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John 11:17

ESV Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
NIV On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
NASB So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.
CSB When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
NLT When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days.
KJV Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.

What does John 11:17 mean?

The timeline explained in this verse sheds light on what happened in the prior passage. Jesus was about a day's journey from Bethany when a messenger was sent telling Him Lazarus was ill (John 11:3). He then waited two days before leaving (John 11:6) and arrived when Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. Given a one-day walk to Bethany, Lazarus had died before the messenger even got to Jesus in the first place. When Christ sent back His encouraging message (John 11:4), He did so knowing His friend was already dead. That means His message came to Lazarus' sisters after they'd already buried their brother.

The long delay was not an accident. Modern medicine allows very precise measurement of heart and brain function. In the ancient world, it was not impossible for a person to seem dead, but recover. For that reason, death was often not considered "official" until a few days later. Jesus' three days and nights in the tomb corresponds to this custom. In Lazarus' case, many Jewish people considered the fourth day to be when the soul was considered truly gone.

In other words, Jesus has purposefully set up this scenario. The moment was not an accident, but an arrangement. As Christ stated to the disciples, the ultimate reason for His response is for the benefit of observers (John 11:15). What happens later in this chapter is the seventh and most impressive of Jesus' seven "signs," as recorded in the gospel of John. All those signs are meant to prove Jesus' divinity and power (John 20:30–31). This miracle, especially, has been arranged for maximum impact and proof of godly approval.
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