The raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus is one of the most remarkable miracles recorded in the Gospels. Lazarus had been dead for four days when Jesus arrived at his tomb, and yet Jesus was able to call him forth from the grave alive and well (John 11:1-44).
One of the details highlighted in this account is that when Lazarus came out of the tomb, his hands and feet were wrapped with strips of linen, and his face was wrapped with a cloth (John 11:44). These were the grave clothes that had been wound around Lazarus’s body when he was buried. Why did John specifically mention these grave clothes? What is the significance of Lazarus emerging from the tomb still wrapped in his burial linens?
- The grave clothes demonstrate the historical reality of Lazarus’s resurrection.
- They present a vivid image of Lazarus being instantly restored to life.
- They show Jesus’ power over death itself, not just healing.
- They foreshadow Christ’s own resurrection from the dead.
- They illustrate our liberty from the bonds of sin and death in Christ.
The Grave Clothes Affirm the Historicity of the Miracle
The fact that Lazarus came forth still wrapped in his burial garments demonstrates the undeniable historical reality of this miracle. If the raising of Lazarus were merely a fictional story or legend that developed later, there would have been no need to include this specific detail about his grave clothes. The only reason to specify that Lazarus emerged from the tomb still covered in his burial wrappings is because this is precisely what happened. The grave clothes confirm the factual truth of this miracle.
For John, an eyewitness to this event, the memory of seeing Lazarus shuffle out of the tomb with his body still bound up was indelibly imprinted on his mind. The grave clothes proved that Lazarus had indeed been dead and buried, not merely unconscious, thus heightening the magnitude of the miracle. The wrappings ruled out any potential naturalistic explanations or attempts to rationalize away this miracle. Lazarus’s revival from death was an indisputable historical fact. The grave clothes bearing witness to this event bolster the reliability of John’s account.
The Grave Clothes Paint a Vivid Dramatic Picture
While the grave clothes testify to the historicity of Lazarus’s resurrection, they also add a vivid dramatic element to this narrative that powerfully engages the reader’s imagination. John wanted his readers to not just understand that Lazarus was raised, but to envision the scene as it unfolded. He puts us there in the Bethany tomb as Lazarus unexpectedly stumbles out alive all bound up in burial linens after four days in the grave. We can see the mix of shock, disbelief, joy, and awe on the faces of those present. The details about Lazarus’s body being wrapped from head to toe in grave clothes he had been buried in helps the reader visualize this remarkable scene. This adds a dramatic flourish that reinforces the astounding nature of this miracle. The grave clothes help paint a mental picture for readers to contemplate this awe-inspiring event.
The Grave Clothes Demonstrate Jesus’ Power Over Death
Most of Jesus’ miracles recorded in the Gospels involve healings of various kinds – driving out demons, curing blindness or paralysis, cleansing leprosy, stopping bleeding, and so forth. While these acts displayed Jesus’ authority over all manner of diseases and afflictions, the raising of Lazarus from the dead demonstrated Christ’s power over death itself.
The graves clothes underscore the magnitude of this miracle, proving that Lazarus had indeed been dead, not merely unconscious or comatose. The sight of Lazarus emerging from the tomb wrapped in his burial linens drives home the incredible nature of this miracle, that Jesus was able to reverse the irreversible finality of death. The grave clothes substantiate that this was no mere resuscitation, but an actual resurrection of a deceased man back to life.
The grave clothes testify that Jesus has power over the grave itself and can restore life to those dead and buried. This foreshadows Jesus’ own victory over death through His resurrection. The raising of Lazarus pointed ahead to Christ’s climatic triumph over the power of death on the cross. The grave clothes bear witness that Jesus is indeed “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
The Grave Clothes Foreshadow Christ’s Resurrection
Not only do Lazarus’s grave clothes confirm the historicity of this miracle, they also foreshadow another resurrection yet to come – that of Jesus himself. Lazarus emerging from the tomb wrapped in burial linens would likely have reminded John of the later scene at Christ’s empty tomb, with Jesus’ grave clothes lying folded by themselves (John 20:6-7).
The fact that Lazarus came out of the tomb still covered in wrappings may allude to and anticipate Jesus’ own resurrection. When Jesus rose victoriously, the text emphasizes he left his grave clothes behind. But Lazarus was called forth still bound up in death’s vestiges. This contrast underscores the completeness of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus left no shadow of death remaining, triumphing over it fully, whereas Lazarus was revived still wearing death’s remnants.
This foreshadowing would have helped the early readers of John connect the raising of Lazarus with Christ’s own resurrection to come. Seeing one miracle prepared them to behold an even greater one. The grave clothes were a preview that pointed forward to the climatic victory over the grave which Christ would soon accomplish.
The Grave Clothes Symbolize Our Liberty in Christ
On a symbolic level, Lazarus emerging from the tomb still wrapped in his grave clothes can represent the new life we have in Christ while still being confined by the vestiges of our old nature. Although Lazarus was revived, he did not immediately emerge in a glorified perfected state. He was still bound by the trappings of the old order of things. This parallels how though Christians are made spiritually alive in Christ, we are still hindered by sinful tendencies and mortality.
Paul explores this concept in Romans 7, desiring to follow after the Spirit but feeling constrained by the flesh, not yet having put off the old man completely. We must cooperate with God’s work in us to be unwrapped from the linen garments of the old way of living, putting on the new self in Christ. Lazarus coming forth in his grave clothes pictures our transitional state as redeemed sinners, simultaneously freed yet still hindered.
The raising of Lazarus also foreshadows the future day when we will be fully unbound from all sin and weakness. When Christ returns, our mortal bodies will be glorified, no longer subject to sickness, decay and death. We will put off the perishable and put on the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:53-54). What was true for Lazarus that day will be true for all believers at the resurrection, as we emerge from the grave wholly free from every remnant of sin, death and darkness. The grave clothes remind us of the greater liberty we have to look forward to in Christ.
The seemingly small detail about Lazarus’s grave clothes yields great theological insights. The burial wrappings affirm the historical reality of this miracle. They present a vivid mental picture that engages readers. They showcase Jesus’ power over death itself, not just illness and infirmity. They point forward to and foreshadow Christ’s own resurrection victory. And they symbolize the transitional state believers experience now, alive in Christ yet not fully free from the remnants of sin and the old way of life. The grave clothes are a testament to the magnitude of this miracle, the One who performed it, and the complete triumph over sin and death He would soon accomplish on humanity’s behalf.