Jesus Wept – John 11:35
Meaning of John 11:35
The verse ‘Jesus wept’ means Jesus cried or expressed grief. For the readers, Jesus is the Son of God. Thus, weeping and expressing his grief can either cause doubt about His divinity or make Jesus a compassionate divine figure. The context here is about Jesus’ friend Lazarus, also the brother of Martha and Mary. After he died, Jesus went to his house to mourn with his family. It is unclear if he intended to wake him from the dead during the journey. However, Jesus here is not seen crying for his friend Lazarus, rather, He weeps or grieves for Martha and Mary, including other mourners, as he feels compassionate towards them. Jesus crying makes Him more understanding, unlike ancient Greek and Egyptian deities who are known to be stoic and void of emotion.
Interpretations of John 11:35
The verse John 11:35 implies that Jesus cried when he visited Lazarus’ grave. The entire verse consists of two words. Despite its clear meaning, the verse has various versions. Here are a few interpretations of ‘Jesus wept’.
Interpretation #1 Jesus is a human
In this interpretation of the verse, “Jesus wept,” Jesus is understood as if he was only a human when he was weeping and not in a Godly form. He has been a human in every way since he was born. He lived, ate, worked as a carpenter, talked, and lived like a common man in his family. Though it is claimed in the Bible that God sent him in the human form to be crucified for the remission of humanity’s sins. Hence, Jesus tearing up was him just being a mere human. The reader, thus, believes that Jesus came on earth as a human and not God. Hence, it is natural for a human to cry, especially in the event of someone’s death.
Interpretation #2 Jesus was hurt by the delayed arrival
The verse, “Jesus wept” can be interpreted as Jesus mourning while feeling guilty that he arrived late for his friend’s burial. The Bible says in the verses prior to John 11:35 that Martha and Mary, who were Lazarus’ sisters, sent word to Jesus about their brother’s death. However, it appears that Jesus did not visit him immediately upon hearing the news. He, therefore, reached the place four days after Lazarus was already buried in the tomb. Thus, Jesus was grieving over not reaching out earlier to save his friend and help his sisters.
Interpretation #3 Jesus was hurt by Martha’s and Mary’s accusation
In this interpretation of the verse “Jesus wept”, Jesus was feeling sorry for the death of his friend, but the grief intensified when he was accused of the death of his friend Lazarus. If Jesus had arrived earlier, he might have healed Lazarus. However, when Jesus arrived in Bethany, where Lazarus died and was buried, he was met by both Martha and Mary (the sisters of Lazarus). Both of them met him at different times but said the same thing. They believed that their brother might not have died if Jesus had been there, then he wouldn’t have died. Thus, this version implies that the sisters accused Jesus of Lazarus’ death and his delay in arrival. Jesus, with or without divine personality, felt sorrowful over this accusation.
Interpretation #4 Jesus cried, knowing about his death on the cross
The interpretation of the verse “Jesus wept” is also a foreshadowing of Jesus’ crucifixion. Martha (sister of Lazarus) reminds him about healing Lazarus before his death and also expresses that he might have raised him from the dead immediately. However, Martha and Mary do not expect Jesus to bring their brother back to like after four days. During this discussion, Jesus is reminded of the main purpose on earth, which is to die on the cross. Thus, Lazarus’ death brought back the impending doom.
Interpretation #5 Jesus cried because he understood human grief
The phrase “Jesus wept” is also interpreted as Jesus being a God and a human at the same time. He had compassion and love for everyone and treated their grief as his own. It can be observed that Jesus knew that he was capable of bringing his friend Lazarus back from the dead. However, the atmosphere of sorrow and sadness around led to him feeling the pain and shed tears for the loss.
Historical Background of John 11:35
The entire chapter of John 11 is about Lazarus’ death and Jesus resurrecting him from the dead. The death of Lazarus was meant to be symbolic of Jesus’ own crucifixion and resurrection. “Jesus wept” is a phrase well-known for being the shortest verse in the Bible’s King James Version (KJV) and several other versions. This verse appears in John’s narrative of the death of Lazarus of Bethany, a follower of Jesus. Lazarus’s sisters: Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus of their brother’s illness and imminent death, but Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus passed away. After talking to the grieving sisters and seeing Lazarus’s friends weeping, he was deeply troubled and moved. After asking where Lazarus had been laid and being invited to come to see him, Jesus wept. He then went to the tomb and prayed aloud to God, the Father, and ordered Lazarus to come out, resurrected.
Literary Devices of John 11:35
Although John 11:35 is one of the shortest verses in the English Bible, it has plenty of relevant literary devices when looked at closely. Below are a few examples.
Theme – The verse John 11:35 is the short verse in the Bible, both New Testament and Old Testament combined. However, there is the use of powerful themes that are connected to the entire chapter. For example, sorrow, sympathy, grief, and compassion
Ambiguity – The verse ‘Jesus wept’ has more than interpretation, making it a good example of ambiguity. For example, Jesus might have wept due to his delay, loss of his friend, or foreseeing his own death.
Understatement – In John 11: 35 ‘Jesus wept’ is also used as an understatement to make Jesus’ expression of grief and loss of his less important. As Jesus was not weeping like Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary. He was expressing his grief in silence while also recognizing that he was about to die on the cross like a human.
Literary topos – This device is mostly used to start an argument which is one of the most used rhetoric in Classical Greek literature. Here Jesus wept is used in sermons to allow the listener to see human nature in Jesus while acknowledging Jesus’ divine nature. Thus, the speaker and the listener argue about Jesus’ humanity and divinity.