John 20 Study Notes


20:1-21:25 The final two chapters of John’s Gospel cover the aftermath of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, specifically the empty tomb, the risen Jesus’s encounter with Mary Magdalene, three resurrection appearances to his disciples (21:14), the commissioning of the disciples (20:21), a special commissioning of Peter (21:15-23), conclusions to the Gospel proper (20:30-31), and the epilogue (21:24-25). The concluding statement in 20:30-31 reviews some of the major themes of the Gospel, particularly Jesus’s identity as Messiah and Son of God, his messianic “signs,” the importance of believing in Jesus, and the gift of eternal life. The conclusion to the epilogue identifies the “disciple Jesus loved” (who was one of the Twelve; cp. 21:20; 13:23) as the writer of John’s Gospel (21:24; cp. 19:35) and affirms the truth of his testimony about Jesus (21:24).

20:1 The first day of the week was Sunday. Mary Magdalene (and several other women) decided to attend to some matters that had been left undone because of the beginning of the Sabbath (see note at 19:42). The need to complete the care for the dead may have overridden the customary seven-day mourning period (see note at 11:20). On while it was still dark, compare the slightly different time frame depicted in Mt 28:1 (cp. Mk 16:2; and Lk 24:1).

20:2 At this point Mary had no thought of Jesus’s resurrection. The Jewish charge that his disciples stole his body (Mt 27:62-66; 28:11-15) shows that grave robbery was not uncommon. The plural we suggests the presence of other women besides Mary. On the other disciple, see note at 18:15-16.

20:3-4 Went out translates a singular verb, suggesting perhaps the priority of Peter.

20:5-6 Apparently by now there was enough daylight to see inside the burial chamber through the small, low opening in the cave tomb. The other disciple did not go in, presumably in deference to Simon Peter, a leader among the Twelve.

20:7 Jesus’s resurrection body apparently passed through the linen wrappings similar to the way in which he later appeared to his disciples in a locked room (vv. 19,26). The reference to the head wrapping being folded up in a separate place by itself counters the notion of grave robbers, who in their haste would not have taken the time to fold up this cloth.

20:8-9 The presence of two witnesses rendered the evidence admissible under Jewish law (Dt 17:6; 19:15). The other disciple believed based on what he saw, not on an understanding from Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. This lack of expectation of a resurrection shows that the disciples did not fabricate the resurrection story to fit their preconceived expectations. Rather, the resurrection shocked them and did not fit with what they understood from Scripture. Only later, aided by the Spirit’s teaching (see notes at 14:25-26; 16:12-13), did they come to see that Jesus’s resurrection was foretold in the OT.

20:10 When the disciples returned to the place where they were staying, “the disciple Jesus loved” in all likelihood told the Lord’s mother, whom he had taken “into his home” (19:27), that he was risen.

20:11 Mary was crying, not because Jesus had died, but because his body had vanished.

20:12 She saw two angels in white. Angels often appeared in pairs (Ac 1:10) and are often depicted as dressed in white (Ezk 9:2; Dn 10:5-6; Rv 15:6). The angels were sitting . . . one at the head and the other at the feet of the burial shelf.

20:13-14 The resurrected Jesus is often not recognized immediately. His appearance since Mary saw him last must have changed dramatically. See 1Co 15:35-38.

20:15 Mary mistook Jesus for the gardener, which suggests that Jesus was indistinguishable from an ordinary person. Gardeners often tend to their grounds in the early morning.

20:16 Jesus had already spoken to her. It was when she heard her own name from his lips that she knew who it was.

20:17 My Father and your Father maintains a distinction between how Jesus and the disciples relate to God. Even so, Jesus called believers his brothers.

20:18 In view of the disregard for women in the culture, it is remarkable that Jesus appeared first to a woman and gave her the job of reporting his presence.

20:19,21,26 The common Jewish greeting Peace to you (v. 21; representing Hb Shalom alekem) is still used today. Peace was Jesus’s gift to his followers by virtue of his sacrificial death on the cross. On feared the Jews (v. 19), see note at 7:13.

20:20 Jesus’s scars proved that he was the very one who was crucified and prophesied his resurrection. Thus the disciples rejoiced.

20:21-22 These verses contain the Gospel of John’s version of the Great Commission, which culminates in the presentation of Jesus as the one sent from the Father (see note at 3:16-18). Now the sent one (Jesus) had turned Sender, commissioning his followers to serve as his messengers and representatives (17:18). All three persons of the Godhead are involved in this commissioning. As Jesus was sent by God the Father, so he, the Son, was sending out his disciples (20:21), equipping them with the Holy Spirit (v. 22). John thus demonstrated that each member of the Godhead is involved in the redemption plan and the mission of spreading the gospel to the world. The Holy Spirit was given dramatically and permanently a short time later (Acts 2).

20:23 The reference to forgiveness or lack thereof may echo the reference to “the key of the House of David” in Is 22:22 (cp. Rv 3:7). Jesus bestowed on his followers authority to announce access or disbarment from God’s kingdom based on reception or denial of the gospel message. For those who reject Jesus, his messengers are commissioned to say that they do not have forgiveness of sins.

20:24 On Thomas as Twin, see note at 1:38.

20:25 Apparently Thomas thought the disciples had seen a ghost (Mt 14:26). Yet John was careful to affirm that Jesus’s resurrection body was not that of a phantom or spirit apparition but a genuine (although glorified) human body (Jn 20:27).

20:26 A week later refers to the following Sunday, one week after Easter (v. 19).

20:27-28 Jesus condescended to allow Thomas’s test of his identity. But when Thomas saw and heard Jesus, no such examination was necessary. He recognized that in some sense Jesus was God incarnate. The words Lord and God occur together in the OT more than one thousand times. The emperor Domitian also wished to be addressed as “our Lord and God.”

20:29 Though they have not seen the risen Christ, readers of the Gospel of John may yet believe because John, by aid of the Holy Spirit, has written the truth about God’s Son.

20:30-31 On Jesus’s signs in John’s Gospel, see note at 2:11. These verses summarize John’s purpose for writing his Gospel.