After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go” (John 11:43-44, CSB).
“Dead man walking” is an idiom used in U.S. prisons to announce a condemned prisoner being walked to the place of execution. The use of the phrase has expanded as a euphemism for anyone facing an impending and unavoidable loss.
But, when referring to Lazarus, dead man walking, is more of an axiom than an idiom. It’s not just a catchphrase but a fact! Lazarus was a man who literally died and was resurrected by Jesus and walked out of his tomb.
Lazarus was a bona fide dead man walking! But, he was not a man walking toward his death–he was a man walking away from his death!
So, why does this matter that Jesus let His good friend Lazarus die and then resurrected him? Why did Jesus resurrect a man from death only for him to die again?
Because He could! At least, that’s the quick answer.
John 11 provides a more complete explanation.
At the end of John 10 we are told that Jesus was preaching and teaching at the place were John was baptizing (vs. 10:40). So, that would be somewhere in Judea along the Jordan River and only about 20 miles from the Bethany where Lazarus lived.
Jesus received a message from Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, that Lazarus was sick. When Jesus heard about it, instead of rushing to Bethany to heal Lazarus, Jesus remained where He was for two more days–ostensibly, to allow Lazarus to die and his body placed in a tomb.
The moral to the story of the resurrection of Lazarus was told at the beginning of John’s account of Lazarus’ resurrection: “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4, CSB).
Jesus wanted to demonstrate to His disciples that He possessed power over death and the promise of eternal life. The resurrection of Lazarus was a foreshadowing of the eternal life after death that is available to all of Jesus’ followers.
Jesus wanted His disciples to understand and believe that He was the resurrection and the life before He actually became the resurrection and life through His own death and resurrection.
Jesus spreads life. Whether it’s in the form of healing sick people, exorcising demons from possessed people, or resurrecting dead people, Jesus is in the life-giving business.
So, Jesus makes dead people walk. And, He is still doing it today.
Every human being is a dead man walking. From the day we are born we are advancing toward the death of our biological bodies. But Jesus makes our dying bodies spiritually alive and our physical death becomes the entrance to eternal life.
For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40, CSB)