JOHN | Lesson 19 | Lesson Notes / Talking Points
Read John 20.1-31
I / INTRODUCTION: MAKING THE CONNECTIONS / SETTING THE CONTEXT
1/ I have always been interested in how Paul includes Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances when he articulates the essential elements of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15.1-8. We’re all familiar with ‘that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,’ and ‘that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.’ But Paul also includes that after Christ died, ‘that He was buried,’ and then following His resurrection, ‘and that He appeared….’ Paul then goes on to list six specific, personal appearances Jesus made to various disciples or groups of disciples.
2/ Luke bears out the same testimony in Acts 1.3: He presented Himself alive to them after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the Kingdom of God.
3/ When you harmonize the four Gospel accounts, “Five appearances are given as occurring on the day of His resurrection and five subsequently during the forty days. The five appearances on this day [of His resurrection] were (1) to Mary Magdalene (John and Mark); (2) to other women (Matthew); (3) to the two going to Emmaus; (4) to Simon Peter (Luke 24.34); (5) to ten apostles and others.” / A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels.
4/ So, why all this highlighting and recording Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances? Because … just like His burial attested and gave eye-witness testimony to the fact that Jesus really did die, so also His post-resurrection appearances attest and give eye-witness testimony to the fact that He really did rise from the dead! Jesus’ burial and post-resurrection appearances may not be efficacious to the saving and redemptive work of the Gospel [like His death and resurrection], but they offer credible and historical evidence that He both died and resurrected.
5/ So now we come to our lesson text, John 20. John has already made the point to give us an intentional and specific testimony concerning the events of Jesus’ crucifixion: He who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth – that you also may believe / ch 19.35. NOTE how John uses the verb ‘saw.’ Because when we segue into ch 20, John will use this eye-witness verb ‘see/saw’ no fewer than thirteen times as he gives testimony after testimony of those who ‘saw’ Jesus following His resurrection. Kinda summed up in v 25: “We have seen the LORD!”
6/ And not only did they ‘see’ the resurrected Christ, but ‘they believed’ – His post-resurrection appearances validated, affirmed, confirmed their faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God … leading John to write his purpose statement for writing this Gospel account to which we have referred as the guiding light and connecting theme throughout our survey of The Gospel of John: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may life in His Name / ch 20.30-31.
7/ You and I must receive their eye-witness testimonies, accept them as historical, true, and credible … and believe also – that we, too, may have eternal life by believing His Gospel.
II / vv 1-2 / The eyewitness testimony of Mary Magdalene [and other women]: what she ‘saw’
1/ This eye-witness testimony is significant because of both what they didn’t see … and then who they did see! John records here that Mary saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. Mark records how they wondered among themselves how they were going to roll the huge and heavy stone ‘door’ from the sepulchre when they got there / Mark 16.1-4.
2/ However, their visit to the tomb was significant also because of what they didn’t see: …but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus / Luke 24.3.
3/ They did also see angels who announced to them that they were looking for Someone who was not there; He had risen; but that they should go and tell His disciples that He had risen from the dead and would go before them into Galilee and see them there / Mark 16.5-7; Matthew 28.5-7.
III / vv 2-9 / The eyewitness testimonies of John and Simon Peter: what they ‘saw’
1/ Mary Magdalene ran to tell the disciples about what she saw at the tomb. She first met Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. We assume this is John’s humble way of identifying himself. [Not ‘whom Jesus loved’ as in ‘more than the others – but as a signature of his amazement at Jesus’ grace and love toward him.]
2/ Both John and Peter began a footrace to the sepulchre. John outran Peter and got there first, but stopped short of going in. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. These are the same linen cloths the dead body of Jesus had been wrapped in / ch 19.40. His body had been wrapped in them – but no more! They were neatly folded on the stone shelf or ledge where His body had been lain.
3/ Simon Peter caught up with John, but he didn’t hesitate at the open door of the sepulchre. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. John repeatedly tells us about the linen cloths so neatly and carefully folded…
4/ NOTE how the eye-witness testimonies of both Peter and John verify ‘seeing’ the same thing. NOTE also the effect it had on John especially. It affirmed and confirmed his faith in Jesus’ resurrection. He didn’t grasp the full impact and significance of what all it meant, but seeing was believing!
IV / vv 11-18 / The eyewitness testimony of Mary Magdalene again: what she ‘saw’
1/ Mary’s experience here raises some questions we can’t get into here: did she have this encounter with Jesus before or after she had gone to tell the disciples the tomb was empty? Or did the other women go to tell the disciples, and she hung back and stayed there, not able to leave? Or did she make her own personal visit there alone? Why did she not immediately recognize that it was Jesus who was speaking to her – mistaking Him to be the caretaker of the garden?
2/ Regardless of how confusing some of these questions may be to us, what John wants to emphasize is that Jesus had a very personal encounter with Mary Magdalene, and she recognized that it was really Jesus!
3/ John marks Mary’s personal experiences and eye-witness testimony with several visual testimonies:  …she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Then, finally, Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the LORD!”
4/ NOTE also how tenderly and lovingly Jesus revealed Himself to her just by calling her name: Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
5/ Mary’s personal encounter with Jesus was an unmistakable reunion with the Lord, Savior, Master, Teacher who had saved her from her demonic possession and self-wasted life in sin. She knew the Voice! And she knew that it was the same Jesus she had known and followed all during His ministry.
V / vv 19-23 / The eyewitness testimonies of the disciples on that first Resurrection-Day evening: what they ‘saw’
1/ This was now the evening of that day after Jesus had risen from the dead early in the morning. The disciples have been receiving reports from the women about the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene had personally told them about her encounter with Jesus. Peter and John had been to the tomb, and it was exactly as the women had reported / see Luke 24.13-24. And they had locked themselves inside the upper room where they had gathered for fear of the Jews who had crucified their Messiah. If the Jewish religious leaders had crucified Christ, would they not also come after them to do away with them also? And especially now, with all the reports swirling around Jerusalem that Jesus had risen from the dead!
2/ On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you!” Jesus didn’t have to open the door. He just suddenly materialized and appeared there before them, in His glorified physical body – in their physical sight! They ‘saw’ Him!
3/ Jesus wanted them to know it was really Him. They were not seeing some sort of ghost, specter, or apparition. It was really Him!
4/ Luke 24.36-43 also records that they were sharing an evening meal when Jesus appeared among them [see Mark 16.14], and that Jesus not only showed them the healed wounds in His side, hands, and feet, but that He also asked them if they had anything to eat – and He took a piece of broiled fish and ate it in their presence. They also saw Him eating!
5/ Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Their visibly, physically seeing Him not only made them eyewitnesses, but it also made them glad – filled them with joy!
6/ Remember also that just about three evenings ago, as He was delivering to them His Farewell Discourse, He had told them that in just a little while they would see Him no longer [during the days of His burial], and then they would see Him again [after His resurrection when He would appear to them again and talk with them]. “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” / ch 16.22.
7/ To further confirm their faith and their hopes for future ministry and usefulness, He repeated His peace blessing: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you!” It was at this juncture that He began to commission them for the mission He would send them to continue and accomplish in His Name. [He had prayed this in ch 17.18.] As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you. He will repeat this same commissioning mandate in Matthew 28.18-20 when He meets with them later in Galilee.
8/ AND not only would He send them out into all the world to preach the Gospel and make disciples [see Mark 16.15], but He also promises them [and us] the accompanying Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit to give us the authority, power, strength, and ability to fulfill that mission. And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This does not mean they didn’t have the Holy Spirit before; they had already been ‘born again’ and regenerated by the life of the Holy Spirit when they believed in Him [see ch 3.3-8]. No one has ever been saved and justified from their sins without also being regenerated by the life and power of the Holy Spirit. This is true in the Old Testament and the New.
9/ This act of breathing on them was the beginning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which would be consummated on the Day of Pentecost. They didn’t have the innate power in themselves [and neither do we] to perform and fulfill the work of preaching and witnessing the Gospel apart from the immediate Presence, Power, and working of the Holy Spirit in the moment and place where the work of Gospel transformation is being performed. Jesus reiterated this necessity of the power of the Holy Spirit in Luke 24.48-49: You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on High.
10/ So, what this mean? “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld”? Does this mean that the apostles, or you and me, has the power to actually forgive sins or withhold forgiveness of sins? NO! It simply means that the only way forgiveness of sins will be granted to anyone is by their believing the Gospel witness that we proclaim. By the same token, if they reject the Gospel message and do not believe in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection – then their forgiveness will be withheld. Here is the indispensable necessity of believing the witness about Christ’s death and resurrection in order to receive forgiveness of sins and have eternal life!
VI / vv 24-31 / The eyewitness testimony of Thomas: what he ‘saw’
1/ Thomas famously was not present on that first Resurrection Day evening appearance that Jesus made to His disciples. When they told Thomas, We have seen the LORD!, Thomas again famously replied with some degree of either skepticism or ‘it’s too good to be true.’ But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Real, true faith is never ‘blind,’ that is, without credible evidence. Thomas was receiving their testimony of credible evidence. THEY had seen the LORD. They could believe them and their real experiences. But Thomas demanded his own experience of the evidence before he would believe.
2/ Look at the amazing compassion and sensitivity Jesus demonstrated toward Thomas’s skepticism. One week later, on the evening of the very next Lord’s Day [first day of the week], Jesus appeared to the gathered disciples the same way He had appeared the week before – when the disciples were meeting together inside locked and bolted doors. Let’s just re-set the scene: Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 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 disbelieve, but believe.”
3/ The story doesn’t tell us that Thomas even had to reach out as Jesus had told him to do, to touch and feel the physical evidence he had so adamantly demanded. Thomas’s sight of Jesus was sufficient to overturn his most doubtful skepticism. He had seen … and he believed! “My LORD and my God!”
4/ So now listen to the blessing Jesus pronounces on us who have believed this credible testimony that John and the other disciples have seen with their own eyes and are proclaiming to us … so we, too, will believe! Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!”
5/ You and I have never had the visual experience of seeing the resurrected Christ with our own physical eyes. But John and the other eyewitnesses have! And they have faithfully recorded their visual encounters with Jesus to us. And they have done so that we, too, may believe that that they actually did see what they have truthfully and faithfully told us they saw!
6/ Which brings us now to the ‘purpose statement’ of this Gospel we have fore-‘seen’ and quoted many times as we have made our way through this Gospel: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.
The express purpose for which John has written everything he’s written here is so that we may know it really happened – everything was recorded by credible and verifiable eyewitnesses. They have told us the Truth! NOT to believe their word is to call God and Christ Himself a liar.
“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has born concerning His Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” / 1 John 5.10-12