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This article is about Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary. You may be looking for the beggar.
Lazarus (Heb. Eleazar: he who God helps) was a first century Jew who lived in Bethany, in the Roman province of Judea. He was the brother of Mary and Martha, both of Bethany. In late summer of AD 32, he became sick and a messenger was sent to Galilee to get his friend Jesus. By the time that the Master arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days. However, in his most spectacular miracle prior to his own resurrection Jesus called his dead friend to life from a state of decay.
Lazarus is a Greek form of the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means "God has helped". The name was held by one of the first high priests of Israel. One who holds the name is a memorial to the work of God in the families life.
As the younger brother of two sisters, it is likely that Lazarus had yet to reach an age of majority. If he had been older, it is probable that he would be the master of the house run by the women. Assuming this, then he can be said to have been born late in the reign of Augustus Caesar. As an observant Jew, he had begun to attend temple services in nearby Jerusalem where he probably heard Jesus preach. With his sisters, he believed what he heard and became a disciple of the Messiah.
Sickness and Death
It is not known what disease had overcome young Lazarus, but it killed him relatively quickly. His was not a chronic condition which could have waited until festival time for Jesus to come. However, the fact that Jesus was in hiding made it even more urgent that no unnecessary attention should be drawn to the Rabbi.
When things got bad, though, Martha dispatched a messenger to Galilee to bring Jesus to heal her brother. Unknown to her, Jesus planned to delay his coming to display the power of the Father in bringing the dead back to life. When his disciples urged him to hurry, Jesus used the common euphemism of "sleep" for death. Since the disciples were used to parables, they tarried with him for two full days.
Meanwhile, before the messenger arrived back to the house, Lazarus had died. Professional funeral services, including paid mourners, were held. The body was washed and wrapped with burial clothes. The man was laid out with his hands posed and his mouth and eyes carefully closed in the manner of sleep. And then they waited, having rolled a heavy stone across the hillside tomb's entrance.
The mourning continued for days, with more to come, when Jesus and his disciples came walking up. Martha wailed loudly, angrily advancing towards her friend. She accused him of delaying, and thus failing the family. Jesus asked her about her beliefs in the resurrection of the dead. She assured him that such was true at the last day, but was upset that death had occurred before that.
When Jesus asked to see Lazarus, he was told that the stone was secure and that the body had begun to stink, indicating that no perfumes had been applied. It is probable that this indicated that there had been hope for a miracle even after death as had been seen in other cases. When decay had set in, though, no one ventured to be rendered unclean by a rotting corpse.
Deep in the dark tomb, beyond consciousness and life itself, the voice of Jesus reached the corpse of his friend. By no effort on his part, Lazarus' body of stone turned to living flesh. His flesh became as soft as a newborn baby. Though vermin may have clung to his burial clothes, his body no longer had the smell of death. As the stone was rolled away he awkwardly hopped on bound legs to the light outside. He was very much alive.
Response to the Resuscitation
The evangelist Luke wrote of another Lazarus that had died. In that story, there would be no raising from the dead, even though a dead rich man asked for such a miracle for the sake of his surviving family. In that case, it had been determined that even a man rising from the dead was not enough to bring some unbelievers to have faith in God. In this case, that truth was illustrated among the religious leaders that had been looking to kill Jesus. As it turned out, some of those on the scene of the funeral had been spies. As word spread of Lazarus being alive from the dead, many sought to kill him as well as Jesus. Not since John the Baptist had the chance of martyrdom been clearer. In the coming months, the miracle of new life would become a weight around Lazarus' neck. On the day of the crucifixion many of the graves around Jerusalem would be opened much as was that of Lazarus.