Updated: Jan 30, 2021
John 11:35 is tied with Job 3:2 as the shortest verse in the Holy Bible. It is the shortest New Testament verse. It says, “Jesus wept,” and it is related to Jesus returning to Bethany from across the Jordan, in the area where John baptized him, to be met by Martha and Mary, who are saddened over the death of their brother, Lazarus.
Jesus had gone into the region of Peraea, to the east of the Jordan, out of Judea. Jesus had last been in Jerusalem, which is only 1.5 miles west of Bethany (15 furlongs), for the feast of the dedication. While there, the Jews became upset at Jesus, claiming he blasphemed by saying he was God, and they wanted to stone him. So, Jesus was not there out of fear for his own life. He was there so the disciples could rest easy.
Martha meets Jesus first, telling him, “If only you had been here, you could have saved Lazarus.” Jesus says, it is okay Martha, “your brother will rise again.” (11:23) Martha thinks this is talk about resurrection to Heaven at the end of the world, not a return to life in the present. Jesus asks Martha if she knows who he is and that those who believe in him shall not die. She say, “Oh sure. You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” then she leaves, telling Mary Magdalene privately, “Jesus wants to see you.”
Mary left her house, where many Jews had gathered to console her. She left to meet Jesus, but the crowd follows her, thinking she is going to cry at the grave site. Everyone sees Mary fall down before Jesus and cry just like Martha, saying, “If only you had been here Lazarus would not have died.” Boohoo.
Jesus saw Mary crying, and he saw the Jews following her crying, and verse 33 has been translated (NIV) to say Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” The key Greek words written in that are, “embrimaomai, pneuma, and tarasso,” which can be “deeply moved, spirit, and troubled.” Following that, Jesus asks Mary, “Where have you laid him?” to which she replied, “Come and see.” Then, John said, “Jesus wept.”
In John 1:39, after Andrew and another of John the Baptist’s disciples see Jesus walking, saying, “Look, the lamb of God! Where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Come and you will see.” Now, Mary Magdalene is telling Jesus the same thing. After three years of leading his disciples around, and raising the dead, healing the sick, and creating miracles, not even the women who supported him, not even Mary Magdalene knew he could raise Lazarus from the dead. For this reason of exasperation, Jesus wept. It was an emotional release about just how little faith his imbecile followers had. Jesus loved Lazarus, just as he loved Martha and Mary, and they had buried their brother as if Jesus was too busy to come save him from death.
The Greek words above can also translate to say, “Jesus snorted with anger and indignation, murmuring with chagrin (embrimaomai), caused by the mind of the Holy Spirit (pneuma) being agitated (tarasso).” The human being named Jesus, who was fully aware of everything going on about him, but who controlled his human emotions through faith in the Holy Spirit, that human wept because (once again) there was so little faith in those following him. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit was upset enough to force out a tear of anguish.
The crowd of Jews who had followed saw the tear(s) and saw it as an expression of love for the deceased Lazarus. Then those people, friends who had seen Jesus do miracles and listened to his sermons, they all sighed, “Gee, if only Jesus had been here, Lazarus would not have died.”
That sentiment made Jesus “groan” again (embrimaomai), perhaps talking under his breath, “Idiots!” He must have been thinking, “What do I need to do to get through to these people?”
Then, he gets to the tomb and a stone has been rolled in front of the entrance, so Jesus has to tell them to remove it. Mary starts warning him about the stench of death, reminding him he has been dead for four days. The smell of death and the time span of four days is significant, as it is proof of a complete death, and not just some case of paralysis or feigned death, from a coma. After three days dead, the Jews believed it was impossible to naturally return to life. That is why Jesus said he would not resurrect until after three days being dead. So, Lazarus was completely dead when the stone was rolled away.
In verse 43, John wrote that Jesus, “cried out in a loud voice, Lazarus come out!” It was not necessary to say anything, just as it had not been necessary for Jesus to touch anyone to heal them, nor touch them to bring them to life after death. Jesus screamed because he needed a release from all that disturbed him. Call it a primal scream. In any case, Lazarus came out, just as Jesus knew he would.
Since the disciples and followers had not seen that coming, Jesus knew his next act was going to have to be even bigger. He knew he would have to raise himself from the dead next, because nothing short of that would sink into dense skulls and thick heads. Jesus knew that no matter how much you try and try and try to get people to pay attention, to get people to listen and believe, only to keep running into one insult after another, by believers and disbelievers, with only those saved saying, “Thank you,” after the job is done … you have to keep at it. The show must go on because it is for others, not self.
Still, it is frustrating to always face rejection, even if it is from distraction, purposeful ignorance or just plain stupidity that is keeping friends and loved ones from paying attention to someone who seems so normal, so human, like everyone else. It is enough to make you want to scream and cry.
R. T. Tippett.