Why did Jesus weep at the raising of Lazarus?


In John 11:35 we read the shortest verse in the Bible in the English translation: “Jesus wept”. It is only in the book of John that we read about the death and raising from the dead of Lazarus by Jesus.

Wikipedia states that: “In some places in the English-speaking world, including the UK, Ireland (particularly Dublin) and Australia, the phrase ‘Jesus wept’ is a common expletive, curse or minced oath spoken when something goes wrong or to express mild incredulity.”

Unfortunately, it appears that a number of authors also use this two-word-verse as en expletive in their writings.  

Why did Jesus weep at this particular time? Many authors and commentaries have offered numerous ideas and explanations.

For example, Matthew Henry’s Commentary states the following: “Different constructions were put upon Christ’s weeping. Some made a kind and candid interpretation of it, and what was very natural (John 11:36): ‘Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!’ They seem to wonder that he should have so strong an affection for one to whom he was not related, and with whom he had not had any long acquaintance. Others made a peevish unfair reflection upon it, as if these tears bespoke his inability to help his friend.”

In Wesley’s Notes we read:   “Jesus wept – Out of sympathy with those who were in tears all around him, as well as from a deep sense of the misery sin had brought upon human nature.”

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible states:   “Jesus wept.  As he was going along to the grave, see John 11:28; as he was meditating upon the state of his friend Lazarus, the distress his two sisters were in, and the greater damnation that would befall the Jews then present, who, notwithstanding the miracle, would not believe in him. This shows him to be truly and really man, subject to like passions, only without sin.”

Wikipedia adds that “the death and raising of Lazarus portends the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Another stated theory is that Jesus felt the trauma that Lazarus would experience when transitioning from a short stay in Paradise back to a very troubled Earth. Pope Leo I summed it up this way: ‘In his humanity Jesus wept for Lazarus; in his divinity he raised him from the dead.’”  This explanation is clearly wrong, as Lazarus was dead and in his grave—not in a Paradise in heaven.

Some feel that Jesus wept because He felt sorrow, sympathy, and compassion for all mankind.  Others think that it was the rage He felt against the tyranny of death over mankind.

Let us look more closely at the passage in question. In John 11 we read that Lazarus was sick. In verse 4 it states: “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” Jesus stayed where He was for two more days, and verse 11 states: “These things He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’”

In the space of two days, Jesus had said that the sickness was not for death (that is, Lazarus would not remain dead, but would shortly be brought back to life), and that He would go and wake him up. His disciples were thinking of normal daily sleep, not the sleep of death, and “Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead…’ (verse 14). 

Why then did Jesus weep at the grave, knowing that He would raise up Lazarus within the next moment?

The disciples had seen Jesus perform many miracles. In Matthew 17:14-21 we read the following:  “And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.’ Then Jesus answered and said, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.’”

It is obvious from this passage that the disciples lacked sufficient faith to heal the boy, and Jesus was obviously frustrated at this (see verse 17). This problem of lack of faith is also highlighted in Matthew 8:8-10: “The centurion answered and said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, “Go,” and he goes; and to another, “Come,” and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’”

Faith always seemed to be in short supply. There was further unbelief shown in John 11:37: “And some of them (the Jews) said, ‘Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?’” Here was doubt again!

In spite of all of the miracles that Jesus performed, there always seemed to be doubt. In John 11:25-26 we read that: “Jesus said to her (Martha), ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’”

Jesus was trying to tell Martha what He was about to do (see verse 23 where Jesus told her that her brother would rise again). But even though Martha had said that she knew that whatever He asked of God, God would give to Him (verse 22), she could not really see or believe that Lazarus would be raised up right there and then. Even though she said that she believed that He was the prophesied Christ and the Son of God (verse 27), she could not comprehend what Jesus would do, thinking He was talking about the resurrection at the last day (verse 24).

It seemed that even His close disciples and friends, and those who had seen such awesome miracles performed, failed to recognise what He was really capable of doing. They lived in grief and sorrow, confused and scattered, incapable of finding a way out of misery, discomfort, frustration and pain. They needed help.

Christ was a man full of compassion (Matthew 9:36). When He saw the grief of the people, including the ones whom He loved (see verse 5), it had undoubtedly an impact on Him and His emotions. We read that when Jesus saw Mary’s and the Jews’ weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled (verse 33). Jesus wept with those who wept (compare Romans 12:15).

In addition, in light of what we discussed above, there seems to be an even more compelling explanation as to why Jesus wept. He was grieved about their doubt about Him and His ability to heal, and their lack of faith and vision.

It is a good lesson for us today, not to doubt what God and Jesus Christ can do in our lives and to make sure that we believe what the Word of God clearly reveals to us.

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (UK) and Norbert Link

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