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Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ Risen from the Dead
Below is an Analysis of the first section of John 20:
1. The stone removed from the sepulcher, verse 1.
2. Mary Magdalene’s appeal to the two disciples, verse 2.
3. Love’s race to the sepulcher, verses 3, 4.
4. John’s hesitation and Peter’s boldness, verses 5, 6.
5. The grave-clothes and John’s conclusion, verses 7, 8.
6. The disciples’ slowness of heart, verse 9.
7. Their return home, verse 10.
The resurrection of Christ was more than hinted at in the first Divine promise and prophecy (Genesis 3:15 ): if Christ was to bruise the serpent’s head after His own heel had been bruised by the enemy, then must He rise from the dead. The passing of the ark through the waters of judgment on to the cleansed earth, foreshadowed this same great event (1 Peter 3:21 ). The deliverance of Isaac from the altar, after he had been given up to death three days before (see Genesis 22:4 ), is interpreted by the Holy Spirit as a receiving of him back, in figure, from the dead (Hebrews 11:19 ). The crossing of the Red Sea by Israel on dry ground, three days after the slaying of the paschal lamb, was a type of Christians being raised together with Christ. The emergence of Jonah after three days and nights in the whale’s belly forecast the Savior’s deliverance from the tomb on the third day. Prophecy was equally explicit: "Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hades; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life" (Psalms 16:9-11 ).
We cannot make too much of the death of Christ, but we can make too little of His resurrection. Our hearts and minds cannot meditate too frequently upon the cross, but in pondering the sufferings of the Savior, let us not forget the glories which followed. Calvary does not exhaust the Gospel message. The Christian evangel is not only that Christ died for our sins, but also that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ). He was delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25 ). Had Christ remained in the sepulcher it had been the grave of all our hopes; "If Christ be not raised," said the apostle, "then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14 ). To be a witness of His resurrection was a fundamental qualification for an apostle (Acts 1:22 ). That God raised up the One whom the Jews had crucified, was the central truth pressed by Peter in his pentecostal sermon (Acts 2:24-36 ). The same fact was urged again by the apostles in Solomon’s porch (Acts 3:15 ), and before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:10 ; Acts 5:30 ). This foundation-truth was proclaimed also to the Gentiles (Acts 10:40 ; Acts 13:34 ). Its prominence in the Epistles is too well-known to require quotations.
The 20th chapter of John records the appearances which the Savior made to some of His own after He was risen from the dead we say "after," for none of them witnessed the actual resurrection itself. "As no eye beheld what was deepest in the Cross, so only God looked on the Lord rising from among the dead. This was as it should be. Darkness veiled Him giving Himself for us in atonement. Man saw not that infinite work in His death; yet was it not only to glorify God thereby, but that our sins might be borne away righteously. We have seen the action of the world, and especially of the Jews, in crucifying Him; high and low, religious and profane, all played their part; even an apostle denied Him, as another betrayed Him to the murderous priests and elders. But Jehovah laid on Him the iniquities of us all; Jehovah bruised and put Him to grief; Jehovah made His soul an offering for sin; and as this was Godward, so was it invisible to human eyes, and God alone could rightly bear witness, by whom He would, of the eternal redemption there obtained, which left Divine love free to act even in a lost and ungodly world.
"So with the resurrection of Christ. He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; God raised up Jesus whom the Jews slew and hanged on a tree; He had laid down His life that He might take it again, in three days raising the temple of His body which they destroyed. But if no man was given to see the act of His rising from the dead, it was to be testified in all the world, as well as His atoning death. Assuredly he who withholds His resurrection maims the glad tidings of its triumphant proof and character, and compromises the believers’ liberty and introduction into the new creation, as he immensely clouds the Lord’s glory; even as the denial of resurrection virtually charges God’s witnesses with falsehood and makes faith vain." (Bible Treasury).
The resurrection of Christ was brought about by the joint action of the three Persons of the Trinity. Just as they cooperated in connection with His incarnation (Hebrews 10:5 for the Father; Philippians 2:7 for the Son; Luke 1:35 for the Spirit), just as they had each been active in connection with the atonement (Isaiah 53:6 , Isaiah 53:10 for the Father; Ephesians 5:2 for the Son; Hebrews 9:14 for the Spirit), so the whole Godhead was engaged on the resurrection-morning. "Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father" (Romans 6:4 ): "I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10:17 ): "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you" etc. (Romans 8:11 ).
"The first of the week" (John 20:1 ). All the ways of God express His perfect wisdom, and everything recorded of them in Scripture is written for our learning. Most fitting was it that the Lord Jesus, as head of the new creation, should rise from the dead on the first day of the week intimating that a new beginning had been inaugurated. The full requirements of the moral law had been met; the shadows of the ceremonial law had all been fulfilled; the old system, connected with man in the flesh, was ended; a new and spiritual dispensation had begun. It was this "first of the week" which the Spirit of prophecy had in mind when He moved the Psalmist to write, "The stone which the builders refused is become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord hath made (appointed); we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalms 118:22-24 ). Here is the reason why the Lord’s people are under obligations to keep Sunday as their day of rest and worship.  During Old Testament times the Sabbath was the memorial of God’s finished work in the old creation (Genesis 2:3 ; Exodus 20:11 ); in New Testament times the Sabbath is the memorial of Christ’s finished work from which issues the new creation.
"The first of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher" (John 20:1 ). Mark tells us that Mary Magdalene was accompanied to the grave by Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1 , Mark 16:2 ); but John mentions them not. It is characteristic of this fourth Gospel to present individual souls to our notice; Nicodemus alone with Christ, the woman at the well, the blind beggar in chapter 9 being well-known examples. Another thing which is prominent in John is the heart’s affection, the soul finding a satisfying Object: the two disciples who abode with the Lord, on their very first meeting with Him (John 1:39 ); the bringing of others to the Savior, that they also might bask in His presence (John 1:41 , John 1:45 ); the words of Peter (John 6:68 ), the appeal of the sisters (John 11:3 ), and the devotion of Mary (John 12:3 ), are so many illustrations. It is this which Mary of Magdala so vividly exemplifies. To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much (Luke 7:47 ), and abundant cause had this woman to love the Savior, for out of her He had cast seven demons (Luke 8:2 ).
It was "very early in the morning" (Mark 16:2 ) that Mary came to the sepulcher; as John tells us "when it was yet dark." But though she had reason for expecting to find the Roman soldiers on guard there (Matthew 27:66 ), though there had just been "a great earthquake" (Matthew 28:2 ), though there were no male disciples accompanying her, though this was the midst of the Feast, when thousands of strangers were most probably sleeping under any slight shelter near the walls of Jerusalem, love drew Mary to the place where the Savior’s body had been laid. How this devotion of hers puts to shame many of us, who perhaps have greater intelligence in spiritual things, but who manifest far less love for Christ! Few were as deeply attached to the Redeemer as was this woman. Few had received as much at His gracious hands, and her gratitude knew no bounds. How this explains the listlessness and half-heartedness among us! Where there is little sense of our indebtedness to Christ, there will be little affection for Him. Where light views of our sinfulness, our depravity, our utter unworthiness, are entertained, there will be little expression of gratitude and praise. It is those who have had the clearest sight of their de-servingness of hell, whose hearts are most moved at the amazing grace which snatched them as brands from the burning, that are the most devoted among Christ’s people. Let us pray daily, then, that it may please God to grant us a deeper realization of our sinfulness and a deeper apprehension of the surpassing worthiness of His Son, so that we may serve and glorify Him with increasing zeal and faithfulness.
"And seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher" (John 20:1 ). Matthew tells us that, "Behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it" (Matthew 28:2 ): Upon this Mr. John Gill has said, "This stone was removed by an angel, for though Christ Himself could easily have done it, it was proper that it should be done by a messenger from Heaven, by the order of Divine justice, which had lain Him a prisoner there." The stone was rolled away from Lazarus’ sepulcher by human hands (John 11:41 ), the stone from Christ’s tomb by angelic in all things He has the pre-eminence! We believe that God’s principal design in sending His angel to remove the stone was that these believers might see for themselves that the sepulcher was now tenantless. The angel seated on the stone (later, inside the sepulcher) would demonstrate that God Himself had intervened. Apparently Mary was the first to perceive that the entrance to the grave was now open.
"Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him" (John 20:2 ). There is no difficulty in reconciling this statement with the record of Matthew if the following points be kept in mind: First, either Mary was in front of the other women as they journeyed to the sepulcher, or else her vision was keener than theirs; at any rate, she appears to have been the first to perceive that the stone had been removed. Second, she was so excited over this that, instead of going right up to the sepulcher with her companions, she at once rushed off to acquaint the apostles hence she missed seeing the angel. Third, after Mary’s hurried departure, the rest of the little party drew near the grave, hardly knowing what to conclude or what to expect. Fourth, Mary was, most probably, a long way on the road to John’s dwelling before the other women left the tomb.
Various reasons have been advanced as to why Mary sought out Peter and John. These two seem to have been nearer the Savior than the other apostles. They were among the highly favored three who witnessed the transfiguration, and whom He also took with Him further into the Garden than the others (Matthew 26:37 ). These two had also stuck more closely to Him after His arrest, following to and entering the high priest’s residence. Moreover, as another has said, "John alone of all the apostles, had witnessed Peter’s sad fall and observed his bitter weeping afterwards. Can we not understand that from Friday night to Sunday morning John would be lovingly employed in binding up the broken heart of his brother, and telling him of our Lord’s last words? Can we doubt that they were absorbed and occupied in converse about their Master on this very morning, when Mary Magdalene suddenly ran in with her wonderful news." Mary, then, sought Peter and John because she knew that among the disciples they would be most likely to respond (at that early hour) to the anxious inquiry that filled her own soul. It is indeed beautiful to see these two disciples now together: "The love and tender nature of John’s character come out most blessedly in his affection for Peter, even after his denial of Christ... John clings to him, and has him under his own roof, wherever that was. When Judas fell, he had no friend to raise and cheer him. When Peter fell, there was ‘a brother born for adversity’ who did not despise him!" (Bishop Ryle).
"And saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher and we know not where they have laid him." How this shows us that love needs to be regulated by faith. Mary’s affection for the Savior cannot be doubted, and most blessed it was; but her faith certainly was not in exercise. She had judged by the sight of her eyes. The stone had been removed, and she at once jumped to the conclusion that some one had been there and "taken away" the Savior’s body. The thought that He was now alive had evidently not entered her mind. She supposed that He was yet under the power of death. His own repeated declaration that He would rise again on the third day had made no impression. "Alas, how little of Christ’s teaching the best of us take in! How much we let fall!" What a strange mingling of spiritual intelligence and spiritual ignorance we behold here. "They have taken away the Lord’? How often we see the same confusion in ourselves and in others! Observe her "we know not where they have laid him" agreeing with Matthew’s account that other women had accompanied her on the journey to the sepulcher.
"Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher" (John 20:3 ). The announcement which Mary had made to them was so startling that the two disciples arose at once, setting forth to ascertain what this removal of the stone from the sepulcher really meant. It is most likely that they would first ask Mary, Are you sure the body is gone? But all she could tell them was that the stone was no longer in its place. Finding that Mary had not actually looked in the sepulcher, they deemed it best to go and inspect it for themselves. Strikingly may we behold here the over-ruling providence of God. According to the Mosaic law a woman was not eligible to bear witness (note no mention of them is made in 1 Corinthians 15:0 !), and the truth could not be established by less than two men. Here then we have the needed two in Peter and John, as eye-witnesses of the empty grave and the orderliness of the clothes which the Savior had left behind!
"So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher" (John 20:4 ). Their running evidences that they were both excited and anxious. "We can well suppose that Mary’s sudden announcement completely overwhelmed them, so that they knew not what to think. Who can tell what thoughts did not come into their minds, as they ran, about our Lord’s oft-repeated predictions of His resurrection? Could it really be true? Could it possibly prove that all their deep sorrow was going to turn to joy? These are all conjectures, no doubt. Yet a vast amount of thoughts may run through a mind, at a great crisis, in a very few minutes" (Bishop Ryle).
As to the physical reason of John’s out-distancing Peter we cannot be certain, but the popular idea that John was the younger of the two is most likely correct, for he lived at least sixty years afterwards. As to the spiritual reason, we think they err who attribute to Peter a guilty conscience, which made him fearful of a possible meeting with the Savior. Had this been the case, he had hardly set out for the sepulcher at all, still less would he have gone there on the run! Moreover, the promptness with which he entered the tomb argues against the common view. Yet we cannot doubt that there is a moral significance to this detail which the Spirit has recorded for our ]earning. Peter had not yet been restored to fellowship with the Savior. John, too, was the one of all the Eleven who was on most intimate terms with the Lord. This is sufficient to account for his winning love’s race to the sepulcher.
"And he stooping down, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in" (John 20:5 ). Here again we are left to conjecture. The simple fact is recorded; why John entered not in we are not told. Some say, to prevent himself being ceremonially defiled; but that seems very far-fetched. Others think it was out of reverence for the place where the Savior had lain; this, while being more plausible, seems negatived by the fact that only a short while after he did enter the sepulcher (John 20:8 ). It appears to us more likely that, after looking in and seeing the sepulcher was empty, he waited for Peter to come up and take the lead John being the younger of the two, this would be the most gracious thing for him to do. Whatever the motive which guided him, certainly we can see, again, the over-ruling hand of God two must be present to witness the condition of the grave so as to establish the truth!
"And he stooping down, saw the linen clothes lying." What is the moral significance of John’s act here? Surely it is this: John would never see the risen Christ while he was "stooping down" and looking within the sepulcher! How many there are to-day who conduct themselves as John did! They wish to ascertain whether or not they are real Christians. And what is the method they pursue? How do they prosecute their inquiry? By self-examination, by introspection, by looking within! They attempt to find in their own hearts that which will give them confidence towards God. But this is like seeking to make fast a ship by casting the anchor within its own hold. The anchor must be thrown outside of the ship, so that, lost to sight beneath the waves, it pierces through the mud or sand of the ocean’s bed, and grips the rock itself. The surest way to discover whether or not I am trusting in Christ is not to peer within to see if I have faith, but to exercise faith, by looking away to its Object faith is the eye of the soul, and the eye does not look at itself. If I look within, most likely I shall see only what John saw the tokens of death! "Looking off unto Jesus" is what the Word says.
"Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher" (John 20:6 ). "How this illustrates that there are widely different temperaments among believers! Both ran to the sepulcher. John, of the two, the more gentle, quiet, reserved, deep-feeling, stooped down, but went no further. Peter, more hot and zealous, impulsive, fervent and forward, cannot be content without going into the sepulcher, and actually seeing with his own eyes. Both, we may be sure, were deeply attached to our Lord. The hearts of both, at this critical juncture, were full of hopes and fears, anxieties and expectations, all tangled together. Yet each acts in his own characteristic fashion! Let us learn from this to make allowance for wide varieties in the individual character of believers. To do so will save us much trouble in the journey of life, and prevent many an uncharitable thought. Let us not judge brethren harshly, and set them down in a low place, because they do not see or feel things as we see and feel. The flowers in the Lord’s garden are not all of one color and one scent, though they are all planted by the One Spirit. The subjects of Christ’s kingdom are not all exactly of one tone or temperament, though they all love the same Savior, and are written in the same book of life. The Church has some in its ranks who are like Peter, and some who are like John, but a place for all, and a work for all to do. Let us love all who love Christ in sincerity, and thank God that they love Him at all" (Bishop Ryle).
"And seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself" (John 20:6 , John 20:7 ) In the Greek the word for "seeth" is different from that for "saw" in the preceding verse: the word used in connection with John signifies to take a glance; the one used of Peter means that he beheld intently, scrutinized. The design of the Holy Spirit in this verse is obvious: He informs us that Peter found in the empty tomb the clearest evidences of a deliberate and composed transaction. There were no signs of haste or fear. What had taken place had been done "decently and in order," not by a thief, and scarcely by a friend. "There they beheld, not their Object, but the trophies of His victory over the power of death. There they see the gates of brass and the bars of iron cut in sunder. The linen clothes and the napkin which had been wrapped around the Lord’s head, as though He were death’s prisoner, were seen strewing the ground like the spoils of the vanquished, as under the hand of death’s Conqueror. The very armor of the strong man was made a show of in his own house; this telling loudly that He, who is the plague of death, and hell’s destruction, had been in that place doing His glorious work." (Mr. J. G. Bellett).
"Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed" (John 20:8 ). There is wide difference of opinion as to the meaning of this verse. What was it that John "saw and believed"? Many say that John saw the grave was tenantless and believed what Mary had said, "they have taken away the Lord." But John had already looked into the grave and seen the linen clothes (John 20:5 ); what is said here in John 20:8 is clearly something different. But what alternative is left us? Only this, that John now believed that Christ had risen from the dead. But if this be the reference here, how are we to understand the next verse "For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead?" Does not this bar out the thought that John now believed that Christ was alive? We do not think so; the contrast pointed between John 20:8 and 9 is not between believing and not believing, but between the grounds on which faith rested!
We believe that the key to the meaning of this verse lies in the word "saw." In the Greek it is a different one from that which is used either in John 20:5 or verse 6; the word here in verse 8 has the force of "perceived with the understanding." But what was it that John now "saw"? In verse 5, when he looked into the sepulcher from the outside, he saw (by a glance) "the linen clothes lying"; but now, on the inside, he saw also "the napkin that was about His head not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself" (John 20:7 ). On this the late Mr. Pierson wrote: "‘Wrapped together,’ fails to convey the true significance. The original means rolled up, and suggests that these clothes were lying in their original convolutions, as they had been tightly rolled up around our Lord’s dead body. In John 19:40 it is recorded how they tightly wound bound about that body in the linen clothes; how tightly and rigidly may be inferred from the necessity of loosing Lazarus, even after miraculous power had raised up the dead body and given it life (John 11:44 ). This explains John 20:8 : ‘And he (John) saw and believed.’ There was nothing in the mere fact of an empty tomb to compel belief in a miraculous resurrection; but, when John saw, on the floor of the sepulcher, the long linen wrappings that had been so tightly wound about the body and the head, lying there undisturbed, in their original convolutions, he knew that nothing but a miracle could have made it possible."
John "saw and believed" or understood: it was a logical conclusion, an irresistible one, drawn from the evidence before him. The body was gone from the sepulcher; the clothes were left behind, and the condition of them indicated that Christ had passed out of them without their being un-wrapped. If friends had removed the body, would they not have taken the clothes with it, still covering the honored corpse? If foes had removed the body, first stripping it, would they have been so careful to dispose of the clothes and napkin in the orderly manner in which John now beheld them? Everything pointed to deliberation and design, and the apostle could draw only one conclusion Christ had risen. Our blessed Lord had left the grave-clothes just as they had rested upon Him. He had simply risen out of them by His Divine power. We believe that this shows there is a deeper significance than is generally perceived in the angel’s word to the women, "Come see the place where the Lord lay" (Matthew 28:6 ). The clothes themselves marked His resting-place, somewhat as one would leave the impression of his form upon the bed on which he had been lying body, arms, head. Here then we have the first proof that the mighty Victor had risen from the sleep of death.
In leaving behind His grave-clothes an Old Testament type was strikingly fulfilled. Joseph, through no fault of his own, was cast into prison the place of condemnation. While in prison he was numbered with transgressors two, as Christ was crucified between the two thieves; to the one he was the means of blessing, to the other he was the pronouncer of judgment. All of this is so clear it needs no comment. But Joseph did not remain forever in the prison, any more than Christ continued in the tomb. Joseph’s place of shame and suffering was exchanged for one of dignity and glory. But before he left the dungeon "he shaved himself, and changed his raiment" (Genesis 41:14 ). So the Savior left behind Him the habiliments of death, coming forth clothed in immortality and glory. This was the pledge that at Christ’s second coming His people will also be rid forever of everything connected with the old creation "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Philippians 3:21 ).
"For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead" (John 20:9 ). Very searching and humbling is this. For three years these two leading apostles had heard our Lord speak of His resurrection, yet had they not understood Him. Again and again had He told them that He would rise again on the third day, yet had they never taken in His meaning. His enemies had remembered what He said (see Matthew 27:63 ), but His friends had forgotten! What a piercing rebuke was that of the angel’s "He is risen, as he said" (Matthew 28:6 )! And again, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again" (Luke 24:5-7 )! But these words of Christ had fallen on unheeding ears. Moreover, the apostles had had the Old Testament Scriptures in their hands from the beginning, and such passages as Psalms 16:9-11 , etc., ought to have prepared them for His resurrection. But wrong teaching in childhood, traditions imbibed in their youth (John 12:34 ), had prejudiced them and made void the Word of God. This statement of John’s here brings out, once more, his trustworthiness as a witness. "Hereby it appears that they were not only honest men, who would not deceive others, but cautious men, who would not themselves he imposed upon" (Matthew Henry).
"For as yet they knew not the scripture that he must rise again from the dead." The Holy Spirit here contrasts a faith which rests on the Word of God, with an intellectual assurance which proceeds from mere external evidence. Much has been made by Christian apologists of the value of "evidences," but it has been greatly overrated. Creation demonstrates a Creator, but the outward proofs of His hand do not move the heart, nor bring the soul into communion with Him the written Word, applied by the Spirit, alone does that! "Facts are of high ‘interest and real importance; and as the Israelite could Point to them as the basis of his religion, to the call of Abram by God, and the deliverance of the chosen people from Egypt and through the desert and into Canaan, so can the Christian to the incomparably deeper and more enduring ones of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God, with the consequent presence of the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven. But faith to have moral value, to deal with the conscience, to purify the heart, is not the pure and simple acceptance of facts on reasonable grounds, but the heart’s welcoming God’s testimony in His Word. This tests the soul beyond all else, as spiritual intelligence consists in the growing up to Christ in an increasing perception and enjoyment of all that God’s Word has revealed, which separates the saint practically to Himself and His will in judgment of self and the world.
"To ‘see and believe’ therefore is wholly short of what the operation of God gives us; as traditional faith or evidence answers to it now in Christendom. It is human, and leaves the conscience unpurged and the heart without communion. It may be found in him who is in no way born of God (John 2:23-25 ), but also in the believer as here; if so, it is not what the Spirit seals and in no way delivers from present things. And this it seems to be the Divine object to let us know in the account before us. Faith, to be of value and have power, rests not on sight or inference, but on Scripture. And as the disciples show the most treacherous memory as to the words of the Lord till He was raised up from the dead (John 2:22 ), so were they insensible to the force and application of the written Word: after that they believed both, they entered into abiding and enlarging blessing from above. This, as Peter tells us in his first Epistle (1 Peter 1:8 ), is characteristically the faith of a Christian, who, having not seen Christ, loves Him; and on whom, though not now seeing Him but believing he exults with joy unspeakable and full of glory. The faith that is founded on evidences may strengthen against Deism, Pantheism, or Atheism, but it never gave remission of sins, never led one to cry Abba Father, never filled the heart with His grace and glory who is the Object of God’s everlasting satisfaction and delight" (The Bible Treasury).
"Then the disciples went away again unto their own home" (John 20:10 ). "Here also we have the further and marked testimony of its powerlessness (John’s ‘believing’ A.W.P.). The fact was known on grounds indisputable to their minds but not yet appreciated in God’s sight as revealed in His Word, and hence they return to their own unbroken association" (Bible Treasury). Doubtless this is one reason why the Holy Spirit recorded this detail, but are we not meant to link it up with John 19:27 as well "From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." Did not Peter and John now hasten to tell the Savior’s mother that He was risen from the dead!
The following questions are to aid the student for our next lesson:
1. What is the typical picture in verses 11-23?
2. Why did not Mary recognize Him in verse 15?
3. Why did she recognize Him in verse 16?
4. Why "touch Me not," verse 17?
5. Why refer to the ascension here, verse 17?
6. What do the last words of verse 19 prove?
7. Why the repetition in verse 21 from verse 19?
 See author’s "The Christian Sabbath."
Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ Appearing to His Own.
Below is an Analysis of our present passage:
1. Mary at the sepulcher, verses 11-13.
2. Christ revealing Himself to Mary, verses 14-16.
3. Christ commissioning Mary, verses 17-18.
4. The apostles in the upper room, verse 19.
5. Christ revealing Himself to the apostles, verse 20.
6. Christ commissioning the apostles, verse 21.
7. Christ enduing the apostles, verses 22, 23.
Our Lord had triumphed o’er the grave, "as he said." Before the sun of this world had risen upon the third day since the crucifixion, the Son of righteousness had already risen; the Bridegroom had gone forth from His chamber (Psalms 19:4 ). The One whose heel was bruised by the serpent had, through death, become the destroyer of him who had the power of death. The eye of no earthly watcher had beheld the actual resurrection of the body, the rising, and the going forth. That He had risen was evident by the stone rolled away, the empty sepulcher, and the condition of the grave-clothes which He had left behind; corroborated, too, by the witness of the angels. But now He was to appear in person unto His own: the manner in which He did so is very striking. "Although the impulse of His love urged Him at once to the company of His own upon earth, who are still in the sorrow of death; yet He does not overwhelm them with sudden surprise at His glorious reappearance, but restrains Himself, yields Himself to their view by degrees, regulated by the highest wisdom of love. Their minds are gradually prepared, each one according to its temperament and need" (Stier).
So far as our present light reveals, the Savior made eleven appearances between His resurrection and ascension. First, to Mary Magdalene alone (John 20:14 ). Second, to certain women returning from the sepulcher (Matthew 28:9 , Matthew 28:10 ). Third, to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34 ). Fourth, to the two disciples going to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 ). Fifth, to the ten apostles in the upper room (John 20:19 ). Sixth, to the eleven apostles in the upper room (John 20:26-29 ). Seventh, to seven disciples fishing at the sea of Tiberias (John 21:0 ). Eighth, to the eleven apostles and possibly other disciples with them (Matthew 28:16 ). Ninth, to above five hundred brethren at once (1 Corinthians 15:7 ). Tenth, to James (1 Corinthians 15:7 ). Eleventh, to the eleven apostles, and possibly other disciples on the mount of Olives at His ascension (Acts 1:0 ). His twelfth appearance, after His ascension, was to Stephen (Acts 7:0 ). His thirteenth, to Saul on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:0 ). His fourteenth, to John on Patmos (Revelation 1:0 ). And this was the last how profoundly significant. The final appearing was His fourteenth! The factors of fourteen are seven and two, seven being the number of perfection, and two of witness. Thus we have His own perfect witness to His triumph over the tomb!! His next appearing will be unto His blood-bought saints all together, when He shall descend into the air with a shout, and catch us up to be with Himself for evermore (1 Thessalonians 4:16 ). This will be His fifteenth appearance. The factors of fifteen are three and five, three being the number of full manifestation, and five of grace. Thus, at His coming for us, His grace, His wondrous grace, will be fully manifested!!
It is with the first and the fifth of these appearings of the risen Savior that our present lesson is concerned. And here, too, the significance of these numerals holds good. One is the number of God in the unity of His essence. It speaks of His absolute sovereignty. The sovereignty of God comes out here most vividly and blessedly in the character of the one selected to have the high honor of being the first to gaze upon the triumphant Redeemer. It was not to the Eleven, not even to John, that Christ first showed Himself; it was to a woman, and she the one out of whom He had cast seven demons one who had been the complete slave of Satan. And to her He revealed Himself as God the Son (see verse 17). And to whom was His fifth appearance made? To His mother? No. To Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus? No. It was to the unbelieving apostles, to those who had regarded as idle tales the testimony of the women who had seen Him. His fifth appearance was made to those who had least reason to expect Him, whose faith was the weakest. Wondrous grace indeed was this!
"But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping" (John 20:11 ). This is the sequel to what was before us in the last lesson. At the beginning of the 20th chapter, we read, "The first of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him." In the interval, the two apostles had been to the sepulcher, inspected the clothes within, and then returned to their home, to acquaint the Savior’s mother that He was risen from the dead. Meanwhile Mary, not knowing of this, had returned to the sepulcher, desolate and sorrowful. But soon her grief was to be turned into gladness: in but a little while the One who had taken captive her heart and who now occupied her every thought would be manifested to her. Strikingly does this illustrate Proverbs 8:17 : "I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me." Mary, and the other women, were the first to seek the sepulcher on the resurrection morning, and they were the first to whom the Victor of death showed Himself (Matthew 28:9 ). Alas that so many put off the seeking of Christ till the last hour of life, and then never find Him!
"But Mary stood without at the sepulcher weeping." Here, once more, the Holy Spirit shows us that love needs to be regulated by faith. It was love for Christ that caused her to weep: she was weeping because the sepulcher was empty, yet in fact that was the very thing which should have made her rejoice. Had the Lord’s body been still there, she might have wept indeed, for then His promise had failed, His work on the cross had been in vain, and she (and all others) yet in her sins. The weeping manifested her affection, but it also showed her unbelief. "How often are the fears and sorrows of saints quite needless! Mary stood at the sepulcher weeping, and wept as if nothing could comfort her. She wept when the angels spoke to her: ‘Woman,’ they said, ‘why weepest thou’? She was weeping still when our Lord spoke to her: ‘Woman,’ He said, ‘why weepest thou?’ And the burden of her complaint was always the same: ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him’! Yet all this time her risen Master was close to her! Her tears were needless. Like Hagar in the wilderness (Genesis 21:19 ), she had a well of water by her side, but she had not eyes to see it!
"What thoughtful Christian can fail to see that we have here a faithful picture of many a believer’s experience? How often we mourn over the absence of things which in reality are within our grasp, and even at our right hand! Two-thirds of the things we fear in life never happen at all, and two-thirds of the tears we shed are thrown away, and shed in vain. Let us pray for more faith and patience, and allow more time for the development of God’s purposes: let us believe that things are often working together for our peace and joy, which seem at one time to contain nothing but bitterness and sorrow. Old Jacob said at one time in his life ‘all these things are against me’ (Genesis 42:36 ), yet he lived to see Joseph again, rich and prosperous, and to thank God for all that had happened" (Bishop Ryle).
"And as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher" (John 20:11 ). Such is ever the effect of uncontrolled grief. When we sorrow, even as others who have no hope, when we walk by sight instead of faith, when we are moved by the flesh instead of the spirit, we stoop down, and are occupied with things below. "Unto thee lift I mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens" (Psalms 123:1 ) should ever be the believer’s attitude. Mary points a timely warning for us. We are living in days when "men’s hearts are failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" (Luke 21:26 ), and the more we are occupied with the evil around us, the more will our hearts fail. Heed then the Savior’s admonition, "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:28 ). Let us, instead of looking down like Mary, say with the Psalmist, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills. From whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth" (Psalms 121:1 , Psalms 121:2 ).
"And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain" (John 20:12 ). How long-suffering is our God! How patiently He deals with our dulness! Where the heart is really engaged with Christ, even though faith be weak and intelligence small, God will bear with us. Here were two messengers from Heaven ready to re-assure Mary! Their presence in the sepulcher was proof positive that God had not suffered it to be rifled by wicked hands. Their very posture signified that all was well. Their number indicated a testimony from on High, if only this sorrowing woman had eyes to see and ears to hear.
"And seeth two angels in white sitting." The sepulcher was not so deserted as it seemed. Luke tells us of two angels appearing to the other women a little earlier, and it is instructive to note the several points of difference. "And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments" (Luke 24:4 ). Luke calls them "two men" from their appearance, we suppose. John is more explicit: "two angels." When these other women saw the two angels, they were on the outside of the sepulcher; but when Mary looked down they were now within. In Luke 24:0 the angels were "standing," here in John 20:0 they are "seated"! Nowhere are we told the names of the two angels, but some have thought that they were Michael and Gabriel, arguing that the supreme importance of our Lord’s resurrection would call for the presence of the highest angels. Probably the same two appeared to the disciples at Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:10 ).
"And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet." This is the only place in Scripture where we see angels sitting. The fact that they were sitting in the place where "the body of Jesus had lain" was God’s witness unto the rest which was secured by and proceeds from the finished work of the Lord Jesus. It is in striking accord with the character of this fourth Gospel that it was reserved for John to mention this beautiful incident. Who can doubt that the Holy Spirit would have us link up this verse with Exodus 25:17-19 "And thou shalt make a mercy-seat of pure gold . . . and thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy-seat." More remarkable still is the final word which Jehovah spake unto Moses concerning the mercy-seat: "And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat from between the two cherubims" (Exodus 25:22 ). Here, then, in John’s Gospel, do we learn once more that Christ is the true meeting-place between God and man!
The question has often been asked, Why did not Peter and John see these two angels when they entered the sepulcher? It seems clear that they must have been there, though invisible. In view of Psalms 91:11 we are satisfied that they had been about that sepulcher from the first moment that the sacred body was deposited there: "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways" this was God’s promise to Christ. From the general teaching of the Scripture we learn that the angels of God are visible and invisible, appear and disappear, instantaneously and supernaturally, according as God commissions them. Most probably they are near to each believer every moment of his existence (Hebrews 1:14 ), though we are unaware of their presence. Yet, while they are of a higher order of beings than humans, not the smallest particle of worship is to be given them; for, like ourselves, they are but the creatures of God.
That the angels were "in white" denotes purity and freedom from defilement, which is the character of all the inhabitants of heaven. White was the color of our Lord’s raiment in the transfiguration; it is the color in which the angels ever appeared; it will be the color of our garments in glory (Revelation 3:4 ). The late Bishop Andrews drew a timely moral from the positions occupied by the two angels in the sepulcher. "We learn that between the angels there was no striving for places. He that sat at the feet was as well content with his place as he that sat at the head. We should learn from their example. With us, both angels would have been at the head, and never one at the feet! With us, none would be at the feet; we must be head-angels all!"
"And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou"? (John 20:13 ). We have no reason for supposing that the angels were ignorant of the occasion of Mary’s lamentation, therefore, we understand their words here as a gentle inquiry, made for the purpose of stirring her mind. Why weepest thou? Have you any just cause for those tears? Search your heart! Does not the fact that Christ is not here afford ground for rejoicing! It is to be noted that the angels used precisely the same language as the Savior does in John 20:15 , thereby intimating that their words are ever spoken by the command of God. Observe that their words to the disciples at the ascension of Christ also began with a "Why?" No doubt our unbelief, our fears, our repinings, our lack of obedience and zeal, afford much ground of surprise to these unfallen beings.
"She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him" (John 20:13 ). Before the angels had time to add the comforting assurance, "He is not here; he is risen, as he said," Mary interrupts by explaining why she was so heart-broken How can I do anything else but weep, when He is not here, and I know not where they have taken His body! A strange mingling of faith and unbelief, of intelligence and ignorance, of affection and fear, was hers. "Lord," she owned Jesus of Nazareth to be, and yet imagined that some one had taken Him away! It is indeed striking that she replied so promptly and naturally to the angels: instead of being awe-struck at their presence, she answered as though they were nothing more than men. She was so swallowed up with her grief, so occupied with her thoughts about Christ, that she paused not to gaze upon these Heavenly visitors. Mark the change of her language here: to Peter and John she had appropriately said, "They have taken away the Lord"; but to the angels she (now alone) says "my Lord," thus expressing the depths of her affections. And how blessed that each individual believer may speak of Him as "my Lord." "The Lord is my Shepherd" said David (Psalms 23:1 ). "My beloved is mine, and I am his" (Song of Solomon 2:16 ). "Who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20 ) said the apostle Paul.
"And when she had thus said she turned herself back" (John 20:14 ). Very, very, striking is this. Christ meant so much to her that she turned her back on the angels to seek His body! He was the One her affections were set upon, and therefore, even these angels held no attraction for her! How searching is this: if Christ really occupied the throne of our hearts, the poor things of this world would make no appeal to us. It is because we are so little absorbed with Him, and therefore so little acquainted with His soul-satisfying perfection, that the things of time and sense are so highly esteemed. O that writer and reader may be able to say with the Psalmist, and say with ever-increasing fervor and reality, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee."
"And when she had thus said she turned herself back and saw Jesus standing" (John 20:14 ). Such devotion as Mary’s could not pass unrewarded: to her who loved Him so deeply does the Savior first appear. "Those who love Christ most diligently and perseveringly, are those who receive most privileges at His hands. It is a touching fact, and one to be carefully noted, that Mary would not leave the sepulcher, even when Peter and John had gone to their own home. Love to her gracious Master would not let her leave the place where He had lain. Where He was now she did not know, but love made her linger about the empty tomb; love made her honor the last place where His precious body had been seen by mortal eyes. And here love reaped a rich reward. She saw the angels whom Peter and John had not observed. She heard them speak. She was the first to see our Lord after He had risen from the dead, the first to hear His voice. Can any one doubt that this was written for our learning? Wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, this little incident testifies that those who honor Christ will be honored by Christ" (Bishop Ryle). "And saw Jesus standing." Very blessed is this. Why was the Savior standing there, beside His own sepulcher? Ah, was it not the response of His heart to one who loved Him! He was there for the purpose of meeting and comforting this sorely-wounded soul!
"And saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus" (John 20:14 ). It is strange how many of the commentators have erred on this point. The popular idea is that Mary failed to recognize Christ because her eyes were dimmed with tears. But how comes it, we ask, that when she looked into the sepulcher she saw the two angels and the respective positions which they occupied? No; we believe there is far more reason for us to conclude that her eyes were "holden" supernaturally, like the two disciples walking to Emmaus, so that she did not distinguish the figure before her to be that of our Lord. The condition of His resurrection body was very different from that of His body before the crucifixion. Moreover, He was to be known no more "after the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16 ), but, as the head of the new creation. Yet, as others have pointed out, this incident was a striking emblem of the spiritual experience of many Christians. "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" is His promise; yet how often are we unconscious of His presence with us!
"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" (John 20:15 ). These were the first words of our risen Savior, and how like Him! He came here to bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1 ), and in the end He will wipe away tears from off the faces of all His people (Isaiah 25:8 ; Revelation 21:4 ). This was His evident design here: He would arouse Mary from the stupefying effects of her sorrow. His first question was a gentle reproof: Ought you not to be rejoicing, instead of repining? His second question was still more searching; Who is it you are seeking among the dead? Hast thou forgotten that the crucified One is the Lord of life, the resurrection and the life, the One who laid down His life that He might take it again! Devoted and affectionate as she was, had she not forgotten those words of His which had so often been spoken in her hearing! "Whom seekest thou?" it was only in really finding Him that the ever-flowing fountain of her grief could be stayed.
"She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away" (John 20:15 ). Notice, first, her artless simplicity. Three times over in these few words did Mary speak of "him" without stopping to define or mention His name. She was so wholly absorbed with Christ that she supposed every one would know whom she sought like the Shulamite crying to the watchman, "Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?" (Song of Solomon 3:3 ). Note also her, "I will take him away." He was all her own; what depth of affection! What a sense of her title to Him! But mark how there may be much ignorance even in a devoted believer she supposed Him to be the "gardener"! And yet, as one has said, "Devout Mary, thou art not much mistaken. As it was the trade of the first Adam to dress the Garden of Eden, so is it the trade of the last Adam to tend the Garden of His Church: He digs up the soil by reasonable affliction; He sows in it the seeds of grace; He waters it with His Word" (Bishop Hall).
"Jesus saith unto her, Mary" (John 20:16 ). This was the second utterance of the risen Christ to this devoted soul, and it is important to note that it was the second. Before He addressed her by name, He first called her "woman"! In addressing her as "woman" He spoke as God to His creature; in calling her "Mary" He spoke as Savior to one of His redeemed. The former gave her to know that He was exalted high above every human relationship; the latter intimated His love for one of His own. "I know thee by name, and thou hast found grace in my sight" (Exodus 33:12 ), said Jehovah in the Mount. So here, Jehovah, now incarnate, knows this woman by name, for she, too, had "found grace" in His sight. In Christ addressing Mary by name we have a beautiful illustration of His own words in John 10:3 , "And he calleth his own sheep by name." It was the seal of redemption: "But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine" (Isaiah 43:1 )!
"She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master" (John 20:16 ). This shows that Mary now recognized Him. "The sheep follow him, for they know his voice" (John 10:4 ), and here was one of the sheep responding to the call of the Good Shepherd. One word only did He utter, "Mary"! But that was sufficient to transform the weeper into a worshipper. It shows us, once more, the power of the Word! "Rabboni," she exclaimed, as she fell at His feet a Hebrew term signifying "my Master." Here was the rich reward for her devotion, her faithfulness, her perseverance. The One who had before cast the demons from her, now addressed Himself to her heart. She knew now that the fairest among ten thousand to her soul had triumphed over the tomb: her sorrow was ended, her cup of joy overflowing. There is one little detail in the picture here, most lovely, which is usually overlooked. As soon as Christ addressed her by name, she "turned herself," and saith unto Him, "Rabboni." After His first word, when she supposed Him to be the gardener, she had turned away from Him, her attitude still toward the tomb; but now that He called her by name, she turns her back on the tomb and falls at His feet it is only as He is known that we are delivered, experimentally, from the power of death!
"Jesus said unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father" (John 20:17 ). We believe that these words have a double significance and application. First, the "Touch me not," in its direct force, is clearly explained by Christ Himself "for I am not yet ascended." Mary had, we think, fallen at His feet, and was on the point of embracing them remembering, perhaps, the words of the Shulamite, "I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go" (Song of Solomon 3:4 ). But the Lord instantly checked her: "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended." "On this very day, the morrow after the Sabbath, the high priest waved the sheaf of the first fruits before the Lord while He, the First-fruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:23 ), would be fulfilling the type by presenting Himself before the Father" (Companion Bible). This we are satisfied supplies the key to the primary meaning of our Lord’s words to Mary, for He who was so jealous of the types would not neglect this one in Leviticus 23:10 , Leviticus 23:11 . Yet, we do not think that this exhausts the scope of what Christ said here. Everywhere in this Gospel there is a fullness about the Lord’s utterances which it is impossible for us to fathom; and beyond their force to those immediately addressed is ever a wider application. So here.
"Touch me not." These words are not found in the Synoptics and therein lies the key to their deeper meaning and wider application. In Matthew 28:9 we read, "As they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet." How sharp the contrast here, yet how perfectly in keeping with the particular scope of each Gospel! Matthew presents Christ as the Son of David, in Jewish relationships. But John portrays Him as the Son of God, connected with the sons, as head of the new creation, the members of which know Him not "after the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16 ). Therefore in His "Touch me not" to Mary, the Lord was giving plain intimation that the Christian would know Him only in spirit, as the One with the Father on high; hence His "for I am not yet ascended"! It was the first hint abundantly amplified in the sequel of the new relationship into which the resurrection of Christ has brought us, linking us with Himself as the Son of God in the Father’s House! How significant that this was His third word to Mary the number which speaks of resurrection!
"But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend [the proper present "I am ascending"] unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17 ). Mary was to be the first witness of Christ’s resurrection. This illustrates a truth of great practical importance. A woman more devoted, perhaps, than any of the Twelve had anointed Him for His burial (John 12:0 ), and now a woman is the first to whom Christ revealed Himself in resurrection glory. How this tells us that the heart leads the mind in the apprehension of God’s truth. The men were quicker to grasp, intellectually, the meaning of the empty tomb, but Mary was the more devoted, and this Christ rewarded. Mary exemplifies the case of those whose hearts seek Christ, but whose minds are ill-informed. It is the heart God ever looks at. We may know much truth intellectually, but unless the heart is absorbed with Christ, He will not reveal Himself to such an one in the intimacies of love and communion.
"Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend." This is the first time that the Lord Jesus addressed the disciples as "brethren." How blessed! It is on resurrection-ground that we are thus related to Christ. "Except the corn of wheat fell into the ground and died, it had abode alone" (John 12:24 ), but now that He has emerged from the grave, He is "the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29 ). Of old had the Spirit of prophecy expressed the language of the Messiah thus: "I will declare thy name unto my brethren" (Psalms 22:22 ). Like Joseph after he was delivered from the prison and raised to a position of dignity and honor (Genesis 45:16 ), so Christ "is not ashamed to call us brethren" (Hebrews 2:11 ). The blessedness of this comes out in the closing words of John 20:17 : "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." ‘Believers are, by amazing grace, brought into the same position with Himself before God His Father. It was in view of this that the Lord said to Mary, "Touch [Greek ‘cling to’] me not" we are detached from Him by all earthly contact, and instead commune with Him by faith, in spirit, on High.
"Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and my God and your God." The terms of this message to His brethren deserve the closest notice. He did not bid Mary say to them "I have risen," but "I ascend." True, the one necessarily presupposed the other, but it is clear He would have them understand that His resurrection was only a step toward His return unto the Father. That which the Savior would impress upon His beloved disciples was the fact that He had not left the grave simply to remain with them here on earth, but in order to enter Heaven as their Representative and Forerunner. In saying, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God, and your God," He was conveying a message of real comfort. He is your Father and God, as well as Mine; all that He is to Me, the Head, He is also to you, the members. But mark His precision: He did not say "Our Father, and our God." He still maintains His pre-eminency, His uniqueness, for God is His Father and God in a singular and incommunicable manner. Finally, note the contrast between Mary’s commission here and the one given to the other women in Matthew 28:10 : there the message was for the disciples to meet Him in Galilee, and accordingly they did so; here, He names no place on earth, but simply tells them that He is going to Heaven, there in spirit to meet them before the Father.
"Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had spoken these things unto her" (John 20:18 ). "As by a woman came the first message of death, so by a woman came also the first notice of the resurrection from the dead. And the place also fits well, for in a garden they came, both" (Bishop Andrews). Observe that Mary told the disciples that she had "seen the Lord," not simply "Jesus"! Mark records the immediate effect of her message: "She went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not" (Mark 16:10 ,Mark 16:11 ). What a tragic forecast of the general reception which the Christian evangelist meets with! How few he finds that promptly receive the glad tidings of which he is the bearer! Often the ones he deems most likely to welcome the good news, are the very ones whose unbelief will be the most outspoken.
"Then the same day at evening, being the first of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst" (John 20:19 ). Observe in the first place how the Holy Spirit here emphasizes the fact that what follows is a first-day scene. On this first Christian Sabbath the disciples were assembled" in separation from the world, and from this point on to the end of the New Testament the first day of the week is stamped with this characteristic: Sunday, not Saturday, was henceforth to be the day set apart for rest from the work and concerns of the world, and for occupation with the things of God. Note in the next place, that from the beginning non-Christians have manifested their opposition to and hatred of these holy exercises. Observe that those gathered together are here called "disciples," not "apostles." It is striking that never once are they termed "apostles" in John’s Gospel. The reason for this is not far distant: the word "apostle" means "one sent forth"; but here, where it is the family which is in view, they are always seen with Christ!
"Then the same day at evening, being the first of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst and saith unto them, Peace be unto you" (John 20:19 ). Very striking is this. John is the only one who mentions the doors being "shut" (Greek signifies "barred"). But no closed doors could keep out the Conqueror of death. There was no need for Him to knock for admission, nor for an angel to open to Him as for Peter (Acts 12:10 ); nor do we consider what a miracle was wrought, in the ordinary meaning of that term. Our resurrection-body will not be subject to the limitations of the mortal body: sown in weakness it will be raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:43 ).
Most blessed is it to ponder our Lord’s greeting to the Ten Thomas was absent. Very touching and humbling was the Lord’s gracious salutation. Peter had denied Him, and the others had forsaken Him. How, then, does He approach them? Does He demand an explanation of their conduct? Does He tell them that all is now over, that henceforth He will have no more to do with such unfaithful followers? No, indeed. Well might He have said, "Shame upon you!" But, instead He says, "Peace be unto you." He would remove from their hearts all fear which His sudden and unannounced appearance might have occasioned. He would quiet each uneasy conscience. Having put away their sins He could now remove their fears. Be not afraid: I come not as judge, to reckon with your perfidy and unbelief; nor do I enter as One who has been injured by you, to utter reproaches. No; I bring from My sepulcher something very different from upbraidings: "Peace be unto you" was the blessed greeting of the Prince of peace, and none but He can speak peace to any. "Peace" was the subject of the angel’s carol in the night of the Lord’s nativity; so "Peace" is the first word He pronounced in the ears of His disciples now that He is risen from the dead. So will it be when we meet Him face to face we, with all our miserable failures, both individual and corporate; we with all our sins of omission and commission; we, with all our bitter controversies, and deplorable divisions. Not "Shame! shame!" but "Peace! peace!" will be His greeting. How do we know this? Because He is "The same yesterday and to-day and forever." Almost His last words to the disciples on the "yesterday" were "these things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace" (John 16:33 ); so here His first word to them in the "to-day" was peace; and this is the pledge that "Peace" will be His word to us at the beginning of the great "forever."
"And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side" (John 20:20 ). This was, first, to assure the astonished disciples that it was really their Savior who stood before them. He bade them see with their own eyes that He had a real material body, that it was no ghost now appearing to them. He would have them recognize that He was indeed the same person whom they had known before the crucifixion, that He had risen in His incorruptible humanity. Significant is the omission here: Luke tells us that He said, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see" (Luke 24:39 ). It was most appropriate that this word should be recorded in the third Gospel, which portrays Him as the Son of man; and it was most suitable to omit this detail in the Gospel which speaks of His Divine dignity and glory. Observe here, "He showed unto them his hands and his side." Luke says "his hands and his feet." This variation is also significant. Here His word in John would presuppose His "feet," for they, in common with His hands, bore me imprint of the nails. But there was a special reason for mentioning His "side" here see John 19:34 : through His pierced side a way was opened to His heart, the seat of the affections! In John we see Him as the Son of God, and God is love.
"And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side." The "so" indicates there is a close connection between this act of Christ’s and His words at the end of the preceding verse. The marks in His hands and side were shown to the disciples not only to establish His identity, not only as the trophies of His victorious fight, but principally to teach them, and us, that the basis of the "peace" He has made, and which He gives, is His death upon the cross. In saying "Peace be unto you" He announced that enmity had been removed, God placated, reconciliation effected; in pointing to the signs of His crucifixion, He showed what had accomplished these. These marks are still upon His holy body Revelation 5:6 . These marks our great High Priest shows to God as He intercedes. In a coming day the sight of them will bring Israel to repentance Zechariah 12:10 . In the Day of Judgment they will confront and condemn His enemies.
"Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord" (John 20:20 ). What must have been their feelings! Their fears all gone; their hopes fulfilled; their hearts satisfied. Now indeed had the Lord made good His promise: "And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your hearts shall rejoice’’ (John 16:22 ). But observe an important distinction here: First, Christ said, "Peace be unto you, and when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side." Second: "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." Peace comes through His perfect work; joy is the result of being occupied with His blessed person. This is a precious secret for our hearts. There are many Christians who suppose that they cannot rejoice while they remain in circumstances of sorrow. What a mistake! Observe here that Christ did not change the circumstances of these disciples; they were still "shut in for fear of the Jews," but He drew out their hearts unto Himself, and thus raised them above their circumstances! We see the same principle exemplified in 1 Peter 1:0 . There we read of saints of God enduring a great fight of afflictions: they were persecuted, scattered abroad, homeless. But what of their spiritual condition? This "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations." And then, having mentioned the person of the Savior, he at once adds, "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable" (verse 8). Their circumstances had not been changed, but their hearts were lifted above them. This then is the great secret of joy occupation and fellowship with Christ.
"Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21 ). This was no mere repetition. Just as the first "Peace be unto you" is interpreted by the Lord’s act which at once followed, so this second "Peace" is explained by the next words. The first peace was for the conscience; the second for the heart. The first had to do with their position before God; the second with their condition in the world. The first was "peace with God" (Romans 5:1 ); the second was "the peace of God" (Philippians 4:7 ). The first is the consequence of the atonement: the second is that which issues from communion. These disciples were not going to Heaven with Christ, but were to remain behind in a hostile world, in a world which provides no peace. He therefore communicates to them the secret of His peace, which was that of communion with the Father in separation from the world.
"As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." He now does formally what He contemplated in that wondrous address to the Father: "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world" (John 17:18 ). Let it be remembered that it was in immediate connection with this that He said "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word" (John 17:20 ). The mission He announced there was not peculiar to the company He then addressed: it defined the mission of all His people in that world which has rejected Him. And what a marvellous mission it is to represent our Lord here below, as He represented the Father. What a wondrous dignity to show in our life and by our words how He would speak and walk. This is the standard of practical holiness nothing lower, "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1 John 2:6 ). But how unspeakably blessed to observe that the Lord first said "Peace be unto you" before "I send you." We are constantly disposed to look for peace as the earned reward of service: what a travesty! and how worthless! Such "Peace" is but a transient self-complacency which cannot deceive any one but the self-deluded hypocrite. The truth is that peace is the preparation for service: "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10 ). The order in John 20:21 is most significant: "Peace . . . send I you." "The sons of peace are not to retain it for themselves; its possession makes them also messengers of peace" (Stier). Note the Son is a "Sender" in equal authority with the Father. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." Christ was sent to manifest the Father, and with a message of grace to this sinful world; we are sent to manifest the Son, and with a similar message. Yet observe how carefully He guarded His glory; two different words are here used for "send" Christ was God, we men; He came to atone, we to proclaim His atonement: He did his work perfectly, we very imperfectly!
"And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22 ). The first key to the Receive ye the Holy Spirit, lies in the "And when he had said this" "even so send I you." Christ had entered upon His ministry as One anointed by the Holy Spirit, so should His beloved apostles. This was the final analogy pointed by the "as... so." The second key is found in the "He breathed on them and saith, Receive ye the Holy Spirit": the Greek word here used is employed nowhere else in the New Testament, but is the very one used by the Septuagint translators of Genesis 2:7 : "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." There, man’s original creation was completed by this act of God; who, then, can fail to see that here in John 20:0 , on the day of the Savior’s resurrection, the new creation had begun, begun by the Head of the new creation, the last Adam acting as "a quickening spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45 )! The impartation of the Holy Spirit to the disciples was the "firstfruits" of the resurrection, as well as a proof that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father wonderful demonstration of the Savior’s Godhead! In Genesis 2:7 we have Jehovah "breathing" into Adam; in John 20:22 the Savior "breathing" upon the apostles; in Ezekiel 37:9 the Spirit "breathing" upon Israel. Finally, it is solemn to contrast Isaiah 11:4 : "With the breath of His lips shall he slay the wicked."
"Receive ye the Holy Spirit." This was supplementary to "Go tell my brethren." They were, before this, born from above; but the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all. But the time appointed by the Father had now come. He who came to redeem them that were under the law, that they might receive the adoption of sons, had accomplished His undertaking. They were no more servants but sons; yet it was only by the Spirit of adoption that they could be made conscious of it or enter into the joy of it. From this moment the Spirit dwelt within them. We have been accustomed to look upon the change which is so apparent in apostles as dating from the day of pentecost, but the great change had occurred before then. Read the closing chapter of each Gospel and the first of Acts, and the proofs of this are conclusive. Their irresolution, their unbelief, their misapprehensions, were all gone. When the cloud finally received the Savior from their sight, instead of being dispersed in consternation "they worshipped him" and "returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:52 ) this was "joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17 ): Moreover, they continued "with one accord in prayer and supplication" (Acts 1:14 ) this was "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3 ). Peter has a clear understanding of Old Testament prophecy (Acts 1:20 ) this was the Spirit guiding into the truth (John 16:13 ). And these things were before pentecost. What happened at pentecost was the baptism of power, not the coming of the Spirit to indwell them!
"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:23 ). Upon this controverted verse we cannot do better than quote from the excellent remarks of the late Bishop Ryle: "In this verse our Lord continues and concludes the commission for the office of ministers, which He now gives to the Apostles after rising from the dead. His work as a public teacher was ended: the Apostles henceforth were to carry it on. The words which formed this commission are very peculiar and demand close attention. The meaning of these words, I believe, may be paraphrased thus: ‘I confer on you the power of declaring and pronouncing authoritatively whose sins are forgiven, and whose sins are not forgiven. I bestow on you the office of pronouncing who are pardoned, and who are not, just as the Jewish high priest pronounced who were clean and who were unclean in cases of leprosy. I believe that nothing more than this authority to declare can be got out of the words, and I entirely repudiate and reject the strange notion maintained by some that our Lord meant to depute to the Apostles, or any others, the power of absolutely pardoning or not pardoning, absolving, or not absolving, any one’s soul.’
"(a) The power of forgiving sins, in Scripture, is always spoken of as the special prerogative of God. The Jews themselves admitted this when they said, ‘Who can forgive sins but God only?’ (Mark 2:7 ). It is monstrous to suppose that our Lord meant to overthrow and alter this great principle when He commissioned His disciples.
"(b) The language of the Old Testament shows conclusively that the Prophets were said to do certain things when they declared them to be done. Thus Jeremiah’s commission runs in these words, ‘I have this day set thee over the nation and over the kingdom, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant’ (Jeremiah 1:10 ). This can only mean to declare the rooting out and pulling down, etc. So also Ezekiel says I came to destroy the city’ (Ezekiel 43:3 ).
"(c) There is not a single instance in the Acts or Epistles of an Apostle taking on himself to absolve, or pardon, any one. When Peter said to Cornelius. ‘Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins’ (Acts 10:43 ), and when Paul said, Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 13:38 ), they pointed to Christ alone as the Remitter."
So Calvin: "When Christ enjoins the apostles to forgive sins, He does not convey to them what is peculiar to Himself. It belongs to Him to forgive sins He only enjoins them, in His name, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins."
Add to these the fact that Peter and John were sent down to Samaria to inspect and authorize the work done through Philip (Acts 8:14 ), that Peter said to Simon Magus, "I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and the bond of iniquity" (Acts 8:23 ), and that Paul wrote "To whom ye forgive anything, I also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:10 ), we have clear evidence of the unique authority and power of the apostles.
The question has been asked, Was this ministerial office and commission conferred on the apostles by Christ transferred by them to others? Again we quote Bishop Ryle, "I answer, without hesitation, that in the strictest sense the commission of the apostles was not transmitted, but was confined to them and St. Paul. I challenge any one to deny that the Apostles possessed certain ministerial qualifications which were quite peculiar to them, and which they could not, and did not, transmit to others. (1) They had the gift of declaring the Gospel without error, and with infallible accuracy, to an extent that no one after them did. (2) They confirmed their teachings by miracles. (3) They had the power of discerning spirits. In the strictest sense there is no such thing as apostolic succession."
In closing let us admire together the lovely typical picture which our passage contains. Here we have a wondrous portrayal of the essential features of Christianity: 1. Christ is known in a new way, no longer "after the flesh," but in spirit, on High. "Touch me not... ascended" (John 20:17 ). 2. Believers are given a new title "brethren" (John 20:17 ). 3. Believers are told of a new position Christ’s position before the Father (John 20:17 ). 4. Believers occupy a new place apart from the world (John 20:19 ). 5. Believers are assured of a new blessing "peace" made and imparted (John 20:19 , John 20:21 ). 6. Believers are given a new privilege the Lord Jesus in their midst (John 20:19 ). 7. Believers have a new joy through a vision of the risen Lord (John 20:20 ). 8. Believers receive a new commission sent into the world by the Son as He was sent by the Father (John 20:21 ). 9. Believers are a new creation indicated by the "breathing" (John 20:22 ). 10. Believers have a new Indweller even the Holy Spirit (John 20:22 ); How Divinely meet that all this was on the "first of the week indication of a new beginning, i.e., Christianity supplanting Judaism!!
The following questions are to aid the student on the closing section of John 20:
1. What does the absence of Thomas teach us, verse 24?
2. What do his words in verse 25 prove?
3. What is the difference between the "Peace" of verse 26 and verses 19, 21?
4. Why the great similarity between verses 19 and 26?
5. What practical lesson does verse 28 teach?
6. What is the meaning of verse 29?
Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ and Thomas
Below is an Analysis of our present passage:
1. The absence of Thomas, verse 24.
2. The skepticism of Thomas, verse 25.
3. Christ appears to Thomas, verses 26, 27.
4. The confession of Thomas, verse 28.
5. Christ’s last beatitude, verse 29.
6. The signs of Jesus, verse 30.
7. The purpose of this Gospel, verse 31.
In our last chapter we were occupied with the appearing of the Lord unto the apostles as they were assembled together in some room, probably the "upper-room" in which the Lord’s Supper was instituted. But on this occasion one of the Eleven, Thomas, was absent. We are not expressly told why he was not present with his brethren, but from what we learn of him in other passages, from his words to the Ten when they told him of their having seen the Lord, and from Christ’s own words to Thomas when He appeared unto the Eleven, it is almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that unbelief was the cause of his absence. In three different passages Thomas is mentioned in this Gospel, and on each occasion he evidenced a gloomy disposition. He was a man who looked on the darker side of things: he took despondent views both of the present and the future. Yet he was not lacking in courage, nor in loyalty and devotion to the Savior.
The first time Thomas comes before us is in chapter 11. At the close of 10 we read how the enemies of Christ "sought again to take him; but he escaped out of their hand, and went away again beyond Jordan." While there, the sisters of Lazarus sent unto Him, acquainting Him with the sickness of their brother. After waiting two days, the Savior said unto His disciples, "Let us go into Judea." The disciples at once reminded Him that it was there the Jews had, only lately, sought to stone Him; so they ask, "Goest thou thither again?" At the end of His colloquy with them, He said, "Let us go." And then we are told, "Thomas, which is called Didymus, said unto his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16 ). These words throw not a little light on the character of him who uttered them. First, they reveal Thomas as a man of morbid feeling death was the object which filled his vision. Second, they indicate he had an energetic disposition, "Let us go." Third, they exhibit his courage he was ready to go even to death. Fourth, they manifest his affection for Christ "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
The next time Thomas is brought to our notice is in chapter 14. The Lord had announced to the apostles that in a little while He would leave them, and whither He was going, they could not come. In consequence, they were filled with sadness. In view of their grief, the Lord said, "Let not your heart be troubled," supporting this with the comforting assurances that He was going to the Father’s House, going there to prepare a place for them, and from which He would come and receive them unto Himself: ending with "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." Thomas was the first to reply, and his doleful response was, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (John 14:5 ). Ignoring the precious promises of the Savior, Thomas saw in His departure only the extinction of hope. Thus we behold, once more, his gloomy nature, and, in addition, his sceptical turn of mind. He reminds us very much of John Bunyan’s "Fearing," "Despondency," and "Much Afraid," in his Pilgrim’s Progress types of a large class of Christians who are successors of doubting Thomas.
The third and last time that Thomas occupies any prominence in this Gospel is in the 20th chapter. Here the first thing noted about him is that he was not with the other disciples when the Lord appeared unto them. In view of what has been before us above, this is scarcely to be wondered at. "If the bare possibility of his Lord’s death had plunged this loving yet gloomy heart into despondency, what dark despair must have preyed on it when that death was actually accomplished! How the figure of his dead Master had burnt itself into his soul, is seen from the manner in which his mind dwells on the prints of the nails, the wound in His side. It is by these only, and not by well-known features or peculiarity of form, he will recognize and identify his Lord. His heart was with the lifeless body on the cross, and he could not bear to see the friends of Jesus or speak with those who had shared his hopes, but buries his disappointment and desolation in solitude and silence. Thus it was that, like many melancholy persons, he missed the opportunity of seeing what would effectually have scattered his doubts!" (Mr. Dods).
"But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came" (John 20:24 ). The "But" is ominous and at once exposes the folly of the inventions which have been made to excuse Thomas. The disciples convened in the evening of that first day of the week under most unusual circumstances. John, at least, was satisfied that the Savior had risen; of the others, some were sceptical, for they believed not the report of the women who had seen Him that very morning. No doubt the apostles assembled with mingled feeling of suspense and excitement. That Thomas was absent can only be accounted for, we believe, by what the other passages reveal of his gloomy and sceptical disposition. Note how the Holy Spirit has here added "Thomas called Didymus," which is evidently designed as a connecting link cf. John 11:16 . On the resurrection day he least of all believed the tidings of the women, isolating himself in the sorrow of death in wilful unbelief the wilfulness of it is seen in the next verse.
The state of Thomas’ soul coincided with his absence on that memorable evening. He resisted the blessedness of the resurrection, and therefore did not join his brethren, and thus share the joy of the Master’s presence in their midst. Slow of heart to believe, he remained for a whole week in darkness and gloom. One important lesson we may learn from this is, how much we lose by our failure to cultivate the fellowship of Christian brethren. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is" (Hebrews 10:25 ) is the word of Scripture. Two warnings against disobeying this were furnished in connection with Christ’s resurrection. In Luke 24:13 we read, "And behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about three score furlongs": mark the words in italics. These two disciples had turned their backs on their brethren in Jerusalem. Little wonder, then, that when the Lord Himself drew near to them "their eyes were holden that they should not know Him" (Luke 24:16 ). Yet even to them the Lord manifested His long-suffering grace by making Himself known (verse 31)! And what was the effect upon them? This: "They rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven" (verse 33)! When Christians are in fellowship with Christ, they desire and seek the fellowship of His people; conversely, when they are out of fellowship with the Lord they have little or no desire for communion with believers. It was thus with Thomas. Out of fellowship with Christ, through unbelief, he forsook the assembly. And how much he lost! God’s blessing, Christ’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s power, joy of heart, and in addition, a whole week spent in despondency. What a warning for us!
"The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord" (John 20:25 ). This is most blessed. The Ten were not callously indifferent to the welfare of their erring brother. They did not say, "O, well, there is no need for us to be troubled; he is the loser; if he had been in his proper place, he, too, would have seen the Savior, heard His blessing of ‘Peace be unto you,’ and received the Holy Spirit; but he was not here, and it only serves him right that he should suffer for his negligence; let us leave him alone." O, no. The selfish world may reason and act thus; but not so those who are truly constrained by the love of Christ. The more we love Him, the more shall we love His people. So it was here. As soon as the Ten had been favored with this gracious visit from the risen Redeemer, they sought out Thomas and communicated to him the glad tidings. How this rebukes some of us! If we were more in fellowship with Christ, we should have more heart for His wayward and wandering sheep. It is those who are "spiritual" that are exhorted to restore the one "overtaken in a fault" (Galatians 6:13 )
"But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" (John 20:26 ). This illustrates the same principle so sadly exemplified in John 20:18 . Those who know Christ will bear testimony of Him to others, but they must be prepared for the unbelief of those whom they address. The Ten spoke to Thomas, but he believed them not. This also shows how that the best of men are subject to unbelief. Thomas had witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus, he had heard the Lord’s promises that He would rise again on the third day, yet believed not now that He was risen. What point this gives to the admonition in Hebrews 12:1 , where we are exhorted to lay aside "the sin (unbelief) which doth so easily beset us!" Thomas refused to accredit the testimony of ten competent witnesses who had seen Christ with their own eyes, men who were his friends and brethren, and who could have no object in deceiving him. But he obstinately declares that he will not believe, unless he himself sees and touches the Lord’s body. He presumes to prescribe the conditions which must be met before he is ready to receive the glad tidings. Thomas was still sceptical. Perhaps he asked his brethren. Why did not Christ remain with you? Where is He now? Why did He not show Himself to me? He implied, though he did not say it directly, that they were laboring under a delusion. And were they altogether blameless? They told Thomas "We have seen the Lord," but apparently they said nothing of the gracious and wondrous words which they had heard from His lips! Is there not a lesson, a warning, here for us? It is not our experiences which we are to proclaim, but His words!
"Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." This is the only place in the New Testament where the "nails" which pierced the Savior’s hands and feet are actually mentioned. The Romans did not always use nails when crucifying criminals. Sometimes they bound the victims hands and feet to the cross by strong cords. The fact that "nails" were used in connection with the Savior, and the express mention of them here by Thomas, witnesses to the actual and literal fulfillment of Psalms 22:16 : "they pierced my hands and my feet."
"And after eight days again, his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you" (John 20:26 ). "After eight days" signifies, according to the Jewish manner of reckoning time (who counted any part of a day as a whole one), after a week. It was, therefore, on the second Christian sabbath that the Eleven assembled together, this time Thomas being present. Observe that the Holy Spirit mentions the fact that again the doors were shut, for He would emphasize once more the supernatural character of the resurrection body. The close similarity between this and John 20:19 makes it plain that this visit of the Savior was for the special benefit of Thomas. But mark a significant omission here: nothing is now said of their "fear of the Jews!" His "Peace be unto you" (John 20:19 ) had calmed their hearts and taken away their fear of men. It is one more witness to the power of the Word.
"And Thomas was with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said, Peace be unto you." Marvelous grace was this. As we have said, this second manifestation of Christ unto the apostles was expressly made for the special benefit of Thomas. The Savior made the same mysterious entrance through the closed doors and came with the same comforting salutation. There is much for us to learn from this. How patient and tender is the Lord with dull and slow believers! Forcefully does this come out here. Christ did not excommunicate His unbelieving disciple, but addressed to him the same word of "Peace" as He had previously saluted the Ten. O, how graciously does He bear with the waywardness and infirmities of His people. Timely are the admonitions of Bishop Ryle: "Let us take care that we drink into our Lord’s spirit and copy His example. Let us never set down men in a low place, as graceless and godless, because their faith is feeble and their love is cold. Let us remember the case of Thomas, and be very pitiful and of tender mercy. Our Lord has many weak children in His family, many dull pupils in His school, many raw soldiers in His army, many lame sheep in His flock. Yet He bears with them all, and casts none away. Happy is that Christian who has learned to deal likewise with his brethren. There are many in the Family, who, like Thomas, are dull and slow, but for all that, like Thomas, are real and true believers."
"And said, Peace be unto you." This is the third time that we find the precious word on the lips of the Savior in this chapter, and on each occasion it was used with a different design. The first (John 20:19 ), tells of the glorious consequences of His atoning work: peace has been made with God, peace is now imparted to those whose sins have been put away. The second (John 20:21 ), is His provision for service, using that word in its largest scope. It is this which supplies power for our walk, and it is only to the extent that the peace of God is ruling our hearts that we are able to rise above the hindrances of our path and the opposition of the flesh. But the third "Peace" is the means of recovery. This comes out most strikingly in the next verse. "Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands" compare the "when he had so said (‘Peace be unto you’ John 20:19 ) he showed unto them his hands and his side" (John 20:20 ).
"Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless but believing" (John 20:27 ). Thus the Lord did for Thomas what He had done for the Ten He pointed out that which memorialized the ground on which true "peace" rests. The Lord went back to first principles with this erring disciple. Thomas needed to be re-established in the truths taught by the pierced hands and side of the Savior, and therefore he got just what was required to restore his wandering soul. What a lesson for us! When we have gone astray, what is it that recalls us? Not occupation with the intricacies of prophecy or the finer points of doctrine (important and valuable as these are in their place) but the great foundation truth of the Atonement. It was the sight of the Savior’s wounds which scattered all Thomas’ doubts, overcame his self-will, and brought him to the feet of Christ as an adoring worshipper. So it is with us. Have we grown cold and worldly; are we out of communion with the Lord Jesus He recalls us to Himself by the same precious truth which first won our hearts. This is what breaks us down:
"And yet to find Thee still the same
‘Tis this that humbles us with shame."
Was it not for this reason the Lord appointed the loaf and the cup for the Feast of remembrance! It is the emblems of His broken-body and poured-out blood which move the heart, quicken the spirit, thrill the soul, and rekindle the joy which we tasted when we first looked by faith upon His hands and side. This, then, we believe, is the force of the connection between John 20:27 and what immediately precedes. What a lesson for us: the most effective way of dealing with backsliders is to tenderly remind them of the dying love of the Lord Jesus!
"Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless but believing." While the link between this and the verse before is unspeakably blessed, yet the actual contents of it are most searching and solemn. The language which the Savior here employed affords positive proof that He had heard the petulant and sceptical words of Thomas to his fellow-apostles cf. John 20:25 . No one had seen the Lord as visibly present when Thomas gave utterance to his unbelief. None had reported his words to Christ. Yet was He fully acquainted with them! He had listened to the outburst of His disciple, and now makes Thomas aware of it. Wondrous proof was this of His omniscience! Searching warning is it for us! The One who died on Calvary’s cross was "God manifest in flesh," and being God, He not only sees every deed we perform, but also hears every word that we utter. O that we might be more conscious, hour by hour, that the eye of Divine holiness is ever upon us, that the ear of the omnipresent One is ever open to all that we say, that He still stands in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks! To realize this is to walk "in the fear of God."
"Reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side." What solemn light this casts upon what we read in John 19:34 . It must have been a large wound for the Lord to tell Thomas to thrust in his hand.; What indignities the Savior suffered for our sakes! Again, do not these wounds of Christ throw light upon the character of the resurrection body? Do they not argue strongly that our personal identity will survive the great transformation? It needs to be borne in mind that the bodies of those who sleep in the dust of the earth are not going to be re-created, but resurrected! And grand and glorious as will be the change from our present mortal bodies, yet it seems clear from several scriptures that our personal identity will be so preserved that recognition will not only be possible but certain.
"Be not faithless, but believing." "This is a rebuke and an exhortation at the same time. It is not merely a reproof to Thomas for his scepticism on this particular occasion, but an urgent counsel to be of a more believing turn of mind for the time to come. ‘Shake off this habit of doubting, questioning, and discrediting every one. Give up thine unbelieving disposition. Become more willing to believe and trust.’ No doubt the primary object of the sentence was to correct and chastise Thomas for his sceptical declaration to his brethren. But I believe our Lord had in view the further object of correcting Thomas’ whole character, and directing his attention to his besetting sin. How many there are among us who ought to take to themselves our Lord’s words! How faithless we often are, and how slow to believe!" (Bishop Ryle).
"And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God" (John 20:28 ). How blessed! In a moment the doubter was transformed into a worshipper. Like Paul (Acts 26:19 ), Thomas "was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." There was no room for scepticism now, no occasion for him to put his finger "into the print of the nails," and thrust his hand "into his side" (John 20:25 ). The language of Christ in the next verse "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed" makes it clear that Thomas did not do as he had boasted. There was no need for him to handle Christ now: his intellectual doubts had vanished because his heart was satisfied! The words of Thomas on this occasion gave evidence of his faith in Christ, his subjection to Him, and his affection for Him.
"And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." This is the only time in the Gospels that anyone owned Christ as "God." And what was it that evoked this blessed testimony? The context tells us. The fact that Christ knew the very words which he had used, satisfied Thomas that Immanuel stood before him; hence his worshipful confession. And when we meet Him in the air, see the glory streaming through His pierced hands and side ("He had bright beams out of His side!" Habakkuk 3:4 ), when we hear His "Peace be unto you," when we perceive that He knows all about us, we too shall cry "My Lord and my God."
How marvelous are the ways of Divine grace. Doubting Thomas was the one who gave the strongest and most conclusive testimony to the absolute Deity of the Savior which ever came from the lips of a man! Just as the railing thief became the one to own Christ’s Lordship from the cross, just as timid Joseph and Nicodemus were the ones who honored the dead body of the Savior, just as the women were the boldest at the sepulcher, just as unfaithful Peter was the one whom Christ bade "Feed my sheep," just as the prime persecutor of the early church became the apostle to the Gentiles, so the sceptical and materialistic Thomas was the one to say "My Lord and my God." Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound!
"And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." Mark the word "said unto him." It was no mere ejaculation. Thomas was not here speaking to the Father nor of the Father, but to and of the Son. The fact that Thomas addressed Him as "my Lord" evidences that he too had now "received the Holy Spirit" (cf. John 20:22 ), for "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3 ). It is very striking to contrast what we read of in 1 Kings 18:39 . When Elijah met the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and in response to his faith and prayer, Jehovah was pleased to manifest Himself by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice and lick up the water; the people exclaimed, "The Lord, he is the God, the Lord, he is the God." But Thomas here did far more than this: he not only acknowledged that Jesus of Nazareth was Lord and God, but he confessed Him as "my Lord and my God." And how striking that this is recorded in connection with the third notice of Thomas, and the third appearance of the resurrected Christ in this Gospel it is only as risen from the dead the Lord Jesus could be our Lord and God!
"And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." "This noble confession of Thomas admits of only one meaning: it was a blessed testimony to our Lord’s Deity. It was a clear, unmistakable declaration that Thomas believed Him, when he saw Him that day, to be not only man, but God. And, above all, it was a testimony which our Lord received and did not prohibit and a declaration which He did not say one word to rebuke. When Cornelius fell down at the feet of Peter and would have worshipped him, the apostle refused such honor at once: ‘Stand up; I myself am a man’ (Acts 10:26 ). When the people of Lystra would have done sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, ‘they rent their clothes and ran in among the people, saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We are men of like passions with you,’ Acts 14:15 . (When John fell down to worship before the feet of the angel, he said unto him, ‘See thou do it not’: Revelation 22:8 , Revelation 22:9 . A.W.P.). But when Thomas said to Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God,’ the words do not elicit a syllable of reproof from our holy and truth-loving Master. Can we doubt that these things were written for our learning?
"Let us settle it firmly in our minds that the Deity of Christ is one of the grand foundation truths of Christianity, and let us be willing to go to the stake rather than deny it. Unless our Lord Jesus is very God of very God, there is an end of His mediation, His atonement, His priesthood, His whole work of redemption. These doctrines are useless blasphemies unless Christ is God. Forever let us bless God that the Deity of our Lord is taught everywhere in the Scriptures, and stands on evidence that can never be overthrown. Above all, let us daily repose our sinful selves on Christ with undoubting confidence, as one that is perfect God as well as perfect man. He is man, and therefore can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He is God, and therefore ‘is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by him.’ That Christian has no cause to fear who can look to Jesus by faith and say with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God.’" (Bishop Ryle).
"Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29 ). Christ accepted Thomas’ confession, but reminded him that it was occasioned by outward signs, the appeal to his sight. What a warning against the modern craving for "signs" a tendency upon which Satan is now trading in many directions. And how it condemns those materialists who say they will not believe in anything which they cannot examine with their physical senses! Thomas had insisted upon seeing the risen Christ, and the Lord graciously granted his request. The result was he believed. But the Lord pointed out to His disciple that there is a greater blessedness resting on those who have never seen Him in the flesh, yet who have believed an expression which looked back to the Old Testament saints as well as forward to us! This was the last of our Lord’s beatitudes.
"Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." What a precious word is this for our hearts. We have never seen Him in the flesh. Here, then, is a promise for us. Should it be asked: How do you know that the rejected One is now in the glory? the answer would be, Because of His own word that when He went there He would send down to His people the Holy Spirit. Therefore, every joy in God which we now have, every longing for Christ, manifests His Spirit’s presence in our souls, and this is a precious testimony to the tact that Christ is now on High. These manifestations of the Spirit here are the proofs that Christ is there. They are the antitype of the "bells" on the robe of the high priest when he went unto the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement (see Exodus 28:33-35 .). As the people listened on the outside, they heard the unseen movements of their representative within; so we are conscious of the presence of our High Priest in the Holiest by the tongues of the "bells" the sweet testimony now borne to us by the Holy Spirit. And why is there a greater blessedness pronounced on us than upon those who saw Christ during the days when He tabernacled among men? Because we own Him during the day of His rejection, and therefore He is more honored by such faith! It is faith in Himself, faith which rests alone on the Word, which Christ pronounces "blessed."
"And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book" (John 20:30 ). This and the following verse comes in parenthetically. The whole of chapter 20 is occupied with a recountal of the appearance of the risen Christ unto His own, and this is continued in chapter 21 as the very first verse shows. We take it that the "many other signs" refer not to what the Lord had done through the whole course of His public ministry, but to the proofs which the risen Christ had furnished His apostles. This is confirmed by the words "Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples," whereas, most of His ministerial signs were performed before the general public. There were other signs which the Savior gave to the Eleven which proved that He had risen from the dead, but the Holy Spirit did not move John to record them. Some of them are described in the Synoptics. For example, His appearing to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:15 ), His eating in the presence of the Eleven (Luke 24:43 ), His opening their understandings to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45 ), His appearing to them in Galilee (Matthew 28:16 ), His declaration that all power was given unto Him in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18 ), His commissioning them to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the triune God (Matthew 28:19 , Matthew 28:20 ). Others of these "signs" are recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:0 , etc. When John says that these "other signs" which Jesus did are not written in this book [the fourth Gospel], he implies that they are in some other book or books. On this, one has quaintly said, "St. John generously recognizes the existence of other books beside his own, and disclaims the idea of his Gospel being the only one which Christians ought to read. Happy is that author which can humbly say ‘My book does not contain everything about the subject it handles. There are other books about it. Read them.’"
"But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ. the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:31 ). Here the Holy Spirit tells why the resurrection-signs of Christ mentioned by John are recorded in this Gospel. They are written not merely to furnish us with historical information about the Lord Jesus, but that we might believe on Him! They are written that we might believe on Him as "the Christ," the Messiah, the anointed One Him to whom the Old Testament prophets pointed. They are written that we might believe on Jesus as "the Son of God," the second Person of the Godhead incarnate, the One whose Divine glories are unfolded more particularly in the New Testament. And they are written that we might believe on Him thus in order that we might have "life through his name." It is faith in the written revelation which God has given of His Son which brings "life" and all that is included in that word salvation, immortality, eternal glory. Reader, hast thou "believed"? Not about Christ, but in Him? Have you received Him as your Lord and Savior? If so, the blessing of Heaven rests upon you. If not, you are, even now, "under condemnation," and if you remain in your wicked unbelief there awaits you nought but "the blackness of darkness forever."
The following questions are to help the student on John 21:1-14 :
1. Why did not the disciples recognize Christ, verse 4?
2. Why did Christ ask the question in verse 5?
3. What does Peter’s act denote, verse 7?
4. Why mention the "fire of coals," verse 9?
5. Why was not the net broken, verse 11?
6. What is the spiritual significance of verses 12, 13?
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Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 20". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany