John Chapter 20


The sepulchre found to be empty. (Verse 1-10.)

Christ appears to Mary. (Verse 11-18.)

He appears to the disciples. (Verse 19-25.)

The unbelief of Thomas. (Verse 26-29.)

Conclusion. (Verse 30,31.)

1 The 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.

[Matt 28:1, Mark 16:2, Mark 16:9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, John 20:19, Acts 20:7, 1st Cor 16:2]

[sepulchre – a tomb, usually in Bible times a small cave with large shelves on the inside upon which the bodies were placed]

[“first day of the week” – from the greek “mia twn sabbatwn”, literally “first of sabbath”]

2 Then 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.

[sepulchre – a tomb, usually in Bible times a small cave with large shelves on the inside upon which the bodies were placed]

Notice there was no mention of any angels or the two appearances of Jesus to them because these were still yet to happen. The women would return and see these things after Peter and John had left the tomb.

3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.

4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

[sepulchre – a tomb, usually in Bible times a small cave with large shelves on the inside upon which the bodies were placed]

5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,

[sepulchre – a tomb, usually in Bible times a small cave with large shelves on the inside upon which the bodies were placed]

7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

there has been a considerable amount of debate in the last 25 years about a piece of burial cloth called the “Shroud of Turin.”  This burial shroud which is now kept in Italy, appears to be the burial cloth of a man who was crucified.  The full length image of a man appears on the cloth with wound marks in the hands, feet and side and marks about the head like those that would be left by a crown of thorns. Many claim that it is the cloth that Christ was buried in – these verses however prove the Shroud of Turin to either be a fake or the burial cloth of some other person; one piece of cloth (from head to foot) was not used to bury Jesus

8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

John is said to be the first disciple that believed in a resurrected Saviour because of verse eight but scripture points out that it wasn’t until later that day that the disciples believed after seeing the resurrected Christ for themselves.

We sometimes pick on Thomas, and call him doubting Thomas, but scripture points out that all the disciples doubted Jesus resurrection until they had seen Him with their own eyes. Verse nine supports this:

9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

[Matt 22:29]

Notice that the disciples were not excited but were rather, “much perplexed” and went back to their home. This was not the response we would expect from two people who just had found out that their Saviour had risen from the dead.

In fact John 20:9 stated that they didn’t know the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead even though Jesus had told them of it often, because as Luke’s gospel tells us, the thing was hid from them.

10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

[sepulchre – a tomb, usually in Bible times a small cave with large shelves on the inside upon which the bodies were placed]

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

[Matt 28:2, Mark 16:5, Luke 24:4]

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

When the women saw the two men (angelic messengers) they were afraid, not just by their sudden appearance in a graveyard but by their radiant appearance as well. They had on garments that shined like nothing they had ever seen before.

Another reason that the angels were there was to proclaim Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead. Imagine what the women might have thought had the angels not been there after they arrived at the tomb the second time that Sunday morning?

They would have doubted his resurrection themselves had it not been for these heavenly messengers who were sent from God to strengthen their faith.

When they heard the angels remind them of Jesus’ sayings while he was in Galilee they were fully convinced of His resurrection:

We have the same privilege today as those angels did two thousand years ago, and that is to proclaim the good news of a risen Saviour.  Do you remember what happened when the women told the disciples later? They did not believe them.

Now the two ladies enter the tomb and see yet a third angel sitting in the place that was reserved as the burial place for the wife of Joseph of Arimathea.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

[Matt 28:9, Mark 16:9]

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

notice how quickly Mary Magdalene recognized the voice of Jesus – compare this verse with John 10:4-5

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

If we compare several scriptures, it is possible to piece together what Christ did while he was dead and immediately after his resurrection.  Matthew 12:40 informs us, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  While Jesus was dead for 72 hours, he was in the heart of the earth.  From Luke 16 we know that there were two distinct “compartments,” or areas, in the heart of the earth – Abraham’s bosom (also called “paradise”) and Hell.  When a person from before the time of Christ died they went to one of these two places. Luke 16:19-24 says, “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

Though the Old Testament believers in “Abraham’s bosom” trusted God, they could not go to heaven upon death because their sins were not yet paid for – they were waiting for Jesus to die on the cross and shed his blood to pay for their sins.  Those in “hell” are still there today awaiting the final judgment – in fact hell is growing larger every day as men die without Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

While Christ was dead for three days, he was in the heart of the earth.  I Peter 3:19 says that during this time, Christ “preached to the spirits in prison” (ie. those in hell) apparently informing them of their doom.  From I Peter 4:6 we know that he “preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”  Therefore, Jesus told the doomed in hell of their fate and he told those who had trusted in God Almighty (those in “paradise”) the last piece of information they needed to be saved – Jesus blood had been shed for the salvation of mankind from their sins!

Ephesians 4:8-10 gives us the final bit of information we need when it says, “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens…”

Jesus died and “descended” into the lower parts of the earth. There he spent three days preaching to all of mankind that had ever lived upon the earth – some in hell and some in “paradise.”  At the end of the three days Jesus rose from the dead, spoke with Mary in the verse from John 20 we have been examining, and then ascended to the Father bringing all of those that were in paradise up to heaven; Jesus then returned the same day (John 20:19) to meet his disciples.

Today when a person dies they either go to heaven or to hell – which is still in the “heart of the earth.”  For the person who has repented of their sins and put their faith in Christ, the Bible says in II Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (ie. in heaven).  The person however who “dies in their sins” cannot go where Jesus is (John 8:21) and like the rich man in Luke 16 they will open their eyes in hell the moment after death.  Such a person will, like the rich man, be “tormented in this flame” while he awaits the final judgment.  The final judgment is described in Revelation chapter 20 – all those who died in their sins without Christ will be judged “according to their works” and will face the eventual horror of being “cast into the lake of fire” where they “shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20).  Though  not popular, this is Bible truth and should be a strong reminder to the lost of their need to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.

Here we have Jesus’ second appearance to Mary Magdalene in just a matter of a few minutes from when he appeared unto her back at the tomb. If you’ll notice, she was told not to touch him while they were at the tomb.

The reason for Jesus telling the former demon possessed prostitute from Migdal not to touch him was not because of her past.

We are all sinners in God’s eyes and we are just as guilty for our sin as Mary was for her own, and we deserve to pay for our sins in the lake of fire just as Mary does.

The reason that she could not touch Jesus immediately following his resurrection was that Jesus had to ascend into heaven and pour his sinless blood on God’s mercy seat to obtain our complete forgiveness of sins.

To touch any sinner would have made Jesus unclean by the virtue of their sin and thus render himself unable to present his sinless blood to the Father.

The priest had for century’s practiced this very thing on a yearly basis to atone for the sins of the nation of Israel. Now Jesus was doing it once and for all for the entire world to obtain our eternal redemption.

No more would the blood of goats, bulls and lambs have to be shed for sinful mankind.   When Jesus met the ladies the second time immediately following his ascension and dissension from heaven he commanded the ladies worship him while they were on their way back to tell the disciples the good news.

If you think about it all that was needed by the Religious and political leaders of that day to silence Christianity forever was to produce the body of Jesus three days after his crucifixion. They couldn’t!

So they were forced to make up a story that no sincere person would have believed if they would have just taken a moment to think it through.

Ask yourself, “Would the disciples all be willing to live the life of outcasts all to maintain a story they knew was untrue?” Of course not!

Would they be willing to be tortured and killed for something they knew was a lie? No! Would they risk eternal torment in Hell for preaching a way of salvation that they knew themselves was false? Absolutely not!

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

All eleven were present and none of them believed as of yet, not even Peter and John who had already been to the tomb earlier that morning.

19 Then 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.

[Matt 28:1, Mark 16:2, Mark 16:9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, John 20:19, Acts 20:7, 1st Cor 16:2]

[“first day of the week” – from the greek “mia twn sabbatwn”, literally “first of sabbath”]

20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.

21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

“Receive ye the Holy Ghost” – the disciples were very fearful at this point. In this verse Christ gives his disciples a temporary filling of the Holy Ghost to produce faith and calm in their hearts.  We know that this was not the permanent gift of the Holy Ghost promised in John 14:16 – how do we know this? John 16:7 makes it very clear that Jesus must depart before sending the Holy Ghost.  In Acts 1:4-5 we read, “And, being assembled together with them [the disciples], commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptised with water; but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”  The permanent gift of the Holy Ghost came on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two – it is not to be confused with this temporary blessing in John chapter 20.

23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

[Matt 16:19, Matt 18:18]

When Jesus breathed on them he told them to receive the Holy Ghost. That means that they did receive the Holy Ghost with the exception of Thomas who was not present at the time.

The Holy Ghost as you will see will come upon the disciples as needed, when prayed for, to give them boldness to witness of the works and resurrection of Christ.

It was nothing like our receiving the Holy Ghost today. We received the Holy Ghost at the moment we were saved. We were baptized by the Holy Ghost, they back then were baptized with the Holy Ghost, there is a very real difference between the two.

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Jesus was sent by his father to preach the gospel of the kingdom the lost sheep of the house of Israel and so he now sends his disciples to complete what he started among the Jews.

Verse twenty-three means exactly what it says, Jesus gave unto these ten apostles kingdom authority over the nation of Israel to bind and loose and remit or retain sins.

This is not a gift for the church today for as Jesus said it was for the nation of Israel. Remember the apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  We in the church do not have Popes with apostolic authority to forgive sins, Christ alone gives sin.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

notice that Thomas addresses Jesus as “GOD” and Jesus does not rebuke or correct Thomas in any way – this was because Jesus was and is God!  Any group or denomination that does not believe Jesus is God is in very serious disagreement with the Bible.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

[Matt 13:16, 16:17, Luke 10:23,24]

like Thomas, many refuse to believe in Christ until they can “see him” which will not happen in this life.  The blessing in this verse is reserved for those who believe without seeing – this is called “faith.”

Did you notice what doubting Thomas called Jesus after he saw Him this time? “My Lord and my God! Jesus is God in the flesh! 1 Timothy 3:16

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

This verse gives the reader the reason why the book of John was written – it is John’s statement of purpose.  The most important decision you can ever make is whether or not to repent of your sins and to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour.  Some day you will indeed die and death is NOT the end – you will go to heaven or hell based on one simple fact – what have you done with your sins.  If you have been a good person, have been baptised, gone to church every week, never hurt anyone and tried to keep the ten commandments, you could find yourself in hell just as quickly as any other sinner!  Good deeds can not wipe out our sins – ONLY the blood of Jesus Christ can wash away your sins!  Simply put:

1) You are a sinner along with all of mankind – see Romans 3:10-12, 3:23 and 5:12; it only takes one sin to make a person a sinner and to separate that person from God; 2) Sinners must somehow pay for their sins – the penalty or payment for sin is death in hell!  See Rom. 5:12 and 6:23; 3) The only thing you have to do in order to go to hell is nothing!  Look at John 3:18 – all sinners are ALREADY condemned.  If you do nothing about your sin, regardless of how good of a person you may be, you will die in your sins (8:21) and end up in hell, paying for your own sins forever! 4) Seeing our hopeless, dead-end situation, God had mercy upon us and sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to die in our place.  Jesus paid for our sins for us!  Instead of you having to go to hell and pay for your sins, you can trust in the payment that Jesus made for you.  Jesus did not have to die for his own sins – He was perfect – he died for your sins. See Romans 5:8 and John 3:16. 5) You now have an option – trust in Jesus Christ to save you from your sins and to take you to heaven OR trust in yourself and your own efforts that can never wash away your sins and go to hell.  Read John 5:24. 6) To get saved and personally apply Christ’s payment for sin to your sins, you simply need to do the following:

  1. Admit to God that you are a sinner (this is a very difficult thing with many people who because of pride aren’t about to admit that they are sinners who deserve hell); 2. Ask God to forgive you of all your sins – it is sin that is keeping you out of heaven and it is Jesus who died in order that your sins might be forgiven – you must ask him to forgive you; and 3. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ – tell God that you do believe that Jesus died for you and that you are willing to trust in only Jesus to get you to heaven – not in yourself, your good works, your church or anything else.

“Lord Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I believe that you died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead to save me from my sins and from Hell.  In the best way that I know how, I ask you to forgive me of my sins.  I accept you as my personal Saviour and from this moment on, I am going to depend entirely upon you alone for my salvation.  Amen.”

   That was the requirement for a Jew to believe to have eternal life to enter into Israel’s kingdom after the time of Jacob’s trouble, also known as the tribulation period.

Today we have to believe not just that Jesus is the Son of God but also that he died for us, was buried, and that he rose again from the dead for our justification so that we may enter not into an earthly kingdom but into heaven itself.

Commentary by Matthew Henry, 1710.

Verse 1-10 – If Christ gave his life a ransom, and had not taken it again, it would not have appeared that his giving it was accepted as satisfaction. It was a great trial to Mary, that the body was gone. Weak believers often make that the matter of complaint, which is really just ground of hope, and matter of joy. It is well when those more honoured than others with the privileges of disciples, are more active than others in the duty of disciples; more willing to take pains, and run hazards, in a good work. We must do our best, and neither envy those who can do better, nor despise those who do as well as they can, though they come behind. The disciple whom Jesus loved in a special manner, and who therefore in a special manner loved Jesus, was foremost. The love of Christ will make us to abound in every duty more than any thing else. He that was behind was Peter, who had denied Christ. A sense of guilt hinders us in the service of God. As yet the disciples knew not the Scripture; they Christ must rise again from the dead.

Verse 11-18 – We are likely to seek and find, when we seek with affection, and seek in tears. But many believers complain of the clouds and darkness they are under, which are methods of grace for humbling their souls, mortifying their sins, and endearing Christ to them. A sight of angels and their smiles, will not suffice, without a sight of Jesus, and God’s smiles in him. None know, but those who have tasted it, the sorrows of a deserted soul, which has had comfortable evidences of the love of God in Christ, and hopes of heaven, but has now lost them, and walks in darkness; such a wounded spirit who can bear? Christ, in manifesting himself to those that seek him, often outdoes their expectations. See how Mary’s heart was in earnest to find Jesus. Christ’s way of making himself known to his people is by his word; his word applied to their souls, speaking to them in particular. It might be read, Is it my Master? See with what pleasure those who love Jesus speak of his authority over them. He forbids her to expect that his bodily presence look further, than the present state of things. Observe the relation to God, from union with Christ. We, partaking of a Divine nature, Christ’s Father is our Father; and he, partaking of the human nature, our God is his God. Christ’s ascension into heaven, there to plead for us, is likewise an unspeakable comfort. Let them not think this earth is to be their home and rest; their eye and aim, and earnest desires, must be upon another world, and this ever upon their hearts, I ascend, therefore I must seek the things which are above. And let those who know the word of Christ, endeavour that others should get good from their knowledge.

Verse 19-25 – This was the first day of the week, and this day is afterwards often mentioned by the sacred writers; for it was evidently set apart as the Christian sabbath, in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. The disciples had shut the doors for fear of the Jews; and when they had no such expectation, Jesus himself came and stood in the midst of them, having miraculously, though silently, opened the doors. It is a comfort to Christ’s disciples, when their assemblies can only be held in private, that no doors can shut out Christ’s presence. When He manifests his love to believers by the comforts of his Spirit, he assures them that because he lives, they shall live also. A sight of Christ will gladden the heart of a disciple at any time; and the more we see of Jesus, the more we shall rejoice. He said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, thus showing that their spiritual life, as well as all their ability for their work, would be derived from him, and depended upon him. Every word of Christ which is received in the heart by faith, comes accompanied by this Divine breathing; and without this there is neither light nor life. Nothing is seen, known, discerned, or felt of God, but through this. After this, Christ directed the apostles to declare the only method by which sin would be forgiven. This power did not exist at all in the apostles as a power to give judgment, but only as a power to declare the character of those whom God would accept or reject in the day of judgment. They have clearly laid down the marks whereby a child of God may be discerned and be distinguished from a false professor; and according to what they have declared shall every case be decided in the day of judgment. When we assemble in Christ’s name, especially on his holy day, he will meet with us, and speak peace to us. The disciples of Christ should endeavour to build up one another in their most holy faith, both by repeating what they have heard to those that were absent, and by making known what they have experienced. Thomas limited the Holy One of Israel, when he would be convinced by his own method or not at all. He might justly have been left in his unbelief, after rejecting such abundant proofs. The fears and sorrows of the disciples are often lengthened, to punish their negligence.

Verse 26-29 – That one day in seven should be religiously observed, was an appointment from the beginning. And that, in the kingdom of the Messiah, the first day of the week should be that solemn day, was pointed out, in that Christ on that day once and again met his disciples in a religious assembly. The religious observance of that day has come down to us through every age of the church. There is not an unbelieving word in our tongues, nor thought in our minds, but it is known to the Lord Jesus; and he was pleased to accommodate himself even to Thomas, rather than leave him in his unbelief. We ought thus to bear with the weak,

Verse 15:1,2. This warning is given to all. If we are faithless, we are Christless and graceless, hopeless and joyless. Thomas was ashamed of his unbelief, and cried out, My Lord and my God. He spoke with affection, as one that took hold of Christ with all his might; “My Lord and my God.” Sound and sincere believers, though slow and weak, shall be graciously accepted of the Lord Jesus. It is the duty of those who read and hear the gospel, to believe, to embrace the doctrine of Christ, and that record concerning him, 1st John 5:11.

Verse 30,31 – There were other signs and proofs of our Lord’s resurrection, but these were committed to writing, that all might believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of sinners, and the Son of God; that, by this faith, they might obtain eternal life, by his mercy, truth, and power. May we believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing may we have life through his name.