The raising of Lazarus is a strange story. Jesus could have prevented his friend’s death but chooses not to. He intentionally remains where he is for two days after hearing his friend is sick(11:6). Upon arriving, Martha, Lazarus’ sister, tells Jesus “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”(11:21).
Why would Jesus let him die? No one wants to die. The answer Jesus gives can be troubling. “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that Son of God may be glorified through it”(11:4). Has Jesus let his friend die merely so that he can display his power? So that people can come to believe in him?
While this is clearly a part of the reason(11:42), the glorification of the Son of God Jesus speaks of represents something quite different.
For John the evangelist, the raising of Lazarus serves as the impetus for the arrest and execution of Jesus by the chief priests and Pharisees(11:53). After this sign, they fear “everyone will believe in him(Jesus), and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation”(11:38). It is not the incident in the Temple, as in the Synoptic Gospels, but this resurrection that sets into motion Jesus’ demise.
John believes that this demise is the very way in which Jesus will be glorified. The cross is the instrument of his glorification. This can be seen clearly in a couple passages.
During the last day of the Festival of Booths, Jesus proclaims that all who come to him will receive rivers of living water. This water is the Spirit, which was to come after Jesus is glorified(4:39). It is only until after his death and resurrection that Jesus breathes out his spirit onto the disciples(20:22).
The night before his death, Jesus begins his Farewell Discourse with the words, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”(12:23). This hour, he tells his disciples, troubles him(12:27).
Jesus does not orchestrate the raising of Lazarus merely so that others may believe. He orchestrates it so that he will be glorified through the outrage of the religious authorities. By raising Lazarus, Jesus clears a path by which he may be glorified. Glorified on a cross.