The Bible's report about the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus Christ has become one of the world's most famous miracles. The Gospel of John tells the story in chapters 11 and 12 (John 11:1-44 and John 12:1-11); here's what the Bible says happened, with commentary:
Delaying on Purpose
The story begins when Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus that their brother is sick and ask Jesus to come soon to their home in Bethany (a town close to Jerusalem) to visit Lazarus. Since both sisters knew about Jesus' miraculous healing power, they hoped that he would make Lazarus well again.
But verses 4 through 7 reveal Jesus' unexpected response: "When he heard this, Jesus said, 'This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.' Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, 'Let us go back to Judea.'"
Even though Jesus (unlike the disciples, at this point) knew that Lazarus had already died, Jesus could reply that Lazarus' sickness will not end in death, because Jesus also knew that he would miraculously resurrect Lazarus back to life in the coming days. Jesus made sure to delay his arrival in Bethany by two more days, for a good purpose: so that Mary, Martha, and the many friends and relatives gathered with them as they mourned Lazarus would eventually see God's glory at work through Jesus in a miraculous display of resurrection power.
Verses 11 through 15 show Jesus explaining the situation to his disciples, who don't yet understand what's really going to happen. Jesus says: "...Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.'
His disciples replied, 'Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.' Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.'
Next, the Bible describes Jesus arriving in Bethany at the point when Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Martha goes to meet Jesus and expresses her frustration and regret that he is so late arriving; if only he had been there earlier, she tells him, Lazarus wouldn't have passed away. Yet, despite her disappointment, Martha still holds on to her faith in Jesus.
Verses 21 through 27 record the memorable conversation between Jesus and Martha: "'Lord,' Martha said to Jesus, 'if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.'
Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.'
Martha answered, 'I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.'
Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?'
'Yes, Lord,' she replied, 'I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.'
Here, Jesus makes an incredible promise: that people who believe in him as the Messiah (world's savior) and live with trust in him will live forever -- even after they die physically, they will live spiritually throughout eternity. He says that the key is a relationship with him, since he personally is "the resurrection and the life."
The story continues with Martha calling Mary outside to meet Jesus, and Mary saying in verse 32 what Martha had earlier told Jesus: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
Then Mary begins to cry, and Jesus is deeply moved by her grief, as well of the grieving of others who were looking on. Jesus asks to see Lazarus' grave, and when he does, he cries himself over the death of his friend.
Verses 33 through 37 record: "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
'Where have you laid him?' he asked.
'Come and see, Lord,' they replied.
Then the Jews said, 'See how he loved him!' But some of them said, 'Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?'"
Lazarus, Come Out!
Verses 38 through 44 record the resurrection miracle happening: "Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 'Take away the stone,” he said.
'But, Lord,' said Martha, the sister of the dead man, 'by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.'
Then Jesus said, 'Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?'
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, 'Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.'
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!'
The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, 'Take off the grave clothes and let him go.'"
Here Jesus shows the power that he has over death. Simply by speaking words, Jesus calls Lazarus back to life. This reflects what the Bible says is Jesus' true identity: The Creator -- God -- incarnate among human beings. As God on Earth, Jesus can give Lazarus life because God is ultimately responsible for giving life to every person. Christians believe that Jesus can speak miracles into existence just as he and the other parts of God (the Father and the Holy Spirit) once spoke the entire universe into existence.
Lazarus, whose body has begun to decompose after lying in his grave for four days, emerges from the tomb covered in burial linens and walks back into the presence of his living loved ones. This shocking sight likely overwhelmed the people watching.
Jesus mentions that he has performed this miracle to show God's glory at work in the world, so that people may believe that God sent him to save and redeem the world from the effects of sin -- including death.
Celebrating at a Dinner Party
The next chapter (John 12) describes a dinner party that Lazarus, Mary, and Martha later hold in their home to honor Jesus for resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. Part of verses 2 and 3 record: "Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair."
One of Jesus' disciples (Judas Iscariot, the one who would later betray him) objected that Mary shouldn't have used such expensive perfume rather than selling it and giving the money to the poor. Verses 7 and 8 show Jesus foreshadowing his own death and miraculous resurrection by responding: "'Leave her alone,' Jesus replied. 'It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.'"
As the story ends, verses 9-11 describe the controversy that this memorable miracle has stirred up among the Jewish people who heard about it: "Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him."