Previous: Sight Restored To The Man Blind From His Birth. Up: Miracles Next: The Resurrection And Ascension Of Jesus Christ.


Lazarus Raised from the Dead

John 11:1-45

The particulars related in this chapter concerning Lazarus, previous to his being raised from the dead, are so numerous and likewise so important, that it would require a volume to give a full and satisfactory explanation of their spiritual meaning. We must, therefore, be content to pass them by, and proceed immediately to the interpretation of the several circumstances recorded, when the blessed Jesus took His station at the grave of the deceased, and prepared directly for the exercise of His divine omnipotence. Nevertheless it may be proper to remark, as a clue to the elucidation of the introductory parts of the history, that by Lazarus are here represented the Gentiles, as also in the parable, (Luke 16:20), and by his being raised from the dead, is further figured the establishment of a new church amongst the Gentiles, and in every individual; for the establishment of a church, in all cases, implies the communication of spiritual life by the removal of evils and errors; thus it implies also resurrection from the dead, since wheresoever evil and error prevail, there is death. This being premised, the reader will now consider himself as standing at the grave of Lazarus, and will there ask, Q. How are the following words to be understood, where it is written, Jesus again therefore groaning in Himself, comes to the grave: it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it?

A. It had been before said, on this occasion, that Jesus groaned in spirit, (ver. 38), therefore when it is now said that He groaned in Himself, it implies a two-fold groaning, and since by groaning, when spoken of the divine being, is meant a vehement emotion of divine principles, by a two-fold groaning, or what is here called again groaning, is to be understood a vehement emotion both of the divine love and divine wisdom occasioned by the circumstances which presented themselves, when viewed both literally and representatively. By His coming to the grave, under this emotion, is further to be understood, not only His divine presence at the tomb of Lazarus, but also at what is here: figured by a tomb, namely. the principles of unregenerate life; in other words, the principles of selfish and worldly love, which entomb the mind of man in its natural state, and prevent its arising to the sense and enjoyment of its proper life in the love of god and its neighbour. It is said of this tomb or grave, that it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it, because by a cave, according to the spiritual idea involved in this history, is denoted an obscure state of faith and of love; and by a stone lying upon it, is further signified that this obscurity was occasioned by false persuasions of the understanding, which darkened the light of truth. For stone, when applied in a good sense, signifies divine truth, and especially the truth which announces the divinity of Jesus Christ, who is accordingly called The stone which the builders refused; but in the opposite sense, the terms stone and stony are applied in the sacred Scriptures to denote false persuasions and the effects thereby produced, agreeable to which meaning it is written of the angels concerning the lord, They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone, (Psalm 91:11, 12); again it is written of the lord and His vineyard, that He gathered out the stones thereof (Isaiah 5:2); and again it is said in the prophet, I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh, (Ezek. 35:26).

Q. But it is written, Jesus said, Take the stone away — how do you understand these words?

A. As applied to the grave of Lazarus, these words are to be understood literally, but as applied to the establishment of a church, and to the regeneration of man, they are to be understood spiritually, and according to their spiritual meaning they contain a lesson of the deepest importance. For according to this meaning, to take away the stone, is to remove from the understanding all false persuasions which are opposed to the eternal truth ; thus all vain thoughts, all foolish imaginations, all perverse judgement, which prevent the voice of the divine wisdom from being heard, and its salutary saving effects from being experienced. Take away the stone, is therefore a primary law and condition of man's reformation, regeneration, and salvation, since until this is effected, the omnipotent voice of the divine mercy and truth cannot be heard, and the terrible consequence must be that man will remain for ever dead and buried in the grave of impure and defiled affections and appetites.

Q. And what do you conceive to be the import of the observation made on this occasion by Martha the sister of him that was dead, who says to Jesus, Lord, by this time he stinks, for he has been dead four days?

A. From these words I learn how difficult a thing it is to acquire a right faith in the omnipotence of the great redeemer, for although this redeemer had before said to Martha, This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of god, (see verse 4th of this chap).; and although He had before declared, I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, (ver. 25), still, when her faith is put to the proof, it is found wavering and defective, and she thinks it impossible that life can be restored to a putrid carcase. And just so it is with those who are here represented by Martha, or those who are in the affection of truth, (for Martha and her sister Mary, in this history, are representative of the two affections, of good and of truth), when their faith is put to the proof respecting spiritual resurrection, or the establishment of a new church, which is the restoration of spiritual life to those who have been long dead in trespasses and sins, For on this occasion they see nothing but difficulties and impossibilities, even though they have been previously instructed concerning the Divine omnipotence, and viewing only the principle of evil in its terrible death and defilement they forget that all things are possible to him that believes, and that even the putrid and offensive carcase of human sin and corruption may, in the hour of true repentance, administer to the glory of god, that the son of god may be glorified thereby.

Q. And how do you understand the following words which were spoken in reply, Jesus says to her, Said I not to you, that if you would believe, you should see the glory of god ?

A. By believing, is here to be understood faith in the incarnate god, or in the divine humanity of that god, in which He reigns as the great father and almighty sovereign of heaven and earth; and by seeing the glory of god  in consequence of such a faith, is to be understood a perception of the divine presence, power and operation of the most high in His word and in His works, in His word, by the manifestation of His divine truth, with which its interior contents are filled, and with which they are in perpetual connection; and in His works, by the government of His divine providence in all human concerns however minute, and especially by that interior operation which He exercises continually in the minds of men, whilst He guards them from infernal force and delusion, and through the influence of His holy spirit, purifies, reforms, regenerates, and finally elevates them to conjunction of life with Himself. As therefore a belief in the incarnate god is the duty to which every Christian is, called; so to see the glory of god is the high privilege and distinguished blessing annexed to that duty, and resulting from it.

Q. But it follows, that when the blessed Jesus had spoken these words, then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up (His) eyes, and said, Father, I thank You that you have heard Me, and I knew that You hearest Me always ; but because of the people that stand by I said (it), that they may believe that You have sent Me — what instruction do you learn from these words?

A. I learn from these words a most edifying lesson in two distinct respects, first, that the stone was then removed from where the dead man lay, as soon as the blessed Jesus uttered the words of eternal truth and power, Said I not to you, that if you would believe, you should see the glory of god ? for by removing the stone, as was above observed, is spiritually signified the removal and dispersion of false principles and persuasions in the natural or unregenerate mind, which can only be effected by the revelation of the eternal truth; secondly, that the blessed Jesus, in His exchange with the father, whether in the way of prayer or of thanksgiving, always addressed Him as a being in and one with Himself, and that if He appeared at any time to address a being out of and separate from Himself, it was for the sake of others, or, as it is here expressed, because of the people which stood by. Thus, on another occasion, when there came a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again, Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of Me, but for your sakes, (John 12:29, 30). It is well therefore to be understood, that all the expressions in the evangelical history, which speak of the blessed Jesus as praying to the father, as coming to do the will of the father, and as being sent of the father, and which thus suggest the idea of two separate and distinct beings or persons, are to be interpreted of one and the same being, inasmuch as the father was the essential life and soul of the humanity of the blessed Jesus, whilst that humanity was consequently the body, which, proceeding from that life and soul, was perpetually obedient to it, and by such obedience became finally united with it in such a sort, as to become the first and the last, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the ending of all divine life, power and benediction, consequently god ever all, blessed for ever, (see Rev. 1:8, 17. Rom. 9:5).

Q. And how do you understand the words which follow, where it is said, When He had thus spoken, He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth ?

A. By the words, when He had thus spoken, is to be understood, when He had thus proclaimed his one-ness and union with the father, for in the foregoing verse He had been speaking of that one-ness and union: it therefore follows, that He cried with a loud [or great] voice; because crying has reference to the will or love, in this case therefore to the divine will or love; and a great voice is expressive of the divine wisdom of that love; thus by crying with a loud voice is here signified the omnipotence of the divine wisdom proceeding from the humanity of the blessed Jesus in union with His divinity. It accordingly follows, Lazarus, come forth, because the wisdom of the divine love is continually in operation to raise all things and principles out of death into life, thus out of darkness into light, consequently out of misery into bliss, and out of a state of separation from god, into a state of eternal conjunction of life with Him. The divine words, therefore, Lazarus, come forth, apply, on this occasion, not only to the dead body of him who had been four days in the grave, but likewise to all people, nations, and individuals whatever, who are dead in trespasses and sins to the knowledge and enjoyment of their proper life in the love of god and heaven, calling them to the recovery of that life, and with this view to the exercise of those faculties which god has given them, and thus to the elevation of their affections and thoughts out of that grave of selfish and worldly love, in which they had been before entombed.

Q. And what do you conceive to be meant when it is said, And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, and his face was bound about with a napkin?

A. According to the literal sense of these words, they relate to the dead body of the deceased Lazarus, and were literally fulfilled by the resurrection of that body; but according to the spiritual sense, the words relate to dead principles, whether in the church in general, or in the individuals who compose it, implying resurrection out of those principles, thus elevation of human affections and thoughts to the great and holy god and His eternal kingdom. Agreeable to this sense of the words, by being bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, is to be understood the imprisonment of all thought both interior and exterior by false principles and persuasions; and by the face being bound about with a napkin, is meant a similar imprisonment of the love and affection, for the face is a representative image of those interior principles, and is accordingly applied in the sacred Scriptures.

Q. But it follows, Jesus saith to them, Loose him, and let him go — how do you understand these words?

A. The blessed Jesus is not content with calling forth dead men and dead principles to a resurrection to life and blessedness, but His omnipotent voice further operates to the restoration of their spiritual liberty, by breaking the bonds of those false persuasions in which they had been before imprisoned. The divine words therefore, Loose him, and let him go, apply in this case, not only to the deceased Lazarus, but also to all those who have been at any time, or who are tied and bound with the chain of erroneous doctrines, of heretical tenets, of false imaginations, and of perverse thoughts, calling them to break their bonds, by exercising the liberty which god has given them of thinking in agreement with His holy word, and thus of forming their understandings according to the light of the eternal truth, and their lives according to their understandings. It is to be remarked that the words Loose him, have reference to the above liberation of the affections and thoughts, and that the words let him go, relate to the formation of the life according to the truth by which that liberation was effected.

Q. And what instruction do you derive from the concluding words of this history, where it is written, that then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him; but some of them went their way to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done?

A. I learn from these words how much depends on the temper and disposition of mind, in which people hear and read the word and meditate on the works of god, because in all ages of the world both the word and the works of god have divided the sentiments of mankind, leading some to a full acknowledgement and adoration of the goodness  and wisdom of the  almighty, whilst they have led others to despise and reject both His wisdom and His goodness.    This observation is remarkably verified in the present instance, where the resurrection of the dead Lazarus induces many to believe in the great incarnate god, and some to go and tell it to the Pharisees; thus proving incontestably that no miracle, however well attested, and not even the rising of one from the dead can induce men to believe in a divine agency and operation, unless there be a previous disposition to admit the truth, and to be persuaded by it.  So true are those words of the great saviour on another occasion, Every one that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved; but he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are worked in God,  (John iii. 20, 21).

Q. What then is the general instruction which you learn from the above miracle?

A. From the literal sense of this miracle, I am taught again to adore that omnipotent word of my saviour god, which was able to call forth a dead man from his tomb, in which he had laid during a period of four days; and from the spiritual sense of the same history, I am further instructed respecting the boundless power of the same divine word, in raising up to life both churches, and the individuals who compose them, when they also have been long dead in trespasses and sins. I am yet further instructed, that on the occasion of this spiritual resurrection, the first injunction of the eternal truth is to take away the stone; in other words, to remove from the heart and life all those false principles and persuasions, which, having their origin in infernal loves, tend to alienate the soul from god, by rendering it insensible to the blessing of His mercy and truth; and the second is, to come forth; in other words, to elevate the affections and thoughts to an eternal object, by raising them above the shadowy perishable goods of this, lower world, to the possession and enjoyment of a substantial and permanent bliss in the love and favour of the great father of being. I am resolved, therefore, from now on to attend carefully and continually to this spiritual resurrection in my own mind and life, that so I may no longer lie dead and buried in the grave of mere earthly attachments, bodily appetites, and selfish affections, but, listening to the loud voice of my saviour god, may rise to the contemplation and enjoyment of the supreme good in the unfeigned love of Him, and of my fellow-creatures. Thus may I humbly hope to hear, in spirit and in effect, the reviving consolatory words, Lazarus, come forth, and in obedience to the divine command, I also, like Lazarus of old, shall come forth from my dark sepulchre, to be a living monument to all eternity of the divine mercy and omnipotence, and to join in the blessed song, O death, I will be your plagues; O grave, I will be your destruction, (Hosea 13:14). amen.


Previous: Sight Restored To The Man Blind From His Birth. Up: Miracles Next: The Resurrection And Ascension Of Jesus Christ.