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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

John 20

Verses 1-31

John 20:2 . They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre. After Mr. WEST had examined with all possible care every circumstance recorded of the resurrection, he in substance remarks, that John looked only into the sepulchre, while Peter coming up at a running pace, descended into the vault. They saw the linen clothes, and the napkin lying apart, and folded up in order.

From the report of Luke, and this of John, we may infer that Peter ran twice to the sepulchre, for which two distinct reasons are assigned; namely, the report of Mary Magdalene, and that of Joanna and the other women. That of Mary regarded the loss of the sacred body; that of Joanna, the vision of angels, who said that the Lord was risen. The report of these women must have been distinctly made, and with some interval of time. It equally follows, that these women must have come to the sepulchre in succession, and without any previous concert with one another.

After these statements, we may ask, what became of the military guard? If they slept while the disciples stole the body, why had they not remained at their post till relieved? Men must be sorely ignorant of Roman discipline to imagine that a whole guard durst absent themselves from their post.

What could induce the disciples to steal the body, seeing they could not bury him so honourably? If they stole the body, why not steal the linen? Would it not have been unnatural to take away the naked corpse? Where did those poor timid and heart-broken disciples get courage to face a Roman guard? How could they roll away the stone without noise; how descend and ascend a double vault without time, without the usual movements of removing a heavy and cumbrous corpse? Was ever such a stratagem devised, or game so successfully played with a military force? If faith has any difficulty here, infidelity has difficulties that are insurmountable.

John 20:9 . As yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Psalms 16:10. So David spake when he saw the Lord before him, and personated the language of the Messiah: and it is very remarkable that Isaiah has also personated the language of the Messiah when speaking of the same subject. Thy dead men shall live: together with my dead body shall they arise. Isaiah 26:19.

John 20:17 . Jesus said to her, touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my father. How is this prohibition reconciled with Matthew 28:9, where it is stated that Jesus met the women, and said, All hail; and they came and held him by the feet and worshipped? Most critics say that Mary in her transports of joy from the deepest of sorrows, was about to kiss him, which the Lord did not allow, as unseasonable; but by and bye, being ascended to the Father, the church might then indulge the purest flame, and love him because he first loved them. Yet Beza, and I think him singular, reads on the above text in Matthew, that the women kissed the feet of Jesus; and he quotes a line of Virgil, which indeed is not a parallel case, where Hecuba and her daughters, like a flock of pigeons, are flying from the black tempest, and embracing the shrines or statues of the gods:

et Divûm amplexæ simulacra tenebant. ÆNEID. 2:517.

John 20:23 . Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted. Jesus here renews the apostles’ commission, without distinguishing Peter from the rest. He saluted them with peace; he shewed them his hands, and made them full witnesses of his resurrection. He bestowed on them the gift of the Holy Ghost. All these are acts worthy of the Son of God. Ministers have powers like the husbandman, to make a fence about the field; but the head must always act in unison with the members, “that there be no schism in the body.” In all this overflow of grace, there is not a word about placing the priest on a confessional throne, and whispering a confession in his ear.

John 20:25 . But Thomas said, except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails I will not believe. Of all the species of incredulity this is the most unreasonable. Are we then to discredit travellers who say that they have been in distant parts, and seen foreign lands? Be that as it may, there is here a strong admonition to christians not to neglect the means of grace. Had Thomas been in his place this first christian sabbath, he had believed and rejoiced in the assurance of faith. On the next sabbath the Lord said, Thomas, reach hither thy hand. Thomas exclaimed, my Lord and my God. This, Erasmus notes, is the first time that the Saviour is distinguished by the name of God in the new testament, though constantly so in the old.

John 20:29 . Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. A simple faith in the word of God is attended with demonstrations which cheer the heart, and disperse gloomy doubts and fears. It makes exertions, and exertions are followed with blessings.


The witnesses of our Saviour’s resurrection are so numerous, and the circumstances so many, that no impartial mind can weigh and consider them without conviction. They are of two classes, persons and things. The persons are Mary Peter the twelve the two disciples going to Emmaus Thomas, with the twelve the five disciples who went a fishing the five hundred in Galilee the many cases for forty days not recorded the angels and the twelve at the ascension. The things or circumstances come with a force of evidence little less than the persons. These are both type and prophecy. The two noblemen who interred Jesus the new sepulchre the stone the seal the guard and not less the improbability of the body being stolen by the timid disciples. The linen left in order, and above all, the manner in which the witnesses testified these facts, connected with all the other evidences of the christian religion. This subject we will consider more at large under the following particulars.

It is agreed by believers and unbelievers, that Christ was an extraordinary personage and popular preacher, and was crucified by the jews.

His disciples attended him for three years in Judea, in Galilee, and in Samaria; and they have related the substance of his discourses, both in public and in private; the miracles he performed in their presence, and the promises he made them previously to his crucifixion. They also affirm that they saw him alive after his resurrection, and that they frequently conversed with him, sometimes in considerable numbers, for the space of forty days. They relate the important conversations which took place at each of these interviews; they more than once examined the wounds in his body, and they beheld when he was taken up into heaven. These were plain facts, in which there was not the least possibility of their being deceived.

The apostles were plain, artless men, who devoted themselves to the conversion of mankind from error to truth, from sin to holiness, and from the power of Satan to God. Their whole life and character corresponded with all we might expect of men employed in a divine mission.

They must have been either the best or worst of men, since they could not be deceived in evidence and facts so extensive and plain. Had they been bad men and impostors, they would on some occasion or other have discovered their forgery. Probably not less than a thousand hypocritical men must have been concerned in forging this single article, the resurrection of Jesus Christ; and to suppose that not one of them ever discovered it either through friendship, through a quarrel, through apostasy, through persecution or the force of conscience in a dying hour, implies that they were men altogether dissimilar to those of the present age.

Had the disciples of Jesus been deceived in forming too high an opinion of their Master; had he never realized the solemn promises he made them previously to his crucifixion, it is more than probable that they would have retired to their houses, and not have persevered in a cause which afforded neither honour, ease, nor wealth.

Their testimony exposed them to the rage and hatred of the priests, to the contempt of the learned, to the sword of the magistrates, and what is more intolerable, to the fury of the populace; yet they persevered, and cheerfully laid down their lives in confirmation of their doctrine.

The apostles and their brethren in the ministry were not the emissaries of either court or faction. They were not employed in making proselytes to any popular religion; they did not, like the disciples of Mahomet, propagate the faith by the point of the sword; they sometimes laboured with their hands, and frequently suffered both nakedness and hunger. They were never accused of seeking riches or repose; never therefore was human testimony more pure or free from suspicion.

They bore their testimony in the nation, and in the cities in which these things were done: they bore it at the time they were done, and in the face of those rulers who had crucified their Master, and who wanted neither power nor inclination to detect and punish them. This they could not have done, had they not been supported by truths and facts which became more distinguished by opposition. It was no more possible for them to persuade a large proportion of the jewish nation to believe in a crucified person for salvation, had they not been divinely supported, than for a set of men to persuade us that Hugh Latimer, Richard Baxter, or John Wesley performed a thousand miracles, arose from the dead, and ascended up into heaven in their presence, after having conversed with them for forty days in a cool and dispassionate manner.

They spake nothing but what Moses and the prophets had predicted; and therefore their testimony was in harmony with gradual revelation since the creation of the world.

They promised remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, to all who sincerely believed in Christ; and if the multitude of those who did believe had not experienced those heavenly comforts, they would most assuredly have let christianity sink as the visionary wonder of the age.

Jesus while alive, would not suffer the demons to confess him, nor the wicked to see him after his resurrection; therefore, if any doubts were entertained, the apostles appealed to the miracles wrought in his name, and to the gifts of tongues, which was a sign to the unbelievers. “He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” That heart must indeed be depraved, which asks clearer proofs of the truth of christianity, and of the inspiration of the holy apostles.

The evidence on this subject which ranks, in point of importance, next to that of the apostles, is the success of the gospel among the jews. There could not be less than ten or twenty thousand people converted in Jerusalem, and a proportionable number in all the other jewish cities. These had all imbibed the prejudices of their country in favour of a temporal Messiah to reign in Jerusalem; and these prejudices could not be removed without conviction. But they had all seen Christ, and most of them had honoured him as one of the ancient prophets revived from the dead. Many of them were the relatives or intimate friends of those who had seen the Lord after his resurrection. They were connected with them in religious society; and some of them lived to the close of the first century. They had the fullest and fairest opportunity of convening with them concerning the miracles, the resurrection and ascension of Christ; and both their interest and their duty would induce them to examine these things to the bottom. They were themselves witnesses of the extraordinary endowments of the Holy Spirit, and of the miracles performed by the apostles. The longer they lived, the more they were confirmed in the faith of Christ; and many of them forsook their country, and laid down their lives for the honour of his name.

We have therefore all the evidence which the subject can give. Human testimony can be no stronger, and reasonable men are ashamed to ask for more. We could not all live in that age, and reach our hand with Thomas to feel the pierced side of Christ. The Lord after having indulged him in this extraordinary request, said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen thou hast believed; blessed is he who hath not seen, and yet hath believed.” This implies at least, that those who believe on the faithful testimony of the church shall be favoured with an inward assurance, which the incredulity of Thomas did not entitle him to claim. This kind of evidence was but temporary: it could not be continued, because it was not meet for the Messiah to remain in this poor sinful world. The truth of christianity is demonstrated without it. The witnesses who saw him are competent in every view; and they have given us the clearest evidence that man can give to man.

It follows hence, that men invested with so high a commission, and opening it by evidence so positive, so extensive and divine, had a right to demand the assent of the nations. And after a full exposure of the truth and reasonableness of the christian religion, it was their duty to add, He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned. If any man love not the Lord Jesus, let him be anathema maranatha.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on John 20". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.