Lazarus, originally Eleazar, appropriately meaning »aided by God« in Hebrew, is a man in the Gospel of John, who dies and is then raised by Christ at the request of his sisters Mary and Martha. The episode is mysterious: his sisters send word to Jesus that Lazarus is ill, and despite the gospel asserting that Jesus loves the three of them, he stays where he is for two days before traveling to Bethany where the family lives, apparently specifically to make sure that Lazarus will have time to die. When Jesus and the disciples arrive at Bethany Lazarus has thus been dead for four days; the stone covering his tomb is removed, and Jesus calls him forth. Lazarus emerges from the tomb, clad in graveclothes and prefiguring Jesus' own resurrection; many are made to believe by witnessing the miracle. Later they have dinner.

Lazarus has become a byword for a person returned from the dead, despite the fact that the New Testament contains several other examples of such persons; presumably this is because, unlike the Young Man of Nain and Jairus' Daughter, he is provided with a proper personal name, unlike Dorcas he is raised by Christ, and unlike Christ himself, he's symbolically unambiguous.

Lazarus is also the second most common candidate for the identity of the Gospel of John's disciple whom Jesus loved, for reasons including:

  • The nameless Disciple appears only after the raising of Lazarus and not before, whereas Lazarus in turn does not reappear in the narrative once the Disciple appears, and the connection is tight: Lazarus figures in John 11-12, and the first mention of the Beloved Disciple is in John 13 (the Last Supper)
  • As noted, John 11 explicitly calls Lazarus »he whom thou lovest« and also says Jesus loves all three of them
  • The episode at the end of the gospel where Peter asks Jesus what will happen to the Beloved Disciple doesn't make much sense if the Disciple is just some other, regular apostle, but the question makes a lot of sense if Peter knows that the Beloved Disciple already died once and came back, and is thus genuinely unsure of what might happen to him now vis-à-vis dying
  • The importance of this disciple among the Brethren toward the end of the gospel despite going previously unmentioned is far clearer if he was marked out by just having been raised from the dead
  • Furthermore, if we accept the traditional identification of Mary Magdalene with Lazarus' sister Mary, which there are some good reasons to do, it explains why she goes to the Beloved Disciple and Peter after discovering the empty tomb. Normally this is a bit inscrutable; why is this rando some sort of authority on par with Peter? But if it's her brother, the sense is obvious: of course she would consult her own family first, and Lazarus is obviously strongly associated with resurrection
  • Lazarus' family is evidently fairly wealthy, not to mention that he owes Jesus big time; if he is identical to the Beloved Disciple this goes some distance toward why at the crucifixion Jesus asks the latter to take care of his mother
  • Finally, and admittedly this is getting pretty deep into the weeds of speculation, if we assume that Jesus was not God but just a guy, this whole arrangement gives a neat explanation of where Jesus actually goes after the resurrection appearances and why Mary Magdalene isn't mentioned among the disciples at any point after the same narrative: he simply goes to live in Bethany with his mom, Lazarus, Mary and Martha

I personally regard this theory as the best one, with the caveat that there's no actual reason based on the gospel itself to think that Lazarus isn't the same person as John the Evangelist.

Finally, Lazarus is also the name of a different but evidently related figure in the Gospel of Luke: a beggar in a parable told by Jesus. In this parable, a rich man after his death begs Abraham to return the likewise dead Lazarus to warn his five living brothers to repent; Abraham replies that if they will not believe though they have Moses and the Prophets, not even someone returning from the dead will convince them. As can be readily seen, this is a sort of inversion of the later narrative in John, but how exactly this is to be explained is beyond me. At any rate, it is this Lazarus who is the origin of the Italian word for a beggar and, since he is described in the parable as being covered in sores, of the word lazaret for a hospital, plague quarantine house, or leper colony.