Life Despite Death

John 11

For Openers:

  • What do you think of the claims made by people who claim to have returned from a near-death experience? Can such claims lead someone to faith in Jesus Christ?
  • Are you the sort that cries easily or not? What has moved you to tears?

For Your Information:

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  1. John 11:1 is the first time in John’s Gospel that we are introduced to Mary, Martha, or Lazarus. Lazarus is never mentioned again outside of John 11-12. The only other time Mary and Martha are mentioned by name outside of John 11-12 is in Luke 10:38-42. John 11:2 indicates that Mary is the one who anoints Jesus’ feet, an incident recounted in John 12:1-8.
  2. John 11:1 - To "sleep" was commonly used as an euphemism for death. Also check: Matthew 27:52; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 5:10.
  3. John 11:7-10 - Verses 7-10 serve a dramatic purpose in raising the tension in the story. We are reminded of the threat to Jesus’ life. But these verses should also call to mind the ongoing discussion about "light." Compare what it says in John 8:12; 9:4-5; 12:35-36.
  4. John 11:24 - Regarding the "last day" when Jesus returns again, see John 6:39-40, 54.
  5. John 11:31-35 - When it says that Mary and the others were "weeping," it refers to the kind of wailing and lamenting customary in mourning. In 11:35 when it says that Jesus "wept," a different Greek word is used which indicates that he "shed tears."
  6. John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible.

Funeral Practices in Ancient Israel

"Jewish custom at that time required that burial take place the same day as the death, if possible. Jewish belief also held that the soul lingered near the body for three days, so that death was truly final on the fourth day." (Harper-Collins Study Bible on John 11:17) Jews did not practice embalming, but the body would be wrapped in cloths, and spices were customarily used to offset the odor. A funeral procession where the body was carried to the tomb involved not only the family but sometimes also professional mourners who were hired for the occasion. The wailing and lamentation was apparently quite dramatic and could also involve the tearing of clothes, making cuts on one’s body, or sprinkling oneself with dust and ashes. Whenever possible, bodies were placed in a family tomb, usually a natural or man-made cave, and a stone was placed over the opening. A 30-day period of mourning followed during which women sat on the ground (Ezekiel 8:14). After a time of fasting, there would be some kind of feast.

For Your Consideration:

  1. In John 11:21 and 32, it sounds as if Martha and Mary are scolding Jesus. Is it okay to scold or challenge God? (Psalm 13 is but one example of a Biblical response.)
  2. John 11:22 - What exactly do you think Martha was asking Jesus to do?
  3. John 11:23-27 - Was Martha satisfied with the promise of life for Lazarus in the resurrection at the last day? When Martha responds in verse 27, is it a declaration that she believes in Jesus or in what he can do? (See John 20:31.) What do you believe about Jesus?
  4. What do you think Jesus’ saying in John 11:25-26 means? How does what Jesus says here relate to warning about death God gave to Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3?
  5. John 11:33-36 - Why was Jesus so disturbed that he began to weep?
    • Because he loved Lazarus so much
    • Because the people disbelieved whether he could restore Lazarus to life
    • Because Jesus wasn’t sure he could restore Lazarus to life
    • Because he was witnessing the terrible power and reality of death
    • Because ???
  6. Is John 11:37 a statement of faith or unbelief?
  7. Martha confesses her faith in Jesus in 11:27. Why is she still so confused in verses 39-40?
  8. Note that Lazarus never says a single thing throughout this whole story. What would you have liked to ask Lazarus? Why do you think nothing said by Lazarus is recorded?
  9. John 11:40 - What is the relationship between "believing" and "seeing"? Which one does Jesus say should happen first? (Also read John 11:45; 4:48; 6:30; 20:24-29.)
  10. If you were to see a sign like this where Jesus restored someone to life, would it make you believe? What would it make you believe? Read John 11:45-48 to see two ways people responded to Jesus. (Also read Luke 16:31. Note that the Lazarus in the parable of the rich man is not the same Lazarus in John 11.)
  11. Read John 5:25-29. How is this saying of Jesus realized in the Lazarus story? How does it point ahead to Jesus’ own death and resurrection?
  12. Does God allow "bad" things to happen like it suggests in John 11:4? What are some "bad" things that have happened in your life that somehow turned out to God’s glory?

For Later:

  • Memorize Psalm 116:15 - "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones." How can you claim this verse as a comfort in time of grief?
  • What resources of faith and consolation does this story in John 11 provide for people who are grieving the death of a loved one? Send a note to someone you know who is still grieving.

PLEASE NOTE: All materials in these studies that are not otherwise attributed are 1996-2007 by Mark Vitalis Hoffman. Expressed permission is hereby granted to download and print these materials for personal use only. If you wish to use any of these materials for a group or other purposes, please contact me ( for permissions. In all cases, include my copyright notice and email address with any versions of the material. Thank you.

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