The Tears of the Lord Jesus
The shortest verse in the English Bible is John 11:35, “Jesus wept” (in the Greek text the shortest verse is 1 Thess. 5:16). What an exquisitely simple statement, “Jesus wept”! Just two drops of speech in the English language, yet possessing an ocean of meaning. From the standpoint of the Greek New Testament the literal translation is, “The Jesus wept,” the definite article having been used to distinguish Him from all others bearing the name “Jesus,” since it was not an uncommon name among the Jews at that time. As a case in point, a number of ancient manuscripts have an addition to the text of Matthew 27:16. They read “Jesus Barrabbas” as the name of the prisoner. While manuscript evidence for the addition of “Jesus” is not strong, it nevertheless may account for Pilate’s clarification when he said, “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barrabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ?” (Matt. 27:17).
Only three times in the New Testament is it recorded that the Lord Jesus wept (John 11:35; Luke 19:41; Heb. 5:7), and in each instance it was either sin or the consequences of sin that caused Him to weep.
Does Jesus Christ weep today? Probably not, for He is presently our risen, ascended and glorified Lord and Saviour at God’s right hand in heaven, and heaven is that place where some day all tears will be forever wiped away from the eyes and faces of God’s people (Rev. 21:4). Admittedly, though, there is such abounding sin and evil in this groaning world today that we should not be surprised if Christ on occasion does weep even now.
In a way, it is strange that the Bible never records that the Lord Jesus laughed or smiled. This is not to say that He never did so, but if He did, the Holy Spirit for some reason in His infinite wisdom did not see fit to record it. That our Lord undoubtedly did laugh and smile is in some little measure supported by the revelation of Scripture. We read that He was “anointed … with the oil of gladness above His fellows” (Heb. 1:9). Luke tells us that Christ “rejoiced” (Luke 10:21), while just prior to Calvary our Lord Himself spoke of His “joy” (John 15:11; 17:13).
Perhaps the Word of God is silent regarding the laughter of Christ in order to stress the awesome and awful nature of His solemn mission to planet earth. We are reminded that laughter is not synonymous with true joy. An easygoing, lighthearted spirit is not necessarily equivalent to genuine spirituality
Why, then, did the Lord Jesus Christ weep?
Christ Wept Because of Sin’s Inherent Penalty (John 11:32-46)
This first instance of our Lord’s weeping had its setting in Bethany (meaning “house of the afflicted one”) beside Lazarus’ grave. From among the many details describing this scene we want to single out four things centering on our Saviour, the first being:
His Sympathy (vv. 32-36). Jesus’ tears demonstrated the profound and infinite sympathy of His heart in relation to all the sorrows and trials we are called upon to go through, and remember, that sympathy has not changed (Heb. 13:8). Furthermore, His tears revealed His perfect humanity, as well as His fitness to be our Great High Priest (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:14-15).
What a revelation there is here of Christ’s love! What is recorded in John 11:3, “… behold, he whom thou lovest is sick,” is evidenced in 11:36, “… Behold, how He loved him!” The infinite intensity of our Lord’s love was attested to by the reaction of the Jews upon seeing His tears. Here is the perfect fulfillment of 1 Thessalonians 4:13b, “…that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope,” and of Romans 12:15b, “… weep with them that weep.” In relation to Christ’s tears we need to especially note that emotion did not govern but only accompanied His actions. Our weeping should be accompanied by a strong and wise faith.
His Sadness (vv. 37-40). Of this scene W. Graham Scroggie has said, “He genuinely sorrowed with those two women who were His friends, but the deepest ground of His grief was in the knowledge that by sin came death; and that fact led Him perhaps to anticipate Calvary. Christ ever had, and has, ‘a heart at leisure from itself, to sooth and sympathize.’ Are you in trouble today? He is beside you, and He cares.”
His Supplication (vv. 41-42). The bystanders must be made to know that the Father always heard the Son, so our Lord prayed as He did. Furthermore, we learn that Jesus never acted independently of the Father (see John 14:10).
It is noteworthy that in speaking to His Father about Lazarus — and He spoke to Him about everything —He asked for nothing, but thanked Him for prayer already answered. Have we ever prayed like that?
His Sovereignty (vv. 43-45). Christ spoke and Lazarus came forth! As someone has said, “The Lord’s voice was heard in hades” (v. 43). And as others have so often noted, had not the Lord Jesus spoken Lazarus’ name the dead everywhere would have “come forth.” He is Lord of both death and life.
Have you heard His voice and experienced the power of His Word in your life? (See Matt. 11:28; Rom. 10:17; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23).
We come now to the second main reason for our Lord’s tears.
Christ Wept Because of Sin’s Insidious Power (Luke 19:41-44)
Moved with compassion, the Lord Jesus drew near to a spot overlooking Jerusalem — perhaps on the Mount of Olives — and as He beheld the city He wept over it. We thus note:
His Pathos (v. 41). The Lord Jesus loved Jerusalem and its people, but alas, few of the city’s inhabitants had any love for Him (see 19:14). Furthermore, His weeping here was not just a filling of the eyes with tears along with a few muffled sighs. The Greek word for “wept” refers to audible weeping, a bursting into tears accompanied by sobs. No stronger word could have been used.
His Patience (v. 42). How patient our Lord had been with the “house of Israel”! Yet, in their wilful and sinful ignorance they were blind to the reality of His Blessed Person and redemptive mission.
As J.C. Ryle has said, “A wilful ignorance will never be allowed as a plea in a man’s favour. On the contrary, it will rather add to his guilt.”
His Prophecy (vv. 43-44). These words were fulfilled in 70 A.D. when Titus, the Roman conqueror, swept into the city, broke it down stone by stone, killing thousands, desecrating the temple, and totally wasting the city. From the time Christ spoke these words until their fulfillment, a period of 40 years elapsed wherein God graciously restrained His wrath.
Our Lord’s compassion has not changed. He lovingly longs for sinners to come to Him (see 2 Pet. 3:9). Nevertheless, eternal judgment will overtake all who reject Him. Some day His patience and longsuffering will give way to His righteous wrath and indignation against sin and all unbelieving sinners. Judgment must eventually fall, but multitudes remain wilfully ignorant of this awesome truth.
We come now to the third anti final reason for our Saviour’s tears.
Christ Wept Because of Sin’s Infinite Price (Heb. 5:5-10)
In Hebrews 5:7 we read, “Who, in the days of His flesh, when He offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared.” The scene of this text was Gethsemane, our Lord’s last conflict before Calvary. Here, in this verse and its context, we note first of all:
Christ’s Sufferings (vv. 7-8). Although none of the Gospels depict the Lord Jesus as actually weeping in Gethsemane, we are given many details of his intense agony of soul, so we are not surprised to find this record of His tears on this significant occasion.
Of Mark 14:33-35 George Henderson has helpfully written, “Please notice these words: ‘He began to be sore amazed and sore troubled and exceeding sorrowful.’ They are peculiarly strong words in the original tongue. The sore amazed is an experience of coming into a condition where all the perspectives alter, and it seemed as though the soul goes into the panic of a great fear. That was what was overwhelming Christ. The word very heavy means to be so utterly crushed with depression that one sinks into despair. It is a figure of wax that is melting before the furnace. The words exceeding sorrowful mean to be caught in the very cyclone of grief. Those are the three expressions which the Spirit of God has chosen to give us some conception of the emotion that stirred the soul of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane: the panic of a great fear, the crushing of an awful depression, the cyclone of an unutterable grief.”1
Christ’s Supplications (v. 7; see Luke 22:44). William Hoste has commented, “In the garden of Gethsemane the Lord Jesus saw the Cross in all its dread reality, and there He suffered by anticipation in a way never before experienced. It was the proper and legitimate shrinking of absolute sinlessness from contact with sin which was manifested in the prayer: ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.’ It was not fear of physical death which so distressed Him, as His own words show (John 12:27). Multitudes of His devoted followers — tender maidens as well as strong men —have faced martyrdom without a tremor. What He dreaded was the deeper, more terrible reality which is called the second death, the divine judgment upon sin.”2
Furthermore, regarding Christ’s praying as He did in the garden of Gethsemane, George Henderson has said that it was “not that He might escape death, for He was going to do that of set purpose; but that He might be delivered from the bonds of death by resurrection.”3
Christ’s Submission (v. 8). The Lord Jesus never deviated from the path set before Him. He submitted fully and perfectly to His Father’s will and “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).
The scholar John A. Bengel has said of our Lord’s Gethsemane experience: “Awful cup! Reasonable fear! Unviolated obedience! Mighty prayer! Speedy answer!”
Perhaps there is no better commentary on the significant and sobering subject of Christ’s tears than the words of the Apostle John in 1 John 4:10: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
1 Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews, p.62.
2 Ibid., pp. 62-63.
3 Ibid., p. 63.