John 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
Jesus’ body was prepared for burial rather quickly (John 19:38-42), so Mary came with spices to complete the task more thoroughly (Mark 16:1). Seeing the stone removed from the entrance of the tomb, she assumed that Jesus’ body had been taken away, or stolen. She reported this to Peter and John, who came to the tomb to investigate. They found it empty, except for the strips of cloth in which Jesus’ body had been wrapped (John 20:6-7).
This detail is important since, if Jesus’ body had been taken away or stolen, they would not have taken the time to unwrap the grave clothes. Either Jesus removed them himself, or his body passed through them. This was enough to convince John that Jesus rose from the dead (John 20:8). He did not understand it fully, but he became the first person to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
John 20:11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.
She was not weeping because of Jesus’ death, but because his body was missing. The death of a loved one is traumatic enough, but a missing body makes it even worse. Then Mary looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot (John 20:12). This reminds us of the two angelic images over the ark of the covenant, where God was uniquely present (Exodus 25:22). But God had now come out to make himself known.
John 20:16 Jesus said to her, Mary. She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, Rabboni! (which means Teacher).
Mary had mistaken Jesus for the gardener, but when she heard him pronounce her name, she recognized him. This is a wonderful mark of authenticity because loved ones often pronounce our names in a recognizable way. Anyone can pronounce my wife’s name, but no one says it exactly the way I do. Mary recognized her teacher by the loving way he said her name.
John 20:17 Jesus said, Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
Mary likely fell at Jesus’ feet in worship (Matthew 28:9). Having lost him once, she may have held on as though she would never let him go. Jesus’ ascension was several weeks away, so he assured her that he would not be leaving quickly. There were more appearances to come.
John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week . . . the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders.
Although Jesus had risen from the dead, the Jewish leaders might accuse the disciples of stealing his body (Matthew 28:13). This could lead to their imprisonment, so the disciples met behind locked doors and probably discussed leaving town. Jerusalem was a dangerous place for them to be.
John 20:19b Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you!
The disciples were so overwhelmed, they thought they were seeing a ghost. To show he was not a ghost, and because he was probably hungry, Jesus asked for something to eat. The disciples gave him some fish, which he ate in their presence (Luke 24:37-39).
Jesus’ resurrection body was similar to the one he had before, but not exactly the same. He was able to eat, but he could also pass through doors and disappear (Luke 24:31). He later appeared to the Apostle John in transcendent glory (Revelation 1:12-16).
This may provide a glimpse of our future bodies as well. [He] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21), wrote Paul. And [W]e know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him (1 John 3:2), wrote John. Our resurrection bodies will be similar to the ones we have now, but very much improved.
John 20:22 And with that he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit.
This is difficult to understand until we recall what God did for Adam. [T]he Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Adam could have lived forever, but he went the way of sin and death. So after Jesus conquered death, he gave the Spirit of life to his disciples. God breathed life into Adam, and Jesus breathed the Spirit of life into his own. He came to the dying, and gave us the Spirit of life.
John 20:24-25 Thomas . . . was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord!
The death of Messiah was such an emotional blow to Thomas, that he refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, with anything less than absolute proof. Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe (John 20:25b), he said.
A week later [the] disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them (John 20:26). It had been a long seven days for Thomas. If Jesus revealed himself to others, why not to him? Had he fallen out of favor? Had he been rejected? Had Jesus turned away from him? How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1), wrote David.
John 20:26b Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you! Then he said to Thomas, Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.
Jesus seemed to be absent when Thomas spoke his words of doubt, so Jesus repeated them plainly. That way, Thomas would know that Jesus heard him, even when he could not see him. This should comfort us whenever Jesus seems absent, and challenge us whenever we doubt.
John 20:28 Thomas said to him, My Lord and my God!
This is the climactic sentence of John’s gospel, and the clearest assertion of Jesus’ divinity anywhere in the Bible. It is also why Jesus appeared to the others while Thomas was absent. Few of Thomas’ words are recorded in Scripture, but My Lord and my God weigh more than a million pounds. Jesus put Thomas through a season of doubt, to draw out his statement of faith. This was a blessing to Thomas, as well as to all who believe.
John 20:30-31 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John emphasized the importance of believing in Jesus Christ by using the word believe, in its various forms, over seventy times throughout his gospel. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already (John 3:18). Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36). And if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins (John 8:24).
An argument was developed, years ago, that shows the wisdom of believing in Jesus Christ. If you believe in Jesus Christ and are right, you will gain everything when you die. If you believe in Jesus Christ and are wrong, you will merely die. Since everyone is going to die, the only reasonable thing is to believe in Jesus Christ (Pascal’s Wager, revised).
Reflection and Review
Why did Jesus’ grave clothes convince John that Christ had risen?
Why didn’t Jesus appear to Thomas at first?
Why is it wise to believe in Jesus Christ?