The picture gets bigger, better and brighter here, so pay close attention now.
One of the best indicators of the presence of metaphoric content is when a Scripture passage contains lots of minor details; especially when many of those details aren't really needed to describe fully and completely the local situation. Such is the case in the above verse. Let me unravel a few of the things pertinent to my overall thesis---that Lazarus, Martha and Mary symbolized three nations: Israel, Great Britain and America.
Let's first look at the local story. Recall that Mary had remained "in the house" while Martha had gone out to greet and talk with Jesus. Now, in the natural sense, this really doesn't fit what we know about Mary, does it? Mary was the sister that always wanted to be in Jesus' presence. Martha going out first was a complete reversal of natural character. Isn't this true? It's very important to see this point, so don't miss it.
But when we view the story from an allegorical perspective, it fits the scenario perfectly. England, as we already know, was the first of the two "disciples"---i.e., the two "sisters", i.e., the two "witnesses"---to be involved in spreading the Gospel and publishing God's Word. Then came America. You just know that Mary wanted to be with Jesus because John was careful to point out that she went "hastily" to Jesus when it was her turn.
Note also that there were "Jews" in the house with Mary. Why point out that they were Jews rather than simply saying she had a house full of friends there to comfort her? Well, there is an answer to the local mystery; there always is. If this wasn't so, everybody throughout the ages would be able to see the metaphoric picture as easily as the local story, but that is obviously not what God purposed(1). God wanted a good number of Jews there to witness the miracle Jesus was going to perform on Lazarus. But there is also a strong, prophetic reality here.
Throughout the ages, the Jews have sought refuge in the "house" of Martha and Mary. Even until this day, about one-third of the Jews reside in America. We saw earlier in the passage from Revelation 12 (verses 6&14) that the "woman" (meaning Israel) was dispersed into the "wilderness", to her "place", where she would be "nourished" for a certain span of time. The Jews which were in Martha and Mary's house "comforting" Mary refers, prophetically speaking, to the Jews who have come to Great Britain and America. And in our study verse (John 11:31), this refers to the positive benefits God sovereignly bestowed on America through the Jews who have lived among us.
Journalism typically records that America has, historically, operated on the Judeo-Christian ethic. Throughout my lifetime, I have heard preachers and politicians alike refer to the "churches and the synagogues" when they wanted to allude to the moral fabric and fundamental basis of this nation. The hearts and minds of American Christians and Jews have been, and are, inexorably linked by the Almighty hand of God. This fact was brought out, metaphorically, by John saying, "The Jews then, who were with her in the house..." of Mary.
Note also that the Jews saw Mary rise up "hastily". What does this mean? America's rise,
relatively speaking, was very quick, our entire history since the Declaration of Independence being
only a little over two centuries. And yet, the Gospel has gone forth mightily during this period,
and faster and faster as time progresses. Folks, the rapidly-expanding means of communication
isn't merely so that the anti-Christ can set up his worldwide government. God is using those
satellites out there too.
[I can't write this book fast enough to stay up with changing times. Only last night I saw Billy
Graham(2) on television and he was saying that his evangelistic team is planning a broadcast which
will be seen in over 100 nations simultaneously. More people will be able to see and hear the
Gospel message at the same time than has ever occurred since time began. Praise the Lord!]
Note too that the Jews "followed" Mary when she went out. The Jews today, by and large, remain in unbelief; but many are watching Christianity very carefully. It must also be admitted that they see a lot of variation among us, much of it not Christian at all. The hardest confession to make is that much harm has been done to the Jews in the name of Christianity. (Even Hitler claimed to be a Christian.) But astute and sensitive Jews do know that there are genuine Christians who love and respect them. These are the Christians who remember the promises made by God to Abraham, that He would bless those who bless Israel. I'm one of those; so are many of you.
What is the prophetic implication of the Jews "following" Mary? The answer is clearly specified
by Paul in Romans 11:11:
"I say, then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid; but rather through their
fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy."
[Reader, look at the chapter and verse number which provides us with this key, Biblical
explanation. I just noticed it this very moment of writing. As I explained to you earlier, God has
given me so many keys to understanding Biblical prophecy in chapters and verses with the number
'11' that I'm absolutely amazed by it. Even now, it continues to unfold.]
To provoke one to "jealousy" is a form of admiration, Biblically speaking. This means that the Jews, over the centuries, have seen that the blessings of God have surely come to the Church. I believe that many Jews are today concluding that this is surely a supernatural phenomenon, because, in a truly-Christian setting, one can see all kinds of different ethnic backgrounds coming together in real oneness-of-spirit and love. Nothing other than the power of Almighty God can accomplish such a thing. The Jews know this, and it "provokes them to jealousy" of the highest order. A Godly kind of jealousy.
The fact that the Jews saw Mary headed to the grave to "weep there" foreshadows the historical
fact that Jews for centuries have watched tears fill the eyes of millions of Christians as they hear
the Gospel and as they meditate upon their Lord and Savior. You just know that these tears are
part of God's strategy designed to produce a drawing effect on the Jews back to their Messiah.
"Then, when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying
unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."
Mary was not perfect either. Although we do see here that she quickly assumed her customary position---at Jesus' feet. Following Martha's example, she declared that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus remained there. A moment of weakness is seen here in Mary. Hey, she was human; she loved her brother. And also, she had grown accustomed to being around a man [Jesus] who could control any situation. I don't know, perhaps Mary thought Jesus would never leave them, commencing His Kingdom with them and then reign eternally with no break in continuity.
Once again, prophetically speaking, this verse pictures the fact that the nation of Israel would not
have gone into spiritual lethargy had God not seen fit for it to occur for the benefit of the Gentile
nations. So, it is true, Mary's brother, Lazarus, would not have died if Jesus had not stayed away
the "four days" in "his place". But God had a better plan.
"When Jesus, therefore, saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping who came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,"
And said, 'Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.'"
In the plain story here, we see human emotion at its highest ebb in Scripture. Imagine it. Mary
and the Jews who had been with her in the house had gone out to see Jesus and they were all
broken-hearted and crying. This man, Lazarus, was deeply loved by those who knew him. Jesus
"groaned in the spirit, and was troubled" has wonderful meaning in it only if we consider the
long-range implications. Why do I say that? Well, just think about it. Jesus already knew what
He was about to do and that would immediately solve the crowd's mourning. And yet, John is
careful to point out Jesus' inward feelings. Here's what I see in this: Jesus was grieving about
their unbelief in that situation. But He was grieving about something far, far more important in
the long-range scheme of things. He was looking down the halls of time, realizing the long,
arduous paths Israel and the Church would travel, much of it in blindness and shallow belief. I'm
convinced that He was hurting so intensely we cannot fathom it; so much so, that...
This is the shortest verse in the Bible, but nonetheless, very profound. I believe Jesus wept for all
humanity here, not just for Mary and those few Jews who were with her at the time. This was a
very spiritual event here, my friends. Please, let your mind move towards what your spirit is
saying to you right now. Jesus wept there for you and me. It was His tears that drew you and I,
through the cross, to Him. That the Creator, the Savior, the Redeemer, the Son of God..., would
shed tears for me is almost more than I can bear. But He did. Jesus wept. Bless His Holy Name!
"Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!"
That group of Jews who saw Jesus weeping had one thing on their mind---that Jesus had human emotion. They had no concept of what was going on in the spiritual realm then. I'll prove my point in just a moment. First, let's look at this prophetically.
Someday, when Jesus stands before all Israel, there will be a re-enactment on a much grander
scale of that which happened in Bethany 2,000 years ago. That is, like those Jews who stood
close to Jesus, near Lazarus' tomb, there will be millions of Jews looking upon Him whom they
pierced. All will be weeping. Jesus' tears will not be tears of sadness, though, rather tears of joy
because of what He is about to do. Israel will then witness the grandest miracle he has ever
seen---removing the scales from their own eyes followed by the Spirit of God descending upon all
of them, simultaneously. Then, in one accord, they will resound together, "Behold how he loved
"And some of them said, Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have caused
that even this man should not have died?"
Why do you suppose so much attention was given to the saving of the life of one man? After all, surely people were dying all around Jesus in those days. How many did Jesus raise from the dead? Only a few, right? Well, certainly one might argue that it was because Lazarus was such a special friend. But, again, I must say that I'm convinced the real reason all the extra attention and details which were given regarding Lazarus, has more to do with the metaphoric implications than to the man himself, as important as that aspect was.
Allow me to make another parallel here. Most songs have a melody, a pattern of notes which are usually repeated several times, for effect. You hear it a few times and then begin to hum the tune. If a melody happens to be "catchy" (you know what I mean), that song will reach the top of the charts. God is not unaware of this method of communication. (Indeed, He probably invented it!) I see this kind of pattern developing in John 11. Let me explain what I mean:
I think the above verse was included to repeat a melody we've already heard two times. The Jews who asked the above question symbolically represent all Israel. The question they asked completes the triangle of a common thought: Martha, Mary, and now Israel, all suggested that if Jesus had only not gone away, He could have prevented the death of Lazarus. You hear this "tune" enough times and it should soak in eventually. It did to me. God obviously wanted to make a point here.
The conclusion of this verse is again twofold: Yes, Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from
dying if He had wanted to; and, yes, God could have prevented national Israel from stumbling and
becoming "blinded" if He had chosen to. But the fact is, in neither case was this the will of
Almighty God. Lazarus went to "sleep" for a Divine purpose; so did Israel. That's the "catchy
melody" I hear in John 11.
"Jesus, therefore, again groaning in himself, cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone
lay upon it."
Have you ever had anyone you loved very much show lack of trust, loss of confidence, or for any reason demonstrate unbelief in you? It causes an awful kind of aching deep inside, doesn't it? That's what happened to Jesus as He is found "again groaning in himself". He was not hurting internally because of their grief, which is the way an average observer happening upon the above-described situation would likely conclude. Jesus was still reflecting on the Jews' question, which had made evident their unbelief in Him.
In the long-range sense, I believe Jesus' "groaning" refers to the fact of God's long-suffering as He
has had to endure the continuing sight of Israel's unbelief and disobedience towards Him. And as
a result of their disobedience, Israel, too, has had to suffer long; but God has had a purpose in it
all. This Godly paradox was on Paul's mind when he said:
"Even so have these [i.e., the Jews] also now not believed, that through your [the Church] mercy they also may obtain mercy."
"For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all."
"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable
are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Romans 11:31-33.
Notice that when Jesus finally comes to Lazarus' tomb, He finds a "cave" that a "stone" lay upon. In the natural, you've probably got the scene pretty well visualized. Jesus is getting ready to do what God the Father had led Him by the Spirit to do regarding the man Lazarus. Now hold that thought, but let me once again bring out what I see as a beautiful, double-reference image here.
Did you know that Jesus was born in a "cave"? Now most of us have been taught that it was a
stable. Well, actually, both are correct. In those days, stables were often made by cutting out a
cave-like opening in the side of a hill. What I want you to see is this: Jesus Himself, the "rock(3) of
ages", was the living "stone" born in a cave-stable! You see, when Jesus came to this earth, Israel
was already in their "cave" of unbelief. And when Jesus came, His birth, life, death, and
resurrection was God's answer to the death that reigned in Israel; through Him, life would return
someday to Israel. All this is what I believe was in Jesus' mind that day as he stood gazing at
Lazarus' tomb. [This image from God's 'darkroom' will develop further in the next chapter.]