Last time, our lesson closed when Pilate finally sent Jesus away to be crucified. Now we pick up the story after the crucifixion has been completed, on the first day of the new week with Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb very early, while it was still dark and found that the tomb was open and the body of Jesus was gone. John has already used “darkness” in this Gospel as a metaphor for disbelief several times, and this is no different, for upon discovering the empty tomb neither Mary nor Peter and John believed that it indicated Jesus had risen from the dead, for they had not grasped this concept in advance. As the sun rose and light began to spread across the land, this would change…
The drama begins early in the morning, before sunrise when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty. She rushes to tell the disciples that the body has been moved or stolen and Peter and John race to the scene where they confirm that the body is gone. John completes this part of the story by pointing out in v. 9 that none of them understood from Scripture that Jesus would rise from the dead. I might point out that they also didn’t understand this from the things that Jesus had told them. It would be beneficial for all of us to understand that we have the same problem today very frequently because we are used to thinking in earthy terms. Very few Christians today, at least in America, have what could be called a Biblical world view, instead most of us have a cultural or secular world view which inhibits our ability to see things as they really are, and we need to be aware of this to avoid misinterpreting not only Scripture but the world around us. As for Scripture in this regard, take a look at what Peter said in Acts 2:25-32: Obviously, he understood what Scripture taught on this point by the Day of Pentecost.
Mary had found the tomb empty, had run back to tell the disciples, Peter and John had come running and confirmed the tomb was empty… and had in turn gone back to their homes leaving Mary at the scene crying. Still crying, she looks into the tomb again and this time sees two angels inside; there is nothing in the text to tell us that she understood that they were angels. They ask her why she is crying, and her reply demonstrates that she has no concept of their double meaning; she is crying because someone has stolen the body. She did not comprehend the second meaning that there should be no cause for crying any longer: He has risen! She turns and sees Jesus standing there but does not recognize Him. Her lack of recognition is interesting, for it shows us that there is nothing remarkable in His appearance. That she doesn’t realize who He is shouldn’t be that shocking, for I cannot recall a time in my own life in which I would ever expect to see someone walking around and talking when I had gone to visit their grave. She assumes He is the gardener.
Jesus asked her why she was crying and then who she was looking for, a question He had already asked twice on the night He was arrested. She answers Him by asking about the whereabouts of the body. Jesus calls her by name; the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads then out” (10:3). Immediately she is “called out” of her unbelief!
Jesus says a curious thing at this point, “do not hold on to me.” A close look at this reveals that His meaning is something like: Do not try to hold me here on earth for I have to return to my Father (go to prepare a place for you 14:2) go and tell my brothers that I am going to prepare their co-inheritance. She returns and tells them these things; note that John goes to lengths to make sure we know who was the very first to give testimony about having seen the risen Christ.
The scene shifts from the tomb to a place in town where the disciples, excluding Thomas, are gathered behind closed and locked doors: Suddenly Jesus is in their midst. He simply says “shalom” and lets them see His wounds; they are thrilled!
This is no social call; Jesus is all business, giving them three pieces of vital information. First, He tells them that He is sending them out just as the Father has sent Him. They are to carry on His mission of salvation into the world, now that they have seen all that they had seen. Second, He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. This appears to be a foreshadowing of the Day of Pentecost. It appears to be a foreshadowing as there is no apparent reaction to this act yet, but when the Spirit is poured out in Acts 2 the reaction is dramatic. Third, He gives them an awesome charge saying that if they forgive anyone their sins they are forgiven, if not they are not forgiven. Obviously much has been written and speculated upon with regard to this, but I can’t help thinking about what Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 16:18 ff. saying that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” I can’t help noting that it was Apostles who wrote what would be required to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus in the New Testament…
20:24-31 is the story of “Doubting Thomas” who had stated that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had arisen from the dead until he put his fingers into the wounds on his body. Jesus suddenly appears in the room and offers Thomas the chance, Thomas replies with a hugely significant statement of faith: “My Lord and my God.” This is of course the highest statement of faith found in the New Testament, theologically speaking, equating Jesus not only as Lord but also as God. Jesus quickly bursts his bubble by pointing out that anybody with a brain would understand that with what Thomas has seen, but many more will come to that understanding based only upon the testimony of others. John ends the chapter by telling the reader the purpose for the book: Many wonderful things were done by Jesus that are not recorded here, but what is recorded is recorded so that the reader might come to the same conclusion based upon John’s eyewitness testimony that Thomas came to by seeing Jesus after the resurrection.