What Happened to Lazarus?

What happened to Lazarus? He is the center figure (other than Jesus), in one of the most significant, well-known stories in the Bible. The events take place in a way that is designed so there would be no doubts that Lazarus was dead and then he was alive again. From the Gospels, we learn that Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus, who fell terribly ill. By this time, Jesus was well known for his healings and given that, the family did the obvious thing in their time of need. They wanted Jesus to know about Lazarus’ illness. Jesus’ response is fascinating:

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.”

John 11:4-7 NIV

By this time, the disciples had already seen many unexpected things and when Jesus said this, I’m sure they thought that Lazarus would get better. After all, Jesus loved Lazarus, He loved this family and Jesus obviously is able to heal people, so it is only logical that if Jesus needed to heal Lazarus, he would have headed to Bethany right away. Instead, he waits 2 more days. The disciples aren’t happy about the decision to go back to Judea. The last time they were in that area, the Jewish leaders were ready to stone him. They argue with Jesus, thinking that Lazarus will be okay. In the end, Jesus has to speak very directly to them:

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.” Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

John 11:14-16 NIV

The two statements Jesus made before the resurrection are very telling as well. “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” and “for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

I won’t recount the resurrection story here, but you should check it out in John 11. Jesus allowed the events to take place in a way that Lazarus would not only die, but that he would be dead long enough so that there was no doubt that he was really dead. He had died and he had been prepared for burial and left in what would turn out to be only the first tomb of Lazarus. In Church history, Lazarus was considered a saint and some would even call him, “Lazarus the Four Days Dead”. Many of events of Jesus’ ministry were down in more isolated places, even the large gatherings were outside of the city centers. By the time this event happened, Jesus had already developed a considerable following and there had been several events with the religious leaders that had them looking for ways to come after Jesus. Jesus was their target, but interestingly enough after this event, Lazarus was as well. We read about this in the next chapter:

“But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.”

John 12:10-11 CSB

The resurrection of Lazarus had many witnesses. After it happened, everyone in the region heard about it, including the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  The chief priests were not disputing the miracle of Lazarus, but instead, they were determined to reverse it. They hated Jesus so much, they were plotting to kill Lazarus. They knew they were losing political and religious power and Lazarus was evidence, walking around, that Jesus was greater than they were.

It is important to remember that Lazarus was still going to die and ultimately, Scripture doesn’t record that event. Church history and tradition tell us he would later go on to be a church leader on the island of Cyprus, but according to that same tradition, he would die a second time and there is a tomb there that marks his grave. Lazarus is significant to the story because of Jesus. The priests wanted to kill him because of Jesus, not because of anything that Lazarus had done. 

This is what it means to have a true and relevant testimony for Christ. When we proclaim the Truth about Jesus, some will reject it, some will accept it and some might want to persecute or kill us because of Jesus. Our role is to be like Lazarus. We are all those who once were dead in our sins, but now are alive in Christ. Our testimony is not our own. It is not significant what we have done, but the miraculous work that Jesus has done in our lives. Both by providing salvation and by transforming us daily into His image. This good work of God doesn’t make us acceptable to all men. In fact, it is promised that many will reject us and some will want to do us harm. Life in Christ makes it worth it all.

So ultimately, what happened to Lazarus after the resurrection wasn’t that important. According to church history, the chief priests’ plot to kill Lazarus was not successful. Instead, he was able to live out the rest of his life continuing to accomplish his greatest purpose, which was proclaimed by Jesus before Lazarus’ resurrection: bringing glory to God and to God’s Son. That is our purpose as well. We testify that we were once dead in our sins, but now have been resurrected in Christ. In our own way, we are all dead people, resurrected and walking around, proclaiming the Truth of our resurrection on this earth until we, like Lazarus, will face physical death and pass into eternity with Christ. That is our greatest purpose as followers of Him and every day we can choose to serve that purpose in order to bring Him glory by our testimony of His’ Truth.

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