Journey Through John – Chapter 20-21

The resurrection of Christ is the most pivotal moment in all of history. It is the climactic event our faith in Christ as Redeemer is validated and the moment which all of our Christian faith relies upon. In this session we see John’s portrait of the resurrected Christ.

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (1 Cor. 15.14).

In short, I didn’t become a Christian because God promised I would have an even happier life than I had as an atheist. He never promised any such thing. Indeed, following him would inevitably bring divine demotions in the eyes of the world. Rather, I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus really is the one-and-only Son of God who proved his divinity by rising from the dead. That meant following him was the most rational and logical step I could possibly take. – Lee Strobel

The truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of gospel truth. The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter. Without the resurrection, Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation. – John MacArthur

The Empty Tomb

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

  • “first day of the week” – Sunday. Christ was buried Friday afternoon.
  • “Mary Magdalene” – There is much speculation about Mary’s life (Prostitute? Complete conjecture. Wife/mistress of Jesus? Certainly not!), but from scripture we know that she was follower of Jesus who became a disciple and supporter of Jesus’ ministry after Jesus cast 7 demons from within her (Luke 8.1-3). She witnessed the death of Christ (Luke 23.49; John 20.13) and was the first to discover the empty tomb. Obviously, the men hadn’t done an adequate job for Jesus’ burial and Mary thought he deserved more attention. She had given her life to Jesus and wanted to see him honored more than the speedy burial he received.
  • “the stone” – usually a large rock carved into a wheel structure. Usually the stone, used to seal the tomb, would’ve been placed on an incline by the tomb entrance and held open with a wedge.
  • “so she came running” – Upon discovering that the stone had been removed, she naturally assumes foul play and runs to report the troubling news to Peter and John (the other disciple).

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

  • The two disciples depart for the tomb, Peter leaving with a head start. Evidently his 4O yard dash time was not up to par and John points this out in verse 4. On a serious note, take notice of the intricate details within these verses. These are the details an eye witness would provide.
  • Two miracles occur within these verses. First the Messiah has risen from the dead. Second, a single man did laundry. There is actually great significance in John’s notation of the burial linens. If Jesus’ body was stolen the clothes would be missing or in disarray. Not folded on the bed where He laid. Second, if Jesus was no longer in grave clothes, then his appearance would be a physical resurrection, the disciples were not seeing a ghost.
  • “He saw and believed” – Most likely meaning John believed Jesus to be alive, but did not yet understand the necessity of the resurrection.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

  • Mary refuses to leave the tomb until she finds an answer to the problem of Jesus’ disappearance.
  • The biblical account using Mary as the first/star witness to the resurrection adds credibility to the accuracy and reliability of the narrative. In first century society, women were not allowed to serve as legal witnesses in the judicial system. If you were fabricating a story, you wouldn’t choose a female to be the key witnesses. Her testimony would be inadmissible.
  • “Why are you crying?” – asked two times in these verses. This emphasizes her genuine sorrow and her misunderstanding about Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus mentioned this would be the case during the last supper (16.20). Devotionally speaking, Friday and Saturday were days for mourning. Easter is a day of celebration. The question is probably meant as a gentle rebuke more than it is a compassionate response to her sorrow.
  • “she did not recognize that it was Jesus” – we can only guess as to why she did not recognize Jesus. However, this seems to be a common theme when others encounter the resurrected Jesus as well. Perhaps his physical appearance has changed a bit.
  • Jesus calling Mary by name is significant as well. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10.27). 
  • “Do not hold on to me” – apparently Mary has put Jesus in what we might deem a bear hug. Other translations translate this word as Mary clinging to him. Two possibilities: 1) She will see him again, for he has yet to ascend. 2) Jesus’ relationship with her has now changed…”my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”. Both of these options may very well be at play.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

  • “On the evening of that first day” – Jesus does not appear to his disciples until later that evening.
  • “for fear of the Jewish leaders” – we can certainly understand their precaution, after all, their leader was just executed. Jesus warned them often that persecution would accompany their discipleship.
  • “Jesus came and stood among them…The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” –  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16.20). 
  • The disciples assume Jesus to be a spirit (Luke 24.37). Jesus contradicts the notion by showing the disciples the scars of his crucifixion. More evidence of a physical, bodily, resurrection.
  • “he breathed on them” – not likely a party foul. This may be a reference to Ezekiel. The same word is used to describe dry bones coming alive (Ezekiel 37.1-10). May this be the beginning of God’s world-wide army of the church? This is a foreshadowing of the soon-coming Holy Spirit.
  • 23 – Literally, “Those whose sins you forgive have already been forgiven; those whose sins you do not forgive have not been forgiven.” In other words, the church, in partnership with God announces one’s eternal dwelling as one responds to or rejects the gospel.

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

  • Apparently, Thomas was absent on Jesus’ initial appearance. These verses have given him the unfortunate nickname “Doubting Thomas”.
  • Jesus then offers proof of his resurrection to Thomas and Thomas moves from doubt to the highest praise of Christ found in the gospel.

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name

  • These verses were initially covered in the introductory discussion concerning the Gospel of John. We see John is not overly concerned with chronology. John’s focus isn’t a complete biography, but he has selected certain aspects of Jesus ministry to provide proof that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah and that he is the means to life.

Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish

21 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

  • Seven of the remaining eleven are together fishing. For some reason John does not mention four of them by name. The main thrust of this chapter is the reinstatement of Peter. A denial has occurred and Jesus comes to comfort and encourage a hurting disciple.
  • This story takes the reader back to Peter’s initial calling to follow Jesus (Luke 5.1-11).
  • Peter’s reaction to John’s statement, “it is the Lord” is nothing short of comical, but behind his plunging into the sea to swim to his Lord is a desire to speak with him. Surely the events surrounding his denial weighed upon him heavily.

Jesus Reinstates Peter

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believersthat this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

  • We can assume from context that after breakfast, Jesus and Peter are walking alone.
  • Much has been said about Jesus’ and Peter’s use of the different words translated “love” within the dialogue here, but those are probably overstated. John uses the terms somewhat interchangeably in his gospel.
  • What cannot be overlooked is a 3-time denial and a 3-time questioning about Peter’s love. There is no doubt Jesus is communicating a complete restoration to Peter in these verses.
  • “more than these” – vague and confusing to us. It could be a reference to the other disciples, or perhaps to activities like fishing. It is most likely a reference to the other disciples. Before his denial, Peter, sure of himself pictured himself to be the most devoted, Understanding this to be the case we see Peter’s response as one of great humility. Whereas if he were asked this question before the crucifixion, Peter may very well have responded with a yes. No he responds, “I don’t know; please know that I love you. I’m sorry about before.”
  • Peter’s grief on being asked the third time informs us that he is well aware of the intent of this conversation. On Peter’s third response, he appeals to the knowledge Christ has for his disciples. Before the denial, Peter rested upon his own bravery to stand firm, Jesus is asking him to rely upon His love for him.
  • 18-19 – The conversation concludes with Jesus foretelling Peter that he will one day die in the same manner Christ died. At the time of the writing of this gospel, Peter had already been martyred for his faith. Church tradition teaches that Peter was crucified upside down per his request circa AD 65. He did not feel worthy enough to be crucified the same as his Savior.
  • 20-23 – Peter then turns to see if John would see the same fate. Jesus responds by encouraging Peter to follow him and not worry about others.
  • 24-25 – The gospel closes with another nod to John as the author.