I GET ODD QUESTIONS about the Bible from time to time. Like this one from Jean Yargovan, who wins a free book of mine for taking the time to send the weird question my way.
It’s the Bible Question of the Week, my Monday feature.
“On Sunday at church we were studying Lazarus and my dear friend takes issue with the fact that Jesus would raise him from the dead and take him out of heaven. She just can’t understand why Jesus would take Lazarus out of heaven and back to earth. Shouldn’t he have left him in heaven, since heaven is paradise? Any thoughts on that?”
Here’s my first thought, right off the top of my head.
I’m imagining myself among the crowd of grieving friends and relatives trying to console the sisters of Lazarus: Mary and Martha.
In my imagination, I am standing beside Martha. That’s because, sad to say, I’m a lot like her.
When Jesus walks over to Lazarus’ tomb and tells folks to, “Roll the stone aside,” (John 11:39), I’m agreeing like crazy with Martha.
“Lord, don’t do that,” Martha says. “He’s been dead four days. He’s going to stink to high heaven,” (John 11:39, Steve’s Bible Translation; see also the New Living Translation).
Then I add my recommendation to Jesus Christ.
“You’re making a terrible mistake,” I say to the Divine Son of the Most High God.
“Lazarus is in a better place. My advice is that you should leave him there. How would you like it if you were enjoying heaven one day and then woke up back here on earth the next?“
Now I am imagining the response of Jesus.
He doesn’t say a word.
But he does crack a tiny twist of a smile, fighting it.
“Roll the stone aside.”
Let’s assume Lazarus spent those four days in heaven, which is a huge presumption. The Bible doesn’t say how Lazarus passed the time. But if he had been to heaven, I’m thinking two things about that.
- Lazarus and Jesus would have had a lot to talk about.
- Lazarus could have made a bundle of shekels writing a scroll about it. Who knows, maybe even a Roman playwright would have taken the story to the theater.
Jews at the time didn’t agree about life after death.
“Sadducees…say there is no resurrection from the dead,” (Mark 12:18).
Pharisees disagreed. So did Martha. ““Yes,” Martha said about her dead brother, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day,” (John 11:24).
Christians today agree with Martha and the Pharisees. In fact, it’s our distinguishing belief.
Paul put it nicely: “If no one is ever raised from the dead….then our preaching is worth nothing, and your faith is worth nothing,” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).
But what about Lazarus, dead for four days? What was he doing?
Bible experts debate what happens to God’s people when they die. Scholars pluck Bible verses from here and there to support one theory or another. Perhaps the souls are sleeping, waiting for the return of Jesus. That’s one theory. “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” That’s another.
If you gave me $1000 and told me I had to put my money on one theory or another about Lazarus, I’d probably put my money on him having a nice sleep for four days. But that’s partly because I’m a journalist. I’m thinking if that guy came back from heaven, he’s not just a dead man walking. He’s a dead man talking. And I’m gonna write up his story and get it in the Holy Bible.
On the other hand, perhaps he came back with some wonderful memories from a celestial retreat – along with a request that he keep his yap shut.
There are all kinds of possibilities. And not many facts.
But at the end of the story, I think there’s one thing we can count on: If we had the audacity to tell the Son of God he was making a mistake by bringing Lazarus back from the dead, it would not have been a sin for him to roll his eyes.
Given what was going to happen to Jesus’ disciples for spreading his teachings all over the Middle East, I think they needed to see Jesus do this.