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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
John 20

 

 

Introduction

XX.

[6. The Climax of Faith. Resurrection and Appearances of Jesus (John 20).

(1) ST. PETER AND ST. JOHN AT THE EMPTY SEPULCHRE. THEY SEE AND BELIEVE (John 20:1-10).

(2) MARY MAGDALENE AT THE SEPULCHRE. THE ANGELS. “RABBONI.” CHANGED CONDITIONS OF LIFE (John 20:11-18).

(3) THE FIRST APPEARANCE TO THE TEN. PEACE TO THEM AND TO THE WORLD (John 20:19-23).

(4) THE APPEARANCE TO THE ELEVEN. “MY LORD AND MY GOD” (John 20:24-29).

(5) CLOSE OF THE ORIGINAL GOSPEL AT THIS HIGHEST REACH OF FAITH. ITS OBJECT LIFE THROUGH BELIEVING (John 20:30-31).]


Verse 1

(1) For the visit of the women to the sepulchre, and their announcement to the disciples (John 20:1-2), comp. generally Notes on Matthew 28:1-4; Matthew 28:8; Mark 16:1-4; Mark 16:8; Luke 24:1-3; Luke 24:9-11. Each of the three narratives separates the return from the visit by an account of the appearance of the angels at the sepulchre.

The first day of the week.—The same phrase occurs in Luke 24:1.

Cometh Mary Magdalene.—St. Matthew has, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary;” St. Mark has, “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome;” St. Luke has, “The women which had come with Him from Galilee” (Luke 23:55), and enumerates them in Luke 24:10, as “Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the others with them.” St. John speaks of only one of the group, who was specially prominent.

And seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.—This fact is made emphatic in all the accounts. See especially Luke 24:2.


Verse 2

(2) To Simon Peter, and to the other disciple.—St. Matthew has, “to His disciples;” St. Luke has, “to the Eleven, and to all the rest.” St. John relates only that announcement of which he had special personal knowledge.

For “the other disciple” comp. Introduction, p. 375. For the connection between St. John and St. Peter, comp. Introduction, p. 371.

Whom Jesus loved.—Comp. Note on John 11:3; John 21:15. The word here used of St. John is that which is used of Lazarus in John 11:3. It is not the word which occurs in John 19:26; John 21:7; John 21:20.

We know not where they have laid him.—The plural has frequently been pressed to prove that Mary included the other women with herself in what she says—i.e., that St. John’s narrative here implies that of the earlier Gospels. This certainly may be so, but we cannot say more than this. It certainly may be that, in her feeling of despair, she speaks generally of the utter hopelessness of human effort, whether her own or that of others. It is the passionate cry of her woman’s heart. They have not only crucified the Lord, but have robbed the body of the resting-place which love had provided for it, and of the tender care with which love was seeking to surround it—“They have taken away the Lord; and we know not to what fresh indignity their hatred, against which even the grave is not proof, has subjected the body of Him whom we have loved. We know not where they have laid Him.”


Verse 3

(3) The details of the visit of Peter and John (John 20:3-10) are peculiar to this Gospel. St. Luke mentions the visit of Peter only (24:12, but comp. John 20:23); but here we have the whole scene pictured with all the vividness and exactness of one who stated what he himself saw and took part in.

Peter therefore went forth, and . . . came to the sepulchre.—In the original there is a change of tense here; the latter verb expressing the continuance of the journey towards the sepulchre.


Verse 4

(4) So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter.—This is simply the result of the greater activity of John, who was probably younger than his companion. The thought that love outran doubt or fear, which has often been connected with the words, is not in harmony with the context, for “Peter therefore went forth” as soon as he heard Mary’s words (John 20:3); and Peter it was who first entered into the sepulchre (John 20:6).


Verse 5

(5) And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying.—Better, . . . seeth the linen clothes lying. The tense still describes the scene as it actually occurred. The words “looking in” rightly complete the meaning. (Comp. Note on John 11:38, and for the word, Note on Luke 24:12.) It is used again in the New Testament only in John 20:11, James 1:25, and 1 Peter 1:12. It meant, originally, to stoop sideways, and was used, e.g., of a harp-player; then, to stoop over, peer into, inquire into. For the “linen clothes,” comp. John 19:40.

Yet went he not in.—He is restrained by wonder, not unaccompanied, perhaps, by fear, at what he sees, and waits for his friend and companion.


Verse 6

(6) And went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie.—Better, . . . beholdeth the linen clothes lie. The word is not the same as that in John 20:5, but expresses the close observation of the linen clothes by St. Peter, while St. John did but see them from without.


Verse 7

(7) And the napkin, that was about his head.—Comp. Note on John 11:44.

Not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together . .—This was not seen from without (John 20:5), but was in a separate place, perhaps on the inner side of the sepulchre. In this description and in this verse the minute knowledge and remembrance of an eye-witness reaches its climax. The very fact that the napkin was folded did not escape the writer’s eye, nor fade from his memory.

Then went in also that other disciple . . .—If the vivid details of this picture impress us with the fact that we are in the presence of an eye-witness, none the less do the traits of character remind us of all that we know from other sources of the actors in the scene. The bold impetuosity of St. Peter, and the gentle reverence of St. John, are represented in him who quickly entered into the sepulchre, and in him who stood gazing into it, and afterwards went in. He went in, “therefore,” as the original exactly means, because he heard from Peter of what he had seen.

And he saw, and believed.—The gentler character was also the more receptive, and this appears to be intimated in this verse. Nothing is said of St. Peter’s faith, but St. John seems to unveil for us the inner history of his own spiritual life. The word for “see” is different from either of those used before in John 20:5-6. (Comp. Luke 10:23.) It is not that he saw, as from a distance, nor yet that he beheld that which was immediately presented to the gaze; it is not that he saw in any merely physical sense, but that he saw with the eye of the mind, and grasped the truth which lay beneath the phenomena around him. He saw, and he who had believed before, found in this fact the stepping-stone to a higher faith. (Comp. Note on John 2:11.)


Verse 9

(9) For as yet they knew not the scripture.—This explains in what sense it was that St. John now believed. Up to this time they knew not the meaning of the Scripture which foretold the Resurrection; but from that moment at least they recognised in the fact of the absent body of Christ the truth that He must rise again. (Comp. Notes on John 2:21-22.)

That he must rise again from the dead.—Comp. especially Notes on Luke 24:26; Luke 24:44.


Verse 10

(10) Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.—More exactly, of course, to their lodgings in Jerusalem. They had accomplished the object of their visit to the sepulchre. One, at least, had realised, and he must have told his thoughts to his friend, that the Lord was not to be looked for in the empty grave, and that Mary’s fears (John 20:2) were groundless. No enemies had taken the body away. They return, then, with hearts filled with this truth, to ponder over its meaning, or to tell it to others of the Eleven, or to wonder and to wait until He should come again to them, as He had promised.


Verse 11

(11) But Mary stood (better, was standing) without at the sepulchre weeping.—She had before gone back as soon as she saw that the stone was taken away (John 20:1-2), and had told the two disciples of what she found. She was left behind by them in their haste to reach the sepulchre, but has followed them, and now that they have returned with the joy of a new and fuller faith, she remains without the sepulchre, not venturing to enter, and giving vent in tears to the sorrow that weighs upon her heart.

She stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.—Comp. Note on John 20:5.


Verse 12

(12) And seeth two angels in white sitting.—Comp. generally on the vision of angels, Notes on Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-8. This is to be regarded as a distinct vision to Mary, which, from the fulness with which it is recorded, we must suppose that she herself related to the Evangelist. (Comp. Introduction, p. 379.) It rests, therefore, upon her testimony, and as a vision to her only may seem to be less certainly objective than the other appearances. Great caution is, however, necessary in estimating the truth of that which is wholly beyond the application of our ordinary canons of evidence. If we admit the earlier vision of angels, of which there were several witnesses, there can be no reason for rejecting this; and if the evidence was at the time sufficient to convince the Evangelist, who himself had seen no such vision, but was guided by the Spirit to accept and record this, as seen by Mary, we have a decisive judgment of higher authority than any which criticism can attain.

With the words “in white” we are, of course, to understand raiment. The ellipsis is frequent in the classic, and indeed in all writers.

The one at the head, and the other at the feet.—The idea is apparently that of sitting and watching the body. She had feared that some outrage had been wrought upon the body; but God had given His angels charge concerning Him.


Verse 13

(13) And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?—Comp. Matthew 28:5.

Because they have taken away my Lord.—The passionate feeling of John 20:2 still has entire possession of her mind. It is now more fervent, for she is not addressing her own friends and the Lord’s disciples: “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” (Comp. Note on the plural, “we know not,” in John 20:2.) She is here alone, speaking to strangers, and may, therefore, have used the singular, whether she went in the early morning with other women or not.


Verse 14

(14) And saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.—There is no need to imagine an external cause for her turning round, and if there was one it is useless for us to ask what it was. She has expressed her woe, and turns aside again to weep, when she sees another form. Weighed down by her sorrow, not looking intently, it may be, or seeing indistinctly through tear-filled eyes, she does not recognise her Lord. We know not what the appearance was. Figure, feature, clothing, there must have been; but these differing, in this as in other manifestations, from those with which they had been familiar. She, perhaps, hardly looked at all, but supposed that the only person there at that early hour would be the keeper of the garden.


Verse 15

(15) Sir, if thou have borne him hence . . .—The word rendered “Sir” is generally a mark of respect, but like the corresponding word in most languages, was also used to a stranger, and even to an inferior. The “gardener,” moreover, corresponded more to what we should call a “bailiff.” He would have been a servant of Joseph of Arimathæa, and as such may have become known to Mary at the time of embalming. She says, with emphasis, “If thou hast borne Him hence;” turning away from the angels to address him. The word rendered “borne” here means properly “to bear,” and then “bear away,” “remove,” and then “remove secretly.” (Comp. John 12:6.) Of this last meaning there are many undoubted examples in Josephus, and this seems clearly to be the thought here.

Tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away .—Three times she refers to the Lord simply by the pronoun “Him.” She has named Him in the previous verse, and perhaps thinks that the gardener had heard those words; but the impression formed from her eager words is that her own mind is so entirely filled with the one subject, that she supposes it to be in the minds of others. The same passionate eagerness is heard in the words which follow. Devotion such as hers does not weigh difficulties. A place of safety for that sacred body is the object of her will; and that will neither dreads danger nor sees that the task would be physically impossible, but asserts in the confidence of its own strength, “and I will take Him away.”


Verse 16

(16) Jesus saith unto her, Mary.—It is to that devoted love that the first words of the risen Lord are spoken. He who knew her whole past, and knew that her devotion to Him had sprung from the freedom from the thraldom of evil which He had wrought for her, is near to that woman weeping by the grave-side, while Apostles, even the true-hearted Peter and the loving John, have gone to their own homes. The voice of God is always most quickly heard by the hearts that love Him; the presence of God is never so truly felt as in the utter helplessness of human woe.

Saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.—The better reading is, saith unto Him in Hebrew, Rabboni . . .—Comp. Notes on John 19:13, and on Mark 10:51, which is the only other passage in the New Testament where “Rabboni” occurs. She had heard in the well-known voice her own name, and it has brought back to her all the old associations. It is the “Master,” or, as the Hebrew word means, “My Master,” and she falls at His feet to embrace Him.


Verse 17

(17) Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.—The probable explanation of these words is to be found in the fact that she had cast herself at His feet with the customary reverential embrace of the knees, and perhaps to make doubly sure the fact that it was the Lord’s body, and that His words are meant to prevent this. The words themselves must be carefully considered. “Touch” represents a Greek word which means to “cling to,” to “fasten on,” to “grasp” an object. The tense is present, and the prohibition is, therefore, not of an individual act, but of a continuance of the act, of the habit, “Do not continue clinging to Me.” Her act supposed a condition which had not yet been accomplished. He had not returned to earth to abide permanently with His disciples in the presence of the Paraclete (comp. John 14:18), for He had not yet ascended to the Father. There should come a permanent closeness of union in His presence in the soul; but then the spirit which her act was manifesting was one which would prevent this presence. The coming of the Paraclete depended upon His going to the Father (comp. John 16:7), but she would cling to a visible presence, and has not learnt the truth so hard to learn, “It is expedient for you that I go away” (John 16:7.)

But go to my brethren, and say unto them.—Comp. Notes on Matthew 28:10, and on John 15:15. There is a special force in the word “brethren” as spoken by the risen Lord, in that it declares the continuance of His human nature. (See Hebrews 2:11.)

I ascend unto my Father, and your Father.—The present is used of the future, which He regards as immediately at hand. The message to the brethren is an assurance that the going to the Father, of which He had so often spoken to them, was about to be realised. The victory over death has been accomplished. This appearance on earth is an earnest of the return to heaven. “Unto My Father,” He now says, “and your Father.” It is a more emphatic expression than “our Father” would have been. “I ascend unto My Father. Because He is My Father, He is also your Father, and you are My brethren. My victory over death was the victory of man, whose nature has in Me conquered death. My ascension into heaven will be the ascension of human nature, which in Me goes to the Father.”

My God, and your God.—This phrase contains the same fulness of meaning, and adds the special thought of the continuity of the human nature of our Lord, which has already appeared in the word “brethren.” (See Note above.)


Verse 18

(18) Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples.—Better, Mary Magdalene cometh, and announceth to the disciples. The coming is described from the point of view of the writer, who was one of the disciples.


Verse 19

(19) For this appearance to the disciples (John 20:19-25) comp. Mark 16:14 and Luke 24:36-43. Between the last verse and this we must suppose to occur the bribing of the guard (Matthew 28:11-15), and the conversation on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35; see also Mark 16:12-13, and comp. Chronological Harmony of the Gospels, p. 37)

When the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled . . .—This fact is noted here and in John 20:26, and the obvious intention is to point out that the appearance was preternatural. The body of the risen Lord was indeed the body of His human life, but it was not subject to the ordinary conditions of human life. The power that had upheld it as He walked upon the Sea of Galilee (John 6:16-21) made it during those forty days independent of laws of gravitation and of material resistance. (Comp. Notes on Luke 24:15-16; Luke 24:31; Luke 24:39.) The supposition that the doors were shut, and were miraculously opened (comp. Acts 12:10), is opposed to the general impression of the context, and the incident is one which would probably have been mentioned.

The “fear of the Jews” naturally followed the Crucifixion. The Shepherd was struck, and the flock was scattered. They would remember, too, His own words, which foretold persecution for them (John 15:18 et seq.), and there may have been definite charges against some of them. Peter, e.g., had drawn upon himself the hostility of the high priest’s household, and John was known to be among the disciples. (Comp. John 18:8; John 18:25 et seq.)

Peace be unto you.—The salutation is given also in Luke 24:36. (Comp., in this Gospel, Note on John 14:27.) The well-known words of greeting would come to them now, as her own name came to Mary (John 20:16), bringing, as the familiar tones fell upon the ear, the assurance of the Master’s presence in their midst. But the words would also have the fuller meaning of a message from the spirit-world to them. It is a voice from the darkness beyond the grave into which the living have tried in vain to see, and that voice is one of peace. It is the message of the conqueror of death to man who has conquered in and through Him, declaring that the victory is won. It is the message of atonement, declaring the peace which flows from pardoned sin and reconciliation with God to the disciples themselves, and through them-as the apostles of peace, to all mankind.


Verse 19-20

The Saviour’s Easter Greeting

When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he shewed unto them his hands and his side.—John 20:19-20.

1. It is the evening of the first Easter Day. In an upper chamber in Jerusalem—in all probability in the upper chamber which had been the scene of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, and was to be the scene of the baptism of the Church by the descending Spirit, and then to be the place of the first of Christian assemblies, the mother of all Churches—it is in this upper chamber that we see gathered together a band of men and women. They are in a position of restlessness up to the point of fear. They feel the restlessness of men whose lives are in great danger. The tomb of the Master whom they loved was found empty. The foes of Jesus imagined that this was by the connivance of the disciples themselves. His disciples had come, they said, and stolen the body whilst the guards placed to keep watch over it slept. The disciples accordingly anticipated that that fury of the Jews which had burst with such force upon their Master would now descend upon their heads. But they were not only in this bodily fear. This bodily fear would not have been in them if they had not been restless in mind. They did not know what to believe, they were in perplexity. The tomb of Christ was empty. By a resurrection? They could not believe that. True, their Lord again and again had tried to prepare them for that mystery of His resurrection, but they could not understand it. How then was it empty? Not by any act of their own, they knew very well. And the perplexity was increased in this way—some people said He was risen; some women said they had seen Him. Were these but women’s stories after all? If they were not true, what was true? Was He risen or was He not?

Jesus came, unannounced and unexpected, into the midst of these perplexed disciples. Their very fear drew Him to them. They wanted Him: He knew it, and could not keep away. It was “the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut.” They wanted the old familiar times back again. If He would come and bring them how much more faithful they would be to Him than in the past. But He was gone, and they dare not keep the door ajar, for they had no courage and much fear. And then, lo! He was there, standing in the midst of them, with the old kind smile upon His face, and the calm strong greeting on His lips. “Peace be unto you,” He said, and showed them His hands and His side.

2. This was the greeting He would naturally have given them on any occasion on which He came to them in the days of His earthly life in the body. Those who have lived in Eastern lands seem to hear the Lord’s voice when they read His salutation, the sound of which from the lips of all visitors they know so well. But we must believe that the words “Peace be unto you” had a more than ordinary significance on this occasion. They were intended to convey a real inward comfort, and to produce, in the mind of those who heard them, the assurance that a new and blessed influence had entered into them. In the darkest hour of their earthly companionship, when the deep shadow of approaching separation was resting upon them, the Lord had said “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Their hearts were too sad at the time to receive any comfort from the saying, sweet and soothing though the sound of the words must even then have seemed. But now, in the very first words He speaks to them after His Resurrection, He fulfils His promise, and proves to them the reality of His own gift. Then, having allayed their terror, He certifies them of His bodily identity by showing them His hands and His side. There was no longer any possibility of doubting the truth of His Resurrection, and feelings of gladness at once dispelled the former doubts and apprehensions.

For those disciples that day had been a very restless one. They had been troubled by what the women said, and by their own many questionings and thoughts. Sin came back on Peter and on others, and the very thing they needed most was that He should stand and say, “Peace be unto you; see my hands and my side.” And do we not realize that very often at the end of the day Christ comes to us, when we are troubled with a sense of sin? And those of us who are trying to live nearest the true Light are most conscious of sin and imperfection. There never was a day we ever lived in which there were not many things that came short of the glory of God, and there is never an evening in which we do not have to say, “Forgive us our debts,” our shortcomings, even if we do not need to say, “Forgive us our trespasses,” our transgressions. There is always the coming short of His glory, even if there is not voluntary transgression of His will. And so there never is a time when we do not need that He should show us His hands and His side, and say, “Beloved, there is the guarantee that your sin is put absolutely away, that there is nothing between God and you but one clear heaven of love.”1 [Note: F. B. Meyer, in The Keswick Week (1900), 132.]

I happened to drop into a house where there was a large family, and I found the mother very busy about the room. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Oh, when the children have gone to bed I have to tidy up after them, and I make straight what they have left amiss.” And there she was, just going over all the broken fragments of the children’s work, and taking up the stitches that her little daughter had put all across the piece of work she had given the child to do. I could see quite well the big cross stitches, and how the mother was taking them up and making them good. I said to myself: Yes, that is just what Christ does. He comes into the day’s life and work, when all the mistakes have been made, and the poor sermons have been preached, and the mis-statements have been uttered, and one looks back with such a sense of infinite regret and failure, and He says: “Peace be unto you. I am going over all the mistakes to put them right, and help to make powerful that which you left impotent and useless.”2 [Note: Ibid.]

I

The Appearance Behind Closed Doors

“When the doors were shut.”

1. Barriers are often raised unwittingly against Christ. When the disciples shut and locked the doors of the upper chamber, they never meant to bar them against Jesus. They were afraid of the Jews, and acted only in self-defence. And there are lines of conduct in common life we may pursue, and we never dream that we are raising barriers between ourselves and the highest and the best: but in the end of the day for us, as for the disciples, it will be found that we have done more than we imagined—we have closed the door unwittingly on Christ.

It is the tragedy of many a life that its doors are shut. Sometimes it is engrossment in pleasure, in business, in friendship, that bars the door against the ingress of the Saviour. All these things, lawful in themselves, and having indeed a right and necessary place in any life, may gain such an ascendancy as to become its masters, demanding all thought, all energy, all strength of life, until the man over whom they have gained control is himself behind closed doors. Sometimes it is by selfishness of joy or sorrow that the doors are closed. There is a joy which is regarded as incommunicable, or a sorrow which is regarded as unshareable, and He who is the Author of each is excluded from life by His own providences misreceived and misinterpreted. Often, too, it is with us as with these His earliest disciples, fear of the consequences of identification with Him causes the door to be tightly barred. We are afraid of the disfavour of men, and in shutting out the Jews we really shut out Jesus. But chiefly it is sin that excludes the Son of God from the life in which He seeks to be known and served. And this, too, may be of unintentional beginning. For sin at its commencement is often merely thoughtlessness. Persisted in, however, despite the correcting light which God is unceasingly shedding upon us, it becomes actually wilful—the rebellious barring of the door against the Son of God.

Every morning that we rise, every day that we go forth, our choices make us or our choices mar us. Some day a choice more momentous than usual comes. We are face to face with one of life’s great decisions. And we have not been living on high levels, and so we choose amiss, for a man’s whole life is in every choice he makes. Then the days pass, and the issues show themselves, and the choice works itself out in life and character, and a hundred glorious things are tarnished and are tainted as the result of one disastrous choice. We never meant to shut out power and purity, but they have receded into the dim distance ever since. We never thought to grow heart-weary and world-weary, but that may follow from one mismanaged choosing. Like the disciples, beset by some poor fear, unwittingly we have closed the door on Christ.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, 115.]

And Life with full hands came,

Austerely smiling.

I looked, marvelling at her gifts—

Fortune, much love, many beauties,

The deed fulfilled man ponders in his youth,

Gold of the heart, desire of the eyes come true!

And joyously

“With these,” I said “with these, indeed,

What spirit could miss delight?”

And paused to dream them over.

But even then

“Choose,” she said.

“One gift is yours—no more,”

And bent that grave, wise smile

Upon me, waiting.2 [Note: M. M‘Neal-Sweeney, Men of No Land, 107.]

2. He came; they knew not how; they knew only that the chamber was strongly secured against intrusion or surprise. No bolt was withdrawn; no door was opened; no breach was made in the wall of their place of assembly; there was no visible movement as from without to within, or from point to point. One moment they were, as they thought, alone; and the next, they looked, and lo! an outline, a form, a visible body and face, a solid human frame was before them, as if created out of the atmosphere which they breathed. “Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” They gazed at Him; they gazed at each other in bewilderment and terror. They supposed that they had seen a “spirit”; they were with difficulty reassured—so St. Luke’s report seems to imply—by the means which our Lord took to convince them that a body of flesh and bones was before them. At last they were glad when they saw the Lord.

Christ is inevitable, unavoidable; you cannot stop or stay Him. That is the first great lesson of the Resurrection. No one can follow the story of His life, without feeling that Christ is inevitable. It is the key to the whole record. We are swept into a movement which we realize is irresistible, and the secret of its power is the irresistible Christ. We feel this not merely because Christ exercised an extraordinary influence and became the centre of a unique attraction, but because of what He was. His words and His works alike are significant first and chiefly of what He is in Himself; they are the revelation of a Person who more and more completely wins our absolute trust. When the Cross comes into view, crowning the path up which He is moving, we follow Him, knowing that, though it seems to be inexplicable, it comes within His purpose of redemption, and He fully understands it, however blind we may be to what it means. “I lay down my life for the sheep. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” It is all a complete unity, the one perfect whole in a world of fragments. And when we hear the “It is finished” ring out through the gloom of His death-hour, we are ready for the glory which will soon be breaking from the opened grave. And as at last we see Him coming to the disciples on Easter evening, though the doors are shut against Him, we know that always and everywhere He is and must be resistless. Always and everywhere He is the inevitable Christ.

For weal or woe, whatever walls you raise, Christ passes through them all and gets to you. There are deeds that we did long since, perhaps twenty years ago, but to this hour unexpectedly they rise and meet us. There were moments of exquisite happiness in our past, and even to-day their memory is like music. You cannot shut out the thought of intense hours: no change of years will prevent them winning through. And like the ineffaceable memory of such scenes is the presence and the beauty of the Lord. Christ is inevitable. Christ is unavoidable. Sometimes He comes through the closed door, just because all life is penetrated with Him. We talk of the Christian atmosphere we breathe, but the atmosphere is more than Christian, it is Christ. This is the Lord’s day—who then is this Lord? We may have closed the door on Him, but He is here. We cannot date one letter in the morning, but we mean that more than one thousand nine hundred years ago Christ was born. He meets us at every turn of the road, in every newspaper and in every problem. Our life is so interpenetrated with Christ Jesus that to avoid Him is an impossibility.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, 119.]

Men who lived and fought for Napoleon have told the world how they gradually came to believe him to be resistless. He had only to appear before His troops on his white charger, and down the lines of French bayonets flashed an electric confidence which made them mighty, as soldiers had seldom been mighty before, and enabled them to carry all before them. So with “the Captain of our salvation.” In the New Testament Christ goes forth “conquering and to conquer,” and He intends His Church to live in the power of that inspiration. It is nothing to Him that doors are shut, and men are weak and helpless. You may as well try to stifle the springtide or struggle to fetter the feet of the summer morning as strive to bar out the coming of Jesus risen. You will draw a curtain over the dawn and shut down the sunrise behind the darkness before you will banish the inevitable Christ.1 [Note: F. B. Macnutt, The Inevitable Christ, 8.]

Francis Thompson has told with marvellous beauty of imagery and breadth of expression the story of the pursuit of the soul through all its manifold experience by “the Hound of Heaven,” which will not let it escape Him.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase

And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat and a Voice beat

More instant than the feet …

“Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me.”

So the foolish soul perseveres in flight from its Saviour, and on and on after it come those persistent feet which will not be denied. It tries to hide in strange and distant places; it rings itself in with forbidden pleasures; it lavishes its love upon tender and beautiful human affections, and still

Fear wist not to evade as love wist to pursue—

till at last the chase is ended, and the Voice is “round him like a bursting sea.”

Halts by me that footfall:

Is my gloom, after all,

Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?

Ah! fondest, blindest, weakest,

I am He whom thou seekest!

Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.

3. But while Christ forces Himself thus upon our attention He never compels our submission. It is always a matter of choice and will with us as to the reception He receives when He appears. For when once He has secured our ear and engaged our thought He subjects Himself to our will. The crowning pathos and tragedy of life is to close the door more closely when we have been made aware of His Presence. Its crowning glory is to open it wide that the King of Glory may come in.

A Sunday spent at Cambridge in order to preach before the University came to Creighton as a welcome break. He chose as the subject of his sermon “Liberty.” Some years before at breakfast at Lambeth Palace, he had propounded the question what was the most important object of pursuit, and had maintained amidst the friendly and animated contradiction which never failed in that circle, that liberty was the most precious possession of man. This conviction only deepened as the years passed. But he felt also increasingly the tremendous responsibility of liberty, and said that, instead of snatching at it as a prize, it would be more true to speak of the burden of liberty. In this sermon at Cambridge he said: “If we try to grasp the meaning of progress as it is shown in the history of the past, it is to be found only in the growing recognition of the dignity of man, which is another form of expressing human freedom, and is the ground of its calm.”1 [Note: Life and Letters of Mandell Creighton, ii. 320.]

II

The Message of Peace

“Peace be unto you.”

This invocation of peace, at beginning or ending of intercourse, was already ancient. In our Lord’s day it had become just as much part of the social habits of the people as the custom of saying “Good-morning” is among ourselves. All the Semitic peoples, the Syrians, the Arabians, and, as we know from the Talmud, the Jews of the Dispersion, used it as a matter of course. In earlier days, no doubt, men had invoked peace from heaven with the utmost deliberation and seriousness. In the age of the kings and prophets the phrase had still a living meaning: the speaker actually prayed for the blessing of peace on the person whom he addressed. It is a gradual process by which the real fresh language of primitive times is stiffened into the unmeaning forms of the society of a later age; but as far as this expression is concerned, the process was already complete in our Lord’s day. And yet He did not scruple to avail Himself of the conventional phrase.

But this was not merely the familiar greeting of friend to friend—though it was that—in that strange moment when two worlds met. Nor was it merely a kindly word—though it was that, too—to pacify their terror, as this apparition from another world stood silently and suddenly before them. It was a word of larger, more majestic scope. Spoken to men who had met in fear, and who looked forward to troubled days, it had a wonderful power to soothe, coming from the lips of the Lord, fresh from His victory over death. “The disciples, therefore, were glad when they saw the Lord,” glad with a great gladness which we cannot know till we have fathomed the depths of their sorrow and despair as they saw Jesus taken from His cross and laid in Joseph’s tomb. Jesus is strangely earnest about this peace. Those worn, hunted men need it; and He will not leave them till He has made them sure of it. “Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you.”

A great soul can redeem his words from triviality. He takes the most conventional expressions, the small change of ordinary courtesy, which on the lips of other men mean nothing, and in his mouth they have such heart and substance that you go on cheered and bettered by his greeting. “Peace” is one of the anointed words which hold rank in human speech by native dignity, but in Palestine it had been degraded to the level of a customary civility, with which the most indifferent acquaintances met and parted. And Jesus takes the word, humbled and impoverished, and makes such use of it that it is no longer trivial but has the force of a command for their hearts.1 [Note: W. M. Macgregor, Jesus Christ the Son of God, 165.]

Professor Johnston Ross relates that he once visited a furniture-dealer’s shop in West London. The man was a Jew, and, noticing that his visitor wore clerical dress, he began to talk on religious matters. After an interesting conversation the Professor mounted his bicycle, saying, “Good-bye,” when the dealer called out in Hebrew, “Peace be unto you”—using the plural form. The Professor’s curiosity was aroused, and he asked: “Why do you put it so? Is there another that you wish peace to?” “Yes,” replied the Jew, “Peace be to you and to the angel over your shoulder.”

1. The first gift that Jesus had for them was a high confidence in their cause. Without that a Christian life cannot well be lived. He does not mean that we should live by sufferance, creeping timidly under the shadow of men’s example; we are to have eyes and a conscience to know the truth, and courage to maintain it. The Christian Church has been built up by the fidelities of true men, and it gains no strength from those who have not courage to be faithful. These will come in thousands when the fashion once is set, but they bring nothing with them. They, certainly, can never be described as the city set on a hill which cannot be hid. Jesus Christ is the Lord of all the brave, and His gift is the high heart which sees its course and does not reckon odds.

Peden, the Covenanter, speaks for all right Christians when he says, “For my part, I seek no more, if He bids me go.” And in one of his sermons the refrain is this: “They sought no more than His commandment; they went and He carried them well through.”1 [Note: W. M. Macgregor, Jesus Christ the Son of God, 173.]

2. But the deepest hurt in the life of a man is not the ill his neighbour threatens; there is a controversy behind that, a war in his own conscience, a sense that his own life is wrong, and that God and he are somehow not at one. And “Christ preached peace.” He brought forgiveness to men, the assurance of God’s forgetfulness. To the most faulty He declared the goodwill of God, assuring them of a place in His heart from which all their sin and folly have not banished them. There are powers in God to part us from our sin, so that it can never rise against us any more; and these powers are centred in the Cross of Christ, in which right was done to justice by Him who came to rescue men from what they had deserved.

Christian peace, the peace which Christ gives, the peace which He sheds abroad in the heart, is it aught else than a glorified harmony; the expelling from man’s life of all that was causing disturbance there, all that was hindering him from chiming in with the music of heaven, in which now shall mingle for ever the consenting songs of redeemed men and elect angels?1 [Note: Archbishop Trench, in The Literary Churchman (1892), 167.]

I couldn’t live in peace if I put the shadow of a wilful sin between myself and God.2 [Note: Maggie Tulliver, in The Mill on the Floss.]

The realization of our peace with God, which constitutes or causes peace with ourselves, presupposes the reality of that peace with God; it does not create it. The fact must precede the knowledge of the fact, it cannot result from it. The ear does not discourse sweet music, or the eye produce a pleasant picture; in each case the organ of sense embraces an already existing reality. The rule holds good in the spiritual creation. That perfect harmony of will and reason and religious emotion which we denominate peace of conscience is not the cause of the sinner’s reconciliation with an offended God, neither is it identical with it; it is the result.and product of an actual reconciliation. For the condition of our own minds is as it were the shadow and reflection of the relation in which we stand to God. So long as we are at enmity with Him, so long as we feel ourselves to be exposed to His most righteous indignation, there is strife and war and tumult in our hearts. Only out of peace with God, and the conscious realization of that peace, can flow quiet of heart and peace of conscience.3 [Note: W. B. Jones, The Peace of God, 360.]

Perhaps no Christian, since the days of the Apostles, has illustrated the true peace of the soul, which Jesus Christ gives, so fully as the great St. Augustine. Read his “Confessions.” What a restless life his was before his conversion. His intellect was tossed on the waves of speculation, and he could grasp no reassuring truth. His heart was distracted by the ideals of false philosophy and sensuality in its various Protean forms. His conscience was profoundly stirred by conviction of sin; he was hurried along by a very tempest of passions, and there was no peace.

Then came his conversion. Jesus “rose in the soul.” There was a change, which brought peace. Tolle, lege, “Take it up and read,” were the words he heard in his agony; and he took up the scroll and read, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness”; and those words of St. Paul fell on the ear of his soul, and there was peace. His intellect surveys the vast realms of revelation and nature, and sees Christ—the Divine Logos—everywhere. His heart turns its undisturbed and enraptured gaze on the Eternal Beauty—all ancient and all young. His will is redirected, the problem of duty is simplified, and he does it with all his heart. His conscience is calmed, for there is no longer any sense of feud between himself and holiness of life. All is pardoned through the cleansing Blood. All becomes possible through the grace of the Redeemer, and Augustine became the greatest saint the Catholic Church has produced since the time of the great Apostle himself.1 [Note: M. Fuller, In Terrâ Pax, 79.]

3. How did the peace of God, passing understanding, come to them that night? By the manifested presence of Him who first said, “Peace be unto you,” and then showed them His hands and His side. He came as His own supreme Evangelist, in His own utterance of “peace.” He let them see Him as His own supreme Evangel, in His finished sacrifice and that glorious sequel of it, His living Presence. So it is for ever. There is no substitute, nor ever can be, for personal relations with Christ, crucified and risen. Would we taste a “peace” which is indeed “of God”? It must be “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” as not a principle only but a Person. Faith must see His wounds; faith must hear His benediction, nothing between, resting direct on Him. Only so will our life have banished out of it the bewilderment, the misgiving, which lie at the troubled heart of half-religion.

Wilt Thou not visit me?

The plant beside me feels Thy gentle dew;

And every blade of grass I see,

From Thy deep earth its quickening moisture drew.


Wilt Thou not visit me?

Thy morning calls on me with cheering tone;

And every hill and tree

Lend but one voice, the voice of Thee alone.


Come, for I need Thy love,

More than the flower the dew, or grass the rain

Come, gently as Thy holy Dove;

And let me in Thy sight rejoice to live again.


I will not hide from them

When Thy storms come, though fierce may be their wrath

But bow with leafy stem,

And strengthened follow on Thy chosen path.


Yes, Thou wilt visit me,

Nor plant nor tree Thine eye delights so well,

As when, from sin set free,

My spirit loves with Thine in peace to dwell.1 [Note: Jones Very.]

III

The Confirmation of the Message

“He shewed unto them his hands and his side.”

Our Lord first convinced them of His identity. The deep shadows of evening were around them; a solitary lamp, perhaps, cast a glimmer of light through the large upper room, and made the darkness visible, while they were standing in a group and eagerly discussing the news of the Eesurrection, which, first Mary Magdalene, then Peter, then the two disciples from Emmaus, had in turn brought in. And casually some one glanced aside into the darkened room, where all was vacancy; and surely the air was not seen to move—but it did move—and he looked again, and it moved again, and now a dim outline was seen. The disciple held his breath, and touched his neighbour and whispered. And they looked again, and the shadow had grown in distinctness, and others saw the shape. At length it was plainly visible to all, and it stood out in the very midst in the full proportions of a man, although a moment before they could neither see, nor feel, nor hear any one besides themselves. Well might they be filled with fear, and think that they had seen a spirit. Great need had they of hearing those soothing words, “Peace be unto you!”

And now, to show them not only that it was a true material organism, but the very body that had been crucified, He showed the ghastly gashes made in the crucifixion. Luke says, “He shewed them his hands and his feet”: those hands and feet that had always been about His Father’s business; hands that had waved away the powers of darkness; hands that had been placed on the heads of little children; hands that had broken the bread of miracle; feet that had walked the stormy waters; feet that had carried Him to the weeping sisters, and the tomb of Lazarus; feet that had climbed the mountain stair into the midnight holy of holies, where He prayed; feet that had hastened to the side of the wretched, had stood near the most forlorn; feet that took Him down to Gethsemane, and failed Him there under the load of our sorrow; feet that with weak, fainting, yet resolute steps, came out of Jerusalem, while the hands assayed to hold upon His shoulder the cruel cross—the hands and the feet that were nailed to that cross.

One time when David Livingstone was engaged in his civilizing work in Africa, he was attacked by a huge lion of the jungle. The ferocious beast grasped the hand of the missionary in his powerful jaws, and broke the bone. Livingstone was rescued by two friends who had accompanied him, but for a long time he was obliged to keep his arm in a sling. He carried the scar of the wound all his days, and when the faithful natives brought back his dead body to his native land, this scar on the arm once broken was one of the means by which the remains of the great missionary were identified by his friends.

1. He confirmed His former word of peace.—“My peace I give unto you.” He had said, and the word lived in their ears like deep irony. And now, when they sat in gloomy silence, with their sorrow, and their peril, and thoughts of the empty future making peace impossible, He comes again with His former word. It was a time when the common greeting might well have sounded like a wrong; peace—when there is no peace and cannot be! But Jesus Christ, whose words are living, calls them back from all such petulance. In its fullest latitude He meant His word, and thus made trial of their faith; for peace was there, indeed, within their reach, if only they had courage to lay hands upon it. And in our disquiet the Lord speaks to us in the same way, and we shall gain or miss the help of His presence according as we deal with the promise of His word.

2. He showed them the proofs of His victory.—His appearance was more significant than any word He spoke. He appeared to those men time after time in order that, when He had withdrawn from their sight, they might know the truth, the reality concerning Him, and know it for ever; that all doubt, all hesitation, might be gone from their minds. He showed Himself to them that they might have His image in their hearts, and send on that image into our hearts through all the ages. Just as on earth in the days of His mortality He revealed Himself, so now in the days of His resurrection power He does but reveal Himself. Is there a halo? There is none. Are there the robes of royalty? They are not mentioned. Is His advent into the room heralded by the acclaim of the archangels? No. But we are told in both records—it is the very central point of the narrative—that He showed them His hands and His feet. We are told that on the next Sabbath He saw Thomas, and He said, “See my hands; see my side.” The marks of the suffering were upon Him. His body was changed strangely. It was raised to a condition of existence entirely different from the old condition; but there was something that was not changed. “When you think how much was changed, that which was not changed is all the more significant. Instead of the halo there were the wound-prints, and it was those wound-prints that won for Him the name “My Lord and my God.”

Our Lord bought peace with His Passion. It is to the Passion that He ascribes the Peace. He comes back with the signature of that treaty of peace written in His hands and side. There did not seem to be much peace in the Passion, rather it was the breaking of the storm. The old man in the Temple looked across the sky of the Child-life to where the clouds were gathering for Him and His Mother; and on the Cross the storm broke. But the vessel, lost to sight in the storm, again appears, though with rigging torn and battered hull, creeping back to port with the dignity of a struggle that has found the goal.1 [Note: F. E. Ridgeway, Calls to Service, 219.]

The Saviour’s Easter Greeting

Literature

Buckland (A. R.), Text Studies for a Year, 119.

Davies (J. Ll.), The Work of Christ, 331.

Deshon (G.), Sermons for the Ecclesiastical Year, 182.

Farningham (M.), In Evening Lights, 104.

Fotheringham (D. R.), The Writing on the Sky, 77.

Fuller (M.), The Lord’s Day, 256.

Fuller (M.), In Terrâ Pax, 56.

Gutch (C.), Sermons, 184.

Hankey (W. B.), The Church and the Saints, 55.

Holden (J. S.), The Pre-Eminent Lord, 101.

Hutton (W. R.), Low Spirits, 48.

Jones (W. B.), The Peace of God, 355.

Lewis (F. W.), The Work of Christ, 147.

Liddon (H. P.), Easter in St. Paul’s, 217.

MacArthur (J.), Sermons for the People, New Ser., iv. 57.

McFadyen (J. E.), The Divine Pursuit, 67.

Macgregor (W. M.), Jesus Christ the Son of God, 165.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: John xv.–xxi., 382.

Macnutt (F. B.), The Inevitable Christ, 3.

Morrison (G. H.), The Footsteps of the Flock, 288.

Morrison (G. H.), The Unlighted Lustre, 112.

Moule (H. C. G.), From Sunday to Sunday, 95.

Reynolds (H. R.), Lamps of the Temple, 184.

Salmon (G.), Cathedral and University Sermons, 213.

Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 80, 81.

Smith (D.), Christian Counsel, 54.

Stone (D.), The Discipline of Faith, 107.

Telford (J.), The Story of the Upper Room, 245.

Thomas (J.), The Mysteries of Grace, 89.

Wilkinson (G. H.), Some Laws in God’s Spiritual Kingdom, 281.

Keswick Week, 1900, p. 131 (Meyer); 1905, p. 95 (Pierson).


Verse 20

(20) He shewed unto them his hands and his side.—In St. Luke’s account (Luke 24:39) we have “hands and feet.” The piercing of the side is related by St. John only. (Comp. John 20:25-27.)

Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.—Better, the disciples therefore were glad . . . Their joy arose from the proof of corporeal identity which He had given them in the wounds. Their first impression was that they saw a spirit, and they were afraid, but the conviction that it was indeed the Lord, filled them with joy. (Comp. John 6:19-21, and Luke 24:37; Luke 24:41.)


Verse 21

(21) Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you.—These words may be here a solemn repetition of the greeting in John 20:19, by which our Lord’s own message of peace is immediately connected with that which the Apostles were to deliver to the world. It is, however, more natural to understand the words in John 20:19 as those of greeting, and these as words of farewell. (Comp. John 14:27.) Other words had intervened, as we know from St. Luke’s narrative. He is now about to withdraw the evidence of His presence from them, and does so with the customary “Shalôm;” but with this He reminds them of the apostleship to which He has called them, gives them an earnest of the Presence which will never leave them, but always qualify them for it (John 20:22), and places before them the greatness of the work to which He sends them (John 20:23).

As my (better, the) Father hath sent me, even so send I you.—Comp. Note on John 17:18, where the words occur in prayer to the Father. As spoken here to the disciples ‘they are the identification of them with Himself in His mediatorial work. He is the great Apostle (Hebrews 3:1); they are ambassadors for Christ, to whom He commits the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18 et seq.). He stands in the same relation to the Father as that in which they stand to Him. He declares to them, and they in His name are to declare to the world, the fulness of the Father’s love, and the peace between man and God, witnessed to in His life and death. He and they stand also in the same relation to the world. At this very moment they are assembled with shut doors, for fear of the Jews, who are triumphing over Him as dead. But to that world, which will hate, persecute, and kill them, as it had hated, persecuted, and killed Him, they are sent as He was sent; they are to declare forgiveness, mercy, love, peace, as He had declared them, to every heart that does not harden itself against them; and they are to find in His presence, as He had ever found in the Father’s presence, the support which will ever bring peace to their own hearts (John 14:27).

And when he had said this, he breathed on them.—The word rendered “breathed” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but was familiar from its use in the Greek (LXX.) of Genesis 2:7. St. John uses to describe this act of the risen Lord the striking word which had been used to describe the act by which God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life. He writes as one who remembered how the influence of that moment on their future lives was a new spiritual creation, by which they were called, as it were, out of death into life. It was the first step in that great moral change which passed over the disciples after the Crucifixion, and of which the day of Pentecost witnessed the accomplishment.

And saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.—These words are not, on the one hand, to be understood as simply a promise of the future gift of the Holy Ghost, for they are a definite imperative, referring to the moment when they were spoken; nor are they, on the other hand, to be taken as the promised advent of the Paraclete (John 14:16 et seq.), for the gift of the Holy Ghost was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:39; John 16:7 et seq.). The meaning is that He then gave to them a sign, which was itself to faithful hearts as the firstfruits of that which was to come. His act was sacramental, and with the outer and visible sign there was the inward and spiritual grace. The very word used was that used when He said to them, “Take (receive ye), eat; this is My body” (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22). It would come to them now with a fulness of sacred meaning. The Risen Body is present with them. The constant spiritual Presence in the person of the Paraclete is promised to them. They again hear the words “Receive ye,” and the very command implies the power to obey. (Comp. Excursus C: The Sacramental Teaching of St. John’s Gospel, p. 556.)


Verse 23

(23) Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them . . .—Comp. for the “power of the keys,” the Notes on Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18. Assuming what has there been said, it will be sufficient to add that this power is here immediately connected with the representative character of the disciples as apostles sent by Christ, as He was Himself sent by the Father (John 20:21), and that its validity is dependent upon their reception of the Holy Ghost (John 20:22), by whom Christ Himself is present in them (John 14:18; John 16:7-11). Sent as He was sent, they are not sent to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved; but in their work, as in His, men are condemned because the light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light.

The ultimate principles upon which this power rests are those stated above—the being sent by Christ, and the reception of the Holy Ghost. God has promised forgiveness wherever there is repentance; He has not promised repentance wherever there is sin. It results from every declaration of forgiveness made in the name of the Father through Jesus Christ, that hearts which in penitence accept it receive remission of their sins, and that the hardness of the hearts which wilfully reject it is by their rejection increased, and the very words by which their sins would be remitted become the words by which they are retained. (Comp. especially Notes on John 3:17 et seq.; John 16:8 et seq.; and 2 Corinthians 2:15-16.)

On individual words in this verse it is important to note that in the better text the tense of that rendered “are remitted” is a strict present, while that rendered “are retained” is in the perfect-present. The difference is not easy to preserve in English, but the thought seems to be, “Whose soever sins ye remit—a change in their condition is taking place—their sins are being remitted by God; whose soever ye retain—their condition remains unchanged—they have been, and are retained.”


Verse 24

(24) But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus . . .—Comp. Notes on John 11:16; John 14:5. It is in harmony with the desponding character that looks upon the visit to Jerusalem as necessarily leading to death, that he now is as one who has given up the common hope of the band of disciples, and is not present with them. It has happened as he had thought; the death he had foretold has come to pass. Is this the end of all the Messianic hopes which he had cherished? Is the grave the “whither,” and the cross the “way,” which they knew not?


Verse 25

(25) Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails.—This demand for the evidence of his own senses, and refusal to admit the testimony of eyewitnesses, though these were the whole of his ten brethren in the Apostolic band, remind us of the demand made to Christ Himself, “We know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?”

The reading of the second clause varies between “print of the nails” and “place of the nails.” The Greek words vary by only one letter ( τύπος, “print”; τόπος, “place”), so that copyists may easily have taken one for the other. If we read “place,” it answers to the touch of the finger, as “print” does to the sight of the eye; but, on the other hand, there is in the repetition an expression of determination, almost, we may say, amounting to obstinacy, which corresponds with the position which Thomas is taking.

And thrust my hand into his side.—Comp. John 20:20. The feet are not mentioned, but the hands and the side would be demonstrative evidence. We cannot properly infer from this verse that the feet were not nailed.

I will not believe.—The determination is expressed in its strongest form by the double Greek negative, “I will by no means believe.”


Verse 26

(26) And after eight days again his disciples were within.—That is, on the octave of the first appearance to them; as we should now say, on the first Sunday after Easter. There is no reason for thinking that they had not met together during the interval, and that their meeting was a special observance of the Lord’s Day. At the same time this appearance on the recurrence of the first day of the week would take its place among the steps by which the disciples passed from the observance of the Jewish Sabbath to that of the Christian Sunday.

The place is obviously the same as that of the first appearance, and the doors are shut for the same reason. (Comp. Note on John 20:19.)

The repetition of the greeting, “Peace be unto you,” is partly the natural salutation as He appears to them, but now indeed full of a new meaning, which the thoughts of the week must have written upon their hearts, and partly, it may be, is specially intended to include Thomas, who was not present when it was spoken before.


Verse 27

(27) Then saith. he to Thomas . . .—This implies a knowledge of the words of John 20:25, which in itself would carry conviction to the mind of Thomas. This repetition must have carried with this conviction a sense of shame at his unbelief.

And be not faithless, but believing.—Better, and become not unbelieving, but believing. The words do not apply to the fact of the Resurrection only, but to the general spiritual condition of the Apostle. He was in danger of passing from the state of a believer in Christ to that of an unbeliever. His demand for the evidence of the senses was a step backward, a resting on the less, not on the more, certain. His Master would have him retrace that step, and become one who rests upon the intuition of the Spirit.


Verse 28

(28) Thomas answered and said unto him.—It is implied that he did not make use of the tests which his Master offered him, but that he at once expressed the fulness of his conviction. This is confirmed by the words of the next verse, “Because thou hast seen Me.”

My Lord and my God.—These words are preceded by “said unto him,” and are followed by “because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed;” and the words “my Lord” can only be referred to Christ. (Comp. John 20:13.) The sentence cannot therefore, without violence to the context, be taken as an exclamation addressed to God, and is to be understood in the natural meaning of a confession by the Apostle that his Lord was also God.


Verse 29

(29) Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed.—The name “Thomas” is omitted in all the better MSS., and the order of the other words suggests that they should be read interrogatively—Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen Me, hast thou believed? The tense of the word rendered “hast thou believed” is the perfect-present—“hast thou become, and art thou a believer?” The command of John 20:27 had done its work, and the words are words of approval; but yet they are not wholly so. He had arrived at conviction by means of the senses, but the higher blessedness was that of those who see by the eye of the spirit and not by that of the body; who base their confidence on the conviction of the faith-faculty, and are independent of the changing phenomena of the senses.

Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.—The truth is expressed in its general form. It is not to be understood in any special sense of the Ten, for the Greek is against it, and the other disciples also had seen and had believed; but it includes all who have become believers without having seen. This blessedness is thought of as existing from the moment of believing, and the act of faith is therefore spoken of in the past tense. The words look forward to the development of the Church which is to be founded upon Apostolic witness, and whose faith must ever be in the unseen. (Comp. Notes on John 1:9 and 1 Peter 1:9.)


Verse 30

(30) And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples.—More exactly, Yea, and indeed many and other signs did Jesus. (Comp. Note on John 2:11.) We must understand the “signs” not of the proofs of the Resurrection only, but of the works wrought during the whole life. The writer’s narrative is drawing to a close, and he explains the fact that he has recorded so little of a life which contained so much. There were, indeed, many other signs which he, as an eye-witness, remembered, but which it was not within his purpose to relate.

That he refers to the whole work of Christ, and not to the Risen Life only, is clear, because (1) there were not “many other signs” during the forty days; (2) the words “did Jesus” are not applicable to the manifestation to the disciples; (3) the words “in this book” refer to all that has preceded.

It would seem to follow from this that these verses (John 20:30 and John 20:31) are the conclusion of the original Gospel, and that John 21 is to be regarded as a postscript or appendix. We shall find reason for believing that, though an appendix, it proceeded from the hand of the Apostle himself.


Verse 31

(31) But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.—We have here the writer’s own statement of his object in writing his narrative, and also the explanation of what seems an abrupt end. His object is that those for whom he writes may become believers, and read in these signs the spiritual truths which lay behind them. He has traced step by step the developments of faith in the Apostles themselves, and this has reached its highest stage in the confession of Thomas. He has recorded the blessedness of those who shall believe without sight, uttered in his Master’s words. In the confession of Thomas, and in the comment of our Lord, the object of the author finds its full expression, and with their words the Gospel finds its fitting close. “Become not faithless, but believing;” “My Lord and my God;” “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”—these are the words the author heard and records. “But these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” This is the object he had in recording them. On the special meaning of these words as connected with the Gnostic heresies of the time, comp. Introduction, p. 378.

And that believing ye might have life through his name.—Better, . . . in His name. Thus the last words bring us back again to the first. (Comp. Notes on John 1:4; John 1:12.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 20:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/john-20.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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