The Story of Lazarus: Resurrected or Fixed?

In John 11 we find the story of the death of Lazarus.  Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, and all were friends of Jesus.  Lazarus fell mortally ill.  We are not told what type of illness.  In an attempt to help their brother, the sisters sent word to Jesus of Lazarus’ illness.  Jesus was in Judea, keeping his distance for the time being from the Jewish leadership.  Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived just outside of Jerusalem.

Time was of the essence, but Jesus delayed His departure for two days.  He told his disciples, “This sickness will not end in death.”  A true statement, though Lazarus would literally die and be dead for four days.  Jesus allows the death to happen to demonstrate His power over death and His compassion for all of us with respect to our eventual death.

Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.”  They, naturally, assume Jesus was using the word sleep in the usual sense, but He was not.  Lazarus had died.  Why did Jesus and later Paul refer to death as sleep?  They want to save the word “death” to describe eternal exile from God.  The choice of sleep has lead to some confusion, though.  When we naturally sleep, we enter an altered state of brain activity.  We are not inanimate.  When we die, we may be unaware of the state and surroundings of our bodies, but we are very much aware and animated.  Our awareness will be of wherever our soul happens to be.  So where was Lazarus?

Lazarus was not having your typical near death experience.  He was dead for four days.  Still, as a pre-resurrection of Jesus person, I would expect that he was experiencing what every righteous, Old Testament person experienced–which is not Heaven but a part of Sheol.A Word You May Not Know: Sheol  As Lazarus is summoned from the grave, it would be easy to say that Jesus resurrected him; but that would not be technically correct.  As with people who have Near Death Experiences, Lazarus was temporarily fixed and revivified by Jesus.  Resurrection is something much bigger.

When Jesus comes out of the tomb after three days, He is resurrected.  His body is more than just alive again.  He has the full remake that humans have been promised by God:  no more sickness, aging, pain, death or whatever.  A new set of capabilities and less limitations can be expected as well.

The best modern medicine and even future science can hope to do for you is fix you.  That isn’t so special.  We look forward to being resurrected.  Resurrection may not even use that much, if anything, of your earthly remains.  It will be uniquely you, but cleansed of sin and the curse and perfected.

Lazarus would have to die again.  In fact, some conjecture suggests that Lazarus might have made it on a hit list.  His existence would have made him unpopular with Jesus’ enemies.  Now Lazarus is in Heaven.  Jesus has cleared the way.  Lazarus still waits for the resurrection.  It is something to which to look forward.  The Resurrection of the Body

Author: tdwenig

Tom is the Senior Pastor of the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Evansville, IN. He has served his congregation since 2000. He has a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO

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