Resurrection Sunday, 4 April 2021.
For quite a while now, I have been rereading the Fourth Gospel (FG) as a reflection of the historical experiences of Jesus’ disciples who belonged to, or were in touch with, the community of the Beloved Disciple (BD) (21:20,24).
I believe, with Ben Witherington1 and others, that the BD, to whom Jesus gave his mother when he was on the cross (19:26), was Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany (11:1-3). Lazarus is the only male disciple to which the FG applies the phrase “whom (Jesus) loved” (11:3). As to how differently Jesus loved Lazarus as well as his sisters (11:5) from, say, Peter or Mary Magdalene, and why, one could only surmise.
Prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, this community probably met in the house of the beloved siblings (i.e., Martha, Mary, and Lazarus) in Bethany. Theirs was the house where Jesus probably stayed at while in Judea, as Peter’s in Capernaum (Mark 1:29) was the house where Jesus probably stayed at when he was in Galilee. The members of this community—Lazarus (13:1-31; 18:15-19:42) and his sisters (11:1-46; 12:1-19), Mary the mother of Jesus (2:1-11), and possibly: Nicodemus (3:1-21; 11:47-53), the man born blind (9:1-10:21), the woman caught in adultery (8:1-11), and the Samaritan woman (4:1-42)—and the itinerant disciples who interacted with this community—possibly Andrew (1:19-42; 3:21-30), Philip (1:43-51; 6:1-21), Nathanael (1:45-51; 4:46-54), James the brother of Jesus (7:1-10), and Mary Magdalene (20:1-18)—were probably the sources of the many moving eyewitness accounts unique to the FG.
One of the most moving stories in the FG is the raising of Lazarus (11:1-44). I was watching The Gospel of John yesterday afternoon, and when the Lord issued the command, “Lazarus, come out!” I wept, went down on my knees, and worshipped the Lord.2
The raising of Lazarus is positioned as the last of the signs in the FG not only because it would be a catalyst precipitating the arrest of Jesus, but also because it would point to the resurrection of the Lord (11:25). But whereas Lazarus was brought back to life in the same albeit healed mortal body (which would die before the final edition of the FG was published, 21:23), the Lord Jesus was raised in a different body, the so-called resurrection body, which, though still a physical body (20:27-28), is quite different from the mortal body. For example, the resurrection body can teleport into the middle of a closed room (20:19). It can even ascend to God (20:17) and exist in heaven (1 Peter 3:22). And when the Lord Jesus comes again, we, too, will receive our resurrection bodies (Phil 3:21)! Hallelujah!
What is awesome is that the blessing of the resurrection of Jesus is not only for the future, but also for the present. For, “if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
May we receive healing for our mortal bodies today and everyday, from the same Holy Spirit who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, who dwells in us, and who will raise us up in our resurrection bodies on the Last Day. Hallelujah!
Happy Resurrection Sunday!
1 See Ben Witherington III, Biblical Theology: The Convergence of the Canon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), p. 267, and Chapter 7 of What Have They Done with Jesus? Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History: Why We Can Trust the Bible ( New York : HarperOne, 2007). I’ve now added B. Witherington to my list of favorite authors, after J. Girzone, C.S. Lewis, D. Willard, J. Ratzinger, T. Keller, N.T. Wright.
2 One wonders why such a miracle is not found in the synoptics (i.e., the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke), and why Lazarus, the Beloved Disciple, is not mentioned in them either. Several possible reasons have been put forth, ranging from the story being a myth, to the story being unwitnessed by Peter (who was the main source of the Gospel of Mark, which in turn was a main source of the two other synoptics, which focused on Jesus’ Galilean ministry (whereas the FG focused on Jesus’ Judean ministry)), to the so-called protective anonymity theory.