Arguably, the greatest miracle witnessed so far by man is the complete healing and restoration of physical life to someone who has died. It is an event so rare that only ten are recorded in the entire Bible. Jesus, on three separate occasions, brought a person back to life (Luke 7:11 - 18, Mark 5:35 - 38, Luke 8:49 - 52, John 11).
This article lists the major reasons why the resurrection of Lazarus, found in John 11, was the most unique and greatest miracle manifested during the ministry of Jesus.
A friend of the family
The first two resurrections Jesus carried out (the son of a widowed woman and daughter of a synagogue ruler) were on people he did not know personally. In the case of Lazarus, however, he had spent time with him and his sisters on one recorded occasion (Luke 10:38 - 42) and likely others as well given Bethany's close proximity to Jerusalem. Christ had a close and loving relationship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus prior to his miracle recorded in John 11 (see John 11:3, 5, 36).
A planned event
Lazarus' resurrection in Bethany was a carefully timed miracle designed to maximize the glory it would generate for God (John 11:4). It also solidified resistance to Jesus by the highest Jewish religious authorities and began the planning that would lead to his arrest and crucifixion (verse 53).
Jesus was personally told that Lazarus was gravely ill (John 11:6). He could have rushed to Bethany to heal him or, from where he was located, simply commanded his friend was made well (see John 4:46 - 53). He chooses, instead, to wait until after Lazarus dies before traveling to Bethany (verses 6 - 7, 11 - 14).
The Lord and his disciples arrive in Bethany four days after Lazarus' death and burial (John 11:17). Four days was long enough for his body to begin generating a pungent odor due to his decaying flesh (verse 39). This delay was planned so that even Jesus' harshest critics would be unable to explain away the unique and awesome miracle he performed (see verses 46 - 48).
Four days also allowed news of Lazarus' death to travel to nearby Jerusalem. This made it possible for mourners to travel to Bethany in order to console the family and be unexpected witnesses of God's power through his Son (John 11:31, 33, 36 - 37, 45).
Lazarus' resurrection is the only recorded time Jesus is seen crying immediately before performing a miracle (John 11:35). It is also the only time where he groaned within himself prior to manifesting God's power (John 11:33, 38). See our fascinating article on why our Savior moaned and cried just before this last raising of the dead!
A large witness
The miraculous resurrection in Bethany was an undeniable act of God witnessed by a large crowd of people.
The raising of Lazarus was seen not only by all of Jesus' disciples but also by those in Bethany mourning his loss. The miracle was additionally viewed by relatives, friends and other interested parties who traveled from nearby Jerusalem (John 11:7, 18 - 19, 31). The fact that Lazarus' family was also financially prosperous (see John 12:1 - 5, Luke 10:38 - 40) no doubt also contributed to a larger than usual crowd of people.
It is interesting to note that many who either disbelieved Jesus could resurrect the dead or openly criticized him for not coming before Lazarus died saw his great miracle (John 11:21, 32, 37, 39, 41 - 42). In fact, several people who were allies of the Pharisees, a religious group that hated Christ, reported what happened to them (John 11:46).
Conspiracy and prophecy
The impact of Jesus' miracle is enough to warrant a hastily arranged meeting of the Sanhedrin, the highest religious court among the Jews which meets in Jerusalem (John 11:47).
Lazarus' resurrection solidifies the fear and hatred Jewish leadership has against Jesus (John 11:47 - 48). It also motivates them to conspire, as a group, as to how to have him killed (verse 53). Christ, knowing their plans, immediately leaves Bethany for Ephraim (verse 54).
The temple's High Priest, when informed of Christ's miracle (unbeknownst to himself), offers a prophecy that Jesus' one life needs to be ended so that the rest of the nation could be saved (John 11:49 - 52). His words are the only ones he would utter that testified of the true nature and purpose of Jesus' ministry.
The Jews, who are unsure if Christ will come to Jerusalem for Passover, issue their only recorded edict against him. The widely distributed edict states that all faithful Jews, if they see the Lord, were to report his location so that he could be arrested (John 11:57).
Long term glory
The dramatic and public nature of Lazarus being raised from the dead brought widespread glory, both immediate and long term, to God and Jesus Christ. This was, not surprisingly, the primary goal the Lord (John 11:4, 40).
Jesus' display of God's power was so amazing that even Jews who had doubted he was the promised Messiah believed on him (John 11:45).
The raising of Lazarus was still "the talk of the town" weeks later when Jesus came back to Bethany to visit him (John 12:1). In fact, after discovering Christ was in the village, many Jews came to see not only him but Lazarus as well (John 12:9)!
The miracle Jesus performed was so great and noteworthy that its impact continues to this day even in popular culture. It has inspired the creation of books, television shows, movies and even science-related terms. Examples include "The Lazarus Effect," the title of a 1983 science fiction novel, as well as the name of a 2015 horror film. Several Robert Heinlein fiction novels use a main character named Lazarus Long who possessed an incredibly long lifespan.
The modern phrase "Lazarus syndrome" refers to the medical phenomenon of circulation returning to a person after attempts at resuscitation have failed. The brief raising and dropping of an arm, in some patients who are brain-dead, is referred to as a "Lazarus sign."
Lazarus' resurrection is the greatest miracle performed by Jesus and is easily one of the most important events in the New Testament. It not only showcases God's perfect power and authority over all humans but also testifies, for all eternity, that Jesus is the promised Messiah.