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Bible Commentaries
John 20

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary

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The Resurrection: The Seventh Group of the Whole Gospel; The Third of Its Second Part: The Resurrection

Verse 1

In ch. John 20:1-18, John learns in the empty sepulchre to believe in the resurrection, and the risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene.

Ver. 1. “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.”

The plural τὰ? σάββατα , which often occurs in the Sept. and in Josephus as well as in the New Testament, was supposed to point to the high dignity of the day. It is the pluralis excellentiae, of such wide use in Hebrew. The Sabbath is termed in Isaiah 58:13 “the holy of the Lord.” From a similar cause it sprang that all days of the week were distinguished by their relation to the Sabbath (the one day, or first day, μία , of the Sabbath, and so forth); and that the Sabbath, for instance in Luke 18:12, embodied in itself the whole week. It is incorrect to say that the Sabbath of itself signified the week. The first day of the week was peculiarly appropriate for the resurrection, inasmuch as on it the creation of the world had begun, and light had been brought into being. With the resurrection of Christ a new creation began, and a new light went forth into the darkness.

“Cometh Mary Magdalene:” Matthew 28:1 mentions Mary Magdalene and the other Mary; Mark, besides these, Salome, John 16:1. Luke is most copious; he mentions, Luke 24:10, with Mary Magdalene Joanna, now first appearing in his Gospel, and Mary mother of James, and “others with them:” comp. Luke 23:55, Luke 24:1, according to which those women went to the sepulchre who had remained together watching the interment (his predecessors had mentioned as such Mary Magdalene and the other Mary), and “certain others with them.” The whole circle of Galilean women, as might have been expected, joined the pilgrimage. John, who everywhere, and especially in the narrative of the resurrection, is extremely sparing in the communication of what was already known through his predecessors, touching it only so far as was necessary for the introduction of his own peculiar contributions, goes no further than the mention of Mary Magdalene, who also with his predecessors is the central personage, and always is placed first. But we find in John a definite allusion to the fact that he passed over the others only for brevity. That lies in the οἴ?δαμεν , we know, in ver. 2, which cannot without the utmost violence be interpreted otherwise than “I and the women who went out with me.” Ewald remarks, with strict propriety: “That Mary Magdalene went out alone to visit the sepulchre is in itself improbable, and at the same time opposed to the older narrative, besides being out of keeping with his own bent in ver. 2.” The impossibility of sundering Mary Magdalene from the other women becomes very plain when we note Luke 24:10. There, in conjunction with the others, she brings the Apostles the report; just as, according to Matthew and Mark, she came together with them to the sepulchre.

The fact that John does not mention the intention with which Mary and her companions went to the sepulchre, is as good as an express allusion to his predecessors, according to whom the women went out to anoint the body of Jesus: Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; Luke 23:55.

Mary came early, while it was yet dark at the sepulchre. This statement, and Luke’s “very early in the morning, ὄ?ρθρου βαθέως are supposed to contradict Mark’s “at the rising of the sun.” Certainly his ἀ?νατείλαντος τοῦ? ἡ?λίου can be interpreted only as orto sole. But this does not imply that the sun had fully risen. Many passages in the New Testament, and the frequently occurring ἀ?νατολαί in classical writers, show that the rising of the sun was an act not limited to one moment. The sun is really risen, though the disc of the sun may not be visible in the heaven; for the dawn is created by it before it rises. Mark precedes his sunrise by the remark “very early,” and shows that he meant only the first glimmering of dawn. His ch. John 1:35, καὶ? πρωῒ? ἔ?ννυχα λίαν , furnishes a comment on this λίαν πρωῒ? . Fritzsche: Mane, multa adhuc nocte = bene mane. In the ἔ?ννυχον there, we have a parallel to the σκοτίας ἔ?τι οὔ?σης . Mark speaks of the sunrise in the broader sense, as opposed to dark night; but John does not say “when it was yet night,” but only that the light of day had not yet altogether dispelled the darkness. It was precisely the time which Homer describes by κροκόπεπλος ἠ?ώς : comp. Eustatius ad Horn. xi. p. 181, “having something of the night’s darkness remaining, although the sun’s rays shed upon it a golden tinge.” In the nature of the case we should expect neither perfect darkness nor perfect light. In the Old Testament, the dawn was consecrated as a symbol of transition from misery to happiness, from suffering to joy: Isaiah 58:8, comp. Isaiah 58:10, Isaiah 47:11, John 8:20; Hosea 6:3; Hosea 10:15; 2 Samuel 23:4, and specifically Psalms 22:1: there the hind of the morning is the suffering righteous, to whom salvation is come. There seems to be a special reference to this psalm, the same which throughout the crucifixion both our Lord and His apostles had continually in view.—“Unto the sepulchre” must, from what follows, be to the sepulchre, not into it: comp. ch. John 18:28; Mark, ver. 2, ἐ?πὶ? τὸ? μνημεῖ?ον ; Luke 24:1, ἐ?πὶ? τὸ? μνῆ?μα . Yet the preposition εἰ?ς was designedly chosen. If Mary had not actually visited the sepulchre itself, the Evangelist would have used ἐ?πί instead: comp. εἰ?σελθοῦ?σαι , Luke 24:3; ἐ?ξλθοῦ?σαι ἀ?πὸ? τοῦ? μνημείου , Matthew 28:8.

John had mentioned the stone in connection with the resurrection of Lazarus, John 11:38, but not in connection with our Lord’s sepulchre: Anton: “An instance to show that John refers back to the other Evangelists. For he had said nothing before of any stone. He knew that it was a matter well known to believers through the earlier accounts.”

Verse 2

Ver. 2. “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 sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid Him.”

The women had received a command to carry to the Apostles the angels’ report concerning the resurrection, Matthew 28:7, and especially, as Mark 16:7 adds, to Peter as their head. According to Luke 24:9, they reported all that they had learnt at the sepulchre “to the eleven, and to all the rest.” As it is improbable that all these,—not only the Apostles, but all other believers,—were assembled in one place, we have to assume that they divided the commission among them. It then was obvious that to Mary Magdalene, who everywhere takes the first place among the holy women, would be assigned the communication of the angels’ message to Peter, especially named by the angel, as well as to his faithful companion, the disciple whom Jesus loved. According to Luke, the message embraced all that he records in vers. 3-8,—that they found not the body of Jesus in the sepulchre, that two angels appeared to them in their anxiety, and announced to them the resurrection. John, however, contents himself with communicating the first part of the message—the fact that the women found the sepulchre empty. This is in harmony with his pervading habit of touching lightly what his predecessors had narrated; and of introducing their details with the utmost brevity, and merely as a basis for incorporating and adjusting his own independent matter. If it were a matter of condensation, then the narrative of the appearance of the angels, and the transitory manifestation of our Lord Himself in the way ( Matthew 28:9), must have been postponed to that of the report of the sepulchre being found empty. This last reproduced what the women had seen with their bodily eyes, and stated on personal evidence a firm fact; those other reports moved in a sphere where excited imagination might play a considerable part. The question in them was one of an ὀ?πτασία , Luke, ver. 23, that certainly might have objective significance, but in regard to which it was needful to be very guarded. The really central matter in the message of the women seems to be that which John alone selects, that of Luke 24:24, where the disciples of Emmaus say: “And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said; but Him they saw not:” this latter word intimates, in harmony with Matthew 28:9, that the women had asserted that they had seen Jesus. The Apostles gave full acceptance only to that part of the message, only to that which every one with a sound eye to the testimony must have believed. The remainder awakened only presentiments and indefinite hopes. Until further confirmation it was not spoken of, a mere rumour, λῆ?ρος , Luke ver. 11. But we may prove from John himself that Mary Magdalene must have said more than what he so briefly communicates. The facts reported by him point us to the supplement which we find in Luke. It is stinking at the outset that Mary runs. Accordingly she must have already experienced something which did not paralyse her feet, but gave them wings. Further, if Mary had nothing further to report, she would have come weeping to the Apostles. But she does not weep till ver. 12, when that seems to be vanishing from her which she had thought she held fast. If Mary, besides mentioning the fact which was evident to her sense, the emptiness of the grave, had not alluded to some explanation of that fact which she believed she had received, the conduct of the two disciples is hardly to be accounted for. The report of Mary must have deposited in them the germ of a faith in the Lord’s resurrection; but that could not have been the case if she merely reported the emptiness of the sepulchre. For the fact that the sepulchre was empty furnished no evidence in favour of the resurrection; it was rather evidence to the contrary, since the resurrection of Jesus was inseparably connected with His making Himself known to His disciples. If the words of Mary had not given the two disciples some ground of hope, why did they run so fast to the sepulchre? How was it that John should record the circumstance, indifferent in itself, that he outran Peter and came first to the sepulchre, if their difference of speed did not reveal a difference of sentiment with regard to the report received by Mary,—a prelude to the subsequent difference in their faith and wonder? The running of the two men presupposes a germ of faith in the Lord’s resurrection; a germ which was implanted solely by the report brought to them through Mary. Without some such faith they would have gone to the sepulchre, if they went at all, with faltering steps and downcast faces. In the disciple whom Jesus loved this germ was more energetically developed through the influence of that personal and individual love to Jesus which distinguished him beyond all the other disciples. So also the fact that John came to a mature faith in the resurrection while still in the sepulchre, ver. 8, assumes that the message of Mary had already given him ground for hoping it.

With “they have taken away,” etc., we may compare Luke 24:3, “And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus,” provided we include ver. 4, according to which they were in consequence filled with grief and anxiety: “And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout.” What Mary here said was the result which observation with the natural eye would lead to. That she knew how to distinguish accurately between the sphere of lower sense and that of the higher, itself awakens in our minds a prejudice in favour of her trustworthiness.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. “Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.”

Luke, after mentioning the cold reception which the women with their message met with at the hands of the Apostles, Luke 24:11, says in Luke 24:12, “Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre;” he singles out Peter from the rest. John completes his account by adding that he was with Peter. That Luke knew more than he recorded, is plain from ch. Luke 24:23, when the disciples of Emmaus say, “And certain of them that were with us went to the sepulchre.” If Peter accordingly did not go alone, we might naturally enough suppose that John would go with him: for these two appear everywhere, and in Luke particularly, united in the most perfect manner (compare on ch. Luke 13:24); and certainly there was not one in the whole company of the Apostles more disposed than John to faith in the resurrection. Luke limits himself to the mention of Peter, simply as being the head of the Apostles. John of course had a personal interest in recording his participation.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. “So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.”

Augustin: “After he had said that they came to the sepulchre, he returns back to say how they went.” We have here John’s supplement to Luke’s word, “Peter ran.” That it may be very plain where his more copious and exact narrative is to be inserted, John takes almost all the words of the summary account in Luke, and adapts his additions to them: Luke says, that Peter ran to the grave; John, that Peter and John ran, the latter faster than the former: Luke, that he stooped down and beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves; John uses the very same words, so that there can be no idea of mere accident in the matter: Luke speaks of the linen clothes alone; John says, that the napkin did not lie with the linen clothes: Luke, that he went home (ἀ?πῆ?λθε πρὸ?ς ἑ?αυτόν ); and John uses the very same words, “went away again unto their own home” (ἀ?πῆ?λθ ov πρὸ?ς ἑ?αυτούς ). If we attach their real value to these designed allusions, we shall not be misled by John’s ver. 8, “And he saw and believed,” in its plain reference to Luke’s ver. 11, “And they believed them not.” Now, says John, the earlier unbelief of the disciples gave way in the case of at least one of those disciples. It was not fortuitous that John in this way linked his narrative to Luke among the three Evangelists. Matthew breaks off his account of the holy women, after recording how the Lord appeared to them, and gave them a commission to the disciples; Mark still earlier, after his communications on the appearance and commission of the angel. Both fail to narrate the reception which they and their tidings concerning the resurrection and their message met with from the Apostles. Luke alone of the three Evangelists mentions this. Now, as it was John’s design to furnish supplements to the first three accounts, it was natural that he should take up the thread where that Evangelist laid it down who had carried the common narrative furthest. There was all the more reason why John should refer to Luke, because Luke had not, like the other Evangelists, passed over in silence the event which John wished to record fully, the journey of the two to the sepulchre, but had related it imperfectly; so that it was of moment, in order to obviate the semblance of contradiction, to take up the earlier account again, and to indicate the places where the additions were to be inserted.

What made John run faster? We must reject all such external reasons as the more advanced age of Peter. If the difference had rested upon that ground, it would have been a trifling thing to mention. It is opposed also by the analogy of the following incident, where John yields in turn to Peter: John does not go into the sepulchre, Peter does. If in this the difference must be referred to the spiritual sphere, so also in the case of the running. The true interpretation will approve itself true, by referring both differences between the two Apostles to the same grounds. The reason why John ran faster was this, that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved. Personal love to Jesus, which kept pace with the love of Jesus to him, gave wings to his feet. (Quesnel: John must outrun Peter; we must be loved before we can love or run.) If the matter had been one of duty in his vocation, had there been anything to do or to suffer for Jesus and His Church, Peter would certainly not have been behindhand. Hence the reason was the same for which the Lord committed His mother, not to Peter, but to John. The Apostle had, in fact, in ver. 2, all but expressly assigned the reason, by there designating himself the disciple whom Jesus loved, ὃ?ν ἐ?φίλει ὁ? Ἰ?ησοῦ?ς—φιλεῖ?ν , stronger than the ἀ?γαπᾷ?ν , used elsewhere.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. “And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.”

Luke had used the words, “And stooping down, he beheld,” etc., of Peter. John., taking up the same narrative, does not purpose to correct Luke: that would have been contrary to all analogy. He simply intimates that this was what was common to him and Peter; and then, in ver. 6, introduces supplementarily the statement of that in which Peter anticipated him. Peter, too, had naturally first looked into the sepulchre, and had then entered into it, in order to investigate the matter more closely. The ὀ?θόνια , linen clothes, with which the whole body was swathed: comp. on John 19:40.

Why did not John go at once into the sepulchre? His tender feeling, the gentle inwardness of his love to Christ, feared a shock. He left it to the stronger and bolder Peter to make the first essay. As soon as this gave a satisfactory result, he followed after. John here records his own weakness with the same openness as, in ver. 4, he records his strength.

Verses 6-7

Vers. 6, 7. “Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, 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.”

Luke says, “the linen clothes laid by themselves (alone).” This μόνα would have been very hard of explanation, if we had not John’s commentary on it: it might seem, so to speak, as if he had expected a supplementary commentator. Θεωρεῖ?ν , in contradistinction to the mere βλέπειν , signifies the more careful view which was secured by approaching nearer. The significance of this circumstance, so minutely recorded, out of which, according to ver. 8, John’s faith derived its strength, has been well stated by Lampe: “It was because He who altered the condition of the grave did nothing in haste, but designedly, and for a specific purpose, unwound the bandages from the body, and disposed them decently in their several places.”

Verse 8

Ver. 8. “Then went in also that other disciple which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw and believed.”

We must not interpret, “He believed what Mary had said about the emptiness of the grave,” as, strangely enough, Augustin, Luther, and Bengel do. (Augustin: “What did he see, what did he believe? He saw the empty sepulchre, and believed what the woman had said, that He was taken away from the sepulchre.”) For that would have required to be more specifically stated; it is opposed to the emphatic meaning of the term believe, especially in the writings of John (comp. on John 19:35); and it is not in keeping with the parallel words of Luke concerning Peter, “wondering in himself at that which was come to pass,” θαυμάζων τὸ? γεγονός ,—wherein there was at least a dawn of faith, and which shows, as Calvin says, that something greater and higher came into his mind than mere wonder. But we must not at once explain, “He saw and believed that Jesus was risen.” That also would have required to be more expressly declared. The faith here meant must needs be a faith in Christ absolutely, in the same general sense as the word πιστεύειν is used also in ver. 25. The faith developed here was faith that Jesus was the Christ the Son of God, ver. 31, and that which Thomas avowed, ver. 28, “My Lord and my God:” comp. the πεπίστευκας , in ver. 29, which is based upon this word of Thomas. Faith in the resurrection was involved in this broader faith; it was a part of the whole.

Faith in Christ is an empty delusion, if there is no faith in His resurrection, which is the immediate effect and evidence of His Messianic dignity and Divine Sonship.

That so slender a circumstance evoked faith in John, is explained by the fact, that this event had in a variety of ways been prepared for:—by the intelligence of Mary Magdalene; by all his experiences of the Divine dignity of Christ; by decisive foreannouncements of His own resurrection; by all that which in the Old Testament was predicted (as in Psalms 110; Isaiah 53; Zechariah 9:9-10) concerning Christ, as the Ruler over all His enemies, as entering through sufferings into His glory, as dividing the prey with the strong, as attaining a dominion over the earth, extending to its utmost bounds. Had not these solid grounds been existing, John might have been charged with the reproach of credulity. So also he would have been amenable to the charge of incredulity if he had not believed: compare what Jesus says, Luke 24:25, to the disciples of Emmaus, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” In ver. 9, the Apostle himself points to these foundations of his faith. If we compare “He saw and believed” with the words to Thomas, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”—to which they have an undeniable allusion—we must perceive in them the Apostle’s self-accusation, that he believed not altogether without seeing, that he still required some small hold on the visible, and that for a season he had still doubted whether the Divine nature of his Lord would declare itself in the resurrection. We might draw from this self-accusation of the Apostle the conclusion that, apart from the Apostle’s hardness to believe, the manifestations of the risen Lord would have been altogether needless. But, even as it was becoming that the Apostles should believe in the resurrection without these appearances of the risen Redeemer, it seemed, on the other hand, good to Him to confirm this faith by actual evidence, and thus to give it such mighty power as to overcome the world, so that the Apostles, strong in its strength, might go forth and convince all men. So is it ever with faith generally. It must be present before experience; but if it were not surely and variously confirmed by experience, it would soon become feeble, and die by degrees. “The singular ἐ?πίστευσε ,” observes Meyer, “serves to satisfy his own personal experience, never to be forgotten, of that crisis; but it is not to be regarded as excluding Simon Peter’s simultaneous faith.” But this singular concurs with another singular, the θαυμάζων which Luke says of Peter: he attained to a developed faith, while Peter went no further than wonder. “He believed” gives probably a key to the fact, that the disciple whom Jesus loved had no specific manifestation vouchsafed to him, while one was vouchsafed to Peter. We may, however, seek it in the pre-eminence of Peter himself.

Verse 9

Ver. 9. “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.”

The Apostle gives the reason why he then first believed in the resurrection, and that he required to see in order to believe, notwithstanding the existence of such abundant and express utterances of the Old Testament in relation to the resurrection, which, it might have been supposed, would have from the beginning rendered it a certainty to them all. It is true that the scripture loudly proclaims the resurrection, hut that scripture Was not understood or known by these disciples, entangled in subjectivity; just as even now the Scripture testifies and declares much that we do not know and understand until Divine dispensations to us, and manifold experiences, sometimes very bitter, or richer communications of the Holy Spirit, raise us to a higher spiritual intelligence.

John speaks here only of the foreannouncements of the resurrection as contained in the Scriptures of the Old Testament: comp. Luke 24:25-27; Luke 24:44-47, where Jesus similarly, speaking of His resurrection, points to the prophecies of the Old Testament. Our Lord’s own declarations concerning His coming resurrection are not simply apart from and with “Scripture:” they are to be regarded only as interpretations and deductions drawn from it, and were declared to be such when uttered: comp. the δεῖ? , Matthew 16:21, Luke 9:22, with Luke 24:26; Luke 24:44. He had, before His resurrection, as after it, done no more than open their understanding to comprehend the Scripture, Luke 24:45.

The “knew not” must not be too absolutely taken. It only says that the disciples’ knowledge of the scripture had no such living power as of itself to lead them to faith. We must accept “they knew not” with the same slight modification as “they believed not,” ch. John 7:5 (comp. on that passage). John is particularly partial to the expression of a relative contrast in an absolute form: comp. on John 1:17, John 7:39. Compared with the knowledge which the Apostles afterwards attained, their present knowledge scarcely deserved the name. Seen from the point he then occupied, it seemed to have vanished. The Apostle makes with deep humiliation his confession here. The scripture was in itself so clear, and Jesus had, before His passion, so thoroughly and so impressively expounded it to His disciples, that it was incomprehensible how he had first to see in order to believe! But the seeing would never have led him to faith if this “not knowing the scripture” had been an absolute ignorance,

Verse 10

Ver. 10. “Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.”

The disciples waited at their homes for further intelligence. However certainly John believed, he also waited for further intelligence of the Redeemer. For He had given His disciples certain assurance that, presently after His passion, He would see them, and they should see Him again: ch. John 16:16; John 16:22. This promise, with all others like it, had now become matter of living expectation to John; in some sense also to Peter. Πρὸ?ς ἑ?αυτόν in Luke, πρὸ?ς ἑ?αυτούς ; here, the only instances in which this peculiar phraseology occurs in the New Testament: explained by the fact that the dwelling is regarded as part of the dweller, so that he who comes home comes to himself. Because the expression was so entirely peculiar and strange, John adopted it into his language. It seems like an express reference to Luke, like a declaration that he was supplementing that Evangelist.

In the narrative of our Lord’s appearance to Mary Magdalene, vers. 11-18, John dilates upon what Mark, in Mark 16:9, had already briefly hinted: “Now when Jesus was risen, early the first day of the week. He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven devils.” That the appearance in Mark is not that of which Matthew 28:9 speaks, but that in our text, is plain from a comparison of ver. 10 in Mark with ver. 18 here. Hastening to the end, he passes over the former in silence; because that manifestation had been less important, more transitory and superficial, and not adequate to produce in the minds of those who were favoured with it a perfectly undoubting faith. The “first” in Mark does not exclude that earlier manifestation: it notes this one only as the first among those mentioned by him. This is evident from the relation between the first and the after that in ver. 12, and the afterward, ver. 14.

Verse 11

Ver. 11. “But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and, as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.”

The disciples had run to the grave: Mary Magdalene came more slowly. She remains there, after the disciples had gone away: they went away so soon, doubtless because it was their task to carry intelligence to their fellow-Apostles, and with them to wait for that manifestation of the risen Lord which had been promised to the whole apostolical circle. Peter and John had both received a joyful influence from the sepulchre: Peter marvelled, John believed. Mary, on the contrary, weeps, notwithstanding that the Apostles had communicated their impressions to her. The result of the whole gave no satisfaction to her. The reason of this could be only that she had earlier been more favoured; and had expected, therefore, that the Apostles would have been more favoured also. She had seen, in company with the other women, a vision of angels who announced Christ’s resurrection; on the way home she had seen the Lord Himself, although only in a transitory way. Now she has nothing but the empty grave, before which she indulges in sorrow, especially as the Apostles had seen nothing more. She is thrown into doubt as to her earlier experience, and this doubt breaks her heart. Her weeping for Jesus, however, is heard: first the angels become visible to her again, and then Jesus Himself appears to her.

Verse 12

Ver. 12. “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.”

The angels appear as the answer to Mary’s weeping. This sets aside the question, How was it that Peter and John did not see the angels? The weeping was the condition not merely of their being seen, but also of their appearing. The angels had nothing more to do in the sepulchre. This is evident from their position, their sitting. Bengel: Sedentes quasi opera perfunctos,—sitting as having done their work. They appear there only because Mary seeks the living among the dead. That they sat on the place where the Lord had lain, one at the head, and the other at the feet (comp. Psalms 34:8, “The angel of the Lord encampeth about them that fear Him, and delivereth them”), intimated to her that no impiety had been permitted here: when God’s angels kept their guard, no impious hands could enter.

It was appropriate that the angels in the New Testament should serve Him who, in the Old Testament, is exhibited as the Head of the angels, the Angel of the Lord, the Captain of the Lord’s host, Joshua 5. They appeared at His birth, after His temptation, in Gethsemane, at the resurrection, at the ascension.—Ἐ?ν λευκοῖ?ς , in white, is found elsewhere only in Revelation 3:4-5. In every other place of the New Testament, white garments are mentioned. White was the colour of glory, its symbolic shadow: comp. on Revelation 4:4. The white garments of the angels correspond to the name of “holy ones,” that is, glorious ones, which they bear in the Old Testament.

Verses 13-14

Vers. 13, 14. “And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.”

Mary, although invigorated by the aspect of the angels, could not at once be comforted. Her heart desires to see another, to see Jesus Himself. Had not that taken place which is recorded in Matthew 28:9, the vision of angels alone would have been sufficient for her satisfaction. That her heart longed for more was made plain by her very action, as she turned away from the sepulchre and the angels towards the side whence, if He should appear at all, Jesus would come.

She sees Jesus standing, and knows not that it is Jesus. The reason of her not knowing must not be sought in Mary alone. What Mark says, ch. Mark 16:12, with regard to the two disciples of Emmaus, holds good here: Christ appeared to them and to her in another form, ἐ?ν ἑ?τέρᾳ? μορφῇ? . So also ch. John 21:4, where Jesus appears to the disciples by the Galilean lake, and they knew not that it was Jesus; whereas, in His two manifestations to the apostolic circle in Jerusalem, Jesus at once made Himself known. Analogies are found in the angel-manifestations of the Old Testament, especially Judges 13:16, where we read, “For Manoah knew not that it was the angel of the Lord,”—a passage to which John, in ch. John 21:4, literally alludes. The reason of their not knowing was not simply the weakness of spiritual vision in Manoah and his wife; but especially this, that the angel of the Lord would not, until afterwards, announce himself plainly as such: comp. ver. 17-21. In consequence of this, “Manoah knew not that it was an angel of the Lord,” ver. 21. Glorified corporeity is distinguished from ordinary corporeity, in that it serves the spirit absolutely, and assumes at its desire various forms of manifestation. Jesus would not at once be known to Mary, otherwise than in Matthew 28:9. This time, the voice was to be the token of recognition. It was in the name Mary, into which He condensed the whole relation in which He stood to her soul, that He would be made known. He would, at the same time, teach His Church of all ages, that in the guidance of His people He might be expected to assume many strange appearances, and that He would often be present among those who were still bemoaning His absence, and weeping for His presence.

Verse 15

Ver. 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 have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

When Mary knew not Jesus, it was obvious that she should first think of the gardener: garden and gardener pertain to each other. What she says to the supposed gardener is not so much the real meaning of her heart, as the expression of her glowing desire to have her Lord again, were it only His dead form. The κύριε , Sir, which in its respectfulness goes beyond the position of the gardener, must be explained by the consideration that she thought herself dependent upon him for what was her dearest treasure.

Verse 16

Ver. 16. “Jesus saith unto her, Mary! She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni! which is to say. Master!”

The Mary! which Jesus here spoke went deeper into her heart, and was thus much more fitted to remove all doubt in the reality of the resurrection, than all that was said at the first manifestation. The superscription of this was the “Fear ye not,” and its characteristics were strangeness and suddenness. The women ventured to touch His feet and worship Him. But here Mary, in the overmastering love of her heart, would actually embrace Him. The στραφεῖ?σα here, compared with the ἐ?στράφη εἰ?ς τὰ? ὀ?πίσω , ver. 14, shows that the former turning was only partial. Now, when she knows Jesus, she turns away entirely from the sepulchre and the angels towards Him. Rabboni, here only and Mark 10:51, is רבון , a dialectical variety of Rabban with the suffix. In process of time the suffix lost its meaning, like the pronoun in the Dutch Mynheer, and the Evangelist rightly omits it in the interpretation he gives. The address Rabboni is in harmony with the place at Jesus’ feet which Mary loved; that was the place of a disciple in relation to her Master. It was natural that she who was formerly too masterless and free, should be especially thankful that she had found in Jesus the great Master.

Verse 17

Ver. 17. “Jesus saith unto her. Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.”

The “Touch Me not” presupposes that Mary was in the act of touching the Lord, for He would refuse only that which was proffered. Ἅ?πτεσθαι is always used in the Old Testament of bodily touching; in Luke 7:39 it is used specifically of Mary in relation to Jesus; and as there is nothing to limit the meaning here, we may regard the Lord as forbidding bodily touching as such. The women in Matthew 28:9 embraced the feet of Jesus, and He forbade them not. The disciples are challenged by the Lord in Luke 24:39 to handle Him, ψηλαφήσατέ με ; and to Thomas He said, “Reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side.” Therefore the reason of the prohibition must be sought in the personal character of Mary, and in the passionate nature of the touch which sprang from that character. Mary would embrace the Lord. She thought that the limits which had formerly existed between her Lord and herself (many very incorrectly make her suppose that she could continue to act towards her Lord “in the old style of confidence”) were, now that the Saviour had passed into another form of existence, removed; and that she might now give free course to her feelings, without fearing the admixture of anything human in her sentiment towards her Lord. But the Lord repelled her. “Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father:” My glorification is not yet perfect; the partition still remains in part which the infirmity of human nature erected between you and Me; but soon, when I have gone to the end of the way which I have now entered, this partition will be withdrawn. Every one will be able to express, without any reservation, love to Him who sitteth at the right hand of the Father.

The ascension appears here, as in Mark and Luke, to be a stage of the Redeemer’s course quite distinct from the resurrection, while inseparably connected with it and its necessary complement. John mentions the ascension thrice, in ch. John 3:13, John 6:62, and this passage. His silence, therefore, as to the historical event must not be considered as implying an acquaintance with it,—an ignorance which his relation to Mark and Luke, apart from every other consideration, renders it impossible to maintain. Matthew does not record the ascension; and yet he mentions, ch. Matthew 26:64, comp. Matthew 28:8, Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God, which presupposes the ascension. If, in opposition to all the Evangelists, we make the resurrection simply the restoration of Christ to life as before, then the ascension assumes the character of a new stage, and it is difficult to understand how any Evangelist could omit the record of it. But if, on the other hand, we admit that Christ rose in a glorified body, the resurrection and the ascension are, as it were, one, and bound up together. The latter event, in that case, must take place so soon as Christ had sufficiently attested His resurrection, and given the instructions and commissions which rested on the resurrection. Anton: “The resurrection placed the Redeemer in a new kind of life. Therefore He could not remain upon earth; but there was an ascension to come.” It was all the less necessary for John to narrate the fact of the ascension, as his predecessors had given the narrative in a very complete manner.

The prohibition is followed by a commission. Mary must go to the Apostles, and give them information of the approaching ascension of the Redeemer. Why did the Lord send them intelligence of His approaching ascension, and not of His resurrection already accomplished? Why does He say nothing about His appearing in their midst, and His manifold intercourse with them afterwards? The answer is, that the essential consolation of the resurrection lay in the ascension which was connected with it, by which Christ would enter into the full possession of His Divine glory, and thus be able in the most effectual manner to care for His disciples and help His Church. Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father is the proper and all-sufficient consolation of the Church. Not until He should be with the Father, who was greater than He, ch. John 14:28; not until the Father had glorified Him with the glory which He had before the foundation of the world, ch. John 17:5, could He equip His disciples with irresistible might. The appearances of the risen Lord, far from being excluded by this message, which only gave prominence to the great central fact, were all the more to be expected after that message. If Christ was truly going to His Father, it was needful that He should give His disciples, before His departure, indubitable proofs that the bands of death could not hold Him. The entire position of the Apostles demanded that Christ should appear in their midst. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, pretermits the appearances of Christ to the women, in token that the faith of the Church could not be based upon them; that they were only the prelude of the proper fundamental manifestations. But if our Lord had pre-announced His appearances in the apostolic circle, they would have lost that character of abruptness which it was manifestly appropriate that they should bear.

Jesus says, “I ascend,” not “I will ascend,” in order to intimate that His whole being already tended towards the ascension, which would have immediately taken place had it not been necessary to give the Apostles demonstration that He had risen, and to leave with them His last injunctions.

Our Lord here for the first time calls His disciples brethren. This He did primarily with allusion to Psalms 22:23, where the Righteous One delivered from the bands of death says, “I will declare Thy name unto my brethren.” But this designation had a deeper reason. It pointed to that more profound fellowship between Jesus and His people,—a fellowship created by that redeeming death of which the resurrection was the seal. Christ having given His life for them, translated them from friends into brethren, ch. John 15:15. Anton: “Christ used this term first after His resurrection, because the resurrection was the seal of the atonement with its satisfaction, so that they might be assured now of their fellowship with Christ and in Christ. Although He has gone into glory, He makes His disciples already, as it were, sharers of it; He clothes them with His dignity, and is not ashamed to call them brethren ( Hebrews 2:12).” How full of consolation this new designation was to be, the sequel shows. As brethren they were the partakers of that glory which He had obtained by His death; His God, who received Him into that glory, became their God.

He does not say “to our Father, to our God,” because He was Christ’s God and Father in a different sense from that in which He was their God and Father. He was their God only because He was Christ’s God and they Christ’s brethren. Augustin: Naturâ meum, gratiâ vestrum: Mine by nature, yours by grace.

Verse 18

Ver. 18. “Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things unto her.”—Compare Mark 16:10

Verse 19

Ver. 19. “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them. Peace be unto you.”

When our Lord entered into their midst, the Apostles had been in many ways prepared for His coming: by the first message of the women, by the experience of Peter and John at the sepulchre, by the report brought by Mary Magdalene of the appearance she had seen, by the appearance also to Peter, and by the tidings of the Emmaus disciples. We can hardly doubt that their whole soul was rapt in desire and in expectation of the coming of their Master. When we reflect upon the fundamental importance of that visitation of the Apostles, it will be clear that all these preceding preparations were no more than absolutely necessary.

According to strict Jewish computation, the evening was no part of this first day of the week. But in common life the Jews were in the habit of reckoning the evening with the day that it closed; and this we must do here, if we would preserve the integrity, as one whole, of the events which had their climax in the Lord’s visitation of the Apostles. Matthew, in ch. Matthew 28:1, reckons the day as continuing until the dawn of the following. It must have been already very late, for, according to Luke, the disciples of Emmaus were present at this appearance.

Luke says, ch. Luke 24:36, “And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself στη ἐ?ν μέσῳ? αὐ?τῶ?ν , and saith unto them, εἰ?ρήνη ὑ?μῖ?ν , Peace be unto you.” There is here an intentional adherence to Luke’s phraseology. What is peculiar to John, becomes all the more emphatic when what is common to both is expressed in the same words. Moses in ancient times pursued the same method, when returning to the same matter. He recapitulates earlier details as much as possible in the same words, and then inserts what was newly to be communicated.

The Greek plural θύραι was often used for a door, on account of the two leaves which frequently formed it, corresponding to the Hebrew דלתים . It was evidently the one door of the place in which the Apostles were assembled. If the Lord’s entrance was not of a character transcending the ordinary limits of corporeity, if Jesus had knocked at the door, or if the door of itself had sprung open (comp. Acts 12:10), John must have expressly stated it; since the person of our Lord, especially as delineated by John after the resurrection, would lead us to take a miracle for granted rather than otherwise. The circumstance that the doors were shut, was in itself not important enough to be mentioned; and it is very noteworthy that the mention of the closed doors occurs precisely in that part of the narrative where John simply recapitulates what Luke had already recorded. The more concise he is here, the less probable will it seem that he would have mentioned the fact of the door being shut if it had had to do with our Lord’s entrance. And, in that case, the repeated mention in ver. 26 must be very strange. Further, why were the disciples so terrified? why did they believe they saw a spirit? This question, which Luke’s narrative suggests, is answered only when we find in John that the doors remained shut after our Lord’s entrance. We are led to regard this as the reason of its being mentioned, by comparing Matthew 14:26, “And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying. It is a spirit.” They there regarded Him as a spirit, because He was above the law of a material body. So was it here. Finally, we are led to the conclusion that the doors remained shut, by a consideration of the manner in which the risen Lord is represented elsewhere as appearing and vanishing: compare ἐ?φανέρωσεν ἑ?αυτόν , ch. John 21:1; ἐ?φανερώθη , Mark 16:12; ἔ?δωκεν αὐ?τὸ?ν ἐ?μφανῆ? γενέσθαι , Acts 10:40; ἄ?φαντος ἐ?γένετο ἀ?πʼ? αὐ?τῶ?ν , Luke 24:31. It is not said that Jesus came through the closed doors. That would have made John travel beyond the region of his own observation, and forsake the sphere of the historian. The apparent contradiction, that Jesus entered into their midst when the doors were shut, and yet presented Himself to His disciples’ touch, and ate before them, is removed by the simple remark, that after His resurrection the glorified body of our Lord was absolutely under the dominion of the spirit. Augustin: “After His resurrection. He did with His body what He listed.” Of this our Lord in the days of His flesh gave an earnest, when He walked upon the sea, ch. John 6:19. What was then an isolated act, became after the resurrection the rule. “Peace be unto you” (Bengel: “The same formula is thrice repeated,” vers. 19, 21, 26) points back to ch. John 14:27. The peace which Jesus there promised He brings them here, whilst He announces Himself as the risen Lord. In His resurrection His disciples received the pledge of victory over all their enemies and His.

Verses 19-23

Chap. John 20:19-23

Now follows, in vers. 19-22, the appearance of Christ in the midst of the disciples.

The appearances of the risen Lord had a twofold end: 1. To give assurance to His disciples of the reality of His resurrection; and 2. To communicate to them the new authority which He had obtained by His atoning death. Both ends are expressly noted by Luke, Acts 1:3:

1. He was seen, during forty days, in many manifestations and acts which gave infallible proof of His resurrection.

2. He spoke to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, this being a more comprehensive statement of the second design. This twofold design explains how all the four Evangelists, without being on that account in any respect imperfect, might restrict themselves to individual manifestations; indeed, it shows that they must have given prominence severally to individual manifestations, or otherwise they could not have avoided the accumulation of like narratives,—a repetition which they all show themselves careful to avoid. The two essential points noted above are found in them all; and as almost every individual appearance involved both, they might very well distribute them as they have done.

After the appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene, followed His appearance to the two disciples who were journeying into the country. This Mark, ch., Mark 16:12-13, summarily narrates, and places it between the appearance to Mary in the morning and the appearance to the Apostles in the evening of the day of resurrection. Luke gives the narrative in all its fulness. According to him, the appearance was in the late afternoon of the day, ch. Luke 24:29.

About the same time occurred the manifestation to Peter which is passingly mentioned by Luke 24:34, and which Paul alludes to in his narrative of the appearances of our Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:5. He places it at the head, and before that to the Twelve, the appearances to the women being carefully excluded. That interview with Peter could not have taken place when the two went out of Jerusalem to go to Emmaus, for they knew of no other authority for the resurrection of Christ than the rumour of the women, Luke 24:22 seq. And when they returned in the evening to Jerusalem, and entered the apostolic circle, it had occurred; for the Apostles met them with the intelligence that the Lord was risen indeed, and had appeared unto Simon.

We now come to the appearance of Christ on the evening of the day in the circle of the Apostles. This is recorded briefly by Mark, ver. 14, copiously by Luke 24:33-43, and by John in the present passage. In the statements as to time there is a perfect agreement. According to Mark, the Apostles were at the table when Jesus entered into their midst. Luke mentions no time; but Jesus, in his account, asks, “Have ye anything to eat?” and the Apostles have at once in readiness a little fish and honey. According to John, the occurrence fell in the evening. The suddenness, unexpectedness, and unearthliness of the appearance, all make prominent; the trait that it took place when the doors were shut is peculiar to John, but is required by the statement of Luke, that the Apostles thought they saw a spirit. The words of our Lord to the Apostles have two elements of importance. 1. He demonstrated to them the reality of His resurrection, and that gradually: first offering Himself to their sight, then challenging their touch, and finally asking them for meat. 2. He gave them the authority of their vocation, and at the same time the spiritual powers which that vocation presupposed. Luke’s account is limited to the first of these points, because he reserves the authority committed to the Apostles for Christ’s final interview with them before the ascension. John, on the other hand, refers to Luke for the former point,—what is there copiously stated, vers. 37-43, he touches briefly, ver. 20: after “He showed them His hands and His feet,” inserted merely to adjust the position of what Luke recorded, we are to understand, as it were, “and so forth.” He further supplements him, according to his characteristic thoroughness, by dwelling on the second point in vers. 21-23; while afterwards, for the same reason which made Luke abbreviate, he passes over in silence the final interview before the ascension.

Out of the several incomplete narratives a perfect one may easily be formed. The Lord enters with the customary greeting, “Peace be to you,” which from His lips, and under these circumstances, had unusual significance. Then He convinces the astounded Apostles of the reality of His resurrection, which they must be assured of before the mission resting upon it could be committed to them. Thereupon He repeats the “Peace be unto you,” assuredly with stronger emphasis, as introductory to His commission, which would bring upon them so much care and danger; and with the communication of this commission, and the gifts and prerogatives necessary to it. He concludes.

Verse 20

Ver. 20. “And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”

Luke, in vers. 24, 40, mentions the hands and the feet; John, the hands and the side. Since the side is mentioned only on account of the wound (comp. ch. John 19:34), the hands and the feet must have been introduced for the same reason. The wounds received by our Lord on the cross were, to the Apostles, demonstration that they had not now to do with an unessential φάντασμα or “spirit,” but with the selfsame Jesus who suffered for them on the cross. A comparison of John with Luke leads to the firm conclusion that our Lord’s hands and feet as well as His side were pierced, which Bähr, Hug, and others, show to have been usual at crucifixions. As the εἰ?ρήνη ὑ?μῖ?ν points back to ch. John 14:27, so does ἐ?χάρησαν to ch. John 16:22, “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, χαρήσεται .”

Verse 21

Ver. 21. “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.”

The first “peace” was directed to the disciples; the second to the Apostles. Before He gave them their commission, our Lord assured His servants of their protection against all their enemies. This peace, guaranteed to them in respect to their office, had its foundation in the fact of the resurrection; and, as connected with that, or immediately springing from it, the Lord’s speedy assumption into the full participation of the glory of the Father. Instead of πέμπω , the other word, ἀ?ποστέλλω , might, in itself considered, have been used: this is evident from the name of the Apostles, and ch. John 17:18. But there is an intentional variation in the word, in order to avoid placing the mission of the Apostles on a level with that of their Master. That this sending was so directly connected with their assurance of the resurrection, reminded the Apostles that the significance of the resurrection extended far beyond the narrow circle of those to whom the Lord announced Himself as risen; that it was a resurrection œcumenical and for all the world; that the great concern would now be to enter upon the work of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth, according to the manifold predictions of the prophets; and that they must not think to enjoy in passive contemplation the blessedness obtained for them, but gird up their loins, and take up the sword, for contest with all the powers of the world. The mission of Jesus now had its end; and its end was the beginning of the mission of the Apostles. (Calvin: “His own course being fulfilled, He commits the same functions to them, who should govern the Church to the end of the world.”) Jesus does not say, “I will send you,” but “I send you.” With their own conviction of the reality of the resurrection began in them a new life, which should urge them mightily forth into the world. The day of Pentecost only brought to consummation what was already begun here. It was not the Feast of Pentecost, but the resurrection announced to them, that Jesus had already referred to as the great crisis and turning-point in ch. John 16:23; John 16:26.

Verse 22

Ver. 22. “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”

The breathing here stands in relation to Genesis 2:7, where Jehovah breathes into the first man the breath of life, and thus man becomes a living soul: Sept. καὶ? ἐ?νεφύσησεν . By this allusion our Lord places Himself on a level with Jehovah Elohim, with Jehovah who there possessed the fulness of divinity. The same πνεῦ?μά ζῳ?οποιοῦ?ν which there went forth from Jehovah Elohim, and produced in man the Divine image, proceeds here from Christ, in order to reinstate the Divine image, first in the Apostles, and then in those who should believe through their word, ch. John 17:20. The relation to Genesis 2:7, which speaks of an immediately effectual inbreathing, such as at once created a “living nature,” shows that our Lord’s act here was not of merely prophetic significance—that it did not simply pretypify what was to become a reality on the day of Pentecost. We are led to the same result by the present πέμπω in ver. 21, as well as by the nature of the case: it could not be otherwise than that their conviction of the truth of the Lord’s resurrection should be a great turning-point in the life of the Apostles, and that with this crisis they would receive an advanced susceptibility, and a concurrent enlargement of the influence of the Spirit. What they now received was the preliminary and condition of what they were to receive at Pentecost; according to the Lord’s word, “Unto him that hath it shall be given.” The beginnings of the Holy Spirit were imparted according to the universal law of our Lord’s operation, viz. to perform in prelude and earnest, while still upon earth, all that He would afterwards in heaven perform universally, even down to the resurrection of the dead, “in order,” says Quesnel, “that we may know that He is the real ground of all, in His true humanity.”

If the breathing was an actual impartation, how was it with Thomas, not present on this occasion? The answer is, that those who were present received in and with the breathing the Holy Ghost; but that the influence was not necessarily bound to the symbol which was its medium. The great essential was living faith in the resurrection. When Thomas uttered the words, “My Lord and my God,” he also was made partaker of the Holy Ghost, or rather he must already have been partaker of the Holy Ghost, to utter the words at all: comp. 1 Corinthians 12:3. Had it not been for its profound and important relation to Genesis 2:7, Jesus would probably have altogether omitted the symbolical action. The essential factor was not the proper breathing, but the resurrection and faith in Him who rose.

We have here an interpenetration of personal grace and official grace; of such as was common to all believers and such as was peculiar to the Apostles, and, as represented by them, to all the bearers of ministerial office in the Church. That the former is not to be excluded, the relation of the act to Genesis 2:7 plainly shows: as there, so here also, the act was one which pertained to the human race. That the second is not to be excluded, is plain from the connection in which “Receive the Holy Ghost” here stands, on the one hand, to “I send you,” ver. 21, and, on the other hand, to the remitting and retaining of sins in ver. 23. Such a combination of personal and official grace often occurs in the Old Testament: for example, in the case of Saul, 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 16:14; and David, 1 Samuel 16:13. Quesnel: “The Christian receives the Holy Ghost only for himself; priests and bishops for others also. It is a frightful thing in the Church, to be in office a channel of the Holy Ghost, and an instrument of the wicked spirit through disorderly and carnal living.”

Verse 23

Ver. 23. “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”

Jesus would fill His disciples with the consciousness of the dignity of their vocation, that they might make it the labour of body and soul worthily to discharge its functions. They should in Christ’s place have the authority to remit and to forgive sins. The former is the main function, the proper end of the spiritual office. “But if,” says Anton, “a minister of the Gospel is despised in the administration of this grace, it turns from the ἀ?φιέναι to the κρατεῖ?ν . The remitting takes place primarily in the case of those who believe and are baptized; the retaining in the case of those who are unbelievers, and accordingly reject baptism.” But then both functions are more generally exercised in the continuous history of the Christian Church. Examples of the remission are furnished by Cornelius and his house, Acts 10:47-48, and the man of Lystra, Acts 14:8-10: examples of retaining. Acts 8:20, where Peter says, “Thy money perish with thee;” Acts 13:10-11, where Paul condemns Elymas, as in ch. John 18:6 the Jews of Corinth. He who has to do with office held in the Holy Ghost, is cut off from all appeal. Strictly speaking, it is Christ who “hath the key of David; who openeth, and no man shutteth; who shutteth, and no man openeth,” Revelation 3:7. But Christ has given this key to the ministry in His Church, and placed in their hands the decision of salvation and perdition. But the foundation of this high authority is the Holy Ghost. The office in the Church holds it only so far as it possesses the Holy Ghost. When not led by the Holy Spirit, its remission and its retention are of no moment. Thus the high prerogative assigned to its representatives cannot lead to self-exaltation, but rather to fear and trembling. That which is here conferred on the whole apostolical circle, and in it to the ministerial office of all times, had been already prospectively conferred on Peter, Matthew 16:19, as the centre of the apostolical circle. The remitting here explains the loosing in Matthew; the retaining here, the binding there. In Matthew, both had their comment in the preceding, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Accordingly, it is only admission into the kingdom of God, and exclusion from it, that is meant; and if this be so, the binding can only be the retaining of sins that exclude from the kingdom of God; the loosing only the forgiveness of the same, and the consequent admission into the kingdom of God.

Verse 24

Ver. 24. “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.”

As to Δίδυμος , see the remarks on ch. John 11:16. The surname stands here in direct connection with the event now related. “The Twelve” is the appellation of the Apostles in all the Evangelists. Account is not taken of the fact that one place was vacant. It is all the less regarded, because the Twelve was not a fortuitous number, but rested on theological grounds; in the Old Testament twelve having been the consecrated signature of the Church. Why Thomas was not with them,—whether it was for the reason indicated in Hebrews 10:25, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is;” whether, with his doubts concerning Christ, the bond that united him to his brethren became relaxed,—we cannot with certainty determine. But Anton rightly observes: “They did not separate from Thomas, who was so unrestful; for he was not even then an enemy of Christ, but a dear friend, only that he gave too much place to his postulatis. This teaches us an important lesson—to distinguish whether those in error are friends or foes, and not to be too swift to separate. Let this be noted.”

Verses 24-29

Chap. John 20:24-29

The Second Appearance to the Apostles

This appearance is to be regarded as the complement of the former, since it had special reference to that one among the Apostles who still doubted of the Lord’s resurrection. Many have been disposed to transfer it to Galilee. But it is in itself improbable that the Apostles had set out for Galilee before the end of the seven days’ feast; and then ver. 26 intimates that they were in the same place where they received the former manifestation, “when the doors were shut,” showing, as in ver. 19, that their fear of the Jews continued,—a fear which would not have been felt in Galilee. Finally, the conviction of the Apostles as to the reality of the resurrection seems always to pertain to Jerusalem, the manifestations in Galilee having another end; and as Thomas’ unbelief was the only reason for this new visitation, his conviction its only result, we should not, without urgent argument, leave Jerusalem and betake ourselves to Galilee. Thus this manifestation formed the conclusion of the Apostles’ abode in Jerusalem, removing every further reason for that abode. On the Sabbath the Apostles were resting there, according to the law: the first day of the week was spent by them in calm celebration of the resurrection, and of the first visit of the risen Lord, by which this day was for ever sanctified. To sanction this celebration the Lord appeared again in their midst on that day, and on none of the intervening days, thus accomplishing the last work which remained to be done in Jerusalem. On the second day of the week they set out for Galilee, awaiting there the manifestation of their Lord.

It has been often assumed that the disciples reported to Jesus the unbelief of Thomas. But when could this have taken place? Was it in some visit not revealed? But such a visit could not have occurred in Jerusalem, since the object to be attained there, the full conviction of the Apostles, was perfectly gained by the two visits that are narrated; and that it did net take place there, is in controvertibly plain from ch. John 21:14, according to which only two appearances of our Lord to the Apostles belong to Jerusalem. Or was it on occasion of this second visit itself? But this second appearance had this unbelief of Thomas for its ground, and presupposed it. If we assume that the Lord previously knew nothing of his unbelief, we do away with the meaning of this manifestation, we abolish the distinction which existed between the appearances in Jerusalem and those in Galilee, and we cannot enter into the real design of our Lord’s previous reference to the seeing Himself in Galilee.

Verse 25

Ver. 25. “The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. 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.”—” We have seen the Lord: “this is the summary only of their report. It is self-understood that they told him the whole occurrence. But he, in his hardness to believe, accused them of credulity. Τύπος is impression, trace. In the second clause, τόπος is more suitable (Grotius: τύπος , videtur; τόπος , impletur), and the rather to be preferred, as it is so easy to account for the substitution of τύπος . Thomas’ affirmation has three members: the number three is often in the Old Testament the mark of emphasis, e.g. Ezekiel 21:32. Thomas had doubtless seen the crucifixion in common with the rest: this we may infer from the vivid impression made upon him by the image of the Crucified. According to Luke 23:49, there stood beside the women πάντες οἱ? γνωστοὶ? αὐ?τ oῦ? , at a certain distance from the cross. That John alone is mentioned as being present, may be explained by the fact that to him a word was addressed. Thomas does not mention the feet, because the hands and the feet were one whole to him; and the experiment on the hands would suffice.

Verses 26-27

Vers. 26, 27. “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. 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.”

It must incline in favour of Thomas that he was found again in the midst of the disciples. The declarations of his fellow-disciples doubtless made a deeper impression upon him than he was willing to allow. “Eight days:” this is, in Luke 9:28, the definition of a week, the time ἀ?πὸ? σαββάτου ἐ?πὶ? σαββάτον . Thomas had demanded three things: the first and second are here inverted, because Thomas’ emphasis lay upon his touching; he did not depend upon his eye alone, since that might be deceived by a φάντασμα : comp. Luke 24:39. But the perception through the hands might not be omitted, because the whole declaration of Thomas was to be perfectly reproduced. That the Lord knew what he had said, was a more convincing demonstration of the reality of the resurrection than any seeing and feeling; hence all further thought of them vanishes from Thomas’ mind, and he at once bursts into the cry, “My Lord and my God.” With the “hither” the Lord offered him His hand. “Behold” is the antithesis to feeling, and must be thought of as emphasized. Although Thomas believed not, ver. 25, yet he was not on that account an “unbeliever.” The term ἄ?πιστος denotes a settled state of unbelief. It is not altogether correct to speak so much of the unbelieving Thomas. He would have ceased to be Thomas if he had become an unbeliever. It was the vibrating between faith and unbelief which obtained him his name. The Lord does not say, “Be not unbelieving,” so much as “Become not unbelieving.” He must turn from the evil way which, continued in, would lead to unbelief as its goal.

Verse 28

Ver. 28. “And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.”

It runs εἶ?πεν αὐ?τῷ? : therefore “My Lord and my God” is a concise expression of deep feeling, instead of “Thou art my Lord and my God.” We have here the first passage in which Jesus is expressly by His disciples called God,—a confession which was soon to be the common one of the whole Christian Church; as Pliny, in the Epistle to Trajan, records that the Christians sang hymns to Christ as God. Thomas utters here, as his confession, only what Jesus had constantly set before His disciples as His doctrine. When, for example, He said to Philip, ch. John 14:9, “He that seeth Me hath seen the Father,” and ver. 10, “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me,” He taught that the existences of the Father and the Son were perfectly co-extensive, and that in Himself dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead. Much vain industry has been spent in evading this confession of Thomas, by those who do not accept the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. He addressed to Christ precisely the same words which are elsewhere addressed to the supreme God: e.g. Psalms 35:23, “Stir up Thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and Lord,” ὁ? θεός μου καὶ? ὁ? κύριός μου , Sir_1:1 , Ἐ?ξομολογήσομαί σοι , κύριε βασιλεῦ? , καὶ? αἰ?νέσω Θεόν . We are in a sphere in which the boundary between God and the creature is drawn with the most rigid precision: comp. Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29-30. The address of Thomas would have been blasphemy if there had been in the Father’s essence anything that came not to manifestation in the Son. That Thomas, in the excitement of the moment, passed from one extreme to another, cannot be asserted by any one who observes that Christ accepted his invocation at once. (Calvin: Never would He have suffered that the honour of the Father should be wrested and transferred to Himself.) “Thou hast believed,” referring to Himself, shows that to recognise in Christ the Lord and God, and specifically His own Lord and God, is the necessary condition of faith. (Calvin: He emphatically calls Him his own twice, to show that he spoke from a living and solemn sense of faith.) To talk of an “exaggerated cry,” is altogether out of the question, in relation to a Gospel which everywhere discloses a tendency to place the divinity of Christ in the clearest light.

Verse 29

Ver. 29. “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Christ recognises therefore that faith also which has sight for its condition. That He will receive to Himself the well-disposed though weak in faith, that He will help their unbelief by actual demonstration, is a blessed truth, of which His treatment of Thomas is a most consolatory pledge. But the Lord places higher that faith which is present and energetic before sight comes. Thomas is here blamed for not exhibiting that faith. John had seen but little; and yet he reproves himself for not having believed without seeing: comp. ver. 8. The case was much worse with Thomas. He had, in the testimony of his bother Apostles, received such help for a faith grounded upon the word of God, that if the faith had been in any sense strong within him, he would not have required any further seeing. As then, so now, it becomes believers to believe without seeing: compare the saying of Peter, which alludes to this word of our Lord, 1 Peter 1:8. But then, as now, it pleases Christ to crown and confirm that faith by making Himself known in many ways as its Lord and God. Faith would languish if its actual experience were in continual contradiction to it.

The Aorist participles are to be explained by this, that the process is represented as a closed one, and the μακάριοι is its result.

Verses 30-31

Chap. John 20:30-31

These two verses are not the conclusion of the whole book, but the conclusion of the main body of it, extending from ch. John 1:19 downwards. The closing chapter 21 corresponds to the prologue in ch. John 1:1-18. So also the Apocalypse has introduction, body, and conclusion. If we forget that we have here only the conclusion of the body of the Gospel, ch. 21 must become a mystery. These verses, 30, 31, as a conclusion of the whole Gospel, would in their brevity be out of harmony with the diffuseness of the prologue, as also with the conclusion of the Apocalypse, ch. Revelation 22:6-21. The body of the work needed a conclusion, such as we have it here, in order to mark it off from the epilogue, which must needs declare itself to be such by its position. We expect such a conclusion all the more, inasmuch as we find that in the body of the Gospel itself there is such a conclusion, ch. John 12:37-50, dividing between the first four groups and the last three.

John 20:30-31. “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: 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.”

The words πολλὰ?—μαθητῶ?ν αὐ?τοῦ? are in allusion, like ch. John 12:37, John 10:32, to Psalms 78:11-12. We must not limit the signs to demonstrations given by the risen Lord to His resurrection; for there is nothing to indicate such a restriction, and a comparison of ch. John 12:37 and John 21:25 declares against it. But we must not, on the other hand, exclude those infallible proofs of the risen Lord: for they fall under the idea of the σημεῖ?α which Jesus did; they are testimonies in act that Jesus was Messiah: comp. Acts 1:3, where the appearances of the risen Lord are described as τεκμηρία . (Hesychius, τεκμηρίον σημεῖ?ον ἀ?ληθές ; Suidas, ἀ?ληθινὸ?ν σημεῖ?ον .) Moreover, these appearances have just before been recorded, and reference to them therefore seems obvious. The included reference to the resurrection alone makes “in the presence of His disciples” intelligible. Only the manifestations of the risen Lord were restricted to the Apostles: all the earlier σημεῖ?α belonged to a much wider circle, although the disciples were present at them, and indeed, as witnesses chosen of the Lord, ch. John 15:27, must have been present. We must seek this specific reason for the words “in the presence of His disciples;” otherwise “in the presence of all the people,” Luke 24:19, would have been the more obvious record. Ch. John 21:1 also leads us to include the resurrection and its demonstrations. Τοῖ?ς μαθηταῖ?ς there obviously points back to ἐ?νώπιον τῶ?ν μαθητῶ?ν here.

The σημεῖ?α which this Gospel copiously records are ten in number, which was certainly not fortuitous: seven before the resurrection,—three in Galilee, and four in Judea; and three after the resurrection,—the appearance to Mary Magdalene, and the two appearances among the Apostles. That the “signs” are here made distinctively prominent without including the words, is in harmony with the strong emphasis laid upon the ἔ?ργα , the works, throughout John’s Gospel, ch. John 5:36, John 10:38, John 15:24. A reason may be found for it in the fact that the three earlier Evangelists had made these words prominent in their records. By this observation he intimates that he had written not the Gospel, but a Gospel; and suggests that the supplement of what he failed to record, because it was perfectly given by his predecessors, should be sought in their narratives. On the connection between the concluding words of the Evangelist and the preceding events, Bengel aptly remarks: “To the mention of the faith of Thomas, is very appropriately attached a commendation of faith to all, as the scope of his book.” The connection is all the closer, as Thomas had believed on the evidence of a “sign.”

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 20". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/john-20.html.
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