As we begin chapter 11 of John’s Gospel, we cross a significant thematic divide. The first ten chapters comprise what is often called The Book of Signs. Here we often saw Jesus’ ministry connected to the various sacred festivals of Judaism which became vehicles for understanding his person and work. The rest of John’s account will focus on the glory of Jesus as he demonstrates his mastery over death and sin. This second half of the gospel is, therefore, typically referred to as The Book of Glory. It is the record of the final weeks of Jesus’ life as he makes his way back to Jerusalem where he will go to the cross.
In chapter 11 we read of the most spectacular miracle of Jesus’ ministry. His close friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, became ill and died. By the time Jesus arrives at Bethany to be among the mourners, Lazarus was dead for four days. But as the Lord of life with complete authority over death, Jesus will raise his friend to life. As we will see, the raising of Lazarus is but a foretaste of Jesus’ own resurrection which will follow his crucifixion. What is more, the raising of Lazarus serves as a sign pointing to the resurrection of all those who look in faith to Jesus.
But even before the spectacular raising of Lazarus, John gives us a glimpse into the profound trustworthiness of Jesus. To the dismay of Mary and Martha, Jesus did not arrive in time to heal their brother. But what they did not understand at the time is that the calamity which befell their family was not a senseless, random tragedy. Just as in the case of the man born blind (9:1-5) God was at work in deep and mysterious ways. Upon hearing of Lazarus serious illness Jesus said to his disciples: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (vs. 4). This is not to suggest that Jesus did not expect Lazarus to die. Indeed, he knew precisely what would happen. But the “end” for Lazarus would not be death but life eternal which is the case for all who believe. The glory of Jesus will be magnified as he is revealed to be the Resurrection and the Life.