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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

John 11

 

 

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Verses 1-57

THE TWO VERSES with which this chapter opens indicate that this Gospel was written when the other Gospels were well known. In naming Bethany as the town of Martha and Mary, it is assumed that the readers will be more familiar with the women than the village. Again, in verse John 11:2, Mary is identified by her action in anointing the Lord, though John does not tell us about this till the next chapter is reached: he evidently knew he could safely identify her thus, since the story was so widely known.

The brief message sent by the sisters indicates very strikingly the intimacy into which the Lord introduced His friends in the days of His flesh. It was a reverential intimacy, in which He ever held the supreme place, for they did not address Him, with undue familiarity as Jesus, but as “Lord.” Yet they could with all confidence speak of their brother as “he whom Thou lovest.” He had made the Bethany household quite conscious of His love, so that they could count upon it with confidence. That their confidence was not misplaced is confirmed by the comment of the Evangelist in verse John 11:5. Jesus did indeed love them. He loved each individually; and Martha, whom, we might consider, He had least cause to love, is placed first on the list. Lazarus, whom most evidently He loved, as shown by this chapter, is placed last. Mary, whom we might have placed first, is not even mentioned by name; she is just “her sister.” Let us learn that the love of Christ is placed upon a foundation lying far deeper than the varying characteristics of saints. Proceeding from what He is in Himself, it is a wonderfully impartial thing.

In spite of it, however, the sisters’ appeal did not meet with an immediate response. There was a deliberate delay, which gave time for the sickness to terminate in death; and death have time to produce corruption. Why was this? Here we have answered for all time this question which so constantly arises in the hearts of saints. Death was not the real end of this incident, but the manifestation of the glory of God and the glorifying of the Son of God. It was for the good of the disciples, as verse John 11:15 shows: it was also to be turned into a great blessing to the sorrowing sisters, as indicated by the Lord’s words recorded in verse 40. Hence what seemed so strange and inexplicable worked out for glory to God and good for men. There was a response of the highest kind in the apparent lack of response on the part of the Lord.

When the Lord did turn His steps again towards Judaea His disciples feared, for they were like men walking in the dark, and they had no light in themselves. But He, on the other hand, was like one walking in the day, for He was in the light—not indeed of this world, but of that other world where the Father’s will and way is everything. Hence He never stumbled, and now He went up to Bethany to do the will of God. The disciples followed Him thinking of death, as Thomas indicated; but He went up into scenes of death in the power of resurrection.

The action of the two sisters, when Jesus drew near, was characteristic. Martha, the woman of action, went out to meet Him. Mary, the woman of meditation and sympathy, still sat in the house awaiting His call. Both, however, greeted Him with the same words when they saw Him. Martha had genuine faith. She believed in His power as Intercessor with God, and in the power of God to be exerted in resurrection at the last day. Doubtless she was impetuous, but her impetuosity called forth one of the greatest pronouncements on record. Of old Jehovah had called Himself “I AM.” Now the Word has been made flesh, and He too is “I AM,” but He fills it out in detail. Here we have, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” Since the point here is what He is in relation to men, resurrection comes first. Death lies upon Adam and his race, hence life for men can only be in the power of resurrection.

The fact itself is twofold, and there follows a two-fold application to the believer. If he have died he shall yet certainly live, for his faith reposes in One who is the resurrection, and who consequently quickens with life beyond death. But then Jesus is also the life, and His quickening power reaches men so that they “live by the faith of the Son of God”—or, as the Lord puts it, “liveth and believeth in Me”—then such shall never die; that is, shall never taste death in its full and proper form. The earthly house of this tabernacle may be dissolved, but death is not for us; it is rather a falling asleep. The whole utterance was somewhat enigmatical in form, and wholly beyond any light that had hitherto been granted to men. He was not as yet revealing truth as to His coming again, to which He does allude when the opening of John 14:1-31 is reached, and which is expanded for us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. But though not the primary interpretation of His words, we can see, when once the truth of His coming is revealed, a striking secondary application of them. At His coming for His saints there will be in fact the great public demonstration of the truth of His words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

When the Lord challenged Martha as to her belief she at once showed that it was all an enigma to her. Probably she viewed resurrection at the last day as being a restoration to life in this world, in common with the mass of the Jews. So in replying she fell back, very wisely, upon what she did believe with certitude—that He was the Christ the Son of God who had been announced as coming into the world. She had already arrived at the faith to which this Gospel conducts us, and so possessed “life in His name.” But mentally out of her depth as to other matters, she proceeded to call her sister secretly to go to the Master.

With Mary a special bond of sympathy existed. We do not read of Martha falling at the feet of Jesus, nor of her tears. The sorrow of death lay on Mary’s spirit very heavily, as indeed it lay upon His. Though He was on His way to lift the weight of it for a season in this particular case, He felt its weight in a measure infinitely deep, moving Him to groaning in spirit and even to the shedding of tears. He wept, not for Lazarus, for He knew that in a few minutes He would recall him to life, but in sympathy with the sisters and as feeling in His spirit the desolation of death brought in by sin. The word used here is the one for the shedding of silent tears, not the word for vocal lamentations, which is used in Luke 19:41. But those silent tears of Jesus have moved the hearts of sorrowing saints for nearly two thousand years.

Death had drawn forth a groan in the spirit of Jesus, and again (verse John 11:38) we find the grave doing the same. But now He was about to bring the power of His word into action and display. Verse John 11:39 begins, “Jesus said.” There are five striking couplets in this chapter which would serve to summarize the whole story. They occur in verses John 11:4, John 11:5, John 11:17, John 11:35, John 11:39 — “Jesus heard,” “Jesus loved,” “Jesus came,” “Jesus wept,” “Jesus said.” The sorrowing saint of today has to wait for the fifth to be verified in that “shout” which will raise the dead and change the living, and catch up all to be with Him. The other four are valid and efficacious for us at all times.

At the word of the Lord men could roll the stone from the mouth of the cave. This they did in spite of Martha’s rather officious remonstrance, but their power stopped at that point. The display of the glory of God, which Martha was to see if she believed, was His work alone. Quickening and resurrection are wholly His work, though men may be used to remove obstructions. Yet the power that brought Lazarus back to life was only exercised in dependence on the Father. Full testimony was rendered in the presence of the crowd to the fact that here was the Son of God in power and also to the fact that He was here on the Father’s behalf and in full dependence upon Him.

He uttered but three words and the mighty sign came to pass. Death and corruption disappeared and Lazarus, still bound in grave-clothes, came forth. Now again human instrumentality came into play and Lazarus was freed from his bonds; just as today the servants of God may so preach the word as to remove spiritual obstructions and release souls from bondage while the life-giving work remains altogether in the hands of the Son of God. In this great sign, the sixth that John puts on record, the glory of God had been manifested, since the giving of life is His glorious prerogative. Brutish man can kill all too easily: only God can “kill and make alive” (see 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7). In it, too, the Son of God had been glorified, for

His oneness with the Father in the wielding of this power had been displayed.

Taking place so near to Jerusalem this sign had a deep effect. It moved many to faith, and it stirred the chief priests and Pharisees to a fiercer resolve to slay Him. They had to admit that He had done many signs, yet they only considered the effect these things might have on their own place in the presence of the Romans. God was not at all in their thoughts. The council they held gave occasion for the prophecy of Caiaphas.

God can lay hold on a false prophet like Balaam and force him to utter words of truth. But here was a man who, save for being high priest that year, had no pretensions to anything of the kind; a man who prophesied without knowing that he was prophesying. As far as he was concerned his words were sarcastic, filled with the spirit of cynical, heartless, cold-blooded murder; yet they were used by the Holy Spirit to convey the fact that Jesus was about to die for Israel, in a sense of which they knew nothing. Verse John 11:52 gives us a further commentary on his words through the Evangelist. Israel was indeed to be redeemed through His death, but there was a further purpose shortly to come to light. Children of God existed, but as yet without any special bond of union. That bond was to be created as the fruit of His death. More light as to this will reach us in the next chapter.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 11:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/john-11.html. 1947.

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