John 20 – An Empty Tomb and A Risen Jesus
A. Discovery of the empty tomb
1. (1-2) Mary Magdalene comes upon Jesus’ tomb, finds it empty and tells the disciples about it.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
a. Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early: Jesus was crucified on Friday (or on Thursday by some accounts). After His entombment, the tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:62-66). The tomb stayed sealed and guarded until discovered on the first day of the week… early, while it was still dark.
b. Mary Magdalene… she ran and came to Simon Peter: Other gospels explain she was not the only woman to come to the tomb that morning (at least three other women accompanied her). Mary was the one who ran back and told the disciples about the empty tomb, so John mentions her.
i. Jesus had cast seven demons out of this Mary (Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9). Her troubled past didn’t disqualify her from being the first witness of the resurrected Jesus and His first commissioned messenger of His resurrection.
ii. The women came to complete the work begun by Joseph and Nicodemus. “Probably, in view of the lateness of the hour and the nearness of the sabbath, Nicodemus was not able to use all the spices he had brought in the way intended.” (Morris)
c. They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb: When she saw the empty tomb, Mary’s first reaction was to think the body of Jesus was stolen. She wasn’t wishing for or anticipating the resurrection of Jesus, and she certainly did not imagine it out of hope.
i. We do not know where: “The plural may naturally be accepted as confirming Mark’s account that she was not alone.” (Dods)
2. (3-4) Peter and John run to the tomb.
Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first.
a. Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple: Peter and John heard the news from Mary and immediately started for the tomb. In keeping with the author’s humility, John did not refer to himself directly, but only as the other disciple.
b. They both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first: John was humble enough to avoid the mention of his own name, but competitive enough to tell us that he outran Peter to the tomb.
i. By tradition, Peter was older than John. We might picture a man in his late forties or early fifties like Peter running to the tomb with great labor, and a man and his mid-twenties easily outrunning him.
ii. This shows that they both ran hard. Peter and John had just heard life-changing news: that the tomb was empty. They couldn’t be indifferent or detached to this news; they had to see for themselves.
3. (5-10) Peter and John examine the empty tomb.
And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.
a. Stooping down and looking in: Arriving first at the tomb, John was looking in (the ancient Greek word blepei meaning “to clearly see a material object”), and he saw the grave wrappings of Jesus still in the tomb (saw the linen cloths lying there). John clearly saw this, and there was no mistake about what he saw.
i. Yet he did not go in: Something kept John from actually going into the tomb. “Having seen that the graveclothes were still within, the other disciple probably concluded that the body was also there and so refrained from entering. Either he felt that he should not enter the tomb out of respect for the dead, or else he feared the ceremonial defilement of touching a corpse.” (Tenney)
ii. A typical rich man’s tomb of that time would be large enough to walk into, with a place to lay out the body on one side and a bench for mourners on the other side. The entrance might be an opening only 3 feet (1 meter) high and 2.5 feet (.75 meters) wide. It was large enough to get into, yet there was a bit of bowing and turning necessary. There was some commitment needed to go inside the tomb, and for some reason John did not go in.
b. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb: Whatever ever kept John from going in didn’t stop Peter. When he finally arrived he immediately went into the tomb. This action-oriented impulsiveness was characteristic of Peter. John wanted to stop and think about it but Peter went right in.
c. He saw the linen cloths lying there: Going in, Peter then saw (the ancient Greek word theorei meaning “to contemplate, observe, scrutinize”) that the cloths were still orderly and neat. It looked as if the body evaporated out of the burial wrappings without disturbing their place.
i. The phrasing of linen cloths lying there and folded together in a place by itself indicates the orderly arrangement of the burial wrappings. Prepared for burial, those strips of linen cloths were smeared with ointments and aloes and spices, and the linen cloths were applied in several layers. The burial of Jesus on the day of His death was hurried, and the women came early Sunday morning to apply more layers.
ii. The mixture of ointments and aloes and spices would dry and harden the linen cloths, making something of a mummy or a cocoon. The normal removal of these burial wrappings would require some tearing or cutting; Peter saw that it was no normal removal of the burial wrappings. “The whole point of the description is that the grave-clothes did not look as if they had been put off or taken off; they were lying there in their regular folds as if the body of Jesus had simply evaporated out of them.” (Barclay)
iii. The neat, orderly arrangement of the linen cloths showed that a human hand, at least not in any way that was immediately apparent, did not remove the burial wrappings of Jesus. All this demonstrated that something absolutely unique had happened in that now-empty tomb.
· The linen cloths were there – the body had not been removed with them.
· The linen cloths were orderly – not removed in any normal way by the person wrapped in them.
· The linen cloths were orderly – not removed by grave robbers or vandals.
iv. It has been suggested that the burial wrappings of Jesus have been preserved in the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud of Turin can probably never be positively proved to be part of the burial wrappings of Jesus. But, “The evidence thus far indicates the probable conclusions that the shroud is ancient (perhaps from the first century), that it does not contradict the NT accounts, and that the image is not a fake. It may well be the actual burial garment of Jesus.” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology)
v. The image on the shroud is of a crucified male, bearded, 5’11” in height, weighing about 175 pounds. His physique was muscular and well built, and he is an estimated age of 30-35 years. His long hair is tied into a pigtail and there is no evidence on decomposition on the cloth. Results of the Shroud of Turin Research Project in October 1978 determined that the Shroud is not a painting or a forgery. They determined that its blood is real blood and the image seems to be some type of scorch, though they cannot account for how it was made.
vi. The Shroud of Turin is an interesting object, yet there are also reasons for skepticism.
· John described two aspects of the grave wrappings: the linen cloths and the handkerchief that had been around His head. This would imply that the head and the body of Jesus were wrapped separately, while the Shroud of Turin presents an image of an entire body on one cloth. It is possible that the Shroud was underneath those two sets of wrappings and unmentioned by John, but we can’t say that John describes a fabric such as the Shroud of Turin.
· However, Trench suggests: “The winding sheet which had been folded over all (Matthew, Mark, Luke) must have been unfolded and laid back along either side so as to leave the bandage-casing exposed.”
· We may suppose a good reason why God would not want or allow the preservation of Jesus’ burial wrappings, not wanting to leave behind a relic that would be inevitably worshipped.
vii. The handkerchief that had been around His head: “This means the headcloth still retained the shape the contour of Jesus’ head had given it and that It was still separated from the other wrappings by a space that suggested the distance between the neck of the deceased and the upper chest, where the wrappings of the body would have begun.” (Tenney)
d. The other disciple… he saw and believed: After Peter went into the tomb John also went in. He then saw (the ancient Greek word eiden meaning, “to understand, to perceive the significance of”) and then John believed. The distinctive arrangement of the burial wrappings convinced him.
i. Generally, the very first Christians did not believe in the resurrection only because the tomb was empty, but because they saw and met the resurrected Jesus. John was something of an exception; he believed simply by seeing the empty tomb, before meeting the resurrected Jesus.
ii. “He believed that Jesus was risen from the dead. He received into his mind, embraced with his assent, THE FACT OF THE RESURRECTION, for the first time. He did this, on the ocular testimony before him; for as yet neither of them knew the Scripture.” (Alford)
iii. “John believed, but Peter was still in the dark. Again the former had outrun his friend.” (Maclaren)
iv. “Some of the best books on the Resurrection have been written by lawyers, some of whom originally set out to disprove it. I am thinking of men like Frank Morrison, Gilbert West, J.N.D. Anderson, and others. Sir Edward Clark, another English jurist, once wrote: ‘As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the first Easter day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling… As a lawyer I accept it unreservedly as the testimony of men to facts that they were able to substantiate.” (Boice)
e. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead: At this point Peter and John were persuaded of the fact of the resurrection; they believed. Yet because they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead, they did not understand the meaning of the resurrection.
i. Knowing the fact of the resurrection is an important start, but not enough. We need to let the Bible tell us the meaning and the importance of Jesus’ resurrection.
· The resurrection means that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).
· The resurrection means that we have assurance of our own resurrection: For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
· The resurrection means that God has an eternal plan for these bodies of ours. “There was nothing in the teaching of Jesus approaching the Gnostic heresy that declared that the flesh is inherently evil. Plato could only get rid of sin by getting rid of the body. Jesus retains the body; and declares that God feeds the body as well as the soul, that the body is as sacred thing as the soul, since the soul makes it its sanctuary.” (Morgan)
· The resurrection means that Jesus has a continuing ministry: He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).
· The resurrection means that Christianity and its God are unique and completely different and unique among world religions.
· The resurrection proves that though it looked like Jesus died on the cross as a common criminal He actually died as a sinless man, out of love and self-sacrifice to bear the guilt of our sin. The death of Jesus on the cross was the payment, but the resurrection was the receipt, showing that the payment was perfect in the sight of God the Father.
B. Mary Magdalene meets the risen Jesus.
1. (11-13) Mary, stricken with grief, sees two angels in the empty tomb.
But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
a. Mary stood outside the tomb weeping: Peter and John examined the evidence of the empty tomb and John was persuaded that Jesus rose from the dead, though he did not yet understand the meaning of it all. Mary did not yet have the confidence that Jesus was resurrected, so she wept.
b. As she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb: Mary wanted to see what Peter and John saw, so she made her own examination. Yet in the moment between their examination and Mary’s, something was different in the tomb.
c.She saw two angels in white sitting: Mary didn’t notice the burial wrappings and their curious arrangement; now there were two angels in the tomb. Mary didn’t seem to react with shock or fear; she probably did not immediately perceive that they were angels (Hebrews 13:2).
i. “The presence of angels was a trifle to Mary, who had only one thought – the absence of her Lord.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Sent for her sake, and the rest, to certify them of the resurrection. It is their office (and they are glad of it) to comfort and counsel the saints still, as it were by speaking and doing after a spiritual manner.” (Trapp)
iii. One at the head and the other at the feet: “So were the cherubim placed at each end of the mercy-seat: Exodus 25:18, 19.” (Clarke)
d. They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him: Mary wasn’t thinking or dreaming that Jesus was alive. She believed He was still dead, and only wanted to know where He was so she could do the final work of preparing His body for burial. This is more evidence that she didn’t notice the burial cloths because of the angels.
2. (14-16) Mary meets Jesus.
Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).
a. She turned around and saw Jesus standing there: Mary wondered and worried about where Jesus was, but He wasn’t far away.
i. “Perhaps Mary withdrew abruptly. She may have heard a movement behind her. Or, as many commentators from Chrysostom down have held, the angels might have made some motion at the sight of the Lord behind Mary. We do not know.” (Morris)
b. Did not know that it was Jesus: Mary certainly knew who Jesus was, and it was strange that she did not immediately recognize Him. Some think it was because she was emotionally distressed and had tears in her eyes. Others speculate it was because Jesus looked somewhat different, retaining at least some of the marks of His suffering.
i. “She did not expect Him to be there, and was wholly preoccupied with other thoughts.” (Alford)
ii. “Not merely because her eyes were dim with tears, but because He was altered in appearance; as Mark (16:12).” (Dods)
iii. “There seems to have been something different about the risen Jesus so that He was not always recognized.” (Morris)
c. Why are You weeping? Whom are you seeking? Jesus did not immediately reveal Himself to Mary. It wasn’t to play some trick on her; it was to break through her unbelief and forgetfulness of Jesus’ promise of resurrection.
d. Tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away: It’s possible that Mary was a large, strong woman and was physically capable of carrying away the body of a dead man. It is more likely that she was simply so filled with sorrow and devotion that she isn’t thinking through her plans carefully.
i. “Her words reveal her devotion. She never paused to consider how she would carry the corpse of a full-grown man or how she would explain her possession of it.” (Tenney)
ii. “How true is the proverb, Love feels no load! Jesus was in the prime of life when he was crucified, and had a hundred pounds weight of spices added to his body; and yet Mary thinks of nothing less than carrying him away with her, if she can but find where he is laid!” (Clarke)
e. Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Jesus had only to say one word, and all was explained. She heard in the name and the tone the voice of her beloved Messiah, and instantly called Him Rabboni (as did another Mary in John 11:28).
i. “Jesus says to her, ‘Mariam,’ the Hebrew name, of which the Greek form is Maria.” (Trench) Jesus didn’t reveal Himself to Mary by telling her who He was, but by telling her who she was to Him.
ii. Her eyes failed her, but her ears could not mistake that voice saying her name. “Many had called her by that name. She had been wont to hear it many times a day from many lips; but only One had spoken it with that intonation.” (Meyer)
iii. “Never was a one-word utterance more charged with emotion than this.” (Tasker) “Jesus can preach a perfect sermon in one word.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “In the garden of Eden, immediately after the Fall, the sentence of sorrow, and of sorrow multiplied, fell upon the woman. In the garden where Christ had been buried, after his resurrection, the news of comfort — comfort rich and divine, — came to a woman through the woman’s promised Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ. If the sentence must fall heavily upon the woman, so must the comfort come most sweetly to her.” (Spurgeon)
3. (17-18) Jesus sends Mary to tell the disciples.
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.
a. Do not cling to Me: Some confusion has come regarding what Jesus meant, mostly owing to the phrasing of this in the older King James Version: Touch me not. Some think Jesus told Mary not to touch Him in any way, as if her contact would somehow defile Him. Yet the sense is that Mary immediately held on to Jesus and did not want to let Him go.
i. “Probably we should understand the Greek tense here in the strict sense. The present imperative with a negative means ‘Stop doing something’ rather than ‘Do not do something’.” (Morris)
ii. “Jesus was not protesting that Mary should not touch Him lest He be defiled, but was admonishing her not to detain Him because He would see her and the disciples again.” (Tenney)
iii. “We need not be detained by that curiosity of exegesis which supposes that he still had to enter the heavenly holy of holies to complete the antitype of the Day of Atonement initiated by his sacrifice on the cross.” (Bruce)
iv. This also shows that the resurrection body of Jesus was different, yet similar to His pre-resurrection body. It was definitely real and tangible, and Jesus was not a phantom.
b. Go to My brethren and say to them: Jesus made a woman the first witness of His resurrection. The law courts of that day would not recognize the testimony of a woman, but Jesus did.
i. This also argues for the historic truth of this account. If someone fabricated this story, they would not make the first witnesses to the resurrection women, who were commonly (if unfairly) regarded as unreliable witnesses.
ii. “Celsus, the anti-Christian polemicist of the later second century, dismisses the resurrection narrative as based on the hallucinations of a ‘hysterical woman’.” (Bruce)
iii. My brethren: It is touching that Jesus referred to His disciples – those who had all forsaken Him, except for John – as His brethren. It’s also touching that Mary understood exactly who He meant.
iv. “I do not remember that the Lord Jesus ever called his disciples his brethren till that time. He called them ‘servants’; he called them ‘friends’; but now that he has risen from the dead, he says, ‘my brethren.’” (Spurgeon)
c. I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God: Jesus did not say, Our Father and God, and therefore pointed out a difference between His relationship with God and the disciples’ relationship with God. The One enthroned in the heavens is certainly their Father and God, but not in the identical way that He is Father and God to Jesus.
i. “He says not ‘Our Father’: in one sense therefore, He is mine, in another sense He is yours; by nature mine, by grace yours… my God, under whom I also am as a man; your God, between whom and you I am a mediator.” (Augustine)
ii. He also made specific mention of His coming ascension. The word of His ascension let them know He was raised never to die again.
C. The disciples meet the risen Jesus.
1. (19) Jesus appears in their midst.
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
a. The same day at evening: This took place on the same day that the tomb was found empty and Mary met the resurrected Jesus. We are told of five appearances of Jesus on the resurrection day.
· To Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18).
· To the other women (Matthew 28:9-10).
· To the two on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-32).
· To Peter (Luke 24:33-35, 1 Corinthians 15:5).
· To ten of the disciples, Thomas being absent (John 20:19-23).
b. Where the disciples were assembled: It was good that the disciples stayed together. Jesus told them that when He departed they must love one another, which assumes that they would stay together (John 15:17). He also prayed for their unity after their departure (John 17:11). This command was fulfilled and prayer was answered, at least in the days immediately after His crucifixion.
c. When the doors were shut: The sense is not only that the doors were shut, but secured and locked against any unwelcome entry. The idea is that the room was secure when suddenly Jesus came and stood in the midst. We aren’t told how Jesus entered the room, but the sense is that it was not in any normal way and that He seemed to simply appear.
i. “When he tells us that the doors were ‘shut’ we should understand this to mean ‘locked’ as the following explanation, that this was due to fear of the Jews, shows.” (Morris)
ii. The doors were shut and locked so they wouldn’t get hurt. Those shut and locked doors also shut out Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus was greater than the shut and locked doors, and made His way in despite them. Still, it’s better to unlock and open the door for Jesus.
iii. “Afterwards, when the Spirit came down upon them, they not only set open the doors, but preached Christ boldly in the temple without dread of danger.” (Trapp)
iv. Jesus came and stood: “The word describes that unseen arrival among them which preceded His becoming visible to them.” (Alford)
v. This strange and miraculous appearance of Jesus apparently was to demonstrate that resurrection bodies are not subject to the same limitations as our present bodies. Since we will be raised in the same manner as Jesus (Romans 6:4, 1 Corinthians 15:42-45), this gives us some hint of the nature of our future body in the resurrection.
vi. “We can scarcely say more than that John wants us to see that the risen Jesus was not limited by closed doors. Miraculously He stood in their midst.” (Morris)
vii. Jesus might have gone anywhere and done anything after His resurrection, but He wanted to be with His people. He sought out His people.
d. Peace be with you: After their desertion of Jesus on the day of His crucifixion, the disciples probably expected words of rebuke or blame. Instead, Jesus brought a word of peace, reconciling peace.
i. “‘Peace to you,’ is an assurance that there is no cause to fear, and that all is well: for they (Luke 24:36) were alarmed by His manifestation.” (Trench)
ii. “Our Master came to his cowardly, faithless disciples, and stood in the midst of them, uttering the cheering salutation, ‘Peace be unto you!’ My soul, why should he not come to thee, though thou be the most unworthy of all whom he has bought with his blood?” (Spurgeon)
2. (20-23) The risen Jesus serves His disciples.
When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
a. He showed them His hands and His side: Jesus assured them He was actually Jesus of Nazareth and that He was really raised from the dead. Jesus did this for more than the 10 disciples present; Luke mentioned this gathering as including not only the disciples but also those who were with them gathered together (Luke 24:33) and that Jesus invited them to actually touch His body to see that it was real (Luke 24:39-40).
i. “Jesus did not come into their midst to show them a new thought, a philosophic discovery, or even a deep doctrine, or a profound mystery, or indeed anything but himself. He was a sacred egoist that day, for what he spake of was himself; and what he revealed was himself.” (Spurgeon)
b. Peace to you! Jesus just gave them the blessing of His peace (John 20:19). Perhaps the emphasis there was to calm their fear and shock at the moment (Luke 24:36). The repetition of this promise makes this gift of peace much larger and more significant. The resurrected Jesus brings peace.
i. “He had faced and defeated all the forces which destroy the peace of man. As He said, ‘Peace be unto you,’ He was doing infinitely more than expressing a wish. He was making a declaration. He was bestowing a benediction. He was imparting a blessing.” (Morgan)
· My sins are forgiven – peace.
· The slavery to sin is broken – peace.
· My Savior takes my fears and cares – peace.
· My life is settled for eternity – peace.
ii. “We must ourselves have peace both inwardly and outwardly, before we can effectively preach the gospel of peace to others.” (Boice)
c. As the Father has sent Me, I also send you: Jesus gave His disciples a mission, to continue His work on this earth. This was the commission to do what Jesus had already prayed for in John 17:18: As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
i. This means that both then and now, disciples are sent after the pattern of the Father’s sending of the Son. As previously observed on John 17:18, this means that disciples are sent ones – missionaries, after the Latin verb “to send.”
ii. Luke 24:33 described this meeting on the evening of Resurrection Sunday and is important: the eleven and those who were with them gathered together. It means that it was not only the 10 disciples (lacking Judas and Thomas) who received from Jesus the Holy Spirit and this commission. It means that Jesus sends every believer into the world on mission.
iii. As with John 17:18, we think of how Jesus was sent and connect it with the truth, I also send you. We are sent the same way Jesus was.
· Jesus was not sent as a philosopher like Plato or Aristotle, though He knew higher philosophy than them all.
· Jesus was not sent as an inventor or a discoverer, though He could have invented new things and discovered new lands.
· Jesus was not sent as a conqueror, though He was mightier than Alexander or Caesar.
· Jesus was sent to teach.
· Jesus was sent to live among us.
· Jesus was sent to suffer for truth and righteousness.
· Jesus was sent to rescue men.
d. Receive the Holy Spirit: Jesus gave His disciples the Holy Spirit, bringing new life and the ability to carry out their mission. It seems John noted a deliberate connection between this breathing on the disciples and when at creation God breathed life into man. This was a work of re-creation, even as God breathed life into the first man. This is where the disciples were born again.
i. “Intimating, by this, that they were to be made new men, in order to be properly qualified for the work to which he had called them; for in this breathing he evidently alluded to the first creation of man, when God breathed into him the breath of lives.” (Clarke)
ii. “The Greek word is the same as used by the LXX in those two pregnant phrases of the O.T., viz. Genesis 2:7, ‘the Lord God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath (or The Spirit) of Life’; and Ezekiel 37:9, ‘breathe into these slain and they shall live’ (the vision of the Dry Bones).” (Trench)
iii. “At an earlier stage in Jesus’ ministry the evangelist had said, ‘the Spirit was not yet present, because Jesus had not yet been glorified’ (John 7:39): now the time for imparting the Spirit has come.” (Bruce)
iv. They received the same Holy Spirit that was in Jesus; the same Spirit that empowered and enabled all His words and works. “The breathing upon them was meant to convey the impression that His very own Spirit was imparted to them.” (Dods)
e. If you forgive the sins of any: Jesus gave His disciples authority to announce forgiveness and to warn of guilt, as authorized by the Holy Spirit. We can say that Peter’s preaching on Pentecost (Acts 2:38) was an exercise of this promised power to announce forgiveness of sins.
i. The connection with the reception of the Holy Spirit is important. “The words of Jesus emphasize that the Holy Spirit is not bestowed on the church as an ornament but to empower an effective application of the work of Christ to all men.” (Tenney)
ii. This lays down the duty of the church to proclaim forgiveness to the repentant believer, and the duty of the church to warn the unbeliever that they are in danger of forfeiting the mercy of God. We don’t create the forgiveness or deny it; we announce it according to God’s word and the wisdom of the Spirit.
iii. “The Church collectively declares the conditions on which sins are remitted, and with the plenary powers of an ambassador pronounces their remission or their retention.” (Trench)
iv. “He is saying that the Spirit-filled church has the authority to declare which are the sins that are forgiven and which are the sins that are retained. This accords with the Rabbinical teaching which spoke of certain sins as ‘bound’ and others as ‘loosed’.” (Morris)
v. The work of Jesus for His disciples on resurrection Sunday gives an ongoing pattern for His work among His people. Jesus wants to continue this fourfold ministry of assurance, mission, the Holy Spirit and authority to His people today.
3. (24-25) The skepticism of Thomas, the absent disciples.
Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
a. Thomas… was not with them when Jesus came: We are not told why Thomas was not with them and Thomas was not criticized for his absence.
b. We have seen the Lord: Thomas was not criticized for his absence, but he still missed out. There was a blessing for those present that Thomas did not receive.
i. “Thomas did the very worst thing that a melancholy man can do, went away to brood in a corner by himself, and so to exaggerate all his idiosyncrasies, to distort the proportion of the truth, and hug his despair, by separating himself from his fellows. Therefore he lost what they got, the sight of the Lord.” (Maclaren)
c. Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe: Thomas is often known as Doubting Thomas, a title that misstates his error and ignores what became of him. Here we could say that Thomas didn’t doubt; he plainly and strongly refused to believe.
· Thomas refused the believe the testimony of many witnesses and reliable witnesses.
· Thomas made an extreme demand for evidence; evidence of not only sight but of touch, and to repeatedly touch the multiple wounds of Jesus.
· Thomas steadfastly refused to believe unless these conditions were met (I will not believe).
i. “Normally this is taken to indicate that Thomas was of a more skeptical turn of mind than the others, and, of course, he may have been. But another possibility should not be overlooked, namely that he was so shocked by the tragedy of the crucifixion that he did not find it easy to think of its consequences as being annulled.” (Morris)
ii. “Perhaps he had abandoned hope; – the strong evidence of his senses having finally convinced him that the pierced side and wounded hands betokened such a death that revivification was impossible.” (Alford)
iii. Adam Clarke called Thomas’ unbelief unreasonable, obstinate, prejudiced, presumptuous, and insolent. Still, it was good and significant that Thomas still wanted to be around those who believed.
iv. The unbelief of Thomas was strong, but honestly spoken. It was good that he refused to pretend to believe when he did not believe.
v. Some find it interesting that Thomas made no mention of wounds in the feet of Jesus. “There is no mention in this Gospel, or in Matthew or Luke, of the piercing of the feet. That the feet of Jesus may have been nailed to the cross, rather than fastened with a rope, which was the common practice, is an inference from Luke 24:39.” (Tasker)
4. (26-27) One week later, Jesus speaks to the skeptic Thomas.
And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
a. After eight days: The idea is that Jesus had this meeting with the disciples now including Thomas on the following Sunday. Jesus entered the room in the same mysterious and remarkable way (the doors being shut, and stood in the midst). Jesus also gave the same greeting (Peace to you!).
i. The locked doors of their meeting room show that though they believed Jesus to be raised from the dead, that truth had yet to work its meaning and significance into every area of their thinking and actions.
ii. There is significance in that these two important meetings with Jesus and His assembled disciples took place on Sundays; this is the first indication we have of Sunday meetings of the disciples. “The memory of this coming of the Lord to his disciples may well have something to do with the church’s early practice of meeting together on the evening of the first day of the week and bespeaking his presence with them in the words Marana tha, ‘Our Lord, come!’” (Bruce)
b. Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side: Jesus granted Thomas the evidence he demanded. We suppose that Jesus was not obligated to do this; He could have rightly demanded faith from Thomas on the basis of the reliable evidence from others. Yet in mercy and kindness, Jesus gave Thomas what he asked for.
i. It must have been a surprise to Thomas that Jesus repeated back to him just what he said to the other disciples (John 20:25). Jesus knew the demands and unbelief of Thomas.
ii. “There is no surer way of making a good man ashamed of his wild words than just to say them over again to him when he is calm and cool.” (Maclaren)
iii. Jesus’ interaction with Thomas shows that the resurrected Jesus is full of love and graciousness and gentleness to His people. That didn’t change. “The whole conversation was indeed a rebuke, but so veiled with love that Thomas could scarcely think it so.” (Spurgeon)
iv. There is a clear lesson: When you want assurance, look to the wounds of Jesus. They are evidence of His love, of His sacrifice, of His victory, of His resurrection.
c. Do not be unbelieving, but believing: Jesus clearly commanded Thomas to stop his unbelief and to start believing. Jesus was generous and merciful to Thomas and his unbelief, but Jesus did not praise his unbelief. Jesus wanted to move him from doubt and unbelief to faith.
i. Jesus did not even credit to Thomas his prior belief, or his belief in the prior teaching and miracles of Jesus. Because Thomas did not believe in the resurrected Jesus, Jesus considered him unbelieving.
ii. Often God does not condemn our doubt and He also often reveals and does remarkable things to speak to our doubt and unbelief. But doubt and unbelief are not desired conditions for the disciple of Jesus. If they are checkpoints along a path leading to faith they should be dealt with a generous love; but doubt and unbelief should never be thought of as destinations for the disciple.
5. (28-29) Thomas responds in faith.
And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
a. My Lord and my God: Thomas made an immediate transition from declared unbelief (John 20:25) to radical belief. He addressed Jesus with titles of deity, calling Him Lord and God. It is also significant that Jesus accepted these titles, and did not tell Thomas, “Don’t call Me that.”
i. “Sight may have made Thomas believe that Jesus was risen, but it was something other and more inward than sight that opened his lips to cry, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (Maclaren)
ii. “Thomas now avows the faith which a foretime he had disclaimed. ‘I will not believe,’ said he, ‘except-except- except.’ Now he believes a great deal more than some of the other Apostles did; so he openly avows it. He was the first divine who ever taught the Deity of Christ from his wounds.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The words are not a mere exclamation of surprise. That is forbidden by [greek text]; they mean, ‘Thou are my Lord and my God’. The repeated pronoun lends emphasis.” (Dods)
iv. “For a Jew to call another human associate ‘my Lord and my God’ would be almost incredible….Thomas, in the light of the Resurrection, applied to Jesus the titles of Lord (kyrios) and God (theos), both of which were titles of deity.” (Tenney)
v. “In Pliny’s letter to Trajan (112 A.D.) he describes the Christians as singing hymns to Christ as God.” (Dods)
vi. Thomas was honest enough to say when he didn’t believe (John 20:25), but also honest enough to follow the evidence to its full meaning. Thomas wasn’t given to half-unbelief or half-faith.
vii. Spurgeon considered many aspects of Thomas’ declaration.
· It was a devout expression of holy wonder.
· It was an expression of immeasurable delight.
· It indicates a complete change of mind.
· It was an enthusiastic profession of allegiance to Christ.
· It was a distinct and direct act of adoration, worship.
viii. “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he be able to unite with Thomas heartily in this creed, ‘My Lord and my God.’ I do not go in for all the minute distinctions of the Athanasian Creed, but I have no doubt that it was absolutely needful at the time it was written, and that it materially helped to check the evasions and tricks of the Arians. This short creed of Thomas I like much better, for it is brief, pithy, full, sententious, and it avoids those matters of detail which are the quicksands of faith.” (Spurgeon)
b. Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed: Commentators divide over whether or not Thomas actually did as Jesus invited him, to actually touch the wounds of Jesus. That Jesus said, because you have seen Me and not because you have seen and touched Me gives some evidence to the idea that Thomas did not actually touch the wounds of Jesus.
c. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed: There is a special promise blessing given to those who believe. Thomas demanded to see and touch before he would believe in the resurrected Jesus. Jesus understood that the testimony of reliable witnesses was evidence enough, and there was a blessing for those who accepted that sufficient evidence.
i. “I believe He is speaking, not of a subjective faith, but of a satisfied faith. He is speaking of faith that is satisfied with what God provides and is therefore not yearning for visions, miracles, esoteric experiences or various form of success as evidence of God’s favor.” (Boice)
ii. “From this we learn that to believe in Jesus, on the testimony of his apostles, will put a man into the possession of the very same blessedness which they themselves enjoyed. And so has God constituted the whole economy of grace that a believer, at eighteen hundred years’ distance from the time of the resurrection, suffers no loss because he has not seen Christ in the flesh.” (Clarke)
iii. These words of Jesus are another beatitude, and promise a great blessing. Spurgeon considered some ways that this blessing would be diminished.
· When we demand for a voice, a vision, a revelation to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some special circumstances to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some ecstatic experience.
· When we demand for an answer to every difficult question or objection.
· When we demand what men think of as success in our work of Jesus.
· When we demand that others support us in our faith.
iv. The faith of Thomas becomes the climax of the book. Throughout the Gospel of John Jesus has triumphed over sickness, sin, evil men, death and sorrow. Now with Thomas, Jesus conquered unbelief.
6. (30-31) The summary statement of the Gospel of John.
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
a. Jesus did many other signs: John admits that he presented an incomplete collection. He couldn’t possibly record in writing all that Jesus said and did (John 21:25).
i. One collects everything possible about a dead prophet; it is all one has of him. But one only tells enough of a living person to introduce one’s hearers to him. John trusts that a personal relationship with Jesus will reveal more to the believer.
ii. In this book: “That this was the original or intended conclusion of the gospel is shown by the use of the words ‘in this book,’ which indicate that the writer was now looking back on it as a whole.” (Dods)
b. These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: Though there were many other signs, John selected the signs presented in His Gospel to explain Jesus and bring readers to faith in Jesus as Messiah and God. This really isn’t a book about signs – it is a book about Jesus. The signs are helpful as they reveal Jesus.
i. The Gospel – and all of the Bible – was written so that we may believe, not that we might doubt. “There is no text in the whole Book which was intended to create doubt. Doubt is a seed self-sown, or sown by the devil, and it usually springs up with more than sufficient abundance without our care.” (Spurgeon)
ii. John 2:11 speaks of the beginning of signs, and throughout his Gospel John has listed at least seven signs.
· John 2:1-11 – Water into wine.
· John 4:46-54 – Healing of the nobleman’s son.
· John 5:1-15 – Healing at the pool of Bethesda.
· John 6:1-14 – Feeding the 5,000.
· John 6:15-21 – Jesus walks on water.
· John 9:1-12 – Healing of the man born blind.
· John 11:1-44 – Lazarus raised from the dead.
iii. The greatest signs of all were the death and resurrection of Jesus. Collectively, these signs give strong foundation for faith in Jesus as Messiah and God. That faith isn’t a blind leap; it is a reasonable step based on strong evidence.
iv. The Son of God: “The title does not, of course, imply biological descent like that of the Greco-Roman demigods; but the metaphor of sonship expresses the unity of nature, close fellowship, and unique intimacy between Jesus and the Father.” (Tenney)
c. And that believing you may have life in His name: John understood that faith in Jesus as Messiah and God had value beyond the honorable recognition of truth. It also carried the promise of life in His name. This was life that transformed John himself, and he wanted that same life and transformation for all through his Gospel account.
i. This belief isn’t complicated. Our response is as simple as ABC: Accept, Believe, and Commit. It isn’t always easy, but it isn’t complicated.
ii. Life in His name: “Through his name does not mean ‘through the naming of His name’, but through the power of the Person who bears the name. In the Bible the ‘name’ of God is not merely the name by which He is designated, but all that He is in Himself.” (Tasker)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission