The Agora
Bible Commentary

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John 20

Joh 20:1

As soon as the Sabbath restrictions were past, ie after sunset on Saturday -- the 3 women (close companions of Christ in life) prepare to give their last token of love to their Lord in his death. Early on Sunday morning, at first light in the east, they set out for the tomb. (Did the women make two separate visits to the tomb? See Mat 28:1n).

EARLY: "Those that seek me early shall find me" (Pro 8:17, KJV).

THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK: Lit, "day one of the seven". The beginning of a new creation week! Cp Gen 1: a new creation, "day one"! God had said, "Let there be light", and now there was! Cp Col 1:15-18: Jesus the beginning of the new creation! To the disciples, this day (when they understood it later) would mark the beginning of their new lives. This new "Sun" of the morning was to drive away the dark shadows of lost hope, and create a new spirit within the disciples (Isa 9:1,2; 2Co 4:6).

In referring to the morning after the Sabbath, John is noting the link with the offering of the firstfruits (Lev 23:10-15). Jesus was the firstfruits of them that slept; his resurrection is our guarantee (1Co 15:23).

MARY MAGDALENE WENT TO THE TOMB: Probably with the other women, Mary and Salome (see "we" of v 2; Mat 28:1; Mar 16:1; Luk 24:1), but perhaps she hurried on ahead of the others.

AND SAW THAT THE STONE HAD BEEN REMOVED FROM THE ENTRANCE: Lit, "taken, lifted away from". Not just moved to one side, but carried completely away (ETRL 75), out of the trough where it rested. Prob rolled some distance away and laid flat (cp Mat 28:2; Mar 16:4).

Was ever a mountain so "large" as the great stone which sealed Christ's tomb? Truly, as miracles go, no miracle has been or could be so great as the one that caused this "very large" stone to be removed, and thus proclaimed Christ's tomb to be open... forevermore.

Jesus had told his followers, "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him' " (Mar 11:23). Of course, we have trouble with moving literal mountains, even as we have trouble explaining this passage.

But seen from a spiritual perspective, isn't the greatest "mountain" of difficulty -- which no man can move -- death and the grave? Engineers with bulldozers and explosives can move even literal mountains. But who among them can move the mountainous "stone" that covers the grave? Not a one!

And even the disciples of Jesus could not move such a stone from the mouth of his sepulcher... not at that time; they were weeping in sorrow, and hiding in fear. It was the faith of Jesus alone -- though he was dead and unconscious in the tomb -- that moved the hand of the angels of God, and rolled back the stone. It may be said that the greatest miracle that Jesus ever performed was this: the blood of this wholly righteous man cried out from the depths of the earth, and the Father heard!

Do WE, today, have faith to move mountains? The answer, I believe, is really another question: 'Do WE have faith that the greatest "mountain" has already been moved?' "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mar 11:24). Our faith may be -- not just a prospective -- but also a retrospective faith: we look backward, and ask, 'Do I really believe that the "mountain" has been moved?' If we truly believe that, then -- it is absolutely sure and certain -- ALL THINGS are possible for us!

Joh 20:2

...Mary Magdalene, seeing the empty tomb, assumed that his dead body had been stolen away, and she ran to tell Peter and John. (The position of the stone, well away from the door -- v 1n -- convinces Mary the tomb has been abandoned: Dobson 111.) Notice that she has no thought of a resurrection. (Meanwhile, the other women, following behind, had climbed the slope to the tomb's entrance, and met the angel of glory: Mar 16:2-6).

Joh 20:3

Vv 3-9: After the women go their way (vv 1,2), with the message from the angel (Mar 16:2-7), Peter and John, having been informed by Mary Magdalene that the body has been stolen, but not yet knowing of the angel's revelation to the others, run to the tomb.

Joh 20:5

Perhaps at this point John thought the body still remained in the grave-clothes. In the Garden tomb, the head-cavity is not visible from the window (Dobson 126). John had to go inside, after Peter, for a closer inspection, before he could believe.

Joh 20:6

THE STRIPS OF LINEN LYING THERE: In ct resurrection of Lazarus, who came forth with graveclothes still on (Joh 11:44).

Joh 20:7

THE CLOTH WAS FOLDED UP BY ITSELF, SEPARATE FROM THE LINEN: The head wrappings were separated from the body wrappings. (Ct with theory behind the Turin Shroud; surely the best evidence for the Turin Shroud being a fake is that it is all in one piece.) In symbol, the head (Christ himself) -- being the firstfruits -- was raised before the body (ecclesia). Also, the whole scene in the tomb was one of order -- there had been no hasty action; but rather as if one had risen from sleep and laid his bed clothes aside, to be dressed in other garments! (Besides, who would unwrap a corpse before carrying it off?)

Joh 20:8

Vv 8,9: How did John believe, if he did not understand the Scriptures? John believed in the resurrection of Jesus based simply on what he saw, not on a full understanding of the Scriptures concerning the resurrection. (This would only come later.) What did he see that convinced him? He saw the linen burial clothes lying within the tomb. He understood that no men in their right senses would first unwrap a corpse and then carry it away. The presence of the wrappings was the plainest proof that no one had carried away a dead body. Instead, Christ had risen, leaving behind the old grave clothes, and putting on new robes (provided by the angels, or his old robe newly washed: Joh 19:23,24?).

Joh 20:10

Vv 10-18: Jesus and Mary Magdalene: the Bridegroom meets the Bride! Song 2:11-13,14; 3:1-4; 4:7 (made clean by his sacrifice: Eph 5:25-27).

BACK TO THEIR HOMES: Or, simply, "back to their own", ie friends and relatives, to tell them...

Joh 20:11

...Peter and John go their way (v 10). Now Mary, following behind the men, returned the second time to the tomb (still unaware of the angel's appearance to the other women: Mar 16:2-7). There was no reason why she should linger here, except that this was the spot where she had last set eyes on her friend. In the past two days she had shed tears as never before, and now more than ever they refused to be restrained. If only she might be able to express her love in some last act of devotion to his poor dead body! But even this was denied her, for apparently his body had been stolen away. To this pathetic figure of sorrow and despair was soon to come one of the greatest privileges of all time: the first sight of the resurrected Lord! Within moments, the deepest despair was to give way forever to the greatest joy! (Cp with Song 3:2-4.)

Joh 20:12

Those who STAND in the presence of God (Luk 1:19) SIT in the empty tomb!

AT THE HEAD... AT THE FOOT: The tomb of the risen Christ is the true mercy-seat, the true Most Holy Place. Here is the ark of the covenant, and the mercy-seat, flanked by the cherubim, where the blood of the one true sacrifice has been poured out.

Joh 20:13

Apparently she does not realize that these two "men" are angels!

WHY ARE YOU CRYING?: There would have been cause for weeping if the tomb were NOT empty!

Joh 20:14

BUT SHE DID NOT REALIZE THAT IT WAS JESUS: 'Perhaps this is one of Joseph's men...'

Joh 20:15

Vv 15,16: She seems to have expected no help nor comfort in response to her appeal, for she is already moving away when one spoken word ("Mary") stops her in her tracks. Does not that voice have a strangely familiar ring? She turned around, stared in shock, and then in a moment was at his side -- grasping for the evidence by which to turn the impossible into certainty, and all the while incoherent with joy. There was nothing to say except one exultant word of greeting and self-reproach: "Rabboni!" The silent road from which no traveler returns had yielded back the one whom she longed to see above all others, and how blind she had been not to recognize it sooner. A wild jumble of emotions rushed through her mind, and all the while she sought added assurance by the evidence of her senses.

THINKING HE WAS THE GARDENER: Jesus WAS the "gardener", the last "Adam" in another "paradise"!

THE GARDENER: Whom she would have seen, previously, with Joseph (Luk 23:55).

AND I WILL GET HIM: "And I will take him away" (AV). How could she have accomplished such a feat? Perhaps she could not have done it, but she would have died trying!

Joh 20:16

See Lesson, Mary at the Garden tomb.

Joh 20:17

"Do not keep clinging to me." Jesus had other duties to perform: Christ the High Priest prepared to present to God the tokens (wounds?) of his sacrifice in the true "Most Holy" -- heaven itself! An ascension at that very time -- to God's very presence -- to show the tokens of the perfect sacrifice: the wounds in his hands and side. Antitype of the Day of Atonement, and entrance into the Most Holy Place: Lev 16.

DO NOT HOLD ON TO ME: She was already holding his feet (cp Mat 28:9). The words here sig "do not cling to; do not fasten upon me": implying a continuance therein (Ellicott, Vincent, Thayer). Sw used 1Co 7:1; 2Co 6:17; 1Jo 5:19. And so Mary (the second "Eve") is separated from the side of Jesus (the last "Adam")!

I HAVE NOT YET RETURNED TO THE FATHER: Obviously, something Christ would do very soon, not 40 days later.

GO... TO MY BROTHERS: The sanctifier and the sanctified are all of one (God), and therefore brethren (Heb 2:11-15; Psa 22:22; cp also Psa 122:8; Rom 8:29).

MY FATHER AND YOUR FATHER... MY GOD AND YOUR GOD: A great distinction between Jesus' Father and God, and theirs!

Joh 20:19

Jesus in the midst of: (1) thieves: Joh 19:18; (2) his disciples: Joh 20:19; (3) the teachers of the Law: Luk 2:46; (4) two or three: Mat 18:20; (5) the lampstands: Rev 1:13; (6) the throne: Rev 5:6.

PEACE BE WITH YOU: Reaffirming his last message before his death: Joh 16:33.

Joh 20:22

HE BREATHED ON THEM... THE HOLY SPIRIT: Typ the first creation. Here the Elohim of God breathes new life into the new creation. A giving of Spirit in general sense to all ecclesia: cp Mat 16:19; 18:18. Typ infusion of Spirit-nature in future.

Joh 20:23

Contrary to Catholic teaching: there is special ref to apostles only (vv 20,22). In NT, there is only one sacrificing priest -- Christ (Heb 10:12) -- and a universal priesthood of believers (1Pe 2:9), but no special priestly, clerical class.

"Forgive" = (poss) preaching forgiveness of sins. "Not forgive" = not preaching the gospel of forgiveness to men! Cp Mat 16:19. (Thus the great commission of the Synoptic gospels is given at end of John also.)

Joh 20:25

SO THE OTHER DISCIPLES TOLD HIM, 'WE HAVE SEEN THE LORD!': Details in Luk 24:36-48: the two on road to Emmaus.

Joh 20:27

It is Christ himself! Not an apparition: "Touch me!" (Luk 24:39,40).

STOP DOUBTING AND BELIEVE: "We sing 'None have such reason to be glad'; and we read 'Great peace have they that love Thy law'; and we recognize the wisdom of the exhortation and command 'Rejoice always, and again, Rejoice!' We 'believe' these things: why then do we not manifest our faith more consistently? Why are we ever troubled and worried and fearful and dissatisfied and unhappy? Truly there will be trouble and sorrow and disappointments and discouraging circumstances. These are recognized, necessary ingredients in the present training and disciplining and purifying and perfecting of God's eternal family.

"The training is rigorous, but the purpose is known, and the necessity is realized, and the result is glorious. Why are we not then in constant transports of joy? Is it that we don't really believe what we say we 'believe'? Is the present a little more glamorous to us, and the future a little more hazy, than we care to admit? If we believe what we say we believe, and are doing what we know we should be doing, then the only possible result and reaction must be deep, constant, spiritual joy. If it isn't, let us adjust our way of life and way of thinking until it is" (GVG).

Joh 20:28

MY GOD: One who acts on behalf of God may be called "God": (a) angels: Gen 16:13; 18:13; Exo 23:20,21; Hos 12:3,5; (b) men: Exo 22:28; 22:6; 21:8 (elohim); Psa 138:1; Joh 10:34 (cit Psa 82:1,6); (c) the Messiah: Isa 8:13,14; 61:1,6; 64:4; 65:16; Zec 12:10; Mal 3:1; Joh 20:28; Heb 1:8.

Joh 20:29

..."Doubters" (like Thomas) help us strengthen our faith. These fishermen were not starry-eyed visionaries, willing to believe anything and everything. They were down-to-earth, matter-of-fact men... such men would never be carried away by hysteria into worshiping a phantom. They would never put their lives on the line because of a hoax.

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN AND YET HAVE BELIEVED: "The last and greatest of the 'Beatitudes'!" (MP 356).

Joh 20:31

Purpose: two-fold: (1) Personal belief, and (2) possession of life. "Believe" occurs 98 times in John, and only 35 in other 3. "Life" (zoan) occurs 36 times, and only 17 in other 3.
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