The raising of Lazarus from the dead after the Feast of the Dedication, a prelude to the Passion: The seventh sign

1/3/2013 Portland, Oregon – Pop in your mints…

Today, we begin the new year with the conclusion of our series on the seven signs that Jesus performed which are related in the Gospel of John.  What is taught through these seven signs is of eternal significance.  If you have just now joined us, we recommend reading the following for additional context:

  1. Changing water into wine
  2. Healing of the Official’s son
  3. Healing of the paralytic at Bethesda: parts I and II
  4. The Feeding of the 5000
  5. A hard teaching at Capernaum, Jesus walks on water
  6. The healing of the man blind at birth

Those who have followed the Mint for any time now know that our word is far from the final one on this or any subject.  Rather, we encourage every one of you to allow yourself to be studied by the Holy Scriptures, for if we simply study the scriptures, we will have gained nothing worth saving, but if we allow the scriptures to study us, our lives will be miraculously purified and enriched.  We will leave changed by the power of the Living God at work in us.

With this in mind, we encourage those of you in the Portland area to join us at 6:30pm on Wednesday, January 9th, at Good Samaritan Ministries in Beaverton (click here for a map), where we will attempt to present a portion of this series in a two-hour class format.  It is little time and we can only hope to scratch the surface, but at the same time, gathering in the synagogue, as it were, allows the Holy Spirit to move among us and transform us in ways that are impossible through individual study.

We now move into the seventh sign, the sign that proved once and for all that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, foretold by the prophets and seen by Isaiah 700 years earlier, and that all of humanity can have eternal life in Him.

Again, Jesus had performed many signs, of which John, the disciple who shared Isaiah’s spirit and was perhaps closer to Jesus than any other disciple, witnessed more than any other person.  Of the many, John chose to relate seven of them when he penned his Gospel some 60 years later.  While the previous six signs are important, none was more important in John’s eyes than the seventh sign.

It was the sign that proved He is YHWH, and the sign that sealed His fate on earth:  The raising of Lazarus from the dead.

After Jesus’ decision to attend the Festival of Booths, it is not clear in the Gospel of John whether or not He ever returned to the Galilee.  From what we can tell, His initial reluctance and subsequent decision to attend the Festival of Booths were an indication that Jesus was assenting to complete His mission, the salvation of the world, on the upcoming Passover.

The air in Judea and Jerusalem was thick with tension.  In Palestine, politics and religion are deeply intertwined, and it is impossible to understand what is occurring in one sphere without recognizing the influences of the other upon it.

After walking on water to His Disciples and healing the man blind from birth, Jesus had set Himself on a collision course with the Jewish authorities.  With the benefit of hindsight, it may seem obvious that the Jews would want to eliminate Jesus.

Why the animosity towards Jesus?

However, to the casual observer, both in first century Palestine and today, it is difficult to understand why the Jewish leadership would seek to kill the Messiah.  Was not He the one who would remove the oppressors, set the captives free, and declare the year of the Lord’s favor for them?  Was this not the fulfillment of YHWH’s promise which had been proclaimed by Israel’s greatest prophets seven centuries before?

The answer to this question can be found by examining the condition of the Jewish leadership of the day.  In the first century, Palestine was under Roman control.  The Romans ruled with an iron fist, and moved quickly to squash rebellion.  The Jewish leadership, down to the priesthood, which had previously been bestowed by virtue of heredity, was now a post appointed by the Roman authorities.  As such, the hand picked Jewish leaders in Judea found themselves responsible for managing the delicate balance of Jewish nationalism and submission to Roman authorities.

Naturally, those appointed were those who had mastered the art of compromise, and used their appointments to play one side off of the other, often to great personal advantage.

As the Maccabeans had done nearly two centuries earlier, Jesus was exposing the hypocrisy and extortion which was rampant in the ranks of the Jewish priesthood.  At the same time, He was restoring the faith of the people in YHWH.

The Jewish leaders began to fear another revolt of the type which had temporarily freed the Jews from the Seleucid Empire and overthrew the Jewish elite of the day, who had compromised the Jewish religion to the point of allowing Greek gods to be erected in the Temple and pigs to be butchered on the altar, on the Sabbath.

The Feast of the Dedication: Hanukkah

In 168 BCE, roughly 200 years earlier, Antiochus IV, then ruler of the Seleucid empire, had Judaism outlawed.  This sparked a revolt of devout Jews against the empire which would become known as the Maccabean revolt of 167-160 BCE.  The Maccabeans were successful in establishing a Jewish commonwealth which would last for 100 years.

A Menorah in Donetsk Ukraine Photo by Andrew Butko
A Menorah in Donetsk Ukraine
Photo by Andrew Butko

The celebration of the success of the Maccabean revolt is celebrated today.  It is known as Hanukkah, the Festival of lights.  In Jesus’ day, it was known by its Greek name, The Feast of the Dedication, acknowledging the re dedication of the Temple to YHWH by the Maccabeans.

Then, in 63 BCE, the Romans annexed Judea into their Empire in violent fashion.  When Jesus arrived on the scene, the Jewish elite, not unlike their counterparts under the Seleucid rule of Judea, had assumed a position of compromise, appealing to the people to tolerate the Roman rule in exchange for a measure of religious autonomy.  An autonomy that both the Jewish ruling class and the Romans used to exploit the population under the cover of religious observances, among other things.

At this point we call to the reader’s attention the incident where Jesus clears the Temple, related by John in chapter 2 of his Gospel:

12 After this, he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they stayed there a few days. 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 He found in the temple those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting. 15 He made a whip of cords, and threw all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves, he said, “Take these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will eat me up.”
18 The Jews therefore answered him, “What sign do you show us, seeing that you do these things?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 The Jews therefore said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple! Will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he spoke of the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this, and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.

Jesus was passionate about Judaism and true worship of YHWH.  After the events which took place during the Festival of Booths, is should come as no surprise that Jesus would again show up in Jerusalem at the Temple, openly declaring that He is the Son of God, at the Feast of the Dedication.

Jesus had declared sternly that the religious leaders of the day are, “not my sheep.”  He seemed to affirm the line that was already drawn in the sand, pitting the devout Jews against the Jewish elite.  In doing so, the devout Jews assumed that Jesus was going to stir up the next Maccabean revolt and once again, “re dedicate” the Temple to YHWH.  The ruling elite took this threat of revolt, along with the increasingly personal attacks against them which Jesus explicitly and implicitly implied in His teachings, and began to plot in earnest to eliminate Jesus before He gained a wider following among the people.

For even if He was the Messiah, Jesus, through righteousness and the power of God, posed a direct threat to the status quo, a status quo which had allowed the Jewish elite not only to maintain the semblance of a Jewish quasi state and religious system, but more importantly, their appointed position as religious leaders and intermediaries between the Jewish nation and Rome.  It was a system that had made them very wealthy and at the same time extremely vulnerable.  Were the system to crash, it would come toppling down directly on top of them.

Enter Caiaphas

This seemingly complex relationship between a nation awaiting their promised Messiah and the leaders of that nation taking great pains to prevent the Messiah from appearing is embodied in a man named Caiaphas.

Christ before Caiaphas by Mattias Stom
Christ before Caiaphas by Mattias Stom

Caiaphas was the Roman appointed high priest during this tempestuous time.  He was appointed in a semi-nepotistic way, as is the custom in most corrupt leadership structures.  While attempting to maintain the status quo and at the same time appear religious, Caiaphas, as high priest, had famously prophesied that:

“…Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but that he might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” – John 11:52

Such was the state of mind of the Jewish leadership of the day.  Their vulnerability and greed had ultimately pitted their will against the will of YHWH, the God whose observances they were charged with carrying out.

It is important to note that Caiaphas, as were most of the Jewish elite of the day, was a member of the Sadducee sect, a line of Judaism which denied spiritual phenomena associated with the afterlife.  This put them in opposition to many other branches of Judaism as well as Jesus, as they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, a belief system which lends itself to a situational system of morality in which the right thing is more often than not what is expedient at the moment.

It was Caiaphas who was involved in the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus, likely as chief prosecutor.

The Raising of Lazarus

After the Feast of Dedication, Jesus again left Jerusalem, presumably under the threat of detention and physical harm.  He went not home to Galilee but beyond the Jordan where John the Baptist had baptized Him just three short years before.  It was the place where His earthly ministry had begun.  Many people came to Jesus in that holy place, and put their faith in Him.

It is there, in the wilderness, that we find Jesus in the days before He performs what John, and this author believe to be the most important miracle of His earthly ministry.  We pick up the narrative in John 11:1-54:

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus from Bethany, of the village of Mary and her sister, Martha. It was that Mary who had anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother, Lazarus, was sick. The sisters therefore sent to him, saying, “Lord, behold, he for whom you have great affection is sick.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This sickness is not to death, but for the glory of God, that God’s Son may be glorified by it.” Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When therefore he heard that he was sick, he stayed two days in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let’s go into Judea again.”

The disciples told him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours of daylight? If a man walks in the day, he doesn’t stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10  But if a man walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light isn’t in him.” 11 He said these things, and after that, he said to them, “Our friend, Lazarus, has fallen asleep, but I am going so that I may awake him out of sleep.”

12 The disciples therefore said, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”

13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he spoke of taking rest in sleep. 14 So Jesus said to them plainly then, “Lazarus is dead. 15  I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe. Nevertheless, let’s go to him.”

16 Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus,*{Note: “Didymus” means “Twin”}. said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go also, that we may die with him.”

17 So when Jesus came, he found that he had been in the tomb four days already. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia†{Note: 15 stadia is about 2.8 kilometers or 1.7 miles} away. 19 Many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. 20 Then when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary stayed in the house. 21 Therefore Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. 22 Even now I know that, whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. 26  Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, he who comes into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went away, and called Mary, her sister, secretly, saying, “The Teacher is here, and is calling you.”

29 When she heard this, she arose quickly, and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was in the place where Martha met him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and were consoling her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” 32 Therefore when Mary came to where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews weeping who came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?”

They told him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus wept.

36 The Jews therefore said, “See how much affection he had for him!” 37 Some of them said, “Couldn’t this man, who opened the eyes of him who was blind, have also kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus therefore, again groaning in himself, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”

40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see God’s glory?”

The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio di Buoninsegna 1310-11 Kimball Art Museum
The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio di Buoninsegna 1310-11

41 So they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, “Father, I thank you that you listened to me. 42  I know that you always listen to me, but because of the multitude that stands around I said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

44 He who was dead came out, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.

Jesus said to them, “Free him, and let him go.”

45 Therefore many of the Jews, who came to Mary and saw what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done. 47 The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, “What are we doing? For this man does many signs. 48 If we leave him alone like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

49 But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you consider that it is advantageous for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” 51 Now he didn’t say this of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but that he might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day forward they took counsel that they might put him to death. 54 Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews, but departed from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim. He stayed there with his disciples.

While in Barcelona, we had the opportunity to play the role of Lazarus in a stage adaptation of the book “The Jesus I never knew,” by Philip Yancey.  As you can imagine, there was not much to do.  The people mourned and I lay there in bandages from head to foot.  They filmed a video short which showed one of the disciples kneeling at my side.  He then abruptly rose and ran off to locate Jesus.  It was a helpless feeling, yet the faith of the disciple, however far fetched, gave us cause for hope.

In this dramatization, we saw that the disciple’s faith in who Jesus was raised us from the dead, and that it was this same faith in YHWH that raised Jesus from the dead.

Will we listen when He calls us out?  Will we call others out from death to life?

In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus put to rest any latent speculation that He was the Son of God.  Lazarus had been dead for four days.  The situation was so hopeless that Martha, Lazarus’ sister, was compelled to give a canned religious answer, as many of us do when faced with a seemingly impossible situation, in order that Jesus might save face (verses 21-26 above):

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. 22 Even now I know that, whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. 26  Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

The resurrection is here and now.  The seven signs presented by John bear a unique witness to this, for John had known this all along.  Both the religious leaders, who feared Jesus, and the devout Jews, who were disappointed in Him, missed the point, and in the end condemned Jesus and abandoned Him in turn.

In contrast, the disciple that Jesus loved stayed by Him through the trial and to the very end on the cross.  Jesus asks John to take care of His mother, Mary, perhaps the highest honor that He could bestow on earth.  While Peter got the church and all of its issues, John would get to continue to know Jesus through His mother’s eyes.

Will we stay by Jesus through accusations and disappointments?  Will he give us something to care for, or a unique gift of insight?

We pray that you have been both blessed and challenged in your faith as we have in exploring the seven signs.

We leave you with the words or our Lord Jesus:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. 26 Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Stay tuned and Trust Jesus.

Stay Fresh!

David Mint


Key Indicators for January 3, 2013

Copper Price per Lb: $3.67
Oil Price per Barrel:  $92.81
Corn Price per Bushel:  $6.89
10 Yr US Treasury Bond:  1.90%
Gold Price Per Ounce:  $1,664
MINT Perceived Target Rate*:  0.25%
Unemployment Rate:  7.7%
Inflation Rate (CPI):  -0.3%
Dow Jones Industrial Average:  13,391
M1 Monetary Base:  $2,555,200,000,000 LOTS OF DOUGH ON THE STREET!
M2 Monetary Base:  $10,516,400,000,000