Who was Lazarus?
The name Lazarus was common among the Jews, and is given to two men in the New Testament who have nothing to do with each other.
Lazarus of Bethany
The home of the Lazarus mentioned in John 11:1 was Bethany. He was the brother of Martha and Mary (John 11:1,2; see also Luke 10:38-41). All three were especially beloved by Jesus (John 11:5), and at their home He more than once, and probably often, was entertained (Luke 10:38-41; John 11). As intimated by the number of condoling friends from the city, and perhaps from the costly ointment used by Mary, the family was probably well-to-do. In the absence of Jesus, Lazarus was taken sick, died, and was buried, but, after having lain in the grave four days, was brought back to life by the Saviour (John 11:3,14,17,43,44). As a result many Jews believed on Jesus, but others went and told the Pharisees, and a council was therefore called to hasten the decree of the Master's death (John 11:45-53).
Later, six days before the Passover, at a feast in some home in Bethany where Martha served, Lazarus sat at table as one of the guests, when his sister Mary anointed the feet of Jesus (John 12:1-3). Many of the common people came thither, not only to see Jesus, but also the risen Lazarus, believed in Jesus, and were enthusiastic in witnessing for Him during the triumphal entry, and attracted others from the city to meet Him (John 12:9,11,17,18). For that reason the priests plotted to murder Lazarus (John 12:10). This is all that we really know about the man, for whether the Jews accomplished his death we are not informed, but it seems probable that, satiated with the death of Jesus, they left Lazarus unmolested.
Nothing is told of his experiences between death and resurrection (compare Tennyson, "In Memoriam," xxxi), of his emotions upon coming out of the tomb, of his subsequent life (compare Browning, "A Letter to Karshish"), and not a word of revelation does he give as to the other world. His resurrection has been a favorite subject for various forms of Christian art, and according to an old tradition of Epiphanius he was 30 years old when he was raised from the dead, and lived 30 years thereafter. As might be expected this miracle has been vigorously assailed by all schools of hostile critics. Ingenuity has been exhausted in inventing objections to it. But all told, they really amount only to three.
Silence of the Other Gospels
There is here, no doubt, some difficulty. But the desire of the early Christians, as many scholars think, to screen the family from danger may have kept the story from becoming current in the oral tradition whence the Synoptics drew their materials, though Matthew was probably an eyewitness. But, in any case, the Synoptics do not pretend to give all the deeds of Jesus, and in the report by them we have few save those which were wrought in Galilee. Each of them has omitted elements of highest interest which others have preserved.
Thus, Luke alone gives us the raising of the widow's son at Nain. John, knowing that the others had omitted this, tells us what he had himself witnessed, since all danger to the family had long ago passed away, as it was of especial interest to his story, and he had recorded no other case of resurrection. At any rate, the Gospel writers do not seem to regard a resurrection from the dead by the power of Jesus as so much more stupendous than other miracles, as they seem to modern scholars and to the Jews, and, moreover, the Synoptics do unconsciously attest this miracle by describing a sudden outburst of popular excitement in favor of Jesus which can be accounted for only by some extraordinary event.
But to a philosophical believer in miracles this is no obstacle at all, for to omnipotence there are no such things as big miracles or little ones. Of course, Martha's statement as to the decomposition of the body was only her opinion of the probability in the case, and He, who sees the end from the beginning and who had intended to raise Lazarus, might well in His providence have watched over the body that it should not see corruption. When all is said, "He who has created the organic cell within inorganic matter is not incapable of reestablishing life within the inanimate substance."
The following article is excerpted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia