The Death of Lazarus - John 11:1-14

Expositions by H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


Memory Verse — I Timothy 1:15

The spiritual message in the story of Lazarus' death hinges upon one outstanding fact. Lazarus was dead! (vs. 14.) The Scripture sets forth four deaths which are possible in human experience:

  1. Death in trespasses and sins.

  2. Death in backsliding.

  3. Death of the body.
  4. Death in God's final judgment upon the unsaved.

From three of these deaths a man may be recovered. But from the fourth there is no possibility of salvation. So, because Lazarus was raised from the dead, as we shall see in the next lesson, he presents a picture of the first three deaths, but not of the fourth.

Now death, in the Bible, always means a separation. It never means unconsciousness or cessation of being. We shall see as we study further just what separation exists in each of the three deaths of which Lazarus becomes a picture.


The unbeliever is said to he dead in trespasses and sins. This is the natural condition of all unsaved men. It simply means that because of sin the soul is separated from God. The unbeliever may pray, but he receives no response. God cannot hear the prayer of an unregenerate heart. He may seek to do great charitable or religious works, but God cannot accept them. Without faith it is impossible to please Him, and the very best the unbeliever may do is corrupted by the sin of unbelief. The unsaved man has no fellowship with God, for he is naturally an enemy, and is offensive to Him. Poor dead Lazarus, lying in the tomb could not enjoy fellowship with the Lord, nor could His presence be tolerated. He was a repulsive creature, for he stank. So the natural man, because of the corruption of sin and unbelief is a stench in the nostrils of God. Eph. 3:1, 5; Isa. 64:6; Rom. 8:7.

But in spite of this terrible condition God loves the sinner with a love which cannot he satisfied until it has done everything possible to save him. Lazarus, in spite of his fatal sickness, was the object of Jesus' love, and though death had already ensued, that love brought Jesus from a distance to raise him from the dead. He said to the disciples, "I go that I may awake him out of sleep." (vs. 11.) So the great heart of God could not be satisfied until He had done everything in His power to save this lost world. His love led Jesus to leave heaven's glory and to come down to earth, in order that He might save men. He died on the cross, and there, suffering the agonies of the condemned, He provided eternal life for all who will believe in Him. Life was provided for Lazarus in the love of God, and life has been provided for the sinner. All he needs to do is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and his dead soul shall be quickened into eternal life. John 3:16; I Pet. 2:24; Isa. 53:5-6; Rom. 6:23; Acts 16:3i.


But even after a soul has trusted Jesus as his Saviour, he may lose his fellowship with Him through sin. When this occurs he is said to be dead. Paul, led of God's Spirit, records such an experience in Romans 7:9. Here he says, "I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died." His sad experience is typical of that which many of God's children suffer. Some part of God's will for the life became irksome. The soul ceased doing it in the happy, joyous freedom of the children of God. His obedience no longer sprang spontaneously from a heart overflowing with the love and joy of the Lord. It became a mere matter of duty, and the old sinful nature made the soul chafe and fret under it. Instead of finding joy in the will of God, it became a burdensome "commandment." It naturally followed that the soul ceased doing His will, and stepped aside. A cloud of sin had now come into the believer's life, and God's face was hidden from his sight. His fellowship was broken. He had died. Isa. 59:1-2; Mark 15:66-72.

But a sinning believer has not ceased to be a child of God, and the object of His love. God loves the backslider with a never-ending love, and though sin has robbed him of fellowship his soul is still saved. David is a clear example of the sad experience which the believer suffers in backsliding, and he is also a radiant example of the steadfastness of God's love and the joy of salvation. David sinned grievously. He committed the double sin of adultery and murder. He lost all his fellowship with God, and his soul writhed in misery and anguish. But he was not lost! In that penitential psalm when he confesses his hideous sin and returns to the Lord he cries, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation!" (Psalm 51:12.) Ah! That is it! When the believer sins he loses the joy of his salvation, but he cannot lose the salvation itself. But when he confesses his sin and comes back to the Lord his fellowship is restored and he again may rejoice in His salvation. God loves the poor fallen believer and longs to restore him. "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39.) II Sam. 11; Psa. 51; I Jno. 1:9; Jno. 5:24.


Lazarus' death has also a dispensational significance. It speaks of the death from which Jesus will raise the bodies of believers at His second coming. Many have wondered why Jesus should have delayed until Lazarus was dead before He went to his relief. Why could He not have spared him the suffering of death, and why could He not have spared the sisters the heartbreak of grief in their mourning for their dead brother? Had He done so we should have missed one of the most precious lessons in all of His earthly ministry. Because He saw fit to do as He did we are able to learn to trust Him even though He seems not to care about our distresses. Lazarus, the beloved one, was perishing while the Lord tarried. Doubtless he looked with eager expectation for His coming, after the message of his illness had been sent, but in vain. And yet not in vain, for in His heart Jesus purposed to answer the request, but in His own better way. So Jesus is absent from us now. He has promised to come again. But while He tarries His children perish. Many have breathed the prayer, "Lord Jesus, come quickly!" But they have passed on, with their prayer apparently unanswered. Their eyes have closed in death. Their bodies, robed in the cerements of the grave, have been laid out of sight, and have molded into dust. Ah! Why does He tarry? Why does He not consider and deliver us from the pangs of death? Rev. 22:20; I Cor. 15:17-23.

Thank God, our confidence is not in vain! He has seen that it is best for Him to tarry for a little season, but when He comes, for He luill come, the grief and pain of the dying will be turned into the rejoicing of the redeemed. The desolating, distressing "Why" will be smothered in praises and paeans of thanksgiving and triumph. Jesus will come again, and when He comes the dead in Christ shall he snatched from the bondage and defilement of the grave into the glorious liberty of the resurrection. And, — O bliss beyond compare! — living believers who but a moment before were mourning and dying, will instantly be translated to be with Him forever. Without tasting of death they shall share in His resurrection life. When will it be? That we know not, but every believer may share in the confidence of Job, who said, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the. latter day upon the earth; and though