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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

John 20

 

 

Verse 1

1. When it was yet dark—That is, at the earliest point of time mentioned; and it seems to imply that Mary Magdalene was at start decidedly in advance of the company of women. Throughout she manifests a high tone of character, and an earnest impetuosity, both of thought and manner, marks all her demeanour. As it was through her that John was connected with the entire transaction, it is to her he confines this part of the narrative; not as if ignorant of the other parts, but as if desirous to show his own immediate share.


Verses 1-10

§ 145, 146.WOMEN VISIT THE SEPULCHRE, AND ALSO PETER AND John 20:1-10.

Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12.

In the histories of the resurrection, brought under one view, we may discern a divine, overruling plan, giving a unity to the whole. This symmetry of plan could not have been fabricated by the Evangelists, for each, with evident unconsciousness, furnishes his share without knowing what the other contributes; so that the whole is made up of unintentional parts. Some traits of this design are the following:

(1.) The female sex is here placed in a true position of love to Christ, and of recognition by him, of a kind transcendently raised above all possible imputation of impurity. Women could not be apostles; they could but distantly and reservedly serve our Lord in his life. But here the great compensation is given that they are first witnesses, apostles to the apostles, nighest to Jesus himself in his resurrection state. See note on Luke 1:2.

(2.) The unbelief to which the apostles abandon themselves is made the means of bringing out more fully our Lord’s self-manifestations at his resurrection. Their scepticism is made the instrument for removing the scepticism of all ages.

(3.) There are manifested the various natural degrees of faith. There is the simple faith, ready and sympathizing, of the women, meritorious and crowning because, from a pure heart, believing the testimony of the angels, and clinging in worship at the knees of our Lord. There is the scriptural and truly Christian faith of the two brothers of Emmaus, receiving with burning hearts the verification of prophecy unfolded in the words of Jesus. There is the long and hard unbelief of the apostles under the influence of a variety of feelings, until forced to faith by proof. There is the most exacting rationalism of Thomas, bent on not believing as long as a possibility of deception or doubt remains. Far in the background we descry the depraved, fickle ignorance of the Jewish multitude, the interested infidelity of the hierarchy, and the utter worldly indifference of the Roman power. And thus we have a specimen of pretty much every grade of faith and infidelity that ever exists in the world.


Verse 2

2. Runneth—She waits neither to examine the sepulchre, nor to consult the other women; nor can she calmly walk, but runs to the chief apostles for aid. It is evident that Peter and John abide at no great distance from the sepulchre, and separately from the other apostles. They are in west Jerusalem, while the others are probably in Bethany.

Taken away the Lord—She has no thought of a resurrection; neither do her terms imply that he has been stolen. She afterwards suspects that the keeper of the garden in which the sepulchre is, may have removed him to some other place.

We know not—The we is here used by Mary in behalf of not only herself but of the whole company, clearly showing that even John’s narrative implies that other women were with her.


Verse 3

3. That other disciple—John himself, as appears from a variety of passages.


Verse 5

5. Went he not in—The younger disciple was too fleet a runner for the elder, and he paused at the end of the race. Some suppose that he went not in from juvenile inattention, others from fear of pollution. More probably it was from reverence.


Verse 7

7. Wrapped… in a place by itself—That the clothes and napkin were carefully folded and deposited, indicated that there had been no violence or pillage. The whole was as if a sleeper had risen from his couch, arranged the clothes, and departed.


Verse 8

8. He saw, and believed—Believed what? Some say he believed just what he saw, namely, that the sepulchre was empty by the absence of the body. But this is making the apostle say a very insipid thing. The word believe is often used by the apostle without an object expressed, to designate some advance in embracing the main truths of Christianity. See notes on John 2:11; John 2:22; John 14:29. That he was fully convinced of the resurrection of Christ by what he saw, as he had not previously been by the understanding of the Scriptures, is clearly implied by the next verse. But while John was convinced, Peter, though John does not say it, is amazed and sorely perplexed at the strange concurrence of events. See Luke 24:12.


Verse 9

9. The scripture… rise again—See note on Luke 24:26.


Verse 10

10. Went… their own home—It might not have been safe for them to remain long at the sepulchre. Their own home may have been the abode of John and the blessed mother, and we have Peter in the western margin of Jerusalem.


Verse 11

§ 148.JESUS APPEARS FIRST TO MARY MAGDALENE, John 20:11-18.

11. Mary stood without—While Mary has gone to the two chief disciples, the other women have come to the sepulchre, seen the angels, and gone on their message to the other apostles. Mary follows the two runners to the sepulchre, and while they go in she stands without weeping.

As she wept Half uncovering her face and momentarily looking in.


Verse 12

12. In white—It is asked sometimes whence did Jesus obtain his resurrection clothes? We might with the same wisdom ask, Whence did these angels obtain their robes of white? Who manufactures the angels’ harps or Gabriel’s trump? These angels assume not only bodies visible to mortal eyes, but vestments; and vestments which, by a mysterious law of mind, represent among different nations exaltation and purity. White as a colour for magistrates and candidates was used by the Egyptians, Romans, and Persians. As an emblem of purity and holiness it was adopted by the Jews, and is recognized as a symbol in Scripture. See Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:13; Revelation 15:6; Revelation 19:8; Revelation 19:14. In assuming the robe of white, therefore, the angels announced, in symbol, their true holy and exalted character.

At the head… at the feet—As the two cherubim sat at the ark of the covenant watching the Shekinah. He who was so lately hung between two thieves is now lying between two angel watchers. And mark this reverence as paid to the body, to indicate the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. It would seem that the body was not placed, as was often the case, with its head first into the niche and its feet alone visible; but parallel with the wall, so that either could be seen equally easily.


Verse 13

13. Woman—A perfectly respectful address.

Why weepest thou?—Asked, not because they knew not why she wept, but to open the way to make her know that there was no reason to weep.

They have taken away—It may be that she supposed Joseph had intended the sepulchre to be but a temporary abode for the body, and had intended to remove it to some other place.


Verse 14

14. Turned herself back—Simply her recoil from her stooping posture and turning to her natural position.

Knew not that it was Jesus—Her eyes doubtless being half covered with weeping, she did not fully glance at him until she fully turned round, at John 20:16.


Verse 15

15. Supposing him to be the gardener—Still neither attentively looking nor listening, she supposed him to be the superintendent of Joseph’s grounds, in which the sepulchre belonged.


Verse 16

16. Saith unto her, Mary—Here are both the voice and the word to startle her mind to new attention! It is this voice that wakes the dead, and it wakens her to a new life.

Turned herself—For her face had not been toward the supposed gardener.

Rabboni—In her ecstasy her native Hebrew dialect comes first to her lips.


Verse 17

17. Touch me not—Several manuscripts have the words she ran forward to touch him. As if in order to realize that it was truly her Lord, and not a pure spirit, she rushed forth to touch him. The word touch here, never signifies, as some interpret it, to embrace. That she, like the other women, (Matthew 28:9,) kneeling to him, embraced his knees, has no authority from any word of the Evangelists. She had the testimony of two of her senses, sight and hearing, that it was the Lord; and she now seeks the testimony of a third, namely, of feeling, in order to be sure that it is a body and not a pure spirit which addresses her. Our Lord forbids her touch, that she may not lose the honour of her pre-eminence of faith. He tests that faith by a command which she obeys, and stands first of faithful witnesses. You see me risen, Mary, according to Scripture prediction and to my promise; stop not to doubt, but bear the intelligence to the apostles.

I am not yet ascended—I have risen but not yet ascended. It is rather the implication risen, than the expression not ascended, which the Lord really most designs to convey. The real essence of the message is, that he is yet on earth, in his resurrection state and body, not yet having ascended.

I ascend—Present for future. Though yet here I soon depart.

My… your tender intimation that even on high he is their divine brother.

It is asked why our Lord, after forbidding the touch of Mary, permitted the embrace of the other women, and even invited the touch of Thomas. The reply is, that he prohibited the touch of Mary in order not to deprive her of her true merit of faith, which this experimental touch would have depreciated; but the embrace of the women was not a contact of experiment, but of love and worship. The touch of the disciples was invited, because their weak faith could not be confirmed without it; and that of Thomas was pressed upon him to drive scepticism from his soul.


Verse 18

18. Came and told the disciples—And so formed one of the band of female witnesses, summed up by Luke 24:10, who testified only to be disbelieved. Such was the contrast between her faith and theirs.


Verses 19-23

§ 151.JESUS APPEARS TO THE APOSTLES IN THE ABSENCE OF THOMAS, John 20:19-23.

Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-49; 1 Corinthians 15:5.

John here corroborates, and adds to all of Luke’s narrative, the fact of our Lord’s appearance to the eleven, in consequence of their disbelief of the testimony of the two of Emmaus.


Verse 22

22. Receive ye the Holy Ghost—This was not that full bestowment of the Holy Spirit, which was received at the Pentecost, by which miraculous powers were conferred for the government of the Church after the departure of Jesus.


Verse 23

23. Sins ye remit—The medium by which they would remit sins is the Gospel committed unto them, for the efficient ministration of which they are now empowered by the Holy Ghost breathed upon them by their Divine Master. Through that Gospel they would remit the sins of all who accept it by faith. Our Lord in these words declares the efficacy of the Gospel for this purpose.

Ye retain—By the same Gospel the true minister condemns the rejecting sinner. The apostolic hand holds the instrument by which it is enabled to dispense release from the power and guilt of sin to all those who are penitent, and to retain under its condemnation those who are incorrigible. Thus with it in their hands apostles would go forth discharging the souls of men from sin, or confirming them under its condemnation.


Verse 24

§ 152.JESUS APPEARS TO THE APOSTLES, vv. THOMAS BEING PRESENT, John 20:24-29.

See note on Matthew 10:3.

24. Was not with them—To be absent on such an occasion justifies the suspicion that all was not right with Thomas; a suspicion that is confirmed by his scepticism. We can scarce indeed believe that our Lord would have made a visit of such importance when one of the twelve was unavoidably absent. The apparent reason seems to be, that Thomas was in a frame of mind to believe that all of Christ and Christianity was over.


Verse 25

25. Other disciples… said—No doubt they would miss the delinquent and doubting disciple, and see to it that he have their testimony of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Except… I will not believe—His disbelief is a disbelief of will. His heart, indeed, is not unsusceptible of tender recollections of the past days spent with Jesus of Nazareth. He feels that there was something truly divine, something that could waken and satisfy his highest spiritual feelings. But feelings are mere feelings. He must have proof, incontestable proof, too, before he will trust the dictates of mere feeling. If these disciples have seen the Lord, that is proof enough for them, but not for me. It was not, therefore, to over-credulous witnesses that the Lord showed himself alive. The persistent scepticism of Thomas furnishes grounds for our own faith.


Verse 26

26. After eight days—The Sunday after the Sunday of the resurrection; the second Christian sabbath or Lord’s day. It has not ceased to be commemorated from that time to this as a holy day in the tradition of the Christian Church. The fourth commandment requires that one day in seven should be sabbath; the Jewish Church, under divine guidance, fixed that seventh upon Saturday; the Christian Church upon Sunday.

Jesus… doors being shut… stood—This language, without a great violence, must be so interpreted as to express a sudden miraculous standing of our Lord before them in an apartment completely shut.


Verse 27

27. Thrust it into my side—Not in every case are the exactions and tests of scepticism thus complied with by God. Thomas has every proof he demands. He, the man of sense, has the highest proof that sense can have.

Into my side—This is not only body, but the body of the living Jesus; nay, the risen body of the slain Jesus The resurrection body voluntarily retains the wounds which it is perfectly able to shed from itself, as testimony that he is not only living, but was dead. See note on Luke 24:39. And this illustrates how Jesus may forever, as our high priest, exhibits in his own person the tokens of his death for our eternal life.

Be not faithless Renounce the scepticism of will, and become in heart and purpose believing.


Verse 28

28. My Lord and my God—Thomas now does nobly. He has his fill of proof and tact, and he pours heart and soul and body into an act of faith and confession. We may now see that Thomas had never been at bottom an infidel. Even under his I will not believe there was at bottom a spirit of faith; and when the load of despondency is removed, he rises at a spring into a higher confession than apostle ever yet uttered. That Thomas here recognized in Christ that divinity which the great body of the Church attributes to Jesus, has been the view received from antiquity to this day. It is not to be questioned without results fundamentally dangerous.


Verse 29

29. Hast seen—The word seen here implies the evidence not only of sight but of either or all the senses.

Have not seen, and yet have believed—The visible tangible Christ will soon depart from the earth, to be seen no more. The doctrine and the power of his life and death will come forth to the faith of the world. The hearts and souls that rightly will to accept it, must do it by a faith that is above sight and above sense. Many will say, like Thomas, that they can only believe upon sensible demonstration. They will not be convinced but upon the highest possible proof; proof which shall meet their utmost exaction and leave doubt impossible. Some will do this in a spirit of low sensuality; some in a spirit of scientific indifference or intellectual pride. But all who in a true sense deserve to be saved will be saved; and none but those who deserve to be damned will be damned.

Blessed—In what sense blessed? In no single, but in every divine sense. As faith in its full power procures, so this blessedness includes the full fruition of all that the Gospel offers or the atonement brings to man. Very wise were the words of Pfenninger, quoted by Stier: “Is not Thomas a pledge of all who, like him, are slow to believe, that every severe word spoken to unbelief refers to those who will not believe? As to this not-able and not-willing, God will judge.” That is, God will judge whether the not-able is an honest inability to believe when there is the spirit of faith, or whether it be a not-willing, deceiving the obstinate unbeliever into the false opinion that he is not able to believe.


Verse 30

§ 157.ST. JOHN’S FIRST CONCLUSION, John 20:30-31.

30. Many other signs—The Greek word for signs here is often rendered miracles; for the miracles of Jesus were all signs, indicating the divinity of their author.

In the presence of his disciples—The appointed witnesses to testify them to the world. See note on Luke 1:2.

This book—The entire Gospel. From which it appears that we are not to infer that the Evangelists were ignorant of a given fact because they omit to notice it. It is no presumption against the truth of the narrative because it is given by but one Evangelist. It is no proof that the Lord’s Supper was not instituted because John does not mention it.

That ye might believe—This ye addresses every reader to the end of the world. It speaks from John to the person that now peruses this commentary, inviting him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and

have life through his name. Jesus is the Christ—Is the Messiah. Christ lived, his apostles preached, and his Evangelists wrote, that the world might shape its conceptions to the true idea of the Messiah, not as the emancipator of the nation, but as the Saviour of the world. We have in these two verses what the best scholars of modern times consider to be a proper summary and ending of the book. The chapter which follows has been considered a later addition. See introductory note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 20:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/john-20.html. 1874-1909.

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