The 11th chapter of John presents a true story of a man and his two sisters---Lazarus, Martha and Mary---and their relationship to Jesus. It's a wonderful story. I was so taken by it a few years ago that I memorized the whole chapter.
Viewed strictly from the plain message alone has made it one of the most outstanding events in all of history. The Church has cherished and found great hope in John 11 for centuries, because revealed here is Jesus' power over life and death. Every Christian can rightly see himself in Lazarus' shoes, because just as he was raised from the dead to life again, so likewise shall someday happen to every born-again believer.
But as great and as important as the plain truth is here, there are also over-riding "images" which, I'm convinced, God created in His "darkroom". I shall endeavor to bring these slightly-hidden images to the surface so you can see it as I have. Some may ask why? or how? God gave me the insights here and, to my awareness, no other. I can only say I believe He did and must leave it at that(1).
1In 1981 I had finished the first draft of my book on The Two Witnesses and sent it, along with a brief manuscript of my thoughts on John 11, to my family in Georgia. When I arrived there that summer for vacation, my sister, Diane, said "I hurried to read all your studies before you got here, and finished just yesterday". I beamed approvingly and said, "What did you think?" She said, "It all makes sense to me. But would you like to know what I liked best?" "Of course.", I responded. She said, "John 11!" That really surprised me, for at that time I wondered if anyone would ever believe what I thought I could see here. Then she said, "I have only one question." "What's that?", I pressed, looking for an opportunity to talk about the subject. "Why you?", she retorted. "What do you mean?", I asked again. "Why did God show you this and to no one else?" And with that we all laughed heartily.
It will come as no surprise to many of you that Biblical names have meanings. I suspect there is not a single name in the Bible that doesn't have associated with it something about the character of that individual. This is most definitely true of the names Lazarus, Martha and Mary. I used several resources to identify the meanings of these names---Strong's Concordance and the Bible being the main ones. Let's look at them one at a time.
"Lazarus" is the New-Testament name for the Old-Testament name---Eleazar---which means whom God aids, or the one God helps.
There are two implications here, one is short-range, the other long-range. The short-range has implied in Lazarus' name the fact that Jesus was going to "aid" or "help" him in a special way: namely, to raise him from the dead! The long-range implication refers to the whole nation of Israel: that God has assisted them from the beginning. The common title which history has awarded Israel has been to refer to them as God's Chosen People. Now this doesn't mean that God selected Israel because of inherent goodness. In fact, the Bible clearly indicates the overall character of the nation has been one of disobedience towards God. But in spite of this fact, for His Own good reasons, they remain God's Chosen. Even through all their wildernesses, captivities, hateful abuses from other nations, holocausts and the like, even in their rebellion God has been their "aid" and "helper".
You might say that Israel has been the Lazarus of God's eye, beginning as far back as around 2,000 B.C., when the first man-of-faith, called-of-God Israelite(2) came on the scene---Abraham. Let's pick up the story in Genesis 12:1:
2Technically, Abraham was not called an Israelite because God had not yet introduced this name to be used for the nation of Israel. But because he was the father of the nation, it is certainly appropriate to refer to Abraham as an Israelite.
"Now the LORD had said unto Abram (Abraham's name before God changed it), Get thee out
of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will
show thee; And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless them that bless thee, and
curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram
departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him:..."
We see here God's promise to Abram that a nation would come from his loins, even though at the time he was old (75) and childless. It's important to remember the promise that other nations which would bless Abram would also be blessed, or cursed if they "curseth" him. So, from the outset, the Biblical portrait of the nation which would come from Abram is seen to be very special in the mind of God. God was revealing from the beginning of the story that the nation which would emanate from Abram would be "aided" and "helped" in mighty ways, both directly from God Himself and from other nations that would choose to help them.
Later, God spoke again to Abram, saying:
"After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceedingly great reward." Gen. 15:1.
Then Abram responds to God in the next verse:
"And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?"
Now we come to the main reason I have included the above Scriptures relative to John 11. Notice that Abram used the name "Eliezer" in reference to his only heir (his steward) at the time. But Abram wanted his own "Eliezer" (i.e., his own flesh-and-blood son) to be his inheritance. Look at the exchange between God and Abram in the next two verses:
"And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but
he that shall come forth out of thine own loins shall be thine heir."
Most readers will know, of course, that God's promise here was fulfilled in the birth of Isaac, who bore Jacob (whose name was later changed to Israel) and he bore 12 sons and from them came the twelve tribes of Israel. And thus, Abraham's vision of seeing his "seed" (Gen. 15:5) become a nation was completed just as God had said.
But Abraham didn't immediately trust in God. He listened to his wife, Sarah. Both of them were old and didn't believe God could, or would, produce a son through them. Note it:
1 "Now Sarai, Abram's wife, bore him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.
2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai."...
4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived:..."
Hagar had a child by the name of Ishmael, who became the father of those nations which would forever be a thorn in the side of Israel. This was even predicted in Scripture:
"And he (Ishmael) will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's
hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." Gen. 16:12.
Mohammad is a descendant of Ishmael, who fathered the false religion of Islam. The prominent nations which practice this religion surround Israel until this day, even having placed their "abominable" mosque and the Dome of The Rock on the same site as Solomon's Temple.
But Abraham and Sarah finally got it together; they believed and obeyed God:
"And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.
For Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him,
Isaac." Gen. 21: 1-3.
Please take special note of the fact that disobedience was present from the very beginning of Israel, even in faithful Abraham. The tendency was one of spiritual blindness, kind of a "living death", which is really the worst kind of death. Of course, there was always a Godly remnant in Israel. But for the most part, beginning at Abraham, lasting even until the present day, this death would be a constant, tormenting companion to the nation of Israel.
Let's go back to that key name Abraham used to describe his heir---Eliezer. This name is the root
Hebrew word for Eleazar, or in the Greek---Lazarus! Starting with a son of Aaron, there were 8
others in the lineage of the Israelites who were named Eleazar. What's the point? From Abraham
onward, God weaved this name into the fabric of national Israel as a constant reminder to them
(and now us) that He would be that nation's aid and helper. Thus, the nation which came from the
loins of Abraham can appropriately be referred to as a spiritual "Lazarus". Later we will see just
how fantastically this all culminates in the Lazarus of John 11, the final Eleazar (Lazarus) who
pictures all Israel.
THE OTHER "TREES"
Prior to my study of John 11, God had already showed me the reality of The Law of Double Reference, particularly in Revelation 11. It was then, as I mentioned in the introduction, that I found out the "two witnesses" described in that chapter have a 1260-year historical meaning, not merely a 1260-literal-day meaning as most modern prophetic writers view the witnesses.
There is another Scripture which had great impact on me when my prophetic studies were first
getting underway. In this passage, Jesus is explaining to His disciples some of the conditions
which would be prevailing on the earth just prior to His return---Luke 21:29-33:
"And he spoke to them a parable: Behold the fig tree, and all the trees;
When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now near at hand.
So also ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is near at hand.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
This is a highly-relevant prophetic passage and many things could be said about it, but I want to draw your attention especially to one point. Notice that Jesus said "...Behold the fig tree, ...". Most expositors, including me, believe that the "fig tree" refers to Israel. Jesus is saying that those who see the conditions He had just been describing should watch Israel in order to know when He was about to return. Thus, Israel is God's front-runner time-clock, prophetically speaking. The Bible has many predictions about Israel's scattering and regathering into their original homeland. Carefully "beholding" Israel's plight during the Christian era, seeing the nation's presence again today in their place of origin, and relating these facts to the Bible, is what Jesus was talking about regarding the "fig tree". Much has been written about the fig tree, but what others seemingly fail to recognize is that we are also told to "...Behold...all the trees..."
One day when studying this passage, that last phrase suddenly stood out like a neon sign to me. It became apparent that seeing "all the trees" [rightly] is just as important as identifying the "fig tree". Jesus obviously wanted the disciples of our day, those living in the conditions He was describing, to look and see how other nations fit into His prophetic-scheme-of-things throughout the earth. I decided to take the command seriously and subsequently looked at some of the other "trees". The startling thing to me was that the most prominent "trees" in existence---economically, socially, governmentally, militarily, etc., and most importantly, spiritually---are virtually never discussed (from a Biblical perspective) by other prophetic analysts. I am referring to Great Britain and the United States of America.
The typical reference from Christian scholars regarding GB and the USA is to attempt relating them to some obscure, non-descript passage of Scripture, invariably from the Old Testament. And some cult leaders see the British and the Americans in prophecy in ways that don't exist. The former makes Great Britain and America so insignificant that there is little reason to hear what they say and the latter is so perverted it doesn't deserve our attention. Both these approaches leave me unimpressed. The sad part is that the net effect of the available commentary tends to anesthetize the Church's ear to the real facts of the matter. But in spite of this, I shall move on and try to convince the reader that 1/ Great Britain and America were indeed in the mind of God long before their existence, 2/ that Jesus has walked among these nations throughout their days, and 3/ that He didn't leave them out of the Bible.
I have looked at these "trees" and I see, and shall not discount by remaining quiet, what God has done through them which was of value to Him. Just as "Lazarus" is a picture of Israel, "Martha" and "Mary" are pictures of Great Britain and the United States of America---Martha being the former, Mary the latter. As I've already said, in a longitudinal sense, I see the "two witnesses" of Revelation 11 as Great Britain and the USA. The same two are pictured in John 11 as two sisters, Martha and Mary. God used the same author (the apostle John) to give us these metaphors from His "darkroom", and He saw fit to describe them both in chapter 11s, which I see as amazing grace!(3) Leave it to God to pull something off like this. And just as Martha and Mary loved and supported Lazarus, the preponderance of history shows the same to have been true of GB and the USA relative to Israel.
3Long after I wrote manuscripts on both Revelation 11 and John 11, I discovered many "secrets" of God were revealed in 'eleventh' chapters and 'eleventh' verses. I once prepared notes on the Bible references I would later use in a meeting at a church where I had been invited to speak on prophecy. Without any foreknowledge, I discovered that my references (about 15) were all in either chapter 11s or verse 11s. Some were from the Old Testament, some the New Testament. "Quite a coincidence", someone says. Not at all. Well, yes, it was actually a coincidence. But God, I'm persuaded, made it all "coincide".
Martha was most likely the older of the two sisters. This will become evident as we go through the chapter. Her name means mistress. The "hidden" message of the word "mistress" in Martha's name connotes the idea of the one who holds the seat of authority. And I strongly suspect Martha's nature was to see herself in this role. Martha surely presumed herself to be the boss over Mary, and likely even over Lazarus.
Frankly, back when I first saw the pictures unfold in John 11 (about 16 years ago), I can't remember exactly what came first. It happened very quickly, (which is the way Biblical metaphors usually occur when God assists in the revelation). But after God shows you something, I have learned it may take weeks, months and even years to go back through it all and "connect the dots"---that is, to put all the pieces correctly in place.
To the best of my recollection, I first saw Lazarus as representing the nation Israel. Next, I wondered, if this is true, could his sisters likewise represent nations? From that moment, the whole picture just unveiled for me in fairly rapid succession, much like a picture which forms on a computer screen after striking a few correct keys which access the picture held in the computer's memory.
Think again about my analogy of the picture of the cow's face. Sometimes I would give the
snapshot to people to take home to decipher, and even after several weeks of attempting to see
the hidden image, many just couldn't do it unassisted. But when I would show them just one part,
say an ear, an eye, or a nostril, then the whole image would often jump out at them. That's
precisely how John 11 unfolded for me. Once I saw Lazarus was Israel (symbolically speaking),
the rest quickly fell into place. As we move along through the chapter, verse by verse, I believe
some of you will see the "eyes" and "ears" as we come to them, and eventually the whole picture
will suddenly jump into focus.
The name "Mary" comes from a word that means rebellious. This seemed paradoxical when I first discovered the meaning, because it didn't seem to match either the literal Mary's personality or the Church in America in the metaphoric sense.
In the Bible, one's name often describes their tendencies before transformation, as in BEFORE salvation; or the character of someone prior to reaching an improved state, established through a new relationship to God. (For example, the apostle John was called a "son of thunder" in his early days, but later was known as the one "Jesus loved"! The title "son of thunder" described John's nature prior to the effect that association-with-Jesus would have on him later.)
So, when I thought through all the facts surrounding America and relating those facts to the natural tendencies which have typically prevailed throughout our history, I had to admit that rebellion is indeed an appropriate title for much of this nation's character. (This will all make more sense as the whole story unfolds in the pages ahead.)