Did Jesus weep because He was sorry that Lazarus had died and was no more? Or was it just compassion for the bereaved who were there standing around and crying? When they saw him weep the Jews said “See how he loved Him!” Why would Jesus cry at Lazarus’ death when He knew perfectly well what He was going to do and the consequences of His action. Earlier in the Biblical text, John 11: 3-4, the sisters Mary and Martha sent to Jesus saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” We are told that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard of Lazarus’ illness he stayed two days longer at the place where He was. When His disciples cautioned Him about His decision to return to Judea because the Jews were going to stone Him, He explained that Lazarus had fallen asleep. The Scriptures often referred to death as sleep. When Jesus realized that the disciples thought he was just taking a rest, He told them plainly that Lazarus was dead; “and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.”
Jesus can see further than ordinary man can. He was able to see beyond Lazarus’ coming out of his tomb to the time when the evil in men’s hearts will cause them to plot not only His death but that of Lazarus’ as well and that their rejection of Him will bring about their downfall. The tears and weeping were not for Lazarus at all. It was the sadness and emotion that many people feel when they see others bereft with grief, even when they do not know personally the bereaved. Jesus was both divine and human and it was because of his emotions as a human being that He could feel such empathy for the suffering around Him that He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, brought hearing to the deaf, cleansed the lepers, exorcised demons and brought the good news and hope to the poor. Yet, despite all the miracles he performed to help and bring relief to the people around Him, their relatives, neighbours and friends, they did not believe He was the Son of God. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” they asked. (Matt. 13:55)
Jesus had foretold his suffering, death and resurrection on three separate occasions to His disciples: In Matt. 16:21-22 “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” In Matt. 17:22 “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” In Matt. 20:17 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified.”
Before calling forth Lazarus from the cave in which he was entombed, Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I know that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” (John 11: 42) Jesus prayed always to His Father and it is significant that he said, “I know that thou hearest me always”, as there was nothing that He asked His Father that His Father would refuse. He knew His Father would bring forth Lazarus and that the people would see and be awestruck and glorify God. They would understand that He was indeed the Son of God for no one else could perform such a miracle unless He was from God.
Jesus also wept over Jerusalem, the city that He loved. Luke 19:41 “And when he drew near the city he wept over it, saying “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.” In Luke 13: 34-35 Jesus cries out “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
At the time of Lazarus’ death, Jesus was seeing beyond the present to the future when Jerusalem would suffer at the hands of the Romans because of the unbelief of the Jews and their Temple would be destroyed. Only those who believed in the warning of Jesus and acted on it when He told them in Matt.24: 15-18 “When you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place….. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.”
The abomination of desolation took place in 70 AD almost four decades after the crucifixion of Jesus and for this Jesus wept.
Phyllis M. Inniss
Texts taken from the NKJV and
the Revised Standard Version