On the Gospel of John 20

John 20  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 9
In this chapter, the history of the resurrection, or rather of the manifestations of the Lord to His own, is full of interest and of important principles. The first person who is presented to us is not even the Christ: it is those who were to surround Him spiritually, and who had in fact surrounded Him down here. It was good and suitable that the state of their affections- and affections nourish faith-that this state, I say, as confidence in Him and attachment to His Person should be manifested, and that then He, revealed in resurrection, should be the answer to this state, and should lead them on further.
The first person that presents herself, and whose history is of profound and touching interest, is Mary Magdalene. Her name has become the expression of a bad life, or at least that of a woman come out of licentiousness, but there is nothing to justify the tradition. But that she had been completely under the power of the demon is no tradition; the Lord had cast seven demons out of her. Her state therefore had been most miserable, and she loved much. We find her with a woman constantly called " the other Mary " (Matt. 23:11Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, (Matthew 23:1)), accompanying the Lord with others, and rendering Him the assiduous services of a devoted affection. But sincere as the affection of these women was for the Savior, it was more so for the heart of Mary Magdalene than for all the others. They were fully prepared, buying aromatic spices and perfumes to embalm Him, to do all that was necessary to honor their Master; but Mary Magdalene thought of Him. They waited therefore the suitable time, and arrived at the sepulcher at sunrise. But Mary Magdalene's heart was devoid of everything save the grief of having lost Him whom she loved so much, and she was at the sepulcher whilst it was still night.
The Lord was already risen, and the great stone rolled away from before the entrance into the sepulcher. She did not seize the import of what she saw, but went to Peter and John. These, to see what had happened, ran to the sepulcher that was supposed to be carefully guarded. John looks into the sepulcher and sees the linen clothes in which Jesus had been wrapped, left there upon the ground. Peter, arriving directly after, enters in and sees the linen clothes also, and the napkin in which the Lord's head had been wrapped, folded apart. All bespoke tranquility; nothing indicated haste or precipitation. It seems that Peter was astonished at what he saw (Luke 24:1212Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass. (Luke 24:12)), and hardly knew what to think of it. Then John, in his turn, entered; he saw and believed, but his faith rested upon what he saw, and not upon the word. They knew not the scriptures which declared that thus it must be. Alas! Jesus did not possess their heart, nor the word their understanding. They go to their own home; they look no further; they are astonished, John at least convinced; divine intelligence did not enlighten them, affection for Christ did not move them; they went to their own home.
It is not thus with Mary Magdalene. For her without Jesus the whole world was nothing but an empty sepulcher; her heart was more empty still. She stays there at the sepulcher, where the Lord whom she loved had been. As it is said of Rachel; she could not be comforted, because He was no more. Stooping down into the sepulcher hewn in the rock, she sees two angels, who ask her: " Why weepest thou? " God allows the full expression of this strong affection. It is no longer, " They have taken away the Lord," as she said to the apostles, but, " They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." But Jesus was not far from a heart thus attached to His Person. Mary hears someone moving behind her. She turns and sees a man whom she takes for the gardener. He asks again: " Why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? " Then we see the affection that appropriates to itself the lost Savior, as if He belonged to her, and that does not imagine that the gardener can think of any other object than that which occupies it. " Lord," she says, " if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away." If I had a sick friend, I should ask at his house, " How is he? " and all would understand what I meant, of whom I was speaking. Mary supposes that everybody thinks of the Lord, as she does herself, and that her affection gives her full right to dispose of Him. It was not intelligence; He had said that He would rise again, and she sought among the dead Him who was living. But the Lord was everything for her heart. It is what Jesus seeks, and He makes Himself found as living. He acts in His divine and human affection, and calls His sheep by her name; " Mary," He says. This was enough, and a single word from a satisfied heart answers to the call. His sheep hears His voice, and mistakes it not. " Rabboni! " she says. That was all; Mary had found Him, and found Him living, and He had brought out in Mary's heart all the affection which His love would satisfy.
Now intelligence comes, and it is Mary, she who sought the living among the dead, but with a heart that belonged to Him, a heart attached to His Person, she it is whom the Lord employs to communicate to the apostles themselves the knowledge of the highest privileges that belong to Christians. We see clearly the importance of this devotedness. It was not knowledge that characterized Mary, but her affection brought her spiritually near to the Lord, and made her the fitting vessel for communicating what He Himself had in His heart. She possessed, as a vessel, this knowledge, but better still, she possessed the Lord.
As to her position, Mary Magdalene represented the Jewish remnant attached to the Person of the Lord, but ignorant of the glorious counsels of God. She thought to have found Jesus again, risen no doubt, but come again into this world to take the place that was due to Him, and satisfy the affections of those who had left everything for Him in the days of His humiliation, despised of the world, and denied by His people. But she could not have Him thus now. A glory far more excellent, of far greater extent, was in the thoughts of God, and blessing for us far more precious. In receiving Christ, she could not rightly receive Him, but according to the thoughts of God with regard to the Savior. Only her attachment to the Lord opened this blessed path to her. " Touch me not," the Lord says, " for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." She could not have the Lord, even when risen, as come again as Messiah upon earth. He must first of all ascend to His Father and receive the kingdom, then return: but there was much more. A work had been accomplished that placed Him, as Man and Son always, with the Father in glory, Man in this blessed relationship; but it was a work of redemption that set His own, redeemed according to the value of that work, in the same glory and in the same relationships as Himself. And this was based upon the sure foundation of that work, in which God Himself and the Father had been fully glorified, and had made themselves known according to all their perfections. (Compare John 13:31, 3231Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. (John 13:31‑32) and chap. 17: 4, 5.) According to these perfections, the disciples are introduced into the position and according to the relationship of Jesus Himself with God. This was the necessary fruit of the work of Jesus; without this, He would not have seen of the travail of His soul.
For the first time Christ calls His disciples His brethren, and places them thus in His own relationships with God His Father. Judaism has disappeared for the moment, and as far as the old covenant is concerned; and the full effect of Christ's work, according to the settled purpose of grace, is revealed; believers are placed there by faith, and we possess the knowledge and power of it by the Holy Ghost which has been given to us, consequent upon Jesus having entered personally, as Son of Man, into the glory that resulted from His work.
The resurrection of Jesus has left behind man, death, sin, the power of Satan, and the judgment of God, and has brought heavenly glory into view; although, in order to bear witness to the reality of His resurrection, Jesus did not yet Himself enter into this glory. But as far as concerns the basis of the thing, that is to say, the relationship, it was established and revealed. The Jewish remnant, attached to Christ, becomes the company of the Son associated with Him in the power of the privileges into which He has entered, as risen from amongst the dead.
Mary having communicated these things to the apostles, the course of the outward development founded upon this revelation, is related. The disciples met that same day in the evening, and Jesus, the doors being shut because of their fear of the Jews, appeared personally, but in a spiritual body, in their midst, bringing them the peace that He had made by His blood. Divine peace, the gathering together, and the presence of the Lord, characterized their meeting. The apostles were to be eye-witnesses, and He shows them His hands and His side, irrefutable evidence that it was truly the same Jesus they had known, and they rejoice when they see Him. Then they were to be His missionaries or apostles (sent ones), and He lays down divine peace as the point of departure: " Peace be to you," He says to them; " as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." Then, as God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life, the divine Son, the same God-here a risen Man-breathes upon them, communicating to them the Holy Ghost. Although symbolizing the gift of the Holy Ghost, He was not yet sent, for Jesus was not yet ascended on high; but He was communicated as power of life by the risen Savior, divine life-life according to the position in which He was, and which was its power. They lived by the divine life of the Savior, and according to the state He had taken in rising. The Holy Ghost, descended from heaven, was to reveal to them the objects of faith, and lead them. Here, that which they receive is the spiritual and subjective capacity to enjoy them, making them personally capable of running the race in which the Holy Ghost was to lead them. They were fit for the service of their mission: He who should guide them was the Holy Ghost, who was going to descend from heaven.
This difference is found in Rom. 8 Up to verse 11, the Holy Ghost in the believer, is the spirit of life and of liberty, of moral power in Christ. After that (from verse 11) it is the Holy Ghost personally, acting as a divine Person. This goes on to verse 27.
Nevertheless, in this picture, which is the summing-up of the whole position, this fact (the Lord breathing on them) points, to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Now their mission, the salvation that Jesus had just accomplished, was characterized in its first application by the remission of sins, the first need of the sinner, if he is to be reconciled with God; Luke 1:7777To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, (Luke 1:77); Matt. 9:22And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. (Matthew 9:2). It is not here the eternal efficacy of Christ's work in itself, but the application of its efficacy here below, as a present, actual thing. In examining the bearing of this work, we find that the worshippers, once purged, have no more conscience of sins; but here it is the present application in this purification. The eternal efficacy of the work is not the subject of John's Gospel, which does not speak of it; but it is its administrative application.
Verses 19-23 of our chapter resume the position of service, in which the Lord places His disciples, as well as the gathering together of the children of God. Notice here that He said, in His life upon earth before resurrection, " Fear not ": and if, as Immanuel, the Messiah, He disposed of everything in favor of His own when He sent out His disciples, here, on the contrary, they fear the Jews, and the Lord does not take away that fear, but replaces the power of His presence as Emmanuel the Messiah, by His presence in their midst, and by the peace He had made and that He conferred.
Thomas was not there. Eight days after, that is to say, on the following Lord's day, Thomas was with the others, and Jesus came into their midst. Responding to the doubts that Thomas had expressed before Jesus came, the Lord convinced him, by showing him and making him touch His hands and His side. Thomas's doubts disappear. It is the expression, in this remarkable resume or sketch of the dispensations of God, of the position of the Jewish remnant in the last days. They will believe when they see Him, and Jesus makes the difference between believers who have not seen Him-our position-and those who will believe when they see Him. The blessing rests upon us. Thomas's confession, true and just as it was, shows, it seems to me, the Jewish position. It is not the glorified Son of man, Jesus on high, but it is what the Jews will own when He returns; that is to say, that the Jesus whom they had rejected was their Lord and their God, their Deliverer and Savior, the Jehovah who was to deliver them. The testimony of the others will not have convinced them. They will see and look upon Him whom they have pierced. Thus we find, in this chapter, besides the resurrection of Jesus, the epitome of the dispensation of grace from that event up to the Savior's return: first of all the Jewish remnant, represented by Mary Magdalene, but introduced by a risen Christ into the knowledge of the Christian position and privileges-privileges that she announces to the disciples. Following upon this communication, the assembled disciples find the Lord Jesus in their midst, pronouncing upon them the peace that He had just made: then He sends them forth, founding their mission on the peace given, and putting in their hands the administration of the forgiveness of sins, communicating the Holy Ghost to them. Finally, the Jewish remnant at the end, which believes when it sees, but which does not enjoy the same privileges as those who believe during His absence, at a time when we do not see. Thomas (the remnant) would not receive the testimony that had been borne to him of the resurrection of Jesus.