John tells the story of the death and subsequent resurrection of Lazarus, whose name means in Hebrew “My God is my help.” The author warns the reader that what he is about to find out would not make sense, unless the reader would keep in mind that that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus (John 11:5).

What was the problem exactly?

When all personal and communal means were exhausted and Lazarus’ health still took a sharp turn for the worst, Mary and Martha thought of the obvious – they must let their now famous miracle-working rabbi-friend know, so that he can come as soon as was possible to help Lazarus.

This is where the stunning detail I want to bring to your attention occurs:

When Jesus got that message, he decided to stay where he was for two more days (John 11:6).

If we are reading this text honestly, we would probably not be moved to open a hymnal and sing the famous hymn: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” at this point in the story just yet.

We read in Jerusalem Talmud: For the first three days after death the soul floats above the body, thinking that it will return to the body. When the soul sees the body, that the appearance of the face has changed, it leaves the body and goes its way. (Yevamot 16:3)

But was this idea present in Jerusalem Talmud already there at the time of Jesus? The answer is yes!

In a fairly recent discovery of an ancient stone, found in the same geographic location where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were also found, there is an intriguing phrase that can be translated as: “In three days, live, I, Gabriel, command you” (Gabriel’s Revelation Stone, Israel Museum). While the resurrection of Lazarus is surely not the event described here, the discovery shows that the idea of resurrection within three days was not a foreign concept to the ancient Jews.

Jesus waited for two more days, timing his arrival in such a way that he got to Bethany on the fourth day, when resurrection was no longer possible! When Lazarus was finally resurrected a very important point emerged: resurrection is not something that Jesus does, resurrection is something that Jesus is (John 11:17-40).



  1. Lazarus was likely not resurrected, but rather, resuscitated--or he would be with us still, because those who are resurrected do not die (they "put on immortality") and, in any case, Jesus was "the first of the resurrected". Resuscitation of a mortal body is not the same thing as resurrection to a new immortal body. One wonders if that is the reason why the disciples on the road to Emmaus didn't recognize Jesus at first. There were godly people who were seen and recognized as having been resuscitated from their graves at the time of the Crucifixion.
    • I would, of course, disagree. Lazarus did indeed die but he (unlike Jesus) rose to mortality. Jesus (unlike Lazarus) rose to immortality, and therein lies the difference.

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    • J. Bell, Lazarus was resurrected, but he was not given a glorified body, while Jesus was. The others who came out of the graves were resurrected but not in glorified bodies and thus they died again later. The reason those on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus was because their eyes were beholden, that is they were kept from recognizing Him. Mary did not at first recognize Him, /but the others did when they first saw Him.

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    • You may be smart but not Smart enough for God.....

      Lazarus was resurrected from the Dead end of....

      Now if you want to be resurrected on the last day- make sure your name is in the Lamb’s Book Of Life.

      People who have experienced God via the new birth do not challenge God and His Being the way you tried to
    • The problems with that there is no rapture And your are disputing what that the bible Shows clearly 4 days. Jesus returns Dead And alive in Christ are raised to meet Him in the air as He comes here to rule Acts 1 No near miss.
  2. Absolutely! Jesus first phrase in (John 11:25) “I AM” the resurrection and the “LIFE.” When we are going through trials and tribulations in our lives that may seem overwhelming, just like Mary and Martha we can also call on the name of Jesus. When we confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead we “Will” be saved (Romans 10:9). This is an assurance that He gave to us; not everything comes as soon as we expect, but that’s where our strength of character and faith steps in.
  3. Thank you, Eli. I have recently worked through this chapter in the studies I am doing of Structural and Semantic Analysis of the Gospel of JOHN. You have hit the nail on the head. Jesus wanted to make sure that a return of the soul to Lazarus was past due, so that he could do only what the Creator God could do. This was the most loving act he could do for his friends!
  4. Thank you very much for your fine information and insight. However, it begs another question...Given all you said about Lazarus, death, souls hovering, etc...why was Jesus raised on the THIRD day and thus a paradigm shift from Lazarus, who was really dead, to Jesus' Talmudic "hovering" or Hosea's "..on the third day he will raise us up". Perhaps it's asking too much of the text to have inner consistency between the two events. Perhaps it's "apples & oranges", and yet the third of Jesus would question whether Jesus really "descended to the dead", i.e died. Blessings!
    • I was wondering that same thing. Actually though, in just this moment as I am writing this-I recall the verse that says God would not leave Jesus's body to decay. (Psalm 16:10) If the thought of Jewish mindset was that a person is decaying after day 4 then this verse seems to make more sense. He would be risen before the body starts to decay on day 4.

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  5. So resurrection was possible in Jewish culture within 3 days. Explain this to me ,pls. So does this mean that it would have been normal everyday stuff to come out of the grave after 3 days? Was resurrection expected? So, on the fourth day, only God could have resurrected!?
    • Hi Lydia. I don't think resurrection was every considered "normal every day stuff." But that said, the 3 day delay made it clear (from a human perspective) that it wasn't going to happen.
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with Exodus and The New Testament or Jewish Insights Into Scripture I. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
  6. Wow. That is important. I grew up hearing that it was because Jesus wanted to make sure he was really dead. I was taught that Jesus wanted to make sure bodily decomposition had set in, but your insight makes that argument even more understandable now. Waiting till the fourth day is important to understand. Thank you. Very helpful.
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