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Faith & Wisdom

Lazarus In The Bible: A Biblical study of Life, Death & Resurrection

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The story of Lazarus takes place in the town of Bethany during the lifetime of Jesus Christ. Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, were close friends of Jesus. After Lazarus falls ill, the sisters send word to Jesus, asking for his help.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he learns that Lazarus is dead and has been in his tomb for four days. Jesus enters the tomb and performs a miracle, raising Lazarus from the dead. It was witnessed by Lazarus’s sister Martha.

The story of Lazarus tells us that Jesus has power over life and death. The resurrection of Lazarus also foreshadows the death and resurrection of Christ. 

This article considers the story of Lazarus and the different themes and meanings it has for modern Christians.

What is the meaning of the story of Lazarus?

The story of Lazarus described in John 11:1-44 tells us that Jesus has power over life and death. Significantly, Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha were close friends of Jesus.

Jesus learns that Lazarus of Bethany is gravely ill and that his sisters require his presence and assistance. Jesus delays visiting them for two days, knowing full well that he can perform a miracle and restore Lazarus to life. The disciples warned Jesus about going back to Judea, as previously the Jews had tried to stone Him there. 

Jesus intends to travel to Bethany and tells his disciples that Lazarus’s “sickness won't end in death.” He knows that Lazarus’s illness and death “happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” (John 11:4). 

Upon seeing Lazarus lying dead in the tomb, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Then, Jesus raised His friend from the dead by calling out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). Lazarus emerges from the tomb while still wearing his grave clothes.

The central message in the story is contained in Jesus’s words to Lazarus’s sister Mary when He says:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25)

Raising Lazarus, Oil on Copper Plate

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Why is the story of Lazarus so important? 

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The story of the raising of Lazarus is important, as it clearly demonstrates that Jesus was no ordinary prophet. 

Bethany was close to Jerusalem, where many Jewish leaders (the Pharisees and Chief Priests) were plotting to destroy Jesus. From a historical perspective, the story is significant as it raises Jesus’s profile among the Jews.

What was God's ultimate purpose in the death and resurrection of Lazarus?

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The miracle of Lazarus showed the people of Judea that Jesus had power over life and death. It also set in motion the plot to kill Jesus by the Pharisees and chief priests who were envious of His charisma and supernatural talents. 

The resurrection of Lazarus is the first of many significant Biblical events, which moves Jesus Christ closer to His own Crucifixion, death, and resurrection. This was all a part of God’s plan. 

This miracle convinced many people that Jesus was the genuine Lord and Savior. It also showed that God’s promises to us were genuine.  

Stained glass window showing the Baptism of Jesus

What can we learn from the resurrection of Lazarus?

A Bible study of the resurrection of Lazarus shows us the power that Jesus Christ has in His famous words to Mary. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

The resurrection of Lazarus — and later Jesus himself — gives Christians a glimpse of God’s incredible power to restore life. This includes God’s promise of eternal life and salvation.

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Is there more than one Lazarus in the Bible?

There are two people names Lazarus in the Bible. First, there’s the dead man who is restored to life. Then you have a leper named Lazarus who appears in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 16:19-31) in the parable about the rich man and the poor man. 

The leper Lazarus, who dies from illness and poverty, is resurrected in Heaven and carried to Abraham’s side. God rewards both, and both are given eternal life. 

Luke’s Gospel also references resurrection from the dead. In this section, Abraham tells the rich man (who died and is in Hell) that those who “do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke: 16:31). 

It isn't surprising that the name Lazarus is a Greek form of the Hebrew name Eleazar, which also means "God has helped.”

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What can the story of Lazarus teach modern Christians?

The story of Lazarus teaches modern Christians about how we can have eternal life if we follow Christ. Only God can restore us to eternal life.

Jesus’s tears for his friend Lazarus show us the Lord as a man grieving for a friend. His friendship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus includes a story where Mary anoints Jesus’s feet with oil six days before Passover. This simple act of humility incurs the criticism of the apostle Judas (who later betrays Christ). (John 12:5). 

This moment gives Jesus another opportunity to instruct us when he tells Judas: 

"Leave her alone," (referring to Mary), Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me." (John 12:7-8)

Jesus is telling us to revere Him as the son of God while also predicting His death.

The anointing of Jesus is reported in four different gospels of the New Testament: Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 7, and John 12. 

The anointing, described in Luke 7:36–50, is slightly different where the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with perfumed oil is regarded as a sinner. The Pharisees criticize her actions. 

Jesus, however, tells us that the woman’s “many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown."

Contemporary theologians regard Jesus’s actions in resurrecting Lazarus as a central miracle, which sets up a series of events leading to the Crucifixion of Christ and His resurrection from the dead by His Almighty Father. 

Remember that we can also ask God to perform miracles in our lives. 

The Raising of Lazarus, Oil on canvas, c.

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Lessons from the miracle of Lazarus

The resurrection of Lazarus foreshadows the resurrection of Christ. Modern Christians understand that God allows us to conquer death and that all believers can similarly enjoy everlasting life through Christ if we follow our faith and observe the commandments.

French theologian John Calvin, writing in the 16th century, observed that "not only did Christ give a remarkable proof of his Divine power in raising Lazarus, but He placed before our eyes a lively image of our future resurrection" on the last day. 

If you want to learn more about Bible stories and living a Christian life, download the app — for daily prayer, bedtime Bible stories, and more — on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

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