Death, that You may Believe
Three people in this chapter of John’s book strike me. These people come from different parts of Judea, but they each see Jesus. Thomas, called Didymus, Martha, and Caiaphas each meet Jesus. Often what we perceive when we read this chapter is the story about Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life. They are what this passage is about, right? Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. In this study today, I read about three other people.
Jesus had been in Judea, but the Jews threatened Him. The priests incited the people to stone Him, so He and His disciples left Judea. Interesting how Jesus’ own people, the Jews, chased Him away, but the study is not about this. At the beginning of this chapter, we read of Martha, one of His close friends, sending a messenger to Jesus to say her brother, Lazarus, is deathly ill. Jesus did not act to prevent His death but understood how to make this a teaching moment for the glory of God. He waited and continued to teach His disciples. A little while later, He told the disciples Lazarus had gone to sleep; he had died. The disciples at first did not understand Jesus meant Lazarus died; they assumed he had literally fallen asleep. They did not understand why Jesus needed to put Himself in danger’s way again to wake a man, even if he was a friend. After Jesus explained to them that He meant Lazarus had died, Jesus told the disciples He was glad that He did not heal Lazarus, so they could believe more about Him. What did Thomas’ say? "Let us also go, that we may die with him," says Thomas (vs. 16 NASB). Does this sound like Peter in Chapter 13:37? Thomas, who doubted, declared he was ready to die with Christ if it meant he could walk with, learn from, and be counted with Jesus. Jesus had just explained He is the Light and that with Him the disciples do not stumble. Thomas was ready to follow Jesus even if he would die. Thomas accepted Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah.
Look further in the story. When Martha learned Jesus was coming, she ran to meet Him and confronted Him saying Lazarus was dead. In essence, we understand her allegation that Jesus let her brother die. She said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vs. 21 NASB). Martha did not stop there, though; her friendship and faith proved greater than that. Martha said she realized that whatever Jesus asked of God, He would give to Jesus. She accepted Lazarus would rise again in the resurrection on the last day (vs. 24). Martha showed her knowledge of prophecy and her belief that Jesus is the Christ by this statement. Jesus told her Lazarus would rise again. He explained to her more clearly that He is the resurrection and the Life and anyone who trusted in Him would not die (vs.25-26). Martha believed Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah. Jesus confronted her about her beliefs.
Finally, look farther in the chapter. After what Jesus did, the Pharisees received reports and feared He would gain even more followers (vs. 46-47). The Pharisees and the chief priests sought a way to get rid of Jesus so they could return to the religion they understood, following the Law. These men did not want Jesus to usurp their role as the leaders of the Jews. They couched their fears in political talk; the Romans would come if they could not make this “uprising” by Jesus among the Jews disappear (vs. 48). How often do we try to find an excuse not to let Jesus teach and lead us? The Pharisees and priests were unhappy with what Jesus was saying and doing. They thought of ways to stop Him. Caiaphas, the High Priest, interjected into their conversation, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish" (vs. 49b-50, NASB). The priests probably thought Caiaphas meant it would be better to kill Jesus than let the unrest He was causing bring the wrath of the Romans upon them. The Romans slaughtered Jews in the past for such “unrest.” Caiaphas “did not say this of his own accord”; he spoke under the influence of the Spirit of God (vs. 51 NASB). He prophesied of Jesus’ death for the nation and for the scattered children of God (vs. 51b-52). Caiaphas said Jesus was the one sacrifice needed for everyone. Caiaphas’ prophecy stated Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah who has come to bring the world back to God. His statement was not what the Pharisees and Chief Priests wanted to receive. From that day on, they looked for a way to kill Jesus (vs. 53). The Pharisees and Chief Priests wondered if Jesus was the Christ, but feared trusting and believing in Him. They assumed the prophecies spoke of a warrior king to be the Messiah.
For each of these persons, Martha, Thomas, and Caiaphas, Jesus was known as the Christ, the Messiah sent by God, or they had good reason to discern for themselves by His works and His teachings that He was the Messiah. Thomas learned while walking with Jesus that he could trust Jesus and became willing to die for Him. Thomas wanted to accept and trust Jesus fully. Later, Thomas said he would believe if he could touch the scars in Jesus’ hands and side. Martha understood Jesus could heal her brother, but when Jesus waited until Lazarus died, Martha feared she would not see Lazarus alive again until resurrection day. Martha grieved her loss. She grasped that Christ brought life after death in the resurrection. She did not understand Jesus brought Life now to whoever walked with Him. God glorified Jesus for Martha and the others to see when Jesus brought Lazarus back to life at that time. People understood that Jesus is not only the Son of God, the Messiah, who takes away the sins of the world, but that He has power over life and death now. The Pharisees and priests came to understand gradually, but chose not to accept and receive the Messiah. These men decided to dispose of Him because of their fear of change, of losing power, and of the Romans. The Pharisees and chief priests feared these things more than eternal separation from God. They heard several times Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, but hardened their hearts even after hearing directly from God through Caiaphas. Now, more than in the past, they determined to kill Jesus because of their fears and because they wanted to walk in their own ways. These men did not want a God who told them what to do and who usurped their authority on earth. They just wanted a God to forgive them like the Jewish sacrificial system provided, which did not require true repentance but only a sacrifice. They wanted a simple task-oriented way to get into heaven.
What are the issues here? Thomas was a determined believer. He wanted to accept and trust Jesus is the Son of God and was willing to die to be able to believe. Even in his unbelief, Thomas wanted to believe. Martha was a faithful and learning believer. She trusted what she heard and experienced about Jesus. Martha was not afraid to learn more. Jesus taught her something new. He taught her that He has power over life and death now not just on resurrection day. The Pharisees and priests were learned unbelievers. They understood God would send a Messiah and that He would be victorious in their world. These Jewish leaders did not want to consider that Jesus is the Messiah because He came from a humble home. Their pride and fear got in the way of them accepting Jesus as the Messiah. The Pharisees and chief priests did not want to believe Jesus would rule over them. Death is the issue. Thomas believed to death but not to life after death. Martha believed to resurrection but not resurrection now. The Pharisees and priests believed in a future Messiah but not for now. God gave a prophecy through Caiaphas explaining the Person of Jesus to the Jewish leaders. The Pharisees and priests could not say they had not heard of this prophecy. The delivery of this prophecy to the nations showed everyone that Jesus is the Messiah promised of God.
What is our part? We have to decide whether to accept the prophecies of Caiaphas and others. We have to decide whether we will trust now based on what we have been informed of and learned. We have to decide for ourselves whether this Jesus is the Messiah prophesied and spoken of from the beginning of the world. Do you accept and trust Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah who brings healing and forgiveness to everyone and brings eternal life with Him in His kingdom? You get to choose who you will be, believer or Pharisee. Jesus died and rose from the grave as the sacrifice for our sin. He died…and arose from the grave as the Risen Lord. Do you believe?