Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
A certain man was sick - The resurrection of Lazarus has been recorded only by John. Various reasons have been conjectured why the other evangelists did not mention so signal a miracle. The most probable is, that at the time they wrote Lazarus was still living. The miracle was well known, and yet to have recorded it might have exposed Lazarus to opposition and persecution from the Jews. See Joh 12:10-11. Besides, John wrote for Christians who were out of Palestine. The other gospels were written chiefly for those who were in Judea. There was the more need, therefore, that he should enter minutely into the account of the miracle, while the others did not deem it necessary or proper to record an event so well known.
Bethany - A village on the eastern declivity of the Mount of Olives. See the notes at Mat 21:1.
The town of Mary - The place where she lived. At that place also lived Simon the leper Mat 26:6, and there our Lord spent considerable part of his time when he was in Judea. The transaction recorded in this chapter occurred nearly four months after those mentioned in the previous chapter. Those occurred in December, and these at the approach of the Passover in April.
It was that Mary ... - See the Mat 26:6 note; Luk 7:36-50 notes.
Whom thou lovest - Joh 11:5. The members of this family were among the few special and intimate friends of our Lord. He was much with them, and showed them marks of special friendship Luk 10:38-42, and they bestowed upon him special proofs of affection in return. This shows that special attachments are lawful for Christians, and that those friendships are especially lovely which are tempered and sweetened with the spirit of Christ. Friendships should always be cemented by religion, and one main end of those attachments should be to aid one another in the great business of preparing to die.
Sent unto him - They believed that he had power to heal him Joh 11:21, though they did not then seem to suppose that he could raise him if he died. Perhaps there were two reasons why they sent for him; one, because they supposed he would be desirous of seeing his friend; the other, because they supposed he could restore him. In sickness we should implore the aid and presence of Jesus. He only can restore us and our friends; he only can perform for us the office of a friend when all other friends fail; and he only can cheer us with the hope of a blessed resurrection.
This sickness is not unto death - The word "death" here is equivalent to remaining under death, Rom 6:23. "The wages of sin is death" - permanent or unchanging death, opposed to eternal life. Jesus evidently did not intend to deny that he would die. The words which he immediately adds show that he would expire, and that he would raise him up to show forth the power and glory of God. Compare Joh 11:11. Those words cannot be understood on any other supposition than that he expected to raise him up. The Saviour often used expressions similar to this to fix the attention on what he was about to say in explanation. The sense may be thus expressed: "His sickness is not fatal. It is not designed for his death, but to furnish an opportunity for a signal display of the glory of God, and to furnish a standing proof of the truth of religion. It is intended to exhibit the power of the Son of God, and to be a proof at once of the truth of his mission; of his friendship for this family; of his mild, tender, special love as a man; of his power and glory as the Messiah; and of the great doctrine that the dead will rise.
For the glory of God - That God may be honored. See Joh 9:3.
That the Son of God ... - The glory of God and of his Son is the same. That which promotes the one promotes also the other. Few things could do it more than the miracle which follows, evincing at once the lovely and tender character of Jesus as a man and a friend, and his power as the equal with God.
He abode two days - Probably Lazarus died soon after the messengers left him. Jesus knew that (Joh 11:11), and did not hasten to Judea, but remained two days longer where he was, that there might not be the possibility of doubt that he was dead, so that when he came there he had been dead four days, Joh 11:39. This shows, moreover, that he intended to raise him up. If he had not, it could hardly be reconciled with friendship thus to remain, without any reason, away from an afflicted family.
Where he was - At Bethabara Joh 1:28; Joh 10:40, about 30 miles from Bethany. This was about a day's journey, and it renders it probable that Lazarus died soon after the message was sent. One day would be occupied before the message came to him; two days he remained; one day would be occupied by him in going to Bethany; so that Lazarus had been dead four days Joh 11:39 when he arrived.
Of late - About four months before, Joh 10:31.
Twelve hours - The Jews divided the day from sunrise to sunset into twelve equal parts. A similar illustration our Saviour uses in Joh 9:4-5. See the notes at that place.
If any man walk - If any man travels. The illustration here is taken from a traveler. The conversation was respecting a journey into Judea, and our Lord, as was his custom, took the illustration from the case before him.
He stumbleth not - He is able, having light, to make his journey safely. He sees the obstacles or dangers and can avoid them.
The light of this world - The light by which the world is illuminated that is, the light of the sun.
In the night - In darkness he is unable to see danger or obstacles, and to avoid them. His journey is unsafe and perilous, or, in other words, it is not a proper time to travel.
No light in him - He sees no light. It is dark; his eyes admit no light within him to direct his way. This description is figurative, and it is difficult to fix the meaning. Probably the intention was the following:
1. Jesus meant to say that there was an allotted or appointed time for him to live and do his Father's will, represented here by the 12 hours of the day.
2. Though his life was nearly spent, yet it was not entirely; a remnant of it was left.
3. A traveler journeyed on until night. It was as proper for him to travel the twelfth hour as any other.
4. So it was proper for Jesus to labor until the close. It was the proper time for him to work. The night of death was coming, and no work could then be done.
5. God would defend him in this until the appointed time of his death. He had nothing to fear, therefore, in Judea from the Jews, until it was the will of God that he should die. He was safe in his hand, and he went fearlessly into the midst of his foes, trusting in him. This passage teaches us that we should be diligent to the end of life: fearless of enemies when we know that God requires us to labor, and confidently committing ourselves to Him who is able to shield us, and in whose hand, if we have a conscience void of offence, we are safe.
Lazarus sleepeth - Is dead. The word "sleep" is applied to death,
1. Because of the resemblance between them, as sleep is the "kinsman of death." In this sense it is often used by pagan writers.
2. However, in the Scriptures it is used to intimate that death will not be final: that there will be an awaking out of this sleep, or a resurrection. It is a beautiful and tender expression, removing all that is dreadful in death, and filling the mind with the idea of calm repose after a life of toil, with a reference to a future resurrection in increased vigor and renovated powers. In this sense it is applied in the Scriptures usually to the saints, Co1 11:30; Co1 15:51; Th1 4:14; Th1 5:10; Mat 9:24.
If the sleep, he shall do well - Sleep was regarded by the Jews, in sickness, as a favorable symptom; hence it was said among them, "Sleep in sickness is a sign of recovery, because it shows that the violence of the disease has abated" (Lightfoot). This seems to have been the meaning of the disciples. They intimated that if he had this symptom, there was no need of his going into Judea to restore him.
I am glad ... - The meaning of this verse may be thus expressed: "If I had been there during his sickness, the entreaties of his sisters and friends would have prevailed with me to restore him to health. I could not have refused them without appearing to be unkind. Though a restoration to health would have been a miracle, and sufficient to convince you, yet the miracle of raising him after being four days dead will be far more impressive, and on that account I rejoice that an opportunity is thus given so strikingly to confirm your faith."
To the intent - To furnish you evidence on which you might be established in the belief that I am the Messiah.
Thomas, which is called Didymus - These names express the same thing. One is Hebrew and the other Greek. The name means a twin.
Die with him - It has been much doubted by critics whether the word him refers to Lazarus or to Jesus. They who refer it to Lazarus suppose this to be the meaning: "Let us go and die, for what have we to hope for if Jesus returns into Judea? Lately they attempted to stone him, and now they will put him to death, and we also, like Lazarus, shall be dead." This expression, is supposed to be added by John to show the slowness with which Thomas believed, and his readiness to doubt without the fullest evidence. See Joh 20:25. Others suppose, probably more correctly, that it refers to Jesus: "He is about to throw himself into danger. The Jews lately sought his life, and will again. They will put him to death. But let us not forsake him. Let us attend him and die with him." It may be remarked that this, not less than the other mode of interpretation, expresses the doubts of Thomas about the miracle which Jesus was about to work.
In the grave - It was sometimes the custom to embalm the dead, but in this case it does not seem to have been done. He was probably buried soon after death.
Nigh unto Jerusalem - This is added to show that it was easy for many of the Jews to come to the place. The news that Jesus was there, and the account of the miracle, would also be easily carried to the Sanhedrin.
Fifteen furlongs - Nearly two miles. It was directly east from Jerusalem. Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, vol. ii. p. 599) says of Bethany: "It took half an hour to walk over Olivet to Bethany this morning, and the distance from the city, therefore, must be about two miles. This agrees with what John says: 'Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off.' The village is small, and appears never to have been large, but it is pleasantly situated near the southeastern base of the mount, and has many fine trees about and above it. We, of course, looked at the remains of those old edifices which may have been built in the age of Constantine, and repaired or changed to a convent in the time of the Crusades. By the dim light of a taper we also descended very cautiously, by 25 slippery steps, to the reputed sepulchre of Lazarus, or El Azariyeh, as both tomb and village are now called. But I have no description of it to give, and no questions about it to ask. It is a wretched cavern, every way unsatisfactory, and almost disgusting."
Many of the Jews - Probably their distant relatives or their friends.
To comfort - These visits of consolation were commonly extended to seven clays (Grotius; Lightfoot).
Then Martha ... - To Martha was intrusted the management of the affairs of the family, Luk 10:40. It is probable that she first heard of his coming, and, without waiting to inform her sister, went immediately out to meet him. See Joh 11:28.
Sat still in the house - The word "still" is not in the original. It means that she remained sitting in the house. The common posture of grief among the Jews was that of sitting, Job 2:8; Eze 8:14. Often this grief was so excessive as to fix the person in astonishment, and render him immovable, or prevent his being affected by any external objects. It is possible that the evangelist meant to intimate this of Mary's grief. Compare Ezr 9:3-4; Neh 1:4; Isa 47:1.
Whatsoever thou wilt ask of God - Whatever is necessary to our consolation that thou wilt ask, thou canst obtain. It is possible that she meant gently to intimate that he could raise him up and restore him again to them.
Thy brother shall rise again - Martha had spoken of the power of Jesus. He said nothing of himself in reply. It was not customary for him to speak of himself, unless it was demanded by necessity. It cannot be doubted that by rising again, here, Jesus referred to the act which he was about to perform; but as Martha understood it, referring to the future resurrection, it was full of consolation. The idea that departed friends shall rise to glory is one that fills the mind with joy, and one which we owe only to the religion of Christ.
At the last day - The day of judgment. Of this Martha was fully convinced; but this was not all which she desired. She in this manner delicately hinted what she did not presume expressly to declare her wish that Jesus might even now raise him up.
I am the resurrection - I am the author or the cause of the resurrection. It so depends on my power and will, that it may be said that I am the resurrection itself. This is a most expressive way of saying that the whole doctrine of the resurrection came from him, and the whole power to effect it was his. In a similar manner he is said to be made of God unto us "wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption," Co1 1:30.
And the life - Joh 1:4. As the resurrection of all depends on him, he intimated that it was not indispensable that it should be deferred to the last day. He had power to do it now as well as then.
Though he were dead - Faith does not save from temporal death; but although the believer, as others, will die a temporal death, yet he will hereafter have life. Even if he dies, he shall hereafter live.
Shall he live - Shall be restored to life in the resurrection.
Whosoever liveth - He had just spoken of the prospects of the pious dead. He now says that the same prospects are before the living who have like faith. Greek, "Every one living and believing on me."
Shall never die - As the dead, though dead, shall yet live, so the living shall have the same kind of life. They shall never come into eternal death. See Joh 6:50-51, Joh 6:54, Joh 6:58. Greek, "Shall by no means die forever."
Believest thou this? - This question was doubtless asked because it implied that he was then able to raise up Lazarus, and because it was a proper time for her to test her own faith. The time of affliction is a favorable period to try ourselves to ascertain whether we have faith. If we still have confidence in God, if we look to him for comfort in such seasons, it is good evidence that we are his friends. He that loves God when he takes away his comforts, has the best evidence possible of true attachment to him.
Yea, Lord - This was a noble confession. It showed her full confidence in him as the Messiah, and her full belief that all that he said was true. See Mat 16:16.
She went her way - Jesus probably directed her to go, though the evangelist has not recorded it, for she said to Mary, The Master calleth for thee.
Secretly - Privately. So that the others did not hear her. This was done, perhaps, to avoid confusion, or because it was probable that if they knew Jesus was coming they would have made opposition. Perhaps she doubted whether Jesus desired it to be known that he had come.
The Master is come - This appears to have been the appellation by which he was known to the family. It means, literally, teacher, and was a title which he claimed for himself. "One is your Master, even Christ" Mat 23:8, Mat 23:10. The Syriac has it, "Our Master."
Saying, She goeth unto the grave - Syriac, "They thought that she went to weep." They had not heard Martha call her. The first days of mourning among the Jews were observed with great solemnity and many ceremonies of grief.
He groaned in the spirit - The word rendered "groaned," here, commonly denotes to be angry or indignant, or to reprove severely, denoting violent agitation of mind. Here it also evidently denotes violent agitation - not from anger, but from grief. He saw the sorrow of others, and he was also moved with sympathy and love. The word "groan" usually, with us, denotes an expression of internal sorrow by a special sound. The word here, however, does not mean that utterance was given to the internal emotion, but that it was deep and agitating, though internal.
In the spirit - In the mind. See Act 19:21. Paul purposed in the spirit that is, in his mind, Mat 5:3.
Was troubled - Was affected with grief. Perhaps this expression denotes that his countenance was troubled, or gave indications of sorrow (Grotins).
Where have ye laid him? - Jesus spoke as a man. In all this transaction he manifested the deep sympathies of a man; and though he who could raise the dead man up could also know where he was, yet he chose to lead them to the grave by inducing them to point the way, and hence, he asked this question.
Jesus wept - It has been remarked that this is the shortest verse in the Bible; but it is exceedingly important and tender. It shows the Lord Jesus as a friend, a tender friend, and evinces his character as a man. And from this we learn:
1. That the most tender personal friendship is not inconsistent with the most pure religion. Piety binds stronger the ties of friendship, makes more tender the emotions of love, and seals and sanctifies the affections of friends.
2. It is right, it is natural, it is indispensable for the Christian to sympathize with others in their afflictions. Rom 12:15; "rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep."
3. Sorrow at the death of friends is not improper. It is right to weep. It is the expression of nature and religion does not forbid or condemn it. All that religion does in the case is to temper and chasten our grief; to teach us to mourn with submission to God; to weep without complaining, and to seek to banish tears, not by hardening the heart or forgetting the friend, but by bringing the soul, made tender by grief, to receive the sweet influences of religion, and to find calmness and peace in the God of all consolation.
4. We have here an instance of the tenderness of the character of Jesus, The same Savior wept over Jerusalem, and felt deeply for poor dying, sinners. To the same tender and compassionate Saviour Christians may now come Heb 4:15; and to him the penitent sinner may also come, knowing that he will not cast him away.
It was a cave - This was a common mode of burial. See the notes at Mat 8:28.
A stone lay upon it - Over the mouth of the cave. See Mat 27:60.
Four days - This proves that there could be no deception, for it could not have been a case of suspended animation. All these circumstances are mentioned to show that there was no imposture. Impostors do not mention minute circumstances like these. They deal in generals only. Every part of this narrative bears the marks of truth.
Said I not unto thee - This was implied in what he had said about the resurrection of her brother, Joh 11:23-25. There would be a manifestation of the glory of God in raising him up which she would be permitted, with all others, to behold.
The glory of God - The power and goodness displayed in the resurrection. It is probable that Martha did not really expect that Jesus would raise him up, but supposed that he went there merely to see the corpse. Hence, when he directed them to take away the stone, she suggested that by that time the body was offensive.
Lifted up his eyes - In an attitude of prayer. See Luk 18:13; Mat 14:19.
I thank thee that thou hast heard me - It is possible that John has recorded only the sum or substance of the prayer on this occasion. The thanks which Jesus renders here are evidently in view of the fact that power had been committed to him to raise up Lazarus. On account of the people, and the signal proof which would be furnished of the truth of his mission, he expressed his thanks to God. In all his actions, he recognized his union to the Father, and his dependence upon him as Mediator.
And I knew - "As for me. So far as I am concerned. I had no anxiety, no doubt as to myself, that I should always be heard; but the particular ground of gratitude is the benefit that will result to those who are witnesses." Jesus never prayed in vain. He never attempted to work a miracle in vain; and in all his miracles the ground of his joy was, not that he was to be praised or honored, but that others were to be benefited and God glorified.
A loud voice - Greek, "A great voice." Syriac: "A high voice." This was distinctly asserting his power. He uttered a distinct, audible voice, that there might be no suspicion of charm or incantation. The ancient magicians and jugglers performed their wonders by whispering and muttering. See the notes at Isa 8:19. Jesus spake openly and audibly, and asserted thus his power. So, also, in the day of judgment he will call the dead with a great sound of a trumpet, Mat 24:31; Th1 4:16.
Lazarus, come forth! - Here we may remark:
1. That Jesus did this by his own power.
2. The power of raising the dead is the highest of which we can conceive. The ancient pagan declared it to be even beyond the power of God. It implies not merely giving life to the deceased body, but the power of entering the world of spirits, of recalling the departed soul, and of reuniting it with the body. He that could do this must be omniscient as well as omnipotent; and if Jesus did it by his own power, it proves that he was divine.
3. This is a striking illustration of the general resurrection. In the same manner Jesus will raise all the dead. This miracle shows that it is possible; shows the way in which it will be done by the voice of the Son of God; and demonstrates the certainty that he will do it. Oh how important it is that we be prepared for that moment when his voice shall be heard in our silent tombs, and he shall call us forth again to life!
He that was dead - The same man, body and soul.
Bound hand and foot - It is not certain whether the whole body and limbs were bound together, or each limb separately. When they embalmed a person, the whole body and limbs were swathed or bound together by strips of linen, involved around it to keep together the aromatics with which the body was embalmed. This is the condition of Egyptian mummies. See Act 5:6. But it is not certain that this was always the mode. Perhaps the body was simply involved in a winding-sheet. The custom still exists in western Asia. No coffins being used, the body itself is more carefully and elaborately wrapped and swathed than is common or desirable where coffins are used. In this method the body is stretched out and the arms laid straight by the sides, after which the whole body, from head to foot, is wrapped round tightly in many folds of linen or cotton cloth; or, to be more precise, a great length of cloth is taken and rolled around the body until the whole is enveloped, and every part is covered with several folds of the cloth. The ends are then sewed, to keep the whole firm and compact; or else a narrow bandage is wound over the whole, forming, ultimately, the exterior surface. The body, when thus enfolded and swathed, retains the profile of the human form; but, as in the Egyptian mummies, the legs are not folded separately, but together; and the arms also are not distinguished, but confined to the sides in the general envelope. Hence, it would be clearly impossible for a person thus treated to move his arms or legs, if restored to existence.
The word rendered "grave-clothes" denotes also the bands or clothes in which new-born infants are involved. He went forth, but his walking was impeded by the bands or clothes in which he was involved.
And his face ... - This was a common thing when they buried their dead. See Joh 20:7. It is not known whether the whole face was covered in this manner, or only the forehead. In the Egyptian mummies it is only the forehead that is thus bound.
Loose him - Remove the bandages, so that he may walk freely. The effect of this miracle is said to have been that many believed on him. It may be remarked in regard to it that there could not be a more striking proof of the divine mission and power of Jesus. There could be here no possibility of deception:
1. The friends of Lazarus believed him to be dead. In this they could not be deceived. There could have been among them no design to deceive.
2. He was four days dead. It could not be a case, therefore, of suspended animation.
3. Jesus was at a distance at the time of his death. There was, therefore, no agreement to attempt to impose on others.
4. No higher power can be conceived than that of raising the dead.
5. It was not possible to impose on his sisters, and to convince them that he was restored to life, if it was not really so.
6. There were many present who were convinced also. God had so ordered it in his providence that to this miracle there should be many witnesses. There was no concealment, no jugglery, no secrecy. It was done publicly, in open day, and was witnessed by many who followed them to the grave, Joh 11:31.
7. Others, who saw it, and did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, went and told it to the Pharisees. But they did not deny that Jesus had raised up Lazarus. They could not deny it. The very ground of their alarm - the very reason why they went - was that he had actually done it. Nor did the Pharisees dare to call the fact in question. If they could have done it, they would. But it was not possible; for,
8. Lazarus was yet alive Joh 12:10, and the fact of his resurrection could not be denied. Every circumstance in this account is plain, simple, consistent, bearing all the marks of truth. But if Jesus performed this miracle his religion is true. God would not give such power to an impostor; and unless it can be proved that this account is false, the Christian religion must be from God.
Some of them ... - We see here the different effect which the word and works of God will have on different individuals. Some are converted and others are hardened; yet the evidence of this miracle was as clear to the one as the other. But they would not be convinced.
A council - A meeting of the Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the nation. See the notes at Mat 2:4. They claimed the right of regulating all the affairs of religion. See the notes at Joh 1:19.
What do we? - What measures are we taking to arrest the progress of his sentiments?
For this man doeth many miracles - If they admitted that he performed miracles, it was clear what they ought to do. They should have received him as the Messiah. It may be asked, If they really believed that he worked miracles, why did they not believe on him? To this it may be replied that they did not doubt that impostors might work miracles. See Mat 24:24. To this opinion they were led, probably, by the wonders which the magicians performed in Egypt Exo. 7; 8, and by the passage in Deu 13:1. As they regarded the tendency of the doctrines of Jesus to draw off the people from the worship of God, and from keeping his law Joh 9:16, they did not suppose themselves bound to follow him, even if he did work miracles.
All men - That is, all men among the Jews. The whole nation.
And the Romans shall come - They were then subject to the Romans - tributary and dependent. Whatever privileges they had they held at the will of the Roman emperor. They believed, or feigned to believe, that Jesus was intending to set up a temporal kingdom. As he claimed to be the Messiah, so they supposed, of course, that he designed to be a temporal prince, and they professed to believe that this claim was, in fact, hostility to the Roman emperor. They supposed that it would involve the nation in war if he was not arrested, and that the effect would be that they would be vanquished and destroyed. It was on this charge that they at last arraigned him before Pilate, Luk 23:2-3.
Will take away - This expression means to destroy, to ruin, to overthrow, Luk 8:12; Act 6:13-14.
Our place - This probably refers to the temple, Act 6:13-14. It was called "the place" by way of eminence, as being the chief or principal place on earth - being the seat of the special worship of God. This place was utterly destroyed by the Romans. See the notes at Matt. 24.
And nation - The nation or people of the Jews.
Caiaphas - See the notes at Luk 3:2.
Being high-Priest that same year - It is probable that the office of high priest was at first for life, if there was no conduct that rendered the person unworthy the office. In that case the incumbent was removed. Thus Abiathar was removed by Solomon, Kg1 2:27. Subsequently the kings, and especially the conquerors of Judea, claimed and exercised the right of removing the high priest at pleasure, so that, in the time of the Romans, the office was held but a short time. (See the Chronological Table.) Caiaphas held the office for about 10 years.
Ye know nothing at all - That is, you know nothing respecting the subject under consideration. You are fools to hesitate about so plain a case. It is probable that there was a party, even in the Sanhedrin, that was secretly in favor of Jesus as the Messiah. Of that party Nicodemus was certainly one. See Joh 3:1; Joh 7:50-51; Joh 11:45; Joh 12:42; "Among the chief rulers, also, many believed on him," etc.
It is expedient for us - It is better for us. Literally, "It is profitable for us."
That one man should die - Jesus they regarded as promoting sedition, and as exposing the nation, if he was successful, to the vengeance of the Romans, Joh 11:48. If he was put to death they supposed the people would be safe. This is all, doubtless, that he meant by his dying for the people. He did not himself intend to speak of his dying as an atonement or a sacrifice; but his words might also express that, and, though he was unconscious of it, he was expressing a real truth. In the sense in which he intended it there was no truth in the observation, nor occasion for it, but in the sense which the words might convey there was real and most important truth. It was expedient, it was infinitely desirable, that Jesus should die for that people, and for all others, to save them from perishing.
Not of himself - Though he uttered what proved to be a true prophecy, yet it was accomplished in a way which he did not intend He had a wicked design. He was plotting murder and crime. Yet, wicked as he was, and little as he intended it, God so ordered it that he delivered a most precious truth respecting the atonement. Remark:
1. God may fulfill the words of the wicked in a manner which they do not wish or intend.
2. He may make even their malice and wicked plots the very means of accomplishing his purposes. What they regard as the fulfillment of their plans God may make the fulfillment of his, yet so as directly to overthrow their designs, and prostrate them in ruin.
3. Sinners should tremble and be afraid when they lay plans against God, or seek to do unjustly to others.
Being high priest that year - It is not to be supposed that Caiaphas was a true prophet, or was conscious of the meaning which John has affixed to his words; but his words express the truth about the atonement of Jesus, and John records it as a remarkable circumstance that the high priest of the nation should unwittingly deliver a sentiment which turned out to be the truth about the death of Jesus. Great importance was attached to the opinion of the high priest by the Jews, because it was by him that the judgment by Urim and Thummim was formerly declared in cases of importance and difficulty, Num 27:21. It is not certain or probable that the high priest ever was endowed with the gift of prophecy; but he sustained a high office, the authority of his name was great, and it was thence remarkable that he uttered a declaration which the result showed to be true, though not in the sense that he intended.
He prophesied - He uttered words which proved to be prophetic; or he expressed at that time a sentiment which turned out to be true. It does not mean that he was inspired, or that he deserved to be ranked among the true prophets; but his words were such that they accurately expressed a future event. The word "prophecy" is to be taken here not in the strict sense, but in a sense which is not uncommon in the sacred writers. Act 21:9; "and the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy." See the Rom 12:6 note; Co1 14:1 note; compare Mat 26:68; Luk 22:64.
That Jesus should die - Die in the place of men, or as an atonement for sinners. This is evidently the meaning which John attaches to the words.
For that nation - For the Jews. As a sacrifice for their sins. In no other sense whatever could it be said that he died for them. His death, so far from saving them in the sense in which the high priest understood it, was the very occasion of their destruction. They invoked the vengeance of God when they said, "His blood be on us and on our children" Mat 27:25, and all these calamities came upon them because they would not come to him and be saved - that is, because they rejected him and put him to death, Mat 23:37-39.
Should gather together in one - All his chosen among the Jews and Gentiles. See Joh 10:16.
The children of God - This is spoken not of those who were then Christians, but of all whom God should bring to him; all who would be, in the mercy of God, called, chosen, sanctified among all nations, Joh 10:16.
They took counsel - The judgment of the high priest silenced opposition, and they began to devise measures to put him to death without exciting tumult among the people. Compare Mat 26:5.
No more openly - No more publicly, in the cities and towns. Jesus never exposed his life unnecessarily to hazard. Although the time of his death was determined in the counsel of God, yet this did not prevent his using proper means to preserve his life.
The wilderness - See the notes at Mat 3:1.
A city called Ephraim - This was probably a small town in the tribe of Ephraim, about five miles west of Jericho.
Jews' passover - See the notes at Mat. 26:2-17. Its being called the Jews' Passover shows that John wrote this gospel among people who were not Jews, and to whom it was necessary, therefore, to explain their customs.
To purify themselves - This purifying consisted in preparing themselves for the proper observation of the Passover, according to the commands of the law. If any were defiled in any manner by contact with the dead or by any other ceremonial uncleanness, they were required to take the prescribed measures for purification, Lev 22:1-6. For want of this, great inconvenience was sometimes experienced. See Ch2 30:17-18. Different periods were necessary in order to be cleansed from ceremonial pollution. For example, one who had been polluted by the touch of a dead body, of a sepulchre, or by the bones of the dead, was sprinkled on the third and seventh days, by a clean person, with hyssop dipped in water mixed in the ashes of the red heifer. After washing his body and clothes he was then clean. These persons who went up before the Passover were doubtless those who had in some manner been ceremonially polluted.
Will not come to the feast? - They doubted whether he would come. On the one hand, it was required by law that all males should come. On the other, his coming was attended with great danger. This was the cause of their doubting. It was in this situation that our Saviour, like many of his followers, was called to act. Danger was on the one hand, and duty on the other. He chose, as all should, to do his duty, and leave the event with God. He preferred to do it, though he knew that death was to be the consequence; and we should not shrink, when we have reason to apprehend danger, persecution, or death, from an honest attempt to observe all the commandments of God.