Why did Jesus give way to tears prior to the resurrection of Lazarus, as described at John 11:35?
When a loved one dies, we naturally shed tears because we will miss him. Though he had affection for Lazarus, Jesus did not give way to tears because Lazarus died. He shed tears out of compassion for the bereaved, as indicated by the context of John’s account.
When Jesus first heard that Lazarus was sick, he did not rush to Lazarus’ bedside to cure him. The account says: “When [Jesus] heard that [Lazarus] was sick, then he actually remained two days in the place where he was.” (John 11:6) Why did Jesus delay? He had a purpose in doing so. He said: “This sickness is not with death as its object, but is for the glory of God, in order that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) Death was not the “object,” or end result, of Lazarus’ sickness. Jesus intended to use Lazarus’ death “for the glory of God.” How? Jesus was about to perform a spectacular miracle by raising his dear friend from the grave.
In his discussion with his disciples on this occasion, Jesus compared death to a sleeplike state. That is why he told them that he was “journeying there to awaken [Lazarus] from sleep.” (John 11:11) To Jesus, raising Lazarus from death would be like a parent waking his child from a nap. So there was no reason for him to be pained over Lazarus’ death itself.
What, then, moved Jesus to give way to tears? Again, the context provides the answer. When Jesus met Lazarus’ sister Mary and saw her and others weeping, he “groaned in the spirit and became troubled.” Seeing their pain moved Jesus to feel hurt to the point of ‘groaning in the spirit.’ That was why “Jesus gave way to tears.” It greatly saddened Jesus to see his beloved friends stricken with grief.
This account demonstrates that Jesus has the power and ability to bring our loved ones back to life and health in the coming new world. It also helps us to appreciate that Jesus has fellow feeling for those who have lost loved ones to Adamic death. Another lesson we can learn from this account is that we should have compassion for those who are grieving over the death of their loved ones.
Jesus knew that he was going to resurrect Lazarus. Still, he gave way to tears, moved by his deep love and compassion for his friends. Likewise, our empathy may move us to “weep with people who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) Expressing such grief does not indicate that a person lacks faith in the resurrection hope. How appropriate, then, that Jesus set an example of showing sympathy for the bereaved by sincerely shedding tears even though he was about to raise Lazarus.