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Why was Jesus Late to Resurrect Lazarus?


This post is a Bible study of John 11:1-44 exploring the question of “Why did Jesus wait 2-days before going to resurrect Lazarus?” It reviews the narrative in John 11 and discusses Christ’s interactions with His disciples, Martha and Mary. This study also explains what Jesus accomplished by waiting to resurrect Lazarus

When all personal and communal means were exhausted and Lazarus’ health still took a sharp turn for the worst, Mary and Martha thought of the obvious – they must let their now famous miracle-working rabbi-friend know, so that he can come as soon as was possible to help Lazarus.

This is where the stunning detail I want to bring to your attention occurs:

When Jesus got that message, he decided to stay where he was for two more days (John 11:6).

Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was. (John 11:5-6)

If we are reading this text honestly, we would probably not be moved to open a hymnal and sing the famous hymn: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” at this point in the story just yet.

We read in Jerusalem Talmud: For the first three days after death the soul floats above the body, thinking that it will return to the body. When the soul sees the body, that the appearance of the face has changed, it leaves the body and goes its way. (Yebamot 16:3)

But was this idea present in Jerusalem Talmud already there at the time of Jesus? The answer is yes!

In a fairly recent discovery of an ancient stone, found in the same geographic location where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were also found, there is an intriguing phrase that can be translated as: “In three days, live, I, Gabriel, command you” (Gabriel’s Revelation Stone, Israel Museum). While the resurrection of Lazarus is surely not the event described here, the discovery shows that the idea of resurrection within three days was not a foreign concept to the ancient Jews.

Jesus waited for two more days, timing his arrival in such a way that he got to Bethany on the fourth day – when resurrection was no longer possible! When Lazarus was finally resurrected a very important point emerged – resurrection is not something that Jesus does, resurrection is something that Jesus is (John 11:17-40).

Jesus’ role as prophet was carried out during His earthly life. His role as king was yet to be realized at the time of the ascension. He first needed to be ordained a priest and carry out His duties in the heavenly tabernacle! Nothing could be permitted to stand in the way of his mission.

Application for us in Christ’s Waiting

When we have a problem, we want God’s help right away. Like Mary and Martha we may express disappointment and despair if God delays. But God knows our need and He cares for us. We need to trust in Him even when we do not understand His plan.

The next time you are tempted to ask God, “Why?” Remember His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). There is a reason; there may be many.

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