Why Did Jesus Weep in John 11:35?

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

Barrett says the view that Jesus was angry “beyond question” (John, 399). Beasley-Murray argues 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 this is a deeply internal emotional reaction.

Jesus WeptThe 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 the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. In Luke 24:38 the verb describes the terror of the disciples when they encountered the resurrected Jesus. In each cases, there is a feeling of dread since a sinful person is encountering a divine being.

Whatever the combination of these terms means, it cannot be said Jesus was shaken by the death of Lazarus since he had predicted it. We cannot say he is expressing emotions similar to Mary and Martha, who are mourning their dead brother. Jesus knows he will raise Lazarus from the dead so his tears are unlikely sorrow over Lazarus’s death.

A slight variation of this view is Craig Keener who suggested Jesus was angry at the unbelief of the mourners (John, 846). Raymond Brown suggested 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 there is enough evidence to say that Jesus’s tears were more or less sorrowful based on vocabulary, perhaps John simply varied the terms in order to avoid repetition (as he does elsewhere in the Gospel).

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

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

15 thoughts on “Why Did Jesus Weep in John 11:35?

  1. Passion, I see, is catching; for mine eyes,
    Seeing those beads of sorrow stand in thine,
    Begin to water. –Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

    Like Shakespeare’s Antony, Jesus wept when he felt the sorrow others, particularly Martha and Mary and the crowd. Let’s let Scripture interpret Scripture. Verse 33 says, “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.”

    No longer angry, Jesus wept because he was overcome by the mourning of those who loved Lazarus: “Jesus wept.”

    The Jews knew why the Son of Man was weeping: “See how he loved him.”

    To see something other than deep sorrow in Jesus’ tears is misguided, perhaps an exercise in eisegesis. The Evangelist is very clear in this passage. There is no need to search for a subtext that is not there.

    Jesus wept because he felt deep sorrow.

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  2. Looking at why Jesus wept, there really could be a number of reasons behind the meaning of that simple passage. However, Jesus’s weeping doesn’t have to be about just one thing, but it could have been a combination of several things. It makes sense to think that Jesus would be frustrated with the people’s unbelief when he had just said that he was the resurrection and the life, but the Bible clearly says as well that humans can’t comprehend the plans of God with passages like Psalm 147:5 and Isaiah 5:8-9. I’m not saying that because they don’t understand that it is okay then to overlook their ignorance, but people tend to focus on what they know and what seems logical. Because a raising of the dead like this has never happened before, the idea may not have even crossed their minds. If looking at the root word that shows an angry weeping, Jesus’s reaction then, I think, is directed more at sin itself. He knows that he is able to undo death so his weeping is because of sin’s existence which results in Lazarus’s death along with Mary and Martha’s lack of understanding. Kostenberger sees Jesus’s tears as a reaction to his humanity by saying, “What a beautiful display of Jesus’s humanity at the threshold of the most amazing display of his divinity in John’s gospel!” (Kostenberger, 115). Jesus’s humanity is shown through his tears as well, because Lazarus’s death was personal for him, even if he could undo it. He has compassion and understands the sorrow that everyone feels with death, yet follows it directly with raising Lazarus to display his glory and show what he really was saying when he said that he is the resurrection and the life.

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  3. Why did Jesus weep? Jesus wept when he heard that his friend Lazarus was dead. Lazarus was his dear friend who he clearly loved very much. I think there are really three main reasons that Jesus wept. He wept because he lost his dear friend who he loved so much. Secondly, he wept because he was God and he knew that these people lost a soul that they did not think they would see again on this earth. And last but not least Jesus knew that death meant separation from God and he knew that very soon he would have to be separated from God for three days before he would rise again. I think we often forget that Jesus was in fact God and yet he was in fact fully human. He felt all the emotions that humans felt and that includes grief and sorrow. He was emotionally in pain at losing his friend and he was probably in physical pain at the thought that he would soon be separated from God for three days.

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  4. I understand what the commentaries mean about Jesus being angry about the death of Lazarus, or, more so, the domain of death. I also believe that the tears were not merely out of sorrow for the loss of Lazarus. I believe that it comes from the compassion and empathy that Jesus has for Mary and Martha.
    In verse 33, it says that “When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping… he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33). Jesus was not sad because Lazarus died, because he knew he would walk again in a matter of minutes. Jesus’ tears had nothing to do with Lazarus at all. Jesus saw the pain that Mary was going through, and he had compassion on her. He felt the pain that she was feeling. The empathy that Jesus shows for Mary shows his humanity in the process, how he can truly understand what it must have felt like for her. Kostenberger makes a similar point when he says that “he is moved to compassion by the death of his friend” (Kostenberger, 115). The death itself does not show Jesus’ compassion, but rather how he responds to those mourning does. It is also worth noting that he does not tell them to not be sad, but rather affirms their feelings by feeling for them and empathizing with them.

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  5. its an odd concept because I like many others figure Jesus is weeping for Lazarus but it does make sense that this is not the case. when looking at the response to Lazarus’s death as a whole everyone is sad but Jesus is the only one whom sadness does not make sense for. if he knows he will bring Lazarus back he really cant be sad. he can however be upset that everyone around him is resigned to the fact that Lazarus is dead and thinking that nothing can be done about it even though he has taught them all time and time gain who he is. Jesus weeps out of frustration that those who follow him do not seem to understand who he is even though he has shown them

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  6. Why did Jesus weep? This is a good question and my first response would be that he was a man. Jesus although he was fully God come down to earth we also have to remember he was God in the flesh which means he was made just like us. Jesus has feelings and when a dear friend passes away how else would you react other than to be sad. We all know that it took Jesus a while to come and see Lazarus after he was sick and passed away one thing that I just thought about was maybe in those days Jesus knew he passed away and in that he didn’t want to see him suffering here on earth as he was sick but along with that we don’t like to see somebody for the last time and when you have to say goodbye. Maybe Jesus was feeling the same way we would although when he went and saw him, he would raise Lazarus from the dead. Another idea is that he saw his family around him shook and sad about what had happened to such a great man that it would be hard to face family when they all feel the same way. Jesus was a man just like us and felt emotions of sadness and happiness and we may not think about that too much as all we know he was perfect but Jesus definitely wept because he was sad for what has happened to someone he deeply loved.

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  7. It seems like a lot of Jesus’s emotions were out of sadness and directed towards the people’s disbelief that He could not raise Lazarus from the dead. A considerable portion of this disbelief came from the sister’s Mary and Marta, who mourned heavily on the death of their brother. According to Kostenberger, the sisters had enough faith in Jesus to keep Lazarus from dying but not enough faith that he could raise him from the dead (Kostenberger, 131). For that reason, I believe Jesus was saddened because they failed to acknowledge Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, as mentioned in your post. Raising Lazarus from the dead gave proof to Jesus’s identity and set the stage for his resurrection to come. Therefore, because the people lacked to acknowledge His power over death and life, Jesus was saddened because something similar to this nature was coming. Jesus was setting the stage for his resurrection, and because the people failed to recognize the implications associated with Lazarus’s resurrection, He might have felt people wouldn’t have understood the significance of His resurrection.

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  8. I think the definition of terms is very important in order to interpret this passage correctly. As cited above in the article, most of the commentaries on this passage suggest that Jesus was not sorrowful in the same sense that Mary and Martha were; rather, Jesus was “troubled in spirit”. The Greek speaks for itself. This particular phrase seems to imply anger, but other commentators seemed to interpret the Greek as meaning “agitation”. There is, however, a vast difference between being angry and being merely agitated. Anger, according to most definitions, is an attitude of hostility or annoyance, but I don’t believe Jesus could truly have been maintaining such an attitude in the context of John 11:35. I think, in order to determine the kind of tears that Jesus shed, it is requisite to assess why Mary and Martha were crying. Logically, since during this time women depended on men domestically, not only were Mary and Martha sad that their brother had died, but I am sure that they were anxious about how they were going to provide for themselves. In other words, the fact of their brothers death had many negative consequences for them–and not just emotional ones. Jesus, being the smartest man who ever lived, surely knew this about their condition, and even though He was perhaps saddened by the fact that they had such disbelief, surely empathized with them as well. I think, as Kostenberger hinted at, Jesus really was appalled by the fallenness of the world and the fact that death was so inevitable and so hurtful, a reflection of the devil who initiated it.

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  9. We as humans like to think that Jesus would react to things in a similar fashion that we might because we know that He experienced things on earth so that He could relate to us. However, this is not really the case. Jesus’ responses and reactions are different because He is perfect, and we react within our sinful natures. This also applies to how Jesus responds to the death of Lazarus. Looking at the context of the original language, it is more likely that Jesus is experiencing indignation and anger. In the post, there are a couple of views held by Craig Keener that give us a different view of what Jesus could be feeling. The first is that Jesus is angry at the unbelief of the mourners. I am not sure that this would be the case because Jesus is doing the miracle so that the Glory of God can be shown. Would there be the same response if people did believe that He could raise Lazarus from the dead? Would events have played out the same way? In the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus is taken to trial, He is in anguish. Even at this time when He wanted things to play out differently, He was not angry with humanity. The next thing that is suggested is that Jesus is angry at Satin who has dominion over death, or even death itself. This seems to be a more logical thing for Jesus to be angry at in this time. He is angry at the fact that this world is not what it is intended to be; and there is still death, sin, and unbelief, but not necessarily at the people around Him.

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  10. Jesus was fully man, and fully God. This simple point clearly demonstrates that Jesus was going to feel human emotions, but also have the attributes of surpassing death, just as God does. Just like the other miracles seen throughout the gospels, I think this one is pivotal because it shows the emotion that Jesus feels for someone that he loves, and even though he doesn’t heal him first, this was solely because God’s glory was going to be shown. The part that is confusing is we all think that Jesus should have came sooner, and instead healed Lazarus before he died. This is easier understood as then Jesus would not have any metaphor for him dying and coming back to life a few days later, just as Lazarus had died and rose again.

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  11. This is crazy to me, that even the disciples were not able to fully understand what Jesus was doing. It would make sense that Jesus was crying, weeping because he knew these people were not going to understand even after telling them and showing them so clearly that he is the ressurection and the life. Jesus knew that most of Israel would still reject him even after showing them these things. It seems to me similar to Luke 19 when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. He is weeping at the fact that they will not understand, that they are lost. Jesus weeping over the peoples circumstance in John 11 seems to match up with what we have seen Jesus do and how he has reacted before. For him to weep over death would not make any sense considering he knows he has authority over death, and he is about raise Lazarus from the dead. Makes me wonder how often do we get upset, emotionaly over the fact that people are lost and people do not understand what Jesus has done and what he has shown us.

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  12. Prior to this class, I had always assumed just like the crowd that Jesus wept because his good friend had died. However, I know recognize that he wept out of anger because of the unbelief of the mourners. (Long) I had previously also heard from speakers that Jesus had wept because he knew that he was pulling Lazarus back from paradise, which I am not sure if this statement has any legitimate legs to it. Do we truly know why Jesus wept in that moment? We can however use context to recognize that Jesus was not likely mourning in the same manner as the Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, and the other mourners. However, as mentioned in the blog post, there may not be enough evidence to show whether Jesus’s tears were more or less sorrowful based on what we are given in the story. I find it thought provoking that it is mentioned that John could have simply just changed up the word to avoid repetition, which could make sense considering most people change how they word sentences to avoid sounding like they only know a few words. The idea that John could have just changed the word to avoid repetition could make sense considering “he does this elsewhere in the Gospel” (Long). As I have mentioned earlier, is it truly known why or how Jesus had wept in that moment?

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  13. I really did appreciate this blog and class because all growing up when I would hear the stories I would hear how Jesus was crying for his friend who was lost. I think that is is good that we heard this story as children because I was also taught that this shows that Jesus had human emotions, however I do believe you when you were saying how Jesus is more crying because the others were not believing in him. I think that telling the story correctly still shows that Jesus had human emotions and felt rather irritated that his friends would not know that he can heel. I think that there could even be two stories to pull from this chapter, and that could be that Jesus is still crying for those that do not believe. God wants us all to believe that He is the author of life, and He wants us all to be apart of His family.

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  14. While reading this blog, and connecting the lecture we had in class I would have to agree with Craig Keener. When I was made aware of this story I didn’t think much of it but going back and reading it, I can see that the weeping Jesus was doing was out of anger. Mary and Martha both stated “My brother wouldn’t have died if you were here”; thus angered Christ because they didn’t understand the power He had to bring Lazarus back to life. Not only was He angry with the sisters, but the people who surrounded them as well (which would be the unbelievers). I do think this is the main reason for Jesus’ weeping, but I can see how the view that Raymond Brown had as well. Death was never intended for us, but since sin entered the world, there was a consequence for that which is death. Now, Jesus could have been so fed up with both sin & death, which caused Him to be in tears. I don’t think this view has much value as the unbelievers view just because when Long stated that Jesus was not weeping as the others in the crowd were.

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