For N.T. Character Study 20, Lazarus (28 minutes), click on the play button below:

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  • If you haven't listened to the podcast on Mary & Martha, it might be good to listen to that one before this lesson on Lazarus, as they're integrally related.
  • He lives in Bethany (2 miles from Jerusalem), with his sisters; apparently there are no parents or children living in the home, but this surmise can never be proven.
  • His name, Greek, comes from the Hebrew Eleazar, which means something like "God is my help." (The help the rich man in Luke 16 would not give to Lazarus was lavished on him by the Lord, while the rich man's fortunes were completely reversed. Parable inspiration?)
  • As for Lazarus' character, nothing is known for sure. Yet we can rightly expect that, in terms of personality, there would have been a family resemblance. His sisters were faithful, devoted, giving, and "real." It isn't hard to imagine that Lazarus was a winsome individual; and as a fellow male, Jesus would easily have connected with him.

Scriptures read in this podcast:

  • John 11:1,3-4,5-6,11-15,17,33-37,38-41,43-44,45-46
  • John 12:1-2, 9-11, 17-19
  • John 13:23
  • Ephesians 2:1-6

Five facts about Lazarus' life

  • The dead man walks out of the tomb (John 11:44).
    • Many come to faith as a result (11:45).
    • The notoriety this miracle accelerates the collision-course Jesus and the religious establishment are on.
    • Why was Jesus so deeply moved at this time? His emotion suggests his humanity (an emphasis in John), though (surely) also his divinity.
    • Was Jesus angry? Find out.
    • Did Jesus wait the extra days to prove beyond all doubt that Lazarus was dead? Is it true that the Jews believed the soul hovered around the body for three days after death? According to later Jewish belief, yes; check out this link or that one. And yet it is uncertain that this view was current in the first century.
  • At dinner, he reclines with Jesus (John 12:2).
    • This is a special dinner, hosted at the Bethany home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.
    • At ancient meals, people lay around the table on couches (on their left elbow) and ate with their right hand.
  • After his resuscitation, Lazarus becomes, like Jesus, a target (John 12:9-11,17-19).
    • The impact of the miracle is mixed.
    • Some are moved to faith, others are moved to resistance. So it is with our lives!
  • Then Lazarus disappears (or does he? -- see below).
  • He was deeply loved by Jesus (John 11:3,5,11,36). While the Lord loves everyone, not all relationships are the same. This is not a general love, but a very specific one: love for a person as a genuine friend.

An intriguing possibility

  • About the disciple Jesus loved, see John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,20.
  • Note: The Twelve are referred to in chapters 6 and 20, though the apostle John is never designated by name. The closest we come is "son of Zebedee" (21:2).
  • "The disciple whom Jesus loved" makes his appearance at the very point that Lazarus "disappears." Consider the suggestion of N.T. scholar Ben Witherington III. Click here.


  • John 11:6 -- God loves us, yet still he allows tough things to happen to us. We should never doubt his love, or the relief that will eventually come.
  • When God does great things through us, there will be some who are acutely uncomfortable. (Those among whom the Lord is not doing great things? Those whose influence or reputations is diminished.)
  • We were dead in our sins before we knew Christ (Ephesians 2:1-6). We could no more have raised ourselves up than Lazarus could have brought himself back to life. We are wholly dependent on Christ.
  • God's love for us isn't just platonic, or abstract. The Bible gives every appearance that God feels--that he cares.
  • We should pay attention even to the minor characters in the Bible. Although there may be no character development, still there may be things to learn about God (theology).

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