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Bible Commentaries
John 20

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Verses 1-2

Mary Discovers the Empty Tomb

Mary Magdalene is the first to arrive at the tomb on the first day of the week. The first day of the week indicates a new beginning. But it is still dark. The new period has begun, but for Mary and the disciples it is still dark. Yet Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She wants to be with her Lord.

When she arrives at the tomb, she sees that the stone has been taken away from the tomb. The stone was not taken away to let the Lord out. That was not necessary for Him in His resurrection body. Later we see that He appears in the midst of the disciples while the doors are closed. No, the stone is taken away to allow the disciples and us to see into the tomb, that we may observe that the tomb is empty.

Mary is amazed about the open tomb. She concludes that the Lord is no longer in the tomb and believes that people have taken away Him out of the tomb. She quickly runs to those who she considers best able to answer the burning question of her heart as to where He, that is, His body, could have gone.

As much as she loves Him, her question also shows that even the warmest love, and she has that, can come to a wrong conclusion because she is not thinking about His word about His resurrection. She believes that people have taken Him away, even though He spoke several times about His resurrection.

Verses 3-10

Peter and John at the Tomb

After Mary’s announcement, hearts and feet start moving. Although they do not believe in His resurrection, they are still completely committed to His Person, although to them as well it was only His body. Peter and John quickly go to the tomb. We often see them together. John comes first to the tomb, then Peter. Why John is quicker than Peter is not stated. Could it be that Peter is a bit reluctant to see the Lord, even though he thinks the Lord has died yet, because he denied Him? Will not that have slowed him down in his walk to the tomb? John did not have that inner inhibition. In John 20:2 he calls himself by the name again that indicates his awareness of the Lord’s love for him. That love drew him (Song of Solomon 1:4).

John stoops and sees only the linen wrappings lying there. He does not enter the tomb. Simon Peter also comes to the tomb. He does enter the tomb and also sees the linen wrappings lying there. And he sees even more. Those who penetrate deeper into what the Lord has done also see more. The tomb shows a sight of order and rest. What he sees can only be the result of a calmly acting Person Who has stripped Himself of the tomb wrappings after He has risen. The order of the linen wrappings is evidence of this.

The Lord put everything aside and left it in the tomb because it did not suit His new state. He did not come out like Lazarus, who still had the tomb wrappings on. The Lord then instructed others to free him of those tomb wrappings (John 11:44). This indicates that His resurrection is of a different order than the resurrection of Lazarus. The rolled up face-cloth, or sweat-cloth, testifies that His work has been accomplished forever. The sweat-cloth is no longer needed and is also left in the tomb.

When Peter and John have seen the wrappings in the tomb, John believes. That means he believes based on the facts he perceives and not because God said so. What he sees does not lead to true spiritual understanding. It is a rational belief. The evidence convinces him, but what does he do with that evidence?

Here it becomes clear that faith can be based on accepting facts that are due to reasonable grounds. This can be done by unbelievers and believers; in this way, salvation facts can also be accepted. However, it is merely a matter of reason. Belief with the heart must be the basis of relating to God, otherwise there is no relationship with Him. When a person believes with the heart, the heart welcomes the testimony of God in His Word.

The consequence is therefore that they return to their own circumstances. They come to this reaction because the facts have been assumed on the basis of undeniable observation. They do not yet see these facts as the fulfillment of what God has revealed about them in His Word.

Verses 11-16

The Lord and Mary Magdalene

Mary cannot take things as the two disciples take them. What does “going home” mean to her now? What is the world to her? Nothing but an empty tomb where her Lord has lain. Others may go home; she remains at the tomb. Her sorrow does not remain without fruit nor does it last long.

John saw only the linen wrappings. Peter saw more than John. He entered the tomb and saw the linen wrappings and the sweat-cloth and the order in which the wrappings lay. Mary gets to see and also hear even more. First she sees and hears angels. Then she hears and sees the Lord and receives from Him a wonderful message.

When Mary stoops and looks into the tomb, she sees two angels. They are wearing white garments, which speak of the purity of heaven. The purity of heaven matches the purity of this tomb. They are sitting at the head end and foot end of the place where the Lord’s body has lain. They mark the place where He has lain. Between them now is an empty place.

This scene is also reminiscent of the two cherubim on the mercy seat (Exodus 25:18). The angels on the mercy seat look at the law and at the blood sprinkled on the mercy seat. From that place emanates threat, but also reconciliation through satisfaction for all who believe. The two angels who are in the tomb look at the consequences of the sprinkled blood. For them, the empty place between them is the place where God’s love has descended to liberate us from death. For this He bore the curse of the law, which was kept in the ark. It is a place that does not instill fear of death, that is connected to the law, but brings to admiration and adoration because death has been conquered.

The angels address Mary, asking why she is weeping. She does not seem to be frightened of the angels, whereas wherever angels appear, they also inspire fear. Her heart is so full of the Lord that therefore fear has no place.

Her answer to the question shows that she can think of nothing but her Lord, and she supposes the same in others. She does not mention a name, but speaks of “my Lord.” This indicates a personal relationship. To the disciples she has said “they have taken away the Lord” (John 20:2), but to the angels she speaks of “my” Lord. Yet she still seeks a dead Lord.

The Lord Jesus is not far from such a heart that is so attached to Him. Having said this to the angels, she turns back to continue her search. Then she sees the Lord Jesus standing, but without recognizing Him. She is still under the impression that He must be lying somewhere, so she does not expect Someone standing to be the Lord.

He addresses her with the same question the angels asked. He asks her why she is weeping. He adds another question. He also asks her Who she is looking for. Because of her tear-stained eyes, she is unable to see clearly. She thinks she has to deal with the gardener. He will certainly know what happened to the body, perhaps he even carried it away to another place.

Again she does not mention a name, but speaks of “Him” as if everyone knows of Whom she is speaking. That is the language of love. That language does not remain unanswered. His response is the mentioning of her name. The good Shepherd Who rose from the dead calls His sheep by her name (John 10:3). One word, her name, makes all difficulties and doubts disappear.

The utterance of her name is not the expression of her love for Him, but of His love for her. This one word makes her, who sowed in tears, now reap with joy. Her heart fills with joy. This joy is overflowing and will also fill other hearts with joy, the hearts of all who believe. She is the same to Him as ever. He loves her now with the same love He had when He drove seven demons out of her.

Verses 17-18

The Message to the Disciples

After His making Himself known to Mary and her joyful recognition of Him, the Lord prevents Mary from touching Him. The words “stop clinging to Me” are necessary to make it clear that the relationships are no longer as they were before His death and resurrection. He is not the Messiah in this Gospel, as He is presented in the Gospel according to Matthew. There we see, and it is fitting there, that the women are allowed to touch Him (Matthew 28:9). Here His resurrection is connected with His going to His Father and it is inappropriate for Mary to touch Him here.

When He is with the Father, she will be able to “cling” to Him again and that is through the Holy Spirit He will send from the Father. On the day of Pentecost, when Mary will be filled with the Holy Spirit together with the other disciples, she will experience in her spirit a much more intimate connection with the risen Lord than she ever experienced in the days of His flesh.

She may not cling to Him, but He has a wonderful message for those whom He calls “My brethren”. Mary is allowed to deliver that message. He speaks to Mary of “My brethren,” expressing a relationship beyond “His own” (John 13:1) or “My friends” (John 15:14), as He called His disciples as well.

In speaking of them as “My brethren”, He places them in the same relation to God His Father in which He Himself stands. This relationship could only come about after He had passed through death and resurrection. If His Father is now our Father, He is not ashamed to call us His brothers (Hebrews 2:11-2 Kings :). It means that believers are now a family.

Mary, because of her attachment to the Lord Jesus, is the appropriate person to go and tell the disciples the glorious message of an entirely new relationship. It concerns the highest truths of Christendom which are all connected with knowing the Father and God of the Son as our Father and our God.

However, the ‘our’ refers exclusively to the believers and not to the believers together with the Son. The Lord Jesus nowhere speaks of ‘our’ Father and ‘our’ God in that sense. As the eternal Son, He has a unique relationship with His Father and His God that cannot be shared by us.

Mary does what He has told her to do. The first thing she tells the disciples is that she has seen the Lord. Her encounter with Him as the risen One is the starting point. Then she tells the disciples what He has told her. This order is important for us as well. We can only pass something on to others when we have had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus about this, that is, He came to our attention by what He has told us and we having seen Him.

Verses 19-20

The Lord Comes to the Disciples

When the disciples have gathered together, the Lord Jesus comes into their midst. That happens on the first day of the week, the day of His resurrection. This happens again a week later. In Acts 20, it appears to be the day when the believers come together to break bread (Acts 20:7). It is also the day when the needs of the saints are thought of (1 Corinthians 16:2). It is the day of the Lord (Revelation 1:10).

All these instructions the Holy Spirit gives to make it clear that this is the day for the Christian, without giving it the form of an explicit commandment. It is not the day to which the rest of the old creation is attached, the Sabbath. Nor is it a day of rest imposed by the law. It is the day of resurrection and of grace to which rich blessings are attached for the believer.

The disciples closed the doors because they are afraid of the Jews. Their Protector has been killed and now as His followers they fear the same fate. But to their great surprise, the Lord – despite the closed doors – comes into their midst.

With this, He does not perform a wonder. He simply demonstrates what the resurrection body is. It is a spiritual body that is not bound by time or space. For example, the closed doors of the prison in which Peter was held were no obstacle to the angel who came to free him both times (Acts 5:19; Acts 12:10). For Peter, however, both times the doors had to open to let him out.

When the Lord came to the disciples, He comes and stands in the midst. This means that He was not standing there immediately. Possibly He was standing near one of the closed doors that symbolize the disciples’ fear. They had closed them because they were afraid of the Jews. By standing on the inside of the door, the Lord places Himself between them and (the symbol of) their fear. But then He distracts them from their fear by standing in the midst. Then they no longer look fearfully at the doors, but at Him Who promises them peace.

His first words are words of peace, His peace. It is the peace He promised them while He was still with them (John 14:27). Here He repeats this promise after His resurrection. These are wonderful words in a world at war with God and full of hatred toward those who are in relationship with Christ. With these words He takes away their fear of the Jews.

To end all doubt that it is really Him, He shows them both His hands and His side. In His hands they see the wounds from the nails with which He was nailed to the cross. In His side they see the wound inflicted on Him by a soldier with a spear after He had died, from which blood and water had come.

In showing both His hands and His side, He demonstrates the basis of the peace He proclaims. That peace is based on His work on the cross and His shed blood for the forgiveness of sins. The water, which speaks of the Word of God, brings about that cleansing by actually applying the work of Christ and His blood. The signs in His hands and in His side we will see for all eternity. We will see Him, a Lamb standing, as if slain (Revelation 5:6).

When the disciples see Him, they become joyful. Their sorrow has ended, like He said (John 16:22). They see the risen Lord and He is in their midst.

Verses 21-23

The Mission

The Lord wishes them His peace a second time. The first time it was to make them personally partakers of that peace. Now it is as the starting point of their mission, to which He gives them the commission immediately following. To fulfill that mission they must stand in peace (Ephesians 6:15). Into that peace He has brought them by the forgiveness of sins through His death, so that they may now bear witness to that in the world.

Their mission He gives the same character as the mission with which the Father sent Him. This means that they must also do what He has done, which is to make the Father known (John 17:18). They will do this by speaking of the Son, proclaiming Him and glorifying Him. He is the object of their testimony.

After giving them His peace and instructing them to go into the world, He breathes on them. In doing so, He makes them partakers of His resurrection life. Before He became Man, as Creator, He had breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7). As a result, Adam became a living soul (1 Corinthians 15:45). But the Lord Jesus is a life-giving spirit. He demonstrates this by now breathing on the disciples the breath of heavenly, eternal life, His own life, His resurrection life.

This life is marked by the Holy Spirit Who gives the power to reveal that life. Their mission of proclamation implies that they show the eternal life, which is the Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit always participates in the closest way in every blessing.

It is important to see that Christ is not here giving the Holy Spirit as a Person to His disciples. As a Person, the Holy Spirit will come to earth entirely according to what He has said about it only when He has gone to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit from Him. That happens on the day of Pentecost.

These are two different events. The breathing in of resurrection life takes place on earth and only applies to the apostles. The coming of the Holy Spirit takes place from heaven and concerns all believers who are formed into one body at that time.

After the blessing received for the purpose of witnessing in the world, there is also a responsibility regarding others. Those who do not have this life are all sinners, without distinction between Jew and Gentile. On all sinners lies the judgment of God. But there is also grace. From that grace, the Lord instructs His disciples to forgive sins to all who accept their word and come to faith in the Lord Jesus.

To forgive sins for eternity can only be done by God (Mark 2:7). Once a person has confessed his sins, he may know that God has forgiven his sins (1 John 1:9). It is then up to the disciples to acknowledge and ratify that forgiveness received from God. Such a person is accepted into the Christian fellowship. If they see that someone only outwardly professes to be a believer, they do not speak it out, thus such a person is not included in the Christian fellowship.

The issue is the acknowledgment of someone as a believer or the refusal thereof. Practically, this happens in baptism. Then someone is acknowledged as a follower of the Lord Jesus. The baptizer forgives the sins of the person being baptized, that is, he accepts the person being baptized as accepted by God.

We see the same principle when it comes to the church. Receiving believers to the Lord’s Table involves an acknowledgment of the forgiveness of one’s sins. By receiving such a person, the church is saying that the sins of such a person are forgiven. If the church refuses to receive someone on the basis of sins present and not judged, it means that such a person keeps his sins. That changes when he confesses his sins. Then he can be accepted as one whose sins have been forgiven and be received at the Table of the Lord.

Verses 24-29

The Lord and Thomas

Thomas is not there when the Lord appears to the disciples for the first time after His resurrection. He has missed something, though. It is beautiful to see how the disciples enthusiastically tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord. They do not admonish him for not being there or tell him how foolish it was of him not to be there. They bear witness to their encounter with the Lord. We see here that the disciples use the title “Lord” not only when they speak to Him, but also when they speak about Him.

Thomas, however, is not easily persuaded. The disciples can say as much. To convince Thomas, they will also have told him that the Lord showed them His hands and side. Thomas, namely, responds that he would then like to experience that for himself. He states it strongly. He will not even be content in seeing it either, but he wants to feel it. Until he has felt it, he will definitely not believe it, even though there are so many of them who testify to it.

A week later the disciples are back in. It is said “after eight days”, indicating a new beginning. Now Thomas is there too. The Lord enters in the same manner as the first time and with the same greeting. His appearance and His greeting are for all, but it is as if He comes only for Thomas. We find this appearance only in this Gospel.

He addresses the word to Thomas. He knows what Thomas has said. Therefore, He invites him to do what he first wanted to do before he would believe. The Lord adds a little admonition not to be unbelieving, but believing.

We do not read that Thomas used his finger and his hands to verify that the wounds were real. He immediately came to the acknowledgment that it is really the Savior. He confessed the Lord Jesus as his Lord and his God. This is the mark of the Jewish remnant who also will not believe until they see Him Whom they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 25:9).

The Lord questioningly states that Thomas believed because he saw. It is certainly sufficient to be saved, but it is not the highest form of faith. The Lord praises those who have not seen and yet have believed. This applies to all those who came to faith in Him after He returned to heaven (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The signs the Lord did we did not see with our own eyes, but we read the signs and we understood their message through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. The signs have been translated into spiritual realities for us. For example, we have understood that the sign of the bread from heaven speaks of Him Who had to come from heaven to earth to give us life.

Verses 30-31

The Written Signs

The unbelief of a believer (Thomas) is the reason for the Spirit to have the last two verses of this chapter written. From the many signs of the Lord, John, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote down a selection in his Gospel. The purpose of all these signs is to present the majesty of the Lord Jesus, to focus all attention on Him alone as the Christ, the Son of God, and to have fellowship with Him. The latter is possible through the life that all who believe possess. In his first letter, John deals extensively with that fellowship.

There are signs done by the Lord which the disciples saw, but which have not been preserved for us. We have no record of them in the Bible because they were not helpful to us in coming to faith in the Son of God. In this Gospel, the signs that have been written down are always the starting point for further teaching about the consequences of the coming of God’s Son to earth and the work He had to accomplish.

Today signs are highly regarded as if they would bring people to faith or serve to strengthen faith. The signs of which John speaks here and which the disciples saw, but which are not written down, the Lord really did perform. Today, however, much is touted as signs which in reality are signs of the devil.

In a sense, these last two verses conclude the Gospel. But yet another chapter follows, as a kind of appendix. In John 20 we see in the Lord’s first appearance to His disciples what His resurrection means for the church. In His second appearance, we see what His resurrection means for the remnant of Israel.

The third appearance, in John 21, completes the result of the work of the Lord Jesus. There, in the picture of the catching of the fish from the sea, it is about the blessing of His resurrection for the nations in the realm of peace.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op John 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/john-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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