What does John 11:12 mean?
ESV: The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”
NIV: His disciples replied, 'Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.'
NASB: The disciples then said to Him, 'Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will come out of it.'
CSB: Then the disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well."
NLT: The disciples said, 'Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!'
KJV: Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
NKJV: Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.”
Verse Commentary:
This statement corresponds to Jesus' remarks to the messenger who first brought news of Lazarus' illness (John 11:1–4). He sent back word to Mary and Martha that their brother's illness would not result in death. Lazarus' hometown of Bethany was close to hostile religious leaders (John 5:18; 10:39), and Jesus waited for two days after sending His reply (John 11:6). But now Jesus' reason for going, according to the prior verse, is to "awaken" a sleeping friend. So far as the disciples were concerned, Jesus was confident Lazarus would be fine and there was no need to visit him. When Jesus plans to go, anyway, they are understandably shocked and worried (John 11:7–8).

It's clear the disciples misunderstand Jesus' spiritual message, and confuse it for a purely physical one. This is common in Jesus' interactions with others during His earthly ministry (John 3:4; 4:11; 8:31–33). Many of His statements and pronouncements are only fully understood with the benefit of hindsight, and the influence of the Holy Spirit (John 2:19–22).

Jesus means that Lazarus has actually died, and is to be resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). This misunderstanding is expressed directly in the following verse.
Verse Context:
John 11:1–16 sets up the most spectacular of Jesus' earthly miracles: the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus is given word that Lazarus is sick but delays several days before leaving to see the family. As it turns out, by the time this message gets to Jesus, Lazarus has already died. The disciples assume Jesus won't go back to Judea, since local religious leaders want to kill Him. When Jesus plans to head into dangerous territory, His followers are frightened and pessimistic. The following passage will show Jesus arriving four days after Lazarus had passed away.
Chapter Summary:
Jesus has left the vicinity of Jerusalem to avoid hostile religious leaders. While gone, He receives word that a good friend, Lazarus, is sick. In fact, Lazarus has died by the time this message reaches Jesus. He purposefully waits a few days before returning to Bethany, arriving four days after Lazarus' burial. In front of Lazarus' mourning sisters—who Jesus weeps with—and an assembled crowd, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in a stirring and spectacular miracle. This is the seventh of John's seven ''signs'' of Jesus' divine power. In response, religious leaders coordinate in their effort to have Jesus murdered.
Chapter Context:
After giving sight to a man born blind (John 9), Jesus sparred with religious leaders on at least two occasions (John 10). After another failed arrest attempt, Jesus left the area and went out where Jerusalem's politics had little influence. In this chapter, He returns to resurrect a recently-departed friend, Lazarus. That results in a renewed commitment from Jerusalem's religious leaders to have Jesus murdered. As the crucifixion draws near, Jesus will stage His triumphal entry in chapter 12, and then begin His final teachings to the disciples.
Book Summary:
The disciple John wrote the gospel of John decades after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls "signs"— to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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