VIII. The Resurrection (John 20:1-21)


VIII. The Resurrection (20:1-21)

20:1-2 On the first day of the week—Sunday—Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning (20:1). Jesus had cast seven demons from her (see Luke 8:2), so she was a devoted follower. The Synoptic Gospels inform us that Mary had gone to the tomb with other women to anoint Jesus’s body (see Mark 16:1; Luke 23:55–24:1). She saw that the large stone sealing the tomb had been removed (20:1), and she had also seen an angel (see Mark 16:5). So she ran to tell Simon Peter and John (the disciple . . . Jesus loved) that the Lord’s body had been taken (20:2).

20:3-7 Thus, Peter and John ran for the tomb (20:3). John was faster and arrived there first, but Peter entered the tomb ahead of him (20:4-6). They saw the linen cloths lying there, which had been used to wrap Jesus’s body (20:5-6; see 19:40). And the wrapping that had been on his head was folded and set aside by itself (20:7).

One of the many theories that men have concocted to explain away the resurrection is that Jesus was merely resuscitated. This theory proposes that after enduring the intense brutality of being beaten and crucified, Jesus was revived by the cool interior of the tomb. But this doesn’t explain why a half-dead man would remove his head cloth, neatly fold it, and place it separate from his intact linen wrappings! Nor does it explain how he could have had the strength to move the heavy stone blocking the entrance. As with other attempts by unbelievers to deny the resurrection, this one fails to adequately explain the evidence. One thing is clear: When the disciples saw Jesus later (see 20:19-23), he didn’t look like a man who had been merely resuscitated from a near death experience!

20:8-10 John believed (20:8). Previously he had believed in Jesus’s identity. Now he believed in the resurrection. Though Jesus had predicted his resurrection (see Luke 9:21-22; 18:31-34), and Scripture foretold that the Messiah must rise from the dead (see Acts 2:24-31), the disciples had not understood (20:9). They returned to the place where they were staying (20:10), no doubt still trying to piece things together and figure out exactly what had happened.

20:11-13 But Mary was still standing there crying (20:11). She couldn’t grasp what had happened. Then inside the tomb she saw two angels . . . sitting where Jesus’s body had been lying, asking her why she was crying (20:12-13). The only thing she could conclude was that someone had taken away Jesus’s body, and it had broken her heart (20:13). Resurrection was not an option she had considered.

20:14-16 Then she saw another person—only this one turned out to be Jesus (20:14)! He also asked her why she was crying (20:15). But she didn’t recognize him and supposed he was the gardener (since the tomb was in a garden, 19:41). She even wondered if he’d moved the body (20:15). The Son of God, the King of creation, had risen from the dead. And he was mistaken for a gardener! But when she heard the man say, Mary, she finally knew this was her Teacher (20:16). She hadn’t recognized him. But when he spoke her name, her eyes were opened. “The sheep follow [the shepherd] because they know his voice” (10:4).

20:17-18 Once Mary had Jesus, she didn’t want to let him go. But he told her not to cling to him because he had not yet ascended to the Father. In other words, he said, “I haven’t gone anywhere yet. There’s no need to hang on to me.” Instead, he wanted her to go tell the good news to his disciples (20:17). The risen Lord Jesus gave Mary Magdalene the privilege of going to his disciples on that first resurrection morning and telling them, I have seen the Lord! (20:18).

Don’t overlook that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was first announced by a woman. In first-century Judaism, a woman’s testimony wasn’t considered credible. So if the disciples were going to invent a resurrection story, they wouldn’t choose women to be the first to see and declare it. Such testimonies would have been rejected by the Jews. Thus, the fact that the first witnesses were women (see Matt 28:1-10) provides evidence for the historicity of the resurrection. It also affirms the communication gifting of women as long as the gift is exercised under the legitimately authorized spiritual authority and covering of the home and the church (see 1 Cor 11:5, 10).

20:19 That evening . . . the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked. They were in hiding because they were afraid of what the Jews might do to them. But at that moment, Jesus came and stood among them. Don’t miss what John tells us: the doors were shut and locked. Nevertheless, Jesus joined them.

Now, clearly, Jesus had a physical body. Mary touched him (20:17); Thomas would touch him (20:27); later he would eat with his disciples (21:12-13). He was no mere phantom (see Luke 24:39). He had risen bodily from the grave. But his resurrected body no longer had material limitations. Apparently, he could pass through locked doors if he wanted. And later he would ascend on a cloud into heaven (see Acts 1:9). The apostles tell us that our resurrection bodies will be like his (see 1 Cor 15:45-57; Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2).

20:20 The disciples were surely reeling as Jesus stood before them alive. But he showed them his hands, with nail wounds, and his side, which had been pierced by a Roman spear (see 19:34). Those scars had not been removed from his resurrection body. One day, then, all believers will see them. They will serve as eternal reminders of the cost of our redemption, and they will forever give us reason to praise him. Jesus will be the only scarred person in eternity, a perpetual reminder of the price paid for our redemption.

20:21 He said, Peace be with you. Why? Because they were terrified of the Jews. That’s why they had locked the doors (20:19). Yet Jesus gave them his peace. Notice that their situation hadn’t changed. The Jewish leaders would still oppose them in the days ahead (see Acts 4:1-24; 5:17-42). But Jesus can speak peace into trouble. Though your circumstances are unstable, he can provide the internal stability your heart needs.

As the Father has sent me, I also send you. The Father had sent the Son on a kingdom mission to atone for the sins of the world so that all who believe would receive eternal life. Now the Son was sending his disciples on a kingdom mission to proclaim that message and make other disciples throughout the world (see Matt 28:16-20).

20:22-23 Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, Receive the Holy Spirit (20:22). Most interpreters recognize this as an anticipatory act. The Holy Spirit would come to dwell within the apostles on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-21), enabling them to accomplish the mission on which Jesus was sending them. Here, then, Jesus was visibly and physically preparing them for what was spiritually to come. They would be granted kingdom authority, so he told them, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained (20:23). The Holy Spirit would enable them to authoritatively declare that God had indeed forgiven the sins of any who believe in Jesus.

20:24-25 One of the disciples, Thomas, had not been present on that evening (20:24). When they told him about what happened, he refused to believe unless he could put his finger into the mark of the nails and put his hand into Jesus’s side (20:25). This is why, in church history, he earned the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” But this isn’t a fair appraisal of his character. Previously, Thomas was prepared to go into hostile territory and die with Jesus (see 11:7-8, 16). So it’s clear that a believer can be spiritually strong one moment and spiritually deflated the next.

20:26-28 Jesus responded to Thomas’s unbelief with grace. He gave the struggling disciple the opportunity to do exactly what he had wanted: to touch the wounds of his risen Savior (20:26-27). Then Thomas made a profound confession: My Lord and my God! (20:28). He acknowledged Jesus’s deity. As John says at the beginning of his Gospel, “The Word was God” (1:1).

20:29 Notice that Jesus did not correct Thomas but accepted his worship, saying, Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. God wants you to believe in him before you see him work in your life.

20:30-31 Jesus performed many other signs . . . that are not written in this book (20:30). In other words, John tells his readers that the things he has written down in his Gospel are merely the highlights! Nevertheless, these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (20:31).

Here John gives us the evangelistic purpose for his book. He wrote it “so that” readers might believe that Jesus is the Messiah—the God-Man—who died as a substitutionary atonement for sins and that, by believing, they will receive eternal life—that is, an eternal relationship with God and an ever-expanding experience of his reality in our lives (see 17:3). That’s what salvation is all about.