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Bible Commentaries
John 20

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

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Verses 1-31



The original features are Mary Magdalene’s message to Peter and John and the visit of the last two to the tomb. Perhaps the most notable verse is John 20:7 , which shows the deliberate manner in which the resurrection took place. Everything contradicted the idea that the body had been stolen. Why thus should the linen clothes have been left? The quantity of linen must have been large when one hundred pounds of aromatic powder had been used wrapping the body.


The critical verse is John 20:17 . In view of Matthew 28:9 , why should Christ say “touch me not”? Was it because several women were present then, and here but one? Was it because she evinced extravagant joy in some way? Or was it because Christ would now teach her of the new relationship to His disciples He was about to assume (compare 2 Corinthians 5:15-17 )? And then what is the significance of the words, “I am not yet ascended,” in this case? We must confess inability to answer these questions satisfactorily.

APPEARS TO THE TEN (John 20:19-23 )

With what body did Christ arise? It was of a more spiritual kind than He had before, because He appeared in the room without unfastening the doors, and yet it was a real human body and not a mere shadow or spirit. “Peace be unto you” was not merely a formal salutation, but a reassurance that all had been forgiven them. The breathing on them is a strong intimation that the Holy Ghost proceeded from Him, and hence another indirect proof of his Godhead (John 1:33 ; Acts 2:33 ). It is difficult to interpret the sense in which they now received the Holy Ghost, since they had received Him at their regeneration and conversion (1 Corinthians 12:3 ); and receive him again on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:0 ). May it be that this was a special enduement of power for the intervening period before Pentecost? Of course the authority to remit sins is not absolute but declarative, just as the high priest in the old economy pronounced who were clean and who were unclean as to leprosy. It was God who cleansed in the one instance or forgave in the other, but the evidences of either might be made known through His representatives.


Here is strong indirect evidence of the truth of the scriptures, as an impostor would not have told us of the unbelief of an apostle! Christ’s words to Thomas are a warning to all who demand an excessive amount of evidence before they believe. And yet when Thomas did express his faith, “My Lord, and My God” became an unanswerable testimony to Christ’s Deity. It was said in the presence of ten witnesses and our Lord accepted it as a fact.


These verses are parenthetic and break the thread of the :narrative. If the Gospel ended here they might apply to the whole of what the evangelist had written; but as another chapter follows he is probably referring only to the proofs of the resurrection.


There is little requiring explanation in these verses, but the Scofield Bible offers a good interpretation of them. The whole chapter it entitles, “The Risen Christ is Master of our Service.” John 21:3-4 show us service in self- will under human leadership, and John 21:5 , the barren results. John 21:6-11 on the other hand, show us Christ-directed service and its result, while John 21:12-14 indicate that the master is enough for the need of His servants. Then in John 21:15-17 we have the only acceptable motive in service. Verses 18-19, the Master appoints the time and manner of the servant’s death. John 21:20-25 , if the master returns the servants will not die.

“Naked” (John 21:7 ) means the absence of a loose outer garment, the same which he “girt” about him afterwards. The number 153 probably has some symbolic significance, but up to the present it is only speculation to inquire. The “third time” (John 21:14 ) means doubtless, the third time Christ appeared to any number of the disciples gathered together. “Lambs” in contradistinction to “sheep” means probably the young and weak in spiritual experience, what ever their years. John 21:18-19 shows that the future history of every saint is known to Christ, and it is commonly supposed that in fulfillment of them Peter was crucified as a martyr, the latter is interested to know of John’s future and is gently rebuked for it (John 21:20-22 ). John 21:22 is mysterious, and has never been fully explained and is distinguished as having given rise to the first tradition in the church (John 21:23 ). This tradition though early and common, was nevertheless false. It is always better to say, “I do not know,” than to build up a conclusion on a false premise. In John 21:24 , John alludes to himself and his authorship of this Gospel, while in John 21:25 , according to Calvin, he employs a figure of speech for commending the greatness of Christ’s works.


1. What are the features original to John 21:1-10 ?

2. Which is the most notable verse, and why?

3. What explanations have been offered of John 21:17 ?

4. How might the breathing upon them of the Holy Ghost be explained?

5. What two-fold evidential value is attached to John 20:24-29 ?

6. What spiritual interpretation of chapter 21 has been suggested?

7. What gave rise to the first tradition in the church?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on John 20". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/john-20.html. 1897-1910.
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