The same Jesus who stilled storms, exorcized demons, and rose from the dead, also became so welled up with emotion one day that he wept. The creator of the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16) cried tears with a heavy heart. Many people know the shortest verse in the Bible — “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) — but not as many understand why he did.
Jesus wept because he was deeply moved and troubled in his spirit. After Lazarus died, his sister Mary told Jesus that if he had been there, her brother would still be alive. Some believe Jesus wept from sadness. Others think he was angry. But, most likely, his reaction consisted of both emotions.
What Greek words does John use to describe Jesus’ emotional reaction, and what is their precise meaning? Does the Greek word “wept” mean crying? If Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus, what exactly is he reacting to when he weeps? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Why Did Judas Iscariot Betray Jesus? to learn more.
Jesus wept after seeing Mary and others crying
Bible scholars believe that Jesus was close to the family of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. (This Mary shouldn’t be confused with Mary, Jesus’ mother, or Mary Magdalene.) In a scene filled with profound emotion, when Mary sees Jesus for the first time after Lazarus died, she “fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died'” (v. 32).
When Jesus saw Mary and the others crying, he had a strong emotional reaction. John describes it using two terms. English Bible translations mostly agree on how to render the second term: “troubled” (John 11:33). Regarding the first term, there is more variation in translations and much more discussion among scholars and commentators on John’s Gospel.
|ESV||When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.|
|KJV||When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,|
|NASB||When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,|
|NIV||When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.|
|NLT||When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.|
The reason identifying Jesus’ emotions in John 11:33 is important is because they are the cause of his weeping. Some readers may wonder if Jesus wept simply because his friend Lazarus died. Yet, he previously said that he would resurrect him: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). Therefore, Jesus probably wasn’t weeping because Lazarus was dead.
Also see How Does IHS Mean On A Cross? to learn more.
Was Jesus sad, angry, or both at Lazarus’ tomb?
What scholars discuss regarding Jesus’ reaction is whether he was sad, angry, or a combination of both. The Greek word translated “deeply moved” is enebrimesato (ἐνεβριμήσατο). It refers to being moved with anger. The emotion may include sadness, but frustration and displeasure are the dominant sentiments.
The same Greek word has connotations of anger in other verses in the Gospels. For example, most translations render the same Greek word as “sternly” in Matthew 9:30. They translate it as “scolded” in Mark 14:5. The NLT’s translation of John 11:33 reflects much more than sadness: “deep anger welled up within him.”
Since translations like “deeply moved” and “groaned in the spirit” don’t necessarily convey the idea of anger, Bible readers sometimes don’t assume it was part of Jesus’ reaction. Sometimes teachers and preachers miss it as well.
Some scholars argue that Jesus was sad but not angry (e.g. Leon Morris). Others suggest that he was mostly angry (C.K. Barrett). Yet many think he was both (see D.A. Carson below).
The Greek word translated “troubled” is etaraxen (ἐτάραξεν). It refers to being “stirred” deeply within, as in being disturbed or agitated.
John reports that in the midst of Jesus’ emotional reaction, he asked the mourners, “Where have you laid him?” to which he responded, “Lord, come and see” (v. 34).
John then states, “Jesus wept” (v. 35). The Greek word translated “wept” has a straightforward, non-debatable meaning of crying, and translations render it the same way.
|Greek word||Ἐδάκρυσεν (edakrysen)|
|Greek root word||δακρύω (dakruo)|
|Definition||to weep, to cry quietly|
|Translated “wept”||NIV, NLT, ESV, KJV, NASB|
Theologian Herman Ridderbos writes that Jesus “weeps with those who are weeping… Jesus allows himself to be caught up in the general grief over Lazaraus’s death, and there he experiences and participates in the grief of all whose loved ones have gone to the grave.”
He continues: “As the Son of God he does not come to redeem the world from imaginary grief or to make grief over death imaginary. Therefore he joins in the mourning procession for the friend whom he is to raise from the dead, and he weeps.” 
The French Reformer John Calvin writes, “Accordingly, when he is about to raise Lazarus, before he grants the cure or help, he shows by his groaning in spirit, by a strong emotion of grief and by tears, that he is as much affected by our ills as if he had suffered them in himself.” (Commentary on John)
Also see Is H Jesus’ Middle Initial? to learn more.
What are Jesus’ emotions and tears a reaction to?
Some scholars think Jesus was reacting to death (e.g. J. Ramsey Michaels). Others believe he is reacting to the unbelief of those mourning Lazarus’ (e.g. Craig Keener). Yet it could be the case that Jesus was reacting to both because they are connected in the story.
Jesus is likely reacting to the reality of death in a fallen world — although he was about to reverse it in Lazarus’ case — and the unbelief and sadness of his friends. In the scene, death, unbelief, and sadness aren’t mutually exclusive but related.
New Testament theologian D.A. Carson explains, “The same sin and death, the same unbelief, that prompted his outrage, also generated his grief. Those who follow Jesus as his disciples today do well to learn the same tension — that grief and compassion without outrage reduce to mere sentiment, while outrage without grief hardens into self-righteous arrogance and irascibility.” 
Also see Is Jesus Coming Back Soon? to learn more.
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