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Commentary On The Gospel According To Saint John Volumes 1&2

For the Son is in every respect perfect in Himself, and in no way does He lack any single excellence. For He is begotten of the Essence of God the Father, and is full of power and of God-befitting glory. Everything is under His feet and there is nothing which His power cannot effect. For, according to the voice of the saint, He can do everything. Yet, although it is true that everything is in His possession, He asks, it is said, from the Father, and receives the heathen and the uttermost parts of the earth as a glorious inheritance. But it is necessary that we should ask how He receives or when: for this is in truth fitting and necessary, I mean, that we should in such matters ask about the times, and investigate the occasions, and make a diligent inquiry as to their significations. When, therefore, He became Man; when He emptied Himself, as it is written; when He humbled Himself to the form of those to whom it is befitting that they should ask; then it was that He both did and spake those things that are befitting to men, and we are told that they were made perfect concerning Him from the Father. For where did He exhibit the outward appearance of humility, or how did that self-emptying show itself victoriously, except that contrary to His Majesty He endured something willingly, when for our sake He emptied, Himself? For in the same way that He was weary from the fatigue of the journey, although He is the Lord of Powers; and as He was in need of food, although He is the Bread which came down from heaven, and giveth life to the world; and as He endured death in the flesh, although it is He in Whom we move and have our being; so it is said that He asked, although He is the Lord of all. That when the Only-Begotten became Man, He was not then at first called to His kingdom, we might easily show. But to dispute much about this would be not far removed from folly. Therefore we maintain that what thou hast spoken of was done rather for the same reason. Thinkest thou that the Lord prayed for Lazarus, and thus obtained for him life? But thou wilt not continue to think this at all, when thou art reminded of the words that remain. For He not only said: Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me; but He added further: Because of the multitude which standeth around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me. And thou seest here the occasion of the prayer clearly. For because the Jews were wicked and bold, so that they made an accusation when the Lord was working miracles, and said that by Beelzebub He performed those God-befitting deeds; therefore He justly refuted the thought that was in them, and shewed that He performed everything together with the Father as God, and did not (like those men the false prophets) come of His own will. Moreover, as regards His choosing to speak words which seemed not right for God, He said: Because of the multitude which standeth around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me. Had it not therefore been meet to correct the notion of those standing around, in order that it might be understood that the miracle, which He received for Lazarus’ sake, was from above, and from the Father, He would not have said at all these words: Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me. For He was both the Will and the Word, and the Counsel of the Father as regards all excellencies. What counsel did He ask, or what will, or what word, of Him Who begat Him, that He might receive some works,—when He had the Father in Him by Nature, and He was in the Father, because He was of His Essence? How as one far removed did He ask of the Father, or how was He not able to expel from a corpse sad death, Who even at the beginning formed m an out of inanimate matter, and exhibited him animated and rational? We will accept therefore the explanation which does not err in the faith, not of those men who speak foolishly, but of the Scripture spoken by the Spirit, in which there is nothing crooked or perverse.

43 And when He had thus spoken, He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin.

O the marvel! the ill-smelling corpse, even after the fourth day from death, He brought forth out of the tomb; and him that was fettered fast and bound hand and foot, He commanded to walk! And immediately, the dead man started up, and the corpse began to run, being delivered from its corruption and losing its bad smell, and escaping through the gates of death, and without any hindrance to running being caused by the bonds. And although deprived of sight by the covering which was over his face, the dead man runs without any hindrance towards Him Who had called him, and recognises the masterful voice. For Christ’s language was God-befitting and His command was kingly, having power to loose from death, and to bring back from corruption, and to exhibit energy beyond expression. The use of a piercing cry, however, was altogether strange and unwonted in the Saviour Christ. For instance, God the Father somewhere says concerning Him: He shall not strive nor cry aloud, and so on. For the works of the true Godhead are without noise or tumult of any kind; and this was the case with Christ, for He is in His Nature God of God and Very God. So then what do we say when we see that He cried aloud in an unusual manner? For surely no one will degrade himself to such a depth of folly as to say that Christ ever went beyond what was fitting or indeed ever erred from absolute perfection. How then is it to be explained? Certainly the cry has a reason and a purport, which we feel it necessary to state. It was for the good of the hearers. Christ wrought the miracle upon Lazarus as a sort of type of the general resurrection of the dead, and that which was fulfilled in the case of an individual He set forth as a beautiful image of what will be universal and common to the whole race. For it is part of our belief that the Lord will come, and we hold that there will be a cry made by the sound of a trumpet, according to the language of Paul, proclaiming the resurrection to those that lie in the earth, although it is manifest that the deed will be effected by the unspeakable power of the Almighty God.

For on this account also the Law given by Moses, when laying down directions concerning the feast of Tabernacles, says: Celebrate it as a memorial of trumpets. For when human bodies are about to be set up again, as tabernacles, and every man’s soul is about to take to itself its own bodily habitation in a way as yet unknown, the masterful command will be previously proclaimed, and the signal of the resurrection will sound forth, even the trump of God, as it is said. As a type therefore of this, in the case of Lazarus Christ uttered a great and audible cry, not much heeding His usual habit, that He might exhibit the type of what is to be expected hereafter.

Jesus saith unto them, Loose him and let him go.

For their good therefore He bade them with their own hands to loose him, that they might have no opportunity of misrepresenting what had been done, but might be witnesses of the miracle. And this too is representative of the general resurrection, when, being loosed from sin and the corruption of death, every one will be set free. For, falling into sin, we have wrapped the shame of it like a veil about the face of our soul, and are fast bound by the cords of death. When therefore the Christ shall at the time of the resurrection bring us out from our tombs in the earth, then in very truth does He loosen us from our former evils, and as it were remove the veil of shame, and command that we be let go freely from that time forward; not under the dominion of sin, not subject to corruption, or indeed any of the other troubles that are wont to cause suffering; so that there will be fulfilled in us that which was said by one of the holy prophets: Ye shall both go forth and leap as calves let loose from bonds.

And consider I pray you the miracle as regards its inner meaning. For if our mind be dead like Lazarus, it behoves our material flesh and our nobler soul, like Martha and Mary [respectively,] to approach the Christ with a confession of faith, and to entreat His help. Then He will stand by us, and command the hardness that lies upon our memory to be taken away, and cry with the loud voice of the Evangelic trumpet: “Come forth from the distractions of the world,” and loose the cords of our sins; so that we may be able in full vigour to devote ourselves to virtue.

45 Many therefore of the Jews, which came to Mary and beheld that which Jesus did, believed on Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them that which Jesus had done.

Overcome by the miracle many believe; but others, wounded with envy, deem the marvellous deed a fit opportunity for carrying into effect the intentions of the envious, and reported to the leaders what had taken place; that when those men also were grieved at the works which the Christ had wrought, they might have some consolation of their own grief in the knowledge that others shared their feelings and were partakers of the same foolish grief; and that, as they were unable themselves to injure Him Who had done no wrong, they might rouse to anger against Him those who possessed more power.

47 The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, What do we? for this Man doeth many signs. 48 If we let Him thus alone, all men mill believe on Him: and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.

Of course the Pharisees also cease to wonder and are turned to grief, and when they see Him stronger than death, they take counsel to kill Him. Not considering His unspeakable authority, but thinking of Him as a mere man, they said: What do we? for this Man doeth many signs. Although they ought rather to have believed from this that He was indeed the Christ, of Whom the inspired Scripture had previously proclaimed in many places that He would be a Worker of many signs. But they actually allege it as a reason, by which they endeavoured to persuade the more thoughtless to kill Him; and they say: If we leave Him thus alone, that is, if we allow Him to live and to work wonders, we shall suffer terrible things. For if many believe in this breaker of the Law, all that we have will bye and bye go from us; and presently, when at length the Jews have grown weak, the Romans will attack us, and will not permit us to freely practise the customs of our fathers, or to rule our own people, or to give judgment; themselves rather giving judgment, and we doing so no longer.

49 But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, 50 nor do ye take account that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. 51 Now this he said not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation; 52 and not for the nation only, but that He might also gather together into one the children of God that are scattered abroad.

Behold, the very thing of which we were speaking, the very thing which the Jews were secretly exercising themselves to bring into effect, this their high priest openly counsels them to do, even to kill the Christ; saying that it would be for the nation, although the nation was unjust. And he makes a true statement, his words being verified not by the perversity of the people, but by the power and wisdom of God. For they, to their own destruction put the Christ to death, but He, being put to death in the flesh, became for us a source of all good things. And what he calls the destruction of the nation, namely, the being under the hand of the Romans and losing the shadow of the law: the very thing which they were seeking to turn away, they actually suffered. Prompted therefore by an unlawful principle, Caiaphas said what he did; nevertheless his language was made to indicate something true, as being spoken by one in the official position of a prophet. For he proclaims beforehand of what good things the death of the Christ would become the source, saying that which he did not understand, and glorifying God (as Balaam did) under constraint, since he was holding the prerogative of the priestly order: the prophecy being as it were given, not to him personally, but to the outward representative of the priesthood. Unless indeed, as may have been the case, the words spoken by Caiaphas were accomplished and came to pass afterwards, without his having received any prophetic gift whatever. For it is probable that what some people say, will really happen, although they may say it without certainly knowing that it will come to pass. Caiaphas then said that the death of Christ would be for the Jews only, but the Evangelist says that it would be for all mankind. For we are all called the offspring and children of God inasmuch as He is the Father of all, having by way of creation begotten as it were and brought into existence the things that were not. And also, because we had from the first the honour of being made in His image, and were allotted the supremacy over earthly things, and were accounted worthy of the Divine covenant, and enjoyed the life and bliss of Paradise. But Satan, being unwilling that we should remain in that condition, scattered us, and in divers manners led man astray from his nearness to God. And the Christ collected us all together again and brought us through faith into one fold, the Church; and united us under one yoke, all being made one, Jews, Greeks, Barbarians, Scythians; and we are fashioned again into one new man, and worship one God.

53 So from that hour forth they took counsel together that they might put Him to death.

For they had the desire to defile themselves with Christ’s Blood, and from the moment at which the assembly took place, it received as it were a fresh start, the common consent of all to it being publicly acknowledged. For the Evangelist did not say simply: “From that hour they took counsel to commit the murder,” but: “They took counsel together;” that is to say, the very thing which seemed desirable to each one individually was pleasing to them all collectively.

54 Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews, but departed thence into a city called Ephraim near to the wilderness; and there He tarried with His disciples.

Here also therefore as God, to the condemnation of the Jews, He knows their secret design, although no one reported it to Him; and withdraws, not because He was afraid, but lest His presence might seem to irritate those who were already eager for His death. And He also teaches us to retire from the passions of those who are angry, and not to thrust ourselves into dangers, not even when they may be for the sake of truth: when we are actually overtaken by dangers, to stand firm; but when we see them coming, to get out of their way; because of the uncertainty of the issue.

55 Now the passover of the Jews was at hand: and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the passover to purify themselves.

Passing over everything else, the Evangelist goes on to the time of the passion. And he calls it the passover of the Jews typically; for [he refers to] the true Passover, not of the Jews, but of Christians, who eat the Flesh of Christ the true Lamb. And, according to the ancient custom, those who had sinned whether wilfully or through inadvertence purified themselves before the feast; and the typical passover was not shared in by any gentile, or uncircumcised person, or stranger, or hired servant, or unclean person: all which types are spiritually fulfilled in the case of Christians.

56 They sought therefore for Jesus, and spake one with another, as they stood in the temple, What think ye? That He will not come to the feast? 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given commandment, that, if any man knew where He was, he should shew it, that they might take Him.

The form of expression however leaves it doubtful whether the words: Think ye that He will not come to the feast?, are the utterance of those who hated or of those who loved Him. For it was not unlikely that those who believed on Him might speak to the unbelievers thus: “Since ye took counsel to put Jesus to death, and think that He is ignorant of what you have secretly planned, this will be a clear sign to you that He is God. For of course He will not come now to join us in celebrating the feast, because as God He knows your plans.” Or the expression may be thus paraphrased as the utterance of those who hated Jesus: “As it is ever a custom with Jesus to set aside the law, are ye who believe on Him willing to acknowledge that this is His character, seeing that He is not now come to the feast, disregarding the law of the feast by not joining us in the celebration of it?” And they say this, not because it was necessary for all to go together to Jerusalem at the passover, as at the feast of Tabernacles, but rather implying that His not coming up to Jerusalem was an indication of cowardice, as though He was unable to protect Himself at such a time, and on that account failed to come. Or again, those appointed to take Him may have said these words to one another, being in despair, because they did not yet see Him come, and were eager quickly to execute that to which they had been appointed.

Chap. 12:1 Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, the dead man whom He had raised from the dead. 2 So they made Him a supper there: and Martha served; but Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with Him.

Disdaining the plot of the Jews, the Lord gives Himself up, willing to suffer when the time for suffering was come, going to Bethany; not actually into Jerusalem, lest, suddenly appearing to the Jews, He might kindle them to anger; but by the rumour of His being so near gradually softening the rage of their wrath. And He eats with Lazarus, thereby reminding those who saw them of His God-befitting power. And by telling us this, the Evangelist shows that Christ did not despise the law; whence also six days before the passover, when it was necessary that the lamb should be purchased and kept until the fourteenth day, He ate with Lazarus and his friends: perhaps because it was a custom, not of law but from long usage, for the Jews to have some little merry-making on the day before the lamb was taken, in order that after the lamb was obtained they might devote themselves, from that time until the feast, to fasting or spareness of food, and to purifications. The Lord therefore is seen to have honoured even in this the customs of the feast. And in amazement the Evangelist says that he who had been four days dead was eating with the Christ, to remind us of His God-befitting power. And he adds that Martha, out of her love towards Christ, served, and ministered at the labours of the table.


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