When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
Question: When the Pharisees weighed the depravity of man against the influence of Jesus’ miracles, what did they conclude?
Answer: “All men will believe in Him.” “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.’” (John 12:19)
Question: When Jesus weighed the depravity of man against His own miracles, what did He conclude?
Answer: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21)
The Samaritans didn’t even see any miracles, and yet believed in Jesus, simply by His preaching alone: “From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done.’ So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.’” (John 4:39-42)
Calvinists often take the physical resurrection of Lazarus, who was saved, to infer an analogy to a spiritual resurrection, of those who are lost and in need of salvation. Even more significantly is that Jesus didn’t use this event in the way that Calvinists do.
Calvinist, R.C. Sproul: “Arminians do not appreciate this analogy and protest that we are here comparing apples to oranges. Obviously in the case of physical death, a corpse cannot respond or cooperate.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.186, emphasis mine)
Calvinist, James White: “On the level of spiritual capacity the unregenerate man is just like Lazarus: dead, bound, incapable of ‘self-resurrection.’ It would be patently absurd to demand that Jesus first ask Lazarus for ‘permission’ to raise him to spiritual life. Corpses are not known for engaging in a great deal of conversations. No, before Lazarus can respond to Christ’s command to come forth, something must happen. Corpses do not obey commands, corpses do not move. Jesus changed Lazarus’ condition first: Lazarus’ heart was made new; his mind revitalized. Blood began once again to course through his veins. What was once dead is now alive, and can heart the voice of his beloved Lord, ‘Come forth!’ The term ‘irresistible’ then must be understood as speaking to the inability of dead sinners to resist resurrection to new life.” (The Potter’s Freedom, pp.284-285, emphasis mine)
Dave Hunt responds to James White: “He continues to mistakenly equate spiritual death with physical death and reasons that because Lazarus didn’t give ‘permission’ to Jesus to raise him from the dead, sinners don’t have to believe the gospel to be sovereignly regenerated. ... White must rely on this false and unbiblical comparison....” (Debating Calvinism, p.210, emphasis mine)
Question: Why do Calvinists use the example of Lazarus, rather than some other person that Jesus raised from the dead?
Answer: I believe the answer has to do imagery of Lazarus coming out of the tomb.
R.C. Sproul: “We respond in a manner similar to that of Lazarus when, after being loosed, he stepped out of the tomb. In like manner we step out of our tombs of spiritual death.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.186, emphasis mine)
So this imagery of Lazarus being called out of a “tomb,” dirty and decayed, fits the Calvinist’s perspective of Total Depravity.
R.C. Sproul: “Some may argue that though Christ supplied the initial power of Lazarus’ resurrection, Lazarus nevertheless had to respond to Christ’s command to come forth from the tomb. Is this not a cooperative work, a synergism between Christ and Lazarus? Most of the confusion regarding regeneration enters the picture here.” (What is Reformed Theology?, p.185, emphasis mine)
I cannot imagine anyone entertaining those thoughts. Instead, Arminians would simply point out the fact that like Lazarus, everyone will eventually hear Jesus’ voice and be raised from the dead, both the righteous and the unrighteous, some to a resurrection of life and others to a resurrection of damnation: “‘Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.’” (John 5:28-29)
Luke Liechty: “So what were the other healing miracles? I know why they do not use them. Because those other people were merely sick and not dead. Many had the ability to approach Jesus on their own and one even touched Him without His permission. In other cases, then we can see where a person incapable of walking to Jesus could be carried by others and thus we would have to conclude that we, in some sense, are responsible for the salvation of others to which no Calvinist could affirm. Also, in other miracles, sins were forgiven BEFORE there was a change in the physical and the only reason there was a change in the physical was to demonstrate that Jesus DID have the power to forgive sins. I believe that the miracles of Jesus are an area of battle in which the case for Calvinism falls short.”
Luke Liechty: “The story of Lazarus is not about salvation but rather about the resurrection. It was to demonstrate that Jesus had power over death. Physical death. And He who has power over physical death also has the power to forgive sins. But Lazarus is NOT the picture of a dead in sins person but rather a physically dead, though having died in faith, being raised again person. John 11:25 makes that pretty clear.”
Quite right. Lazarus was not a picture of a man who was dead in sins, but a man who was saved: “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’” (John 11:23-24) So why, then, are Calvinists using the physical resurrection of Lazarus as an example of an Irresistible Grace for the unsaved?
When Arminians draw an analogy of Calvary to the Serpent on a Standard, as per Numbers 21:6-9, there is a legitimate basis to do so, since that was Jesus’ own analogy. (John 3:14-15). By comparison, there is no explicit reference by Jesus to the matter of Lazarus, concerning spiritual regeneration, and that’s the bottom line.
Ben Henshaw: “Why don’t Calvinists go the metaphor of the Bread of Life in John 6 which Jesus used to explain how people come to have life in Him? For obvious reasons of course. One must eat His flesh and drink His blood [by faith] in order to have life (Jn. 6:51-58).”
Here is a link to a Blog discussion on this topic. Here is a link to an additional discussion.