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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

John 20

Verse 1

Here John outlined the evidence upon which he himself accepted the resurrection of Christ as a historical fact.

For the greater part of a century, the church had been in possession of oral traditions and the synoptic Gospels, the earliest going back as far as 44 A.D.; and, added to all this, were the remarkable writings of the apostle Paul and others. But John did not begin his witness of the resurrection with any of the documentary proof which was abundantly available, but he went back to the very moment when he himself first believed, and recounted in the most amazing detail exactly the evidences he had seen and which first overwhelmed his soul with the certainty that Jesus was risen from the dead. That dawn of belief in his heart is recorded in John 20:1-10.

He next appealed to the testimony of Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), out of whom Jesus had cast seven devils; and the allegation that any falsarius would ever have ascribed such a choice of witness to him whom the Lord made the guardian of his mother transgresses the bounds of credibility.

Other testimonies offered in this chapter are the appearance to the eleven, Thomas absent (John 20:19-25), and the appearance to the eleven, Thomas present (John 20:26-29). The last two verses give the statement of John's purpose in writing the Gospel, and the added comment that the things recorded are but a fragment of the massive mountain of evidence that might have been presented but was omitted.

If this Gospel had ended with John 19, there would have been no gospel. Christ in the grave was not good news; and had he remained in the grave, there could have been no Christianity. As Paul declared, absolutely everything depended upon the physical resurrection of Christ. IF the resurrection did not occur:

The preaching of the apostles is vain; The faith of all Christians is vain; The apostles are false witnesses; All men are still in their sins; The dead in Christ have perished.

- 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Regarding the somber impact of the dead Saviour, Morgan wrote:

He was dead. His enemies thought they had done him in, and they were glad. His friends thought he was done for, and they were sad. But heaven watching was preparing the music that should ring around the world declaring the defeat of evil, the mastery of sin, and the ransom of the race.[1]

There is a repeated threefold motif in this chapter: (1) John's faith was inspired by three things: the stone's removal, the empty tomb, and the undisturbed grave clothes (John 20:1-10). (2) The testimony of three individuals is given: that of John, of Mary Magdalene, and of Thomas. (3) Three appearances of Christ are noted: his appearances to Mary Magdalene, to the eleven (Thomas absent), and to the eleven (Thomas present).

Verse 2

She runneth therefore, 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 tomb, and we know not where they have laid him.

Several things of consequence come to light in this verse. First, John deferred to the leadership of Peter, mentioning him first, thus confounding the theory of the Gospel's being anti-Petrine. Not only was Peter mentioned first here, but "the other disciple whom Jesus loved" makes it apparent that the same designation belonged to Peter.

Also, it is important to note that the apostles had come back together again after being scattered; and the ready availability of Peter and John to receive Mary Magdalene's notification confirms the deduction already mentioned that many of the disciples, in respect of the holy days, were but a very short distance from the cross and the grave. Also, Peter's denial had not resulted in his rejection by the other apostles.

We ... Mary Magdalene's use of the plural pronoun suggests that she had asked others where the body was but had received no information. It is possible that in searching out the place where Peter and John were, she might have encountered others, none of whom could tell her about the missing body and the empty grave.

Verse 3

Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.

Note the deference to Peter. Even after John's outrunning Peter and reaching the scene first, it was Peter who first entered the grave.

Verse 4

And they ran both together: and the other disciple outran Peter, and came first to the tomb.

John's outrunning Peter should have been expected, as Peter was much the older.

Verse 5

And stooping and looking in, he seeth the linen cloths lying; yet entered he not in.

In addition to the deference to Peter, evident throughout in this passage, there was another deterrent to John's entering that tomb. "He seeth the linen cloths lying!" There is no marvel why John hesitated. Those linen cloths remained in the exact position AS IF THE LORD HAD STILL BEEN WOUND THEREIN. The impact on John was the same as if he had seen the linen cloths WALKING! The position of those medical bandages in which the body was wrapped absolutely demanded the conclusion that Jesus had risen THROUGH THEM, even as he had risen THROUGH the tomb, leaving them undisturbed, as if he had still been in them. The miracle of those undisturbed cloths was the clincher in John's mind, proving that Jesus had risen from the dead. John gave this evidence in his Gospel, because it was the evidence which convinced him. See under John 19:40 for notes on the medical bandages. They had not been ripped off; and, if any man had taken them off, it would have been impossible to have restored their position, Even the napkin, to be mentioned later, still held the position it had when Jesus' head was in it. It had not even collapsed! It should be remembered that the angel who (presumably) rolled the stone away from the grave did so, not to let the Lord out, but to let the witnesses in. He rose through the tomb exactly as he did through the bandages.

For fuller study of this miracle in the context of five others surrounding and corroborating the even greater miracle of the resurrection, see article, PHENOMENA ATTENDING THE CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION, in my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 27:51ff.

Verse 6

Simon Peter therefore also cometh, following him, and entered into the tomb; and he beholdeth the linen cloths lying.

Commentators who refer this to some mere tidying up of the grave, or the folding of the garments (there were no garments; but medical bandages), miss the point. Since when has it ever been supposed that a folded garment, or cloth, proved that the dead had arisen? The certain implication of this astounding narration is that Jesus had risen through the winding shroud of bandages, napkin and all, leaving behind the positive and undeniable evidence of his supernatural triumph over death. Remember, this evidence convinced John. The very amount of space accorded this phenomenon in this Gospel is far more than enough to indicate the extraordinary implications of "the linen cloths lying." Matthew has a remarkable corroboration of this account in the words of the angel, "Come see the place where the Lord lay" (Matthew 26:6), thus emphatically implying all that John here related.

Verse 7

And the napkin, that was upon his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself.

Robertson noted that the verb "rolled up" does not mean merely to compress into a roll, but to "wrap in,"[3] thus supporting the interpretation advocated here. The napkin around the head would not have connected with the winding shroud; and that independent placement was preserved in the manner of the linen cloths lying.

Verse 8

Then entered in therefore the other disciple also, who came first to the tomb, and he saw, and believed.

This is the climax of the whole paragraph regarding fine cloths. It resulted in John's everlasting faith that Jesus had risen from the dead. There were three elements of this convincing sign: the open grave, the absence of the body, and the undisturbed linen cloths. As for the reason why the stone was removed (supernaturally), it cannot be viewed as a means of letting the Lord out, but as a means of letting his disciples in for the purpose of beholding and being convinced of his resurrection.

Verse 9

For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again unto their own home.

Jesus had repeatedly prophesied his resurrection; but until that moment they had not comprehended that he would actually come out of the grave. Until that moment, they did not really know it. The impact of this miracle was great enough to overcome all prior unbelief. They did not initiate a search for the body; they now knew he was alive! Thus their conduct confirmed their faith that he had risen. Moreover, their conduct throughout life afterward never deviated from the pattern established here. In all the years to come, their every word, deed, and thought proved the absolute certainty of their belief. They went to death shouting, "He is risen!"

Verse 11

But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping: so as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb.

Mary did not leave the tomb, as did Peter and John, but remained there to weep. It is not known if she was alone, or what time of day this occurred. It is received in faith and reverence, as from the eyewitness account of an apostle, and with full consciousness that the revelation we have received, though inspired: is nonetheless fragmentary, but fragmentary only as regards inconsequential details. Of the great central facts, there is an overwhelming profusion of faith-inducing information.

Verse 12

And she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

For a discussion of angels, see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 1:14. This student has found absolutely nothing in the voluminous writings of destructive critics which offers any logical challenge to the Scriptures. All allegations of "discrepancies" and charges of inaccuracies are, without exception, grounded in the prior bias and infidelity of men who will not have it so, no matter what the word of God reveals. As for the fact that the Scriptures speak here of two angels, and in another place of one angel, and of angels standing, or sitting, and saying this or that upon one occasion or another - and particularly regarding Mary Magdalene's having seen two angels, and Peter and John not having reported seeing any angels, despite their being in the tomb first - the answer to all the "problems" seen by the critics in such facts (and they are facts) is a shrug of the shoulders. The only real problem that exists is in the minds of dirty old Sadducees clinging to some kind of nominal identity with Christianity who have never been converted from their disbelief, either of the resurrection or of the existence of angels. Jesus believed in the existence of angels, frequently spoke of them, and was ministered to by angels in the wilderness and in Gethsemane; and the nature of such beings is clearly unlike that of men. In Scripture, they appear as supernatural, immortal beings, capable of being either visible or invisible at will, endowed with the power to appear and to disappear instantaneously, and utterly unencumbered by the limitations which restrain the conduct of men. Any quibbling, therefore, over the question of why two angels were seen, and only one in another place, or by different persons, and not seen by some, or why they were, or were not, visible on one occasion or another - all such questions are invariably founded on misassumptions concerning the very nature of those mysterious heavenly beings called angels, who are above men, unlike men, and utterly beyond men.

Mary Magdalene's seeing two angels and her conversation with those celestial beings were introduced by John as preliminary to the far greater wonder of the appearance of the Lord himself to this grief-stricken woman who loved the Saviour and had come to water his grave with her tears. No wonder, then, that God sent angels to question her grief, and whose attitude or movement (not mentioned) directed her attention to the Lord himself. See under John 20:14.

Verse 13

And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

Mary Magdalene, like Peter and John earlier, despite all that Jesus had taught, was another who had never really believed in the resurrection. The inclusion of such facts by John shows how impossible and preposterous was the falsehood that the Lord's disciples stole his body for purposes of pretending a resurrection had occurred. On the contrary, they hardly believed it after the fact, being singularly blind to it, until the absolute and overwhelming proof of it enlightened them, Matthew recording the launching of the lie that the apostles stole the body (Matthew 28:11-13); and it may be assumed that the falsehood was still being repeated in John's time. The conduct of two of the Lord's most intimate disciples, as well as that of Mary Magdalene, demonstrated the incapacity of the disciples either to contrive or advocate such a falsehood.

Woman, why weepest thou ...? The victory had been won, Satan crushed, death vanquished, and salvation for humanity made possible; but Mary, as yet, did not know it. The stone had been rolled from the grave but not from her heart. Her devotion was rewarded by the very first appearance of our Lord after the resurrection. Even the appearance of two angels in the shining livery of heaven afforded no relief of her sobbing grief. Angels could not take his place in her heart; and thus has it ever been with them that love Jesus.

No angel could his place have taken, Highest of the high though he. The loved one on the cross forsaken Was one of the Godhead Three.[4]

Because they have taken away my Lord ... Stupefied by grief, Mary apparently took no note at all of the angels. She answered their question, but at once turned away from them. No interpolator, forger, redactor, or falsarius could ever have come up with a thing like this. Two mighty angels from heaven opened up a conversation with weeping Mary; but she only made the necessary reply and turned away! How mightily is that soul held in thrall whose heart's love is fastened upon Jesus Christ our Lord!

Verse 14

When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and beholdeth Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

Why did not Mary inquire of the angels where the body lay? Was there something in their look, attitude, or actions which directed her attention to one whom she supposed to be the gardener? It is simply a marvel, any way it may be viewed. The appearance of the Lord might have drawn the adoring attention of the angels, which, in turn, would have directed Mary's eyes to the Saviour.

And knew not that it was Jesus ... What an insight is this into the fact of mankind's inability to recognize that which is best and highest; nor is this exceptional. The apostles "knew not that it was Jesus" at the sea of Tiberius (20:4); and all of the great leaders in Jerusalem "knew him not, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him" (Acts 13:27). And of men today, are we any more able than they to know him? Concerning the reasons why men do not recognize the Lord: (1) some, like Mary, are blinded by grief; (2) some are blinded by prejudice and preconceived notions, as were the leaders in Jerusalem; (3) some are blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4); and (4) some are blinded by the lowliness of our Saviour's birth and life, as was Nathaniel (John 1:46).

Verse 15

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

Mary's failure to recognize the Lord is not a problem, for her attention was focused inwardly upon her own grief, from which not even the angels of God could divert it. Jesus asked exactly the same question as the angels, but with the additional question, "Whom seekest thou?" Some power beyond herself was required to break her soul out of the power of the smothering grief that overwhelmed her; and that power Jesus at once provided.

Verse 16

Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turneth herself, and saith unto him in Hebrew, Rabboni; which is to say, Teacher.

The personal greeting of Jesus opened her eyes and thrilled her heart with recognition, and she at once exclaimed, "Rabboni," using the term she had often used before his death.

She turneth herself ... indicates that until the Lord used her name, she had not actually been looking at him. It is false to allege that she looked at him carefully without recognition. When he spoke her name, "There was doubtless a sameness in the expression of her name which went straight to her heart."[5] Mary's response to the sudden knowledge that the Lord was indeed risen from the dead, standing before her, and calling her by name, was spontaneous and natural. She began at once either to embrace him or to fall at his feet and clasp them to herself.

Verse 17

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God. Mary Magdalene cometh and telleth the disciples, I have seen the Lord; and that he had said these things unto her.

Although forbidden to touch the Lord, Mary nevertheless was granted the far more wonderful privilege of telling the good news of his resurrection and of announcing to them the forthcoming ascension.

Touch me not ... is another "discrepancy" in the eyes of some, for Matthew recorded that "the women came and held him by the feet and worshipped him" (Matthew 28:9). But, like all "discrepancies," this one also disappears in the light of study. The occasion in Matthew was marked by the presence of several women (including Mary Magdalene); in this incident, only Mary seems to have been present. These are therefore two separate epiphanies; and the only thing that may be made of it is that Jesus permitted several women to do something which, in this first appearance to Mary, he had denied. Also, the KIND of touching in the two appearances was different. The worship of Jesus does not seem to have been the purpose of Mary in that first spontaneous greeting. There was no inherent refusal of Jesus to be touched by mortals after the resurrection, because he specifically invited Thomas to do so (John 20:27); and he invited all the apostles to "handle" him (Luke 24:39). There was, therefore, clearly some divine reason for Jesus' prohibition of Mary's intended touching of him in this appearance. But is such a thing a "discrepancy"? Emphatically, No! There is another case of this same type of discrimination a little later in John, where the Lord prophesied the martyrdom of Peter, but denied the specific request to prophesy the future of John (John 21:18-23). If those two events had been related in separate Gospels, the critics would have been baying yet about a "discrepancy" in the Lord's prophesying the future of one apostle and refusing to do so of another. The Lord's permission to touch him, denied in one instance and granted in another, cannot logically be viewed as a "discrepancy." Morgan's words seem to shed some further light on the question, thus:

He did not say, "Touch me not." It is unfortunate how that rendition misses the true meaning. The English Revised Version margin reads, "Take not hold of me."[6]

It should not be overlooked that to Mary came the unique honor of being first told of the ascension to the Father. She also conveyed the glorious message of his resurrection, not merely of an empty grave, but of the living Saviour!

My brethren ... These are significant words. Peter had denied him, and all had fled during the crucifixion; but the Lord unhesitatingly addressed them as his "brethren." They had then entered upon their new status, henceforth being Christ's brothers, joint heirs with Christ of eternal life and partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Christ nowhere ever addressed all humanity as "brethren." As Hendriksen said of the saved, "These, these all, these alone, are Christ's brothers."[7]

[6] G. Campbell Morgan, op. cit., p. 314.

[7] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1961), II, p. 456.

Verse 19

When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

The first day of the week ... This was already pinpointed as the time of these events (John 20:1), and therefore the repetition of this fact is emphatic. Chief among the days of the week is Sunday, not Saturday; and this profound change began the day our Lord rose from the dead and met with his disciples. Such New Testament passages at Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1,26; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; and Revelation 1:10 are the Scriptural basis for observing Sunday, the first day of the week, as the correct day for Christian assemblies, contributions, communion, and all other acts of corporate Christian worship.

When therefore it was evening ... indicates that the old Jewish method of reckoning days is over with. There can be little doubt that this appearance behind closed doors took place after sundown. As Westcott noted:

The hour was evidently late, about 8:00 p.m. Time must be allowed for the return of the disciples from Emmaus, who were not likely to leave Jerusalem until after the evening prayer (Acts 3:1).[8]

Despite the lateness of the hour, it was still the first day of the week; and John, writing so long after the events, did not pause to explain a change which had been so long in effect.

This was the third, fourth, or even the fifth appearance of Jesus on this day. He had already appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 10:16), to a group of women (Matthew 28:9), to those on Emmaus road (Luke 24:31), and especially to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34). The apostles had gathered together, perhaps in that same upper room where they had met before. Luke tells of the disciples returning from Emmaus with such excitement and finding the apostles together in the scene before us.

Doors were shut ... for fear of the Jews ... Their fears were natural. They had seen their enemies in action and knew that no mercy, restraint, caution, or even honesty could be counted upon to temper the hatred of the Sadducees and Pharisees if they decided to move against them as they had moved against the Lord.

It is not known if the doors were locked, or only shut, that question being absolutely immaterial; because the point of the statement is that Christ appeared without the necessity of the doors' being opened. As Westcott said, "The clause (when the doors were shut) - can only have been added to mark the miraculousness of our Lord's appearance."[9]

In this connection, Luke records, concerning the appearance of Jesus on the Emmaus road, that "They knew him, and he vanished out of their sight" (Luke 24:31). The Lord's physical body, actual as it was, was not subject to ordinary mortal limitations. It is best not to bother with all the scholarly dissertations on the nature of Jesus' physical body after his resurrection. The apostles offered no explanations but only recorded the facts as they occurred. And what is the great fact here? It is that of Jesus' sudden dramatic appearance before the apostles and the two returning from Emmaus (who had already seen the Lord). This appearance provided positive and infallible evidence of the resurrection; the identification of Jesus was complete and undeniable; he was the one and the same person they had seen crucified and buried three days previously. This is the fact that crushed the head of Satan, set the apostles on fire with holy zeal, and sent them shouting down the ages, "He is risen! He is risen!"

Peace be unto you ... These were the last words Jesus had spoken, perhaps in that very room, when he went forth to endure the agony, arraignment, trials, mockery, and crucifixion. His greeting by the same words in this new context was a shout of victory, a declaration of confidence, and an outpouring of blessing upon the disciples. How welcome were those words! The far from perfect conduct of the group during the previous terrible days had probably left them filled with feelings of guilt and fear; but these glorious words dispelled the gloom.

[8] B. F. Westcott, The Gospel according to St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), p. 294.

[9] Ibid.

Verse 20

And when he had said this, he showed unto them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord.

Christ showed them also the wounds in his feet and ate a piece of broiled fish in their presence (Luke 24:36-43). He asked them to handle his body and to be fully convinced of his reality, thus fortifying them forever against any thought that they had merely seen a vision of him, or that his presence was just a spiritual manifestation.

Glad when they saw the Lord ... This appearance before twelve men (including the two from Emmaus) was authentic and convincing; and they who saw it never wavered or doubted afterward. It was even repeated a week later when Thomas had rejoined them; and this double epiphany to the Twelve constituted the very foundation of Christian evidence. This was the sacred fountain that supplied the evangelistic zeal of the apostles. The certainties established in these scenes enabled them to stand before the whole world shouting the message of redemption in Christ. The conviction made final and permanent by these events sustained them in the fires of persecution and death. The Galilean had triumphed! If the facts here related did not occur, then what did happen? Skepticism has no answer. For nearly two millenia the wisest and best have received this narrative as sacred Gospel. The record here is the truth, and it shall stand forever.

Verse 21

Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be with you: as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

Peace be unto you ... By this repetition Jesus brought them back to their responsibilities, which they had tended to forget during the previous sorrowful days.

So send I you ... This has all the force of the great commission. As God had sent Jesus, so he sent them. In these words, John went back to that first intimate, overwhelmingly impressive moment when the Christ moved tenderly to bring his wayward disciples back to a full realization of their duty. This was the moment, above all others, that motivated them in carrying out the formal pronouncements of the great commission enunciated later.

Verse 22

And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had promised the apostles that after he went away he would send the Spirit, hence his action here (John 16:7ff). Windisch said, "It is impossible to see in John 20:22ff the fulfillment of the Paraclete prophecies";[10] but, of course, it is impossible not to see it. Windisch's argument is that in the Paraclete sayings the Spirit was to be sent by the ascended one "from heaven" and not from on earth as here! The stupendous error of such an argument is that it views the sending of God's Spirit as a one-shot operation comparable to a president's sending an ambassador. Such is not the case at all. God's (and Christ's) sending of the Holy Spirit is a continuous thing, being done constantly in all generations, and to benefit each new recipient of salvation. As so many unspiritual writers do, Windisch incorporated elements invariably present in the sending of a mortal man with the promise of sending the Spirit, a far different thing. Jesus' appearance in this verse as conveyor of the Spirit is no contradiction of the fact that Jesus sends the Spirit from heaven, as on Pentecost. Furthermore, even in this verse, the Spirit came from both God and Christ who are one (this is the essential fact missing in Windisch), there being thus no possible denial of the Spirit's coming, even here, from heaven.

Verse 23

Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Here (as in Matthew 18:18) this authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness of sins was not restricted to Peter but belonged to all of the apostles. For full discussion of this, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 16:19.

Verse 24

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

Thomas' absence was a tragic loss to him; and what was true of him is true of all Christians in a spiritual sense. He was absent from the assembly, and thus he failed to see the Lord and receive his blessing. That absence contributed to his delinquency in his refusal to believe that anything had really happened in his absence. Absence from Christian worship quickly moves a believer into a posture of doubt and unbelief. "Didymus" means "twin" (English Revised Version, margin).

Verse 25

The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Eight days (Sunday to Sunday) elapsed between the two appearances with Thomas absent and Thomas present; and during that period he found his way back to the group. He had once affirmed that he would die with the Lord (John 11:16); but, like the others, he had failed. However, he came back, and that is what counts. He came back, and Jesus came back to meet him. Jesus came back to the man who came back; and therein is a promise of hope for all who will return to the Master. There can be no doubt that the second of these Lord's Day appearances was primarily for the benefit of the absentee.

Naturally, the others told Thomas what had happened; but he said, in effect, that he would not believe unless he received the same evidence they had witnessed; and the marvel of marvels is that Jesus simply came back and gave it to him, incidentally giving double corroboration to the entire apostolic group.

Verse 26

And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

To this point all was exactly the same as before: the disciples within, the doors shut, but with this difference: Thomas was present. Perhaps they were wondering if the Lord would return; and sure enough he did. Again, he appeared through closed doors that had not opened. His magnificent "Peace be unto you" rang out just as before. And then came the climax of that second appearance to the eleven.

Verse 27

Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.

The overpowering drama of this is worthy of the Son of God himself and his blessed apostles; and one cannot but reflect upon the poverty of the church of all ages which would have been sustained had not John the apostle provided this record of what happened.

Reach hither thy finger ... thy hand ... Neither Christ nor his religion has anything to hide, nothing to conceal or cover up, no issues to avoid or problems to evade. To every unbeliever of all ages, the challenge of the risen Christ still thunders across centuries and millennia: INVESTIGATE! Test the evidence; make your own examination of the facts; and be not faithless but believing. Thus, infidelity was rooted out of the sacred group, and thus it has been rooted out of the heart of every unbeliever throughout history who took the trouble to investigate. This gives the lie to the satanic falsehood that knowledge leads to unbelief. It is the opposite. Ignorance leads to unbelief, as do prejudice, sin, and rebellion in the heart.

Thomas is often called "the doubter," but this is only another example of dignifying sin with some other title than its true one. The Lord did not refer to Thomas as a doubter, but as an unbeliever.

Verse 28

Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

Thomas' confession ranks among the greatest ever made, being one of the ten New Testament passages which declare categorically that Christ is God (see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 1:8). This confession is the climactic note that crowns the entire theme of John that "Jesus is God." This pinnacle of the sustaining witness of that theme is inherent in the fact that even an apostle who at first would not believe came back to confess, "My Lord and my God."

Verse 29

Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

It was absolutely necessary that Thomas' unbelief be removed, and the dramatic and sensational manner in which Jesus removed it had the desired effect; but Jesus thought of the future millions whose faith would have to depend upon the very word of those apostles whose testimony Thomas had refused. In the very nature of things, all men cannot put their fingers in the nail-prints and their hands in his side. Thus, their faith will be a moral judgment, not an intellectual one; and thinking of them, Jesus conferred his divine blessing upon THEM, rather than upon Thomas. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed!"

One's own heart must speak to him as the sacred chapters of the New Testament are read. The glorious testimony is all there; but, in the last analysis, it is human testimony. In the word of God? Certainly, but conveyed in earthen vessels; and it is the polarization of the soul with reference to the Creator that will trigger the soul's reaction to it. See under John 3:19.

Jesus did not pronounce a blessing upon Thomas, which is not to say that a blessing was withheld, but that he did not here announce one, that grace having been reserved for the faithful of all ages who have believed without seeing and whose hearts rightly appraised the words of the apostles as absolute truth. That appraisal, Thomas was not able to make.

Verse 30

Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written that ye may believe; and that believing ye may have life in his name.

This is the statement of the purpose of John, every line in the Gospel having been related to the purpose in view here. John never intended his Gospel as merely another biography of Christ. He consciously omitted much material found in the synoptics and introduced a wealth of material found nowhere else, intimate, personal things which only he could relate, and also material of another kind, such as that relating to the resurrection of Lazarus and the healing of the man born blind.

Significantly, John warned his readers that only a fraction of Jesus' mighty words and deeds were published, the very last word in John being a statement of the absolute impossibility of any full reporting of all that Jesus did. The same pertains to all the Gospels; and in the light of this extremely important consideration, how ridiculous are the objections of critics that this or that Gospel omits this or that word or deed with the implication that such omissions reflect against the truth of another Gospel that included them. The only support of such criticisms is inherent bias in the critic. As Hovey said:

The materials were so abundant that they could be used in no other way (except that of abbreviating them). Is it not surprising then that critics like Baur and Strauss say, whenever a miracle or word of Jesus is recorded by only one or two evangelists, that the others KNEW NOTHING OF IT?[11]

Can any truly thoughtful student of the word of God imagine that any of the holy Gospels, or even all of them together, contained anything more than a brief resume of the entire four years of Jesus' world-shaking ministry? It requires a book ten times as large as the whole New Testament to record the history of a six-months campaign for the office of president; and to suppose that the Gospels are any kind of exhaustive record of all that Jesus did is foolish. They are on very tenuous grounds who make arguments based on the silence of this or that Gospel. All the Gospels were actually designed by the Holy Spirit; and the omissions, as well as the inclusions, were purposeful, that purpose being the one announced here at the close of this principal section of the Gospel of John.

This chapter concluded John's proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; but, in the larger view, the purpose of the whole gospel was the presentation and proof of Jesus as God come in human form. Of such a being, and in that context, as John was at constant pains to demonstrate, the resurrection was to have been expected. No grave could hold the Lord of Life.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 20". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.