After the Good Shepherd Discourse, Jesus left Judea because the Jewish authorities attempted to arrest Him (John 10). We find Him still away from the Holy City in today’s passage, when some messengers bring Him some sad news.
The messengers tell our Lord that Lazarus of Bethany is gravely ill. Lazarus, we learn, is the brother of Martha and Mary, with Mary being the same woman who later anoints Jesus before His death (11:1–2). Since John does not tell the story of the anointing until chapter 12, he clearly expects his audience to be familiar with Mary’s deed already. Furthermore, John 11:1–10 emphasizes the fact that Jesus has great love for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. There will be a bit of a delay before Jesus goes to solve the problem (v. 6), but it will not be because of a lack of affection for Lazarus and his sisters.
Hearing that Lazarus is sick, Jesus assures His disciples that the illness is not unto death (vv. 3–4). Since Christ will raise Lazarus from the dead, He obviously does not mean that Lazarus will not experience physical death but that the illness will not have the final word, that the death that will result will be temporary. Additionally, Jesus says the purpose of the illness is the glory of God and of the Son of God (v. 4). This highlights a theme in the gospel of John and in the New Testament that the glory of the Father and the Son are inseparable (8:54; Phil. 2:5–11). As Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary John, “In the glorification of Christ comes the glorification of the Father.”
Although Jesus delays, He eventually decides to return to Judea. This prompts the disciples to object, noting that Jesus is putting His life in danger by going back to the region where others are seeking His death. Our Lord responds with enigmatic words about day and night. Essentially, He means that He must continue to minister until the time of His departure arrives. Soon He will be gone and unable to minister in the flesh, but that time is not yet (John 11:5–10).
We conclude today with what John Calvin says about the fact that Jesus does not rush off to Bethany and that He loves Lazarus, Mary, and Martha: “We are taught by this delay on his part, that we ought not to judge of the love of God from the condition which we see before our eyes. When we have prayed to him, he often delays his assistance, either that he may increase still more our ardor in prayer, or that he may exercise our patience, and, at the same time, accustom us to obedience.”