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April 5, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

Sometime between December of the year 29 AD and April of 30 AD Jesus performs his seventh sign in the raising of his friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, from death.  Jesus attends the Hanukkah celebrations in December of 29 in Jerusalem, but rather than return to Galilee following the feast he retreats across the Jordan to Perea, the territory of Herod Antipas.

It should be noted that the family of Lazarus was relatively wealthy.  The father was Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6), but he was evidently deceased prior to the ministry of Jesus.  Mary and Martha entertained Jesus and his Disciples whenever they were in Jerusalem which would require a sizable home.  They also had a private family tomb on their property which was likely surrounded by a garden.  I have visited the tomb many times, and the chapel which marks the residence of the family.

When Lazarus took ill the sisters sent for Jesus.  We are not sure exactly where Jesus was, but it must have been near the fords of the Jordan near where the river meets the Dead Sea.  This is where John the Baptist had his ministry and it would have been some 15 or 20 miles from Bethany.  The two day delay of Jesus in starting out for Bethany was clearly deliberate.  It was not that he wanted to cause anxiety and suffering for his dear friends.  This would be the last sign he would perform prior to his entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  He needed it to be decisive.  By the time he reached Bethany Lazarus was in the tomb for four days and the body had begun to decay.

The tomb had been sealed with a large stone which Jesus ordered removed.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Lazarus was dead.  Jesus called him by name and the dead came out from the tomb.

The purpose of this seventh sign is clearly indicated in the prayer of Jesus just prior to calling Lazarus forth: “That they may believe that you sent me.”  During his ministry Jesus was reluctant to announce clearly that he was the Messiah, the Anointed one of God, the successor to Moses, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the one who was ordained of God to assume the crown of David and bring the salvation of God to Israel and the nations.  His own people had only an earthly concept of the Messiah’s role.  They expected Messiah to deliver them from Roman dominance.   The mission of Jesus as the Lamb of God who is sacrificed for the sins of the world needed to be taught to his disciples.  They needed to be prepared for what lay ahead.  However, the time had come.  The victory over sin and death was now brought into focus, even though it is doubtful that there was any clear comprehension as yet.  That would have to wait until after his own resurrection.

The effect of this sign was immediate.  The home of Simon the Leper was not unknown to the leadership in Jerusalem.  This was a prominent family.  The news of Lazarus’ being brought back to life by Jesus spread like wildfire.  Many believed.  The priests and those in the power structure of Jerusalem decided that Jesus needed to be killed.  Their position with Rome depended on it.  Rome would not allow any threat to their authority.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs