John 11:35 – Jesus Wept

Why does Jesus weep in John 11:35?  The crowd assumes that it is because his friend Lazarus died, it is an emotional reaction to death.  But most commentaries point out that the vocabulary used to describe Jesus’ emotions go beyond sorrow.  In fact, the verbs in verse 33 have the connotation of indignation and anger.

Jesus WeptBarrett says that the view that Jesus was angry “beyond question” (John, 399). Beasley-Murray argues that the verb ἐμβριμάομαι  should be read as“became angry in spirit” (John, Second Edition, 192-3).  That Jesus is moved “in his spirit” is an indication that this is a deeply internal emotional reaction.

The second verb in John 11:33 is ταράσσω, a verb associated with deep turmoil and In the next chapter, Jesus will use the same word to describe his spirit prior to the passion events (John 12:27), in Matthew 14:26 it is used to describe the terror felt by the disciples when they saw Jesus walking on the water; Luke 24:38 has a similar use, describing the terror of the disciples when they encountered the resurrected Jesus.  In both cases, there may be a feeling of dread since a sinful person is encountering a divine being.

Whatever the combination of these terms means, it cannot be said that Jesus was shaken by the death of Lazarus (he has already predicted it) and we cannot say that he is expressing emotions similar to Mary and Martha, who are mourning for the dead.  Jesus knows that he will raise Lazarus from the dead, so his tears cannot be sorrow with respect to Lazarus’ death.

A slight variation of this view is Keener, who thought that Jesus was angry at the mourners’ unbelief (John, 846). Raymond Brown suggested that Jesus was angry at Satan and the domain of death itself, or possibly Jesus is angry “at death” in general (John, 203).

When Jesus does cry, it is not the same as Mary and Martha, or the other mourners.  They are “wailing” (κλαίω), while Jesus “weeps” (δακρύω).  The word is rare in the LXX, appearing only a few times (for example, Job 3:24, Job’s tears).  I am not sure that there is enough evidence to say that Jesus’ tears were more or less sorrowful based on vocabulary.  I suspect John simply varied the terms in order to avoid repetition.

Perhaps a better way of looking at Jesus’ frustrated emotional response here is to see it in the light of Mary and Martha’s lack of understanding in his clear statement that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and their apparent unbelief in his status as the giver of Life.   He has just told Mary and Martha that he is the resurrection and the life.  Rather than some distant eschatological resurrection, Jesus is about to demonstrate that power over life and death, but none of the disciples seem to understand this!

The power of the coming age is present in Jesus’ ministry.  But even Jesus’ closest disciples do not fully understand who he is until after the resurrection.

3 thoughts on “John 11:35 – Jesus Wept

  1. Nice again Phillip, these are profound thoughts, over our simply profound Lord! Let us grapple with the Logos become flesh, Who is even now on the Throne of Glory – for us, the Resurrection and the Life!

  2. There is, but this is a “before the service” post. I will have a second one up soon (tomorrow morning?) with the links. Thanks for asking.

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