This session explores the painful topic of death.

Why do you think it is a subject that we so often avoid talking openly about?

Watch video

Dd Dead man walking

Historical context

Jesus makes some bold claims about himself, not least that he is the Messiah, God’s saviour of the world. In the previous chapter, he claims to be God’s Son. The Jewish leaders are so outraged that they respond with murderous intent: ‘We are not stoning you for any good work ... but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’ (John 10:33). They understand Jesus to mean that he claims to share the same nature as God, whom he calls his Father.

Jesus is now confronted with the death of a very close friend. Can he offer any hope in the face of death? Will he confirm his incredible claims to be God? What evidence is there to suggest that we should take his claim to be the saviour of the world seriously?

Click below to expand the text, then discuss with a friend.

John 11: 1–6
 

The death of Lazarus

11Now a man named Lazarus was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay ill, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’

When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This illness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’

1

What relationship does Jesus have with Lazarus and his family (see verses 2 and 5)? Why do you think they send for Jesus?

2

When Jesus hears about Lazarus’ illness, what is so surprising about his response? What do the disciples fear will happen (verses 5–8)?

3

At what point does Jesus decide to go and see Lazarus? How do the disciples misunderstand what he says in verses 11–16?

4

It would seem utterly pointless for Jesus to walk for four days in order to see Lazarus now. What reason does Jesus give in verses 4 and 15 to explain his delay?

In the Hebrew Scriptures, ‘glory’ refers to the visible manifestation of God, usually in the form of radiance and splendour. Jesus says that, through what will happen at the home of Lazarus, the disciples are going to see that Jesus has the same glory, the same nature, as God. His deliberate delay in going to Bethany is for this purpose.

John 11: 17–27
 

Jesus comforts the sisters of Lazarus

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’

23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’

24 Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’

25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’

27 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’

5

Describe the scene that confronts Jesus when he arrives at the home of Lazarus. How do you think Mary and Martha feel? What do you think they expect Jesus to do? (see verses 17–24 and 30–33)

6

What astonishing claim does Jesus make about himself in verses 25–26? According to Jesus, how is it possible for anyone to be confident of life after death?

John 11: 28–48
 

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’ 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.

‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’

37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 ‘Take away the stone,’ he said.

‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’

40 Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face.

Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’

The plot to kill Jesus

45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked. ‘Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.’

7

When Mary is made aware that Jesus has arrived, she goes out to meet him. What strikes you most about Jesus’ response to her grief (verses 32–36)?

8

Jesus is said to be ‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled’ in verse 33 – literally ‘angry’ and ‘outraged’ in the original language. His grief is understandable, but why do you think he is so angry?

The Hebrew Scriptures teach that death was not part of the original human experience. As people turned away from God, the giver of life, their inevitable punishment was to experience death. Jesus is not only grieved by the death of a friend, he is also angry at the way in which death has caused so much pain in the world.

9

What was the crowd expecting to happen in verses 36–37? What was Martha expecting in verse 39?

10

What happens when Jesus calls Lazarus out of his tomb? How does this relate to his claim about himself in verses 25–26?

11

How does Jesus want people to respond to what they see (verses 41–42)? How do they actually respond (verses 45–48)?

What does this mean for us?

After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Apple founder Steve Jobs spoke of the inevitability of death: ‘I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept. No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.’

If what Jesus claims about himself is true, how might faith in him give us hope in the face of death, the ‘destination we all share’?

Discuss this next

Click below to discuss another chapter of John’s Gospel

EeThe great exchange

Explore John's Gospel

Watch
View more videos that will help you engage with the story.

Watch

Read
See how one extraordinary life changed the world.

Read