The Empty Tomb (20:1-10)
1 On the first day of the week, that is, Sunday, Mary of Magdala left her dwelling before dawn. According to Mark 16:2, she and two other women reached the tomb just after sunrise. She found the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb (see Mark 16:1-8 and comment).
2 After the events described in Mark 16:1-8 had taken place, Mary of Magdala ran to Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved—that is, John—and told them that Jesus’ body had been taken away. The thought that Jesus had risen from the dead didn’t enter her mind (see Luke 24:9-11).
3-7 When Peter and John heard Mary’s report, they at once ran to the tomb. Notice the small details that John remembers here. Surely this was the most important day in his life. Indeed, it was the most important day in the history of the world!
Notice also that the burial clothes were laid neatly (verse 7). If the body had been stolen, the clothes would have been taken away with the body, or they would have been scattered about. But Jesus’ body had not been stolen. He had risen!
8 After Peter had entered the tomb, John went in also. John saw it was empty and believed. He believed that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Jesus had told them He would rise from the dead after three days (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). And here, on the third day, it had come to pass just as Jesus had said.
But Peter at first did not believe. He went away, wondering to himself what had happened (Luke 24:12).
9-10 That Jesus would rise from the dead was also prophesied in the Old Testament, but Peter and John had not yet fully understood those prophecies. John’s belief in Jesus’ resurrection came first from his own eyes, not from the Old Testament. Prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection are found in Psalm 16:10, Isaiah 53:10-12, Hosea6:2, and Jonah 1:17.
Jesus Appears to Mary of Magdala (20:11-18)
11 When Peter and John ran to see the tomb, the women followed after them. After the two disciples had gone home (verse 10), Mary remained standing by the tomb.
12-13 She saw two angels. Mary and the other women had earlier seen the angels when they had first come to the tomb (see Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4). Then Mary saw the two angels again. They asked her why she was crying.
14-15 After she answered them, she saw a man standing there, whom she supposed to be the gardener.125 But it was Jesus. There was something different about His resurrection body; as a result, she did not recognize Him at first (see Luke 24:15-16). She thought that perhaps this “gardener” had carried Jesus’ body away.
16 Then Jesus called her name, and at once she recognized Him (see Luke 24:30-31). Jesus’ sheep know His voice (John 10:4).
Mary had been hoping only to find Jesus’ dead body; instead, she found His living body!
17 Mary probably fell on her knees and clasped Jesus’ feet (Matthew 28:9). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me.” He meant: “Do not keep on holding me.”
Jesus told Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.” Jesus’ meaning here is not certain. Some Bible scholars believe He meant that Mary didn’t need to cling to Him, because He was not ascending to heaven immediately. She would have other opportunities to see Him before He left the earth. Other Bible scholars believe Jesus was trying to tell Mary that things had now changed; He was not like He used to be. One could not hold on to His body as before. Lazarus had also been raised from the dead, but he had received his old earthly body back. He would die again (John 11:43-44; 12:2). But Jesus had received a completely new body, a spiritual body, which would never die.
Then Jesus told Mary to tell His disciples that He was going to return to His Father; that is, He was going to ascend into heaven. He was going to prepare a place for them (John 14:2). Notice here that Jesus calls God my Father and your Father … my God and your God. God was Jesus’ Father in a special way. Jesus was God’s Son by nature from the beginning. We are God’s adopted children by grace, not by nature.
According to Matthew 28:10, Jesus also told Mary and the other women with her to tell His disciples to go to Galilee, where He would meet them. In both Matthew 28:10 and in this verse, Jesus calls His disciples brothers. He had called them his friends before the resurrection (John 15:14). Now they have become His brothers. And all of us who believe are also counted as Jesus’ brothers. Jesus was the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).
18 According to Matthew 28:9-10, not only Mary but also the other women with her saw Jesus at this time. Mary met Him first (Mark 16:9). Then, perhaps, she went at once and called the other women. Or perhaps Jesus appeared to the other women a short while later. Whatever happened, the women went a second time to tell the disciples the new news: They had actually seen the risen Lord! (see Matthew 28:9-10: Luke 24:12 and comments).
Jesus Appears to His Disciples (20:19-31)
19 On the evening of that same resurrection day, Jesus’ disciples had gathered together in a house. It was the greatest, most joyful, most victorious day in the history of the world—but where were the disciples? They were hiding in fear! They had locked the doors of the house for fear of the Jews. The Jewish leaders had learned that Jesus’ body was gone, and had accused the disciples of having stolen it (Matthew 28:1113). They would surely be searching for the disciples.
Suddenly, in a miraculous way, Jesus came and stood among them. The doors had not been opened. John does not say how Jesus entered the room where the disciples were, but it was not through an open door. He said, “Peace be with you!” This was a common Jewish greeting, but His words had a deeper meaning. For by “peace” He meant the spiritual peace He had promised them earlier (see John 14:27 and comment).
Jesus did not rebuke His disciples for having deserted Him. He greeted them as His friends and brothers. The disciples had failed Jesus, but He had not failed them. He came to them and gave them His peace. By His death on the cross He had brought peace between them and God (see Romans 5:1 and comment).
20 At first the disciples were startled and frightened, because they thought they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:37). But as soon as they saw Jesus’ wounds and realized it was really He, they rejoiced. Their sorrow turned to joy (John 16:20-22).
Luke has also described this first appearance of Jesus before all of His disciples together (see Luke 24:36-40 and comment). Only Thomas was absent (verse 24).
21 Jesus then said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” It was at this time that Jesus appointed them to be apostles, which means “men who are sent.” But Jesus said this not only to His first disciples; He says it also to His disciples in every generation: “I am sending you.” Our work of spreading the Gospel and showing God’s love to men is a continuation of Jesus’ work here on earth. As God appointed Jesus to preach the Gospel and do good works, so God has appointed us to do the same (see Matthew 28:19-20; John 17:18 and comments; General Article: Purpose of the Church).
22 Then Jesus breathed on His disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit, which He had promised them earlier (see John 14:16 and comment). In order to do the work He was sending them to do, they would need the Holy Spirit. Christ never gives us a task to do without also giving us the means by which to do it. But more than that, the giving of the Holy Spirit was the most important event in the lives of the disciples. Because it was then that they were born again of the Spirit (see John 3:3,5 and comment). This is when they received true and full faith. This is when they received spiritual life. No man can be a true Christian without having received the Holy Spirit of Christ. … if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ (Romans 8:9)
On the day of Pentecost, ten days after Christ’s ascension, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:1-4 and comment). The disciples had already received the Holy Spirit on this resurrection Sunday; but on the day of Pentecost, they were to be filled with the Holy Spirit and receive the gifts and the power of the Spirit.
Therefore, Christians must not only have the Holy Spirit in them; they must also pray that they might be filled with the Spirit. All of us must manifest the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives (see Galatians 5:22-23 and comment). But God wants to give us the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit as well (see 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and comment). Being filled with the Holy Spirit means not only having His fruits but also having His power.
Jesus breathed on them. In Ezekiel 37:1-10, the prophet Ezekiel describes a valley filled with bones. The Lord told Eze-kiel to prophesy to those dead bones. And as Ezekiel spoke the word of God to the bones, they joined together and were covered with flesh and skin. They became men. But they were still dead. … there was no breath in them (Ezekiel 37:8). Then the breath of God entered those dead men, and they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army (Ezekiel 37:10).
We, too, have had the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, breathed into us. We too—all Christians—have become a vast army. We are not just spectators; we are not just church members. We are an army. And our general, our king, is Christ.
23 After giving His disciples the Holy Spirit, Jesus then gave them the authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. This is a difficult verse to understand. No man can himself forgive the sins of anyone; only God and Christ can forgive sins. But Christians are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can tell a person that his sins are forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross. If someone believes in Jesus and repents of his sins, we can say to that person with the full authority of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven.”
However, if someone does not repent and does not believe, then we can inform that person that his sins are not forgiven; they are retained.126 This authority Jesus has given to the whole church, especially to the leaders of the church (see Matthew 16:19; 18:18-19 and comments).
24-25 Thomas, called Didymus (John 11:16), was not present that first night when Jesus appeared to the disciples. He said he would not believe that Jesus had risen until he had seen and touched Jesus’ wounds.
Thomas has been called “doubting Thomas.” But we must remember that, except for John (verse 8), the other disciples didn’t believe either until they had seen Jesus. All of them doubted at first (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:10-12).
26-27 One week later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples in the same house and in the same way as before (verse 19). Thomas was there this time. Jesus said to him, “Touch me, touch my wounds. Put away your doubts, and believe.” Jesus knew what Thomas had said earlier (verse 25). Jesus knows every doubting thought we think.
28 John doesn’t say that Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds. But Thomas saw Jesus; he heard Jesus’ voice. And that was enough. He said, “My Lord and my God!” None of the disciples had ever called Jesus “God” before. Thomas had been the last of the disciples to believe. But he was the first to realize that Jesus was more than the Lord, more than the Messiah; He was almighty God Himself!
29 Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for being slow to believe. But He looked toward the future when He would no longer be on earth. Soon men would not be able to see Him and hear Him as Thomas had. They would have to believe without seeing. They would have to believe the testimony of others. But when they believed, they would be blessed indeed (see 1 Peter 1:8).
30-31 John did not write everything Jesus did, nor did the other Gospel writers (see John 21:25). But John had one main purpose in writing his Gospel: namely, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. It is not enough just to believe. We must believe in something. We must believe in Jesus, our Lord and our God.
Why must we believe? We must believe so that we will have life, eternal life, in His name. No faith, no life. Man can receive eternal life only through faith in Christ (see John 3:15,18,36 and comment).