[Table of Contents]|
B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)
THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS.
The ministry of Christ was a manifestation of God in him; of the Father in the Son; of the Son by his own works and words. The miracles selected by John out of the great number wrought by the Redeemer, are chosen according to their bearing on this manifestation and reach their climax in the resurrection of Lazarus, the fitting prelude to the resurrection of the Lord himself from the dead. In this wonderful miracle he reveals himself as the Resurrection and the Life, the Conqueror of Death in his very dominions, while his own resurrection manifests him as having life in himself, the very fountain of life, and hence, divine. The other Gospels give no account of this part of the Savior's ministry.
It was from a fruitful ministry beyond the Jordan that the Lord was recalled to Bethany near Jerusalem by the death of Lazarus. It is not in our power to determine certainly the exact time of the raising of Lazarus, but the order of the narrative shows that it was after the incidents  of the last two lessons. In chapter 10:39, 40, we are informed that the Jews of Jerusalem attempted to seize him, that he escaped from them and retired beyond the Jordan into the locality where John had at first baptized. Then for a few weeks he engaged in teaching, and from thence he was summoned by the call to aid his friend Lazarus of Bethany. The Lord waits two days after receiving the message of the sisters before he starts to Bethany. Tholuck thinks that he could not have made the journey (probably about 30 miles) in a single day, and hence parts of two days were required. He supposes, therefore, that Lazarus died the night of the messenger's arrival, was buried the next day, and that Jesus reached Bethany on the fifth day. There was the day of death, two days of waiting, one of journeying, and the fifth day of arrival and his visit to the tomb. Abbott says: "I believe the resurrection of Lazarus took place in the latter part of February or the early part of March A. D. 30, and that it was followed, after a brief retirement to Ephraim, by the triumphal march of Christ and his disciples into Jerusalem, and by his Passion and death there." Why should John alone give the account of the resurrection of Lazarus? He alone gives the history of the ministry in Judea in which it occurred, though the other writers refer to that ministry. They alone give an account of the Galilean ministry, though John refers to it. Still there seemed to be special reasons why Matthew, Mark and Luke, who wrote many years before John, should be very reticent about the family of Bethany. All speak of it, but only Luke names the sisters. Farrar says: "There may have been special reasons for not recording a miracle which would have brought into dangerous prominence a man who was still living, but whom the Jews had sought to get rid of because he was a witness of Christ's wonder working power. (John 12:10.)" Long before John wrote, Jerusalem itself had been destroyed, and the reasons that may have caused the silence of the earlier writers no longer existed.
1. Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus. The name of Lazarus is not mentioned by any of the sacred writers but John, but his family is named or referred to by Matthew, Mark and Luke. With his sisters we know, from Luke 10:38, that Jesus had a previous acquaintance, and that is presupposed in John's narrative. It would seem from Luke's account that Martha was the head of the family, and therefore it is thought that Lazarus was a younger brother. Putting together John 12:1-11, and Matt. 26:6-13, and Mark 14:1-9, it seems certain that Simon the leper was in some way connected with the family, but just how is a matter of conjecture. The family was one of some property. They owned their house, had their tomb in a garden, and were able to give a costly token of honor to Christ in an alabaster box of ointment worth, when we compare with modern values, three hundred dollars. Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It lies on the eastern slope of Olivet, about two miles from Jerusalem. It seems to have been the constant retreat of the Savior while sojourning at Jerusalem. It is distinguished from another Bethany beyond Jordan, and especially named as the home of the sisters who were such attached friends of Christ. Although John has not before named them, he speaks of them as well  known. They had been named by Luke and were well known to the church at the late day when John wrote.
2. It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment. There were a number of Marys distinguished in gospel history, Mary the mother of the Lord, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Mark, Mary the wife of Cleophas. Hence, John, to distinguish this one, names an incident related by all the historians and known to every Christian reader. She was the one who anointed the Lord. For his own account of this, see chapter 12:1-11.
3. Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. In their distress the sisters turn to one whom they know to be a sympathizing friend. They have complete confidence in him and are assured he will do what is best. They do not urge any petition, but simply report their trouble.
4. This sickness is not unto death. Death was not its object. It had been permitted for another reason; viz., for the glory of God. He was glorified by the manifestation of the divine power of Christ in rescuing Lazarus from the jaws of death, as well as in the sublime teaching for which the case of Lazarus gave occasion.
5. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. This statement is made (1) to explain why the sisters sent to Christ such a message, and (2) to show that his delay was not caused by indifference.
6. He abode still two days in the same place. He did not hurry off at once, probably because his work beyond Jordan was not yet completed. His great personal sympathy could not induce him to abandon a work that was only half done. His ministry was above the claims of friendship. Besides, his delay, and the long interval it caused between the burial of Lazarus and his resurrection, would make the miracle more striking, and would silence every caviller who might contend that Lazarus was not really dead.
7, 8. Let us go into Judea again. His proposal to recross the Jordan, and to  return to the locality where his enemies were gathered, was opposed by his disciples. They knew well that the authorities at Jerusalem had determined on his death; they therefore reminded him that he had just escaped from an attempt to stone him. Why should he return into the danger?
9, 10. Are there not twelve hours in the day? The Jews always divided the space from sunrise to sunset into twelve hours, whether the days were long or short, the hours varying in length according to the season of year. There were twelve hours of the daylight, and during this daylight a man could see clearly where he was walking. Christ loved to speak by simile, and he declares in this way that he knows just what he purposes to do. He is not stumbling in the dark. He is not groping in the night or walking uncertainly. He has a clear pathway on which the sun is shining. Whether it leads him to Judea, to Jerusalem, to his enemies, to death, he will walk in the light. What was dark to them was clear as sunlight to him. God's true servants will have their twelve hours for walking and toil.
11. Our friend Lazarus sleepeth. It seems probable that an interval had passed after Christ's last words. Christ was wont to speak of death as a sleep. See Mark 5:39. In the order of things over which he presides, death is death no longer, but assumes the character of a temporary slumber.--Godet. To speak of death as a sleep, is an image common, I suppose, to all languages and nations. Thereby the reality of death is not denied, but only the fact implicitly assumed, that death, will be followed by a resurrection, as sleep is by an awakening.--Trench. The term sleep is used as a symbol of death in 2 Chron. 14:1; Psalms 13:8; Jer. 51:57; Job 14:12; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 27:52; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 7:39; 1 Thes. 4:13.
12, 13, 14. If he sleep, he will do well. The disciples took the Lord's words literally. They were all interested in the case of Lazarus and regarded him as a friend, but did not wish Jesus to return to the vicinity of Jerusalem; hence, they intimate that if he was sleeping the case was hopeful and there was little need for the Lord's presence. Often a quiet sleep is the turning point of the disease and a presage of recovery. An ancient sage said: "Sleep is a remedy for every disease." Hence, it was needful for the Master to tell them that he  referred to the sleep of death. Some skeptical writers have thought that the disciples were very stupid, not to understand him at first. Their mistake was a very natural one.
15. I am glad for your sakes that I was not there. Had he been at the home of Lazarus before his death he would have felt constrained to heal him. Such a miracle would have been less striking and less proof of his divine power than the one which would now take place. For the sake of his disciples, for the sake of their increase in faith, for a demonstration of his mastery of the realms of death, he was glad of the opportunity to do what he proposed to do, to the end that they might believe. To bring back from the shades of death a man four days buried, after decomposition began, was as mighty a manifestation of divine power as to create a world.
16. Then said Thomas, called Didymus. "Thomas the Twin," one of the apostles, the doubter after the Lord's resurrection. See John 20:24-29. Let us go also, that we may die with him. He looked upon his return to Jerusalem, where the hate of him was so intense, where his death was already determined, where his enemies resided, as a return to certain death. The remark of Thomas shows a true-hearted fidelity and illustrates the power of Jesus to bind men to him. For him and with him Thomas was willing to die.
Christ might have reached Bethany on the evening of the first day's journey, but more probably about midday of the second. On his arrival he paused without the village for some reason. He was close to Jerusalem, the seat of his deadly enemies; while he never shrank from danger, neither did he rush heedlessly into it, and it was therefore desirable that the Lord should act with caution.
17. He found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Christ had in Galilee raised two persons from the dead, one soon after death; the other from the bier on which he was carried to burial. Now, in Judea, right at Jerusalem, in the face of his enemies, and just before his own death and burial, a crowning miracle is to be wrought. He will demonstrate that he is "the Resurrection and the Life" by demanding back from the grave one buried, buried four days, a period so long that in that hot climate decomposition had begun. The miracle is to be wrought under circumstances such that the most captious cannot question the reality of the death, or the resurrection.
18. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem. It was on the eastern slope of Mt. Olivet, distant fifteen stadia, or furlongs. The stadium was 600 feet, so that the distance was 9,000 feet, or a little less than two miles. 
19. And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary. By "Jews" John distinguishes the inhabitants of Judea and usually means those of influence or official character. They came to "comfort." Pharisaism arranged that friends and professional mourners should, after the funeral, sit with the afflicted on the floor, silent, unless the latter spoke, but always ready to take up the word and add some instruction. Thirty days of mourning were prescribed, divided into three periods, with rigid rules for each period.
20. Martha . . . went and met him. Where Christ, either from caution, or because the mourning customs were offensive to him, or that the family might be prepared, had paused. The bustling, active sister, the type of all the Marthas, goes; the quiet Mary, so absorbed that she did not hear the message, remains.
21, 22. If thou hadst been here, etc. These words express a conviction, a lamentation and a slight degree of reproach, all combined. She cannot realize that "All things work for good to them that love God" and groans in her sorrow, but at the same time intimates a faint hope, that she hardly dares to express, in the words, "I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee." She had a hope, probably hardly defined in her own mind.
23, 24. Thy brother shall rise again. Martha does not understand this as an assurance that Lazarus shall be raised now, nor do I know that the Savior wished her so to understand it. His object was to lead her to a higher faith in himself as the "Resurrection and the Life." She declares her belief that he will rise at the last day, a belief that she held in common with all Jews except the Sadducees.
25. I am the resurrection, and the life. She had declared her belief in the resurrection. Christ makes the grand, striking declaration that he is the RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE, words that never could have fallen from the lips of a sane mortal. They mean that he is the power which opens every grave, gives life to the sleepers, and calls them forth to a new existence; that the life that endows men with eternal being is in him and proceeds from him. In the light of his own resurrection they mean that when he burst open the tomb he did it for humanity and in him humanity has won the victory over death. His utterance was far  above what mere man could utter; it proclaimed a divine being and power, but the resurrection of Lazarus, a few moments later, was the demonstration of the truth of his words. His utterance was grander than man, Godlike, but immediately followed by a Godlike act in demonstration. It is another mode of declaring the same truth uttered when he told the Samaritans that he was the Water of Life, or the Galileans that he was the Bread of Life.
26. Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Those dead, who believed in him, shall be raised and live, and those living who believe, shall never perish. Death will only be a change to a better existence and is to be disregarded. Whoever has faith in Christ, has Christ in him the hope of glory, never knows death, but passes at once "to be with Christ," to join the "general assembly and church of the first born whose names are written in heaven." There is no purgatory, no dismal Hades, no long period of unconsciousness, no death, because there is no cessation of their life in Christ.
27. I believe that thou art the Christ, etc. He asks about her faith. She responds by the good confession that embraces all, Martha's creed, Peter's creed, the true "Apostles' creed," the only creed of the Apostolic church.
28, 29, 30. Called Mary her sister secretly. The Lord had evidently directed her to do this, for she said, "The Master calleth for thee." At once, with a promptitude that shows her joy, Mary arose and hastened out of the town to the place where the Lord still tarried.
31. She goeth to the grave to weep there. The message to Mary was secret. When she suddenly arose and left hurriedly the only explanation that suggested itself to the Jews was that she had gone to weep at the tomb, a custom of Jewish women. They at once followed obtrusively, thus preventing a private interview of the Master with Mary such as he had had with Martha. 
32. She fell down at his feet. Her act depicts her grief, her dependence, and her faith in Christ. Her words are the same that Martha had uttered. Had the Lord been there her brother would not have died.
33, 34. He groaned in spirit and was troubled. The word rendered "groaned," undoubtedly means "was indignant" and is so rendered in the margin of the Revision. Jesus was deeply moved by the grief of Mary, but the hypocritical weeping of the Jews who followed her and who were acting according to the rules, filled him with indignation. Instead of pausing to console Mary, he asked at once for the place of sepulture. Empty forms were odious to him.
35. Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the Bible and one of the most touching. I see in the Lord weeping over the sins of Jerusalem, the Prophet; but in the Lord weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, the Brother.
36, 37. Behold how he loved him! Some of the Jews were touched by his evidence of tender affection. Others, remembering the healing of the blind man right there at Jerusalem, asked if he could not have saved Lazarus from death. The latter, however, spoke sneeringly in all probability. The occurrence of the words "groaning in himself" (was indignant) in verse 38, shows that there was something in their words to provoke his displeasure. The Greek particle rendered "And," means rather "but" and is so rendered by the Revision. Their argument is rather: "If he opened the eyes of a blind man, why could he not save a friend from death?"
38. Jesus . . . cometh to the grave. Graves were sometimes cut perpendicularly in the rock, as we dig them in the earth, and sometimes were horizontally cut into the side of the hill. Sometimes natural eaves were selected and sometimes artificial. This family vault was a cave, closed by a stone that covered the entrance. For references to graves see Genesis 23:9 and 35:8; 1 Kings 2:24; Isaiah 14:15 and 22:16; Matthew 27:60; John 19:41.
39, 40. Take ye away the stone. The large stone that closed the entrance and which several persons would be required to remove. The practical Martha at  once interposes. The body had been four days in the tomb, a period so long that decomposition must have begun. It will be offensive. She seems to have thought that the Lord's object was to look upon the dead body of his friend. He reminds her of his promise, conditioned upon their faith, contained in the message sent them (see verse 4). Their faith was to be shown, not in expectation, but in faithful obedience to his commands. Martha, at once, ceased to object, and the stone was removed. Faith, manifested in obedience, is a fundamental condition of divine blessing.
41, 42. And Jesus lifted up his eyes. The Son always sought to honor the Father and to show that the Father was in him as he was in the Father. I thank thee that thou hast heard me. Constantly in communion with the Father he had the Father's answer already and assent to what he was about to do. Thou hearest me always. Even in Gethsemane, when the cup was not taken away; but he was now thankful that God had assented to his prayer, because such a miracle would induce the people to "believe that God had sent him."
43. He cried in aloud voice. A suggestion of the "voice like the sound of many waters" (Rev. 1:15) at which all who are in their graves shall come forth (1 Thess. 4:16). It was the voice of authority. Lazarus, come forth. "Lazarus, here, out," is the literal rendering of the Greek; two words, simple, efficacious.
44. And he that was dead came forth. The earth had never beheld a more wonderful or startling sight. At once the sleeper arose, came forth from the dark and cold bed where he had lain for four days, bound with his grave clothes, with the napkin still upon his face that had been bound under his jaw to keep it from falling. The lookers on, astonished, dazed, were only recalled to themselves, when the Lord bade them "Loose him and let him go." The winding sheet would interfere with his motion. A being with whom to will is to do, is divine. God said, Let there be light, and there was light. Christ said to the buried Lazarus, Come forth! and he came. There was not a moment's delay. So in all his miracles. Nature heard his voice at once. He spoke and it was done. 
This miracle, the climax of the wonderful works of Christ, and the immediate cause of final plans for the arrest and crucifixion, is related only by John. The other Gospels describe the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, and of the daughter of Jairus, but are silent concerning the resurrection at Bethany. Much wonder has been expressed at this silence and I can find no better explanation than that, during the intense hostility that existed in Judea during the earlier years of Christianity, to have pointed out Lazarus by name would have endangered his life, but when John wrote the power of Judaism had been forever broken. The significance of this miracle, as an evidence that Christ is a divine being, has always been acknowledged, and those who dispute this have attempted various rationalistic explanations. There are three of these: 1. The mythical, of which Strauss is the author, which holds that the story is a myth which grew up out of some slight foundation, assumed its present shape in the second or third century, and was interpolated in this Gospel by some forger, who used John's name to give sanction to the story. This theory, in substance, is that John did not write the account. The positive evidence that John wrote the Fourth Gospel (see Introduction) refutes this hypothesis. 2. The second theory is that the story was created to illustrate the truth that Christ is the resurrection and the life. The simplicity of the narrative, giving life-like details without the slightest air of fiction, or any attempt whatever to give a coloring or draw conclusions, is a refutation of this speculation. 3. Renan suggests that the miracle was a pious fraud, contrived by the Bethany family and the friends of Jesus to give eclat to his anticipated entry into Jerusalem, and that he lent himself to this fraud in a moment of intense fanatical enthusiasm. The folly of such an explanation is shown by its utter inconsistency with the character of Christ as portrayed by Renan himself, and as acknowledged by other skeptical writers, such as Rousseau and John Stuart Mill. The account recorded by John is plain, matter of fact, crowded with minute and natural details, exhibits no marks of painting and draws no conclusions. It is told as an eye witness would tell the story who had no opinions of his own upon the subject. He does not even say that a miracle was wrought, or the dead raised, but tells what he saw and leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions. Even a scientific commission could not report the facts with more absolute impartiality. Had the writer invented the story for the sake of glorifying his Master there would have been indications of his purpose in pointing out the power and glory of him at whose word, Lazarus come forth! the dead came forth wrapped in the robes of the tomb. Had he invented it in order to prove some doctrine, there would have been an indication of this in the application. Instead, it is just such a story as might be expected from an intelligent, honest, impartial eye-witness, and almost all readers, both friends and foes, have come to the only reasonable conclusion,--that it is a genuine and faithful account of a real resurrection from the dead.
1. In our troubles we should send a message for Christ, as did the sisters of Bethany. 
2. Even if Christ delays his response we should not doubt that our troubles are for the glory of God and our own good. "All things work for good," etc.
3. We should look upon Christ always as an all-sufficient helper. If present he can always deliver. "If thou hadst been here my brother had not died."
4. We should always be assured of the tender sympathy of the Lord. "He can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities." He weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice.
5. We should never forget that He is the Fountain of Life; the Resurrection and the Life. If we have eaten the Bread of Life, drunk the Water of Life, have Christ the hope of glory formed in us, we have eternal life. It is begun. We are immortal. We shall never die. What is called death
| "Is only a narrow sea
That divides the heavenly land from ours."
6. We have been told that there is inscribed on the monument over the clay of the infidel Hume, at Edinburg, Scotland, I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. In that grand truth is the hope of mankind.
7. As he cried to Lazarus, Come forth, so shall he speak with the voice of an archangel to all that are in their graves and they shall come forth and live.
8. "I go, that I may awake him out of sleep." There seems to me to be contained in these few words one of the most powerful charms in the world to lull the bitterness of death, and to make us anxious to become such that we may humbly apply them to ourselves.--Thomas Arnold.
THE SANHEDRIM IN SESSION.
45. Many of the Jews who came to Mary. Verse 19 speaks of many Jews of Jerusalem who came to the house of Martha and Mary. Verse 31 speaks of them remaining in the house with Mary and following her when she went forth; now, therefore, they are named in connection with her. Believed on him. They had seen what had been done and were compelled to believe that Jesus was a man of God.
46. But some . . went to the Pharisees. They, as was usual, divided into two classes. Others, though unable to explain the miracle, were hostile and went at once to the Pharisees with a report. As this sect was now in declared enmity to Christ, this report was no doubt an unfriendly act.
47. The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council. The chief  priests, including Caiaphas, the acting high priest, and Annas, who had been high priest, as well as other great hierarchs, were Sadducees and the leaders of that party. The old feuds between them and the Pharisees were now forgotten and the two great sects unite in a call for a meeting of the Sanhedrim. This session is a notable event. It is the first case recorded in the Gospels where we meet with a formal account of the meeting of this great body. This meeting settles on the plans that are henceforth pushed with vigor and which lead a few weeks later to the arrest, trial and condemnation of Christ. For an account of the Sanhedrim see notes on chapter 1:19. What do we? They do not ask what they shall do, but reproach themselves that they are doing nothing. "This man," a designation intended to show contempt, is doing many miracles and yet we are idle, doing nothing to counteract their influence. This body admitted the miracles and was without excuse. As at least two of the members were afterwards Christians, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, it would be easy to learn what passed on this note-worthy occasion.
48. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe. They take it for granted that his miracles were calculated to produce belief. They also held that the people would regard him the Messiah and would rise in insurrection, or raise tumults that would induce the Romans to interfere. The Romans . . . will take away our place and nation. The Romans were already there, for Judea was a Roman province, there was a Roman governor, and also a Roman garrison was stationed in the tower of Antonia overlooking the temple itself. But they had their place still, were priests with great revenues, or members of the Sanhedrim with great power. If there were seditions they might lose "their place," as they did a generation later. To take away "their place" would be to destroy the ecclesiastical organization, while to destroy the civil organization would be to take away "the nation" in the sense they used the term.
49. Caiaphas, being high priest that year. John does not mean that the high priesthood was an annual office, but places the emphasis on "that year." With him the "year of our Lord" was the year of his death. In that ever memorable year Caiaphas was high priest. Caiaphas was a Sadducee, a crafty, powerful, unscrupulous man, who was high priest in all for eighteen years, from A. D. 18 to A. D. 36, an unusual tenure of office in those times when the Romans made and unmade high priests at will, there being twenty-five in the century preceding the fall of Jerusalem. Ye know nothing at all. "Ye" is the emphatic word. "Ye who dwell on these scruples and fears do not even know the simplest rule of statesmanship, that one must be sacrificed to the many." The proud Sadducee contrasts the timid, hesitating policy of others with his fixed, clear policy of putting Jesus to death. His language  is bitterly sarcastic and he charges the Sanhedrim with blindness to its own interest.
50. Nor consider that it is expedient for us. What was "expedient for us" was the main thing to consider. This required "one man to die for the people (laos, Jewish race in its relation to God), that the whole nation (ethnos, the nation as a civil organization) perish not." The word "nation" is applied many times to the Jews, in the singular, but never in the plural. It is then translated "Gentiles."
51. This he spake not of himself. He thought he spoke it of himself, but unwittingly he uttered a prophecy. The high priest represented the divine headship of the Jewish nation and through him, of old, an inspired decision was given on questions of doubt. So Caiaphas by virtue of his office utters a prophecy, and like Balaam, while wickedly counseling the death of Christ, interprets the results of his death truly.
52. Should gather in one the children of God. Christ died for his enemies, for the Jewish nation, and not for it alone, but his death broke down the barrier between Jew and Gentile and made friends of the hostile clans and nations of the earth. Jew, Gentile, Indian, African and Anglo-Saxon;--all who are gathered into him, are brethren and are drawn to each other by the ties of universal brotherhood. What Rome could not do with the sword was accomplished by the cross when Christ was nailed there, and there was cemented in his blood the foundations of a universal empire in which there would be neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, but all one in the Lord.
53. From that day they took counsel. From the time of this meeting they were brought over to the policy of Caiaphas and steadfast in carrying out their plans for the death of Christ. Here is the official culmination of Jewish hatred, and what had been a decree before (5:18) now becomes a settled plan. John points out the development and successive steps of this enmity and the reader can trace them by consulting 5:16-18; 7:32, 45; 8:59; 9:22; 10:39; 11:47.
54. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews. The Savior once  more retired from Jerusalem to avoid the blow that was ready to be struck and retired for a short time into a city called Ephraim. Its location is not surely known, but it is supposed to be an Ophrah named in Joshua 18:23, called Ephraim in 2 Chron. 13:19, and now a village called et Taiyibeh. It is about sixteen miles northeast of Jerusalem on the borders of a wild wilderness region. To this place the Lord must have retired immediately after the resurrection of Lazarus, and here he remained until six days before the passover. His "disciples," meaning more especially the apostles, were with him in this retirement, and he was, no doubt, actively engaged in training them for their great work. This was his last retirement from Jerusalem and he went from Ephraim to attend his last passover and to die.
55. The Jews' passover was near at hand. It could not have been more than a few weeks away when he went to Ephraim. Many went out of the country. They gathered to the great national festivals, not only from all parts of Judea and Galilee, but from the foreign countries where Jews were scattered abroad. To purify themselves. They came in advance of the time of the passover that they might have time to purify themselves from ceremonial uncleanness before the feast. Though no special rites of purification were enjoined before the passover, yet the people were expected to purify themselves before any important event (Exodus 19:10, 11), and were accustomed to go through certain special rites of purification before the passover (2 Chron. 30:13-20).
56. Then sought they for Jesus. There was a restless curiosity among these country people to know more of the wonderful Teacher of whom they had heard so much. As they gathered in groups in the temple they discussed the probability of his coming, and that the more eagerly as they knew that,
57. The chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment. The Sanhedrim had published an edict commanding any man who knew of his whereabouts to reveal it in order that they might take him. Godet is of the opinion that this order was given to intimidate Christ and his disciples so as to prevent their coming to the passover. They certainly could have traced him to Ephraim and when he did appear they had to lay their plans very carefully and nearly a week passed before they dared to arrest him. Lightfoot reports a Jewish tradition that, during forty days preceding the passover, an officer of the Sanhedrim "publicly proclaimed that this man, who by his imposture had seduced the people, ought to be stoned, and that any one who could say  aught in his defence was to come forward and speak. But no one doing so he was hanged on the evening before the passover." It maybe that John refers to some such proclamation.
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B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)
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