John 20: 1-10
John, in chapter 19, goes to great lengths to establish Jesus really died. He wants people to know Jesus was dead and buried because there as a theory, a doctrine, which taught that Jesus didn’t really die. So John wants to establish once and for all that Jesus most certainly died and was buried. John does this because he also wants us to know Jesus was raised and alive (chapter 20).
In the opening ten verses of chapter 20 we see John’s insistence that He who was dead is alive. This truth became a cornerstone of the apostles’ teaching. This truth is so important that Paul later says, ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:17-20). If the Resurrection is not true, Christianity is untrue. So John takes great care to present conclusive evidence that Jesus rose and is alive. John is like an expert barrister presenting his argument before the jury. His argument is so powerful any counter-argument is simply washed away by the mountain of evidence. The first ten verses describe the initial discovery Jesus was alive. Three points will be made:
- This event was unexpected and misunderstood.
2. John provides us with significant detail that verifies this event.
3. Belief began to dawn in John’s own heart.
- One of the things that lends credence to all 4 gospels is the disciples’ utter surprise. We would have expected the disciples to say Jesus rose from death just as they thought He had taught them He would. It would have been quite expected for them to say, ‘Yes, we were in the know. We were expecting it.’ But that’s not what happened. They admit candidly their unbelief. They were shocked at such an unexpected turn of events and misunderstood what had happened. They misunderstood Old Testament prophecies that predicted the Resurrection. Even arriving at the tomb and seeing it empty, they still didn’t understand. Others in the Upper Room were in grief and disarray, utterly demoralised. For Peter, seeing the grave clothes left behind, the penny didn’t drop. He went home wondering (Luke 24:11). It’s the second disciple, in verse 8, who saw and believed.
We have Mary’s words to Peter and John (verse 2). They reveal she and the others believed Jesus’ body was moved by the authorities. The immediate response to the empty tomb was not to rejoice that Jesus was alive, but that it was a conspiracy by the authorities. There was complete misunderstanding. The evidence is misunderstood. You’d have thought they’d have been rightly able to assess, given what they’d been taught. This reluctance to accept the Resurrection is not due to a lack of evidence but stubborn unbelief. Those who don’t believe do so because they don’t want to believe. It is a natural distrust of the human heart to simply refuse to humble yourself because you will not bow in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. It is God’s grace which opened our eyes to see that Jesus rose from the dead. We believe in the Resurrection because of the glory not because we are clever and have higher spiritual ability. It is not because we are more religious, brought up in a Christian family, having an insight others lack. It’s simply God in His grace has opened our eyes to see, our ears to hear and our hearts to believe.
We need to pray God would open the hearts of those around us that they would believe as we do. Nothing that we do will produce results, it’s only God who saves.
- The significant details John gives us. He does so to authenticate his account. He, the second disciple, the one who Jesus loved, includes an incidental note – he’s faster that Peter, he outran Peter. Other details are more significant. The stone was removed from the tomb, the linen cloths were left lying in their place and the face cloth was folded up. All hint at the nature of the Lord’s Resurrection. When Lazarus emerged from the tomb he was wrapped in clothes (John 11:44-55). In contrast, Jesus’ linen cloths were left in the tomb. Lazarus returned with the same physical limitations, but Jesus’ resurrected body could pass through the clothes, leaving them behind.
Why was the stone moved? It’s evident that the stone wasn’t moved to let Jesus out, but to let the disciples in, so they could see for themselves the evidence. Similarly, the face cloth, being placed in such a way, shows a real presence of a real physical being who could take hold of and fold a cloth. What we see is Jesus rose to life with a real physical body but without the old limitations. He was resurrected to a higher place of physical existence. Lazarus was returned to his former life, Jesus was resurrected to a life of glory. Jesus rose physically, retaining His human nature fully, but He was raised as a glorified man. It marks not only a victory over death but a total elimination. The glorious truth is Jesus has smashed death and rendered it powerless. He rose, never to die again (Revelation 1:18). His resurrection life if glorious. He sets a precedence for those who will trust Him as their Saviour. In His Resurrection, they see the pattern of their resurrection, for all those who trust in Him. This event causes us to rejoice in the hope to eternal life. We have the most exciting prospect – as Jesus was after His Resurrection, so will we be after ours.
As Mary, Peter and John gazed in amazement at the empty tomb we should bow in wonder, love and praise. There is total victory over sin, hell and death. The symbol of His glory is not a cross on jewellery, it is the symbol of the empty tomb. The details John gives us shows the nature of Jesus’ glorious resurrection.
- One of the main themes of John’s gospel is the theme of light and darkness. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3), showing a reference that he was in the dark. Judas betrayed Jesus in darkness. In John 12:35-36 we see the repetition of darkness. John symbolically tells us Mary made her way to the tomb while it was still dark. Other writers say she arrived whilst it was dawn. Dark reflects Mary’s despair and unbelief. But in verse 8 John, speaking of himself, says he saw and believed. The light of faith dawns to dispel the darkness of unbelief. With Jesus’ resurrection a new day of faith dawns in John’s heart. Has the light of faith dawned in your soul as you see the empty tomb? Have you come out of the darkness of your unbelief? If not, why not? You are called to walk in the light.
Dear Christian friend, you have come to the light, then walk in it. Become more and more like the Saviour. Rejoice that He has not left you in the darkness of sin and unbelief. Look forward to the joy of heaven above, the Lamb. In glory we won’t be taken up with the splendour of our surroundings but the glory of our risen Lord. Walk in the fullness of His bright light and never in darkness again (Revelation 21:22). The light of faith dawned in John’s heart. Has it dawned in yours? If it has, know you will never walk in darkness again. Be a light in this world. Know there is a day coming when you will see the inexpressible glory of the Lord Himself. The Resurrection is but the beginning of the journey into light. Praise be to His name, our Resurrected Lord.