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Who Was Lazarus in the Bible?

Lazarus lived in Bethany, two miles southeast of Jerusalem, and was the brother of Martha and Mary. Jesus chose Lazarus to demonstrate His divinity as he foreshadowed what would happen on Easter.

Updated May 13, 2024
Who Was Lazarus in the Bible?

Lazarus of Bethany (Latinised from Lazar, originally from Hebrew Eleazar, "God helped") is a significant figure in the New Testament. He is most known for being raised from the dead by Jesus, showcasing Christ's power and foreshadowing His own Resurrection. This is seen by Christians as one of the miracles of Jesus.

Lazarus is also in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in the Gospel of Luke, which presents a poignant tale of social inequality, divine justice, and the afterlife. This article will explore the multifaceted character of Lazarus, delving into the lessons and themes his story brings to the Gospels.

Lazarus in the Bible: Table of Contents

Meaning of the Name "Lazarus"

The name Lazarus has been used for various titles— from a Davie Bowie rock and roll album to a video game. The name brings up images of overcoming death and stems from a passage in the Bible.

The name Lazarus in Greek is Lazaros, which comes from the Hebrew, Eleazar, meaning “He, (God) has helped." Let’s revisit the Bible story of Lazarus to see how God helped him.

Who Was Lazarus in the Bible?

Lazarus was a friend to Jesus and a brother to Mary and Martha.

"Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." (John 11:1-4)

Lazarus’s story appears in John 11 when a messenger shows up where Jesus was ministering and requests Jesus come immediately to the home of a sick man. Lazarus lived in a nearby town, Bethany, two miles southeast of Jerusalem, and was the brother of Martha and Mary.

Jesus had previously visited the three siblings and had enjoyed the family’s hospitality. His sister, Mary, would sit at the Master’s feet and listen to his words. Martha, Mary’s sister was the one who complained to Jesus that her sister needed to help her in the kitchen (Luke 10:38-42).

When Jesus received the invitation, the messenger told Jesus that Lazarus, “He whom you love is ill.” This phrase, “He whom you love,” is significant. Yes, Jesus loved all he came in contact with, but the words hint at how Jesus and Lazarus were true friends. He had visited with Lazarus and his sisters in their home and broke bread with them.

And it may have been because of that very closeness that Jesus decided to use his relationship with Lazarus to showcase his power. So, instead of racing to his friend’s bedside, he stayed two more days where He was before deciding to go to Bethany and awaken His friend.

To our human minds this delay might have been seen as uncaring, but remember Jesus was God incarnate and knew Lazarus’s life span. Jesus took his time before leaving for Bethany, knowing that the Jewish culture deemed a person dead after three days. Was He waiting so that those around Lazarus would have no doubt that their friend was gone? Very possibly.

"Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." (John 11:17-22)

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." (John 11:23-27)

Lazarus was who “Jesus Wept” For

Jesus, even knowing the good outcome, wept for his friend. Can you imagine a friendship so true that the Son of God would stand at your grave with tears running down His face? Lazarus must have been a great man. 

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?" (John 11:33-37, emphasis added)

Jesus Raised Lazarus from the Dead.

Then after Jesus grieved, He went to the tomb and called to his dead friend, “Lazarus, come out.” Immediately Lazarus appeared out of the tomb. Jesus chose Lazarus to demonstrate His power as he foreshadowed what would happen to Himself on Easter.

"Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." (John 11:38-44)

This powerful incident upset the Pharisees and Chief Priests who felt they were losing a grip on their people. They were concerned that this man who did signs and wonders would cause problems with the Romans. It was right after this miracle that these evil leaders plotted to kill Jesus, and as the Bible tells us, they were successful in crucifying Him.

Most likely, Lazarus lived years after Jesus died to always carry the mark of a resurrected man.  (Jesus resurrected two other people but it was right after they had died).  What an honor for Lazarus to not only be resurrected from the dead but also be the last major miracle Jesus ever performed. Lazarus must have spent the rest of his life telling the story to all who would listen. Those who hated Jesus despised his story, but those who loved Him had resurrection hope in the form of a man named Lazarus.

Lazarus and the Rich Man

The story of Lazarus and the rich man is a powerful parable told by Jesus in the Bible, found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, verses 19-31. In this story, there was a rich man who lived in luxury, wearing fine clothes and feasting sumptuously every day. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, who was covered in sores and longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 

Eventually, both Lazarus and the rich man died. Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham's side in heaven, a place of comfort and peace, while the rich man found himself in Hades, a place of torment and agony.

In his torment, the rich man looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. He called out, asking Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, for he was in agony in the flames. But Abraham reminded him that in his lifetime, he had received good things, while Lazarus had received bad things. Now, Lazarus was comforted, and the rich man was in anguish.

Furthermore, there was a great chasm fixed between them, so that no one could cross from one side to the other. The rich man then begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers, so they would not end up in the same place of torment. However, Abraham said that they had Moses and the Prophets to listen to, and if they did not listen to them, they would not be convinced even if someone rose from the dead. 

What Does Lazarus Teach Us?

In his Resurrection

Jesus' power over death: The raising of Lazarus from the dead is one of the most dramatic and powerful miracles attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. It demonstrates Jesus' authority over life and death, which is a central theme in Christian theology.

Jesus' compassion: The story shows Jesus' deep compassion and empathy. He is moved to tears by the sorrow of Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha, and the mourners, showing his human side and his ability to feel and express deep emotions.

The importance of faith: Throughout the story, Jesus emphasizes the importance of faith. He tells Martha that if she believes, she will see the glory of God. This underscores the Christian belief in the power of faith and its role in experiencing God's presence and miracles.

The promise of eternal life: The raising of Lazarus is also seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus' own resurrection and a symbol of the Christian promise of eternal life. Jesus states, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die."

In the Parable

Compassion and Empathy: Lazarus's situation reminds us to be compassionate and empathetic towards those who are less fortunate. His life of poverty and suffering stands in stark contrast to the rich man's lavish lifestyle, highlighting the importance of caring for the needy and marginalized in society.

Reversal of Fortunes: The story illustrates that earthly wealth and status are temporary and do not determine one's eternal destiny. Lazarus, despite his suffering and lowly position in life, is ultimately comforted in the afterlife, while the rich man, who ignored Lazarus's plight, faces eternal torment.

The Importance of Heeding Spiritual Warnings: The rich man's request for Lazarus to warn his brothers emphasizes the importance of listening to spiritual teachings and warnings during our lifetime. It suggests that we have the responsibility to pay attention to the guidance provided by religious texts and leaders to avoid negative consequences after death.

The Finality of Judgment: The parable also teaches about the finality of judgment in the afterlife. Once the rich man and Lazarus die, their fates are sealed, and there is no crossing over from one side to the other. This underscores the urgency of living a righteous life and making amends while there is still time.


Carol Stratton is a novelist, reporter, and freelancer. Carol has penned 500 articles, two books, Changing Zip Codes, and the award-winning debut novel, Lake Surrender, (inspired by her work with autistic students). Currently, she working on a sequel to her first novel and keeping up with her blog. She speaks to women’s groups such as Mothers of Preschoolers. Married to her literary muse, John, they have four children and eight grandchildren in North Carolina. She loves to encourage new writers and readers who have moved. Connect with her at her CarolGStratton.com and on Twitter and Facebook

Photo Credit: Getty/wynnter

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