Read John 11:17-37
The imagery of Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus has long been one of my favorite stories. Most of the time when I read this passage I walk away with the thoughts presented in the previous post. This time, however, I was challenged to take a different point of view by the NIV Application Commentary. The lead author on the book of John offers some thoughts that leave me wondering if I’ve had it wrong all along.
While there’s no chink in the theological armor as a result of reading this excerpt, there is an opportunity to gain some insight and perspective that extends beyond my traditional understanding of the event. I hope you’ll take some time to read this excerpt and grow.
Here’s the key section of scripture to linger on:
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. John 11:33-35
NIVAC Excerpt (references at the end):
When Jesus sees and hears their wailing, he is moved powerfully. But there is confusion in how to translate an important phrase in John 11:33. The meaning of “in spirit” is clear enough; these words refer to Jesus’ deepest self (not to the Holy Spirit). But the NIV’s “deeply moved” may not be the best reading of the Greek verb embrimaomai.15 In classical Greek, this word describes the snort of a horse (in war or in a race). For humans, it describes outrage, fury, or anger. This nuance appears in its Synoptic uses (Matthew 9:30; Mark 1:43; 14:5) and undoubtedly must be applied here. 16 Beasley-Murray cites Schnackenburg: The word “indicates an outburst of anger, and any attempt to reinterpret it in terms of an internal emotional upset caused by grief, pain, or sympathy is illegitimate.” 17 This is further seen in the explanation John attaches: Jesus was not only outraged but “troubled.” 18
But what arouses Jesus’ anger? Why is he outraged in the deepest level of his being? He is certainly not angry at Martha, Mary, or their mourners. Rather, he is overcome by the futility of this sorrowful scene in light of the reality of the resurrection. God’s people possess knowledge of life; they should possess a faith that claims victory at the grave. But here they stand, overcome in seeming defeat. And here stands the One in whom victory, life, and resurrection are powerful realities. Jesus is angry at death itself and the devastation it brings. His only interest now is to locate the tomb (John 11:34) and begin to demonstrate divine power over humanity’s foe. Jesus’ tears (John 11:35) are not for Lazarus, whose removal from the grave is imminent and whose life is going to show God’s glory. 19 He knows what good surprises are in store for his good friend! Jesus’ tears should be connected to the anger he is feeling so deeply. The public chaos surrounding him, the loud wailing and crying, and the scene of a cemetery and its reminders of death— all the result of sin and death— together produce outrage in the Son of God as he works to reverse such damage.
End of Excerpt
The phrase that sticks with me is, “Jesus is angry at death itself and the devastation it brings.” While Jesus walked around in flesh, incarnate, He is certainly not bound by time. He remembers the pain in Genesis 3 and the numerous events that followed; all things we call the human condition.
The idea that Jesus wept over a dear friend dying is one thing, but weeping over a world that has heard the Gospel, even seen the Son of God walking around, takes verse 35 to a whole different level of meaning. Jesus certainly isn’t crying about a guy who will be given another chance at life on earth in a matter of minutes. Yes, He is moved, but it’s so much deeper than the human emotion of grief.
Many times I’ve asked to have a heart that breaks for that which moves You, Jesus. May I read these words and have a much better understanding of the world as you see it. May I long to see injustice corrected, the hungry fed, the naked clothed, the homeless housed, the heartbroken comforted. Even more, may my heart break for a world that doesn’t recognize the answer is found in Jesus Christ. Help me to find words and actions to move people in Your direction.
Source: Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland, David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 65857-65875). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Endnotes from source:
15 The entire English Bible translation tradition beginning with the KJV finds in the word some emotional distress for Jesus. Hence, the Good News Bible, “his heart was touched”; the Jerusalem Bible, “in great distress.”
16 So the commentators Westcott, Hoskyns, Barrett, Brown, Carson, Beasley-Murray. The NLT rightly uses, “Jesus was moved with indignation.”
17 George R. Beasley-Murray, George R., John, p. 193, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36, 1987, Word Books; 1st edition (July 1987).
18 Jesus is “stirred” (tarasso), which most versions translate “troubled.” But this is a metaphorical use of the word. Its literal meaning occurs in John 5:4, 7 when water is stirred. Throughout John 1– 11 water is a theological symbol for the Spirit, and in chapter 11 we find one of the few chapters that fails to mention it. Its active use here may refer to the Spirit (as living water) within him (John 7:37-39; 19:34). See C. Story, “The Mental Attitude of Jesus at Bethany, John 11:33, 38,” NTS (New Testament Studies) 37 (1991): 51– 66; E. K. Lee, “The Raising of Lazarus,” ExpTim (Expository Times) 61 (1950): 145– 47. This idea was originally presented to me in a research paper of Deborah Leighton, “John’s Seventh Sign” (Wheaton College, Dec. 6, 1999).
19 This is now a different Gk. verb (dakruo) than that used to describe Mary’s wail in v. 33. It is not a funeral cry.