Lesson Text: John 20:1-10, 19-20
Background Scripture: John 20:1-23
Devotional Reading: Psalm 31:1-5
John 20:1-10, 19-20
1The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
2Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
3Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
4So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.
5And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.
6Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
7And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
8Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.
9For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.
10Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
19Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
20And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
To study John’s account of the resurrection of Jesus.
To tell how the resurrection leads to faith in Jesus.
To reflect on why Jesus’ resurrection is so important in our lives.
The honorable disposition of dead bodies has been a concern since very ancient times. One common concern was that the corpse of a loved one not become carrion for wild animals. Some cultures, therefore, burned the bodies. Others buried the bodies in the ground or placed them in specially constructed rooms that could be sealed from animals.
In Jesus’ day, the wealthier families of Jerusalem had tombs carved into the limestone hills and rock faces of the region. Such tombs would have several bed-like shelves where bodies could be placed as if asleep. The entrance to these stone rooms could be sealed, sometimes by using a separate stone carved into a disk shape so that it could be rolled in front of the entrance using tracks carved in the stone (see Matthew 27:60).
After sufficient time had passed, someone would return to the tomb, have it opened, and collect the bones. These would be placed in an ossuary (bone box), also carved out of limestone and left in the tomb. Several sets of bones could be placed in an ossuary, and space would be available for the next family body to be laid to rest in the tomb.
The Romans did not normally allow the bodies of executed criminals to be buried too soon. When a person was crucified, the body was left on the cross for a long time, to be pecked at by birds. This was a graphic, public reminder that lawbreakers suffered horrible, dishonorable deaths. But in this instance, Jesus’ body and those of the thieves were taken down from the crosses quickly because the coming Sabbath “was an high day” (John 19:31).
Jesus’ body was given a hasty but honorable burial in a nearby tomb. That tomb was not owned by Jesus’ family. If they had had a family tomb, it would have been in Nazareth. The tomb was the possession of Joseph of Arimathaea, a prominent and wealthy leader of the Jews in Jerusalem. Matthew portrays Joseph as a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57), and Mark adds that he was “an honourable counsellor,” meaning a member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43).
John is even more revealing when he calls Joseph a secret disciple (John 19:38). But his secret was out when he used his influence to obtain Jesus’ body and bury it in his own, newly carved family tomb. Joseph’s actions in using this new tomb set the stage for today’s lesson.
The Dawning of a New Day (John 20)
If the Gospel of John were an ordinary biography, there would be no chapter 20. I am an incurable reader of biographies, and I notice that almost all of them conclude with the death and burial of the subject. I have yet to read one that describes the subject's resurrection from the dead! The fact that John continued his account and shared the excitement of the Resurrection miracle is proof that Jesus Christ is not like any other man. He is, indeed, the Son of God.
The Resurrection is an essential part of the Gospel message (1 Cor. 15:1-8) and a key doctrine in the Christian faith. It proves that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Acts 2:32-36; Rom. 1:4) and that His atoning work on the cross has been completed and is effective (Rom. 4:24,25). The empty cross and the empty tomb are God's "receipts" telling us that the debt has been paid. Jesus Christ is not only the Saviour, but He is also the Sanctifier (Rom. 6:4-10) and the Intercessor (Rom. 8:34). One day He shall return as Judge (Acts 17:30,31).
From the very beginning, the enemies of the Lord tried to deny the historic fact of the Resurrection. The Jewish leaders claimed that the Lord's body had been stolen from the tomb. This statement is absurd, for if the body was stolen by His followers, how did they do it? The tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers and the stone sealed by an official Roman seal. Furthermore, His disciples did not believe that He was to be raised from the dead; it was His enemies who remembered His words (Matt. 27:62-66). They certainly would not have taken the body! The last thing they wanted was anyone believing that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. If His friends could not steal the body, and His enemies would not, then who took it?
Perhaps the disciples had "visions" of the risen Lord and interpreted them as evidences for the Resurrection. But they did not expect to see Him, and that is not the kind of psychological preparation from which hallucinations are made. And how could more than 500 people have the same hallucination at the same time? (1 Cor. 15:6)
Did the followers of our Lord perhaps go to the wrong tomb? Not likely. They carefully watched where He was buried (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55). They loved the Master and were not likely to get confused about His resting place. In fact, as the women approached the tomb, they were worried about who would roll back the heavy stone (Mark 16:1-3); so they were acquainted with the situation.
As to the foolish argument that Jesus did not die, but only swooned and was later revived, little need be said. It was proved by many witnesses that Jesus was dead when His body was taken from the cross. Later, He was seen alive by dependable witnesses. The only logical conclusion is that He kept His promise and arose from the dead.
But the glorious truth of the Resurrection was not understood immediately by even His closest followers. It gradually dawned on these grieving people that their Master was not dead, but alive! And what a difference it made when the full realization of His resurrection took hold of them! For Mary Magdalene it meant moving from tears to joy (John 20:1-18); for the ten disciples it meant going from fear to courage (John 20:19-23) Faith Increased; and for Thomas it meant moving from doubt to assurance (John 20:24-31). With Mary, the emphasis is on love; with the ten, the emphasis is on hope; and with Thomas, the emphasis is on faith.
As we consider Mary Magdalene's experience that Lord's Day morning, we can see three stages in her comprehension of the truth of the Resurrection: Faith Eclipsed (John 20:1,2); Faith Dawning (John 20:3-10); and Faith Shining (John 20:11-18). Peter and John are also a part of this experience.
Faith Eclipsed (John 20:1,2)
1. Who was Mary Magdalene, and why did she go to Jesus’ tomb at dawn on the Sunday following His death on the cross? (John 20:1)
Although the original readers of the Gospel of John may be familiar with Mary Magdalene, she is not introduced until the end of this book. She is pictured as being one of the faithful women who did not desert Jesus while He was on the cross (John 19:25). Luke tells us that she was a follower of Jesus from the early days of His ministry. Jesus delivered her from a terrifying case of demon possession (Luke 8:2). Magdalene is not a surname in the modern sense. Rather, it designates this particular Mary as being “from Magdala,” perhaps to distinguish her from the other women named Mary in the Gospel accounts.
Mary Magdalene and other women came to the tomb with the intention of anointing the body of Jesus with the proper burial spices (Luke 24:1) and to complete a task they thought was unfinished due to the rushed burial before the beginning of the Sabbath (John 19:38-42). They go to the tomb on the first day of the week - our Sunday.
2. What did Mary do when she saw the tomb was empty? What was her original interpretation of the situation? (v. 2)
Mary was disturbed by this open, abandoned tomb. She interprets it almost as a crime scene: someone has opened the tomb and removed (stolen?) the body of Jesus. She does not know who this might be. Mary immediately ran and found Peter and John, telling them it was “they.” She is sure, then, that neither Peter nor the other disciples have taken the body; otherwise, her report would be different. In that case, “Where did you take the body?” would be her question. The idea that Jesus has risen from the dead does not seem to enter her thoughts, although she may have heard Him give prophecies of His resurrection (John 10:17,18).
Faith Dawning(John 20:3-10)
3. How did Peter and John respond to Mary’s news of what she saw at the tomb? (vs. 3-5)
Peter and John wanted to see and know for themselves what had happened to the body of the Lord. Like the women (Luke 24:1), they were not thinking about resurrection; they were thinking that Jesus’ enemies had done something to His body. John arrives at the tomb first, perhaps because he is younger than Peter. John peeks through the doorway, and there is enough light now for him to make out details. He sees the linen clothes, but no body. The body would have been wrapped lengthwise in a long shroud with strips of cloth used to bundle it tightly. John, then, waited for Peter before entering the tomb.
Mary's faith was not extinguished; it was only eclipsed. The light was still there, but it was covered. Peter and John were in the same spiritual condition, but soon all three of them would move out of the shadows and into the light.
It is significant that the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ were believing women. Among the Jews in that day, the testimony of women was not held in high regard. "It is better that the words of the Law be burned," said the rabbis, "than be delivered to a woman." But soon these Christian women would have a greater message than that of the Law.
What Do You Think?
What difference does the resurrection make in your life?
Talking Points for Your Discussion:
-In your time priorities
-In your financial priorities
-In your conversations
-In your relationships
4. What evidences of the resurrection did Peter and John see in the tomb? (vs. 6,7)
Peter immediately enters the tomb on arrival. He too sees what is left of the linen shroud and notices the separate napkin that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head (compare John 11:44).
The impression we are given is that the shroud has been shrugged off and is lying in disarray on the floor, but the head cloth has been removed, folded, and stacked neatly on the ledge. There is no sign of the body. These details argue further against the body having been stolen. Body snatchers would not take time to unwrap the shroud, and they certainly would not fold up the head cloth.
5. How does John describe both their belief and yet their lack of understanding? (vs. 8-10)
John now enters the tomb. We are not told what Peter’s reaction is at this point, although Luke 24:12 notes Peter as “wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.” When John takes in the scene, however, he believes.
This affirmation of John’s faith does not give specific content for his belief. We are safe to say that at the least it means he believes in Jesus (see John 1:12; 19:35) because of what he has seen and experienced. John records that true faith does not require eyewitness experience, however (see John 20:29). Although John has not yet seen the risen Lord and does not fully understand what has happened, he believes.
It takes some time for these earliest Christians to put all the pieces together regarding Jesus and the fulfillment of Scripture. Seven weeks later, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter will expound on Psalm 16 as a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection (see Acts 2:25-32). Decades later, Paul can state that Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead in accordance with Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3,4).
We should also understand that these deeper insights are the result of the influence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). John writes his gospel as much as six decades after this resurrection morning. He has had a long time to reflect and understand.
Faith Shining (John 20:11-18)
In John 20:11-18 (not in today’s text), Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb after the disciples depart. It is then that the risen Jesus appears to her. She reports this to the disciples, but her witness apparently does not allay their fears, as we shall see.
Faith Increased (John 20:19,20)
6. What happens that “same day at evening?” Why were the disciples meeting behind locked doors? (v. 19)
Later that day, Jesus makes a dramatic appearance to the disciples at the place they are staying (hiding). John pictures a house with doors closed tight. This reminds us of the climate of fear that they still feel. Their leader has been murdered by the men who are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation. Will the disciples be next? Is there another Judas out there who will betray them too?
Yet Jesus’ miraculous appearance in this secure room serves to change their fearful mind-set as Jesus declares peace be unto you. The fact that Jesus is able to appear inside a room without passing through an open door does not mean that He is now some type of disembodied spirit, although that is what the disciples initially think (Luke 24:37). Jesus really does have a body, as proven by the fact that He shares meals with the disciples after the resurrection (see Luke 24:42,43; compare John 21:12,13). We see further proof in our next verse.
7. How does Jesus prove His identity to His followers? (v. 20)
The reality of Jesus’ body is demonstrated as He shows “his hands and his side.” Luke 24:39 adds that Jesus invited His followers to touch Him and verify for themselves that He was not a ghost. The display of His wounds suffered on the cross was the unmistakable confirmation that this is the body that was placed in the tomb (compare John 20:27). It is now beginning to sink in for the disciples: Jesus is risen from the dead! Once the disciples were convinced of Jesus’ identity and presence, they were overcome with joy (John 20:20). Like Mary, they too traveled from the depths of despair to the pinnacle of happiness in a matter of seconds! The correct tone for the celebration of Resurrection Sunday!
POINTS TO PONDER
1. We should personally be an enthusiastic witness for Christ (John 20:1).
2. Let your love for Christ motivate you to share His resurrection and salvation with others (vs. 2-4).
3. Honest doubt does not have to be unbelief – it can be a search for truth (vs. 5-8).
4. Each of us must individually be enlightened about the Living Word with the help of the Holy Spirit (vs. 9,10).
5. Jesus offers us peace even in the midst of fear and doubt (v. 19).
6. We rejoice because Jesus is alive forevermore!! (v. 20.)
Enduring Questions, Eternal Hope
The Gospel of John is full of pointed questions. “What seek ye?” (John 1:38). “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (1:46). “Wilt thou be made whole?” (5:6). “Will ye also go away?” (6:67). “Believest thou this?” (11:26). “Who is this Son of man?” (12:34). “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (18:33). “What is truth?” (18:38). “Simon... lovest thou me?” (21:16). When these questions are asked by the characters in the storyline (sometimes by Jesus himself), they usually are asked of us, the readers, too.
In particular, John includes many questions about faith. Such questions still hold today. All around us are unbelievers—men, women, and children—with no promise of forgiveness, no hope of salvation without Jesus. Their lives may hum along for a long time, but there comes a day when things fall apart, and they have no faith to sustain them.
Just as the risen Jesus Christ gave hope and peace to Mary, the sharing of the resurrection gives hope to us today. Yes, life is hard, but we know that Jesus has not abandoned us. He has gone to prepare a place for us, a heavenly abode where there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more heartache (Revelation 21:4).
The waiting world is looking for a Savior. It asks “Who is He? Please tell me so that I might believe” (compare John 9:36). We have the answer to that question. May we share it with all, whether they listen or not. May we proclaim Hallelujah! Christ is risen indeed!
Father God, our Lord and Master, we are amazed at Your love for us. We are astounded that Your Son, Jesus, would willingly give His life for us. That empty tomb is the greatest news we could ever hear, for it gives us the hope that death is not the end, but the beginning of a new life with You. May we live as people of faith, trusting in You alone for our salvation! We pray in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Only Jesus’ resurrection gives us eternal hope.