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Bible Commentaries

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

John 20

Verse 1


The Lord appeareth to Mary Magdalene. Afterwards to his Disciples. Thomas doubteth the Resurrection of Jesus, is convinced of the Truth of it, and expresseth his Joy.

Verses 1-10

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. (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. (3) Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. (4) So they ran both together; and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. (5) And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. (6) Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, (7) And the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. (8) Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw and believed. (9) For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. (10) Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

Part of three days, agreeably to scripture prediction, the Lord lay in the grave. On the third day he arose, and the events induced by it in the minds of his people, are first recorded. The sepulchres among the Jews were roomy places, so as to admit of the entrance of several at a time, being as some are described, four cubits by six. This explains what is said by Mark, that they entered into it, Mark 16:5 . But what is most to our purpose, is to consider the very great backwardness in the whole of our Lord's company of disciples, both men and women, to the belief of Christ's resurrection. Nothing can be more certain, than that they had no apprehension what the resurrection from the dead should mean. They knew not the scripture it is said, that is, they had never considered the subject. And although the Old Testament scriptures had in a great variety of places spoken of it, both by prophecy and by figure, and Jesus himself had more than once taught it, yet their only views of Christ had respect to a kingdom of this world, and not the smallest apprehension of another. So that the surprize of Mary Magdalene, and Peter, and John, going to the sepulchre at her wonderful account was evident, yet we find it excited consternation for the present only, and all except Mary soon returned again unto their own home. See Hosea 6:2 ; James 2:17 ; Matthew 22:23-32; Matthew 22:23-32 .

Verses 11-14

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, (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. (13) 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. (14) And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

There is somewhat particularly interesting in this short account of Mary still waiting at the sepulchre. So attached was she to the Person of Jesus, that, though she had no hopes of ever seeing him again, and convinced that he was not there, yet still she waits in silence, weeping with great sorrow, and still looking in, not knowing how to leave the sacred spot. And is it not so with waiting souls now when they miss Jesus where before they have found him; and though ordinances, and hearing the word preached, or reading it themselves in dark seasons, do not bring such sweet views of Christ as in times past; yet can they not go away from the means, but will be sending forth the anxious enquiry like the spouse of old; Saw ye Him whom my soul loveth? Song of Solomon 3:3 .

It doth not appear that Mary felt any fear at the surprizing sight of those angels in white, which she saw in looking in again to the sepulchre. One might have been led to suppose, that though her grief was great, yet such a supernatural appearance would have alarmed her. Neither did their address, as it should seem, affect her with any concern, for she answered their questions as though they had been men. And when she turned herself about, perhaps at hearing the footsteps of Jesus, and beheld Jesus without knowing him, we do not read of any of that alarm, which at such a place, and upon such an occasion, might have been reasonably expected, No doubt, agreeably to that sweet promise, as thy days, so shall thy strength be; the Lord who was so near her, strengthened her mind with suitable firmness. And so we may conclude the Lord doth by all his people. Many sweet instructions arise out of this short scripture. You see the Lord may be, and, as in this instance, certainly is, very near his redeemed, when they like Mary are very unconscious of his presence. And you observe, that the first discovery of Jesus, as here, must begin on the Lord's side; for otherwise, like her, our eyes will be holden, we shall not know him. And I pray the Reader to observe yet further, that however earnest we are at any time in seeking Jesus, the Lord is still before-hand in seeking us. For it is not only one of the most precious truths of our charter in grace, if we love him, it is because he hath first loved us; but it is a blessed promise of the same divine covenant, that before his people at any time call, he answers. 1 John 4:19 ; Isaiah 65:24 .

Verses 15-17

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. (16) Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. (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.

This is a most interesting account of the first interview of the Lord Jesus with his redeemed, after he arose from the dead. Mark seems so struck with the gracious act, that Jesus should make choice of this woman to have the first sight of his person, when coming forth out of the other world, that he hath made a special record of it. He appeared first, (said he,) to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils, Mark 16:9 . As if to say, mark the astonishing grace of Jesus! All his redeemed shall know him; but that precious child of his whom Satan hath most worried, shall have the first love token of Jesus.

I pass over the relation, beautiful as it is, to read of Mary's supposing Jesus to have been the gardener, and her request to Jesus under the then unconscious state of her mind; I pass over these things to call the Reader's attention to matters yet of higher moment, in our Lord's gracious condescension to this woman. And I pray the Reader not to forget in the whole of what is here said to connect with it, that the humblest and poorest of Jesus's little ones, are as much interested in the account as Mary was herself. Surely Jesus made choice of this woman purposely to impress this upon his Church. Who could be apparently further from the Lo rd, than one in whom seven devils had raged and reigned? And yet who could be dearer to the Lord, w hen this woman is chosen before the whole college of Apostles, to have the first sight and conversation with a risen and triumphant Jesus? Reader! do not forget this.

How Jesus manifested himself to Mary when calling her by name, and what a look or gesture, or special token of his Person accompanied that call, may be supposed, but is not capable of being described. How doth that dear Lord now in numberless instances, though not in a visible form, manifest himself to his people otherwise than he doth to the world? But what must have been the first feelings of Mary's heart, when she discovered that it was Jesus. The name by which she addressed Christ is very striking, Rabboni. And if, as some say, that it is never made use of but when speaking of God, it is indeed very precious. We know that Rab, though a name of great dignity, was always in use among the Jews after their return from Chaldea, for it is a Syriac word. And our Lord's direction to his disciples concerning it, may serve to throw some light upon the subject. Matthew 23:7-10 . Rabboni is the plural also of Rab, and as such must certainly be considered very different from the common acceptation of the word when used in the singular. And as it is allowed by all to be of higher import than Rab, or Rabbi, I confess that I am inclined to accept it in this place, (and which is the only place we find it used in the whole Bible,) as the full confession of Mary to the Godhead of Christ. Struck by such a palpable testimony of his eternal nature, in his resurrection from the dead, she hailed him Rabboni!

The Lord's answer to her comes now to be considered. Jesus saith unto her, touch me not. By which we are to understand, not that the Lord would have objected to this token of her affection, for we find that soon after the Lord made Thomas put his hand into his side, (John 20:25 .) But this was not the moment for Mary to be so employed. The Lord had a message to send her upon to his disciples. It was time that they, as well as herself should receive the joyful tidings of his resurrection, and therefore he would first send her to them. I am not yet ascended to my Father. As if he had said, there will be time enough before my return to glory, to grant both to you, and to them, many an opportunity of indulging all in those desires; but for the present, hasten to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God. See Mark 16:7 . There is somewhat uncommonly precious and blessed in those words of the Lord Jesus. God was Christ's God and Father, in a way perfectly distinct from every other, as Christ, that is, God and Man in One Person. For, when the Son of God took into union with himself that holy portion of human nature, and became the Head and Husband of his Church, he put himself, as Mediator, into those relations, as Servant of Jehovah, and Surety of his Church. So that in this view, God, that is, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is both the God and Father of Christ, as such; and the God, and the Father of the Church in Christ, by adoption and grace. All which differs from the eternal relationship which subsist between the persons of the Godhead, and in which there is a perfect equality, by whatever names the persons in the Godhead are distinguished, in nature, and in essence, and in all divine perfections and glory.

In addition to the observations already offered on this first appearance of Christ, after he arose from the dead, and the message sent to his disciples, see Mark 16:0 ; Luke 24:0 . I would in this place only beg to remark, that those immediate manifestations the Lord Jesus s o graciously made of himself at his resurrection, were evidently intended, (and it will be the highest wisdom of the Church so to accept them,) as the most decided proofs of his unalterable love to his people. Death had made no change, either in his nature, or in his affection. He was the same Jesus after his resurrection as before. For although by that death he had forever put off all the weaknesses of nature, in the bodily wants of hunger, and the infirmities of weariness, and the like; and in his resurrection, which became the first act to glory, he arose suited for the everlasting enjoyment of heaven, yet, both in nature, and in relations to his people, there was not the smallest change.

And, in confirmation of this, the message the Lord sent by Mary, as well as the one his servant the angel sent in his name to his disciples, Matthew 28:7 become an high proof. Surely, if there had been a moment in the life of Christ, when we might have been tempted to think the Lord would resent the perfidy of his disciples, who all forsook him and fled, it would have been then. Whereas the very first act of Jesus, after he arose from the dead, and before he entered into glory, was to appear to Mary, and suffer her not to pause over the mercy before that she had communicated the blissful tidings to his disciples. Go, tell my brethren! He is not ashamed to call them brethren, said one of the sacred writers, Hebrews 2:11 . though they had all been ashamed of Him! Oh! matchless love, unequalled grace!

Verses 18-23

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her. (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. (20) And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. (21) Then said Jesus to them again, Peace b e unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. (22) And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost; (23) Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

It should seem, that the message of the Lord to his disciples by Mary, was to prepare them for this most gracious visit of their risen Savior. And what a refreshing and soul-satisfying visit must it have been! We hear no upbraidings for their late desertions: nothing of reproach, but all love. Moreover, in the shewing them his hands and his side, these were not merely by way of proving the reality of his resurrection, and the identifying his person, but of shewing them also those tokens of redemption which he was going with to heaven, that would everlastingly plead for them there. The Lord had said in his message by Mary, that she should say to his brethren, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, to my God, and your God. So that in my ascension, those marks will openly appear for you. And all the petitions you send after me, I will put into my pierced hands and side, to ensure the acceptance both of your persons and your prayers. Reader! if the disciples were then glad when they saw the Lord, are not all his disciples made joyful now, with every spiritual view which the Lord manifests to them of himself, in their public or private assemblies?

The peace which the Lord Jesus pronounce over them, was a confirmation of what he had said at his farewell discourse. See John 14:27 . And the breathing on them, evidently intended as a communication of suited grace and strength for their spiritual necessities (See John 15:4 and Commentary upon it.) It could not mean the work of regeneration, neither the ordination of them to the ministry. For the former, no doubt, had been accomplished before; and the latter was to be the especial work of God the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. Luke 24:49 .

It is truly lamentable to behold the abuse which some have made of what the Lord Jesus at this time said, in relation to the remission of sins. And it is yet more awful what errors designing men have caused to spring from it. The Apostles wrought miracles, as they were appointed, in confirmation both of the Gospel, and their authority as Ministers of it; but we never read of either of them exercising power to forgive sins. Indeed, they knew better. It is God alone (as the Scribes and Pharisees justly in that instance, reasoned,) who can forgive sins; and Christ, as God, exercised it. (See Mark 2:2-12 and Commentary.) But in whatever sense the Lord intended the words, either in the remission of sins, or the retaining of them, it should seem to be very clear, that no such power as hath been supposed was ever given. Certain it is, that when by the preaching of a full, free, and finished Gospel, under the Holy Ghost's influence, sinners are awakened, regenerated, and made new creatures in Christ; their sins are forgiven. And, as faith cometh by hearing, Christ's ministers, in this sense, may be said to remit sins. Romans 10:17 . And on the contrary, where that Gospel is thus proclaimed, and not mixed with faith in them that hear it, there the sins are retained. Hence Paul's observation, of being a sweet savor, both in them that are saved, and in them that perish. Hebrews 4:2 ; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 .

Verses 24-31

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. (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. (26) 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. (27) 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. (28) And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. (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. (30) And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. (31) 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.

We are not told the cause for which Thomas was absent at the first interview of Jesus with his Apostles, after he arose from the dead. But whatever cause it was, had not Christ's grace been greater than Thomas's deservings, never could he have been recovered from the daring unbelief, into which through temptation he had fallen. How rash his declaration in determining not to believe, except he had such evidences, as, humanly speaking, there seemed no probability to obtain! How gracious an act in Jesus to grant it! But how came Thomas to know that there were nails driven into the hands of Jesus, or that his side had been pierced? He was not present at the crucifixion; for he, in common with the rest, forsook Jesus and fled. And sometimes bodies were fastened with cords instead of nails, on the cross. But the truth was, that Thomas was for the time given up to unbelief, that the Church might thereby receive the more ample testimony, in his otherwise unaccountable obstinacy to the conviction of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Reader! do not overlook the precious instruction which this view of Thomas's incredulity gives to the whole Church of Christ. Thomas had been present at the resurrection of Lazarus. And such a demonstration of the power of Christ might have taught the Apostle that Christ was able to raise himself. But here Thomas lost all confidence. And what is any man unless supported by the power of God! Oh! what cause have we every day to cry out with the Apostles, Lord! increase our faith! Luke 17:5 . But what a glorious confession did Thomas give, when Jesus in his boundless compassion had granted him his demand? Reader! do you not pray for grace to have the same, and not only to know Christ, both Lord and God, but to know him, and say as Thomas did, My Lord, and my God! Acts 2:36 .

It doth not appear that Jesus manifested himself to any but his disciples after he arose from the dead. Neither to them, but now and then, during the forty days in which he remained on earth. But what a gracious account the Evangelist gives, when he saith, that both his appearing, and the record of those appearances, were purposely for the confirmation of the faithful, that, in believing, his whole Church might have life through his name.

Verse 31


Reader! you behold the privileges of God's people. Jesus will reward the humble waiting of his redeemed who seek him. They who went early to the sepulchre, and Mary, who remained there, at length had their full portion of the sight of Jesus. And now, what is it but the same? They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.

And what a very precious encouragement is the first appearing of Christ to Mary Magdalene! She had the first view of Jesus. As if to comfort every poor sinner, that where sin hath abounded, grace shall much more abound. That soul in Christ's family shall have the first glimpse of Jesus, the first kiss of Christ, who most needs him. Precious Lord! let all thy Magdalenes, where Satan hath most cruelly wounded, be first healed!

Oh! dearest Lord Jesus! deal by the Thomas's of thine in the present hour, as thou didst by the Apostle of old. Thou knowest of the sin which doth so easily beset us, and thou knowest the cause. Oh! thou great and Almighty Author and Finisher of faith! keep thy redeemed from the sin of unbelief. Lord! give us to believe, and help thou our unbelief! Amen.

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Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on John 20". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.