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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

John 20

 

 

Verses 1-31

THE GRAVE: OPEN AND EMPTY!

(vs.1-10)

Though others besides Mary of Magdala went together to the grave early on the first day of the week, yet in John she is singled out, a woman devoted, but incredulous, not able to take in the wondrous fact that her Lord was raised from the dead, despite the evidence, until she sees Him, and even then she does not realize the significance of this marvelous resurrection from among the dead.

The stone was removed, she knew not how. Nothing is said here of the soldiers who guarded the grave, for it is not worthy of notice in a Gospel that deals with God's sublime work altogether above man's opposition and unbelief. She runs to tell Simon Peter and John, not the facts, but the only supposition that occurs to her; that someone had taken the body of the Lord from the grave (v.2), "and we," she says (indicating that others were with her), "do not know where they have laid Him." Resurrection was far from her mind, and in fact also from the minds of all the disciples, which gives clear proof that there was no collusion to fabricate a false story to the effect that the Lord was raised. They would not believe it till they had absolute evidence.

Peter and John ran together to the grave, John arriving first and looking in, while Peter went boldly inside. The evidence before their eyes was startling, for John followed Peter in, to see the linen clothes lying undisturbed, evidently just as they had been when wrapped around the Lord's body. They had not been unwound, but he had risen out of them. The napkin for His head was in its place, still wrapped together (vs.6-7). Very clearly it was no human who had interfered here.

Nothing of this had even occurred to Mary, but John "saw and believed." It is interesting that verse 9 is added here, but it tells us that, though the Lord had told them a number of times that He would be raised, their minds were closed to His words through the blindness of natural thought. Then John and Peter know nothing else but to go home. For what did His resurrection mean? Would He again appear to them or not? They might have known, but had missed what He had before told them: they were not prepared.

THE RISEN LORD APPEARS TO MARY MAGDALENE

(vs.11-18)

But Mary's heart was desolate. Home evidently held no such interest for her as did the person of the Lord, even in death. Out of her seven demons had been cast (Luke 8:2), and now she had likely nothing to return to. Magdala had no attraction for her. She knows not where to look for Him whom her soul loved, except at the grave where she had last seen His body laid. As she had no doubt done more than once before, she stooped down to look into the open grave, and this time she sees two angels in white, sitting at the head and at the feet of the place His body had been (vs.11-12).

But she is unimpressed by so marvelous a sight, for she is preoccupied with the unspeakable sorrow of having lost her Lord. Note here the angelic guarding of the grave of the Lord Jesus. An angel had rolled back the stone from the grave also, to reveal that the Lord had been raised, and had sat on it (Matthew 28:2). Even in death angels had guarded His tomb, as is pictured in Song of Solomon 3:7-8, though the soldiers thought they themselves were doing so. But as to His resurrection, no one is to be allowed to disturb the precious evidence of that glorious fact until it is established beyond doubt.

To their question, "Woman, why are you weeping," she replies, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him" (v.13). She had not the least interest in angels: she turned her back on them.

As in her sadness Mary turns away from angels, her sorrow and the devotedness of heart had brought the Lord near, though she did not know Him. She had known Him after the flesh, but was not prepared to know Him in resurrection: the earthly relationship was all that she understood. The Lord asked her, not only why she was weeping, but "whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she wanted only to learn of Him where the Lord's body was, and she would take it away. She seems to think it unnecessary to explain who the "Him" is. Nor does she even think of how she would take the body away, or where. In her disconsolate grief, she turns away even from Him!

But one word from His lips changes everything, "Mary." He calls His own sheep by name, and she knows His voice. Turning again, she says, "Rabboni," which is more than simply "Rabbi" (teacher) but "my great Teacher" The wonder of the miracle of His resurrection does not even occur to her: all she thinks of is Him whom she loves now there before her eyes. No doubt involuntarily she went forward to touch or grasp Him.

But He tells her, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father." On the basis of an earthly relationship she can no longer touch Him. His death has set that aside. Compare 2 Corinthians 5:16. But He announces to her a new relationship, and gives her the great honor of carrying this message to those whom He calls "My brethren." He was to ascend to "My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God" (v.17). For in resurrection He is the Head of a new creation, not the first creation of which Adam was head and failed, but one in which God is now in a vital way Father to all who know His blessed Son. It is a spiritual and heavenly relationship, yet He does not say, "our Father," for His unique Sonship must always have prime place, and a place set apart from all others. The term "My Father" involves the fact of the deity of the Lord Jesus, while "My God" involves His Manhood. "your Father" implies that believers are partakers of the divine nature by new birth. "Your God" involves our identification with Christ as His brethren in manhood.

The Lord was virtually telling Mary that, though He was all that she had on earth, yet now she was no longer to have even Him on earth, but she would have Him in heaven, in the Father's own presence, all her hopes and her blessings now centered there, together with all the brethren of the Lord. Obediently she bore this wonderful message to the disciples (v.18).

John does not speak (as Matthew 28:9 does) of the Lord's meeting the women who held Him by the feet, nor of His appearing to the two Emmaus disciples, or to Peter (as Luke does in Luke 24:15; Luke 24:34). It is a difficulty to distinguish the exact chronological order of all the events following the Lord's resurrection, but each Gospel writer selects what is appropriate to the purpose of his Gospel, and all is perfection as it is written.

JESUS IN THE MIDST

(vs.19-23)

The same day at evening the Lord appeared to His gathered disciples, the doors being closed, but He being suddenly present in their midst. The effect of so startling a miracle on His disciples is not even mentioned here (as in Luke 24:37); but it is a beautiful picture, at the very introduction of the day of grace, of what is the true character of the gathering of the Church of God at all times, miraculous, but real. They were gathered to His name, that name being the one power that drew their hearts together. Now He who has made peace by the blood of His cross, announces peace to His beloved saints, and shows them His hands and His side, the wounds the proof of a finished work and of the reality of His bodily resurrection. Blessed basis for the very existence of the Church, the body of Christ!

In Luke the Lord's hands and His feet are spoken of (ch.24:39), for it is Humanity there emphasized, His hands telling of both human and divine work perfectly accomplished. His feet remind us of His lowly walk among men; while His side reminds us of the pure love of His heart as the blessed Son of God. The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord, and we also today may just as truly see Him, though by faith, and experience the same gladness.

As His Father has sent Him, so He sends them (v.21). He had come into an adverse world in lowly grace, taking no official place, but in beautiful moral reality representing His Father. This is to be the character of the assembly, not of this world, but sent into it to represent the Lord Jesus.

His breathing on them is intended to further enhance this picture of the Church of God. They did not receive the Spirit of God at that time, but at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47), but the Lord shows that the future coming of the Spirit is vitally connected with Him personally, for He, as God (cf.Gen.2:7), is the very Source of the coming of the Spirit. His action here then is anticipative of the actual coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit who is the indwelling power of the Church of God all through this dispensation of the grace of God. Notice in these things it is not "apostles" spoken of, but "disciples," therefore His words have a broad application to cover all who are disciples.

This is true even of verse 23. Certainly the Lord is not speaking here of eternal forgiveness, which is solely His prerogative, but of governmental forgiveness. The case of Simon the sorcerer illustrates this. Philip baptized him (Acts 8:13, in which way he publicly, outwardly forgave him in reference to his previous sinful course. This was perfectly right for Philip to do. But when later Simon proved by his mercenary attitude and words that he was still at enmity against God, Peter "retained" his sins, refusing him any "part or lot in this matter" (Acts 8:18-23). Another illustration of this conditional, governmental forgiveness is found in Matthew 18:23-25, This is connected with the kingdom aspect of the truth, and shows us that the kingdom exists alongside of the truth of the assembly, though not yet in its manifested glory. Matthew 16:17-19 gives another indication of this also.

BELIEVING ONLY WHEN SEEING

(vs.24-31)

This section gives a picture, not of the assembly, but of the later bringing of Israel from their doubting unbelief to a living faith in the Son of God. Thomas had not been present the day of the Lord's resurrection. How much he missed through simply being absent! We too shall greatly lose if we willingly absent ourselves from the gathering of the saints of God. His surname, Didymus, is inserted here. Didymus means "twin" so that its inclusion appears to be a reminder to us that Thomas is not alone in his lack of diligent faith. Perhaps many believers are virtual twins of Thomas!

At least he ought to have considered the united witness of all the disciples that they had seen the Lord. But mere natural reasoning so blinds him that he scorns their testimony. He would have to prove by his natural senses, seeing and feeling, or he would not believe (v.25).

Eight days later (the next first day of the week) Thomas was with the disciples. Again the Lord Jesus suddenly appears in their midst (for it is His name that gathers them there), with the same precious words, "Peace to you." Just as miraculously as He appears to the Church today, so will He appear to Israel in a coming day, when they shall look upon Him they pierced (Zechariah 12:10). He speaks directly to Thomas, inviting him to do what he said would be required before he would believe. How solemn a rebuke, though administered in gentle kindness.

At the very sight of the Lord Jesus and hearing His words of tender, faithful rebuke, how could Thomas think of carrying out his own words? His sense of feeling he has to ignore, as he responds, "My Lord and My God" (v.28). But the Lord must further rebuke his unbelief by telling him of the blessedness of those who believe without seeing, in contrast to his having to see first. Since Christ has returned to heaven, how great is the number who have known this blessing! This is the true character of the Church in contrast to Israel, who will first look upon Him before they believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

Now we are told that the Lord did many other signs that have not been reported Actually His reported history is very concise, occupying far less space (in the four Gospels) than many biographies of mere men of the world. Yet that which He did, all of it being of living, eternal, pure value, far outshines all that the combined energy of all mankind has ever produced. John however writes sufficient for his theme, to so focus attention on the glory of the person of the Son of God as to awaken in souls a genuine faith without the necessity of actually seeing the Lord. Believing, they have life through His name. Marvelous it is that so much is encompassed in this short book.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 20:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/john-20.html. 1897-1910.

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