Why did Jesus wait four days before raising Lazarus from the dead?

This is a profound question that deals with both Christ’s purposes, Jewish traditions and beliefs of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day.

The story of Lazarus’s death and his being brought back to life by Jesus is recorded in John11:1-43. This miracle is very different from the two previous occasions where Jesus brought dead people back to life. In Mark 5:35-43 we read of the restoration of life for the daughter of Dairus, in Luke 7:11-17 we read of the restoration of life of the widow’s son in the village of Nain.

In each of these cases the dead person had been dead for a short period, one day or less. Hence, the Pharisees were saying they were only ‘sleeping’ or in a coma or such and were not really dead. Most significant however is the Jewish tradition and teaching that a dead person’s spirit remains over the body for a period of three days after death and then departs.

Now with Lazarus, Jesus was across the Jordan, a two-day walk to Bethany where Lazarus’s body lay. When the messengers came reporting all to Him, Jesus deliberately remained and did not immediately begin his return to Bethany. When He finally arrived, four days had passed since Lasarus’s death. Those four days of entombment negated any doubts by the Pharisees that Lazarus was really dead. The man was already embalmed with spices and wrapped with burial strips and sealed in his tomb. It was then that Jesus called him out of the tomb and Lazarus was returned to life, still wrapped in burial cloths.

Lazarus, alive again, became a part of the Jerusalem believers’ group. It also inflamed the already seething hatred of Jesus by the Pharisees. This incontrovertible miracle made Jesus a greater threat to the status quo as his popularity grew and his teachings resonated with more and more people. This is when the Pharisees hatched a plan to have Jesus killed. Read about it in John 11:45-54.

Perhaps the best answer to the question above is Jesus’s explanation as recorded in John 11:39-44:

“Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.

Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Do you have the joy of being committed to Jesus as your Savior and know for certain that you have eternal life? You can. Just invite Him into your life today. He is waiting. None of us know if we have tomorrow!