In John chapter eleven, the Bible gives us the historical account of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead. To this point in Jesus’ ministry, it was His most wonderful and undeniable miracle. Because of Christ’s mighty works, the plan for His execution was expedited (John 11:45-57). The chief priests even sought to kill Lazarus, since his resurrection at the hands of Jesus caused so many people to believe (John 12:9-11).
But there is something else here to consider.
What happened to Lazarus when he died? Did he go to paradise (Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22; 23:43)), or did he go to torments in Hades (Luke 16:23)?
It could be speculated that he went to either of the two places. If he had been a faithful Jew, turned disciple of John the Baptist, now currently a disciple of Jesus — as most information leads one to believe, it is assumed he would have gone to paradise. On the other hand, if he had been simply listening to Jesus as a friend, and had not yet committed himself to the commands of God under the Mosaic system, it is possible, God knowing his heart, that he would have been sent to torments.
For a minute, consider the ramifications for Lazarus concerning his earthly resurrection:
1. We have heard for years about “near-death experiences.” Nothing can be factually documented about the claims of these cases. But the facts surrounding Lazarus are quite different. He would have certainly learned something about the afterlife when he died.
In Luke 16, Jesus taught that when the other Lazarus (the beggar) died, angels were waiting and accompanied his soul to Abraham’s bosom. So immediately upon death, Lazarus of Bethany would have gone somewhere. Since his earthly remains had been in the tomb four days (John 11:17), he would have seen some things that others have not seen.
2. It may be that Lazarus could tell Jesus what to expect. Six days before the Passover, Jesus sat at the table with the risen Lazarus and talked (John 12:2).
We know not of the content of that conversation. Could it be possible that Lazarus shared his experience with Jesus? Was he sad to be back here on earth because he had been in paradise, or was he glad to have a second chance to get his life right? Did he have comforting words for his friend, Jesus, concerning the place where Jesus had told His disciples He was about to go? Did he have discouraging words for his unfaithful and disobedient acquaintances about the horrors of death for those who know not God?
3. Lazarus had to get it right the second time, no matter what he had done the first time. Let’s face it, the first time he died, he was finished. His opportunity to live a life that was pleasing to God had come and gone.
This is true for all of us as we will all die and be judged (Heb. 9:27). We will be judged according to the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10).
When Lazarus was resurrected by Jesus, it was his second earthly life for which he was accountable. While it may be argued that it would be the accumulation of all his earthly time (from birth to his second visit to the tomb), we cannot understate the fact that he was once again called to be faithful until his second death, just as he was accountable to his first.
4. Imagine the kind of life Lazarus was determined to live had he gone to paradise! Imagine the kind of life Lazarus was determined to live had he gone to torments! What an intriguing case, this resurrection of Lazarus!
It reminds us that our God is powerful, and that our Savior has the power to raise us up to life, even from the grave. It also cautions us to be mindful of the judgment, and the importance of living a life that is pleasing to God.
When Lazarus was raised, was he sad or glad? We cannot know about his feelings for sure. We do know his family and friends were happy to see him. We also know Jesus said this was done “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
Our own eventual resurrection will fulfill this same purpose.
“… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” Philippians 3:10-11
—Jeremiah Tatum, Willow Ave. church bulletin, Cookeville, TN