"Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already."
The long-range application of the Lazarus' story really begins to come together here. Back in verse 6, we saw that Jesus purposed to abide in the "same place where he was" for "two days". This is very interesting, isn't it? In light of verse 17 above, you would think that Lazarus would have been in the grave, at the most, only two days; and yet we see he had been dead "four days"!
Well, the short-range explanation is simple enough. It obviously took them two additional days to make the journey back to Judah. But it is the long-range application, concerning national Israel, that is the real reason John was so careful to mention the "four days" Lazarus had already "lain in the grave".
In the last chapter, I pointed out that Jesus' purposed- two-day-delay corresponded to the two millennia He would be absent from Judea, in heaven, before returning to earth. But what could the "four days" be referring to?
Please note that the four days refer to Lazarus' death time, not Jesus' delay time. God's Plan
relative to the person, Lazarus, was obviously designed to be such that he would definitely be
dead. But, the Plan, as it relates to Israel, refers to a certain four-thousand-year period of a
certain kind of "spiritual sleep".
Many scholars place Israel's beginning around 2,000 B.C. If you check this out, you may find some variations but, clearly, the more astute authors on Biblical chronology are in close agreement.
[I believe one of the best works available on this subject was done by Edward Reese, Professor of
Bible and History at Hyles-Anderson College. He spent over twenty years in preparing The Reese
Chronological Bible. To the best of his ability, Dr. Reese arranged the whole Bible (using the
King James text) in sequence. That is, rather than following the customary book fashion, he
attempted to put every verse together that related to the same subject, even if it split books apart
(which it did, throughout). Dr. Reese's strategy was unusual, but insightful. Rather than have a
center column full of cross references, he put the verses themselves in context! This is a
marvelous thing, actually, and Dr. Reese is to be congratulated on his long, extensive work. I
recommend the book to those who like to do serious Bible study, especially when it concerns
Reese puts Abram's birth at 2,000 B.C. Because this agrees so closely with my convictions with regards to Lazarus being a picture of Israel, and how it all fits so perfectly together, I'm convinced this theologian is right on target. Of course, we have no precise calendar, and I'm not trying to predict the exact date of the Lord's return, or anything like that. However, we can come very close to the time. When Jesus said, in Matthew 24:36, "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only"..., He meant exactly what He said,---"day and hour". In the next several verses, Jesus went on to describe the general conditions that will be prevailing on the earth just prior to His coming. Those conditions were described so that we can be aware of the season of His coming, not the "day and hour", but surely within a few years. That's why Jesus commanded us to "Watch...".
Abraham, even though considered to be the Biblical father of faith, was at times himself blinded
by unbelief. Remember Ishmael? And starting at Abraham, continuing through his offspring,
leading to the nation of Israel, unbelief stifled Israel's spiritual maturation from 2,000 B.C. until
Jesus' birth. Amazingly, the nation that rejected Jesus is the same nation through which came the
prophets who predicted His coming in the manner that He did! The results of this unbelief is
beautifully-pictured by an incident that happened, ironically in Bethany (Lazarus' hometown), and,
again ironically, found in another eleventh chapter! Jesus was hungry...
"And seeing a fig tree afar off, having leaves, he came, if perhaps, he might find anything on it; and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And his disciples heard it."
We discovered earlier that Scripture often pictures Israel as a fig tree. Nowhere is this more true than in the above passage. What we are being told here is that national Israel, because of unbelief and not being ready to receive Jesus as their Messiah, would not be a part of the harvesting during the whole of the Christian era. Jesus found no "fruit" on the fig tree. What a terrible indictment for God's chosen nation to receive.
A few days later, Jesus and the disciples came back by the fig tree:
"And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots."
"And Peter, calling to remembrance, saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away."
"And Jesus, answering, saith unto them, Have faith in God."
Notice that the top foliage of the fig tree was gone. The withered branches represented the Jews
at that time. The curse that fell on the fig tree, fell also on all Israel. Subsequently, God's blessing
of transmitting the Gospel was given to those Gentiles (and Jews) who would put their trust in
Jesus, the One Israel had rejected. The Church age was thus born. This is what Jesus was
alluding to when He turned the disciples' attention from marveling about the fig tree towards
having "faith in God".
But also notice that Mark points out that the fig tree was "...dried up from the roots". This
strongly suggests that the root system itself was left intact. Do we have any Biblical base for this
conclusion? You bet. Speaking of another tree relative to Israel, this time an "olive tree", Paul
"And they (i.e., Israel) also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again."
The picture in Mark 11 is clearly confirmed by Paul in Romans 11. Two trees, both alluding to Israel, make the dark images come to life. Fantastic! No wonder Jesus told us to "...Behold the fig tree, and all the trees."
Let's return now to our verse under study, John 11:17. The four-day period of Lazarus' sleep (Israel's spiritual unbelief), is a long-range forecast, commencing around 2,000 B.C., when the tendency of unbelief lay resident even, as we have seen, in Abraham, continuing up to around 2,000 A.D., when Jesus will return to awaken Israel. God will then "graft" all Israel back into their own "root" system, where faith was once alive.
Yes, Abraham had real, saving faith. However, unbelief rose up in him and has continually
plagued the Jews ever since. But God will eventually solve the whole problem. All this is
graphically-presented in the Lazarus' story.
"Now Bethany was near unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off."
"And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their
I presume, in the plain story, the reason John pointed out that Bethany was close to Jerusalem was to indicate that the family of Lazarus had many friends in the larger city. And, therefore, that they, knowing of Lazarus' sickness, found it easy [because of the proximity] to come and comfort the sisters concerning their ill brother. Another reason for including this aspect was surely God-designed to insure that many Jews would be there as witnesses of what Jesus was going to do.
But, if we look at this in long-range terms, suddenly the passage makes even more sense. The
fact is, many Jews have found their way onto British and American soil. I'm convinced that this is
what "many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary" really means. This is also spelled out in
another Scripture which relates to the Jewish dispersion during the Christian era, found in
Revelation 12:6&14. I'll quote verse 14 here:
"And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent."
All worthy scholars agree that this "woman" is Israel. However, few seem to understand the rest of the verse. The "two wings" could be, perhaps even likely, the two witnesses; the "wilderness" and "her place" which the woman flew into has been those particular nations where the Jews were sent by God to remain until they would once again be restored as a nation; the "nourishment" refers to God's sovereign protection and provisions for Israel while dispersed in those nations. The duration Israel would be in this "wilderness" would be "a time, times, and half a time", which is 1260 days.
In my other book, The Two Witnesses, I wrote extensively developing the facts of this 1260-day
period. Here, let me only summarize: This really refers to prophetic "days", meaning 1260 years.
I believe the actual dating is from the time (688 A.D.) the Muslim mosque and the Dome of the
Rock were set up on the Jewish Temple site in Jerusalem, up until Israel was recognized as a
nation again in 1948, which was exactly 1260 years later.
"Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him; but Mary sat
in the house."
I love this part. The bells of metaphoric content are beginning to sound like thunder to me.
Dear reader, can't you begin to hear it, too? Let me ask you a question. Does it make any sense at all, thinking of the historical story alone, that Mary would not go out and see Jesus along with Martha, since their brother was now dead? One must conclude there is more than that which meets the eye here.
But when viewed in the long-range sense, the passage explodes with meaning. The Church in Great Britain (Martha) began her ministry before the Church in America (Mary) started. Most authors agree that Mary was likely the younger sister of the two. I agree with them, but for an altogether different reason than theirs.
Many things might be said concerning the commencement of Church activity in England, but I place the greatest significance at the time a man called The Venerable Bede made the first translation of the ancient Scriptures into the English language. Interestingly, he chose the Gospel of John as the first to be translated. It is said of Bede that he died (in 735 A.D.) dictating from John's Gospel. Isn't that just like God when He wants to leave a lasting impression for us to discover?
And beginning with that initial effort, England would become influential as a stalwart of the Christian faith throughout the earth over many centuries. Was she perfect? Absolutely not! But significant? Indisputably, yes! Martha "met him" as soon as she "heard that Jesus was coming". This refers, I believe, to the time when the anointing came upon the whole nation of England; a nation through which Jesus would, by the Holy Spirit, do a mighty work.
But Mary "sat still in the house". What does this imply? I must again refer you to my other book,
The Two Witnesses. In it, I point out how I learned that America was actually visited by early,
Irish-speaking Christians around the eighth century! Ironically, but fittingly, this was the same
century Bede concluded translating John! So, at the same time Great Britain began her spiritual
work in England, God was setting aside American soil as a place where He would eventually pour
out His Spirit among believers there, too.
Verses 21 & 22.
"Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."
"But I know that even now, whatever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee."
Martha is here displaying, at least on the surface, a surprising high degree of faith in Jesus. I say "surprising" because, typically, she was the less spiritual of the two sisters. (I believe this contrast has been true of the Church in England and the Church in America too, which I'll share more about later.) Nevertheless, we can't take away from Martha's statement that she believed Jesus could "even now" do for Lazarus whatever He would ask of God the Father.
In fact, she believed that even if Jesus had remained there in Lazarus' presence, her brother wouldn't have died. I tend to admire her for saying this, but also one can easily see inferred here that Martha was shifting some blame onto the Lord, presuming that Jesus' primary responsibility was to take care of His friends and close loved ones.
I prefer to interpret this longitudinally (as you by now have surely guessed). You recall that even Jesus' disciples were distressed at His physical departure. But remember what we have already learned, that it was, according to Jesus, "...expedient for you (us) that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."
Yes, Jesus could have stayed among the Jews 2,000 years ago and kept "Lazarus" (Israel) alive.
But if He had done that, then all that has been done through the Church would not have been
accomplished, which was all very much a part of God's total Plan of the ages. Israel will yet have
his day. But God, in His omniscient wisdom and omnipotent power, would not leave Gentile
Christianity out of the picture. Israel's sleep has had associated with it a fantastic, positive benefit
for the rest of humanity. I, and all the saved, must be eternally grateful for the fact that Jesus
chose not to remain at Lazarus' side.
"Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again."
What can be said about this awesome verse? I don't know about you but I just like to read it over and over again.
Of course, Jesus is not only forecasting what He is about to do for Lazarus, He is boldly stating what will someday happen to every person who has ever died.
I also believe that Jesus was seeing down the halls of time into the distant future when He would
stand before all Israel, making ready to cause them to "rise again".
"Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
Martha had already stated she believed God would stand behind whatever Jesus desired. Now,
here, she is letting it be known that she is personally aware of, and believes in, the Biblical
teaching of end-time resurrection of everybody.
The long-range aspect of this verse has to do with the Gospel that Martha (i.e., the Church in
England) has preached to much of humanity throughout the ages. That is, that there will be a
general resurrection someday. This is a fact that can never be discarded or discounted in any way
and must remain a central part of the Gospel proclamation in order to produce genuine, Biblical,
saving faith. I will even go so far as to say I believe that's why John 11:24 is in print.
Verses 25 & 26.
"Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."
"And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"
This is one of the most awesome statements that has ever been uttered. Ever since physical death entered the human race, when Cain killed Abel, God slowly and methodically laid before man His promises that there would come a time when all the dead would someday rise again. In verse 25, Jesus is not only saying that He will be the One to cause this to happen, but that He personally is the resurrection and the life. This means that the power of resurrection and life itself is resident in Jesus, not only that He has access to it.
Everybody will be resurrected. The Bible lays the order of resurrection out very succinctly as to how it will come about in the end-times. I cover this fairly extensively in The Two Witnesses, but here want to briefly talk about Jesus' mini-sermon in verse 26 regarding resurrection.
You see, even though Jesus and Martha are obviously discussing Lazarus, Jesus is seizing the
opportunity to spell out, in brief form, the Gospel message---that to inherit eternal life requires
belief in Him. And Jesus laid the message right before Martha herself when He said, "Believest
thou this?" This question gets right down where the rubber-meets-the-road. Martha, as an
individual, and you and I as individuals, and every other human being, must come to this same
critical juncture. As we hear the central truth of the Gospel, we must decide what we will do with
the question, "Believest thou this?"
"She saith unto him, Yea, Lord; I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into the world."
Whatever else we may say about Martha's tendency to not grasp some of the greater things of God, she certainly understood and believed the main thing about Jesus: that Jesus was "the Christ".
The word "Christ" is not explained sufficiently by most preachers today. Many use it like Jesus' last name, or make it synonymous with Jesus. Both concepts fall short of the truth of the matter. I won't provide a long explanation of all that is implied regarding "Christ", but let me share a few of the most important aspects.
Christ means Messiah, or the Anointed One. Interpreted as Messiah has associated with it all that
Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament to be---the deliverer, the Redeemer, God-Incarnate, etc.
Christ, as the Anointed One, refers to the fact that the man Jesus [from the day the Holy Spirit
came upon Him] was the only person to have ever walked perfectly on this earth submitted to the
power of Almighty God.
Notice that Martha qualified her remark by saying she believed Jesus was the Christ, not just
Christ. God sent many prophets before Jesus who acted under the influence of the Holy Spirit,
and they too could be considered "christs" in the "anointed" sense. I'm not talking about the false
"christs" Jesus said would come in the last days with their false teachings; I'm referring to people
like Moses, who was a deliverer himself. There were also others, from time to time, that God
used to get Jews out of difficult situations. But none, of course, were the Christ, as Martha
correctly identified Jesus to be.
MARTHA'S PART IN THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS
Looking back at verse 24 again, we saw that Martha stated that she believed Lazarus would rise again. Jesus already knew what He would do, but He also obviously wanted to involve Martha and Mary's statement of faith.
Martha (speaking now of England) had a part in Israel's 'resurrection' (i.e., the return of the Jews to their homeland). In 1917, the British Parliament passed the "Balfour Declaration" which stated in part, "His majesty's government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this objective(1)..." Now let's look at an incredible story as to how this was, at least partly, achieved. Again I quote from Dr. Church's book:
"In 1917, the British general, Edmund Allenby, led his troops to surround the city of Jerusalem. It is reported that the night before his impending invasion, Allenby prayed that he might take the city without destroying the holy places. He had wired London for instructions and had received a simple reply---a scripture verse! As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it" (Isaiah 31:5).
"The exciting prospects of such a thing led him to have the verse read aloud before all his troups positioned in the foothills of Jerusalem. Allenby commandeered every available aircraft for a fly-over. On the morning of December 10, what seemed like hundreds of planes skirted low from just over the 'Hill of Evil Council' which lies to the south of the Temple site. The sky was covered from wing tip to wing tip and from nose to tail with airplanes---British biplanes---captured German aircraft---everything that would fly!"
"As they flew low over Jerusalem and the Eastern Gate, one of the pilots dropped a note demanding surrender---signed by General Allenby. The Turks were frightened by the multitude of planes. According to reports, the name of Allenby further frightened them, for the word 'Allah' in Arabic means 'God' and 'beh' is Arabic for 'son'. The Turks were looking at a demand for surrender signed by Allah-beh, the son of God! In response, they hoisted a white flag and surrendered the city without firing a single shot..."
Isn't that a fantastic story? I love it. And, it is just like God to pull something off in this manner to fulfill Scripture, in both the Old Testament, as Church saw it in Psalms 17, and the New Testament, as I see it in John 11.
Even though I'm getting a little ahead of myself insofar as Mary is concerned (Mary symbolizing the USA), it's timely to include one more quote from J.R. Church's book. I'm trying to show just how perfectly-matching is Martha and Mary's support of their brother Lazarus, to that of England and America's support of national Israel. They are three trees of kind. During the same period of the signing of the Balfour Declaration, showing Britain's support of Israel's re-establishment, America too was very much involved. Again I quote from Church's book:
"President Woodrow Wilson was hailed as the greatest leader of the world at the time. While in Paris he met with major Jewish leaders for discussions. Rabbi S. S. Wise, perhaps the most able leader of American Jewry of that day, lingered following the conference to talk privately with the president. Here is his account of that visit. "'Mr. President,' I said, 'world Jewry counts upon you in its hour of need and hope.' Placing his hand on my shoulder, he quietly and firmly said, 'Have no fear, Palestine will be yours.'"
Did President's Wilson's prophecy prove to be correct? Absolutely! In 1948, a mere thirty years later, the United Nations formally recognized Israel as a sovereign nation. And who was responsible for setting the stage for the Jews returning to Israel? Mainly through the joint efforts of the nations of the British Commonwealth and the United States of America---the Martha and Mary of continental proportions.
There were many ups and downs on Britain's part in following through with the promises made in the Balfour Declaration. The Brits have an uncanny tendency towards bureaucratic-nonsense often resulting in bad decisions and delays. Because of these facts, many would try to discount to "0" my convictions regarding the whole matter of the two "sisters" of Lazarus being God's wisdom understood in the light of metaphor. But I remain unswayed in my stand on this issue. If you think carefully about "Martha's" personality, it actually fits British' history to a T. Or should I say tea?