Why did Jesus Wait?
This post is a Bible study of John 11:1-44 exploring the question of “Why did Jesus wait 2-days before going to resurrect Lazarus?” It reviews the narrative in John 11 and discusses Christ’s interactions with His disciples, Martha and Mary. This study also explains what Jesus accomplished by waiting to resurrect Lazarus.
John 11:1-3 tells of a time near the end of Christ’s earthly ministry when Mary and Martha sent to Jesus, telling Him that their brother Lazarus was sick. Do you remember how Jesus responded to that news?
Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was. (John 11:5-6)
The Bible specifically tells us that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. So when He learned that Lazarus was sick, you might have expected Jesus to hurry to Bethany to heal Lazarus. But that is not what He did. Instead, because He loved them, Jesus waited. He stayed where He was for another two days. Has this ever struck you as strange?
Why did Jesus Wait Two Days before going to Lazarus?
Two Clues as to Why Jesus Waited
The First Clue to Why Jesus Waited
Our first clue is found in John 11:4. When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” This passage shows that Jesus knew God’s plan. This illness would not leave Lazarus dead. It would be used to glorify Jesus as God’s Son instead.
The Second Clue to Why Jesus Waited
The second clue is found in John 11:17. Jesus only waited two days, but when He arrived, Lazarus had already been in the grave four days. So, even if Jesus had left immediately, Lazarus would have been dead for two days by the time He got there.
Jesus waited so His disciples would believe
John 11:11-15 demonstrates that Jesus already knew that Lazarus was dead and what He would do. In verse 14, Jesus plainly told His disciples that Lazarus was dead. In verse 11, He told them that He was going to wake Lazarus from “sleep.” In John 11:15, Jesus told them that for their sake, He was glad that He was not there to heal Lazarus, so they may believe.
Jesus had already healed the sick, the lame, the blind, and the demon possessed many times. People believed He could prevent the sick from dying.
This was evidenced by the words of Mary and Martha, who both told Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21, 32). This faith was echoed by some of the Jews there who said, “Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?” (John 11:37)
Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died
Christ’s time on earth was growing short. The Passover when He would die was drawing nigh (John 11:55). His disciples needed to see His power over death and the grave before He was crucified, so they would believe His resurrection when He rose from the dead and left His tomb.
Jesus had raised the dead at least twice before. Mark 5:35-42 and Luke 8:49-55 both tell of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from her death-bed. Luke 7:11-15 records Jesus interrupting a funeral outside the city of Nain when He raised a widow’s only son from the dead.
The other resurrections had occurred right away, before the bodies had time to decay. The raising of Lazarus would be different, and apparently two days was insufficient delay. So, Lazarus had been dead 4-days when Jesus said to roll the stone away.
This was so extraordinary that even Lazarus’ sister Martha objected even though Jesus had told Martha that her brother would rise again (John 11:23). Jesus had said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
Then Jesus had asked her, “believest thou this?“ And Martha had professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah, saying, “Yea, Lord: I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God” (John 11:27).
How about you dear reader? Do you believe?
Despite her previous profession of faith, Martha now objected when Jesus said to roll the stone away, saying, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days” (John 11:39). Jesus reminded her of what He had said before, “if you believe, you will see the glory of God” (John 11:40).
Jesus raised Lazarus 4-days after he died
Jesus prayed to His Father and called Lazarus to come out. Lazarus, who had been dead four days, then walked out from his grave. Many who saw the glory of God in Christ’s raising Lazarus from the dead then believed in Jesus as the Son of God (John 11:41-45).
This miracle upset the chief priests and Pharisees. They recognized that Jesus was performing many signs, and that concerned them. They were afraid that if they let Him continue, everyone would believe in Him. So they plotted to kill Jesus, saying He “should die for the people.” (John 11:46-53)
The chief priests and Pharisees could not diminish the power of this miracle though. The resurrection of Lazarus continued to draw people to Jesus. “But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (John 12:10-11).
What Did Jesus Waiting Accomplish?
- It brought glory to God the Father, and Jesus His Son (John 11:41-42)
- It demonstrated that Jesus has power over death and the grave. It proved that He really is the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25-26)
- It increased the Faith of His disciples. Jesus can do more than just prevent the sick from dying. This proved He can give life back to the dead.
- It drew more people to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (John 11:45; 12:9-11)
- It prepared people to believe in the resurrection of Christ. Jesus would rise on the third day, but Lazarus was raised after being dead four days.
- It ignited the decision of the chief priests and Pharisees to kill Jesus in fulfillment of the scriptures and God’s plan. (John 11:53)
Application for us in Christ’s Waiting
When we have a problem, we want God’s help right away. Like Mary and Martha we may express disappointment and despair if God delays. But God knows our need and He cares for us. We need to trust in Him even when we do not understand His plan.
The next time you are tempted to ask God, “Why?” Remember His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). There is a reason; there may be many.
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