Interpretation 20


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  Copyright © 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002

     This chapter in John records the resurrection, the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, Jesus’ appearance to his disciples (behind locked doors), and the response of Thomas. It concludes with the purpose for which John was written:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

The response to Thomas explains the difficulty people always have of believing in the absence of signs or physical evidence. Jesus, in fact, says to Thomas: 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." This is the predicament of human beings from the beginning. These verses are unique to John. Oxford Annotated identifies Thomas' reply to Jesus' urging him not to doubt but believe as the climax of the book: "My Lord and my God."  The question in 29, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe," points to faith as now resting on apostolic testimony, and, of course, this precedes the purpose verse:

John's purpose is precisely to enable others to experience the blessedness that Jesus has just spoken of, which comes through faith. The two central titles for Jesus are Christ and Son of God, representing in this Gospel both the fulfillment of Jewish expectation and much more--the personal presence of God himself in our midst. The purpose (or result; hina can mean either) of this believing is to have life in his name. This life "belongs to the Father (5:26; 6:57) and the Son (11:25; 14:6), and is offered to men through Jesus' words (6:63; 10:10) and death (3:16; 7:39) on the basis of faith (3:16; 5:24; 20:31)" (Osborne 1984:176). Thus, it is the very life of God himself made available in the Son. It is in his name because it is in fellowship with him as he has made himself known (see comment on 1:12). He has brought life, but this life is not a gift separate from himself. Rather, it is a life in himself who, like the Father, is life itself (1:4; 5:26; 11:25; cf. Chrysostom In John 87.2). To live in his name is to live his own life, with its source in the Father, and therefore to live his pattern of life. This means to love as he loved (13:34; 1 Jn 2:6), obedient to God, totally trusting him and interpreting all the events in our own lives in the light of his divine presence.

     John has carefully structured his writing so that the resurrection becomes final and climatic revelation of Jesus' glorification:

Five occasions of faith are mentioned, forming a chiasm. In the first and last, Jesus himself is not seen. In the first, the Beloved Disciple' faith is based on the evidence of the grave clothes; in the last, Jesus says future believers will have the witness of those who did see him (cf. vv. 30-31). The other three occasions are actual sightings of the resurrected Jesus. Mary sees both angels and Jesus but only believes when she hears him call her name. Thomas also requires something more than sight to believe--to touch Jesus' wounds. Between these two individuals, at the center of the chiasm, is Jesus' appearance to the disciples as a group, who recognize him by seeing his wounds and in whose presence Jesus imparts the Holy Spirit.

This chiastic structure makes it clear that John has chosen his material and arranged it with care, as have the other Evangelists. A comparative study of the different Gospel accounts yields valuable insight (cf. Osborne 1984), though coordinating the details is difficult (but see J. Wenham 1992; Westcott 1908:2:335-36).

Kym Smith in The Amazing Structure of the Gospel of John (Sherwood Publications, 2000) compellingly presents the entire chiastic structure of John, concluding 

     The appearance to Thomas, perhaps more than any other, illustrates the difficulty of believing without physical evidence. Thomas wants visible proof that Jesus has been resurrected and will not believe without the evidence.  Previously, Jesus has appeared to his disciples.

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 19       So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe."

While the New Revised Standard Version does not indicate this, Thomas in some versions says, “I will not believe it:” The use of "it" here as direct object of the verb pisteuvsw (pisteusw ) specifies exactly what Thomas was refusing to believe: that Jesus had risen from the dead, as reported by his fellow disciples. Otherwise the English reader may be left with the impression Thomas was refusing to "believe in" Jesus, or "believe Jesus to be the Christ." The dramatic tension in this narrative is heightened when Thomas, on seeing for himself the risen Christ, believes more than just the resurrection (see John 20:28). Net Bible Notes

     A week later, when Jesus reappears among his disciples, Thomas is, indeed, present. In full omniscience, Jesus reveals to Thomas the very evidence for which had asked:

27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing."

11      Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

This confession by Thomas, as previously stated, forms climax of the book: “My Lord and my God!”  How did Jesus come through the closed doors?  It may not be necessary to invent a ghost story:

The fact that the disciples locked the doors is a perfectly understandable reaction to the events of the past few days. But what is the significance of the inclusion of this statement by the author? It is often taken to mean that Jesus, when he entered the room, passed through the closed doors. This may well be the case, but it may be assuming too much about our knowledge of the mode in which the resurrected body of Jesus exists. The text does not explicitly state how Jesus got through the closed doors. It is possible to assume that the doors opened of their own accord before him, or that he simply appeared in the middle of the room without passing through the doors at all. The point the author makes here is simply that the closed doors were no obstacle at all to the resurrected Jesus.

Jesus’ instructions to Thomas indicate a physical reality: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”  Thomas’ experience is real, and it may very well be that his own action in reaching out substantiates faith.

            As always, the Gospel writers have different purposes in mind as they talk about the resurrection. Alfred Edersheim captures part of this in his account of the resurrection:

St. Matthew describes the impression of the full evidence of that Easter morning on friend and foe, and then hurries us from the Jerusalem stained with Christ's Blood back to the sweet Lake and the blessed Mount where first He spake. It is, as if he longed to realise the Risen Christ in the scenes where he had learned to know Him. St. Mark, who is much more brief, gives not only a mere summary, [2 I may here state that I accept the genuineness of the concluding portion of St. Mark (xvi. 9-20). If, on internal grounds, it must be admitted that it reads like a postscript; on the other hand, without it the section would read like a mutilated document. This is not the place to discuss the grounds on which I have finally accepted the genuineness of these verses. The reader may here be referred to Canon Cook's 'Revised Version of the first three Gospels,' pp. 120-125, but especially to the masterly and exhaustive work by Dean Burgon on 'The last twelve verses of the Gospel according to St. Mark.' At the same time I would venture to say, that Dean Burgon has not attached sufficient importance to the adverse impression made by the verses in question on the ground of internal evidence (see his chapter on the subject, pp. 136-190).

 And it must be confessed, that, whichever view we may ultimately adopt, the subject is beset with considerable difficulties.] but, if one might use the expression, tells it as from the bosom of the Jerusalem family, from the house of his mother Mary. [b Acts xii. 12] St. Luke seems to have made most full inquiry as to all the facts of the Resurrection, and his narrative might almost be inscribed: 'Easter Day in Jerusalem.' St. John paints such scenes, during the whole forty days, whether in Jerusalem or Galilee, as were most significant and teachful of this threefold lesson of his Gospels: that Jesus was the Christ, that He was the Son of God, and that, believing, we have life in His Name. Lastly, St. Paul, as one born out of due time, produces the testimony of the principal witnesses to the fact, in a kind of ascending climax. [c 1 Cor. xv. 4-8] And this the more effectively, that he is evidently aware of the difficulties and the improt of the question, and has taken pains to make himself acquainted with all the facts of the case. Life and Times, Book V, “On the Resurrection”

            What the Gospels most seem to agree upon was that it was the first day of the week:


1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?" 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; -- it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. 6 And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you." 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid. 9 Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.

Luke 24

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared.

2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; 5 and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise." 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.


1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

More and more, “the other disciple” takes on connotatively the weight of the beloved disciple who devotes himself entirely to the task of pointing to the truth that Jesus is, in fact, Son of God, Christ, and that those who believe in him will find eternal life. In short, the book of John is testimonial to John’s own belief.

            What of Mary Magdalene? Once again, I direct the reader to Alfred Edersheim:

 Whether or not there were two groups of women who started from different places to meet at the Tomb, the most prominent figure among them was Mary Magdalene [3 The accounts imply, that the women knew nothing of the sealing of the stone and of the guard set over the Tomb. This nay be held as evidence, that St. Matthew could have not meant that the two Marys had visited the grave on the previous evening (xxviii. 1). In such case they must have seen the guard. Nor could the women in that case have wondered who roll away the stone for them(,).], as prominent among the pious women as Peter was among the Apostles. She seems to have reached the Grave, and, seeing the great stone that had covered its entrance rolled away, hastily judged that the Body of the lord had been removed. Without waiting for further inquiry, she ran back to inform Peter and John of the fact. The Evangelist here explains, that there had been a great earthquake, and that the Angel of the Lord, to human sight as lightning and in brilliant white garment, had rolled back the stone, and sat upon it, when the guard, affrighted by what they heard and saw, and especially by the look and attitude of heavenly power in the Angel, had been seized with mortal faintness. Remembering the events connected with the Crucifixion, which had no doubt been talked about among the soldiery, and bearing in mind the impression of such a sight on such minds, we could readily understand the effect on the two sentries who that long night had kept guard over the solitary Tomb. The event itself (we mean: as regards the rolling away of the stone), we suppose to have taken place after the Resurrection of Christ,  in the early dawn, while the holy women were on their way to the Tomb. The earth-quake cannot have been one in the ordinary sense, but a shaking of the place, when the Lord of Life burst the gates of Hades to re-tenant His Glorified Body, and the lightning-like Angel descended from heaven to roll away the stone. To have left it there, when the Tomb was empty, would have implied what was no longer true. But there is a sublime irony in the contrast between man's elaborate precautions and the ease with which the Divine Hand can sweep them aside, and which, as throughout the history of Christ and of His Church, recalls the prophetic declaration: 'He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh at them.'

Mark, Luke, and John identify this Mary as Mary Magdalene from whom Jesus has cast out seven devils. The reader recalls that in John 19, those women standing near the cross of Jesus were Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the wife of Clopas. Mary Magdalene concludes simply, “I have seen the Lord.” Prior to her testimony to the disciples, Jesus has explained to her he has not yet ascended:

17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."

            In John twenty, the law is perfected in the death and resurrection of Jesus in the revelation of Christ, Lord and God. The way, the truth, and the light come through obedience and submission to the complete will of God. This obedience becomes more than ritual and outward purification; the heart of the individual is changed. Jesus of Nazareth is the Word of God. The Gospel in a nutshell becomes John 3.16:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him

18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.

Once again, the reader may listen to Alfred Edersheim:

 Soon 'the other disciples' followed Peter. The effect of what he saw was, that he now believed in his heart that the Master was risen, for till then they had not yet derived from Holy Scripture the knowledge that He must rise again. And this also is most instructive. It was not the belief previously derived from Scripture, that the Christ was to rise from the Dead, which led to expectancy of it, but the evidence that He had risen which led them to the knowledge of what Scripture taught on the subject.

Edersheim would seem to suggest that Scripture without experience falls short of faith; something in the experience of the human being evidences the validity of Scripture. Part of the nature of faith must be heart-felt, experiential, but to rely solely upon the senses is to remain spiritually blind, a far more devastating blindness than the loss of physical sight. Something in the voice of Jesus spoke to Mary:

15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

Jesus recognized Mary by name: “Mary.”  In the recognition of herself, Mary turned to Jesus, “Teacher!”  The reader has to note that this was an exclamation, not a question.