Leaving Jerusalem was the best thing for Jesus and His disciples. The crowds there were like a powder keg, ready to explode at any moment. From the time that Jesus entered Jerusalem and healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were looking for ways to kill Jesus (John 5:16). Now, the last two times that Jesus visited in Jerusalem, to heal the blind man and to teach that He was indeed the Messiah, the religious leaders had stirred the crowd to a dangerous rage. Swiftly, Jesus and His disciples headed out of Jerusalem. They travelled the 25 plus mile journey to the other side of the Jordan River.
After retreating to the Jordan River, Jesus eventually received word that some of His closest friends were going through a hard time. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were three siblings that had become terrific friends of Jesus during His ministry in Jerusalem and the outlying area. They lived in the town of Bethany, which sat just outside of Jerusalem.
Martha and Mary had sent messengers to Jesus to tell Him that Lazarus their brother, and a dear friend of Jesus, was sick and about to die. John tells us in John 11, that Jesus intentionally waited where he was for a couple more days before heading to visit Martha and Mary. Finally, He told his disciples, “Let us go into Judaea again.” Judaea was the name of the region that Bethany and Jerusalem were in, the place where a few days earlier, the angry crowds had tried to kill Jesus and his disciples. This was a detail that wasn’t lost on the disciples. Immediately at this proposition, the disciples responded, “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again?”
Jesus explained that he had greater things to do than to remain immobilized by the fear of angry crowds. Jesus responded to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go, so I can wake him out of his sleep.” He was using the word “sleep” to mean that although Lazarus was dead, he was not permanently dead. Instead, Jesus was going to “wake him up,” in other words, He was going to resurrect Lazarus. The disciples missed the whole point of what Jesus was saying, and instead responded, “If he is just sleeping, then why do we need to go see him?” Finally, Jesus put it bluntly, “Lazarus is dead.”
The reality of the danger that they were putting themselves in came from the mouth of Thomas, the realist, when after hearing this response of Jesus, he said, “Then let us go, that we may die with him.” Travelling to Bethany would most certainly endanger their lives. Lacing the sarcasm, with which the words of Thomas bit, was the grave reality that Jerusalem was becoming a seriously hostile place. Any trip to Jerusalem would no doubt open the door to further attacks by the religious leaders. But Jesus had said that he must go because God would be glorified, and the Son of God would be glorified. The glory of God was more important than self-preservation. God being glorified was worth risking life and limb over. God was worth it. So, with certain trouble ahead, they departed for Bethany.
Food For Thought: Why was travelling to Bethany dangerous for Jesus and His disciples? Why was Jesus willing to hazard His life and His disciples’ lives by travelling there?