John’s Theme: John 20:31 … these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
In presenting the resurrection facts, John’s intent is: 1) to continue to give credible eye witness reports and 2) to continue to show us the relationships that Jesus had with various of his followers. The quiet tone he had established as he explored Jesus’ character in chapters 13-19 continues. As many commentators say, John the writer undoubtedly was aware of the other three gospel accounts. I like to think, however, that his selective choice of detail was primarily for his own literary and spiritual purposes (John 20:31), rather than to avoid “repetition” of the others.
Here are the witnesses and the way Jesus interacted with them.
I. Mary Magdalene
A. In John’s gospel, only mentioned once prior to the resurrection: present at the crucifixion with Mary the mother of Jesus, John, and other women
B. Luke alone (Luke 8:1-3) provides further information about Mary (apart from the crucifixion and resurrection).
1. She had been one of a group of women who had traveled with Jesus and his band, ministering to him (serving, providing food, taking care of needs) at their own expense.
2. Jesus had cast out from her seven demons (vs 2).
C. Mary and the Resurrection (John 20:1-2; 11-18)
1. The events
a. Mary came early to the tomb, while it was still dark. Finding the stone taken away, she ran to Simon Peter and to John, reporting that unknown persons had removed the Lord’s body from the tomb and laid it in an unknown place.
Photo by Christina Wilson
Photo by Christina Wilson
See the article at this link: Disc or Cork?
b. Later, after Peter and John had examined the empty tomb for themselves, Mary returned alone. Grieving deeply, Jesus appeared to her, first of all in John’s gospel. Jesus gave her exact instructions about going to his brothers and delivering a message from him to them. (John 20:17)
c. She went and followed Jesus’ instructions.
2. What can we surmise from Mary’s encounter with Jesus? (John tells only the bare facts, giving no interpretation. Anything we add regarding motive and the like is supposition from the details given.)
a. Jesus does not despise women–he rather honors them. (Jesus appears to Mary first. Additionally, John the writer, reflecting Jesus’ attitudes, presents her testimony as credible and important.) Ultimately, God himself determined that Mary’s account, as it appears, was to be included in his holy word.
b. Is it possible that Jesus appeared to Mary first because she was in a great deal of emotional pain?
c. Jesus honored Mary by giving her an important task and a very important theological message to give to the others.
d. Jesus ministered to Mary’s emotional distress in the same way–he kept her busy in service to himself.
e. Why did the angels announcing Jesus’ resurrection also appear to Peter and John, who had arrived at the tomb earlier?
3. Possible interpretation of vs 17, “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”‘”
a. According to William Hendriksen, writing about vs. 17, Mary has been singled out to “announce to them what great event in the history of redemption is about to take place” (Hendriksen, Vol. 2, 456).
b. Hendriksen (See above, 455) also interprets Jesus’ command to Mary not to cling to him, as being not about not touching him, but as a statement that there lies something better for her in the future. The outward, physical (concrete) relationship that she and everyone else had enjoyed with him was soon to be replaced by something far better–the opening of the doorway back into intimate spiritual fellowship with God, especially as (implied) his ascension would prepare the way for the sending of the Holy Spirit to live within them (as opposed to the external, physical touch.) In my own paraphrase of Hendriksen’s meaning, Jesus was saying, Mary, I know you want to hold onto me tightly, as you did in the past and because you don’t wish to lose me again, but there is something far, far better planned. You must move forward and deliver the message I have for you, in anticipation of this better way for all of you to relate to me.
II. John and Peter
The hasty trip to the tomb in response to Mary’s message (John 20:2-10)
A. They found the tomb empty, as Mary had said.
B. They saw no angels, unlike Mary’s later visit (see above).
C. John ran faster but waited for his elder.
D. Peter did not hesitate but went right in.
E. John realized that the empty tomb, its complete orderliness, and the positions of the grave clothes indicated that Jesus had arisen–therefore, he was the Christ, the Lord, the Son of God who conquered death (Selah!!) and everything he had said about himself was all true. John’s faith grew by “leaps and bounds” upon this realization.
III. The disciples together except for Thomas (John 20:19-25)
A. The disciples, still highly fearful of the religious leadership, the religerati, had locked themselves together on the evening of Resurrection Day, when suddenly, Jesus appears in their midst, not having knocked or visibly come from anywhere. This is a mystery. He gives them his peace: 1) now there is legal peace between them and God the Father, and 2) the subjective peace that follows full realization of the legal peace, and 3) peace in knowing that he, the Christ, their Lord, friend, and brother, is alive, risen.
B. Jesus shows them his hands and his side, demonstrating: 1) that he was not a spirit only, but that his body was very real and concrete, 2) that his was the same body, his body, as before the crucifixion, and 3) that he was certifiably who he claimed to be. It is interesting that although he had been resurrected, the marks of the nails and the hole from the piercing of his side were still present. Perhaps this had specifically to do with the certification of number 3.
C. After the disciples rejoiced, Jesus repeated his gift of peace to them, as though perhaps they were still in shock (See “Further Thoughts” below).
D. Jesus directly commissions them to continue the very work, minus the atonement, that the Father had commissioned him to do. This work involves manifesting the nature and character of the Father to the world for the purpose of bringing in the full number of preordained believers. Love, holiness, mercy, and justice are among the Father’s attributes that Jesus commissions his disciples to go out into the world to manifest.
E. Verses 22 and 23 are too complex for a complete discussion within this outline. In brief, I see in these verses the delegation of Christian authority to practice the gift of spiritual discernment. All Christians and all people sin. Among those who sin are some who grieve and repent over their sin, not wishing to harm others. These show a humility toward the leaders of the church and are for the church, both local and universal. Others sin because they have bad intentions toward other believers and certain people generally and toward the church itself. These have no desire and no intention of repenting. They do not mean well, but they are rebellious and wicked in intent. The assignment Jesus the risen Lord gives these original disciples, as the new appointed leaders of his church, is to sort out who is who in the interest of protecting and sparing the sheep of the flock as shepherds. I believe Jesus is giving them direction on how to nurture, grow, and protect the flock, rather than placing them in an authoritarian position of judgment. God in Christ is the Judge, and he needs no help in that. To show that the spiritual discernment is a gift, Jesus blew on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
ESV John 20:22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
The following is a set of mixed verses that indicate the twin principles of 1) forgiveness of sins for the purpose of nurture and growth, and 2) keeping a watchful and corrective eye upon those whose intent is to divide and disrupt the church and the true word of God: Galatians 6:1; II Timothy 4:2; Titus 3:10-11; Romans 16:17-18; 2 John 9-10; and I Corinthians 5:12-13.
F. Scripture at this point devotes two full verses to Thomas, called the Twin, known by us as Doubting Thomas. He had not been present at this first manifestation of Jesus to the gathered group, and he rejected their combined testimonies to him! He laid out his own terms, and stated that unless this “supposed” (implied) Jesus met his, Thomas’s, criteria, he would not believe.
The disciples had been through an extraordinarily topsy-turvy week emotionally and spiritually.
1. The triumphal entry had encouraged their dreams of a great kingdom on earth in which they would play chief roles, because they were Jesus’ close followers.
2. Jesus’ announcements and predictions in the upper room not only smashed these hopes, but caused sorrow, grief, and confusion.
3. The events of the crucifixion intensified and seemingly brought to reality what before had been doubts. Hendriksen makes a strong case that none of the disciples in any way, shape, or form had been expecting the resurrection.
4. The empty tomb and the reports of “Jesus sightings” had turned their world upside-down again, as faith, logic, reason, and emotions tried to quickly grapple with and accommodate the new information.
5. Jesus’ first appearance to the gathering of disciples startled the disciples tremendously.
In view of the above, can we forgive the disciples, including Thomas, for perhaps what may seem like a slow response on their part? Would any of us have done better? What is my own miracle-expectation level?
IV. The disciples together including Thomas (John 20:26-29)
A. Hendriksen writes, “The condescending manner in which Jesus dealt with Thomas certainly indicates that he is still the same Jesus. His love has not lessened…he deals very gently with him.” (Hendriksen, Vol. 2, 465) [How many of us are glad that God wanted to include Thomas’s story in Scripture?]
B. Jesus certifies that it is indeed himself by showing his powerful omniscience, as he had done many times while with them before his crucifixion. The following chart is also from Hendriksen in the same citation as Point A above.
John 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
A. John as a writer and eyewitness to the events he describes points out in verse 30 that he has been selective in the events and dialogue he chose to report.
B. At the same time, he adds credibility to the other three gospels, each of whose writers chose to include more of Jesus’ miracles, details of his travels, and character sketches and events involving secondary characters.
C. John in verse 31 directly states his criteria for selecting the material he did. Further, he gives his goal for having written the entire book.
D. Thomas, as one who doubted perhaps more than the others, is one who came to a solid belief that the Jesus he knew is the Christ, the Son of God. This belief gave life to Thomas in Christ’s name.
E. Thomas response exemplifies John’s stated goal (Hendriksen, Vol. 2, 466)
John 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
I. A group of disciples (John 21:1-14)
A. In these detailed verses, John describes the third occurrence in his gospel of Jesus’ revealing himself to his disciples while they are gathered in a group.
B. We see Peter as the leader, and John as the one with the greater spiritual insight.
C. We see the whole group experiencing real time in a life example the difference between being attached to Christ the vine and heading out on their own (See John 15:1-8, the vine and branches discourse).
D. We see Peter’s compliance to one who at first appears to be unknown. Compare this with the prior time when Jesus had asked him to cast his net on the other side of the boat, Luke 5:4-8.
II. Jesus and Peter (John 21:15-19)
A. Even though through the prior section it becomes apparent that Peter is the leader of the small band, at least informally, in the dialogue in this section, Jesus performs what is usually termed “Peter’s reinstatement.”
1. Jesus formally gives Peter his task as shepherd-servant within Christ’s kingdom. Jesus’ purpose is not to make of Peter a great man, but to impress upon him his further plans for him to help, nurture, and grow the sheep of his kingdom.
2. With that end in mind, Jesus brings Peter back to the place of acceptance and inclusion among the group of chosen, hand-picked disciples. Not that Jesus himself had ever excluded Peter from that group, but Peter’s own experience of dismal failure in the area of loyalty to Christ had caused him to feel guilty and unworthy of such a role.
3. Jesus offers Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Jesus, one for each time that Peter had publicly denied him.
4. Jesus continues to insist throughout that because Peter loves him (Jesus himself, who knows all things, has no doubts about Peter’s genuine love for him) he must do for Jesus what Jesus himself will no longer be able to do in physical presence: love, care for, feed, and protect his sheep. Jesus demonstrates his acceptance of, love for, and confidence in Peter by assigning him a large and most important task central to Jesus’ own heart.
B. Jesus also prophesies to Peter that he will yet be given another opportunity to die for Christ–“you will stretch out your hands” is a euphemistic way of referring to crucifixion in the literature and speech of those days.
III. Jesus and Peter and John (John 21:20-23)
A. The prior statement had closed with Jesus’ commandment to Peter, “Follow me.” As Peter is doing so physically, he turns and sees John also following. (It is interesting that John did so apparently on his own–he did not need a personal command nor invitation to do what appears to be natural for him.)
B. Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” There are at least two ways of reading Peter’s motives–one negative and one positive. Given Peter’s recent humbling in having denied his beloved Lord three times, and given that throughout this gospel Peter and John appear to be friends, I receive the positive explanation.
1. Negatively, Peter could have been asking about John from a motive of selfish and jealous pride, having so recently been not only reinstated by Christ but singled out by him to perform an important task. A paraphrase of his thinking might be, Lord, you commanded me by name to follow you, and here is this man whom you did not command also following. Is he welcome?
2. Positively, Peter’s attention was focused on the more recent prophecy that he would die by crucifixion and he is concerned that his young friend might die the same way. So he seeks a foretelling from Jesus concerning John.
3. That the positive interpretation seems most likely is further indicated by Jesus’ reply to Peter, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” This seems a mild rebuke to Peter to keep his own eyes focused on the task that Jesus gave to him, rather than being distracted by whatever may happen around him.
C. In verse 23, John corrects a rumor that had widely spread among the Christian family that he would not die. In so doing, he demonstrates his skill of careful listening to the exact words of Christ.
D. This incident should serve to increase the reader’s confidence in John’s narrative.
E. The section in its entirety also teaches how easy it is, even among disciples, to arrive at wrong interpretations of Jesus’ words. This should be a lesson against becoming didactic on theological positions, even though using scriptural texts as “proofs.” John has just demonstrated how easy it is for God’s words to be misinterpreted.
IV. John’s final words (John 21:24-25)
A. Once again, John speaks to his trustworthiness as the writer of this gospel.
B. He also reminds the reader of the selectivity he has chosen to use in presenting the gospel, while at the same time testifying to the greatness of Jesus Christ incarnate.
Link: A Subjective Look at Thomas