According to one count, the Lord Jesus told 42 parables. We can think of a parable as a short fictional story that teaches a spiritual lesson. Some of the Lord’s parables are well known. You may have heard about the sower who went out to sow seed; or the prodigal son, whose father welcomed him home; or the widow and the unjust judge. In each of those three parables, none of the characters is given a name. In fact, in all the parables in the Bible only one character is given a name: a poor beggar named Lazarus.
We will see that the Lord’s reason for naming him Lazarus teaches us an important lesson concerning a real man whose name was Lazarus. However, before proceeding with that we should consider how the Bible was written. We will see that this matter is very relevant to any discussion about Lazarus.
Who Wrote The Bible?
The Bible has been called “God’s Book.” That’s a good way of thinking about it, because that’s what the Bible reveals about itself – that it was actually written by God. There are some scriptures proving this. For example, in 2 Peter 1:21, we read:
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Notice the word “prophecy” in this verse. Usually, when we see that word we think of a prediction that something will happen in the future – something that only God could know. However, in the Bible the word “prophecy” has a broader meaning. We can see this from Revelation 22:18-19:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
In these verses, God is telling us something about the whole Bible. He’s calling it “this book,” and He’s telling us it is complete as it is. Nothing must ever be deleted from it, and there will never be anything added to it.
Notice the word “prophecy” in both verses. The same Greek word translated as “prophecy” in 2 Peter 1:21 (Strong’s number G4394 – propheteia) is used in these two verses from Revelation. Notice how the word is used: “the words of the prophecy of this book,” and “the words of the book of this prophecy.” God is telling us that all the words in the Bible are “prophecy.”
In 2 Peter 1:21, when we read that the “prophecy” came about by holy men moved by the Holy Ghost, God is telling us how He wrote the Bible. That verse tells us that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” It’s as if God caused these men to “speak” His words in their minds, just the way you may hear words in your own mind as you write a letter.
When you write a letter to your friend, the words you hear in your mind are your own words; but when the Bible was being recorded, the words were God’s words. The men whom God used to record His words didn’t have to actually say the words they were writing, although it could have happened that way.
Joshua 1:8 is another verse that clarifies something about the Bible. In it, we find God telling Joshua to meditate day and night on “this book of the law.” That book was the Bible as it existed at that time. Joshua had only the first five books of the Bible. Those were the books recorded by Moses, who had died only recently (Joshua 1:1). The fact that God is telling Joshua to meditate on the book day and night proves that every word of it is important. That would only be the case if God Himself had written it.
In the book of Jeremiah, we find more evidence that God actually wrote the Bible. Jeremiah 36:2 states:
Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.
God caused Jeremiah to remember everything he had already heard, and to record it along with whatever else God wanted him to write. Jeremiah wrote all that material in the Hebrew language exactly the way God wanted it written. This means that in the original languages, the Bible is exactly what God wants us to know. They are all God’s words.
Matthew 4:4 also illustrates this truth:
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
In the Bible we find God’s words, and we are commanded to live by them. Now we come to an interesting point. In almost every case, we know the names of the men who recorded the books of the Bible. For example, we know from several verses that Moses recorded the first five books of the Bible. Although his name doesn’t appear in any of the titles of those books, we can tell that it was definitely he who recorded them.
What about some of the other books? Depending on your Bible, you may find that the book following Isaiah is called either “The Book of Jeremiah” or “The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.” Both of those titles can be found in different printings of King James Bibles.
Turn to the second Gospel. It’s probably called “The Gospel According to Mark” or “The Gospel According to Saint Mark” in your Bible; yet Mark 1:1 states:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
Considering this verse, the names given to the second Gospel don’t seem appropriate, do they? Based on what we’ve seen, it isn’t the Gospel according to Mark. Rather, it’s the Gospel recorded by Mark. The point is this: there is no evidence that God inspired the names by which we know the books in the Bible. The content of each of the 66 books is God’s; but the evidence is that men assigned the names. Later on, as we consider what the Bible reveals about Lazarus, we will see why it’s important to understand what the Bible tells us about God’s authorship.
Lazarus Becomes Famous
The name “Lazarus” is thought to mean “whom God helps.” It appears 15 times in the Bible and comes from the Hebrew name “Eleazar.” (There was more than one Eleazar in the Bible; for example, see Exodus 6:23 and Nehemiah 12:42).
Of the 15 uses of “Lazarus,” four times it’s used in the parable known as “the rich man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31); so that leaves only 11 times when it’s applied to the real Lazarus. Everything we know about him comes from the fourth Gospel account, identified in many Bibles as The Gospel According To John.
We first read about Lazarus in John 11:1:
Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
Verse 2 tells us that Mary had anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair; and in verse 3 we learn that Mary and Martha sent a message to the Lord, telling Him that Lazarus was sick:
Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
Instead of coming right away to see Lazarus, we read that Jesus remained where He was two days (verse 6). He then told His disciples, “Let us go intoJudeaagain.”
We know that when Jesus got the message from Mary and Martha, He was somewhere on the other side of theJordan River(John 10:40). He had been teaching inJerusalemat the temple (John 10:22-23) until the Jews tried to kill Him. Then he left; so we aren’t surprised to read how the disciples reacted when He told them about going back toJudea. In verse 8, we read:
His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?
The Lord knew that Lazarus had died by that time, but the disciples didn’t. In verse 11, He tells them: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth: but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” The disciples didn’t understand what the Lord meant about Lazarus sleeping, and so in verse 14 He tells them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”
We don’t know how long it took for the Lord and the disciples to travel toBethany; but we know that by the time they arrived, Lazarus had already been in the grave four days (verse 17). That was plenty of time for the news of Lazarus’ death to get around, and verse 19 indicates this:
And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him. She knew that Jesus could have saved her brother (verse 21), and so did Mary – as we read in verse 32:
Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
Besides Martha and Mary, other mourners were there; for they had followed Mary when she left her house to meet Jesus. The sisters walked with the Lord to Lazarus’ grave. Verse 38 describes this particular grave:
Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
Being there with the two grieving sisters and other mourners, the Lord Jesus was deeply moved. In fact, this was one of the two times recorded in the Bible when He wept. He then had the stone moved away from the entrance. He was about to do one of the most wonderful miracles we find in the Bible. With a loud voice, He cried, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43).
We don’t read about anyone fainting or running away at the sight of Lazarus coming out of the cave, but those who were there must have been absolutely shocked. Even Martha, who knew that the Lord could have healed her brother of his illness, thought it was now too late to do anything for Lazarus. John 11:39 proves this:
Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
Lazarus couldn’t just walk out of the cave after coming back to life. We know this based on what we read in John 11:44:
And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
Lazarus was “bound hand and foot.” He also had a covering over his face; therefore, he couldn’t see where he was going. Most likely, his body had been laid out on a ledge carved into rock within the cave. Because of the grave-clothes, there was no way he could get up and come out of the cave on his own power. Therefore, Lazarus did not come out of the cave in any normal way. The people who were there must have seen something else miraculous, besides the miracle of Lazarus coming back to life: they must have seen Lazarus moving as if an invisible hand was pulling him out. The Lord must have pulled him out, set him on his feet and held him there until the sisters could release him. What a sight that must have been!
It’s interesting that the Lord once said: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). The Greek word for “draw” here is G1670 (“helko”). When we see how it’s used to describe an action upon a sword (John 18:10), or a net full of fishes (John 21:6), or the apostle Paul (Acts 21:30), we can understand that the word conveys the idea of something being pulled or dragged off. Even though that word wasn’t used in the account of Lazarus’ resurrection, it certainly fits our understanding of salvation. With Lazarus, God is showing us how He saves someone. Lazarus’ resurrection might be taken as a picture of the resurrection at the last day; but that understanding doesn’t really fit. Instead, it appears to be a picture of the exact time in a person’s life when God saves him.
We’ve seen that Lazarus was well known before his illness, because John 11:19 tells us that many of the Jews came to comfort Mary and Martha. Now, from the moment he came out of the cave, Lazarus would be more than well known: he was going to be famous.
Some of those who witnessed this miracle told the Pharisees what had happened, as we read in John 11:46. The news could have gotten back to them the same day, becauseBethanywas nearJerusalem. John 11:18 reveals that the distance was about 15 furlongs. This is estimated to be a little less than two miles – not very far fromJerusalem.
Even before this incredible miracle, the Pharisees were aware of what Jesus was doing. When Jesus healed the man who had been born blind (John 9:1-7), the Pharisees found out about it (John 9:13) and were very careful to investigate it. They questioned the man, and then had the man’s parents brought to them for questioning. After that, they had the man brought in again (John 9:23-24). Healing the man born blind was an astonishing miracle. As amazing as it was, it couldn’t compare with the miracle of bringing to life a man who had been dead four days.
When they found out about Lazarus, the Pharisees had a meeting with the chief priests to discuss what they should do about Jesus (John 11:47). In John 11:53, we read the decision that came out of that meeting:
Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.
From John 11:55, we know that this meeting was held sometime near the final Passover in the Lord’s ministry. The religious leaders were now really determined to kill the Lord Jesus. More than that, they even thought about killing Lazarus! We know this from John 12:10-11:
There is another verse indicating that many people knew Lazarus had come back to life. It’s in the account of the Lord’s arrival atJerusalema short time later. The word had gotten out that Jesus was on His way there, so people took branches of palm trees and went to see Him. John 12:17 tells us that people who had witnessed the miracle reported it:
The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record.
And John 12:18 tells us that this miracle was one reason for people coming to see the Lord Jesus that day:
For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle.
Based on John 12:19, we know there must have been many people there to greet the Lord:
The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.
This verse also shows us that the Pharisees still wanted to control the situation. They opposed the Lord Jesus, and could not believe that He was God.
Verse 12:17, telling us that people who had witnessed the miracle “bare record,” is the last verse to mention the real Lazarus by name. However, we will see that there is much evidence that Lazarus is the man behind the scenes in several other events recorded in the fourth Gospel.
The Fictional Lazarus
Outside of the fourth Gospel, we find the name “Lazarus” four times in Luke 16:20-31. There, we find a parable that the Lord Jesus told His disciples. It’s a parable about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus.
According to the parable, both men die. Lazarus goes to heaven, but the rich man “was buried” and is “in hell,” according to Luke 16:22-23. We also read that the rich man is “in torments” (verse 23). This man cries out to Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus with just the tiniest bit of water to cool his tongue because he is “tormented in this flame” (verse 24). Abraham tells the man that there is a “great gulf fixed” between “us and you.” Therefore, it is not possible for Lazarus to go to the man.
The man then asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to testify to his five brethren, so that they would not come to “this place of torment” (verse 28). To this request, Abraham replies that they have Moses and the prophets. He says, “let them hear them” (verse 29). The man tries again, as we read in Luke 16:30:
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
Luke 16:31 is the final verse of this parable:
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
What the Parable Means, And What It Doesn’t Mean
That final verse is the point of the parable. The Lord is teaching that even if unsaved people could see someone come back to life, they would still not come to God in a manner leading to salvation. God uses His word to save people; but unless God gives a person “spiritual ears” to hear His word with understanding, they cannot be saved (Proverbs 20:12).
The real Lazarus became living proof of this. The Lord Jesus raised him from the dead; but instead of repenting at this miracle, the religious leaders wanted to kill the Lord and even spoke of killing Lazarus. They had the word of God – “Moses and the prophets;” but could not “hear” it.
With these things in mind, we can understand why the Lord named the beggar “Lazarus” in the parable: He was pointing to the miracle that brought Lazarus back from the dead. The fictional Lazarus is a picture of the real Lazarus, and Abraham’s final statement to the rich man describes how the religious leaders reacted when they learned that Lazarus had come back to life. It appears that the Lord told this parable before performing the miracle. However, it might not be possible to know this for certain.
Some elements of this parable have been a great cause of worry to Christians throughout the ages. When we read about the rich man being tormented in flame after he died, we can easily come to a wrong conclusion. We might think the parable is proof the unsaved go to a place of terrible suffering when they die. Is this what the parable teaches? Is this what God is telling us?
God has given us many verses to explain what happens to an unsaved person after death. Psalm 49:12 is one of these:
Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
Here, we see that the death of an unsaved man is compared to that of an animal. There is no reward or punishment for an animal after death. Psalm 49 has more to tell us about what happens after death. In verses 14 and 15, we read:
Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.
Once again, we see that the unsaved are like animals when they die. When a sheep dies, nothing else will ever happen to it; but when a child of God dies, he or she inherits eternal life.
In Job 14, we find the same ideas expressed in a different way. Verses 1 and 2 state:
All die, except for that last group of the elect – those who will be alive when the Lord returns; and all have only a relatively short time on earth. When someone’s life ends, it’s as if a flower has been cut down or as if a shadow has disappeared. There’s no physical life remaining.
Job spoke the words we read in the preceding two verses. He knew about death; but he also knew that there is life after death for anyone who is saved (Job 14:14-15). The promise of life, however, is only for the saved. The unsaved do not live again in any way, shape, form, or place.
From the verses quoted from Job and the Psalms, and other verses elsewhere in the Bible, we know that the unsaved will not suffer torment in flames or in any other way. Then how can we understand the parable’s verses about the rich man being in torment?
The parable is showing that an unsaved man would be in great anguish if he could know the blessings he will never inherit. We can understand this if we examine the word translated as “tormented” in Luke 16:24 and 25. That word is Strong’s number G3600 (odynao). Besides the two times it’s used in the parable, it’s used in only two other verses in the Bible: Luke 2:48 and Acts 20:38. In both of those two other verses, it’s translated as the word “sorrowing.” In the first, Jesus’ mother Mary told Him that she and Joseph were sorrowing when they couldn’t find Him because He had stayed behind in Jerusalem; and in the second case, the disciples who accompanied the apostle Paul up to the place where he was about to leave them were sorrowing because they knew they would never see him again. The rich man in the grave wasn’t being tormented, but he would have been sorrowing if he could have known his end and seen the wonderful blessings God has in store for His children – blessings that he would never inherit.
We also find the words “torments” and “torment” in the parable (Luke 16:23 and 28). The Greek word used for those words (G931, “basanos”) appears to come from the Greek word used in Acts 3:7 (G939, “basis”), translated as “feet.” That verse tells us about a lame man who was miraculously healed – he “received strength,” so that he was able to walk and leap. In other words, he was strengthened from the ground up. So in the parable, when we read that the rich man was “in torments” and didn’t want his brothers to come to “this place of torment,” we’re seeing a picture of a man in the ground!
Finally, some may be mislead by the word “flame.” We find that word in Luke 16:24. The word from which it is translated definitely means “flame,” and it’s used in other verses to tell about a flame of fire (for example, Acts 7:30). However, we need to remember that the Lord Jesus spoke in parables (Matthew 13:34), and that God tells us that He is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24). A consuming fire destroys completely – that’s what happened to the rich man who died and was buried.
Something Special About Lazarus
We have now examined the only passages in the Bible that mention Lazarus by name. After reading about his death and resurrection (John 11), and his presence when his sister Mary anointed the Lord Jesus with costly ointment (John 12:1-3), most people think they have read all that the Bible has to say about Lazarus. However, we will see compelling evidence that Lazarus was present at other major events, and that he is actually one of the most important figures in the Bible.
As we proceed, you need to be aware of something that is evident throughout the Bible. You may have noticed the way God makes certain associations between objects or ideas. In this way, He shows us how to understand certain things. For example, in Ephesians 6:17 we read:
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
By realizing that a sword is identified with the word of God – as it is in this verse – we get a better understanding of other verses that mention a sword (for example, Revelation 1:16). God has done something similar in some verses about Lazarus. We see this in John 11:3:
Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
Notice the words “he whom thou lovest.” A couple of verses later, we find this idea again: in John 11:5, we read plainly that Jesus loved the two sisters and Lazarus. Then, in John 11:36 we read what was said about Jesus when He wept at Lazarus’ grave:
Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
God really emphasizes that Jesus loved Lazarus! In the verses mentioning this love for Lazarus, God uses two different Greek words: phileo (Strong’s number G5368) and agapao (Strong’s number G25). You may be wondering if the Lord Jesus loved Lazarus more than anyone else He has saved. Is that a possibility?
As we continue reading this Gospel account after the chapters mentioning Lazarus by name, we come to a verse that helps to answer this question. It’s John 16:27:
For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.
Here, the Lord Jesus is speaking to His disciples and telling them that the Father loves them. The Greek word translated as “loveth” is “phileo,” one of the same words used to tell about the Lord’s love for Lazarus. Revelation 3:19 is another verse in which we find the word “phileo” translated as love:
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
From this verse, we know that the Lord Jesus loves all His children and chastens them all at one time or another. God also uses the second Greek word we’ve seen applied to Lazarus – ”agapao” – to describe His love for all the elect. In John 15:12, we read:
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
The words translated as “love” and “loved” are “agapao.” Therefore, the same two Greek words used to describe Jesus’ love for Lazarus are also used to describe His love for anyone He has saved. As we proceed through the fourth Gospel, we will find verses to help us see why there is an emphasis on Lazarus as the disciple whom Jesus loved.
There’s More to Lazarus Than Most People Realize
There’s a 15th century painting by Leonardo da Vinci called “The Last Supper.” It shows the Lord Jesus (of course, this is a violation of the second of the ten commandments – see Exodus 20:4) sitting at the table with His 12 apostles. The idea that there were only 12 others with the Lord that evening is very common, and may have gained even more acceptance due to Leonardo’s famous painting. However, the Bible does not limit the number of disciples there to 12. We will see that there must have been at least one additional disciple present that evening with the Lord.
In John 13, we read about that Passover meal in the upper room. In John 13:21, the Lord tells His disciples that one of them will betray Him. Notice what John 13:23 tells us about one of those who was there:
Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.
Based on the verses indicating the Lord’s love for Lazarus, how can we conclude that this disciple is anyone else? Those verses allow us to identify Lazarus; so when we read the words “whom Jesus loved,” we know God is telling us that this disciple was Lazarus.
Peter wanted to know which disciple would betray the Lord, and he gestured to Lazarus to ask (John 13:24). In John 13:25, we read:
He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?
The Lord Jesus answered Lazarus (John 13:26), and told him it was the disciple to whom He would give a sop. After that, the Lord had much to say to His disciples. Most of the next few chapters of this Gospel account, right up to chapter 18, record what the Lord said.
In John 18:1, we read that the Lord and His disciples went over the brook Cedron to a garden. It was there that a group of men from the chief priests and Pharisees, led by Judas Iscariot, went to arrest the Lord Jesus. The apostle Peter confronted the men, as we read in John 18:10:
Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
From this Gospel account, we know that the Lord ordered Peter to put his sword back in its sheath. The other Gospel accounts provide additional details of what happened that night. For example, in the account recorded by Luke (Luke 22:51) we learn that the Lord healed the man whose ear was cut off; and in the account recorded by Matthew (Matthew 26:56), we read that all the disciples fled.
Returning to the fourth Gospel account, we read something very interesting. It’s something that happened after the disciples fled. In John 18:15-16, we read:
And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.
Both Peter and another disciple followed after the Lord; but the other disciple was known to the high priest and was able to enter the palace where the Lord had been taken. That other disciple was even able to get Peter past the door. Who was this disciple? It’s curious that this disciple isn’t named. However, we are given a very important piece of information about him: he was “known unto the high priest.”
Toward the end of this Gospel account, we read another reference to an unnamed disciple (John 21:24). That disciple identifies himself as the one who “wrote these things.” This was the disciple who recorded the fourth Gospel. Was this unidentified disciple the same one mentioned in John 18:15-16, and was he the apostle John? The high priest knew the unidentified disciple in John 18:15 and 16; but there is no reason why Caiaphas (who was then the high priest, as we know from John 18:13) should have known the apostle John. In fact, in Acts 4, we find Caiaphas with other religious leaders (Acts 4:6) trying to decide what to do about Peter and John.
These two apostles had been arrested (Acts 4:3) the previous day because they were preaching about the Lord Jesus. Notice what verse 13 reveals about the religious leaders:
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
It appears that the religious leaders are noticing Peter and John for the first time. Based on this verse, it doesn’t seem that John could have been the disciple known to the high priest (John 18:15). There was really only one disciple we would expect the religious leaders to know: Lazarus.
Continuing in the fourth Gospel, we read about other events that preceded the Crucifixion. Then, in John 19:25, we read about the women who stood by the cross:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
Now notice who is mentioned in the next two verses, John 19:26-27:
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
We know who this disciple was, because of the words “whom he loved.” We know that this disciple was Lazarus.
There’s much more about Lazarus in this Gospel. In John 20:1, we read that Mary Magdalene went to the sepulcher where the Lord’s body had been placed. She discovered that the stone used to seal the tomb had been moved. From other Gospel accounts (e.g., Matthew 28:1), we know that she wasn’t alone. As we read in John 20:2, Mary ran back to tell what she had seen:
Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
This “other disciple” was Lazarus. He and Peter ran to the tomb to see it themselves (John 20:3-8). Perhaps Lazarus was a young man at the time, because he was able to outrun Peter (verse 4); but he waited for Peter at the sepulcher, and Peter went into the sepulcher first. Then Lazarus entered, as verse 8 tells us:
Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.
After this, we read that the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:18). Continuing in the same chapter, we read of two more times when the Lord appeared to groups of His disciples.
In the last chapter of this Gospel, we again find Lazarus. This time he is with Peter and several of the apostles, and they have gone fishing (John 21:1-7). Running throughout several chapters of this Gospel, like marks made along a trail so that we may follow it, we find the words “whom Jesus loved” or similar language. When we see these words, we know that God is telling us about Lazarus; and so we know that Lazarus was out there in the boat with Peter that day because we find those words in verse 7.
Apparently, Lazarus was the first to recognize Jesus (verse 7). The Lord had called to the disciples from the shore, and He told them where to cast their net. Verse 6 tells us that they caught a “multitude of fishes.” Just as the Lord brought all those animals to Noah’s ark thousands of years earlier, He now caused a big catch of “great fishes” (verse 11) to swim right into the net.
On the shore, the disciples ate with the Lord. Then, in verses 15 to 17, we read that the Lord asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Of course, this reminds us that Peter three times denied knowing the Lord (john 18:17, 25, and 27). In answer to the Lord’s question each time, Peter tells the Lord that he loves Him.
Next comes something that is extremely interesting. In John 21:18, we read what the Lord said to Peter after asking him that final question and again telling him to feed the sheep:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
We will come back to this verse a little later, because there are more verses concerning Lazarus that we must first consider. In John 21:20-21, we find Peter asking the Lord a question:
Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
We now know the identity of the disciple about whom Peter asked. We know it was Lazarus. When we understand that this unnamed disciple was Lazarus and not the apostle John, then Peter’s question makes sense. Remember, Lazarus was special. He had been raised from the dead. It was logical for Peter to wonder if Lazarus would die again. We read the Lord’s answer to Peter’s question in John 21:22:
Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.
The following verse – John 21:23 – tells us that some of the brethren thought this meant Lazarus would not die:
Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
Of course, the Lord did not mean Lazarus would never die; but do we know what He did mean? Notice how the Lord’s words about Lazarus are repeated. Two times we read: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”
When we find something repeated that way in the Bible, we know that it’s important! We’ve seen many verses in which the Lord identifies Lazarus as the disciple whom He loved; but we also know that the Lord loves all His children. So why is there such an emphasis on Lazarus as the disciple whom He loved?
There can be only one answer. God is using Lazarus as a picture of His elect. However, Lazarus isn’t a picture of all the elect throughout time. He’s a picture of a special group of the elect: those who will be here when the Lord returns. Lazarus represents the elect who will be Raptured on the last day. The real Lazarus died over 1900 years ago, but the group pictured by him will not have to suffer death. They will “tarry” until the Lord returns.
Knowing this about Lazarus – that he is a picture of the last group of God’s elect on earth – allows us to learn something else. It’s something about Peter.
Peter: A Picture of the Local Congregations Throughout the Church Age
As we read the Gospels, we find a few instances in which one or more of the apostles exhibited behavior that was not exactly perfect. Like all men, the apostles had problems.
For example, we read in Luke 9:55 that the Lord rebuked James and John because they had asked if they should bring down fire from heaven upon a village that would not receive them (Luke 9:52-54). We also read that these two wanted to be first in the kingdom, and asked the Lord to grant that they might sit “one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand” (Mark 10:37). Then the other ten, when they heard it, were “much displeased with James and John” (Mark 10:41).
The apostle Thomas illustrates a different type of problem: a failure to believe. The other apostles told him they had seen the Lord, but he didn’t believe it. His refusal to believe that the Lord had risen from the dead (John 20:24-25) has brought the term “doubting Thomas” into the English language – and maybe some other languages as well.
Aside from James, John and Thomas, there is one apostle whose problems are really emphasized; and that is Peter. In Matthew 14:24-30, we read about the time Peter walked on water – at least for a short distance; but then he began to sink. Apparently he took his eyes off Jesus, because verse 30 states that “when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:31 tells us that the Lord saved him; but notice what He said to Peter: “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”
Matthew 16:21-23 is another example:
From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
Here, we find Peter actually disagreeing with the Lord. Notice that in answering Peter, the Lord calls him “Satan.” Another event in which Peter acted in opposition to the Lord’s will is one we have already seen. We find it in John 18:10-11:
Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
These events will help us understand something very important about Peter; and in turn, what we learn about Peter will help us understand even more about Lazarus!
Recall that in John 21, the Lord spoke about Peter in prophetic terms. This was in John 21:18-19:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
Here, the Lord is telling us something about Peter’s death. Are we to understand this as a prophecy about Peter’s physical death? If you search through the New Testament, you will not find any record of Peter’s death. According to some church teachings, the apostle Peter died inRomeand was crucified; but we must not accept this as truth. There is no evidence in the Bible that Peter ever went toRome, and we do not know how he died.
The last time we read about him in the Acts of the Apostles, we see him inJerusalem(Acts 15:2, 7-11). He’s also mentioned in Galatians 2:11, where we read that he had gone toAntioch(which is in modern-dayTurkey). Notice that Galatians 2:11-14 also illustrates a problem with Peter. Finally, Peter’s first epistle indicates that he was atBabylon (1 Peter 5:13).
Since the Bible doesn’t tell us about Peter’s death, we know that John 2:18-19 is teaching something else. Notice that the Lord told Peter that he would “stretch forth” his hands. The word translated here as “stretch forth” is Strong’s number G1614: “ekteino.” It’s used 16 times in the Bible, and most of those times it has to do with the Lord healing someone; but there is one time – just one – when we find it used to describe something that Peter actually did. In Matthew 26:51-52, we read:
And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
Although Peter isn’t identified as the one with the sword in these verses from Matthew, we know that it was Peter. He was the one who “stretched out” his hand; and once again the Lord reprimanded him.
Think about what Peter did: he used a sword to cut off someone’s ear. In other words, he misused the word of God; but there is more to this picture. That ear didn’t belong to just anyone: it was the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. There’s a lot to think about in just those few words about Malchus.
We know that the true High Priest is the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 5:6), and that the elect are sometimes called the Lord’s servants (Exodus 14:31, Job 42:8) or kings (Revelation 5:10). Interestingly, the name “Malchus” appears to be derived from the Hebrew name Melech (which means “king”).
This is some picture that God has painted for us! It’s a picture of the local congregations, represented by Peter, misusing the word of God. They bring a false gospel, thereby making it impossible for their hearers to be saved. Their hearers are represented by Malchus; he is identified with God’s people by virtue of his name and position as servant to the high priest. Taking these things into consideration, we can understand what God is showing us in John 18:10: Peter represents the local congregations throughout the Church Age, and this is a picture of the end of the Church Age.
Recall that in Matthew 16:21-23, the Lord reprimanded Peter and even called him “Satan.” We know that when the Lord ended the Church Age, He installed Satan as head of the local congregations. The verses from Matthew 16, therefore, support our understanding that Peter is associated with the end of the Church Age.
In the book of Acts, we find another incident involving Peter. Acts 12 tells us that Herod the king had the apostle James executed, and then had Peter put into prison. The night before Peter was to be brought out – undoubtedly to be executed – the Lord rescued him. Read Acts 12:6-7:
And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
This angel of the Lord was the Lord Himself (Exodus 3:2-6 helps us to realize this). It’s curious to read that He “smote” Peter on the side. The Greek word used for “smote” (Strong’s number G3960, “patasso”) is also used in Acts 7:24 to describe what Moses did to an Egyptian who was mistreating one of the Israelites. From the Old Testament, we know that Moses killed that Egyptian. Other uses of the same Greek word also illustrate great severity; yet this is the word God used to describe what He did to Peter. Even though it appears that God just poked him to wake him up, the Bible tells us that He “smote” Peter.
There’s another key verse in this account of Peter’s rescue. In Acts 12:8, we read:
And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
Notice the similarity to what the Lord Jesus said to Peter in John 21:18-19, when He said that Peter “girdedst” himself and walked where he would when he was young; and notice the angel of the Lord’s last words to Peter in Acts 12:8: “follow me.” These are the same words the Lord Jesus said to Peter in John 21:19.
By using the word for “smote” in Acts 12:7 – a word suggesting the use of deadly force on Peter – God appears to again be telling us about His judgment on the churches at the end of the Church Age. It’s important to realize that Peter doesn’t represent the end of the Church Age: he represents the churches throughout the Church Age – from beginning to end.
We see Peter identified with the churches in Luke 5, where we read about a catch of fish so great in number that it broke the net let down by Peter’s ship (Luke 5:6-7). Peter and the other disciples were astonished at this (Luke 5:9); but the point here is in the Lord’s statement in Luke 5:10. It really identifies Peter with the churches: “And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
We know that the Church Age began on Pentecost in 33 A.D. when God poured out His Spirit and saved about 3,000 people (Acts 2:41). Peter was God’s instrument to save all those people. It appears that God used Peter to speak the very words by which they were saved (Acts 2:38-41).
Acts 2 clearly identifies Peter with the Church Age. We also know that God granted Peter understanding about the Lord Jesus (Matthew 16:16-17), and that Peter was a fisherman who had a ship (Luke 5:3). In the Old Testament, we read about the ships of Tarshish. We have learned that those ships were identified with the Church Age. Therefore, Peter’s ship is another way of identifying him with the Church Age.
Back to Lazarus
Once we realize that God uses Peter to represent the Church Age, we are in a position to learn even more about some events involving Lazarus. Recall the words the Lord Jesus spoke (John 11:43) when He brought Lazarus back to life: “Lazarus, come forth.” The Greek word for “forth” is Strong’s number 1854, “exo.” It’s used 65 times in the Bible; but most of those times it means to come out of something. Instead of “Lazarus, come forth,” a better translation of what the Lord said is “Lazarus, come out.”
What did Lazarus come out of? John 11:38 tells us that Lazarus’ body was in a cave. The Greek word translated as “cave” is Strong’s number G4693, “spelaion.” That word is used only six times in the Bible, and John 11:38 is the only verse where it’s translated as “cave.” All the other times it’s translated as “den.” Do you remember what the Lord said when He chased the moneychangers out of the temple? In Matthew 21:13, we read:
And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Here, God is telling us that His house had become a den (“spelaion”) – “a den of thieves.” We also find the word “dens” in Revelation 6:15:
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
This verse is from the passage describing the vision associated with the opening of the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12), which tells us about the end of the Church Age. The same Greek word used for the cave in which Lazarus’ body lay is used here for the word “dens;” and those dens are associated with the Lord’s house, which were the local congregations during the Church Age.
Earlier, we saw that Lazarus’ resurrection revealed something about the way God saves people. If a person is spiritually dead, then he is powerless to come to God. God has to do everything needed to give that person a new soul. As Lazarus came out of the cave, he was a picture of someone whom God has just saved.
Now we can see another possible meaning in Lazarus’ resurrection. When the Lord commanded Lazarus to come out of the cave, He was apparently showing us a picture of the end-time group of believers coming out of the local congregations. This looks like a command to come out of the churches!
There’s something interesting about two events involving Peter and Lazarus. When they ran to the tomb after learning that the Lord’s body was no longer there (John 20:2-4), Lazarus got there first. However, he didn’t enter the sepulcher right away. He waited for Peter, and Peter went in first.
The second event is found in John 21. There, we read that Lazarus, Peter and some other disciples went fishing after the Lord had risen (John 21:2-3). Notice that it was Lazarus who first realized the Lord was standing on shore (John 21:7); but Peter swam to shore (John 21:7) and Lazarus arrived later. Again, Peter went first. These two events provide additional support for our understanding that the group pictured by Lazarus comes after the group pictured by Peter.
Lazarus Was There
We have seen that Lazarus represents the last group of true believers – the group that will be here on the last day when the Lord returns. Peter, on the other hand, represents the Church Age. Based on the way he is pictured in the Bible, when his time ends there is a false gospel in the local congregations.
The Lord’s prophecy about Peter (John 21:18) – that “another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” – appears to be a reference to the period of Satan’s rule in the churches. That period began with the “death” by which Peter “should glorify God” (John 21:19). That was the end of the Church Age.
Even though the Lord’s command to feed the lambs and sheep was addressed to Peter, we must not assume that it ends with the period associated with Peter. We know that the Lord told His disciples to “occupy” until He comes (Luke 19:13). We also have the record of Peter writing to the disciples, passing on the command to “feed the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-4). This command continues until “the chief Shepherd shall appear” at the last day, and it also applies to the last group of true believers.
We’ve seen that Lazarus’ presence on several occasions of great importance has not been recognized. It’s well known among Christians that Lazarus and his two sisters were disciples of the Lord Jesus, that Lazarus became ill and that he died of his sickness. It’s also very clear that he woke up in a tomb when the Lord called him to come out; and that, at a later date, Lazarus was present when his sister Mary anointed the Lord with spikenard (John 12:1-3).
However, we’ve also seen that the Bible reveals much more about Lazarus. A careful reading of the fourth Gospel reveals that he was with the Lord at the Passover meal (John 13:23) and, at Peter’s request, asked the Lord who would betray Him. It was Lazarus who went into the palace of the high priest after the Lord Jesus was arrested (John 18:15), and he even managed to get Peter past a door that had been closed to him.
Lazarus was also at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus. In John 19:26-27, we read:
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
Just as Lazarus represents the last group of true believers, Mary appears to represent nationalIsrael. Perhaps God is here reminding His children – even the ones who remain until the last day – that they are descended from nationalIsrael.
We also learned that Lazarus was the disciple who ran to the sepulchre with Peter. He saw the linen clothes that had been used to wrap the Lord’s body (John 19:40, 20:4-8) lying inside the tomb. Lazarus knew from experience what it was like to be in grave clothes. Perhaps when he saw the way the Lord’s grave clothes were lying in the tomb (John 20:5-7), he remembered what the Lord had said about being able to take up His life (John 10:18) and understood that the Lord had freed Himself from the grave-clothes. We can imagine how amazed Lazarus must have been!
It is also possible that Lazarus was present when the Lord appeared to His disciples later that evening (John 20:19). That was several hours after Lazarus and Peter ran to the tomb. Then, eight days later (John 20:26) the Lord appeared to His disciples again. Although the Bible doesn’t give us a list of everyone who was there, it’s possible that Lazarus was one of those present.
Finally we come to John 21. There, we find the Lord standing on the shore while His disciples are out on a fishing boat (John 21:4). Lazarus was definitely in the group (John 21:7). He was one of the two unnamed disciples listed in John 21:2. With the others, he saw the amazing catch of fish after the Lord told the disciples to cast their net on the right side of the ship.
As amazing as this miracle was, what came next should have been of much more interest to Lazarus. He and the other disciples who were still out on the water came to shore, and Simon Peter pulled in the net full of fishes by himself. After dining with the disciples, the Lord asked Peter three times if he loved Him. After Peter replied the first time, the Lord said, “Feed my lambs.” Then, after both the second and third times, the Lord said, “Feed my sheep.” Next, we find the Lord’s prophesies about Peter (John 21:18-19) and Lazarus (John 21:20-23).
The next to the last verse of this Gospel identifies the man who recorded it. In John 21:24, we read:
In John 19:35 and John 20:30-31, we also find references to this disciple’s first-hand knowledge and recording of events. This is the same disciple identified in John 21:20: it is the disciple whom Jesus loved. So now we see that it was actually Lazarus who recorded the fourth Gospel – not the apostle John.
We don’t know how long it’s been since Lazarus’ name disappeared from the title of this Gospel. It’s certainly been many centuries; but surprising as it is, it’s understandable that it could happen. We know that each book of the Bible was recorded on a scroll. The content of those scrolls came from God. Scribes copied out scrolls very carefully, even counting words in order to be certain that nothing was lost. Of course, God Himself watched over the process through the ages to make sure nothing was lost.
At various times, scrolls may have been kept in boxes or other containers to protect them. Over the centuries, there could have been a variety of ways to identify scrolls, such as notations made on the outside of the scrolls or engravings on containers or cabinets used to protect and store them.
Hebrew names for Old Testament books actually differ significantly from names we find in our King James Bibles. For example, Hebrew names for the Pentateuch books (the first five in the Bible) are taken from the first few words of each book. So instead of the book of Exodus, the Hebrew name is “The names …;” and instead of the book of Numbers, the Hebrew name is “In the wilderness…” These differences are further support for us to understand that names of Biblical books are not from God.
There’s no problem with that at all. It actually confirms what we read in Revelation 22:18-19, where we find the words “this book.” The “book” is the Bible. It’s one book and one long message from God, given to mankind in different installments over the course of about 1500 years.
We’ve seen that Lazarus represents the last group of true believers on earth before the Lord returns, and that Peter represents the local congregations throughout the Church Age. His use of a sword to cut off the ear of the high priest is a picture of local congregations misusing the word of God, preventing people from hearing the true Gospel; it’s a picture of the end of the Church Age. We’ve also seen that it was actually Lazarus – and not the apostle John – who recorded the fourth Gospel.
God identifies Lazarus as the disciple whom Jesus loved; and by using those words in several verses throughout the fourth Gospel, God allows us to know that Lazarus was present at several major events that happened shortly before the Crucifixion and afterwards.
Lazarus truly had many “adventures” that have not been recognized for hundreds of years; but the greatest one of all may have been to record the fourth Gospel. God actually spoke to Lazarus by putting into his mind each word recorded in the Gospel – exactly the way God wanted it to be written.
The final verse of this Gospel is very interesting. Verse 25 states:
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
It might seem strange to read that Jesus did so many things that even the world itself might not be able to contain the books if everything He did were written. However, when we realize that the Lord Jesus existed for a countless number of years before He came to be born in Bethlehem; and that He was working in the affairs of mankind since the creation; and that it was He who created all the millions of life forms we find on the planet, and all the billions upon billions of stars in the universe – when we think of all those things, we might indeed conclude that the information would fill more printed books than the earth itself could contain.
We also know that God will continue working in the lives of His elect until the last day. His “sheep” need to feed on His word until then. For this reason the Gospel must continue to be made available. Perhaps the best way to help in this effort is to financially support and pray for faithful ministries, such as Bible Ministries International (https://www.bmius.org/) and Family Radio (http://www.familyradio.com/).
There is no doubt that the Church Age has ended. The Lord’s prophecy about Peter’s death shows us that God planned to end the Church Age even before it began. We can find more evidence for this aspect of God’s plan in the first part of 2 Timothy 3. These verses speak of the terrible conditions in the last days, both in the local congregations and all over the world. What we read in verses 2-4 describes the wickedness we see today everywhere we look, and these verses also indicate what has happened in the congregations. Notice what 2 Timothy 3:5 says about something that characterizes many people today:
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
They will have a “form of godliness,” but deny its power. Remember, this is a prophecy about the last days. The same Greek word for godliness (Strong’s number G2150, “eusebeia”) is also found twice in 2 Peter 1:5-7:
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
The men described in 2 Timothy 3:5 do not have the true godliness spoken about in 2 Peter 1, only a form of it; and they deny God’s power. Isn’t that exactly the nature of the do-it-yourself salvation plans taught in the local congregations today? It’s a false gospel telling you that you can take control of your own salvation.
If you’re looking for truth right now, you will no longer find it in the local congregations of Christian churches; but we can thank God that He has provided faithful ministries to help His children through these “perilous times” (2 Timothy 3:1).