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.