45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.—John 11:45–47
Bethany was a pit stop en route to Jerusalem. Jesus could stop at Lazarus’ grave because He was going to the cross. When Jesus purposes to return, He doesn’t say to the disciples, “Let us go to Lazarus,” or “Let us go to Bethany,” but “Let us go to Judea again” (v. 7). The disciples understand Jesus initially not to be going to a dead man, but to be going to His death. They question, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” (v. 8). Even after Jesus explains that they are returning to Bethany because Lazarus is dead, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (v. 16). That expectation hangs in the air when we are told, “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off” (v. 17).
Jesus didn’t come simply to raise Lazarus, but to lay His life down. If Jesus were not journeying to the cross, He couldn’t have stopped off at Lazarus’ grave. The future is determining the past. The future light of the risen Son is casting light backwards over the cross onto the grave of Lazarus.
But now will we see that the past also made way for the future that was determining it. The raising of Lazarus prepares the road into Jerusalem and out of it. The raising of Lazarus explains both the triumphal entry and the shameful walk to Golgotha. It tells us why Jesus came into the city as He did and why He left it as He did. The raising of Lazarus made way for the laying down of Jesus’ life. As one looks at the remainder of chapter 11 and beyond into chapter 12, we see both why Jesus was welcomed as a Messiah, and crucified as an insurgent. It is the shouting of “Christ!” that leads to the shouting “Crucify!”
We see this in the two different responses to Jesus in the wake of Lazarus’ wake and wakening, (v. 45). Some believed and some blabbed. Some trusted and some tattled. Now which of these make way from the raising of Lazarus to the laying down of Jesus’ life? Both! And it is actually the believing that does more than the blabbing. It is not the people’s blabbing that terrifies the Jewish leaders, but they’re believing. “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him” (v. 48). When large crowds start to go out to Bethany, not only to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus, we read, “So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:10–11). At Jesus’ triumphal entry, we hear the Pharisees despairingly telling one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (12:19).
This blabbing would ultimately then only lead to more believing. Their plotting to kill Jesus would lead to the world going after Him (v. 52). Our Lord is Sovereign over sinners, for the salvation of sinners. The sins of men against the Savior, are sovereignly used by Him for the salvation of sinners. The raising of Lazarus made way both for the triumphal entry, and thereby, for the shameful walk to Golgotha. The raising of Lazarus thus, made way for the cross, and thereby, it made way for our raising as well.