John 11:21 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

John 11:21, NIV: "Lord,' Martha said to Jesus, 'if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

John 11:21, ESV: "Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

John 11:21, KJV: "Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."

John 11:21, NASB: "Martha then said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."

John 11:21, NLT: "Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died."

John 11:21, CSB: "Then Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn't have died."

What does John 11:21 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Scripture shows that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had a close relationship. Jesus has spent a noteworthy amount of time with this family (Luke 10:38–42; Matthew 21:17). When Lazarus fell ill, his sisters felt it was necessary to send a messenger to Jesus (John 11:3). That message appealed to Jesus' friendship with their brother. Jesus' response was a reassurance that Lazarus' illness would not lead to death (John 11:4). However, based on the timeline shown in this chapter, that response would have arrived back to Mary and Martha after Lazarus had already been dead for a day or two (John 11:17).

Given all of that, it's understandable that Martha's initial words to Jesus can be interpreted in one of two ways. This might be an accusation. Martha might be implying it was Jesus' fault for not being there when Lazarus was ill.

However, Martha would have been aware of the time it took a messenger to travel. She would have known that by the time Jesus heard about Lazarus' illness, it was already too late. Her statement here, tied what she says next, seems more an expression of sadness mixed with hope. In full context, her meaning is something like, "this is not how I hoped things would be, but…"

What she says to Jesus in the following verse is a thinly-veiled request (John 11:22). Though she's in mourning and being careful, it's clear Martha is still willing to trust in Jesus and His decisions.