For a while, Jesus has been in the area “across the Jordan” called Perea. (John 10:40) He now travels south toward Jerusalem.
Jesus is not alone. His disciples are traveling with him, as well as “large crowds,” including tax collectors and sinners. (Luke 14:25; 15:1) Pharisees and scribes, who are critical of what Jesus is saying and doing, are also there. They have much to think about after hearing Jesus relate the illustrations about the lost sheep, the lost son, and the rich man and Lazarus.
Perhaps with the criticism and sneering of his opposers fresh in mind, Jesus turns his attention to his disciples. He touches on some points that he earlier taught in Galilee.
For example, Jesus says: “It is unavoidable that causes for stumbling should come. Nevertheless, woe to the one through whom they come! . . . Pay attention to yourselves. If your brother commits a sin, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:1-4) That last comment may remind Peter of the question he had asked about forgiving up to seven times.
Will the disciples be able to act in harmony with Jesus’ words? When they say to Jesus, “Give us more faith,” he assures them: “If you had faith the size of a mustard grain, you would say to this black mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea!’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5, 6) Yes, even a degree of faith can accomplish great things.
Jesus goes on to teach the importance of having a humble, balanced view of oneself, saying to the apostles: “Which one of you who has a slave plowing or shepherding would say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come here at once and dine at the table’? Rather, will he not say to him, ‘Get something ready for me to have my evening meal, and put on an apron and serve me until I finish eating and drinking, and afterward you can eat and drink’? He will not feel gratitude to the slave because he did what was assigned, will he? Likewise, when you have done all the things assigned to you, say: ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves. What we have done is what we ought to have done.’”
Each servant of God should understand the importance of putting God’s interests first. Furthermore, each should remember the privilege that he has to worship God as a member of his household.
Apparently soon after this, a messenger sent by Mary and Martha arrives. They are the sisters of Lazarus, and they live in Bethany of Judea. The messenger relates: “Lord, see! the one you have affection for is sick.”
Though learning that his friend Lazarus is very ill, Jesus is not paralyzed by grief. Instead, he says: “This sickness is not meant to end in death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” He remains where he is for two days then tells his disciples: “Let us go into Judea again.” They protest: “Rabbi, just lately the Judeans were seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”
Jesus responds: “There are 12 hours of daylight, are there not? If anyone walks in daylight, he does not stumble into anything, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9, 10) He apparently means that the time God has allotted for Jesus’ ministry is not yet completed. Until it is, Jesus needs to use to the full the short time left for him.
Jesus adds: “Lazarus our friend has fallen asleep, but I am traveling there to awaken him.” Evidently thinking that Lazarus is simply resting and that he will recover, the disciples say: “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will get well.” Jesus tells them outspokenly: “Lazarus has died . . . But let us go to him.”
Aware that Jesus could be killed in Judea, yet desiring to support him, Thomas urges his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, so that we may die with him.”