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Bible Commentaries
John 20

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

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Verses 1-31

The Resurrection of Christ

John 20:1-31


1. The linen clothes. Before we discuss the resurrection with you, we want you to consider with us the manner in which Christ was wrapped around in linen clothes and spices, as it was the manner of the Jews to bury. The custom was, as we have been told, to place one hundred pounds of spices in the linen cloth and to wrap the body securely round and round. The head was then covered with a napkin.

You will remember that when Christ was born, that He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. The wrappings of that day suggest to us the fact that Christ was circumscribed. He dwelt in a human body like unto our body. He was like a ship fastened to a pier, kept in.

2. The place where He lay. Again, He was bound by death. In the resurrection all that had bound Him, was gone. Christ had been crucified upon Mount Calvary commonly known as Golgotha. Verse 41 tells us that there was a garden near Mount Calvary, in which there was a new sepulchre, wherein never man was as yet laid. This tomb was owned by Joseph of Arimathea. It was there that the body was placed. It has been our privilege to visit that garden and to enter the sepulchre, known at this time as Gordon's tomb, because it was discovered by General Gordon. We believe that the place is authentic. We felt solemn indeed as we saw the tomb with the place at the head and the foot, where the angels had sat. Because the preparation day was at hand, the tomb, evidently, was not sealed within, but the great stone was rolled on the outside of the sepulchre, and this was sealed. The inner sealing was awaiting the passing of the preparation day.

3. While it was yet dark. Chapter 20 opens with the words, "The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene, when it was yet dark," True love for the Lord Jesus does not wait for full-orbed day. It is willing to trust, where it cannot see. To us, therefore, the expression "when it was yet dark" is full of meaning. In John 20:1-31 we read of the Lord's saying to Thomas, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." Faith walks without sight, and it trusts where it is dark.

4. The stone was taken away. What was the consternation of the women as they beheld the great stone rolled away from the sepulchre door. They had been wondering who would roll the stone away, but when they arrived the stone was gone.

How oft do we wonder what we can do,

When a stone looms up and we can't get through,

Yet beyond the stone, we have work to do;

Who will roll our stone away?

Then when we get there, there is something new,

For our stone is gone and our sky is blue,

And the Lord stands by to lead us through,

And victory crowns our day.

5. A sense of despair. When Mary Magdalene found the stone was rolled back she ran and came to Simon Peter and to that other disciple whom Jesus loved, and she said unto them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid Him."

There are certain men who have crept in unawares, who are taking away from many a weak saint, their Lord and their Saviour. They are doing this by their base denials of His virgin birth, His deity, and the saving efficacy of His blood. Many of these men go so far as to repudiate the resurrection.

Mary thought that her Lord was gone. To her, the empty tomb brought nothing but sorrow and heartache, whereas it should have brought joy and gladness and song.


1. Peter and that other disciple went running to the sepulchre. It is quite striking to see these two men running this race. They were filled with excitement. As they ran John was outstripping Peter, so they could not have been talking to each other as they ran, of this unheard of affair. We imagine, however, that into their minds there came some of the statements of the Lord, how He had said that on the third day He would rise again. They had never accepted those words literally. They had seen Him raise others who had been dead, but little did any of them think that He, being dead, could bring forth His own body from the tomb. Thus they ran, filled with the fear that someone had forced open the tomb; and yet, wondering if, perchance, their Lord was risen.

2. John stooped down and looked within. Arriving first at the sepulchre, John, "looking in saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in." We would like every one of you to join us in stooping down and looking in at the place where the Lord once lay. We are sure the stone was not rolled away to let Christ out; rather it was rolled away to let the disciples in. You may also look in, if you will. John was still outside, when Simon Peter came up, following him. Peter immediately went into the tomb, and he saw the linen clothes lying, and the napkin, that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in John, also.

3. The deeper meaning of what they saw. First, there was the marvel that Christ had left the clothes that were wrapped about Him, and intact, and not in wild disorder. The linen clothes were there, we believe, just as they were, when tied about the Lord, only, the Lord was gone. The clothes and the spices were not strewn everywhere about the tomb. The napkin that was about His head, was not lying with the linen clothes; it was wrapped together, in a place by itself.

As the two disciples saw these things, they believed. They had not, hitherto, known the Scripture that Christ should rise again from the dead. Now it all dawned upon them, with a joy unspeakable and full of glory. They did not hasten to seek the body of the Lord; they quietly went their way to their own homes.

II. MARY WEEPING (John 20:10-13 )

1. Mary stood without the sepulchre weeping. How often do we weep when we should be shouting with glory? And why did she weep? She wept because of what she did not know. She thought that they had taken away her Lord. When she looked in and saw the sepulchre empty, she thought that someone had stolen the Lord's body.

2. The two angels in white. As Mary looked she saw these angels robed in their white raiment, and sitting, "the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain," Is it not beautiful that the Lord often sends to us, in the hour of our need and distress, His shining ones to help us on the way?

3. A remarkable question. The angels said unto Mary, "Woman why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him." We do not wonder that the angels said, "Woman, why weepest thou?" We imagine that the angels who camp round about them who fear Him, often ask the same question "Why weepest thou?" We think also that our Lord who watches over us from on high often wonders why we weep. How much of wasted energy, and how much of the toll of grief is put upon us, because we look through a glass darkly.

"Not now but in the coming years,

It may be in the better land;

We'll read the meaning of our tears,

And there, in heaven, we'll understand."

We think also that when we do understand we will be ashamed that we ever wept. Mary admitted that she wept because they had taken away her Lord, and because she did not know where they had laid Him.

The truth is they had not laid Him anywhere, and no one had taken Him away. He had broken the bands of death, and had come forth in glorious resurrection power.


1. Mary saw Christ but knew not that it was He. This is passing strange. We must remember, however, that her speaking to the two angels, in white, had not yet cleared her mind. She still thought that someone had taken the body of Jesus away. Her eyes were dimmed with tears as she turned herself back from the tomb, and into the garden. As she looked hither and thither she saw Jesus standing and knew Him not. And why did He stand there? It was because He was a sympathetic Christ and He wanted to drive away the clouds from the heart of one who trusted Him.

2. Christ said to Mary, "Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?" Even yet Mary could not comprehend what had happened. She thought Him to be the gardener, so she asked Him, saying, "Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away."

To us, one of the great proofs of the resurrection, lies in the graphic and yet common day expressions, so true to life, related in connection with His resurrection. Mary could never have picked up a dead body and carried it away. She simply was beside herself with grief, and she thought she could.

3. The clouds disappearing. As Christ stood there, He saw in the heart of Mary, an unspeakable devotion to Him as Saviour and Lord. She was not looking at Him, when, with His old voice, He said just one word, "Mary!" It needed no more to open her mind, for she turned herself, and facing Him, she said unto Him, "Rabboni; which is to say, Master." Mary would have caught Him by the feet but Jesus said unto her, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto My Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and to your Father, and to your God and to my God."

How beautiful it was of our Lord to say, "My Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." Wrapped up in these words is a vision of our union with Christ in His death, and burial, and resurrection, and ascension. Christ seems to be saying, All that is Mine is thine; and all thine, is Mine.


1. The fear of the eleven. John 20:19 tells us, "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."

In this verse we read of a fear that had gotten hold of the disciples. The Jews, knew, of course, that Christ had been crucified; they knew that the soldiers who had been watching the tomb, had fled in fright at the resurrection of Christ. Knowing this, and the consternation that would take hold upon the chief priests, and rulers, the disciples supposed that, naturally, they would be sought out and slain by the Jews. They knew not what might happen, therefore they had. met together, and were discussing matters with the doors shut.

As they talked with one another and were filled with fear, they were also filled with joy. Peter tells us in his epistle of how they were begotten again unto a lively hope. You can imagine something of the exultant joy that filled their breasts. That fact did not, however, lessen their fears in the least.

2. The entrance of Christ. As they talked, both rejoicing and afraid, the Lord Jesus, Himself, stood in their midst. His first words were, "Peace be unto you." Then he showed them His hands and His side. Then, were the disciples doubly glad. They not only knew, now, of the empty tomb, but they had seen the Lord. The Lord did not tarry long with them. He said unto them once more, however, "Peace be unto you." Then He said, "As My father has sent Me, even so send I you." Thus, with a new commission laid upon them, a commission to preach His word, He breathed upon them and said unto them: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost."

How rapidly were things coming to pass. Crowded into one glorious day was the enunciation of the resurrection, the personal visit of the Lord, His assurance of peace, His commission to His disciples, and His breathing of the Holy Spirit upon them.

From darkness to light, from sorrow to singing, from despair to rejoicing, step by step, they had been led.

V. THOMAS WAS NOT WITH THEM (John 20:23-25 )

1. The absence of Thomas. We do not know why Thomas was not with the disciples in the upper room, when Christ first appeared unto them. Whether he had been away and had not heard of the resurrection; or, whether he had been informed, but had failed to gather with the others we do not know. We do know that he was not there when Jesus came.

The absence of Thomas suggests to us, first of all, that there are still many who absent themselves from the assembly of the saints. This they should not do. God has given us a special warning, a warning that is peculiarly applicable to the day in which we live. Here are the words: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Listening to sermons over the radio is very good for shut-ins, but it must never be used as an excuse for non-attendance for the ministry of the Word and prayer.

The second thing that comes to our minds is, what Thomas missed by his absence. He missed seeing the Lord. Neither do we know what may happen in the way of spiritual blessing, that we will miss, if we are not in the house of God, and in our accustomed seats.

2. A lack of fellowship suggests a lack of cooperation. Thomas was not with them, and, therefore, Thomas stood aloof from them. The other disciples said unto him, "We have seen the Lord." He immediately answered, "Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger in the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe." It is not difficult to discover that a cleavage was occurring between Thomas, and the others. They had one view, and one faith; while he had another view, and no faith.

3. The sway of unbelief. Thomas not only demanded proofs of the resurrection, but he bluntly said, Unless I have these proofs, I will not believe. Whenever there is lack of belief, there is the frown of God. Men are lost because they believe not. Saints miss many a blessing, because, in many things, they believe not. Until this day Thomas is known as the doubting disciple.

VI. THOMAS WAS WITH THEM (John 20:26-28 )

1. After eight days. The events of the eight days which were between Christ's first, and second appearance to the disciples, are not given. We do know that Christ had before the evening of the first meeting with the disciples, already appeared to Mary Magdalene, unto the women, and unto two disciples, en route to Emmaus, He had also appeared unto Peter. During the interim of the two First Days of the week, the disciples watched intently the events around them. They learned a great deal about how the Pharisees and the Scribes had paid the soldiers who had watched the tomb, to report that the body of Christ had been stolen by the disciples. How they had set current the fact that the resurrection was not real, etc.

Nevertheless, the chief priests had been afraid to lay hands upon the disciples. The people, everywhere, believed in the resurrection, and the leaders of the Jews were only waiting to see to what extent things would go.

2. The second appearance to the eleven. Once more the disciples were in their meeting place, and Thomas was with them. Once more the doors were shut. It does not say this time, "For fear of the Jews."

Once more the Lord Jesus suddenly stood in their midst, and said, "Peace be unto you."

Then, turning to Thomas He said, "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."

Mark you that unbelief is called faithlessness. To believe fully is to be faithful, and not to believe, is unfaithfulness.

3. Full assurance comes to Thomas. John 20:28 reads, "And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." Thank God that even a man, for a moment in doubting-castle, may find his feet again on the solid ground.

While we are always sorry that Thomas doubted, for his own sake; yet, in his doubting, and in his afterward expression of faith, there is still another proof of the resurrection. Thomas doubted to be sure, but so did all of the other disciples and the women. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, had believed in the death of Christ. Mary had anointed the Lord with ointment, on the day of His burial. However, even she did not believe in the resurrection. Thus Mary and the women and the disciples, including Thomas, through their lack of faith in the resurrection, and through their afterward acceptance of it; proclaims forever to the world, that they believed because they saw the risen Lord. They saw His nail-pierced hands, and His feet, and His side, sword-thrust. They knew that He that was dead, was alive again.

VII. FAITH AND SIGNS (John 20:29-31 )

1. It is good to believe, with the faith, caused by sight. Christ said, "Because thou hath seen me thou hast believed." This is far better than no faith at all. There are many, alas, who see and believe not. Unto this hour there are multitudes who reject the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet their eyes have beheld more than enough to convince any honest seeker of truth.

2. It is better to believe without seeing. Christ also said, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." If we know Him, that should be sufficient for His every word to be, "yea and amen," to us. Let us never be found among those, who, like Thomas, ask for human proofs. Let us not even request a dream, or a voice, or a demonstration of any kind.

3. The great climax of faith. Our chapter concludes with the wonderful statement, "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." Thank God that He was willing to condescend to write out the signs of the resurrection of Christ, that it might be infallibly established; thus giving unto us a strong refuge, who fly unto Christ as our Saviour.

Thank God that those that believe in Him, the Christ of Calvary, the Christ of the empty tomb, and the Christ of the Glory cloud, have life through His name.

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on John 20". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/john-20.html.
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