John 20:1–31—Jesus Appears to His Disciples
1 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.
11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in.12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.
Points of Interest
‘folded up and lying apart’—if someone had stolen the body, I wouldn’t think that they would leave the grave clothes behind, or that they would bother to neatly fold the head piece. Of course, it’s also a little remarkable that, fresh from resurrection, Jesus would stop to fold his clothes. I guess he’s the tidy type.
‘It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him’—I could imagine that Mary would think he’s a ghost, but I’m surprised that she simply doesn’t recognize him at all. Apparently, the resurrected Jesus looks different.
‘“Mary!” Jesus said’—his look is different, but there’s something familiar in how he says her name. It reminds me of the shepherd and the sheep: ‘He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out … and they follow him because they know his voice’ (10:3-4).
‘Peace be with you’—I imagine this is more than Jesus being polite. I bet that if I were behind locked doors, hiding from the authorities, when a dead guy—or anyone really, but even more a dead guy—suddenly popped up in the middle of the room, I would freak out a little. I picture eleven screaming men, Nathanael diving under the table, and Peter whipping out his sword to chop off another ear or two. Jesus is trying to calm the situation.
‘Receive the Holy Spirit’—maybe it’s not so much that Jesus decides to drop in on the disciples before he goes, but that his trip to the Father was a quick day trip. He’s been there and back already. Jesus had told the disciples before he died that he would be going to the Father to get the Holy Spirit for them (16:6), and here the Spirit is. This is the moment to which the entire story has been building. Jesus is finally baptizing the disciples with the Holy Spirit, just as John the Baptist had foreseen (1:32-33).
‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven’—Jesus had promised that once they were filled with the Spirit, they would do even greater things than him (14:12). I had imagined he was talking about doing even more impressive miracles. While I’m sure that is a big part of it, that doesn’t seem to be the only thing Jesus has in mind. The ‘greater thing’ is forgiveness. It makes sense. All along, Jesus has been saying that his miracles are merely signs of the actual, greater, spiritual work he wants to do.
‘If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’—this seems like a scary amount of power to put into anyone’s hands. I wonder if Jesus doesn’t so much intend this as something the disciples can hold over other people as it’s a responsibility he’s giving them: ‘I’m putting this job completely in your hands. Make sure you don’t forget anyone’.
‘the ones recorded in this book’—it sounds an awful lot like John is bringing things to a close, but as we’ll see there’s one chapter left. Because of this seemingly concluding statement, and because chapter 21 takes little account of the fact that Jesus has already appeared to the disciples twice in chapter 20, many modern scholars think that chapter 21 is a later alternate ending, and that this was the original one (New Bible Commentary). However, unlike with the woman caught in adultery (chapter 8), there’s no manuscript evidence for that hypothesis (again New Bible Commentary). As far as we know, John’s gospel was only ever distributed with this somewhat peculiar double-ending. Perhaps a way we can look at it is that chapter 21 is what we call nowadays an epilogue.
Taking It Home
For you: Check out the three step action plan Jesus has upon first seeing his disciples again:
1.) He offers them peace; 2.) they are filled with joy; and 3.) they receive the Holy Spirit.
Use that as your prayer guide today. Take some time to let the peace Jesus is offering settle on you. Ask Jesus to fill you with joy. Tell him that you want his joy to be what gets you through the day. And finally ask Jesus for more of the Holy Spirit. Tell him you want to receive as much of the Holy Spirit as you can possibly contain.
For your 6: Just as Jesus actually has to call Mary specifically, by name, before she recognizes that He is standing right in front of her—ask Jesus to call each of your 6 by name.
For our church: Listen again to John’s amazing words that all of this was ‘written so that [we] may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.’ It seems like he knew we might forget or need help to keep believing. Ask Jesus to help our church continue believing resoundingly in him. Pray that we would continue pursuing Jesus with the same faith and vigor as we did when our church first started—or when you first started attending.