John 11:6 has Jesus receiving word of Lazarus' illness and then staying put for two days. When Jesus reaches Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days (11:17). So when the messengers reached Jesus in 11:6, it seems that Jesus must have been at least one full day's travel from Bethany. That is, if Lazarus had died as soon as the messengers left Bethany, then there are two days of travel time involved: one day for them to reach Jesus, and one day for Jesus to reach Bethany, for a total of four days. If Lazarus had died after the messengers left Bethany, then Jesus would have been even farther away from Bethany when he received word.

Is it safe to make such assumptions about the elapsed time of this story? If so, then Jesus was at least one day (about 20 miles) away from Bethany when he received word. John 10:40 has Jesus at the place where John had been baptizing in the early days, which I thought, because of John 1:28, was at (or near) Bethany. Is it possible to determine (or intelligently guess at) Jesus' location at the time of John 11:6, when he received word about Lazarus?

6 Answers 6


In John 11:2, Jesus receives word that Lazarus is sick; John 11:6 still only refers to Lazarus as sick, although Lazarus could have died soon after the messengers left Mary and Martha. From this, the story implies that Jesus was at least one full day's walk away from Lazarus. John 10:40 places Jesus on the eastern side of the Jordan River, a location confirmed by John 1:28 ("Bethabara beyond Jordan"), and because of these passages, a widely held tradition says that John baptised on the eastern shore of the Jordan. But, in one way it is not safe to make such assumptions about Jesus and Lazarus.

John Carroll says in The Existential Jesus, page 228, that most scholars today assume that John did not write the fourth gospel, which means it was not an eyewitness account and therefore at the very least subject to error in the retelling. The dominant scholarly theory is that John's Gospel was loosely based on Luke's Gospel, although John Dominic Crossan demonstrates in The Birth of Christianity, page 565, that the author made some use of Mark's Gospel, for example that a Markan intercalation finds its way from Mark 14:53-72 into John 18:13-27. Here we are concerned with Luke's Gospel as the inspiration for much of the material in John.

The name Lazarus appears only twice in the Bible, and the sisters, Mary and Martha also appear twice in the Bible. Luke contains a brief story of Jesus visiting the sisters, Mary and Martha, and also has Jesus tell a parable (Luke 16:20-31) that mentions the death and resurrection of Lazarus hypothetically. John tells of Lazarus as the brother of Mary and Martha and says that Jesus actually resurrected him from the dead. These obvious parallels create a startling coincidence unlikely to be explained other than by copying, but further parallels are presented in a paper by Keith L. Yoder from University of Massachusetts, at: FromLukeToJohn (pdf). Thus we can quite reasonably see that the death and resurrection of Lazarus was no more real in the John account than it was in the Luke account. From a historical perspective, it is meaningless to place Jesus anywhere at the time of receiving news about Lazarus. As for the four-day interval, the ancients believed that the soul remained with the body for three days after death. Even the pagans believed that the gods could not revive someone who had been dead for more than three days. So, by delaying until Lazarus was dead for four days, Jesus was demonstrating the power of his miracle.

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    Interesting answer: I wonder why you connect the Lazarus of the parable with the brother of Mary and Martha though; that seems quite a leap just based on the name (the resurrections aren't comparable as one is related to the general resurrection at the end of time, and the other is in the vein of the miracles of the prophets) - is there any other reason to make the connection? Your mention that "...the gods could not revive someone who had been dead for more than three days..." is fascinating, do you happen to have a reference for that? Jan 6, 2015 at 9:16
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    In addition to the Lazarus connection @JackDouglas questions, I would like more explanation of the leap in logic from (1) John's gospel not being written by him, but rather being "loosely" based on Luke's (which I disagree with, but will run with here), and (2) Luke's hypothetical resurrection mention, to (3) a conclusion then of dismissing the account in John as factual. A factual oral tradition or other lost written source can just as easily explain the inclusion in John. Just because Luke does not affirm the same account does not make John erroneous, even if John were loosely based on Luke.
    – ScottS
    Jan 6, 2015 at 13:16
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    @JackDouglas 3 days - I find 2 convenient on-line refs. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shemira “According to the Talmud (Genesis Kabbah 100:7), the soul hovers over the body for three days after death” aish.com/sp/ph/Cremation_or_Burial_A_Jewish_View.html “For the first three days after death, the soul is confused. It believes it will reenter the body and therefore stays closely attached to it. After three days it ceases trying to reenter the body, but remains confused.” Context Jewish, these directly support answer that "the soul remained with the body for three days after death". Jan 6, 2015 at 19:08
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    @JackDouglas Since I think you find this interesting, I am still looking for ref to gods unable to resurrect after 3 days, but this is an obscure needle in a haystack. However, it is secondary to a Jewish/Christian perspective. Jan 6, 2015 at 19:09
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    @JackDouglas umass.edu/wsp/project/senior/FromLukeToJohn.pdf Keith L. Yoder provides a very thorough and convincing analysis of the relationship between Mary/Martha/Lazarus in Luke and in John. He says, "I have presented in this paper an array of literary correspondences between the respective LazarusMary-Martha narratives of Luke and John ... I believe they show unmistakably in the case of these texts what Bacon, Barrett and others have previously suggested: that John knew Luke, and that he used and creatively reworked the literary material available to him there." Jan 6, 2015 at 19:52

I think we can make an educated, intelligent guess as to where Jesus was when the word came to him from Bethany that Lazarus was ill.

First, we know that when Jesus received the word from Bethany that his friend Lazarus was ill, Jesus and his disciples were somewhere in Perea, engaging in what scholars call--fittingly enough--his Perean Ministry. They were there because Jesus chose to retreat from the volatile religious/political atmosphere which existed in Jerusalem because of his repeated claim to be the Son of God (see John 10:22-39). Knowing that the time was not right for his "departure" at Jerusalem, he eluded the Jews who attempted to seize him (10:39) and traveled east, "beyond the Jordan" (10:40) and into Perea.

We do know that Perea, part of the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, was an expanse of land, east of the Jordan River. It was approximately 20 miles wide and 60 miles long. It extended from its northernmost boundary in northwestern Decapolis, to its southernmost boundary where the Arnon River (i.e., Wadi Mojib) empties into the eastern side the Dead Sea.

As you pointed out, Jesus was "staying" where John the Baptist had first baptized penitents (John 10:40). Perhaps it was also where Jesus himself was baptized by John. For the sake of argument, let us assume the two locations were one and the same.

This web site suggests that Jesus' baptism was located about five miles north of where the Jordan empties into the Dead Sea. Evidently, a number of ancient churches were built there because of the area's connection to Jesus' baptism by John, and their remains have been unearthed in recent years by archeologists. From this site to Bethany, then, could have been a day's journey on foot, or about 15 miles.

Putting together two facts from the biblical narrative (viz., Jesus stayed where he was for two days after having received news of Lazarus's illness, and Lazarus had been dead four days--according to Martha--when Jesus gave the order for the stone to be removed from the entrance to Lazarus's tomb), we can reasonably conclude a couple things.

First, Lazarus may have been dead for one day when word from Bethany arrived "beyond the Jordan" with the news of Lazarus's illness. Second, Jesus and his disciples did not leave immediately for Bethany, for 11:6 tells us,

"So when [Jesus] heard that [Lazarus] was sick, he then stayed two days longer in the place where he was."

Third, when Jesus arrived at the tomb of Lazarus, Lazarus would indeed have been dead four days. The arithmetic is as follows:

  • One day for word of Lazarus's condition to arrive where Jesus and his disciples were in Perea. Lazarus dies at approximately the same time Jesus is told Lazarus is ill.

  • Two days for Jesus and his disciples stay where they were.

  • One day for Jesus and company to travel back to Bethany in Judea.

  • For a total of four days from the time Lazarus died to the time Jesus stood near the tomb and cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth" (11:43).

This scenario is not necessarily the only possible scenario, but it is one which makes sense, given the information we have in John 11 and 12.

In conclusion, Jesus and his disciples were likely at the place where at least one tradition puts him when word came to him from Bethany that his friend Lazarus was ill. That place was beyond the Jordan, approximately 6-8 miles due east of Jericho, where John was first baptizing and where John may also have baptized his Lord, and it was also approximately 15 miles from Bethany.

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    Another very interesting answer, and I'm very happy to get an answer from the perspective of biblical inerrancy. Unfortunately, I find a problem with your math. If Lazarus dies when Jesus receives word, then it is necessarily four days from that time until Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb. So it must have taken Jesus two days to reach Bethany. Unless I've misunderstood you. Could you provide some clarification? Jan 6, 2015 at 15:32
  • @GreatBigBore: I believe rhetorician is counting inclusively. So Day 1 (messengers travel to Jesus and He is told of Lazarus being sick, but Lazarus in fact died during time messengers were traveling); Day 2 & 3 (Jesus stays put); Day 4 (Jesus travels to where Lazarus was and resurrects him). Thus dead "four days," not necessarily more than 72 hours and up to 96 hours, but theoretically a minimum of just over 48 hours, which can span four different calendar days (though I suspect it probably is over 72 hours being noted, with some partial days consisting of a number of hours on Day's 1 & 4).
    – ScottS
    Jan 6, 2015 at 16:22
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    @GreatBigBore: Good catch! I forgot to say that Jesus, et al., stopped at Red Roof Inn about half-way between where he was (when the news came to him) and Bethany. Evidently, the inn had an all-you-can-eat buffet for a fixed price, with free swimming privileges! Seriously, however, since we don't know exactly when Lazarus died, there are any number of scenarios I could spin from the given facts. Who knows, maybe Jesus stopped to "minister" to people on the way to Bethany, so the journey took two days instead of one. Maybe the messenger took two days to reach Jesus and Laz. died after one day? Jan 7, 2015 at 2:46
  • @ScottS: Thanks for coming to my defense. Actually, my arithmetic WAS faulty, but I provided answerer GreatBigBore with a couple alternative explanations, one humorous and one serious. Don. By the way, I just now finished writing my latest gripe in BHB Meta. You may be interested in checking it out. If not, that's OK, too. Jan 7, 2015 at 2:50

I do not think there is a controversy about the number of days. Perea is East of Jericho and Jericho is an 8 hour walk from Jerusalem, so figure between 8-12 hours to travel the distance on foot. Days were calculated based on Gen 1:23, evening and morning were the first day. A messenger sent in the morning to get Jesus would travel two days to get Jesus. Jesus waited two days, a one day trip back to Bethany, the math works out to at least four days. So Lazarus died while the messenger was in route; Jesus knew Lazarus was dead before he left and the four days should not be in controversy.

The Lazarus story is interesting when you consider the chronology. Jesus visited Mary, Martha and Lazarus in September 27AD, when he attended the Feast of Tabernacles (Luke 10:1-2). Then Jesus was in Jerusalem between October 15 and December 25, when he attended the Feast of Lights. After confronted by temple religious leaders he left for Perea (John 10:22,40) where he received the message of Lazarus illness (John 11:40). After Lazarus was resurrected Jesus retreated to Ephraim in Judea (John 11:53-54).

There is an interesting aspect to the resurrection of Lazarus found in the story of Lazarus and the Rich man (Luke 16:19-31). In both people did not believe even though they saw a resurrection with their own eyes. Jesus told the story of Lazarus and raised Lazarus from the dead. You see similar language used "a certain man named Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:1). "There was a certain rich man", a "certain beggar named Lazarus" (Luke 16:20). Though not specifically stated, it would not be unreasonable to believe Jesus was referring to Lazarus of Bethany. If it is a parable, which I don't support, it is the only one where a person's actual name is used: why not the rich man's name? Certainly those with him when the Rich Man/Beggar was told would have immediately recalled the raising of Lazarus which happened a few days or weeks before. I cannot accept that Jesus had no purpose in using Lazarus' name, rather I see the story in Luke reflecting the real events in John

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    Welcome to the site. A good answer with good insight. I rearranged your answer somewhat. If you do not approve, you can rollback the changes by selecting my edit and then choosing the "rollback" option. May 5, 2017 at 16:47
  • Yes, Welcome! And thank you for taking the site tour. If you haven't done so already, you may also wish to review our site distinctives and the FAQs. Great insights here! May 5, 2017 at 17:31

Note 7 at John 11:6 from Andrew Wommack's Living Commentary:

"From Luke 13:22 until the account of Lazarus, Jesus had been giving various teachings as He was “journeying toward Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22). The starting point of this particular journey was “beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized” (John 10:40). This was probably “Bethabara beyond Jordan” (John 1:28, 3:26; and Judges 7:24). Some sources say Bethabara was located on the opposite side of the Jordan River from Jericho and over twenty miles east of Jerusalem.

Since Jesus had been “journeying toward Jerusalem,” He was probably not far from Bethany and certainly less than a day’s journey (about twenty miles) away when Mary and Martha sent for Him. It probably took the messenger at least a day to find Jesus, and then Jesus spent two more days “in the same place where he was” (this verse). On the fourth day, He went to Bethany and found Lazarus had “lain in the grave four days already” (John 11:17).

By adding together His two-day delay and one-day journey to Bethany and then subtracting that from the four days Lazarus had been in the grave, it is certain that Lazarus was already dead by the time Jesus got the message. Therefore, His delay had no effect on whether or not Lazarus would have died. In fact, Jesus told His disciples, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe” (John 11:15), implying that if it had been possible to be there, He would not have let Lazarus die.

So we can conclude that Jesus did not delay His coming to Mary and Martha so that Lazarus would die. He also did not delay His coming so that He could work some virtue in Mary and Martha through their suffering (see note 2 at John 9:2). He simply took a negative circumstance that He did not cause or allow and worked it together for good (Romans 8:28).

Source: here

  • Welcome to BH. Pls, use a > before each quoted para. so that the readers can distinguish the quoted material from your comments. Include the link from the source if available using the web link tool. Nice answer.
    – Gina
    May 10, 2018 at 12:29

The answer lies within John 11:4-11. "Jesus waited two days"...11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” Jesus said that it was unto the glory of God. So he wait for Lazarus to die. By the time Jesus Got to the tomb Lazarus had been dead four days. This tells me that from the time Jesus announced “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep"... to the time he got to the tomb, the journey took four days.

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    Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. Your answer is not bad, but would benefit from a reference to show this is a common understanding.
    – ThaddeusB
    Oct 26, 2015 at 20:29

It was necessary that Yeshua raise a deceased person from the grave in order to fulfill the Hebrew requirements to be the Messiah. The other Messianic requirements; cause the cripple to walk, heal the sick, cast out a deaf and dumb spirit.

Therefore, Yeshua, being God and man, would have known Lazarus sickness was unto death and would have known that Lazarus was ill from beginning of the illness.

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