THE TOMB IS EMPTY -Mary did not meet the risen Christ until she had discovered the empty tomb. She responded with joy and obedience by going to tell the disciples. We cannot meet Christ until we discover that he is indeed alive, that his tomb is empty. Are you filled with joy by this good news? How can you share it with others?
Jesus Rises from the Dead / 20:1-10
The truth of Christianity rests heavily on the Resurrection. If Jesus rose from the grave, who saw him? How trustworthy were the witnesses? Those who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus went on to turn the world upside down. Most of them also died for being followers of Christ. People rarely die for halfhearted belief. Chapter 20 of John’s Gospel contains the record of Jesus’ resurrection, the first appearances to his followers, and John’s personal discovery of the empty tomb.
20:1-2 Mary Magdalene was one of several women who had followed Jesus to the cross, watched his crucifixion (19:25), and then remained to see where he was buried (Matthew 27:61). She, along with other women, was an early follower of Jesus who traveled with him and helped provide for the financial needs of the group (Luke 8:1-3). Mary was obviously grateful to Jesus for freeing her from the torment of demon possession. She was from Magdala, a town near Capernaum in Galilee.
Because of the short interim between Jesus’ death and the coming of the Sabbath on Friday evening, the women who had stood by the cross had not had time to anoint Jesus. When the Sabbath arrived with the sunset on Friday, they had to go to their homes and rest. But after sundown on Saturday, the end of the Sabbath, they probably purchased and/or prepared the spices, then early Sunday morning Mary Magdalene came to anoint the body of Jesus with certain spices. According to the other Gospel accounts, she was joined by Mary the mother of James, Salome (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1), and perhaps other women as well.
Mark records that as the women were on their way to the tomb, they were discussing how they would remove the stone that had been rolled across the entrance (Mark 16:3). But this would not be a problem, because as they approached they found that the stone had been rolled away. The other Gospel accounts record that angels spoke to the women.
Mary Magdalene, and the other women, ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved (probably John).They had been in the tomb, the body was gone, and they assumed that someone had taken the Lord’s body.\
*LIFE APPLICATION – WHAT CAN YOU DO?
These women had followed Joseph to the tomb, and so they knew exactly where to find Jesus’ body when they returned after the Sabbath with their spices and ointments. These women could not do some things for Jesus—they were not permitted to stand up before the Jewish council or the Roman governor and testify on his behalf—but they did what they could. They stayed at the cross when most of the disciples had fled, and they got ready to anoint their Lord’s body. Because of their devotion, they were the first to know about the Resurrection. As believers, we may feel we can’t do much for Jesus. But we are called to take advantage of the opportunities given us, doing what we can do and not worrying about what we cannot do.
20:3-5 Though John’s youthful legs carried him more swiftly to the grave, once he was there he stooped and looked in, but he waited for Peter’s arrival before entering the cave. Resurrection would not have been their first thought. None of the possible natural explanations for the missing body were of any comfort. If Jesus’ body had been stolen or moved by the religious leaders, the disciples would have reason to worry about their own fate.
The conception, birth, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are supernatural events beyond human logic or reasoning. Because of this, God sent angels to help certain people understand the significance of what was happening (see Matthew 2:13, 19; Luke 1:11, 26; 2:9; 24:4-7).
Angels are spiritual beings created by God who help carry out his work on earth. They bring God’s messages to people (Luke 1:26ff.; 24:4-7), protect God’s people (Daniel 6:22), offer encouragement (Genesis 16:7ff.), give guidance (Exodus 14:19), carry out punishment (2 Samuel 24:16), patrol the earth (Zechariah 1:9-14), and fight the forces of evil (2 Kings 6:16-18; Revelation 20:1-2). There are both good and bad angels (Revelation 12:7), but because bad angels are allied with the devil, or Satan, they have considerably less power and authority than good angels. Eventually the main role of angels will be to offer continuous praise to God (Revelation 7:11-12).
20:6-7 Close examination revealed that the linen wrappings had been left—perhaps as if Jesus had passed right through them. The cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was rolled up separately from the other wrappings that had enveloped Jesus’ body. A grave robber couldn’t possibly have made off with Jesus’ body and left the linens as if they were still shaped around it. The neatness and order indicated that there was not a hasty removal of Jesus’ body. Rather, Jesus arose and left the wrappings lying there, empty.
20:8-9 When John saw the empty tomb and the empty graveclothes, he instantly believed that Jesus must have risen from the dead. The text stresses the importance here of John “seeing and believing” to affirm the eyewitness account of an apostle. Most believers would not have this opportunity; they would have to base their faith on what these witnesses reported. John explains that until then they hadn’t realized that the Scriptures said he would rise from the dead. Though Jesus had told them, it took the experience for them to understand. Some of the Scriptures that foretold this included Psalm 16:10 and Isaiah 53:11.
John’s account also demonstrates that the disciples couldn’t have “invented” the Resurrection in order to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies because they did not immediately see any Old Testament connection. The fact of the Resurrection opened the disciples’ minds to see that God had foretold his plan through the prophets.
20:10 Perplexed, John and Peter left and went home. They “believed” in something miraculous; that is, they did not fear that Jesus’ body had been stolen, as Mary had, but they did not know for sure what they believed or what they should do next. So they just went home. Later, they joined with the other disciples behind locked doors (see 20:19).
*LIFE APPLICATION: THE KEY
Why is Jesus’ resurrection the key to the Christian faith?
- Jesus rose from the dead, just as he said. We can be confident, therefore, that Jesus will accomplish all he has promised.
- Jesus’ bodily resurrection shows us that the living Christ, not a false prophet or impostor, is ruler of God’s eternal kingdom.
- Because Jesus was resurrected, we can be certain of our own resurrection. Death is not the end—there is future life.
- The divine power that brought Jesus back to life is now available to us to bring our spiritually dead selves back to life.
The Resurrection is the basis for the church’s witness to the world.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene / 20:11-18
We see Jesus’ humility in his resurrection, as well as in his crucifixion. Jesus did not rise and then march into the Temple to confront the religious leaders or Caiaphas; he did not dash to the Praetorium to say to Pilate, “I told you so!”; he did not go stand in the center of Jerusalem to impress the crowd. Instead, Jesus revealed himself only to believers. The first person to see him was a woman who had been healed and forgiven and who tearfully stayed at the cross and followed his body to the tomb. As Jesus demonstrated throughout his life, he responded to those who waited attentively and faithfully. Jesus dissolved the perplexities of the disciples. He dried their tears. He dispelled their doubts. Jesus knows how similar we are to his original disciples, and he does not overpower us either. Even though our faithfulness wavers, Jesus faithfully stays with us.
20:11-12 Mary apparently followed Peter and John back to the tomb. When the two disciples left, she was there alone, still crying, still hoping that somehow she could discover where Jesus’ body had been taken, but fearing the worst. Then she saw two white-robed angels. The angels actually looked like humans—not beings with halos and wings. The angels had appeared to the women and then sent them to spread the good news that Jesus was alive (Matthew 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-12), but apparently they were not in the tomb when Peter and John arrived. Yet they are here again to speak to Mary.
20:13 The angels asked Mary, “Why are you crying?” Under normal circumstances this would seem to be an odd question. People might be expected to be crying beside the tomb of a loved one. However, the angels knew why the tomb was empty. They also knew that if these people had listened to Jesus’ words about his resurrection while he was alive, they would not be sad and confused; instead, they would be leaping for joy. So the angels’ question was not odd, but obvious. It was not meant as a rebuke, but as a reminder of heaven’s perspective. Mary simply answered the angels’ question with her fears, “Because they have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him.”
20:14-15 Something caused Mary to look over her shoulder, probably a feeling that a person was standing behind her. And indeed, next to the tomb stood Jesus, but Mary didn’t recognize him. Perhaps this was the same kind of blindness that afflicted the two who walked with the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:15-16). Or perhaps Mary’s eyes were so full of tears and her grief so intense that she literally could not see who was standing there. Jesus repeated the angels’ question and added an additional question, asking Mary to specify her request. “Who are you looking for?”
Mary was trying to grasp what might have happened to Jesus’ body, so thinking Jesus was the gardener, she asked if he knew anything. If only she could find him, she herself would go get him.
20:16-17 Mary had been looking for the body of her dead Lord; suddenly, to her amazement, she stood face to face with her living Lord. Jesus spoke her name, and immediately she recognized him. Imagine the love that flooded Mary’s heart when she heard her Savior saying her name!
Mary’s immediate response was to touch Jesus and cling to him. But Jesus stopped her. Perhaps Mary wanted to hold Jesus and not lose him again. She had not yet understood the Resurrection. Perhaps she thought this was his promised Second Coming (14:3). But Jesus was not to remain on this earth in physical form. If he did not ascend to heaven, the Holy Spirit could not come. Both he and Mary had important work to do.
Prior to his death, Jesus had called the disciples his “friends” (15:15). But here, because of the Resurrection, Jesus’ disciples had become his brothers. Christ’s resurrection creates this new level of relationship because it provides for the regeneration of every believer (see 1 Peter 1:3). After Jesus ascended to his Father, he would come to his disciples and give them this new life and relationship by breathing into them the Holy Spirit. Thus, for the first time in the Gospel, it is made clear that Jesus’ Father is our Father, that Jesus’ God is our God. The death and resurrection of Jesus ushered in a new relationship between believers and God.
*LIFE APPLICATION: JESUS KNOWS YOUR NAME
Your heart may be filled with grief and despair, but Jesus knows your name. Suffering does not mean that you have been forgotten! Jesus knows every tear and every trial you face. In sorrow, he seeks you out by his comforting Holy Spirit, to minister to you.
20:18 Mary was the first person to see the risen Christ. She obeyed Jesus and found the disciples, telling them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them Jesus’ message. Jesus’ words should have been a great comfort to the disciples. Despite their deserting him in the Garden, he was calling them his “brothers” and explaining that his Father was theirs, his God was theirs. But this report was no more believed by the disciples than the women’s report of the angels’ words (see Mark 16:10-11; Luke 24:10-11). The disciples were still hiding behind locked doors, for fear of the Jews.
*LIFE APPLICATION: THE TOMB IS EMPTY
Mary did not meet the risen Christ until she had discovered the empty tomb. She responded with joy and obedience by going to tell the disciples. We cannot meet Christ until we discover that he is indeed alive, that his tomb is empty. Are you filled with joy by this good news? How can you share it with others?
Jesus Appears to His Disciples / 20:19-23
Mary’s announcement (20:18) must have stunned the disciples. Later the news that the Lord was alive came from two travelers who had unknowingly spent the day walking to Emmaus with Jesus (Luke 24:15-16). Confused, elated, doubtful, and fearful, the disciples stayed close together, hoping to endure the waiting in one place. They were huddled behind locked doors when Jesus appeared to all of them.
20:19 The disciples were still perplexed and apparently had gotten together that night behind locked doors. They probably were discussing the women’s reported sighting of angels, what Peter and John saw at the tomb, and Mary’s astounding claim that she had seen Jesus. At some point during the day, Jesus had appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34), and the women had reported the angel’s words that the disciples were to go to Galilee and meet Jesus there (Matthew 28:7). But for some reason, they did not go; instead they stayed in Jerusalem, afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them. Jesus could do this because his resurrection and subsequent glorification had altered his bodily form. In this new spiritual form, he was able to transcend all physical barriers. He gave the standard Hebrew greeting, “Peace be with you,” but here it was filled with deeper meaning (see 14:27; 16:33). Jesus would repeat these words in verse 21.
*LIFE APPLICATION: HE AROSE!
People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like Mary and the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief. (1) At first, they may think the story is a fabrication, impossible to believe (20:2). (2) Next, like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened (20:6). (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally will they be able to accept the fact of the Resurrection (20:16). (4) Then, as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them (20:28).
20:20 Due to Jesus’ sudden, miraculous appearance among them, the disciples at first thought he was a ghost (Luke 24:37). Jesus needed to convince them that he, including his touchable physical body, was present with them, so he held out his hands and showed them his side. When they realized who he was, they rejoiced. Jesus had said, “Your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy when you see me again” (16:20). Indeed, they were filled with joy.
*LIFE APPLICATION: DON’T HIDE . . . SEEK!
Though the Resurrection had occurred, the disciples were hiding out! The happy news had not driven their doubts away. But we are like them when we lock ourselves behind closed doors:
- Doors of isolation—If we never make friends with non-Christians or interact with the world, we deny God’s power to change lives. Hiding in church, or refusing to make contact with anyone suspected to be a nonbeliever, limits Christ’s work. The truth does not have to hide or isolate itself.
- Doors of anonymity—If we relate to those around us but never tell them that we are Christians, we deprive them of discovering what God has done in our lives.
- Doors of superficiality—If we only talk of sports and weather and keep to safe subjects with people around us, we cooperate with the world’s intention to ignore God and any subject that might lead someone to seriously consider God’s perspective.
Christ can make his presence known behind closed doors, but he will not unlock them for us. Unless we step out of our hiding places, we will never see all that Christ can do through us.
20:21-23 Jesus gave his peace to them and then commissioned them to be his representatives, even as he had been the Father’s (see 17:18). Jesus again identified himself with his Father. He told the disciples by whose authority he did his work. Then he gave the task to his disciples of spreading the gospel message around the world. They were sent with authority from God to preach, teach, and do miracles (see Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:47-49)—in essence, to continue across the world what Jesus had begun in Palestine. Whatever God has asked you to do, remember: (1) Your authority comes from God, and (2) Jesus has demonstrated by words and actions how to accomplish the job he has given you. As the Father sent his Son, Jesus sends his followers . . . and you. Your response is to determine from day to day those to whom the Father has sent you.
Before the disciples could carry out this commission, however, they needed the power of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus gave them this power by breathing into them the Holy Spirit. This act reminds us of what God did to make the first man come alive—he breathed into him and he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). There is life in the breath of God. Man was created but did not come alive until God had breathed into him the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). God’s first breath made man different from all other forms of creation. Here, through the breath of Jesus, God imparted eternal, spiritual life. With this breathing came the power to do God’s will on earth.
Jesus gave the disciples their Spirit-powered and Spirit-guided mission—to preach the Good News about him so that people’s sins might be forgiven. The disciples did not have the power to forgive sins (only God can forgive sins), but Jesus gave them the privilege of telling new believers that their sins have been forgiven because they have accepted Jesus’ message. All believers have this same privilege. We can announce the forgiveness of sin with certainty when we ourselves repent and believe. Those who don’t believe will not experience the forgiveness of sins; their sins will be retained (i.e., not forgiven).
Jesus Appears to Thomas / 20:24-31
Thomas was not with the other disciples for Jesus’ first visit in 20:21-23. Consistent with his character elsewhere in the Gospel (see 14:5), Thomas was skeptical toward his friends’ report about seeing Jesus. He epitomized hardheaded realism by insisting that seeing and touching Jesus for himself would be the only proof that would satisfy him. When Jesus did appear to him, Thomas realized the inappropriateness of his demand.
Jesus made it clear that our faith must be based on the testimony of those who were with him. Insisting on seeing and touching Christ ourselves would indicate a reluctance to believe. We have no right to require God to prove himself; but he has every right as our Creator to expect our belief and obedience. The fact that God blesses those who believe is simply an added gift of his grace.
20:24-25 When the disciples told Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them, he did not believe. Thomas insisted that he see the Jesus who had been crucified. He wanted bodily proof—to see and touch the nail scars in Jesus’ hands and to place his hand into the wound in Jesus’ side. Sometimes people overemphasize the doubtful part of Thomas’s character. John 11:16 reveals Thomas as tough-minded and committed, even if he tended to be pessimistic. And Matthew points out (Matthew 28:17) that all the disciples shared Thomas’s skepticism. It was part of his character to put the group’s feeling into words. Most of the other disciples (with the exception of John—20:8) did not believe until they saw Christ face-to-face.
*LIFE APPLICATION: YOU CAN TOUCH JESUS
Have you ever wished you could actually see Jesus, touch him, and hear his words? Are there times you want to sit down with him and get his advice? Thomas wanted Jesus’ physical presence. But God’s plan is wiser. He has not limited himself to one physical body; he wants to be present with you at all times. Even now he is with you in the form of the Holy Spirit. You can talk to him, and you can find his words to you in the pages of the Bible. He can be as real to you as he was to Thomas.
20:26-28 After eight days, Thomas got his chance. This time he was present when Jesus appeared. The disciples were still behind locked doors when Jesus appeared among them as he had before and gave the same greeting, “Peace be with you!” But this time he spoke directly to Thomas, supernaturally knowing of Thomas’s doubt and what he needed in order to be convinced. Jesus told him to touch and see his hands and side. Jesus’ resurrected body was unique. It was no longer subject to the same laws of nature as before his death. He could appear in a locked room; yet he was not a ghost or apparition because he could be touched and his wounds were still visible.
When he saw Jesus, “doubting” Thomas became believing Thomas. His response rings through the ages as the response of many doubters who finally see the truth, “My Lord and my God!” This clear affirmation of Jesus’ deity provides a good conclusion to John’s Gospel, which continually affirms Jesus’ deity (see 1:1, 18; 8:58; 10:30).
20:29 Though Thomas proclaimed Jesus to be his Lord and God, Jesus reproved Thomas because he had to see before he could believe. The blessed ones are they who haven’t seen and yet believe. Some people think they would believe in Jesus if they could see a definite sign or miracle. But Jesus says we are blessed if we can believe without seeing. We have all the proof we need in the words of the Bible and the testimony of believers.
20:30-31 In the last two verses of the chapter, John explains why he wrote this Gospel: to encourage belief in Jesus as the Christ and as the Son of God. All the miraculous signs in this Gospel point to Jesus as being the Christ and God’s Son, who came to give life to all those who believe. Most likely, John wrote this Gospel to encourage those who already believed to continue in their faith. We who believe are encouraged to read and reread John in order to continue in our belief. And this Gospel has also been used far beyond that as a powerful tool for evangelism, bringing people to faith in Christ.
To understand the life and mission of Jesus more fully, all we need to do is study the Gospels. John tells us that his Gospel records only a few of the many events in Jesus’ life on earth. But the Gospels include everything we need to know to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, through whom we receive eternal life.
*LIFE APPLICATION: DOUBTING DOS AND DON’TS
Jesus wasn’t hard on Thomas for his doubts. Despite his skepticism, Thomas was still loyal to the believers and to Jesus himself. Some people need to doubt before they believe. If doubt leads to questions, questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted, then doubt has done good work. It is when doubt becomes stubbornness and stubbornness becomes a life-style that doubt harms faith. When you doubt, don’t stop there. Let your doubt deepen your faith as you continue to search for the answer.