The Lord’s Command (John 11:38-44)

By Andrew E. Courtis

After the news came concerning Lazarus, John 11 records three actions shown by Jesus in the midst of this situation. Firstly, He showed His disciples that He is in control. This was designed to strengthen their faith. Secondly, He showed Mary and Mary (the grieving sisters of Lazarus) that He cares. In this final message, He shows everyone His authoritative command. In this message will examine the miracle itself (the climax of this whole chapter) and then the message it presents.

1. THE MIRACLE
As Jesus comes to the tomb where Lazarus was laid, John records that Jesus was “deeply moved again” (11:38). Again we see the internal sorrow that Jesus experienced. In addition to this being genuine sadness for the death of Lazarus, and the horror of death. As He stood before the tomb, Jesus knew that what He was about to do was going to be the final spark that ignites the burning fury of the religious leaders that will lead to His crucifixion. We are only days away from this event.

As He stood before the tomb, Jesus ordered that the stone be taken away. Though this was a simple command, Martha objected, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (11:39). Here Martha shows her fluctuating emotions. Certainly though, if there is not to be a miracle she is absolutely right. Listen to the powerful response that Jesus gives her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (11:40). Jesus reminds her that no matter what happens, He is to be trusted because He will always to that which brings God glory. After the stone was removed Jesus 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” (11:41-42).

Listening to a fellow brother or sister in the Lord pray with sincerity and adoration to the Lord is a tremendous blessing. That is one of the things I love about being a part of prayer meetings. To hear the prayer of a recent convert or someone that has walked with the Lord for many years is a wonderful experience.  As wonderful as that can be, no prayer can even begin to be compared to the prayers of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Master of Prayer. Reading the prayers that Jesus prayed to the Father are amazing and always insightful. Prayer was a constant part of His earthly ministry (Luke 3:21; 5:15; 6:12-13; 9:18; 9:28-29; 10:21; 22:31-32; 23:34; 24:30; 24:50-51) and even now as He is seated at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34; Heb.7:25; 1 John 2:1). In His prayers He demonstrates a concern for the glory of God and the purpose of God being fulfilled.

In this prayer He reveals the purpose behind this miracle, “that they may believe that you sent me” (11:42).

Now imagine you were there. This scene would be feeling quite incredible. People are crying, the stone has been removed, Jesus has just prayed and He is standing right in front of the tomb. I can picture the silence and the anticipation. Jesus then cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out”. It has been said by many, that it is important Jesus used Lazarus’ name, because then all who were in the tomb would have come out! After Jesus issued this authoritative command, we read,

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” (11:43-44).

After the powerful voice of Jesus was heard, Lazarus dressed like a mummy comes hopping out of the tomb. The crowd would have been amazed, and image the faces of Mary and Martha. This command of the Lord reveals His great authority and power. There are many religions out there and people worship various gods and prophets. Let us be clear, none of them are truly God. They are either individuals who were once alive and are now dead, or they are fictional characters. Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God and He has Divine authority. 

So then, there is the miracle. That was incredible! What does this teach us?

2. THE MESSAGE
This is simply a mere shadow of what will one day occur in the future. The time is coming when the Lord Jesus Christ will issue out an authoritative command and all who have died will be raised up to be judged. This is an incredible thought. This will occur because the Father “has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27). This is an allusion to Daniel 7, where we read about Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days (God the Father) seated with power and authority (Dan. 7:9-10). In this vision Daniel also sees “one like a son of man” (The Lord Jesus Christ) approach the Ancient of Days and is given dominion, glory and a kingdom that is everlasting and expands over all the earth (Dan. 7:13-14; cf. Dan. 2:35, 44-45). This is why Jesus says this, namely because it has always been the Father’s intention to grant this authority of judgment to the Son.

Jesus continued by saying, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (5:28-29). The reality behind what we read in verses 28-29 is amazing. Every single person in history will one day be raised up and will stand before God. With authority and power, the Lord Jesus Christ will speak and the dead will be raised. Note that Jesus speaks of two different kinds of resurrection – “the resurrection of life” and “the resurrection of judgment”. The first is in reference to believers and the second to unbelievers. Back in the book of Daniel we read, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

The Resurrection of Life

This future event is something the people of God for centuries have anticipated. Concerning the resurrection of life the apostle Paul wrote,

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52)

The bodies we have right now cannot enter the eternal kingdom. We certainly should look after our physical bodies, but remember, no amount of diets or exercise will make your physical body able to enter glory. The corrupt cannot inherit the incorrupt. If our bodies are going to go there, we are in need of a complete change. In these two verses, Paul reveals four things about this future event: (1) it is certain. “Behold, I tell you a mystery …”. This means that it is not wishful thinking. (2) The Duration. Sometimes we are in a hurry because we need to be at a certain destination. Added to the stress is that we need to get changed. When Paul says this will take place “in a moment” means that it is instantaneous. (3) It’s timing “at the last trumpet” the return of the Lord Jesus Christ will descend from Heaven. (4) Its Result. He concludes, “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed”.

In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul wrote,

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17)

This will be a spectacular event. At the return of Jesus Christ His people will be changed instantly. They will receive resurrected bodies and will be fitted out to enjoy the eternal kingdom of their Lord.

The Resurrection of Judgment

Concerning the resurrection of judgment John in the book of Revelation writes,

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).

In contrast to what we just considered, this will be a sad event. Every unbeliever who ever existed will one day face the Creator and He will issue judgment. Not one of their sins will be forgotten and He will provide a just sentence that we all deserve. In this passage we see three things: The Sovereign Judge (20:11), the sinful crowd (20:12a), and the sentence given (20:12b-15).

Jesus said it plainly, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). When He says “those who have done good” and “those who have done evil” it is important to understand that those actions are not the basis of their condition. Rather, they are the evidence of their condition. That is to say, good works don’t save, but they do evidence one’s salvation.

What is it that determines which resurrection you will be a part of? The answer is spiritual resurrection. Because of sin, all people are spiritually dead and are therefore unable to save themselves (cf. Eph. 2:1). The only way in which a sinner in the condition of spiritual death is able to experience spiritual life is if the Lord raises him up. It is essential that the Lord create spiritual life within the individual so that they may believe. As sinners, we laid in the sepulcher of sin unable to please God, for we were spiritually dead. The only thing in us that could reach God was the stench of our sin! No amount of actions, rituals, or strivings we ever did could find favor with God. Then suddenly, by the grace of God, Christ called for us to come forth.

Just like Lazarus, we also were dead, but our death was spiritual. In the call of salvation the Lord Jesus Christ issued the command and we were raised up to newness of life.