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John 11:34: “Where have you laid him?” They say to Him, “Lord, come and see”

Lazarus was buried in a tomb, which was the practice for those who could afford one. The tomb would have a slab where the body was laid. After a year, the tomb would be opened and the bones placed in an ossuary.

Lazarus was placed in the tomb of his family. Like cemeteries today burial locations were public knowledge and in some cases, made quite visible.

Why did Jesus ask where Lazarus was laid? Was He really ignorant of the family's tomb or was there some other reason He asked this question?

If Jesus knew, was he being disingenuous when he asked?

If Jesus possess perfect knowledge why did he not know where Lazarus was laid?

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  • This question is too brief. Are you asking it with a particular purpose in mind? Do you think this verse proves some theological point? You will need to edit this because this question is far from the quality standards we expect on this site.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 14 at 23:02
  • Jesus did not possess perfect knowledge and was NOT omniscient - that ability had been laid aside (but still possessed) when He "emptied Himself" as per Phil 2:6-8. Jesus was no more omniscient that He was omnipresent.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 15 at 4:03
  • Don't repost closed questions, just edit and wait for it to be reopened.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 15 at 8:07

4 Answers 4

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Martha and Mary's Tomb
In Word Pictures in the New Testament A.T. Robertson explains Jesus is asking a question to which He knows the answer:

Where have ye laid him? (Που τεθεικατε αυτον;). Perfect active indicative of τιθημ. A simple question for information. The only other like it in John is in John 6:6 where it is expressly stated that Jesus knew what he was going to do. So it was here, only he politely asked for direction to the tomb of Lazarus. The people invite him to come and see, the very language used by Philip to Nathanael (John 1:46). It was a natural and polite reply as they would show Jesus the way, but they had no idea of his purpose.

Here is the first question Robertson cites:

John 6 (NKJV)

5 Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” 6 But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.

Jesus knew He was going to feed the 5,000. Before doing so He asked a simple question. Likewise Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and He asked a simple question. Asking a simple question is not disingenuous.

In the feeding the 5,000, John explains the reason for the question. This is absent in raising Lazarus. However, unlike finding a place to buy bread, the dead were buried in well known places. The poor buried their dead in graves; the wealthy prepared rock-cut tombs.1 Since Lazarus was in a tomb, he was buried as one from a wealthy family, a fact made clear in the next event.

John 12:

1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. 2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. 3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

Lazarus was from a wealthy family, probably extremely so. Like any wealthy Jew, his family was prepared to bury their dead. Rather than ignorance, asking where Lazarus had been laid shows Jesus knew Lazarus had been buried in the family's tomb, not a pauper's grave.

Jesus Wept
John 11

34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept.

When someone asks a question to which they know the answer, the purpose may be to receive additional information or it may be to allow someone to express their true emotions. In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus was not looking for a location to buy bread. He was seeking information about Philip's faith in His ability to do the miraculous.

In raising Lazarus, the answer, Lord come and see caused Jesus to weep. Why? After speaking to Martha, there is no mention of an emotional response. After speaking with Mary and seeing her weep and the Jews with her weeping (11:33), Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled (11:33), but He did not weep.

Lazarus' death did not bring tears; nothing Martha or Mary said brought tears. But something in the words Lord, come and see caused Jesus to weep.

Come and See
The answer which brought Jesus to tears recalls the first disciples:

John 1:

35 Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. 36 And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

Here is the first simple question for information which Robertson overlooked: What are you seeking? Jesus gave them an answer much like the one He would later receive.

John 1:39  - ἔρχεσθε καὶ ὄψεσθε
John 11:34 - ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε

The two answers are similar yet differ. In both come is present imperative. See in the answer is aorist imperative, not future indicative. Come and you will see is a good rendering of the first. In the second Come and see falls short in expressing the emotion in the response Jesus received.

The imperative is most commonly used for commands, outnumbering prohibitive about five to one, As a command, the imperative is usually from a superior to an inferior in rank. It occurs frequently with the aorist and present (only rarely with the perfect tense.)

The basic force of the imperative of command involves somewhat different nuances with each ense. With the aorist, the force generally is to command the action as a whole, without focusing on duration, repetition, etc. In keeping with the aspectual force, the aorist puts forth a summary command.2

In English come and see sounds fine; in Greek ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε is more like You know where. Go see. This response causes Jesus to weep.

What is interesting about the exchange is John does not identify who answered, They said to Him..." Is "they" Martha and Mary, or the Jews?

What happened after the question strongly implies the Jews answered.

34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” 37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”

Conclusion
The question of where in both miracles draws a response which shows what others believe about Jesus. Philip takes the question literally and answers accordingly. The Jews take the question as an opportunity to be offended and their response ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε caused Jesus to weep.

Like Philip, Jesus asked a question which He knew the answer. Like Philip, the response revealed what they believed. The Jews called Him Lord... a term of respect, but ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε reflects a lack of respect and possibly disdain from some which is made obvious in 11:36-37.

Finally, the Bible has examples of God asking questions.

Genesis 3:

9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”...

Asking a simple question in order to give another the opportunity to speak does not to support the conclusion the one who asked the question did not know the answer.


  1. Fred H. Wright, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, Moody Press, 1953, p. 144
  2. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, 1996, p. 485
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  • Are you saying that Jesus asking questions is the same God asking questions in Genesis 3:9, 11 and 13? Commented Feb 16 at 0:59
  • @AlexBalilo No I am making the observation the Bible has examples where someone can ask a question when they know the answer. Your question assumes asking a question means lack of knowledge. That is not a Biblically correct position. Commented Feb 16 at 2:36
  • Jesus asked where Lazarus was laid? What is there in the context that shows Jesus knows the location he asked about? Commented Feb 16 at 2:46
  • @AlexBalilo My answer addresses your question both as it relates to raising Lazarus and to the Gospel as a whole. Burial was public; graves were marked; people would return to the graves to mourn and to remember so there is much inherent to the buried dead which is public knowledge. The Jews did not bury the dead in secret. The process is public which is also shown in the details in this case. Other than the question, there is nothing to say He did not know. I believe there is more evidence on the side Jesus knew than there is on the side He did not know. Commented Feb 16 at 16:36
  • Jesus asked where Lazarus was laid? What is there in the context that shows Jesus knows the location he asked about? Commented Feb 16 at 16:57
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I think he wanted the sisters to show Him, not that He did not know the location. The tomb showed their devotion to Lazarus and Jesus wanted the sisters to guide their way to the tomb. The plain reading is often the clearest.

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Feb 14 at 14:53
  • Good answer, user44093. In day- to -day communications, we pose questions to which we already know the answer. We ask a friend standing at the Pharmacist shop: " Getting some medicines ? " , and to a student running to school : " Are you late today ? " . Commented Feb 15 at 2:30
  • @44003. Plain reading does not indicate or plainly show that Jesus "wanted the sisters to guide their way to the tomb" Why would Jesus need their guidance? Commented Feb 15 at 2:54
  • Jn 11:30 states: "Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. " It is at this place that Jesus asks for the location of Lazarus tomb. Apart from the sisters, there were some Jews present. They were of divided opinion on Jesus' late visit . It was necessary for all of them to witness Lazarus coming back to life . Things would have been different if Jesus went alone to the tomb and raised Lazarus. Commented Feb 15 at 5:09
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Jesus asked because he did not know. If it is objected that, as the Son of God, he must have known, the scripture clearly indicates that his knowledge was limited:

Mark 13:32

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

According to traditional Christian doctrine, Jesus of Nazareth was a fully human being. As such, even though he shared in God's divinity, he was neither omnipresent nor omnipotent, nor omniscient. Therefore, the simplest answer is the best: Jesus asked where Lazarus had be lain, because he did not know.

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  • I strongly agree. +1. If Jesus was our example, then He used no power that is unavailable to us.
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 14 at 20:41
  • Revelation Lad, see Verse 30 . Jesus had not entered the village when he asked the question. One wonders if the Jews buried their dead in the plot where the respective houses stood. Graves may have been built in a common yard, with each grave marked for the beneficiaries. Commented Feb 15 at 5:46
  • @KadalikattJosephSibichan That is possible but more likely the dead were buried outside the village in places set aside for that purpose. There is plenty of archaeological evidence showing this was the case. Commented Feb 15 at 17:18
  • I downvoted this answer since it ignores John 6:5-6. It also dismisses the possibility the question was purposeful, like the one to Philip, to reveal the feelings of those who answered as stated in 2:24-25, 5:42 and implied in other ways throughout the Gospel (i.e. Judas' betrayal). Commented Feb 16 at 18:47
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In our day to day communications, we pose a number of questions the answers to which are already known to us. For instance, you ask a friend standing at the counter of the Pharmacist : " Are you getting some medicines ? " He does not reply : " What else can I do here ! " . You see a student running to school and ask : " Oh, are you late today ? " He does not put a counter question : " Can't you see me running !". By divine power Jesus knew that Lazarus had been dead and buried at such and such location . But as a simple human being he was supposed to ask for direction. We read in Verse 30 that Jesus had not yet entered the village, and had been met first by Martha and then by Mary and the Jewish friends and relatives. There was a division of opinion on the 'late arrival' of Jesus, among the Jews present . It was therefore necessary that the miracle was witnessed by all. So, Jesus asks Lazarus' siblings and friends to take him to the tomb. His question does not as such imply that Jesus did not know the location, even in the role of an ordinary human being.

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  • Where in the bible can we find your "By divine power Jesus knew that Lazarus had been dead and buried at such and such location" Where in the bible can we find that when Jesus is ignorant of something he is not using his divine power. Does the answer "come and see" can be equated to mean that Jesus knew but that he didn't not use his divine power? Commented Feb 15 at 9:05
  • Alex Balilo, can you tell me where Jesus was when he first heard that Lazarus was sick ? Let us start from there ! Commented Feb 15 at 11:51
  • @KadalikattJosephDibichan. Where can we find the basis for your answer? Commented Feb 15 at 11:58
  • Alex Babilo what I have written is " as a simple human being he was supposed to ask for direction" . Does that mean that Jesus as a human being did not know of Lazarus' death ? I have working knowledge of two Oriental languages besides English. Each language has distinct usages, way of expression etc. It is said that if the frequent fluctuation of weather did not exist, the British would not be able to start a conversation ! That may not be true for the Artic people. Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke had its own way of expressions and idioms. eg, throwing to dogs, a phrase used by Jesus . Commented Feb 15 at 14:29
  • @AlexBalilo Your question "If Jesus had perfect knowledge, why did He not know where Lazarus was laid?" uses the same type of reasoning as this answer. And your question could be likewise subject to the same objection. You conclude the question means a lack of knowledge. Yet as the question to Philip shows (John 6:5), one can ask a question to which they know the answer. If the Bible has examples of these situations you have no basis to jump to the conclusion all questions mean a lack of knowledge. Also in Genesis 3:9, 11, 13 God asks questions. Do you conclude God was ignorant of the answer? Commented Feb 15 at 17:04

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