Q. Thank you for your ministry. I have had a question about death of Lazarus for some time. It would appear from the text that Mary and Martha were concerned that Lazarus had died because Christ wasn’t there. True statement. But Christ had already raised two people from the dead, which I assume Mary and Martha knew. I think we have got ‘their problem’ wrong. I believe they were concerned about Lazarus ‘that he had lain in the grave four days already’ and ‘Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days’. The issue was whether Christ had authority over someone being dead 4 days. Am I over complicating this or did the Jews have issues with someone being dead this long ?
A. The Jews had a tradition, perhaps originating from Psalm 16:10, that a dead person’s spirit lingered near the body for 3 days, making a return to life at least theoretically possible during that time. John 11:6 tells us Jesus did not leave immediately upon hearing of his friend’s failing health but stayed where he was for two days. When He finally arrived and asked them to open the grave, Martha protested saying Lazarus had been in the grave for 4 days and his body had begun to decay (John 11:39). By this she meant that according to their belief, it was too late to bring him back to life.
It appears the Lord had waited until there could be no doubt that Lazarus was really dead, so there could be no question that He had brought a dead man back to life.