I have a theory that this may have been the closest encounter Jesus had with death before his own. Did Jesus ever see anyone die? Maybe, given the time and place he walkd the earth, but sometimes I doubt it. I sometimes wonder if it was impossible for anyone to die when Jesus was in close proximity. After all, how could death work its work in the presence of the Lord of life? Death and life are opposites (B.C. , “before the cross”), and these opposites do not attract. As Jesus approaches Lazarus’ tomb, he’s marching into battle against God’s old enemies. When Jesus calls Lazarus forth, he’s not just administering long-overdue CPR. Jesus breaks him out of the most secure prison in the world, the prison of Death. And don’t think Ol’ Scratch doesn’t notice.
John is full of words, phrases, sentences and interactions that have double-meanings. This whole “Lazarus event” means one thing to Mary and Martha, another thing to the disciples, something else to the religious authorities, and most certainly something unique to Lazarus.
One difficulty with this story is that one of the main characters remains offstage, yet very much present: Death. There’s a translation issue that, I think, illustrates this wonderfully. Once Lazarus crawls out of the tomb (and that is the only way he could have exited, since his hands and feet were bound…I imagine him inching out like a worm out of the ground), Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go.” Since the disciples and mourners are the only ones around, translators believe Jesus is talking to those mortals watching the miracle. It makes good sense on one level, but there is, I believe another level.
If we had “eyes to see”, we would notice that there are not only graveclothes binding Lazarus, but that he is also being held by unholy hands, hands that grasp and clutch as Lazarus gasps and claws his way out. They are the hands of Sin and Death.
Without going into a detailed analysis of Biblical greek, there is another translation possible given the words that Jesus speaks. Instead of "Unbind him, and let him go!", the translation could very easily read, "Release him! Give him up and go away!"
To who is Jesus speaking, the onlookers, or the Oldest Enemies? Or both?