Contextual Analysis of John 11:1-46


John 11:1-46 in the Immediate Context (part of a larger exegetical study of John 11:1-46)

In order to better understand the passage that has been chosen, it is important to look at the immediate context. John 11:1-46 is positioned in fifth and last stage of the “Festival Cycle.”[1] This cycle begins with a Sabbath introduction in chapter five, to Passover in six verse four, through Tabernacles to Dedication and here in chapter eleven moves back to focus on Passover once more (11:55).[2] John has also shown the readers the ever increasing desire of the Jews to kill Jesus (starting in 5:18) and it is in this chapter that the plot is at its climax with the official plot to murder Jesus (11:47-53).[3]

In regards to when the raising of Lazarus took place, there are not really any textual markers to allow one to be perfectly dogmatic. For while the story finds itself in a period following the Feast of Dedication (chapter 10) and before the last Passover of Jesus (11:55-57) it is not told when the raising took place in the midst of that period.[4] While the Sanhedrin does meet at the end of the chapter (vv. 46-53), it does not seem that this is a parallel passage with Mark 14:1-2 which occurred two days before the Passover, but rather it would seem best to see the meeting referred to in John 11 to have been an earlier meeting.[5]

The chapter begins with the death of Lazarus (vv. 1-16) continuing with Jesus’ meeting with Martha (vv. 17-27), and Mary (vv. 28-32), climaxing with the resurrection of Lazarus (vv. 33-44), and this section closing with the reactions to this sign (vv. 45-46f.).

John 11:1-46 in the Context to the Whole of John

This sign is in fact “the climactic sign in the Gospel of John.”[6] It is also the “seventh sign”[7] in the book. In regards to the “signs” contained in the Gospel of John, the book begins with the “Cana Cycle”[8] (2:11-4:54), and although the word “sign” is not used in the immediate context of all, it is clear that John viewed these events as signs (7:31 and 11:47). This section brings an end to the direct signs given by Jesus until the resurrection.[9] The book begins with signs that could almost be seen as mere “sleight of hand,” that is, unless you were present at the time to see. The water became wine (2:11), and no one really knew it except those who were there watching (a very few). The second sign, the healing of a royal official’s son, took place at a distance, so again, was not really seen by many, and could even be interpreted as just a natural occurrence or happenstance.

These signs work so as to begin to draw the reader in to believing in Jesus.[10] But the “Festival Cycle”[11] is introduced with the healing of a paralytic (5:7-9), a healing without question, demanding a decision to be made as to who this Jesus is. The next signs were no mere sleight of hand, the feeding of the multitude (6:10-13) and Jesus’ power over the storm (6:18-21), leading the reader to begin to see exactly who Jesus was – he was no mere man! This led the people to, with their preconceived notions about the Messiah, to desire to make Jesus king (6:15), but Jesus then made it clear, he was not what they thought, and many abandoned him (6:60, 66).

This leads John to focus on the response of the Jewish religious leaders, seen in 9:18-19 to vehemently deny the reality of Jesus’ healing of the man who was born blind, excommunicating that very man. But the climax is in chapter 11, for the religious leaders can no longer deny the miracles of Jesus – “the only question was, Would the authorities who operated within their closed religious system be willing to recognize a messenger from God who ‘colored outside their lines’?”[12] The answer is obviously no, and chapter 11 shows this incredible act of unbelief which John builds up in such a way that an honest reader just gasps at the incredible hardness of heart of the Jewish religious leaders. Death is looming from the end of chapter 11 on in a very big way,[13] and John uses the suspense to record a focused account of Jesus leading up to the cross that his readers might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).[14]

John 11:1-46 in the Context of the New Testament

Moving outward yet again in the discussion of the context of John 11:1-46, it is important to know that almost universally, this gospel is viewed to be the latest of the four canonical Gospels.[15] This is important because the direction John takes in his gospel is relatively independent from that of the synoptic gospels.[16] This difference has been a topic of much contention among scholars,[17] but remembering that his gospel was written after all the others (around 85 to 90 A.D.)[18] helps understand why it would take on a different approach, he told what had been untold as it were, and emphasized those aspects which went with the purpose of his writing, that his readers would believe. John even himself admits that he did not include everything that Jesus did (21:25), so the argument is really uncalled for. John was on the inside, he was the one who Jesus gave his mother to at the cross, and so the debate as to where he got his information does not really provide any profitable information, other than we see that he wrote it and that the Holy Spirit guided him along, and it truly is a beautiful account of our Lord’s life. John’s gospel is truly “one of the most captivating books of the Bible”[19] and presents the reader with the offer of eternal life in Jesus. This gospel is ideal for teaching, whether or not one takes its audience as Jewish, for “most of the periscopes in the Gospel are styled according to a teaching format.”[20] It is, “a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim.”[21] It is for new beginners, and mature believers.

John 11:1-46 in the Context of the Old Testament

The Old Testament seems to have played a large role in the writing of this gospel, John was very knowledgeable in the Old Testament and quotes it a number of times, some from the Septuagint and other times he makes his own translation from the Hebrew.[22] But even John’s quotation of the Old Testament does not compare with Matthew’s.[23] It does seem that one of John’s main emphasis in the view of Old Testament is showing that Jesus is better than Moses, with the language of 1:14 and 17 brining into mind the Shekinah glory among the people of God in the wilderness.[24] Jesus is God’s Passover Lamb (1:29, 36)[25] and therefore the ultimate type as set out in the Law. He is the “Messiah” (1:41) and the “Son of Man” (1:51).[26] Christ’s “lifting up” produces more complete healing than the snake in the desert (3:14 f.), and he is the bread of life, not like the manna, but he is the “true” manna from God (6:30-59). Jesus is even seen as the fulfiller of the Jewish feasts: Passover (chapter 6), Tabernacles (chapter 7), and Dedication (chapter 10).[27] Even the “I am” statements ring boldly of Old Testament passages, that Jesus is very God of God. And like God, Jesus has authority over the Sabbath because he was sent by God (5:10-24).[28] And the list goes on, for the gospel is laced with references to the Old Testament – his goal is to show the reader that Jesus brings completion to God’s purposes as the Old Testament pointed to Christ.[29]


[1] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 346.

[2] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 346.

[3] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 346.

[4] George Raymond Beasley-Murray, John, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 36, 59 vols., 2nd ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 186.

[5] George Raymond Beasley-Murray, John, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 36, 59 vols., 2nd ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 187.

[6] Merrill C. Tenney, John, ed. Frank Ely Gaebelein, vol. 9, 12 vols., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: With the New International Version of the Holy Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1976), 114.

[7] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 532.

[8] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 346.

[9] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 346.

[10] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 346.

[11] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 346-47.

[12] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 347.

[13] Johann Peter Lange, The Gospel According to John, trans. Philip Schaff, vol. 9, 12 vols., Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), 865.

[14] J. H Bernard, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, ed. A. H McNeile, vol. 34, 53 vols., The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928), 406.

[15] George Raymond Beasley-Murray, John, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 36, 59 vols., 2nd ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), xxxv.

[16] D. Moody Smith, Johannine Christianity (London: T & T Clark, 2005), 97-98.

[17] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 37.

[18] Merrill C. Tenney, John, ed. Frank Ely Gaebelein, vol. 9, 12 vols., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: With the New International Version of the Holy Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1976), 9.

[19] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 24.

[20] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 36.

[21] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 7.

[22] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), 60.

[23] George Raymond Beasley-Murray, John, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 36, 59 vols., 2nd ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), lix.

[24] George Raymond Beasley-Murray, John, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 36, 59 vols., 2nd ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), lix.

[25] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 61.

[26] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 61.

[27] George Raymond Beasley-Murray, John, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 36, 59 vols., 2nd ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), lix.

[28] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 62.

[29] Gerald L Borchert, John 1-11, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 25, 31 vols., The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 63.

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