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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

John 20

 

 

Verse 1-2

Easter Morning.

Mary Magdalene at the grave:

v. 1. The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher.

v. 2. Then she runneth and cometh to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid Him.

"The first day of the week," according to Christian reckoning; for with Christians all days are Sabbaths and none especially holy, excepting inasmuch as they are sanctified and hallowed by the Word of God and prayer. This was on Sunday, the third day after Jesus had been laid into the grave. On this morning several women from the circle of the disciples started out early for the grave of the Lord. Of these the evangelist John mentions Mary Magdalene especially, the story of the others having been narrated by the earlier gospel-writers. It was so early that the shadows of dawn were still lying over the country, though the light was breaking. When Mary Magdalene, in the company of the other women, came within sight of the tomb of the Master and saw that the heavy stone which fitted into the groove before the opening, and served in a way to lock the entrance, had been taken away, she waited for nothing more. The other women stayed and investigated the matter more closely, but Mary ran back to the city as quickly as she could. Whether by design or by accident, she struck Simon Peter and John first of all. Hastily she poured into their ears what she had seen, as well as her deductions there from; for she seems to have been certain that the sepulcher had been violated by someone, perhaps even by the authorities, who had reasons of their own for removing the body of the hated Nazarene. Hastily she states her message: They have carried away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have placed Him. She was not alone in her anxious fears, the other women agreeing with her. We here see the result of following one's own conjectures and surmises instead of paying strict attention to the Word of the Lord. If all the disciples, men and women, had closely remembered the prophecies of the Lord concerning His Passion and resurrection, they would have saved themselves many a bitter heartache. Christians must learn ever better to search the Scriptures, to turn to the Word in all the various vicissitudes of life, instead of following their own ideas and feelings.


Verses 3-10

Peter and John at the grave:

v. 3. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher.

v. 4. So they ran both together; and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher.

v. 5. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

v. 6. Then cometh Simon Peter, following him, and went into the sepulcher, and seeth the linen clothes lie,

v. 7. and the napkin that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

v. 8. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher; and he saw and believed.

v. 9. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

v. 10. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

The message of Mary Magdalene stirred both Peter and John to quick action. They immediately made up their minds to find out the truth of this most astounding matter. At first the two disciples ran together, side by side. Soon, however, the younger and nimbler John outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first. But here he hesitated. He may have had some presentiment of the miracles which the disciples were soon to witness. He could not quite make up his mind to investigate more closely. He merely stooped down and peered into the semidarkness or the tomb. He could make out the linen grave-cloths with which the body had been wound, but nothing more; and he could not make up his mind to enter. But when impulsive Peter came along, there was not a moment's hesitation. He went into the tomb; he viewed closely the grave cloths, assuring himself of their identity; he noted also the sudary, or napkin, which had been wrapped about the head of the Master. It struck him that this cloth was lying apart from the other linen wrappings, in a place by itself, and that it was folded or rolled together. All these significant discoveries he undoubtedly communicated to John, until the latter finally was induced also to enter and to see the evidence presented in the tomb with his own eyes. It was certainly surprising enough to find all the cloths laid aside with such apparent care, with no sign of haste, as would have been the case had the sepulcher been violated and the body stolen. What John saw drove him to one conclusion: Jesus Himself had laid aside these wrappings; He had risen; He had returned to life. And this conviction forced itself upon John, although he, with the other apostles, at that time did not have the proper understanding of the Scriptures concerning the resurrection of the Master, namely, that it was a necessary part of the scheme of redemption, that it must happen to complete the work for the salvation of mankind. And the same facts, as related by these faithful witnesses, without the slightest indication of having connived to cheat the world: the empty tomb, the careful order in the grave, the absence of any and every indication of robbery, should convince any reasonable critic of the resurrection of Jesus. That is the faith of the Christians; upon the miracle of Christ's resurrection they place their own hope of salvation. The grave had to give up its prey. The victory of the grave is turned into defeat; the sting of death is taken away. Ours is the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord. For the time being, at least, John was satisfied in his own mind that his Master had returned to life. And the time was coming when the last remnant of spiritual darkness was to be removed from his mind. Meanwhile the two disciples went away more slowly and thoughtfully from the grave than they had come. They returned home or to their place of lodging in Jerusalem. Note: Reasonable proofs of the resurrection of Christ can never give the heart the firm faith which is necessary for salvation. Under circumstances it is a good thing to be able to stop the mouths of the gainsayers by showing them the foolishness of their position; but the most convincing arguments are the statements of Scriptures themselves.


Verses 11-13

Mary Magdalene and the two angels:

v. 11. But Mary stood without at the sepulcher, weeping; and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher,

v. 12. and seeth two angels in white, sitting, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

v. 13. they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.

When Peter and John had run to the tomb in such great haste, Mary had followed more slowly, arriving in the garden only after Peter and John had again left. Her mind was still filled with her first conclusion, namely, that the removal of her Lord's body was due to grave robbery. And she had given way to a fit of unrestrained weeping. She still remained outside the tomb in helpless and hopeless despair. Incidentally, however, she is prompted to look whether the body of the Lord is really gone from the sepulcher, or whether the whole matter is only a kind of bad dream. So she stoops forward to look at the place where the men had laid the Lord in her own presence, with her tears still flowing freely. The love which Mary Magdalene had for the Master is a fitting example for the believers of all times. "This Mary is a fine, beautiful type and an excellent example of all those that cling to Christ, that their hearts should burn in pure and true love toward Christ. For she forgets everything, both her feminine modesty and person, is not bothered by the fact that she sees the two angels before her, does not remember that Hannas and Caiaphas are filled with hostile wrath. In brief, she sees nothing, she hears nothing but Christ only. If she could only find the dead Christ; then she would be perfectly satisfied. And the evangelist for that reason has described it so diligently in order that we, who preach and hear it, may also, according to this example, gain desire, love, and eagerness toward Christ the Lord. " When Mary stooped forward to look into the grave, she saw two angels in white garments sitting there, the one at the head, the other at the feet, where the body of the Lord had been lying. They were sitting there with a purpose; they were ready to give information concerning the truth of the resurrection to all that sought it. They may have been the same angels that had been present at the earlier hour, or they may have been new messengers of the Lord, become visible for the occasion. It seems that there must have been almost a friendly rivalry in heaven for the privilege of being the guardians of the grave of the Lord, just as at the birth of Christ the multitude of the heavenly host came down to the fields of Bethlehem to sing their anthem of praise. Sympathetically the angels asked Mary: Woman, why weepest thou? Their purpose was to open her eyes that she might see and hear the truth. But Mary's grief is too deep to notice the presence of glorious comfort. She was surrounded with evidences of her Lord's resurrection which should have caused her to leap and shout with joy, and here she gives the angels the hopeless answer: Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have placed Him. The case of Mary is repeated in the experience of Christians the world over. If they are visited with any real or supposed trouble, they are immediately so engrossed with their grief that they fail to see the multitude of evidences all about them that Jesus lives, and that therefore nothing can really matter. To trust unfailingly in the resurrected Savior, that must be the aim and the steady endeavor of the believers in the Lord.


Verses 14-18

Jesus appears to Mary:

v. 14. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

v. 15. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, saith unto Him, Sir, if Thou have borne Him hence, tell me where Thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away,

v. 16. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

v. 17. Jesus saith unto her, Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.

v. 18. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things unto her.

While Mary was still in the midst of her bitter complaint to the angels, she may have heard some noise behind her, a footstep or a rustling, which caused her to turn around quickly. She noticed that there was a man standing there, but somehow she did not associate this man with her Lord. It was not merely that her eyes were dim with tears, but that Jesus now appeared in a form from which all lowliness had vanished, and which was also glorified, spiritualized. As Jesus chose, He could make Himself visible and invisible, be present now in one place, now in another; He could either assume the old familiar aspect in which His disciples knew Him, or He could appear before them as a stranger whom they in no way associated with their former Master. So it was in this instance. Even His voice He had changed. His sympathetic question, therefore, couched in the same words as that of the angels, only causes a new outburst of resentment and grief. She took Jesus for the gardener, the man that certainly should know something about the disappearance of her Lord. If he was responsible for the removal of the body, he was to give her the necessary information at once, in order that she might go and carry Him away. The idea may have struck Mary that the gardener had seen fit to take the body to some other grave nearby, because this tomb was to be used for another body. Note the love of Mary: Weak woman that she is, she will undertake single-handed to carry the body of her beloved Lord away. But Jesus felt that the time had now come for Him to reveal Himself. In the old familiar voice which all the disciples knew and loved, He spoke only that one word: Mary! The form of the speaker might have been unfamiliar, His body might have been glorified. but by that voice Mary would have known Him anywhere. From the depths of a heart transported with joy her shout broke forth: Rabboni; my Master! He was there, alive and well; and nothing else mattered. And she may have thought that the old, familiar intercourse would again be resumed, that she could touch Him, assure herself definitely as to His identity. But the time of intimate companionship between Master and pupils had now gone by. Jesus warns her not to touch Him; this was not His permanent return to visible fellowship with His disciples. He gives her the reason for this prohibition: Because I have not yet ascended to My Father. After His glorification had been fully accomplished, His disciples might enter into closer communion with Him than ever before, in the manner which He had explained to the apostles in the last discourses on the evening before His death. By His ascension, Jesus entered into the full and unlimited use of His divine majesty, and thus also of His omnipresence. And therefore He is now closer to His disciples than ever before. By faith all the believers have Jesus in their own hearts, a much more intimate, a much closer communion than ever that was which obtained between Christ and His disciples in the state of His humiliation. It is a wonderfully beautiful message which Jesus incidentally entrusts to Mary, which she should commit to His brethren: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God. There is a world of comfort in the word "brethren. " "These words should fittingly be written with great and golden letters, not simply on paper nor into a book, but on our hearts, that they might live therein: Go, and tell My brethren. That surely should be a word to make a Christian joyful, and to awaken and stimulate love to. ward Christ. If one would consider rightly how rich and comforting these words are, he would become intoxicated for joy and desire, as Mary Magdalene was intoxicated with devotion and love toward the Lord. Who of us would believe certainly and firmly in his heart that Christ is his Brother, he would come along with leaps and say: Who am I to be honored thus and to be, and be called, the son of God? For I surely am not worthy that such a great King and Lord of all creatures should call me His creature. But now He is not satisfied to call me His creature, but wants me to be and be called His brother. Should I, then, not be happy, since that Man calls me His brother who is the Lord over heaven and earth, over sin and death, over devil and hell, and all that may be named, not only in this world, but also may be in that to comet?" The words of Jesus are unmistakable: He gives to His believers the high and great honor, placing them absolutely on the same level with Himself. That is the glorious fruit and result of His work of redemption. Mary Magdalene, for her part, now believed. She was convinced that the resurrection of Jesus was the seal of the completed redemption. And she brought her message to the disciples. She stated, without doubt or hesitation, that she had seen the Lord, and that these were His words to them. A true believer will always testify of the faith in his heart. And if, in addition, such a person is commissioned and called by the Lord to make known the fact of the resurrection to others, the testimony should be made with all gladness and with the assurance that carries conviction.


Verses 19-23

Two Appearances to the Assembled Disciples.

On the evening of Easter Day:

v. 19. Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

v. 20. And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.

v. 21. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you; as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.

v. 22. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost;

v. 23. whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Jesus gave His disciples sufficient evidence of His resurrection. On that very same day, in the evening, after He had appeared to various individuals and small groups, He showed Himself alive to ten of the apostles. They were assembled together in some house in Jerusalem and had carefully locked the doors, lest a sudden attack of the Jews make them, too, victims of their hatred. But for the glorified body of the resurrected Lord neither locked doors nor heavy walls were a hindrance. His being was no longer circumscribed by the confines of space and time. They had been alone but a moment ago, and now Jesus stood in their midst. And His was the greeting of the resurrected Savior: Peace to you! The purpose of His coming was now realized, the enmity between God and man had been removed. God was reconciled to His wayward and erring children. The peace of the risen Lord is the comfort and joy of all believers. "For that reason Christ became man, for that reason He died on the cross and arose on the third day, in order that, wherever our hearts, the devil, and the whole world cry about and against us because of our sins as though we were not at peace, that God did not want us, -that He might say to us: No, dear man, not thus, but peace with thee, God is not angry; on that account do not fear, for thy sins I have paid, death I have killed. In this be comforted, that I have done it; then all warfare must have an end and peace must come. " When the disciples were surprised at the risen Lord's coming and filled with superstitious fear, as though they were seeing a ghost, Jesus showed them His hands, where the marks of the nails were still plainly visible; and His side, where the soldier's lance-head had left a deep gash. This demonstration convinced the disciples; they were glad that they actually saw the Lord. It was the same body which had hung on the cross and thus earned and merited redemption for all men. His resurrection is not only a guarantee of our resurrection, but also of the fact that our vile bodies will be changed to conform to His glorified body, and that we shall be able to recognize our loved ones in heaven. Thus there is great, overwhelming joy for all Christians in the appearances of the risen Lord. Jesus now repeats His greeting as an introduction to a commission which He is about to give to them as His representatives. As the Father had sent Him into the world, so He now transferred the authority and the power of His calling to them. They were to carry the message of the peace of Easter into all the world. He sent them forth to preach the Gospel. For that is the summary and content of the Gospel, peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And having named them thus as His messengers, as His ambassadors, the Lord formally inducts them into this office. He breathed on them, thus symbolizing the transmission of, and actually conveying to them, the Spirit who lived in Him, and whom He had the authority to bestow. The power of the Spirit was to be with them in the Word: If you remit the sins of any, they are remitted to them; if you retain those of any, they are retained. Thus they received the power to pronounce forgiveness of sins; thus was the Office of the Keys instituted. The forgiveness of sins which Jesus earned by His suffering and death should be imparted and given to men through the announcement of the Gospel, publicly and privately, to single persons and to large congregations. This is the absolution of sins. That is Christ's will and commission: His disciples should pronounce forgiveness, should take away sins, and then everyone should know and believe that by such absolution his sins are actually forgiven and taken away. The Gospel is not only a report of the salvation earned by Jesus, but it is the application of this message, the imparting of the forgiveness of sins. Only he that will not accept this forgiveness, this mercy, this salvation, thereby excludes himself from the grace of God. If such a one is told this fact, his sins are thereby retained. This power and authority was not the sole prerogative of the apostles, nor is it now in the hands of any hierarchy, but it accompanies the Gospel, it is contained in the commission of Christ to all His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations. To the believers in general, to the Christian congregation that proclaims the message of the Gospel, the keys are given. The pastors that exercise this authority do so in the name of the congregation.


Verses 24-29

The unbelief of Thomas and the second appearance to the Eleven:

v. 24. But Thomas, one of the Twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

v. 25. The other disciples, therefore, said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.

v. 26. And after eight days again His disciples were within and Thomas with them; then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

v. 27. Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side; and be not faithless, but believing.

v. 28. And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.

v. 29. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Thomas, called Didymus, the Twin, loved his Lord with true devotion, as his words on the occasion of the death of Lazarus had shown, Joh_11:16. But he seems to have been of a rather sanguine temperament, with some leanings toward melancholy. He must be either in the highest realms of bliss or in a state of lowest dejection. For some reason he had not been present with the other disciples on Easter evening, and therefore had not seen the Lord. The other disciples were eager with their news: We have seen the Lord. They were convinced of His resurrection, they knew that their Master was living, they had received His commission. But Thomas shook his head in unbelief and voiced his doubt in most emphatic words. The proof which he demanded for the resurrection of the Lord was of a most inclusive and conclusive nature. He not only wanted to see the risen Master, he was not satisfied with merely looking at the impressions or prints in His hands where the nails had been driven through the flesh; he also wanted to back up the evidence of the one sense by that of another, he wanted to feel the wound, lest he be led astray by an illusion. And he wanted to place his hand into the gaping wound of His side where the lance-head of the soldier had entered. Those were the conditions under which he proposed to believe the fact of the resurrection, and they certainly show the extent and depth of his doubt. Jesus, of course, in His omniscience, was fully aware of this attitude of Thomas, and He arranged a second appearance before the apostles, apparently for the express purpose of convincing Thomas and making him a proper witness of the resurrection. It was eight days afterward, on the following Sunday evening, that the disciples were again assembled, Thomas in this case being in their midst. And Jesus repeated the methods of the previous occasion, stepping into the circle of the apostles while they were sitting behind locked doors, and giving them the greeting of peace. And now the Lord, turning directly to Thomas, complied with, all the conditions as the doubting disciple had made them, inviting him to extend his finger and investigate both His hands, and to reach forth his hand and put it into His side. But Jesus adds, in the form of an impressive warning: Be not unbelieving, but believing. His faith, which was wavering badly and was having a hard battle with doubt, should not succumb altogether. The Lord was willing enough to have the test made if there were but chances of upholding a disciple in his trust in Him. Thomas, however, had no need of a test now that he saw his Master before him and heard His loving voice. His wavering faith returned to its full strength with one joyful strengthening by the word of the Lord, giving utterance to a wonderful confession concerning Jesus. In the tone of the firmest conviction Thomas exclaimed: My Lord and my God. His faith not only knows that his Lord and Master is alive, is risen from the dead, but he knows this Man to be the true God. By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power. His resurrection is a seal of the completed redemption and reconciliation of the world, by which also His deity is established beyond a doubt. It is a miracle which only God can perform, to take His own life out of death. Jesus Christ is not only divine, but He is God Himself, true God with the Father and the Spirit. If this man, our Brother according to the flesh, were not true God, there would be no comfort for us in His death. But now there can be no doubt as to the complete and perfect redemption; for God in Christ, Christ as true God, was able to conquer all enemies, and to rise from the dead, and will live and reign through all eternity. But to gain the blessings of the resurrection of Jesus, it is necessary that every believer learn to say with Thomas: My Lord and my God. That is the nature of saving faith, that it clings to Jesus, the Savior, and appropriates all His redemption with a certain, joyful trust. Jesus now gently reproves Thomas for his foolish and dangerous doubt. Since he had seen his risen Lord, he believed and thus was satisfied and happy. But it is true at all times that the bliss and happiness of perfect faith does not rest upon the evidences of the senses nor upon feelings and reason, but upon the Word of the Gospel. The apostles, the witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, 1Jn_1:1-3, have recorded the facts concerning Jesus, His person and His work, and the salvation which we have in His name. Through this Word we have communion with our Lord; in the Word He comes to us and lives in us. Thus we have His full blessing. "He that wishes to know what we should believe, let him hear what Thomas believes, namely, that Jesus is the Son of God and the Lord of life, who will help us out of sins and death unto life and righteousness. Such trust and hope is the true faith, not only to know it, but also to accept it and to comfort one's self over against death and sin. Where there is such faith and trust, there is salvation, and our sins should not hinder us; for by faith they are forgiven."


Verse 30-31

The purpose of the Gospel of John:

v. 30. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book;

v. 31. but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, ye might have life through His name.

After recording the indisputable evidences for the greatest miracle of all and the reception of the miracle by the disciples, John here summarizes and states the purpose of his gospel. He expressly writes that he has not nearly exhausted the recital of Christ's miracles, but has given an account of only so many as are necessary to convince the readers of the gospel and work faith in Jesus the Christ, the Savior, the Son of God, in their hearts. For; this is his thesis, as he distinctly asserts. His aim was to prove the deity of Christ and to work conviction in the hearts of men by such; proof, in. order that they might believe and by faith have the everlasting life which is in Christ and is given by Christ to them that believe in His name. That name, Jesus Christ, is not a mere appellation, a meaningless sound, but is itself glorious, beautiful Gospel which gives to the believers eternal life.

Summary After Mary Magdalene and then Peter and John have inspected the empty grave, Jesus appears to Mary, on the evening of Easter Day to the disciples without Thomas, and eight days later to them all, with the comforting evidence and message of the resurrection.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on John 20:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/john-20.html. 1921-23.

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