co 3:5). 5) Christ’s voice of grace in the gospel is so strong that it can press into dead hearts and make them alive for eternal life (5:25). 6) If one can help himself, then one should not have need of God’s direct help (De 6:16).

V. 45. Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary (v. 19, 31, 36) and saw what Jesus did (such a great and truly divine miracle) believed in him (10:42), that he was the Son of God and the Messiah (v. 27). They also later grew in their knowledge (12:11, 18).

Application. 1) It is advantageous to visit pious people, and occasionally salvation depends on that. 2) One begins to recognize Christ from his works of grace and finally receives the precious gift of faith itself (Ps 119:64-66). 3) Christ has done miracles and they have been recorded for this reason: that we should believe in him. He is the Lord, who is Lord over the dead and the living (10:38; Ro 14:9).

1Literally “according to prominence.” These were Jews of status.
2 “As much as”
3If the translator understands Starke correctly, he is saying that God cannot die and therefore also cannot be raised. This would generally be true, but here he is speaking of Christ, who is both God and Man. When Christ died, his entire person died. Thus, God died. In the same way, the entire person of Christ was raised, and thus God was raised. One cannot separate the person of Christ.

Editor’s Note: We are dealing with a most profound mystery here. It is always best to speak only as Scripture speaks on these matters. Starke would have done well to follow his own advice on page 3 when he says, “Reason fights against faith. Therefore learn to bind this animal well.”

4 “Saying”
5 This is a common abbreviation for the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
6 “Troubled or agitated, to the extent that there is outward evidence”
7 “Christ shouts with emotion that flesh would be restored to life; life shouts with emotion that death would flee; God shouts with emotion that man would rise again; Christ shouts with emotion, subduing death, because he, who snatches away a special victory from the enemy, must shout with emotion.”
8 “Indignation”