The Tomb of Lazarus
Location – Bethany
Map Coordinates - 31.771619, 35.255890
Merged Gospels story - 149
You’ve read about it in the Bible. On almost every Octagon Tour our our groups get to come out of the tomb, just like Lazarus did.
During His ministry we know of three times when Jesus raised people from the dead. The raising of Lazarus is probably the most dramatic, because Lazarus and his two sisters were personal friends of Jesus, and Lazarus had already been dead for four days.
The modern exterior of the Tomb of Lazarus.
This room has been identified as Lazarus' tomb since the 2nd century. Early in the fourth century the historian Eusebius of Caesarea also said that in the 2nd century this village was no longer called Bethany, but al-Azariyeh, which means the place of Lazarus. Obviously, the name of the town changed at this early date to commemorate the raising of Lazarus.
The Biblical Story.
Jesus and His disciples were on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Upon hearing of Lazarus’ death, Jesus waited for four days to visit the grieving family. After meeting with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, Jesus went to the tomb, and called for Lazarus to come out. From the other side of the grave, Lazarus heard his name, and woke up, walking out of the tomb with the linen wrappings still clinging to his body.
Why did Jesus wait four days to come to Bethany?
One theory is that at that time the Jews believed that a deceased person’s spirit remained around the body for up to three days after death before departing, and that it was also believed that the deceased person could come back to life during this 3-day period but not afterward. On the fourth day, the spirit left the body, and there was no hope at that point.
However, there is a simpler explanation, and it is found in John 11:39, where Martha, the sister of Lazarus said, “By this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” The fact that there was a bad odor would have proven that the man was actually dead, and that any resuscitation of him would, in fact, be miraculous. Jesus probably waited four days, simply to prove that Lazarus was actually dead – and that He was as He claimed - the resurrection and the life.
The door of the tomb that you go through today is not the original entrance. The original door was a hole in the ground above the tomb.
How did this current door get here? The Crusaders built a church on top of this tomb about 900 years ago. When the Muslims conquered the Holy Land, they tore down the church and built a mosque where the church was, and that made access to this tomb very difficult.
In the 16th century the Franciscans were allowed to cut this particular door into the wall, and to carve out 24 steps that take visitors down to the tomb below. That means that these stairs are now about 450 years old.
At the bottom of the stairs we are in a room called the antechamber (or weeping chamber). This room was part of the original tomb of Lazarus - a place for crying and praying.
The hole with the visible stairs is the entry point into the square tomb. Lazarus’ burial bench would have been on the left side of this picture, beyond the window in this wall.
The Original Door.
This deep niche on the east wall of the antechamber is the original door that entered the tomb. John 11:38 tells us that there was a stone lying at the opening of the tomb. The sense that we get from the Biblical story is that Jesus did not actually enter the antechamber, but that He called Lazarus to come forth while standing outside the tomb.
The original door from the outside of the antechamber, out of which Lazarus emerged.
The hole in the floor of the antechamber is the only way to enter the actual tomb. You must crawl through this hole in the floor.
Once inside you can see that the crusaders made some significant alterations to this tomb. This room was originally a three-bench tomb, meaning that it was made for three bodies to be laid parallel to the walls. However, when the crusaders built their church above the tomb, they were concerned that the weight of the church would crush this room, so they had stonework applied to all the interior walls in order to support them. That means that the burial benches are still here, but they are hidden behind this stonework. The crusaders did leave a few small niches in the wall, probably to burn candles to illuminate the tomb. The bench that Lazarus laid in was probably the one just to the right of the crawl space as you enter.
Sleep and Death.
There is something very interesting about the story of the raising of Lazarus. Throughout His ministry Jesus refers to death as if it were sleep, and He used that same metaphor in this story as well. As we all know, when someone who is living goes to sleep, they wake up in the same world that they were in when they laid down. Jesus clearly tells us that when someone dies, they still go to sleep, and they wake up, not in this world, but in the next. He also told us that if a person dies in a covenant relationship with Christ, that person will wake up in the presence of God. To Jesus, death is not the end. It is the beginning for all those who will share in what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him with all their heart, and where everything they do, until the day they fall asleep, is done to the Glory of God.