The Resurrection of Christ: Chapter 20
John is the evangelist who places most emphasis on witnesses and the testimony which they give. It is often pointed out that in the final short period before the Lord died Johns account is vividly that of an eye-witness; for example, the reference to a vessel by the cross with the drink for the soldiers in it. He explains why the legs of the two malefactors were broken, while those of the Lord were not. He preserves for us the words of what others refer to merely as a loud cry - "It is finished". We can expect that he will be equally scrupulous in his handling of evidence for the resurrection of the Lord. We are not disappointed.
He explains that the disciples as yet "knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead" (v.9). They needed time to absorb the evidence which confronted their gaze. The chapter is full of references to what people saw - some thirteen times.
It seems that John (the "other disciple" in vv.1-9) may have been the first to see the significance of the way the grave-clothes lay: "he saw, and believed" (v.8). After their early hurried visit to the tomb John and Peter went away, perhaps to ponder at home.
Marys persistence in remaining at the tomb was rewarded, for she saw two angels in white in the tomb. They ask her why she is weeping. She says it is because "they" have taken away her Lord. Then someone whom she takes to be the gardener asks her the same question, but adds a second question: "Whom seekest thou?" (v.15). It is the Lord, and He knows what her problem is - she has lost the most important person in her world. She is not calm and collected - how could she be? She could never carry away the body of a grown man, even if she did find him. But in one word, a word she had often no doubt heard from the same lips, He dispels her darkness and sorrow: "Mary".
He explains to her that she need not try to hold Him, for His own people will have a new order of link with Him. "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (v.17). The spiritual link with "His brethren" does not depend on geographical nearness; it will be complete when He ascends to His Father and God, their Father and God. His triumph is the basis on which they can know the abiding nearness of God and Christ the Lord in a new way. It is an unbreakable link, purchased on Calvary and made known in His resurrection. So His resurrection appearance to Mary conquered her despair. She could never know ultimate disaster because He had risen victorious and would go to heavens throne.
Then the disciples, gathered in a locked room, were seized with fear. They would soon have the commission to carry the gospel throughout the world, beginning at Jerusalem. How could a group of simple, troubled men begin?
He stood in their midst, spoke peace to their fearful hearts, showed them that the Holy Spirit was the source of all power to witness, and their witness would be effective. "Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord" (v.20). Thomas, however, was not present, and he demanded the same visible proof of the Lords resurrection as the others had been granted. He wanted to know as a fact that He was risen. Thomass wish was granted and he uttered that memorable confession: "My Lord and my God!" (v.28). Thus all the disciples involved in the events of the chapter saw the Lord alive from the dead, and this was the climax of their reaction: He is risen from the dead and He is Lord. His resurrection was a sure sign that His claims, implicit or explicit, throughout the Gospel of John, were true.
Significantly this is followed immediately by the evangelist drawing a line under the signs which should lead people to faith: "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 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" (vv.30-31).
Incidentally, it is important that we notice how individual the reactions of the faithful were in ch.20. They had no stereotyped psychological conditioning, were subject to no mass hysteria. Individually they were granted contact with the Lord in ways which matched their individual needs and circumstances. What they had in common was proof that He was indeed risen, a physical, literal reality; anything short of that would not suffice.
Thomas was truly blessed in that the Lord came to His own again when Thomas was present with them, to see Him with his own eyes and become a witness to His resurrection. We are now more blessed still, for we have the inspired records which include the testimony of many who saw Him in resurrection: "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (v.29). This is not the faith of a gullible credulity: it is faith based on inspired written records carefully presented as evidence.
Not all who saw the sign-miracles performed believed on Him to eternal life. But they had opportunity to see the evidence which could, and should, lead to faith in Him.