by Dr. Jerald C. Joersz
In John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from death. Did Lazarus die a second time? Do the Scriptures answer this question?
Only the Gospel of John gives us any information about Lazarus, including brief mention of him after Jesus raised him from death. In chapter 12, John tells us that after his resurrection Lazarus was living in Bethany (12:1). He was present at a dinner there given to honor Jesus and was among those “reclining with Him [Jesus] at table” (12:2 ESV). When the Jews heard that Jesus was there, they came to see Him, but “also to see Lazarus.” In fact, they were making plans, not only to kill Jesus, but “to put Lazarus to death as well” (12:10). This is the last we hear of Lazarus in the Bible, but it appears that he returned to the kind of life that he had before as a mortal human being.
Two important considerations need to be kept in mind when seeking an answer to the question.
First, the resurrection of Jesus—whom the Scriptures call “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20; cf. v. 23)—was of an entirely different order than what we see in the case of Lazarus. St. Paul writes in Philippians 3 that when Jesus comes and raises us from the grave, He “will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:21). On the day of resurrection believers will receive bodies like the resurrected and glorious body of Jesus. They will be bodies radically and wonderfully different from the natural bodies they now possess (1 Cor. 15:38–49), imperishable bodies suitable for life in heaven. Even Lazarus had yet to experience this powerful transformation guaranteed by Christ’s resurrection.
Second, we must bear in mind the significance of miracles in John’s Gospel. John speaks of Jesus’ miracles as “signs,” indicating that His powerful acts signify deeper realities. They are, so to speak, “signposts” of who Jesus is and what is to come. John tells us that he is reporting the “signs” that Jesus performed “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Lazarus’s resurrection, a climactic miracle in Jesus’ ministry, manifested His glory (John 11:40) and pointed to what He will do in the future.
One can imagine that Lazarus found hope and comfort in what happened to him when Jesus came to his grave. We, too, can have this hope and consolation as we look forward to the day of our resurrection.
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About the Author: Until his retirement, Dr. Jerald C. Joersz was an associate executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations.