Martha, Mary and Lazarus: The Gospel Accounts : A Chronological Harmony

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus

Talk in Jerusalem Before the Passover (John 11:55-57)

            People began to gather at Jerusalem before the Passover. Travel was difficult, so people who wanted to attend the Passover would arrive early to make sure they got there and had a place to stay. In addition, they would go through purification rites before hand so they would not be unclean when it was time to partake of the Passover. The idea of purification before important religious events came from when Israel received the Law from God (Exodus 19:10-11). It was an expected rite before the Passover (II Chronicles 30:13-20; Leviticus 22:1-6). People who did not purify themselves were excluded from the feast.

            John again gives us insight into the mood of the people by recording the topics of conversations in the city. People were looking for Jesus to see if he would appear. Some wondered if he wouldn’t come this year. This implies that people knew that Jesus was wanted by the Jewish leaders. Those leaders had put out word that if any knew where Jesus was, they should report it so that he could be arrested.

Dinner at Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ House (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8)

            We now approach the final week of Jesus’ life. Six days before the Passover, Jesus enters the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus for the evening meal. Plotting the last hours of Jesus’ life is a bit difficult because two different time systems were in use. We follow the Roman system of telling time. A day is marked from midnight to midnight. But the Jewish system marked a day from sunset to sunset. It appears that John follows the Jewish system in his writings.

            The Passover always took place on the fourteenth day of the month just after sundown (Leviticus 23:5), but, like our calendars, the fourteenth day could fall on any day of the week, depending on when the year started. Many people assume that the Passover fell on the seventh day of the week because of the frequent mentions of it being a Sabbath. But the Passover was always treated as a Sabbath day no matter which day of the week it fell. Special days, such as the Passover, were holy convocations. During holy convocations the same rules for the Sabbath days applied (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:6-8). These holy convocations were sometimes referred to as Sabbaths (Leviticus 23:24).

            If the Passover occurred on the seventh day of the week, then Jesus ate in Bethany on the evening of the first day of the week, which by our reckoning would be Saturday night. If the Passover occurred on the sixth day of the week, then Jesus ate in Bethany on the evening of the seventh day of the week, which by our reckoning would be Friday night. The former would imply that Jesus had been in Bethany for at least a day since travel was not permitted on the Sabbath day. The latter would imply that Jesus arrived before the Sabbath began at sundown. I believe the latter better fits all the information presented.

            You will notice that Matthew and Mark mention this account just before Judas’ betrayal, two days before the Passover (Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:1). Yet Matthew’s account especially is not chronologically presented. Both Matthew and Mark state that it occurred while Jesus was in Bethany (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3), but the wording doesn’t absolutely require that the meal took place that day. John’s wording states the supper was six days before the Passover and that the next day was the triumphal entry (John 12:12). Therefore, we conclude that Matthew and Mark are putting significant events next to each other while John is following a more chronological order of events.

            Matthew and Mark mention that the meal took place in Simon the Leper’s house. Who Simon is, we are uncertain. It would appear that he was a man who had been healed of leprosy since it would not be proper for Jews to eat with an unclean man. It is possible that Simon was married to one of the two sisters, or that they just went to his house for the meal. John’s account doesn’t specifically state at whose house the meal took place.


            At supper, Lazarus sat with Jesus at the table while Martha served the food. But Mary took a pound of spikenard sealed in an alabaster jar and most likely broke the seal on the jar. The wording allows for this or actually breaking the jar itself. Perfume jars in those days sometimes came with long narrow spouts which could be opened either by pulling out the seal or by snapping off the spout. She then poured some on Jesus’ head (Matthew and Mark’s accounts) and some on his feet , and then used her own hair to wipe his feet (John’s account).

            Some, Judas Iscariot chiefly, objected to this apparent waste of good perfume. It could have been sold for 300 denarii, which is about 10 months wages for a common laborer. That money could have been given to the poor. John points out, however, that Judas wasn’t concerned about the poor. He was the one who carried the money box and he was known to have helped himself to the funds at times.

            Jesus puts a stop to the disciples complaints to Mary. She was doing him a favor by preparing him for his burial. He wouldn’t be with them long, but if they were concerned about the poor, there would always be poor people in the world. It is proper to help the poor (Proverbs 29:7; Galatians 2:10). But what Mary had done for him would be remembered as a part of the Gospel account wherever it was taught.

Plot to Kill Lazarus (John 12:9-11)

            Despite the Jewish leader’s desire to find Jesus, many people did know that Jesus was in Bethany. They came not only to see Jesus, but they also wanted to see Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Bethany is very close to Jerusalem and those gathering for the feast wanted to see both men they had heard about.

            This attraction caused the Jewish leaders to also plot Lazarus’ death as well. They did not like that many Jews, after meeting Lazarus, were becoming followers of Jesus. There is no dispute that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the death, they just wanted the evidence removed. They could not deny that he was raised from the dead, nor could they stop the effect his resurrection had on the people, but they could kill an innocent man without charge in hopes of slowing a growing belief in Jesus.