Bible Study

John Bible Study, Day 21: The Lazarus Problem

Today’s passage: John 12:1–36

Focus verse: So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. (John 12:10–11)

Let’s recap. Lazarus gets sick. Lazarus dies. Jesus raises him from the dead in front of a host of witnesses. As a result, many believe in Jesus. 

This repeats in the book of Acts, where supernatural acts—healings, miracles, exorcisms, and resurrections—open the door for people to hear about and receive Jesus. 

Lazarus is living proof that Jesus has the power to bring people from death back to life. Though Jesus draws some people to him by what he says, even more give him their attention because of what he does. 

To make sure we don’t dismiss this as a mere resuscitation or misunderstanding of what happened, recall that people had preserved Lazarus’s corpse for burial. Once shrouded, they placed his physical shell in a tomb and sealed the entrance. He is four days dead. It’s final.

But when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he becomes the poster boy for Jesus’s healing power.

As for Jesus, he’s again hanging out with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Martha’s serving a dinner to honor Jesus. We can assume she does this because he brought her brother back to life. 

For sister Mary, she shows her appreciation to Jesus by pouring a pint of expensive perfume on his feet. This anoints him for his own death and burial, which will soon happen.

When the people hear Jesus is nearby, they flock to see him. They also want to see the once-dead-but-now-alive Lazarus.

The religious leaders are jealous of the attention Jesus receives from the people who used to give them their attention. They also blame Lazarus for rising from the dead and adding to the problem. Their solution? Kill Lazarus too.

They have agreed that Jesus must die—one man for the entire nation. Now they add Lazarus to their hit list. We don’t know if they follow through and end Lazarus’s life, but they do succeed in ending Jesus’s—at least for three days.

This happens with organized religions throughout history. Believers kill other believers in the name of God. Their disagreements over theology and doctrine result in persecution and death. 

But before we point an accusing finger at the religious leaders two millennia ago or in the 2,000 years since, we must remind ourselves that attacking what opposes our religious comforts is a common action.

We must be sure not to repeat this error, this sin. Though we wouldn’t kill in Jesus’s name, we sometimes do wrong in an ill-advised attempt to preserve practices that we think are important. 

The Pharisees conclude they’re not making progress in defending their religious traditions. They’re losing ground. More people flock to Jesus. The Pharisees’ base is slipping away.

They must do something before it’s too late.


  1. How are people drawn to Jesus by what you say?
  2. How are people drawn to Jesus by what you do?
  3. What can you do to honor Jesus, like Martha? Like Mary?
  4. When something confronts your religious practices, do you oppose it or consider it with an open mind? 
  5. When have you hurt, or wanted to hurt, another person because of your religious fervor?

Discover more in a comparable story, albeit with a different outcome, in Acts 5:17–39. What insights can you glean from this passage?

Read the next lesson or start at the beginning of this study.

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Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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