Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Bethany was a little village outside Jerusalem. Jesus would stay there in the home of Mary & Martha when he came to Jerusalem, traveling into the city during the day (Mt 21:17). Luke also mentions the sisters as good friends, though Lazarus is not mentioned there (remember the story of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, while Martha worked?). The author of John has not yet told the story he mentions here, when Mary anoints Jesus feet with perfume; it comes in chapter 12. But here, the sisters send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is gravely ill. But Jesus delays in going to them – this delay leaves us puzzled, and it would seem that the disciples are puzzled as well. The author makes a point of telling us the delay is not because he does not love them, for he loves them dearly. Why then? Jesus says that God will be glorified.
After two days, he says to his disciples that he is going to Judea – and they object. After all, those who tried to stone him are still there. He responds that there are 12 hours of daylight – at one level he is talking about time to travel, let’s get going while there is light. But, of course, in John there is always another level – Jesus still has time to walk in the light. His time is coming but it is not yet. But Lazarus, he says, has fallen asleep; he goes to awaken him. Again the disciples think he is talking about normal sleep, but Jesus is telling them Lazarus is dead. For them, the miracle they are about to see will surely make them believe. And Thomas – we will hear more from him later – said to the others, “Let us go also, that we may die with him.” At least one of the disciples is expecting Jesus to be killed when he returns to Judea, but he is willing to go with him, and die with him. And so, they set out for Judea, and Bethany – to see and care for a dear friend and his family.