While Jesus raised two other dead people (Mark 5:35-43, Luke 7:11-17), the raising of Lazarus is certainly one of the greatest miracles recorded for us in Scripture. The man whom Jesus loved died in order that the glory of God may be revealed pointing to the deity of Christ (John 11:4). With just His voice, Jesus created life in a man who had been dead for four days! This seventh “sign” in the book of John is meant to compel everyone to believe in Him.
An Analogy of Salvation
But the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead also serves as a precise picture of salvation. Salvation is the sole work of God whereby He grants life to those who are dead in their sins. Unable to help themselves, sinners have no ability to grant themselves life. Instead, life is granted by the mercy of God. Salvation comes to those who are dead, when the powerful voice of Jesus calls them and they hear His voice (Jn 10:27-28) and Jesus grants them eternal life. Jesus alone has the ability to grant life. He alone is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25).
A Real Dead Man
It was very important for Lazarus to truly be dead. Jesus actually stayed two additional days where He was ministering so that there would be no doubt that Lazarus was truly dead (Jn 11:6). When the tomb was opened, Martha declared that surely there would have been a very strong odor, because Lazarus had been dead for four days.
In the same way, sinners are spiritually dead in their sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1). This has significant theological importance. Every sinner is born spiritually dead with no ability or power to make any significant contribution to their salvation. Just like Lazarus we could not see since we were blind (2 Cor 4:4), we could not understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14), we had no volition to do anything toward God (Romans 8:7). Sin had left us all totally depraved so that none of us sought after God or had any merit before God (Rom 3:10-18).
An Effectual Calling
Lazarus, being dead, was only revived when the powerful voice of Jesus called him out of the grave. This is certainly a beautiful illustration of what happens when sinners are saved. Salvation begins in eternity past in the sovereign election of God (Eph 1:4). But in time, salvation begins with a calling! This is a very technical term which describes the voice of God calling His sheep specifically (1 Cor 1:2, 9, 24, 26). This call comes through the preaching of the Word of God. When the Gospel is shared, those who are the sheep of Christ inevitably hear the voice of God. Jesus said clearly, “All that the Father gives me will come to me….Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (Jn 6:37, 45). This calling is an effectual calling. This means that those whom the Father calls will inevitably come to Christ. The powerful voice of Jesus does not fall on deaf ears! It was not possible for Lazarus to remain in the grave. When Jesus called Lazarus by name, he was made alive and walked out of the grave. A question that we might consider is, “Was it possible for Lazarus to remain in the grave?” And the answer to that question is an emphatic “No!” The reason is that the purpose and plan of Jesus cannot be thwarted. All who are His sheep “hear” His voice and come and follow Him!
Those who are called are also immediately awakened from the dead and “made alive” (Ephesians 2:5). Life was granted to Lazarus immediately. The power of Jesus recreated everything that Lazarus needed immediately: new blood, new muscles, new organs, a new brain and so much more. The same is true spiritually of those who are saved. When sinners are “born again” they are granted new hearts, opened eyes, a freed will, and an understanding mind. In a word, all new believers are “new creations” (2 Cor 5:17).
Promise of Future Resurrection
The resurrection of Lazarus was a foreshadowing of a future permanent resurrection. While Lazarus was not completely made perfect, the promise of Jesus is that all who have believed in Him will be made perfect in the future. We call this glorification. Not only Lazarus, but all who believe in Christ will be given perfect bodies, bodies that are powerful, perfect and everlasting. The Apostle Paul summarized this whole salvation process when he stated, “Those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified” (Romans 8:30).
Just like Lazarus, every true believer was dead in the grave of sin and Jesus called them out by His mercy. Immediately Jesus told those around watching to unbind Lazarus from his grave clothes and let him go. Lazarus needed initial help to unbind himself from the clothes that bound him in death. But once he was set free, Lazarus was to live again for the glory of God. While not stated it is certain that Lazarus gave praise to God since He had no room for boasting (Eph 2:9). The only response we have to our salvation is praise to our sovereign savior who grants life. But also, just like Lazarus, we are to throw off our grave clothes and “live to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:6, 12), since we are “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).
The story of the raising of Lazarus is also our story of salvation. Those who are true believers were dead, heard the voice of Jesus, were raised to life, and now strive to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord.
PHOTO: The Good Shepherd Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus, Rome, showing Jesus raising Lazarus from his tomb.