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What The Raising Of Lazarus Does Not Prove

In John 11, the apostle John records a miraculous event that
the synoptic gospels choose to omit. Jesus’ friend Lazarus has gotten sick and
is about to die, so He and the apostles are on their way to visit him. Jesus is
informed by messengers that Lazarus is ill, and his two sisters are seeking his
help. Jesus tells his followers that he intends to wait for Lazarus to die, in
order that God may be glorified:
“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s
glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (verse 4) Jesus then
delays for two days (verse 6). The disciples are afraid of returning to Judea
(verse 8), but Jesus commands them to go with him, stating: “Lazarus is
dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may
believe.” (
verses 14-15) When they arrive in Bethany,
they had found out that Lazarus had kicked the bucket 4 days prior to their
arrival (verse 17). Lazarus’ sister Martha comes out to meet with Jesus (verse
20) and tells Him “if you had been here, my brother would not have
(verse 21) Jesus comforts Martha by telling her that her
brother will rise from the dead, saying
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes
in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will
never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha responds “Yes, Lord. I
believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the
(verses 22-25) Then later in the chapter, John describes the
raising of Lazarus from the dead. They move the stone of the tomb back and
Jesus shouts “Lazarus! Come forth!” and Lazarus comes out of the tomb.
This incident has unfortunately been used to erroneous theological views. Here are several false teachings people use the Lazarus passage to
support, and why I don’t think this event does not establish any of them.

*It Does Not Prove Calvinism/Monergism
Calvinists love pointing to the Lazarus passage to support
their view that we don’t have a choice in whether or not we choose to accept
Christ as our Lord and Savior. Calvinists believe that we’re “dead in sin” and
cannot respond to God apart from God’s grace. I agree with that, but Calvinists
take it a step further and argue that prevenient grace or resistible grace is
not sufficient to get people to turn to God. God must extend an irresistible
grace in order to get people to turn.
They’ll point to the Lazarus passage and point to the fact
that Lazarus was physically dead. Lazarus was physically dead and did not have a
choice as to whether he would be resurrected. Jesus unilaterally brought
Lazarus back to physical life. Jesus didn’t ask Lazarus “Hey, do you want to
live again?” and then resurrected Lazarus based on his response. Rather, Jesus
simply chose to bring Lazarus back to life apart from any free choice on the
part of Lazarus. So if Lazarus couldn’t freely choose to come to physical life,
how could we choose to come to spiritual life? After all, a dead man can’t
believe. A dead man can’t choose!
Yeah, a dead man can’t believe. A dead man can’t choose.
Guess what else? A dead man can’t sin either. A dead man can’t murder. A dead
man can’t commit blasphemy. A dead man can’t commit adultery. All that a dead
man can do is…nothing. Here’s the thing; spiritually dead people are physically
alive! They have functioning cognitive faculties. They can think, walk, talk,
and do a whole host of other things physically dead men cannot.
This is what happens when you push biblical metaphors too
far. Unbelievers, though spiritually dead, are nevertheless physically alive.
Lazarus wasn’t given the option to be resurrected, but it doesn’t follow that
people cannot choose to receive The Holy Spirit and ask Him to make them born
again. Provided that God extends prevenient/resistible grace to a person, they
can either choose to resist that grace until the day they die (Acts 7:51, Romans 1:18-20),
or stop resisting and be born again (John 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17). In fact, I hold that if one does not
resist God’s grace, regeneration would be inevitable. God’s grace is like a
river. You will be swept away unless you swim against the stream. Of course,
even if you swim against the stream, you might get worn down and thus give up
swimming against the current, and so get swept downstream as a result.
The thing is, as long as God extends resistible grace, a
man, though he be spiritually dead, nevertheless is able to choose to be
spiritually alive…by placing his trust in Jesus Christ.
Moreover, being spiritually dead doesn’t entail any inability
to act. Rather, spiritual death is separation from God. The Calvinist conflates
the nature of physical death with the nature of spiritual death. The Calvinist
is defining spiritual death as a corpse with no spirit, like Lazarus was before
Jesus raised him from the dead. But a spiritually dead person is not the same
as a physically dead one as I have already pointed out. Before God’s grace is
poured out onto a non-believer, he does not search for God, but he is still
physically alive and is still able to make choices. After God begins to draw
the non-believer through His grace, then the non-believer is enabled to
The first time this type of death or separation ever took
place was in the Garden Of Eden, right after Adam and Eve took the forbidden
fruit and ate of it. When they took the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil, and ate it, they did not instantly die in the physical sense,
but they were immediately separated from God. The first thing they did was make
ugly clothes out of fig leaves to cover their naughty bits in a fruitless effort
to hide from God (Genesis 3:8).
Speaking of non-believers, the Apostle Paul describes
spiritual death in Ephesians 4:18-19:
“They are darkened in their understanding and separated
from the life of God
because of the ignorance that is in them due to the
hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given
themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and
they are full of greed.”
I want you to see that in this passage the non-believer is
not an inanimate corpse devoid of the ability to make choices. Non-believers
are “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God
because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”
Jesus also describes death this way twice in the parable of
the Prodigal son (Luke 15). Speaking to the servants the father says “this
son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

To his older son the father says “we had to celebrate and be glad, because
this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is
In The Parable Of The Prodigal Son, the son was clearly not
incapable of making decisions. He was nothing like Lazarus was when Lazarus was
lying in the tomb for 4 days. The Prodigal son was clearly able to make
decisions, including the decision to go home. Yet, the father still described
his state of being prior to coming back as “dead”! That’s because the
son was separated relationally from his father, and was dependent on the
generosity of his father in order to be reconciled. The same is true of us in
our spiritual death and separation from our Father.
In conclusion, the Lazarus story in no way supports the
Calvinist’s view that men are incapable of choosing Christ. Calvinist’s are
right in asserting that in the absence of grace, everyone would make a vote against
God. After all, Jesus made it clear in John 6:44 and John 6:65 that no one
would ever come to Him unless the Father drew them. Neverhtless, they are
incorrect in asserting we are absolutely incapable in the same way a corpse is
incapable. Spiritual death and physical death are similar, but they have their
* It Doesn’t Prove Soul
Believers in soul sleep, like the Christadelphians and
Jehova’s Witnesses, appeal to the Lazarus passage to argue for soul sleep.
They’ll point to such factors as that Jesus said “Lazarus is asleep” and that
Lazarus appears to have no recollections of being in Heaven for the last 4 days.
I heard one speaker say “You’d expect him to be complaining about having to
come back to this Earthly life if he had been in Heaven for the last 4 days”.
The problem with these arguments is that they’re mostly arguments from silence.
Just because John does not record Lazarus talking about his near death
experience does not mean that he didn’t have one. In fact, John doesn’t record anything
that Lazarus said upon exiting the tomb. Not “Huh?” or “What’s going on, guys?”
or “Why am I wrapped up like this?” or anything. John doesn’t record Lazarus as
saying anything much less a near death experience recollection.
Besides, the fact that John 11:11
says “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going
there to wake him up.”
Doesn’t necessarily mean that Lazarus’ soul was in a
sleep like state prior to his raising. It’s very plausible to think that all of
the times The Bible describes dead people as being “asleep”, it’s merely a
euphemism or a metaphor. After all, the physical postures of being asleep and
being dead are the same (i.e you’re lying down). Likewise, the physical posture
of waking up and being resurrected are the same (i.e you sit up and get up). So
it makes sense to refer to death as “sleep” and being resurrected as being
awakened. It’s eisegesis to take verses like “we who are asleep in
Christ” and “Lazarus is asleep” and others like it and build doctrine on that.
The interpretation is all the more plausible
when read in light of the passages that clearly support a disembodied intermediate
afterlife prior to the bodily resurrection (e.g Luke
2 Corinthians 5:8).
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