Three days after Jesus was buried, John provides some details of the happenings surrounding Mary’s visit to the tomb, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene (read more about her in Luke 8:2) went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb” (20:1). Thinking that someone had removed Jesus’ body from the tomb, she ran to tell Peter and John who, in turn, ran to see the place where Jesus had been buried (20:2-4). Upon arriving at the empty tomb, they both discovered no body, but only linen cloths “and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself” (20:5-7). The neat condition of the cloths and handkerchief reveal that Jesus’ body had not been stolen, but miraculously removed through His grave clothes. This was not some act of hurried grave robbers. When John saw the empty tomb and the clothing which had been left behind, he believed that Jesus had risen (20:8), even though the disciples did not know Scripture taught that Jesus would rise again (20:9; Psalm 16:10). When John wrote this gospel, the church would have already grasped the concept and significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul alluded to the major significance of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, ” But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [died]. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” Since Christ’s body was resurrected, those who believe in Him will also be reunited with their bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-58) at Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Peter and John left the tomb and returned to their houses (20:10), but Mary came there probably unaware of what the disciples had discovered, so John writes that she stood outside the tomb weeping until “she stooped down and looked into the tomb” (20:11). To her surprise, two angels were sitting where Jesus had been laid and asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (20:12-13a) In response to the angels’ question she answered, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him” (20:13b). As she spoke these words, “she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Him. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” (20:14-15a) At first Mary did not know to whom she was speaking and thought it was the gardener until Jesus called her by name and then “she turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher)” (20:15b-16). Upon realizing that Jesus had risen from the dead, Mary was obviously joyful, but He warned her saying, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’” (20:17). Jesus told her “do not cling to me” because He knew that He would only be with them temporarily. He had promised the Holy Spirit would come after Him and that the Spirit would bring them help and comfort (John 14:16-18). Following her conversation with Jesus, Mary Magdalene goes and tells the disciples “that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her” (20:18).
Jesus first appeared to Mary, but then He appears to His disciples who were gathered in a secure place “for fear of the Jews” (20:19a). The Jews had just killed their leader so now they feared for their own lives, but “Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (20:19b). Jesus then showed them His hands and feet which had been nailed to the cross (20:20a; see Luke 24:39) in order to prove that it was truly Him. The disciples rejoice in Jesus’ appearance to them (20:20b) and then He says, “‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (20:21-23). Jesus’ words were a foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit who would soon be sent to indwell them (Acts 2:1-4). There is much misunderstanding about Jesus’ statement about retaining sins. He was not giving His disciples the right to forgive sins. Only God can forgive sin. However, the disciples could know if a person was forgiven based on their response to the work of Jesus on the cross.
Eight days later, Jesus appeared again to His disciples and this time Thomas, one of Jesus disciples, was with them (20:24, 26). After having been told about Jesus’ resurrection he had said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe (20:25). Knowing that Thomas was skeptical about His resurrection Jesus says, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (20:27). Immediately Thomas expresses his belief in Jesus. Realizing that Thomas only believed when he was able to see the resurrected Christ with His own eyes, Jesus speaks these words of reward to those who will believe without visible proof, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:28-29).
Finishing out John 20, the reader is reminded of John’s objective in writing his gospel, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:30-31). Everything John had written in his account of the life and ministry of Jesus came down to one purpose: so those who read about Jesus will believe in Him as their Savior and receive eternal life. Have you believed?
Dear God, help me to grasp the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thank You for giving John the words to write so that these miracles could be preserved for all generations!