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Warflield on the Raising of Lazarus

Discussion of the raising of Lazarus at our Wednesday night Bible study–currently going through the Gospel According to John–prompted us to examine in more detail the emotional response of our Lord. We found that beneath the surface of the text, we could learn a lot about what John is highlighting by giving us such a portrait of Christ’s inner life; which, in turn, helps us better understand the priorities and mission of Jesus. What follows is a helpful section from B. B. Warfield’s The Emotional Life of our Lord.

But we read elsewhere of its manifestation in tears and sighs. The tears which wet his cheeks when, looking upon the uncontrolled grief of Mary and her companions, he advanced, with heart swelling with indignation at the outrage of death, to the conquest of the destroyer (John 11:35), were distinctly tears of sympathy. Even more clearly, his own unrestrained wailing over Jerusalem and its stubborn unbelief was the expression of the most poignant pity: “O that thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace” (Luke 19:41)! The sight of suffering drew tears from his eyes; obstinate unbelief convulsed him with uncontrollable grief. Similarly when a man afflicted with dumbness and deafness was brought to him for healing we are only told that he “sighed” (Mark 7:34); but when the malignant unbelief of the Pharisees was brought home to him he “sighed from the bottom of his heart” (Mark 8:12).“ Obstinate sin,” comments Swete appropriately, “drew from Christ a deeper sigh than the sight of suffering (Luke 7:34 and cf. John 8:20), a sigh in which anger and sorrow both had a part.” We may, at any rate, place the loud wailing over the stubborn unbelief of Jerusalem and the deep sighing over the Pharisees’ determined opposition side by side as exhibitions of the profound pain given to our Lord’s sympathetic heart, by those whose persistent rejection of him required at his hands his sternest reprobation. He “sighed from the bottom of his heart” when he declared, “There shall no sign be given this generation”; he wailed aloud when he announced, “The days shall come upon thee when thine enemies shall dash thee to the ground.” It hurt Jesus to hand over even hardened sinners to their doom.

It hurt Jesus, — because Jesus’ prime characteristic was love, and love is the foundation of compassion…

The same term occurs again in John’s narrative of our Lord’s demeanor at the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus (John 11:33, 38). When Jesus saw Mary weeping — or rather “wailing,” for the term is a strong one and implies the vocal expression of the grief — and the Jews which accompanied her also “wailing,” we are told, as our English version puts it, that “he groaned in the spirit and was troubled”; and again, when some of the Jews, remarking on his own manifestation of grief in tears, expressed their wonder that he who had opened the eyes of the blind man could not have preserved Lazarus from death, we are told that Jesus “again groaned in himself.” The natural suggestion of the word “groan” is, however, that of pain or sorrow, not disapprobation; and this rendering of the term in question is therefore misleading. It is better rendered in the only remaining passage in which it occurs in the New Testament, Mark 14:5, by “murmured,” though this is much too weak a word to reproduce its implications. In that passage it is brought into close connection with a kindred term which determines its meaning. We read: “But there were some that had indignation among themselves . . . and they murmured against her.” Their feeling of irritated displeasure expressed itself in an outburst of temper. The margin of our Revised Version at John 11:33, 38, therefore, very properly proposes that we should for “groaned” in these passages, substitute “moved with indignation,” although that phrase too is scarcely strong enough. What John tells us, in point of fact, is that Jesus approached the grave of Lazarus, in a state, not of uncontrollable grief, but of irrepressible anger. He did respond to the spectacle of human sorrow abandoning itself to its unrestrained expression, with quiet, sympathetic tears: “Jesus wept” (verse 36). But the emotion which tore his breast and clamored for utterance was just rage. The expression even of this rage, however, was strongly curbed. The term which John employs to describe it is, as we have seen, a definitely external term. “He raged.” But John modifies its external sense by annexed qualifications: “He raged in spirit,” “raging in himself” He thus interiorizes the term and gives us to understand that the ebullition of Jesus’ anger expended itself within him. Not that there was no manifestation of it: it must have been observable to be observed and recorded; it formed a marked feature of the occurrence as seen and heard. But John gives us to understand that the external expression of our Lord’s fury was markedly restrained: its manifestation fell far short of its real intensity. He even traces for us the movements of his inward struggle: “Jesus, therefore, when he saw her wailing, and the Jews that had come with her wailing, was enraged in spirit and troubled himself’. . . and wept. His inwardly restrained fury produced a profound agitation of his whole being, one of the manifestations of which was tears.

Why did the sight of the wailing of Mary and her companions enrage Jesus? Certainly not because of the extreme violence of its expression; and even more certainly not because it argued unbelief — unwillingness to submit to God’s providential ordering or distrust of Jesus’ power to save. He himself wept, if with less violence yet in true sympathy. with the grief of which he was witness. The intensity of his exasperation, moreover, would be disproportionate to such a cause; and the importance attached to it in the account bids us seek its ground in something less incidental to the main drift of the narrative. It is mentioned twice, and is obviously emphasized as an indispensable element in the development of the story, on which, in its due place and degree, the lesson of the incident hangs. The spectacle of the distress of Mary and her companions enraged Jesus because it brought poignantly home to his consciousness the evil of death, its unnaturalness, its “violent tyranny” as Calvin (on verse 38) phrases it. In Mary’s grief, he “contemplates” — still to adopt Calvin’s words (on verse 33), — “the general misery of the whole human race” and burns with rage against the oppressor of men. Inextinguishable fury seizes upon him; his whole being is discomposed and perturbed; and his heart, if not his lips, cries out, —

“For the innumerable dead
Is my soul disquieted.”

It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words again, “as a champion who prepares for conflict.” The raising of Lazarus thus becomes, not an isolated marvel, but — as indeed it is presented throughout the whole narrative (compare especially, verses 24-26) — a decisive instance and open symbol of Jesus’ conquest of death and hell. What John does for us in this particular statement is to uncover to us the heart of Jesus, as he wins for us our salvation. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against the foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression, and under the impulse of these feelings has wrought out our redemption.

Warfield, Benjamin B. “The Emotional Life of Our Lord.” The Person and Work of Christ, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Harmony Township, New Jersey, 1989, pp. 93–145,

To read the rest of the work, follow this link:

Or purchase the full book by Warfield:

You can also purchase this chapter, The Emotional Life of Our Lord separately as recently published by Crossway:

You’ll find that there is the option to purchase The Emotional Life of Our Lord as an audio book from Audible, which is quite listenable.

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