Although in this gospel our blessed Lord's rejection is assumed from the outset (John 1:10, 11), we are yet permitted to see the growing enmity of His enemies, which culminated in His crucifixion. It was all over with the Jews indeed at the end of chapter 10. In answer to the declaration of the glory of His person in the words, "I and My Father are one," they "took up stones again to stone Him"; and thus in spirit and intention they were already His murderers. Still further, unable to answer His words, "they sought again to take Him"; but He "went away from out" (not "escaped out of") their hand. Man had now fully manifested himself: the light had shone in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. Not only was his guilt demonstrated by refusing the sent One from the Father, but his state of spiritual death was also shown by the absence of any, even the slightest, response to the presence of God before their eyes in the person of His beloved Son. They had both seen and hated both Him and His Father. (John 15:24.)
God's answer to man's rejection of Christ begins in chapter 11. He testifies to Him as His beloved Son; and in chapter 12 He continues His testimony, but there as the anointed King of Israel, and as the Son of man. The two chapters together therefore contain the divine threefold witness to Christ in these characters; but we confine ourselves now to the testimony of chapter 11. The key to it is found in verse 4: "When Jesus heard [the message from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was sick], He said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." How little had the sisters of Lazarus entered into any such thought concerning the sickness of their brother! and yet we are permitted to see that it was all divinely arranged - the sickness, the death, and the issue - to bring about an undeniable testimony to the precious truth that Jesus was the Son of God; and, moreover, that it was for the glory of God to produce such a testimony. We thus learn that God has a purpose in the smallest matters of our daily life; and also that whatever tends to exalt His beloved Son brings glory to Himself. Truly then our only concern should be to be in communion with the mind of God as to His purposes with us.
Bearing in mind then the subject of the chapter, we may pursue the narrative. It may seem strange at first sight that Jesus, having heard that Lazarus was sick, abode two days still in the same place where He was; and the more so, in that it comes immediately after the statement that He loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. But herein lies the blessed secret of the Lord's position in all the gospel. He had come to do the Father's will; and hence we see Him here waiting upon that will, governed wholly by it, and not by His own affections, pure and perfect as they were. Albeit, therefore, He had received the touching appeal - an appeal to His heart: "Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick" - He would not move until the time appointed by the Father had arrived. Alas! how differently we often act; for would it not be enough for most of us to hear that our presence was claimed by someone in need, to whom we were bound by intimate ties? Let us then learn that there is a higher region than even the dictates of the tenderest affection; that, in a word, the will of God is the Christian's only law.
At the end of the two days Jesus said to His disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." In perfect communion with the Father's will in remaining where He was, He is also in communion with it in departing. In ignorance of this, His disciples thought only of the possible danger of exposing Himself again to the hatred of the Jews. But - as the Lord graciously explained to them - to walk in obedience to God's will is to walk in the light of the day, and in that path there is no stumbling. He revealed to them, moreover, the object of His journey, and told them plainly that Lazarus was dead, adding that He was glad for their sakes that He was not there, "to the intent ye may believe." The sickness was for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby; but in it all He thought of the need of His disciples, as He desired them to perceive the glory of His divine person. What a heart is Thine, blessed Lord, thus at such a moment, when also Thine own death was in prospect, to express Thy love for Thy poor disciples! And Thou art ever the same - the same to us as to them; so that we may ever confidently repose upon the immutable love of Thine infinite heart. He went, therefore, accompanied by His disciples, to the scene of sorrow and death to which now He had been both called and sent.
The Spirit of God invites our especial attention to the fact, that when Jesus came Lazarus had been in the grave four days already. The certainty of his death, therefore, had been clearly demonstrated. This was provided for in the wisdom of God; for while the same power was required to open the eyes of a blind man as to raise the dead, it was now a question of Christ being the resurrection and the life. Man, moreover, could not dispute the testimony afforded by raising the dead: he might deny the fact, but if the fact were established he could not refuse its significance, except in wilful enmity. Witnesses of the power of Jesus were also provided through the death of Lazarus. Jerusalem was nigh to Bethany, "and many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother." God never surrenders His government - and this is the solace of the faithful heart - and He thus orders everything according to the counsels of His own will, whatever may be the thoughts and the activities of men. He glorifies Himself even through the seemingly trivial circumstances of human affections.
Martha, still Martha, notwithstanding the Lord's tender warning and reproof on another occasion, was the first to go and meet Him. And no sooner had she come into His presence than she ventured to utter what was almost a reproach: "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." Mary, it is true, uses the same language afterwards, but with what different tones and attitude! But the fact that both greeted the Lord with the same words reveals surely the exercises which had been occasioned by the Lord's delay. And cannot our hearts understand that they might have been tempted to say, "If the Lord loved Lazarus, if He loved us, would He tarry so long?" Martha did add - what, alas! only showed how little she had comprehended of the truth of His person - "But I know, that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee." Was Jesus then only a prophet, like Elisha for example? The Lord saw down to the bottom of her heart, with all its conflict of contending emotions; and, pitying His poor servant, He at once announced the antidote to all the sorrow of death in the coming resurrection: "Thy brother shall rise again." Ah! yes, her unbelief replied, "in the resurrection at the last day" - in this not going beyond the common belief of every orthodox Jew.
Yet it was to Martha, and to Martha in this state of hopeless sorrow, though in the midst of it she clung to the Lord as her only refuge, that He made the wondrous proclamation: "I am the resurrection and the life" - I, Jesus, am this, in my own Person." The Lord speaks here as already present to accomplish the great results of His power, still hidden in His Person, but of which He was going to give the proof in the resurrection of Lazarus. When He shall exercise this power, he that believeth in Him, though he were dead, shall live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Him shall never die. Power is in His person: the present proof of it was found in the resurrection of Lazarus; the accomplishment of it will be when He shall come back to exercise this power in its fulness. In the meantime the thing is realized according to the place Christ has taken. He raised up Lazarus for life in this world where He was." Death is the end of human life and hope; resurrection is the end of death, and the introduction of the raised one (we do not now speak of Lazarus) into a world where death shall be no more. Christ died and rose again, and it is in virtue of His glorious work that He has become for all His people the resurrection and the life. (Compare 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 54.)
There can be little doubt that the Lord refers to the two classes of believers who will be found on His return - believers who have fallen asleep, "the dead in Christ," who will then "live," be raised, and live for ever with Him; and those who, alive on the earth, will never die, but who will be changed into His own likeness without passing through death, entering thus upon a resurrection condition in incorruptible and glorified bodies, and altogether conformed to the image of God's Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Martha, it may be said, could not enter into these truths. No, but the revelation was now made, and hence the question which the Lord addressed to her - and to you, beloved reader - "Believest thou this?" Every divine communication challenges the heart to which it is made; and the challenge may not be refused without sorrow and loss. Martha's response showed indeed that she had not understood it; but still there was real faith - faith in Christ according to Jewish hopes - for she said, "Yea, Lord: I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." Her confession of faith did not go beyond the second Psalm; and yet, believing as she did in Christ, she possessed - although she knew it not - the title to all the blessing, which was bound up in, and connected with the whole truth of His glorious Person. So was it with Andrew, who, notwithstanding he had followed Jesus to the place where He dwelt, could only testify of Him as the Messiah. And so is it now with all the children of God. But blessed are those who under the power of the attractions of a glorified Christ press on, with daily increasing energy, to know Him ever more fully; and to enjoy all that He has secured for them through His death, resurrection, and His life at the right hand of God.
"The life of a risen man is not of this world; it has no connection with it. He who possesses this life may pass through the world, and do many things that others do. He eats, works, suffers; but, as to his life and objects, he is not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world. Christ, risen and ascended up on high, is his life. He subdues the flesh, he mortifies it, for in point of fact he is down here, but he does not live in it."