N.T. Wright reminds his readers that while the resurrection confirmed his Messianic status there must have been a trace of Messianic expectation surrounding the actions of Christ for his disciples to reason that the resurrection affirmed his claims. Wright writes,
“Granted that the resurrection of Jesus would force his followers to re-evaluate the meaning of his crucifixion, it would not have given to him, his life or his death a messianic meaning had such a meaning not been in some way present already. It is this argument, more or less, that has increasingly forced scholars back to the conclusion that there was something at least about Jesus’ death, and quite possibly also about his life, that, however surprisingly, must be regarded as messianic.”
Jesus and the Victory of God. 488.
In my opinion, the death and resurrection of Lazarus was THE defining moment in Jesus’ life that revealed to everyone (including the High Priest, even though Caiaphas did a lot of lip-service to the contrary) that He was Messiah and who He claimed to be.
Not sure if that is where you were wanting to go with this. But when I read Wright’s quote, I think this key event in Jesus’ life was regarded as Messianic and that the death and resurrection was the denouement, so to speak.
@Ryan: Wright is suggesting that it was not the resurrection alone that caused people to consider him as Messiah. For the resurrection to have cause people to think he was Messiah it seems necessary that it would do so because he already claimed to be Messiah before his crucifixion and the resurrection is merely vindication. It seems that he is combating the misguided idea that it was his resurrection alone, not so much his life, that made people say he was the one to come.
Your insight into his raising of Lazarus is an interesting point. It does seem to be the miracle, par excellence. It is hard to say one is not of God when they raise the dead. But what would make this different in your opinion than a prophet like Elijah or Elisha who did this as well? Are you thinking of a particular text that ties the Messiah to the raising of the dead?
@Brian: Lazarus’ resurrection is a much different case from Elijah and Elisha; Lazarus was dead for four days. The text in John when Mary says that the odor must be bad because he has been dead for four days is quite misleading of the significance of four days. The Pharisees held the belief that a man’s soul hovered over the person for a period of three days in which there could be resuscitation. Because Lazarus was outside of those three days, the Pharisees naturally would have believed that there was no possible way Lazarus could be brought back to life. When Jesus resurrected Lazarus, on the fourth day (which again, was not a possibility according to Pharisaic belief), many Jews and Pharisees came to believe in him as Messiah because this just was not done in Jesus’ day. This resurrection is beyond Elisha and Elijah’s resurrections (Elisha’s resurrections are…creepy. haha)
You will notice too, that everything that occurred after the Lazarus resurrection was typically tied to such an event. The true plot to kill Jesus, not just mere talk but the actual plan and solidified decision, occurred in reaction to the resurrection of Lazarus. Also, in John 12, people were coming to see Jesus AND Lazarus (v. 9). I propose it was the Lazarus event that set Jesus apart, not because of the resurrection but because He resurrected Lazarus on the fourth day–which would be a significant sign, if not THE sign, in Judaic understanding. It is then not surprising to me that Jesus is thus proclaimed as King when he arrives in Jerusalem, and then also the disciples FINALLY understand everything: “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him” (John 12:16).
The Lazarus event is what, essentially, revealed Jesus as Messiah to the people and to the disciples. It was the Lazarus event that people talked about in relation to Jesus; Jesus was known for this resurrection (John 12:17-19) more than any other miracle performed–all because of four days time.
I forgot to add one more thing. There is post-Talmudic literature that speaks of the three-day waiting period for the dead. The reason for this is because there was difficulty acknowledging between comatose and dead people. So S’machot 8:1 says,
“We go out to the cemetery and examine the dead for a period of three days and do not fear being suspected of engaging in the way of the Amorites. Once a man who had been buried was examined and found to be alive; he lives for twenty-five years more and then died. Another such person lived and had five children before he died.”
Kind of a weird text, but it shows the tradition that people believed three-days was the span of time needed to properly proclaim someone alive and buried by mistake or truly dead. It’s post-Talmudic literature, so it is not very ancient…but I think it also speaks to the significance of a resurrection occurring on the fourth day and how it would be significance in Judaic thought.
@Ryan: That is interesting. It would be something if that text reflects a certain mythos in Jewish thought that goes back to the time of Jesus. Other than this do we know of anything that would secure that the people of Jesus’ day held to something similar regarding the three days? It all seems very logical either way, but thanks to your insight about Gehenna I am a bit paranoid of parroting something without thinking through it (which is a good thing).
That being said, I think your theory has internal consistency from the Johannine perspective.
@Brian: I will have to do some digging regarding the general people’s consensus regarding the three days time. I know that this belief was Pharisaic; and I do know that the resurrection of Lazarus was the tip of the iceberg for the Sadducees, as evident in their wanting to kill him (because the Sadducees ruled the Temple and profited from it at that time). From an internal perspective, a key text in looking at the significance this miracle had over all the other signs by Jesus is:
“Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.”
It was not not the fact that Jesus raised someone from the dead, but it was the fact that Jesus raised Lazarus whom was dead for four days. I wonder if the same reaction would have occurred if Jesus raised Lazarus on the third day? I think it may have been a great sign like the man who was born blind, but it would not have been THE miracle.
I will check and see if I can find any more information regarding this prevailing view. The Pharisees were large in number, so the three day view would be a view that was majority-held. Of course the Sadducees would reject it, but they rejected resurrection entirely.
@Ryan: At first glance I think your thesis here is very likely. It does seem that the evangelist wants us to see this as the tipping point. Also, it would make sense that this may have been too much for Jesus’ enemies to accept because it destroyed the views of the very this-worldly Sadducees as well as the more agreeable doctrine of the Pharisees.
Which brings me to an interested, adjacent question: What do you think of the proposal of Ben Witherington III, and some others, who suggested that while a “John” (either the Apostle or another) wrote the gospel it may be the Lazarus is the one from whom the specific narrative derives. The Beloved Disciple does seem to be an important character that has a Judean perspective (the Apostle John being from Galilee) and Judean connections (he was able to be near the trial of Jesus). Also, the only character who is tied directly to being loved by Christ is Lazarus, so it would seem that Lazarus may be the Beloved Disciple. We know Lazarus was from that area. Thoughts?
@Brian: I have never even considered it, to be honest (I have never heard the proposal either). I will go read the essay by Witherington and then come back with some thoughts. Wish I could give some input on this but I honestly have never thought about it. Give me a couple hours…I’m about to get some Pei Wei and then I’ll read up and post some thoughts. I suppose John 11:3 will be a key text, but there better be more than just that to convince me. I’ll let you know…
@Ryan: Sounds good.
@Brian: Okay, I just finished reading the essay and now my mind is going 100mph. I must admit that Lazarus as the Beloved Disciple makes sense. Witherington’s internal evidence is rather astounding–so much so I wonder how I may have missed it. However, I am naturally reluctant to the theory. I do not know whether it is because I’ve been taught all along that John was the author and the Beloved Disciple, or what? The other disciple whom Jesus loved seemed to believe in the resurrection of Jesus rather quickly, which would make sense if it was Lazarus since he experienced such resurrection earlier. However, one point that I cannot get over that I disagree with is Lazarus walking into the High Priest’s courtyard with Jesus. Chapters earlier the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus. If Lazarus walked right into their courtyard, surely they would’ve taken his life? They did not just desire to kill Lazarus, but the text says that they “made plans to kill Lazarus…” This does not sound like a case of Lazarus being able to waltz into the High Priest courtyard with Jesus, prior to Jesus’ death, and walk out a free man if they were plotting to kill both of the two individuals and had already one in custody for death.
Other than that, at the moment, it does make sense. I am still hesitant, but after reading I can see how someone can come to the conclusion that Lazarus is the Beloved Disciple. While the internal evidence is quite impressive, I am not affirming such…mostly because of my dismissal above.
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
@Alien: Care to elaborate?
Didn’t somebody we know write a book on the messianic nature of Jesus’ ministry?
@Ryan: That is a good observation that makes a strong critique of the Lazarus theory. Hmmm….I too must think on it more.
Regarding the original post, I think Wright is absolutely correct. There are multiple attestions of belief that Jesus was the Messiah well before His death (though Jesus typically discouraged further revelation of this perception until after His resurrection – and even then only among His disciples until the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was sent to help with the proclamation).
We may rightly say therefore that as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, so also was hope in His Messiahship resurrected – albeit with an dramatically different – that is, spiritual – view about the nature of the Messiah’s warfare, victory, and reign.
@Brian: I must admit, however, that the support for claiming Lazarus as the Beloved Disciple is very strong from what I have read. My only hesitance comes with the High Priest courtyard. However, what if Lazarus was simply willing to die with Jesus and not just for? If he was so beloved and steadfast in his faith as it appears he is throughout the entire Johannine gospel, he may very well have walked into the courtyard in an act of defiance, courage, and proclamation that his faith will be taken to the grave. Even so, this is a bit of a stretch from the text and it is not implied whatsoever. Given all of the proposed evidence (impressive as it is) from Witherington, it is this hiccup that keeps me from being convinced fully…
@Mike: Your second paragraph nails it on the head. It wasn’t that he was discovered to be a Messianic candidate after the resurrection, but as you said, “His Messiahship resurrected”.
@Ryan: Maybe at a later date I can do a blog series on this subject. JohnDave is our Johannine blogger, but hey, I can dabble.
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