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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

John 20

 

 

Verses 1-31


The Resurrection

1-10. The Resurrection. Visits of Mary Magdalene, and of Peter and John to the tomb of Jesus. (For the Resurrection appearances see on the synoptics, especially on St. Matthew; for the visit of Mary Magdalene see Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1, Luke 24:10 for that of St. Peter see Luke 24:12.) This section, peculiar to the Fourth Gospel, is marked by specially vivid features. The race to the tomb in which John, the younger man, outruns Peter; the impetuous nature of Peter, who enters first; the more reflective character of John, who reads the meaning of the sign of the graveclothes and believes first; the details of the scene inside the sepulchre; the state of mind of the disciples, who had not yet learnt to expect a resurrection;—all these, as if caught on the plate of a photographic camera, the memory of the aged Apostle faithfully retained. Here is either absolute truth, or artistic realism of a kind unexampled in ancient literature.

2. We know not] Observe the plural, which corroborates the synoptic representation that other women, besides Mary Magdalene, visited the tomb (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1). For the details see on Mt.

8. And he saw and believed] Why did John believe? Probably because the body of Jesus had miraculously passed through the thick folds of the graveclothes, leaving them unmoved and untouched, just as, on the evening of the same day, the risen Lord appeared in the midst of the disciples, when the doors were shut. It was clear from the position of the clothes, which had not been unwound, that no human hands had removed the Lord's body, and further, since His body had passed unimpeded through solid matter, that it was now a spiritual and glorious body, not bound by the laws of terrestrial matter. Jesus had risen, therefore, not to an earthly but to a heavenly life.

11-18. The appearance to Mary Magdalene. This is different from that of Matthew 28:9, but identical with that of Mark 16:9.

12. Two angels] as in Lk. Mt and Mk mention only one. St. John notices their exact attitude and position.

15. Supposing him to be the gardener] Many did not recognise our Lord at first, because His appearance had undergone a certain change (Matthew 28:17; Mark 16:12; Luke 24:16, Luke 24:37; John 21:4).

16. Rabboni] Edersheim regards this as the Galilean form of 'Rabbi.'

17. Touch me not, etc.] 'I have not come to renew the old intimacy, but am on the point of returning home to My Father. When I am enthroned in heaven, you shall touch Me once more, not however with the physical touch of your hands, but with the spiritual touch of a living faith.' I ascend] viz. after forty days. But many recent writers maintain that our Lord ascended immediately after the Resurrection, that He was in heaven during the forty days of earthly manifestation, and that the event called 'the Ascension' (Acts 1:9) was only His final farewell to the disciples, not His entry into glory. My Father, and your Father] Observe that Jesus never says 'Our Father,' or 'Our God,' as if He stood in the same relation to God as other men. The Lord's prayer is no exception, for it is a prayer of the disciples, not of Jesus Himself.

19-23. Jesus appears in the evening to the disciples: see Luke 24:36; (Mark 16:14). According to St. Mark, Jesus appeared 'to the eleven as they sat at meat.' St. John is more precise, noting the absence of Thomas. St. Luke says that Jesus appeared 'to the eleven and them that were with them.' By this time our Lord had appeared, not only to Mary Magdalene and the women, but also to the two disciples walking to Emmaus, and to Peter.

19. The doors were shut] A clear indication that our Lord's body had become a spiritual body, and was no longer subject to the ordinary laws of matter, or the conditions of space: cp. John 20:26 Luke 24:31, Luke 24:36 and Luke 24:51; RM. Yet there is no suggestion of an unreal or phantom (Docetic) body, for He offers it to be handled (Luke 24:39; John 20:27); and even eats before them (Luke 24:42; Acts 1:4; (RM) Acts 10:41). It is to be presumed that Jesus closed the interview by mysteriously vanishing. Peace] The usual Jewish greeting, but how full of meaning now that the Cross had made peace between man and God!

21. Sent.. send] The Gk. words are different: cp. John 17:18.

22. Breathed on them] The word for 'breath' and 'spirit' is the same in Gk. By this action our Lord showed how closely the Holy Spirit is connected with His person, being in fact 'the spirit of Jesus.' The Church has never ventured to imitate this action, but has substituted in ordination the laying-on of hands.

Receive ye the Holy Ghost] i.e. for the purpose of consecration to the ministerial office. The Spirit was undoubtedly given at this time; and yet, we must suppose, not in its full power till Pentecost: see John 7:39; John 16:7.

23. Whosesoever sins ye remit] This includes all the means by which, through the ministry of the Word, souls are reconciled to God; e.g. baptism, the preaching of repentance, and moral discipline, as well as absolution (see on Matthew 18:18).

As others were present besides the Apostles (Luke 24:33), it has been suggested that the ministerial powers here mentioned were conferred not upon the Apostles only, but upon the whole Church. St. John, however, who alone mentions the communication of ministerial powers, mentions the Apostles only as receiving them. It is possible indeed that our Lord's commission to baptise and teach, etc., was given to the corporate body of believers (see Matthew 28:16-20), but it was clearly intended to be normally exercised through an authorised ministry.

Christians of different communions and schools of thought are not entirely at one as to the precise meaning of this verse, and their explanations of it differ very considerably, at least in detail. A full account of the numerous interpretations cannot be given here. If must suffice to indicate very briefly, for the information of the reader, the two main views which are taken of the nature of the power to 'remit' and 'retain' sins, which the risen Lord here communicates to His Apostles, and through them to His Church. (1) Many believers see in it nothing but the power to exercise ecclesiastical discipline. They regard sins as 'retained,' when a notorious offender is excommunicated, i.e. deprived for a time of the sacraments and other ministrations of the Church, and 'remitted,' when, as a penitent, he is restored once more to full communion. On this view, the forgiveness which the Church is empowered to bestow, is only a human forgiveness,—the forgiveness of the injured and justly offended Christian brotherhood. (2) Other believers hold that something more is intended. Impressed with the mysterious solemnity of the words themselves, of their occasion, and of the symbolical act which accompanied them, remembering also that our Lord more than once promised that the discipline of the earthly Church, when rightly exercised, should be ratified in heaven (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18 : cp. 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 2:10), they believe the meaning to be that God Himself (normally and usually) ratifies in heaven the remitting and retaining of sins by the earthly Church, though He still, of course, retains in His own hands the power to remedy all injustice, and to grant pardon (where penitence is deep and real), even beyond the covenanted channel.

When the important and farreaching qualifications with which the second view is now generally held are duly considered, it will probably appear to many readers that the two views are not so much fundamentally opposed, as expressive of two different aspects of truth. At any rate there is at present a strong tendency among theologians representing the two points of view to come to a better understanding by frank mutual explanations.

25, 26. The doubts of Thomas. Thomas in a sense represents the spirit of our age. He will be satisfied with nothing less than the evidence of the senses.

25. The print of the nails] It is clear that Thomas had witnessed the crucifixion.

26-29. Second appearance to the Apostles. Climax of the Gospel in the Confession of Thomas.

26. After eight days] i.e. on the next Sunday, both Sundays being counted in. Here we have the beginning of the observance of the Lord's Day, as the weekly memorial of the Resurrection. The other NT. references are Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10. Within] viz. in the same upper room in Jerusalem; not, as some think, in Galilee. Thomas with them] His presence shows a willingness to be convinced. The doors being shut] see on Revelation 1:19.

27. Probably Thomas did not avail himself of our Lord's invitation.

28. My Lord and my God] The climax of the gospel. The unbelief of Thomas passes into faith in Christ's true Deity. Observe that Jesus accepts and approves the confession of Thomas.

29. It is better to be convinced by moral and spiritual evidence than by the evidence of the senses.

30, 31. Conclusion of the Gospel.

30. Many other signs] probably refers to signs done after the Resurrection. Those done before the Resurrection were done in the presence of the people.

31. The author's purpose in writing is to produce faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and as the Son of God, i.e. as divine: see v.

28. Life] i.e. eternal life.

Through his name] i.e. through union with Him as the incarnate Son of God. His 'name' is His nature as the God-Man.

Here the Gospel originally closed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on John 20:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/john-20.html. 1909.

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