“Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for He has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard Me. I knew that you always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”” (John 11:38–44, ESV)
Hosea wrote about the judgment of Israel, how they were afflicted in numerous ways because of their rebellion. But he also wrote about the redemption that was to come to this people and this nation. Paul quoted Hosea in 1 Corinthians 15, which is an entire chapter on the resurrection. He wrote in verses 53-57, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:53–57, ESV)
In the middle of this incredible statement regarding the power of death being removed through being given life and immortality as we pass from death to life, He used the words of Hosea, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” These people had gathered to mourn the loss of Lazarus, and for most of them all they saw was the power of death. For them Lazarus had lost the battle for life to death through illness. To them death had won. But Jesus knew different. He was about to show them in a very visible and tangible way that death did not have to be the winner. There is victory over death. Though the religious elite had argued over the reality of a resurrection, and Martha had proclaimed her belief in the resurrection, none of them could really comprehend just how real and present the power of the resurrection really was. Even as Jesus had spoken of His own leaving, none of them grasped yet what it was He was talking about.
Jesus still being moved by the intensity of the situation approached Lazarus’ tomb, and rather than kneeling with them outside to the tomb to join in their mourning and continued weeping Jesus took action. He said, “Take away the stone.” This was an unheard of thing. Lazarus was dead, and as Martha said everyone and else knew the process of death had begun its decay. Four days later they knew that Lazarus was in no condition to be seen. The stench of his rotting would be overwhelming. None of them had the desire to move away the stone and open the cave for the reality of death to fill their senses.
It was in response to this that Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Did He not tell them that He was going to show them so amazing that they would know that it could be from none other than God Himself? Had He not told them that what He was about to do before them would loudly declare the glory of God? Jesus had told His disciples when they questioned His deciding to go see Lazarus after his death, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14–15, ESV) Jesus asked Martha if she believed in John 11:26. Having reminded them of His words that they would see the glory of God, He was now ready to do the most amazing thing ever seen by man.
But before doing this, and in front of all who gathered, Jesus prayed. All along Jesus had said that He did not come to be glorified in His works, but to bring glory to the Father such that they knew He truly was sent by the Father to do the will of the Father. And even now as we read His prayer we see this clearly forefront in His mind. He prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard Me. I knew that you always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent Me.” Before doing this last and most amazing work, Jesus prayed with the full assurance that He was heard as He always was heart from the beginning and because of that He could pray with confidence knowing that the request He made would be answered. He even said in His prayer that the reason for praying this way was not to bolster up His own faith, but rather to demonstrate to others the reality that He indeed was sent by the Father. Just before doing what He was going to do, He took the time to point people to the One who sent Him to do it.
Having now prayed, Jesus said in a very loud voice—a voice that clearly would be heard by all and even shake (I imagine) the foundations of all that existed—“Lazarus, come forth.” (John 11:43, NAS95) He did not need to be so loud for Lazarus to respond, but with this great act Jesus demonstrated in an unquestionable way the greatest authority—the power over death. Death would have no hold on Lazarus and would not prevent God from giving life to whomever He chose.
Again, imagine the scene…. The next thing the people saw was a man bound in burial linens walked out of the tomb. Bound hand and foot, his face wrapped like the images we see of mummies in our movies, Lazarus comes out of the tomb—ALIVE. He was not the image of the walking dead. No. He was one was dead who is now alive. Death no longer had a hold on him. To this Jesus said, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
I love these last words—“Unbind him, and let him go.” When God gives life there is no power which can restrain anyone. When we are set free we are free indeed. Back in chapter 8, Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36, ESV) Just as Jesus had demonstrated to this gathered crowd the power of God to set people free from death, we know that all who have placed their trust in Him likewise have been set free from the power of death and firmly placed into life.
This miracle was the last one recorded that Jesus was to demonstrate prior to His own death, burial, and resurrection.