The story of Lazarus is found in John 11:1-44. Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary and lived in Bethany, near the city of Jerusalem. His sister Mary would later anoint Jesus’ feet with very valuable ointment and wipe them with her hair. (John 12:1-8) Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus as dear friends and his disciples.—John 11:5
Jesus had left their home and was across the Jordan, about thirty miles away when the sisters sent word to Jesus concerning the illness of their brother. “He whom thou lovest is sick.” (vs. 3) Since Jesus was a special friend, they thought it proper to send the Master word respecting Lazarus but not proper to ask Jesus to heal him. They knew of Jesus’ power to heal. They had faith that if Jesus would help strangers, certainly he would be glad to assist his dear friend. They manifested their faith and submission also as to what answer would come—whether Jesus would simply send word or come in person.
Upon hearing their news Jesus responded, “This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God.” (vs. 4) Jesus was not saying Lazarus would not die but rather the end result would not be continuous death. Instead, Jesus knew that he would awaken Lazarus from the dead. After tarrying for two days, he announced that they would go to Judea. (vs. 7) When the disciples questioned this, he told them that Lazarus had fallen asleep [died] but Jesus would awake him from that sleep. (vs. 7,8,11) The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ statement and so in verse 14, Jesus plainly said, “Lazarus is dead.”
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. After asking that the stone covering the tomb to be removed, Jesus prayed to God, and then said in “a loud voice, Lazarus come forth.” (vss. 39-43) Lazarus came forth, and went home with his sisters.
The awakening of Lazarus from the “sleep” of death was a glimpse of the power and purpose of God for the liberating of all mankind from the curse of sin and death in his own appointed time through Christ and his earthly kingdom.—John 5:25; I Cor. 15:1-26