The Essential Jesus

Jesus' Resurrection

John 19:38-20:29

Teaching t12782


Review series topic.  Today we conclude our series by studying Jesus’ resurrection.  Our base text will be Jn. 19,20.  John was one of Jesus’ disciples.  (He refers to himself in the third person, as simply “the other disciple” and “the disciple whom Jesus loved”).  What we are about to read, then, is an eye-witness account of these events.

Before we read John’s account, let’s remember the setting.  Jesus had been crucified on Friday late morning, verified as dead by mid-afternoon, and buried in a nearby tomb before sunset.  Read 19:38-41.  The Jewish burial procedure was to tightly wrap the body with long linen strips that had been laced with myrrh and aloe placed.  (This is why so much myrrh and aloe was needed.)  The myrrh glued the strips together and to the body, sort of like a body-cast (SLIDE).[1]  A separate face-cloth was like a turban.

John 20 describes four scenes after Jesus’ resurrection.  Each scene sheds light on the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.  They also shed light on the nature of true Christianity. 

Scene 1: The empty tomb

Read 20:1,2.  When Mary sees that the stone has been rolled away, she does not conclude that Jesus has been resurrected; she concludes that His body has been stolen.  As we will see, none of the witnesses expected Jesus to be resurrected (even though Jesus predicted this many times) because they knew (like we know) that when people die, they stay dead.   

Next, we find out why the stone was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb – not to take Jesus’ body out, but to let others in to see what God had done!

Read 20:3,4.  Peter and John race to the tomb to try to figure out where the thieves took Jesus’ body.  (John can’t resist telling us that he won the race!). 

Read 20:5.  John peers curiously into the dimly-lit tomb, sees the linen wrappings in the shape of a body, concludes that Jesus’ body has not been stolen, and therefore doesn’t bother to go in.

Read 20:6,7.  Peter goes in and takes a closer look.  He also notices the linen wrappings in the shape of a body.  But he notices something else – the face-cloth is not where it should be.  Instead, it has been neatly rolled up and placed nearby.

Read 20:8,9.  John then re-enters the tomb and takes an even closer look and saw something that resulted in him believing that Jesus had been resurrected, even though he did not yet understand the Old Testament prophecies of this event.  What did he see?  Evidently, he saw the linen wrappings still in the shape of Jesus’ corpse – but they were empty, like a chrysalis after a butterfly has emerged (SLIDE).  (The face-cloth had apparently been moved to draw their attention to this.)  The only explanation was that Jesus’ body had somehow come back to life and passed right through His grave-clothes (SLIDE)!

This tells us something about the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body.  It was not merely resuscitated (as with Lazarus)—it was transformed into a body that, while fully physical (as we’ll see) was no longer subject to normal physical limitations (see also 20:19,20).  Next comes Scene 2 . . .

Scene 2: Jesus appears to Mary

Read 20:10-12.  Mary returns to the tomb in time to see Peter and John leave the scene with their minds blown, evidently speechless.  Curious, she peers intently into the tomb, and observes two people inside.  (Mary may not have realized immediately that they were angels; she may have realized this only afterward.)

Read 20:13-15.  Why didn’t Mary recognize Jesus?  Maybe because she was crying and her tears distorted her vision.  Maybe because she was so convinced that Jesus’ body had been stolen that her eyes interpreted the sensory data through that “grid.”  Maybe because Jesus’ resurrected appearance was different in some ways from His previous appearance (cf. Lk. 24:16; Jn. 21:4).  Maybe it was a combination of these factors . . .

Read 20:16.  When Jesus calls her by name (maybe pronouncing her name in a familiar way), Mary realizes that against all odds Jesus has returned to life.  She cries out her favorite name for Him and clutches Him so she will never be separated from Him again.

Now Jesus says something that sounds strange initially, but very important (read 20:17a).  He doesn’t mean: “Ugh!  Quit trying to hug me!”  Probably He means: “There is no need to cling to Me because I’m not leaving for a while yet.  Go tell My disciples that I’ll be visiting them too before I leave to be with the One who sent me.”

What is especially striking is how Jesus refers to His disciples and to God (read 20:17b).  For the first time in John’s gospel, Jesus calls His disciples “My brothers,” and He calls God “. . . your Father.”  The point is that Jesus’ death and resurrection enables His followers to have the same kind of relationship with God that Jesus enjoyed.  Now, because Jesus’ death has paid for our sins, we can become members of God’s family and experience His love (read Jn. 1:12).  This (not emulating our Founder or religious observances) is the heart of Christianity.

I doubt that Mary understood all this at the time – but she immediately told the disciples not only that she had seen Jesus alive,[2] but also that Jesus had spoken of these new relationships (read 20:18).  Next comes Scene 3 . . .

Scene 3: Jesus appears to His disciples

Read 20:19,20.  This event tells us more about the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body.  It confirms that His body was no longer subject to normal physical limitations.  Locked doors couldn’t keep Jesus out – He simply came into the room and made Himself visible to them.  And yet He wasn’t a disembodied spirit/ghost – He had a real body that somehow had continuity with His former body (hands & side wounds).  And yet those wounds obviously didn’t limit His health/vitality in any way.  Jesus hasn’t simply come back from the dead – He has conquered death! 

No wonder Jesus said “Peace be with you” to them as they hid from the Jews.  There is no reason to be afraid when the One who has conquered death is with you!  No wonder they rejoiced!  Christianity provides a peace through Jesus’ presence that is greater than our circumstances (Jn. 14:27).

But Jesus makes it clear that His resurrection is not just for their personal peace and joy (read 20:21).  He speaks of the Father’s plan for the world, and of their role in that plan.  Just as the Father sent Jesus into the world to bring lost people back to God (Lk. 19:10), Jesus is now sending His followers into the world for the same purpose.  And He is sending them with the same resources:

Read 20:22.  Just as Jesus carried out this mission by the power of God’s Spirit, so Jesus will bestow on His followers the same Spirit who will give them the same power.  This would happen several days later (Lk. 24:46-49), but Jesus symbolically describes it now by breathing (emphusao – expel a deep breath) on them.  This may sound strange to us, but Jesus had done things like this before (e.g., foot-washing symbolically described His death cleansing them from their defilement – see Jn. 13:7).[3]

Read 20:23.  Just as Jesus had the authority to announce people forgiven or not forgiven depending on whether they received Him as God’s Savior, so His followers will have the authority to announce people forgiven or not forgiven – depending on whether they respond to Jesus’ offer of forgiveness.

Jesus teaches us here that Christianity is missional.  Our personal love relationship with God/Jesus is precious – but not to be something that we selfishly keep to ourselves.  Jesus empowers us with His Spirit to tell other people that He is Messiah and Savior, and to call on all people to receive God’s forgiveness through Him.  These disciples, in spite of their many flaws, embraced this mission – and God’s Spirit empowered them to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8; subsequent “fillings”).  This is what we need to do if we want to experience the Spirit’s power!

Scene 4: Jesus appears to Thomas

Read 20:24,25.  Thomas was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples.  Jesus had promised all of His twelve disciples (except Judas) that they would physically see Him alive again after He was executed (Jn. 16:16,22).  So Thomas insists on receiving what he was promised.

Read 20:26,27.  A week later, Jesus appears in the same way and in the same room.  He delivers what He promised Thomas, and calls on him to entrust himself to Him.

Thomas’ response demonstrates what “believing in Jesus” means (read 20:28) – not merely mentally assenting that Jesus is risen from the dead, but personally worshipping Jesus as Messiah and God.  (And Jesus accepted his worship rather than being horrified by it, as He would have been if He was merely a devout Jew.)

Here is another lesson: Christianity calls for an evidence-based decision to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Let’s think carefully about both points here:

On the one hand, Jesus does not call us to blind faith – faith in spite of evidence, wishful-thinking faith.  Valid faith is based on sound evidence (20:25). 

You may be thinking: “Jesus hasn’t appeared to me, so I have no evidence to believe.”  But Jesus’ response to Thomas doesn’t agree (read 20:29).  Seeing the risen Jesus isn’t the only valid evidence for believing in Him.  Jesus gives other evidence that is a fully sufficient basis for belief in Him.  This is what John explains in 20:30,31 (read; “these have been written so that you may believe”) – the evidence of testimony.

You and I may not see the resurrected Jesus, but we have the reliable testimony of John and others who have seen Him.  This is eye-witness testimony, testimony confirmed by other eye-witnesses, testimony that they never recanted even though they were persecuted horribly (and maybe executed) for maintaining it, testimony never refuted by Jesus’ formidable enemies.  There is nothing like this testimony in any other religion.  Countless thousands of intelligent and highly educated people have come to faith in Jesus because of their testimony.  Have you considered their testimony?

In addition, we have the testimony of others who have not seen Him, yet who have experienced His life-changing presence.  People from very different walks of life, people with very different challenges and problems, people from very different religious and secular backgrounds, people whom God has already put in your life.  They all claim that the living Jesus has made Himself known to them, and has changed their lives in powerful ways.  Have you considered their testimony?

On the other hand, Jesus calls us to make a decision on the basis of this evidence – the same decision that Thomas made – to entrust yourself to Jesus as your Lord and God.  John says that it is by making this decision that you receive spiritual life (“that by believing you may have life”) – a personal relationship with God. 

Becoming a Christian is a decision.  You aren’t born into a relationship with Jesus.  You don’t catch it like the flu.  You won’t wake up one day already believing in Jesus.  And Jesus will not make you believe in Him.  You have to choose to entrust yourself to Him.  You have to respond positively to His invitation.  And then, when you make this decision, He will confirm His reality and goodness on a much deeper level!


[1] For Jewish burial procedure, see R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe (Crossway, 1999), p. 453.  See Chrysostom’s comment that the myrrh glued the linen strips to the body like lead, cited in Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John (Eerdmans, 1971), p. 841.

[2] That the first witness of the resurrected Jesus was a woman is another evidence of historical accuracy.  Because women were not regarded as trustworthy witnesses, a forged account would certainly not have included female witnesses.

[3] The only other time emphusao is used in the Bible is in the LXX in Gen. 2:7 – when God “breathed” into Adam and made him a spiritual being.  This time, however, it is Jesus who is breathing the Spirit of eternal life into His disciples.