From listening to the teaching of Christ, we turn once more to follow His working. It will be remembered, that the visit to Bethany divides the period from the Feast of the Dedication to the last Paschal week into two parts. It also forms the prelude and preparation for the awful events of the End. For, it was on that occasion that the members of the Sanhedrin formally resolved on His Death. It now only remained to settle and carry out the plans for giving effect to their purpose.
This is one aspect of it. There is yet another and more solemn one. The raising of Lazarus marks the highest point (not in the Manifestation, but) in the ministry of our Lord; it is the climax in a history where all is miraculous – the Person, the Life, the Words, the Work. As regards Himself, we have here the fullest evidence alike of His Divinity and Humanity; as regards those who witnessed it, the highest manifestation of faith and of unbelief. Here, on this height, the two ways finally meet and part. And from this high point – not only from the resolution of the Sanhedrists, but from the raising of Lazarus – we have our first clear outlook on the Death and Resurrection of Christ, of which the raising of Lazarus was the typical prelude. From this height, also, have we an outlook upon the gathering of the Church at His empty Tomb, where the precious words spoken at the grave of Lazarus received their full meaning – till Death shall be no more. But chiefly do we now think of it as the Miracle of Miracles in the history of the Christ. He had, indeed, before this raised the dead; but it had been in far-off Galilee, and in circumstances essentially different. But now it would be one so well known as Lazarus, at the very gates of Jerusalem, in the sight of all men, and amidst surroundings which admitted not of mistake or doubt. If this Miracle be true, we instinctively feel all is true; and Spinoza was right in saying, that if he could believe the raising of Lazarus, he would tear to shreds his system, and humbly accept the creed of Christians.
But is it true? We have reached a stage in this history when such a question, always most painful, might seem almost uncalled for. For, gradually and with increasing clearness, we have learned the trustworthiness of the Evangelic records; and, as we have followed Him, the conviction has deepened into joyous assurance, that He, Who spake, lived, and wrought as none other, is in very deed the Christ of God. And yet we ask ourselves here this question again, on account of its absolute and infinite importance; because this may be regarded as the highest and decisive moment in this History; because, in truth, it is to the historical faith of the Church what the great Confession of Peter was to that of the disciples. And although such an inquiry may seem like the jarring of a discord in Heaven’s own melody, we pursue it, feeling that, in so doing, we are not discussing what is doubtful, but rather setting forth the evidence of what is certain, for the confirmation of the faith of our hearts, and, as we humbly trust, for the establishment of the faith as it is in Jesus.
At the outset, we must here once more meet, however briefly, the preliminary difficulty in regard to Miracles, of which the raising of Lazarus is, we shall not say, the greatest – for comparison is not possible on such a point – but the most notable. Undoubtedly, a Miracle runs counter, not only to our experience, but to the facts on which our experience is grounded; and can only be accounted for by a direct Divine interposition, which also runs counter to our experience, although it cannot logically be said to run counter to the facts on which that experience is grounded. Beyond this it is impossible to go, since the argument on other grounds than of experience – be it phenomenal [observation and historical information] or real [knowledge of laws and principles] – would necessitate knowledge alike of all the laws of Nature and of all the secrets of Heaven.
On the other hand (as indicated in a previous part), to argue this point only on the ground of experience (phenomenal or real), were not only reasoning á priori, but in a vicious circle. It would really amount to this: A thing has not been, because it cannot be; and it cannot be, because, so far as I know, it is not and has not been. But, to deny on such (á priori prejudgment the possibility of Miracles, ultimately involves a denial of a Living, Reigning God. For, the existence of a God implies at least the possibility, in certain circumstances it may be the rational necessity, of Miracles. And the same grounds of experience, which tell against the occurrence of a Miracle, would equally apply against belief in a God. We have as little ground in experience (of a physical kind) for the one as for the other. This is not said to deter inquiry, but for the sake of our argument. For, we confidently assert and challenge experiment of it, that disbelief in a God, or Materialism, involves infinitely more difficulties, and that at every step and in regard to all things, than the faith of the Christian.
But we instinctively feel that such a Miracle as the raising of Lazarus calls for more than merely logical formulas. Heart and mind crave for higher than questions of what may be logically possible or impossible. We want, so to speak, living evidence, and we have it. We have it, first of all, in the Person of the Incarnate God, Who not only came to abolish death, but in Whose Presence the continuance of disease and death was impossible. And we have it also in the narrative of the event itself. It were, indeed, an absurd demand to prove a Miracle, since to do so were to show that it was not a Miracle. But we may be rationally asked these three things: first, to show, that no other explanation is rationally possible than that which proceeds on the ground of its being a Miracle; secondly, to show, that such a view of it is consistent with itself and with all the details of the narrative; and, thirdly, that it is harmonious with what precedes and what follows the narrative. The second and third of these arguments will be the outcome of our later study of the history of this event; the first, that no other explanation of the narrative is rationally possible, must now be briefly attempted.
We may here dismiss, as what would not be entertained by any one familiar with historical inquiries, the idea that such a narrative could be an absolute invention, ungrounded on any fact. Again, we may put aside as repugnant to, at least English, common sense, the theory that the narrative is consistent with the idea that Lazarus was not really dead (so, the Rationalists). Nor would any one, who had the faintest sympathy with the moral standpoint of the Gospels, entertain the view of M. Renan, that it was all a ‘pious fraud’ concocted between all parties, and that, in order to convert Jerusalem by a signal miracle, Lazarus had himself dressed up as a dead body and laid in the family tomb. Scarcely more rational is M. Renan’s latest suggestion, that it was all a misunderstanding: Martha and Mary having told Jesus the wish of friends, that He should do some notable miracle to convince the Jews, and suggesting that they would believe if one rose from the dead, when He had replied, that they would not believe even if Lazarus rose from his grave – and that tradition had transformed this conversation into an actual event! Nor, finally, would English common sense readily believe (with Baur), that the whole narrative was an ideal composition to illustrate what must be regarded as the metaphysical statement: ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life.’ Among ourselves, at least, no serious refutation of these and similar views can be necessary.
Nor do the other theories advanced require lengthened discussion. The mythical explanation of Strauss is, that as the Old Testament had recorded instances of raising from the dead, so Christian tradition must needs ascribe the same to the Messiah. To this (without repeating the detailed refutation made by Renan and Baur), it is sufficient to reply: The previous history of Christ had already offered such instances, why needlessly multiply them? Besides, if it had been ‘a legend,’ such full and minute details would not have been introduced, and while the human element would have been suppressed, the miraculous would have been far more accentuated. Only one other theory on the subject requires notice: that the writer of the Fourth Gospel, or rather early tradition, had transformed the Parable of Dives and Lazarus into an actual event. In answer, it is sufficient to say: first, that (as previously shown) there is no connection between the Lazarus of the Parable and him of Bethany; secondly, that, if it had been a Parable transformed, the characters chosen would not have been real persons, and that they were such is evident from the mention of the family in different circumstances in the three Synoptic Gospels, of which the writer of the Fourth Gospel was fully aware. Lastly, as Godet remarks, whereas the Parable closes by declaring that the Jews would not believe even if one rose from the dead, the Narrative closes on this wise: ‘Many therefore of the Jews, which came to Mary and beheld that which He did, believed on Him.’
In view of these proposed explanations, we appeal to the impartial reader, whether any of them rationally accounts for the origin and existence of this history in Apostolic tradition? On the other hand, everything is clear and consistent on the supposition of the historical truth of this narrative: the minuteness of details; the vividness and pictorialness of the narrative: the characteristic manner in which Thomas, Martha, and Mary speak and act, in accordance with what we read of them in the other Gospels or in other parts of this Gospel; the Human affection of the Christ; the sublime simplicity and majesty of the manner of the Miracle; and the effects of it on friend and foe. There is, indeed, this one difficulty (not objection), that the event is not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. But we know too little of the plan on which the Gospels, viewed as Lives of Christ, were constructed, to allow us to draw any sufficient inference from the silence of the Synoptists, whilst we do know that the Judaean and Jerusalem Ministry of Christ, except so far as it was absolutely necessary to refer to it, lay outside the plan of the Synoptic Gospels, and formed the special subject of that by John. Lastly, we should remember, that in the then state of thought the introduction of another narrative of raising from the dead could not have seemed to them of such importance as it appears to us in the present state of controversy – more especially, since it was soon to be followed by another Resurrection, the importance and evidential value of which far overshadowed such an event as the raising of Lazarus. Their Galilean readers had the story of the raising of the widow’s son at Nain, and of Jairus’ daughter at Capernaum; and the Roman world had not only all this, but the preaching of the Resurrection, and of pardon and life in the Name of the Risen One, together with ocular demonstration of the miraculous power of those who preached it. It remained for the beloved disciple, who alone stood under the Cross, alone to stand on that height from which he had first full and intense outlook upon His Death, and the Life which sprang from it, and flowed into all the world.
We may now, undisturbed by preliminary objections, surrender ourselves to the sublimeness and solemnity of this narrative. Perhaps the more briefly we comment on it the better.
It was while in Peraea, that this message suddenly reached the Master from the well-remembered home at Bethany, ‘the village of Mary’ – who, although the younger, is for obvious reasons first mentioned in this history; – ‘and her sister Martha,’ concerning their (younger) brother Lazarus: ‘Lord, behold he whom Thou lovest is sick!’ They are apparently the very words which ‘the sisters’ bade their messenger tell. We note as an important fact to be stored in our memory, that the Lazarus, who had not even been mentioned in the only account preserved to us of a previous visit of Christ to Bethany, is described as ‘he whom Christ loved.’ What a gap of untold events between the two visits of Christ to Bethany – and what modesty should it teach us as regards inferences from the circumstance that certain events are not recorded in the Gospels! The messenger was apparently dismissed by Christ with this reply: ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, in order that the Son of God may be glorified thereby.’ We must here bear in mind, that this answer was heard by such of the Apostles as were present at the time. They would naturally infer from it that Lazarus would not die, and that his restoration would glorify Christ, either as having foretold it, or prayed for it, or effected it by His Will. Yet its true meaning – even, as we now see, its literal interpretation, was, that its final upshot was not to be the death of Lazarus, but that it was to be for the glory of God, in order that Christ as the Son of God might be made manifest. And we learn, how much more full are the Words of Christ than they often appear to us; and how truly, and even literally, they may bear quite another meaning than appears to our honest misapprehension of them – a meaning which only the event, the future, will disclose.
And yet, probably at the very time when the messenger received his answer, and ere he could have brought it to the sisters, Lazarus was already dead! Nor – and this should be especially marked – did this awaken doubt in the minds of the sisters. We seem to hear the very words which at the time they said to each other when each of them afterwards repeated it to the Lord: ‘Lord, if Then hadst been here, my brother would not have died.’ They probably thought the message had reached Him too late, that Lazarus would have lived if Christ had been appealed to in time, or had been able to come – at any rate, if He had been there. Even in their keenest anguish, there was no failure of trust, no doubt, no close weighing of words on their part – only the confidence of love. Yet all this while Christ knew that Lazarus had died, and still He continued two whole days where He was, finishing His work. And yet – and this is significantly noted before anything else, alike in regard to His delay and to His after-conduct – He ‘loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.’ Had there been no after-history, or had it not been known to us, or before it became known, it might have seemed otherwise – and in similar circumstances it often does seem otherwise to us. And again, what majestic calm, what Self-restraint of Human affections and sublime consciousness of Divine Power in this delay: it is once more Christ asleep, while the disciples are despairing, in the bark almost swamped in the storm ‘Christ is never in haste: least of all, on His errands of love. And He is never in haste, because He is always sure.
It was only after these two days that Christ broke silence as to His purposes and as to Lazarus. Though thoughts of him must have been present with the disciples, none dared ask aught, although not from misgiving, nor yet from fear. This also of faith and of confidence. At last, when His work in that part had been completed, He spoke of leaving, but even so not of going to Bethany, but into Judaea. For, in truth, His work in Bethany was not only geographically, but really, part of His work in Judaea; and He told the disciples of His purpose, just because He knew their fears and would teach them, not only for this but for every future occasion, what principle applied to them. For when, in their care and affection, they reminded the ‘Rabbi’ – and the expression here almost jars on us – that the Jews ‘were even now seeking to stone’ Him, He replied by telling them, in figurative language, that we have each our working day from God, and that while it lasts no foe can shorten it or break up our work. The day had twelve hours, and while these lasted no mishap would befall him that walked in the way [he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world]. It was otherwise when the day was past and the night had come. When our God-given day has set, and with it the light been withdrawn which hitherto prevented our stumbling – then, if a man went in his own way and at his own time, might such mishap befall him, ‘because,’ figuratively as to light in the night-time, and really as to guidance and direction in the way, ‘the light is not in him.’
But this was only part of what Jesus said to His disciples in preparation for a journey that would issue in such tremendous consequences. He next spoke of Lazarus, their ‘friend,’ as ‘fallen asleep’ – in the frequent Jewish (as well as Christian) figurative sense of it, and of His going there to wake him out of sleep. The disciples would naturally connect this mention of His going to Lazarus with His proposed visit to Judaea, and, in their eagerness to keep Him from the latter, interposed that there could be no need for going to Lazarus, since sleep was, according to Jewish notions, one of the six, or, according to others, five symptoms or crises in recovery from dangerous illness. And when the Lord then plainly stated it, ‘Lazarus died,’ adding, what should have aroused their attention, that for their sakes He was glad He had not been in Bethany before the event, because now that would come which would work faith in them, and proposed to go to the dead Lazarus – even then, their whole attention was so absorbed by the certainty of danger to their loved Teacher, that Thomas had only one thought: since it was to be so, let them go and die with Jesus. So little had they understood the figurative language about the twelve hours on which God’s sun shone to light us on our way so much did they need the lesson of faith to be taught them in the raising of Lazarus!
We already know the quiet happy home of Bethany. When Jesus reached it, ‘He found’ – probably from those who met Him by the way – that Lazarus had been already four days in the grave. According to custom, he would be buried the same day that he had died. Supposing his death to have taken place when the message for help was first delivered, while Jesus continued after that two whole days in the place where He was, this would leave about a day for His journey from Peraea to Bethany. We do not, indeed, know the exact place of His stay; but it must have been some well-known centre of activity in Peraea, since the sisters of Bethany had no difficulty in sending their messenger. At the same time we also infer that, at least at this period, some kind of communication must have existed between Christ and His more intimate disciples and friends – such as the family of Bethany – by which they were kept informed of the general plan of His Mission-journeys, and of any central station of His temporary sojourn. If Christ at that time occupied such a central station, we can the more readily understand how some of His Galilean disciples may, for a brief space, have been absent at their Galilean homes when the tidings about Lazarus arrived. Their absence may explain the prominent position taken by Thomas; perhaps, also, in part, the omission of this narrative from the Synoptic Gospels. One other point may be of interest. Supposing the journey to Bethany to have occupied a day, we would suggest the following as the order of events. The messenger of the Sisters left Bethany on the Sunday (it could not have been on the Sabbath), and reached Jesus on the Monday. Christ continued in Peraea other two days, till Wednesday, and arrived at Bethany on Thursday. On Friday the meeting of the Sanhedrists against Christ took place, while He rested in Bethany on the Friday, and, of course, on the Sabbath, and returned to Peraea and ‘Ephraim’ on the Sunday.
This may be a convenient place for adding to the account already given, in connection with the burying of the widow’s son at Nain, such further particulars of the Jewish observances and rites, as may illustrate the present history. Referring to the previous description, we resume, in imagination, our attendance at the point where Christ met the bier at Nain and again gave life to the dead. But we remember that, as we are now in Judaea, the hired mourners – both mourning-men (for there were such) and mourning-women – would follow, and not, as in Galilee, precede, the body. From the narrative we infer that the burial of Lazarus did not take place in a common burying-ground, which was never nearer a town than 50 cubits, dry and rocky places being chosen in preference. Here the graves must be at least a foot and a half apart. It was deemed a dishonour to the dead to stand on, or walk over, the turf of a grave. Roses and other flowers seem to have been planted on graves. But cemeteries, or common burying-places, appear in earliest times to have been used only for the poor, or for strangers. In Jerusalem there were also two places where executed criminals were buried. All these, it is needless to say, were outside the City. But there is abundant evidence, that every place had not its own burying-ground; and that, not unfrequently, provision had to be made for the transport of bodies. Indeed, a burying-place is not mentioned among the ten requisites for every fully-organised Jewish community. The names given, both to the graves and to the burying-place itself, are of interest. As regards the former, we mention such as ‘the house of silence;’ ‘the house of stone;’ ‘the hostelry,’ or, literally, ‘place where you spend the night;’ ‘the couch;’ ‘the resting-place;’ ‘the valley of the multitude,’ or ‘of the dead.’ The cemetery was called ‘the house of graves;’ or ‘the court of burying;’ and ‘the house of eternity.’ By a euphemism, ‘to die’ was designated as ‘going to rest’ ‘been completed;’ ‘being gathered to the world’ or ‘to the home of light;’ ‘being withdrawn,’ or ‘hidden.’ Burial without coffin seems to have continued the practice for a considerable time, and rules are given how a pit, the size of the body, was to be dug, and surrounded by a wall of loose stones to prevent the falling in of earth. When afterwards earth-burials had to be vindicated against the Parsee idea of cremation, Jewish divines more fully discussed the question of burial, and described the committal of the body to the ground as a sort of expiation. It was a curious later practice, that children who had died a few days after birth were circumcised on their graves. Children not a month old were buried without coffin or mourning, and, as some have thought, in a special place. In connection with a recent controversy it is interesting to learn that, for the sake of peace, just as the poor and sick of the Gentiles might be fed and nursed as well as those of the Jews, so their dead might be buried with those of the Jews, though not in their graves. On the other hand, a wicked person should not be buried close to a sage. Suicides were not accorded all the honours of those who had died a natural death, and the bodies of executed criminals were laid in a special place, whence the relatives might after a time remove their bones. The burial terminated by casting earth on the grave.
But, as already stated, Lazarus was, as became his station, not laid in a cemetery, but in his own private tomb in a cave – probably in a garden, the favourite place of interment. Though on terms of close friendship with Jesus, he was evidently not regarded as an apostate from the Synagogue. For, every indignity was shown at the burial of an apostate; people were even to array themselves in white festive garments to make demonstration of joy. Here, on the contrary, as we gather from the sequel, every mark of sympathy, respect, and sorrow had been shown by the people in the district and by friends in the neighbouring Jerusalem. In such case it would be regarded as a privilege to obey the Rabbinic direction of accompanying the dead, so as to show honour to the departed and kindness to the survivors. As the sisters of Bethany were ‘disciples,’ we may well believe that some of the more extravagant demonstrations of grief were, if not dispensed with, yet modified. We can scarcely believe, that the hired ‘mourners’ would alternate between extravagant praises of the dead and calls upon the attendants to lament; or that, as was their wont, they would strike on their breast, beat their hands, and dash about their feet, or break into wails and mourning songs, alone or in chorus. In all probability, however, the funeral oration would be delivered – as in the case of all distinguished persons – either in the house, or at one of the stations where the bearers changed, or at the burying-place; perhaps, if they passed it, in the Synagogue. It has previously been noted, what extravagant value was, in later times, attached to these orations, as indicating both a man’s life on earth and his place in heaven. The dead was supposed to be present, listening to the words of the speaker and watching the expression on the face of the hearers. It would serve no good purpose to reproduce fragments from these orations. Their character is sufficiently indicated by the above remarks.
When thinking of these tombs in gardens, we so naturally revert to that which for three days held the Lord of Life, that all details become deeply interesting. And it is, perhaps, better to give them here rather than afterwards to interrupt, by such inquiries, our solemn thoughts in presence of the Crucified Christ. Not only the rich, but even those moderately well-to-do, had tombs of their own, which probably were acquired and prepared long before they were needed, and treated and inherited as private and personal property. In such caves, or rock-hewn tombs, the bodies were laid, having been anointed with many spices, with myrtle, aloes, and, at a later period, also with hyssop, rose-oil, and rose-water. The body was dressed and, at a later period, wrapped, if possible, in the worn cloths in which originally a Roll of the Law had been held. The ‘tombs’ were either ‘rock-hewn’ or natural ‘caves’ or else large walled vaults, with niches along the sides. Such a ‘cave’ or ‘vault’ of 4 cubits’ (6 feet) width, 6 cubits’ (9 feet) length, and 4 cubits’ (6 feet) height, contained ‘niches’ for eight bodies – three on each of the longitudinal sides, and two at the end opposite the entrance. Each ‘niche’ was 4 cubits (6 feet) long, and had a height of seven and a width of six handbreadths. As these burying ‘niches’ were hollowed out in the walls they were called kukhin. The larger caves or vaults were 6 cubits (9 feet) wide, and 8 cubits (12 feet) long, and held thirteen bodies – four along each side-wall, three opposite to, and one on either side of the entrance. These figures apply, of course, only to what the Law required, when a vault had been contracted for. When a person constructed one for himself, the dimensions of the walls and the number of kukhin might, of course, vary. At the entrance to the vault was ‘a court’ 6 cubits (9 feet) square, to hold the bier and its bearers. Sometimes two ‘caves’ opened on this ‘court.’ But it is difficult to decide whether the second ‘cave,’ spoken of, was intended as an ossary (ossarium). Certain it is, that after a time the bones were collected and put into a box or coffin, having first been anointed with wine and oil, and being held together by wrappings of cloths. This circumstance explains the existence of the mortuary chests, or osteophagi, so frequently found in the tombs of Palestine by late explorers, who have been unable to explain their meaning. This unclearness is much to be regretted, when we read, for example, of such a ‘chest’ as found in a cave near Bethany. One of the explorers has discovered on them fragments of Hebrew inscriptions. Up to the present, only few Hebrew memorial inscriptions have been discovered in Palestine. The most interesting are those in or near Jerusalem, dating from the first century b.c. to the first a.c. There are, also, many inscriptions found on Jewish tombs out of Palestine (in Rome, and other places), written in bad Greek or Latin, containing, perhaps, a Hebrew word, and generally ending with shalom, ‘peace,’ and adorned with Jewish symbols, such as the Seven-branched Candlestick, the Ark, the festive emblems of the Feast of Tabernacles, and others. In general, the advice not to read such inscriptions, as it would affect the sight, seems to imply the common practice of having memorial inscriptions in Hebrew. They appear to have been graven either on the lid of the mortuary chest, or on the golel, or great stone ‘rolled’ at the entrance to the vault, or to the ‘court’ leading into it, or else on the inside walls of yet another erection, made over the vaults of the wealthy, and which was supposed to complete the burying-place, or qeḇer.
These small buildings surmounting the graves may have served as shelter to those who visited the tombs. They also served as monuments,’ of which we read in the Bible, in the Apocrypha, and in Josephus. In Rabbinic writings they are frequently mentioned, chiefly by the name nep̱esh, ‘soul,’ ‘person’ – transferred in the sense of ‘monument,’ or, by the more Scriptural name of bamah, or, by the Greco-Aramaic, or the Hebrew designation for a building generally. But of gravestones with inscriptions we cannot find any record in Talmudic works. At the same time, the place where there was a vault or a grave was marked by a stone, which was kept whitened, to warn the passer-by against defilement.
We are now able fully to realise all the circumstances and surroundings in the burial and raising of Lazarus.
Jesus had come to Bethany. But in the house of mourning they knew it not. As Bethany was only about fifteen furlongs – or about two miles – from Jerusalem, many from the City, who were on terms of friendship with what was evidently a distinguished family, had come in obedience to one of the most binding Rabbinic directions – that of comforting the mourners. In the funeral procession the sexes had been separated, and the practice probably prevailed even at that time for the women to return alone from the grave. This may explain why afterwards the women went and returned alone to the Tomb of our Lord. The mourning, which began before the burial, had been shared by the friends who sat silent on the ground, or were busy preparing the mourning meal. As the company left the dead, each had taken leave of the deceased with a ‘Depart in peace!’ Then they had formed into lines, through which the mourners passed amidst expressions of sympathy, repeated (at least seven times) as the procession halted on the return to the house of mourning. Then began the mourning in the house, which really lasted thirty days, of which the first three were those of greatest, the others, during the seven days, or the special week of sorrow, of less intense mourning. But on the Sabbath as God’s holy day, all mourning was intermitted – and so ‘they rested on the Sabbath, according to the commandment.’
In that household of disciples this mourning would not have assumed such violent forms, as when we read that the women were in the habit of tearing out their hair, or of a Rabbi who publicly scourged himself. But we know how the dead would be spoken of. In death the two worlds were said to meet and kiss. And now they who had passed away beheld God. They were at rest. Such beautiful passages as Psa_112:6, Pro_10:7, Isa_11:10, last clause, and Isa_57:2, were applied to them. Nay, the holy dead should be called ‘living.’ In truth, they knew about us, and unseen still surrounded us. Nor should they ever be mentioned without adding a blessing on their memory.
In this spirit, we cannot doubt, the Jews were now ‘comforting’ the sisters. They may have repeated words like those quoted as the conclusion of such a consolatory speech: May the Lord of consolations (בעל נחמות) comfort you! Blessed be He Who comforteth the mourners!’ But they could scarcely have imagined how literally a wish like this was about to be fulfilled. For, already, the message had reached Martha, who was probably in one of the outer apartments of the house: Jesus is coming! She hastened to meet the Master. Not a word of complaint, not a murmur, nor doubt, escaped her lips – only what during those four bitter days these two sisters must have been so often saying to each other, when the luxury of solitude was allowed them, that if He had been there their brother would not have died. And even now-when it was all too late – when they had not received what they had asked of Him by their messenger, it must have been, because He had not asked it, though he had said that this sickness was not unto death; or else because he had delayed to work it till He would come. And still she held fast by it, that even now God would give Him whatsoever He asked. Or, did they mean more: were they such words of unconscious prophecy, or sight and sound of heavenly things, as sometimes come to us in our passion of grief, or else winged thoughts of faith too soon beyond our vision? They could not have been the expression of any real hope of the miracle about to take place, or Martha would not have afterwards sought to arrest Him, when He bade them roll away the stone. And yet is it not even so, that, when that comes to us which our faith had once dared to suggest, if not to hope, we feel as if it were all too great and impossible – that a very physical ‘cannot be’ separates us from it?
It was in very truth and literality that the Lord meant it, when He told Martha her brother would rise again, although she understood His Words of the Resurrection at the Last Day. In answer, Christ pointed out to her the connection between Himself and the Resurrection; and, what He spoke, that He did when He raised Lazarus from the dead. The Resurrection and the Life are not special gifts either to the Church or to humanity, but are connected with the Christ – the outcome of Himself. The Resurrection of the Just and the General Resurrection are the consequence of the relation in which the Church and humanity in general stand to the Christ. Without the Christ there would have been no Resurrection. Most literally He is the Resurrection and the Life – and this, the new teaching about the Resurrection, was the object and the meaning of the raising of Lazarus. And thus is this raising of Lazarus the outlook, also, upon His own Resurrection, Who is ‘the first-fruits from the dead.’
And though the special, then present, application, or rather manifestation of it, would be in the raising of Lazarus – yet this teaching, that accompanied it, is to ‘all believers:’ ‘He that believeth in Me, even if [though] he die, shall live and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall not die for ever’ (unto the Aeon) – where possibly we might, for commentation, mentally insert the sign of a pause ( – ) between the words ‘die’ and ‘for ever,’ or ‘unto the Aeon.’ It is only when we think of the meaning of Christ’s previous words, as implying that the Resurrection and the Life are the outcome of Himself, and come to us only through Him and in Him, that we can understand the answer of Martha to His question: ‘Believest thou this? Yea, Lord, I have believed that thou art the Christ, the Son of God [with special reference to the original message of Christ], He that cometh into the world [‘the Coming One into the world’ = the world’s promised, expected, come Saviour].
What else passed between them we can only gather from the context. It seems that the Master ‘called’ for Mary. This message Martha now hasted to deliver, although ‘secretly.’ Mary was probably sitting in the chamber of mourning, with its upset chairs and couches, and other melancholy tokens of mourning, as was the custom; surrounded by many who had come to comfort them; herself, we can scarcely doubt, silent, her thoughts far away in that world to, and of which the Master was to her ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’ As she heard of His Coming and call, she rose ‘quickly,’ and the Jews followed her, under the impression that she was again going to visit, and to weep at the tomb of her brother. For, it was the practice to visit the grave, especially during the first three days. When she came to Jesus, where He still stood, outside Bethany, she was forgetful of all around. It was, as if sight of Him melted what had frozen the tide of her feelings. She could only fall at His Feet, and repeat the poor words with which she and her sister had these four weary days tried to cover the nakedness of their sorrow: poor words of consolation, and poor words of faith, which she did not, like her sister, make still poorer by adding the poverty of her hope to that of her faith – the poverty of the future to that of the past and present. To Martha that had been the maximum, to Mary it was the minimum of her faith; for the rest, it was far, far better to add nothing more, but simply to worship at His Feet.
It must have been a deeply touching scene: the outpouring of her sorrow, the absoluteness of her faith, the mute appeal of her tears. And the Jews who witnessed it were moved, as she, and wept with her. What follows is difficult to understand; still more difficult to explain: not only from the choice of language, which is peculiarly difficult, but because its difficulty springs from the yet greater difficulty of expressing what it is intended to describe. The expression, ‘groaned in spirit,’ cannot mean that Christ ‘was moved with indignation in the spirit,’ since this could not have been the consequence of witnessing the tears of Mary and what, we feel sure, was the genuine emotion of the Jews. Of the various interpretations, that commends itself most to us, which would render the expression: ‘He vehemently moved His Spirit and troubled Himself.’ One, whose insight into such questions is peculiarly deep, has reminded us that ‘the miracles of the Lord were not wrought by the simple word of power, but that in a mysterious way the element of sympathy entered into them. He took away the sufferings and diseases of men in some sense by taking them upon Himself.’ If, with this most just view of His Condescension to, and union with, humanity as its Healer, by taking upon Himself its diseases, we combine the statement formerly made about the Resurrection, as not a gift or boon but the outcome of Himself – we may, in some way, not understand, but be able to gaze into, the unfathomed depth of that Theanthropic fellow-suffering which was both vicarious and redemptive, and which, before He became the Resurrection to Lazarus, shook His whole inner Being, when, in the words of John, ‘He vehemently moved His Spirit and troubled Himself.’
And now every trait is in accord. ‘Where have ye laid him?’ So truly human – as if He, Who was about to raise the dead, needed the information where he had been laid; so truly human, also, in the underlying tenderness of the personal address, and in the absorption of the whole Theanthropic energy on the mighty burden about to be lifted and lifted away. So, also, as they bade Him come and see, were the tears that fell from Him (ἐδάκρυσεν), not like the violent lamentation (ἔκλαυσεν) that burst from Him at sight and prophetic view of doomed Jerusalem. Yet we can scarcely think that the Jews rightly interpreted it, when they ascribed it only to His love for Lazarus. But surely there was not a touch either of malevolence or of irony, only what we feel to be quite natural in the circumstances, when some of them asked it aloud: ‘Could not this One, Which opened the eyes of the blind, have wrought so that [in order] this one also should not die?’ Scarcely was it even unbelief. They had so lately witnessed in Jerusalem that Miracle, such as had ‘not been heard’ ‘since the world began;’ that it seemed difficult to understand how, seeing there was the will (in His affection for Lazarus), there was not the power – not to raise him from the dead, for that did not occur to them, but to prevent his dying. Was there, then, a barrier in death? And it was this, and not indignation, which once more caused that Theanthropic recurrence upon Himself, when again ‘He vehemently moved His Spirit.’
And now they were at the cave which was Lazarus’ tomb. He bade them roll aside the great stone which covered its entrance. Amidst the awful pause which preceded obedience, one voice only was raised. It was that of Martha. Jesus had not spoken of raising Lazarus. But what was about to be done? She could scarcely have thought that He merely wished to gaze once more upon the face of the dead. Something nameless had seized her. She dared not believe; she dared not disbelieve. Did she, perhaps, not dread a failure, but feel misgivings, when thinking of Christ as in presence of commencing corruption before these Jews – and yet, as we so often, still love Him even in unbelief? It was the common Jewish idea that corruption commenced on the fourth day, that the drop of gall, which had fallen from the sword of the Angel and caused death, was then working its effect, and that, as the face changed, the soul took its final leave from the resting-place of the body. Only one sentence Jesus spake of gentle reproof, of reminder of what He had said to her just before, and of the message He had sent when first He heard of Lazarus’ illness, but, oh so full of calm majesty and consciousness of divine strength. And now the stone was rolled away. We all feel that the fitting thing here was prayer – yet not petition, but thanksgiving that the Father ‘heard’ Him, not as regarded the raising of Lazarus, which was His Own Work, but in the ordering and arranging of all the circumstances – alike the petition and the thanksgiving having for their object them that stood by, for He knew that the Father always heard Him: that so they might believe, that the Father had sent Him. Sent of the Father – not come of Himself, not sent of Satan – and sent to do His Will!
And in doing this Will, He was the Resurrection and the Life. One loud command spoken into that silence; one loud call to that sleeper; one flash of God’s Own Light into that darkness, and the wheels of life again moved at the outgoing of The Life. And, still bound hand and foot with graveclothes [‘bands,’ takhrikhin], and his face with the napkin, Lazarus stood forth, shuddering and silent, in the cold light of earth’s day. In that multitude, now more pale and shuddering than the man bound in the graveclothes, the Only One majestically calm was He, Who before had been so deeply moved and troubled Himself, as He now bade them ‘Loose him, and let him go.’
We know no more. Holy Writ in this also proves its Divine authorship and the reality of what is here recorded. The momentarily lifted veil has again fallen over the darkness of the Most Holy Place, in which is only the Ark of His Presence and the cloudy incense of our worship. What happened afterwards – how they loosed him, what they said, what thanks, or praise, or worship, the sisters spoke, and what were Lazarus’ first words, we know not. And better so. Did Lazarus remember aught of the late past, or was not rather the rending of the grave a real rending from the past, the awakening so sudden, the transition so great, that nothing of the bright vision remained, but its impress – just as a marvellously beautiful Jewish legend has it, that before entering this world, the soul of a child has seen all of heaven and hell, of past, present, and future; but that, as the Angel strikes it on the mouth to waken it into this world, all of the other has passed from the mind? Again we say: We know not – and it is better so.
And here abruptly breaks off this narrative. Some of those who had seen it believed on Him; others hurried back to Jerusalem to tell it to the Pharisees. Then was hastily gathered a meeting of the Sanhedrists, not to judge Him, but to deliberate what was to be done. That He was really doing these miracles, there could be no question among them. Similarly, all but one or two had no doubt as to the source of these miracles. If real, they were of Satanic agency – and all the more tremendous they were, the more certainly so. But whether really of Satanic power, or merely a Satanic delusion, one thing, at least, was evident, that, if He were let alone, all men would believe on Him? And then, if He headed the Messianic movement of the Jews as a nation, alike the Jewish City and Temple, and Israel as a nation, would perish in the fight with Rome. But what was to be done? They had not the courage of, though the wish for, judicial murder, till he who was the High-Priest, Caiaphas, reminded them of the well-known Jewish adage, that it ‘is better one man should die, than the community perish.’ Yet, even so, he who spoke was the High-Priest; and for the last time, ere in speaking the sentence he spoke it for ever as against himself and the office he held, spake through him God’s Voice, not as regards the counsel of murder, but this, that His Death should be ‘for that nation’ – nay, as John adds, not only for Israel, but to gather into one fold all the now scattered children of God.
This was the last prophecy in Israel; with the sentence of death on Israel’s true High-Priest died prophecy in Israel, died Israel’s High-Priesthood. It had spoken sentence upon itself.
This was the first Friday of dark resolve. Henceforth it only needed to concert plans for carrying it out. Some one, perhaps Nicodemus, sent word of the secret meeting and resolution of the Sanhedrists. That Friday and the next Sabbath Jesus rested in Bethany, with the same majestic calm which He had shown at the grave of Lazarus. Then He withdrew, far away to the obscure bounds of Peraea and Galilee, to a city of which the very location is now unknown. And there He continued with His disciples, withdrawn from the Jews – till He would make His final entrance into Jerusalem.