Setting

Upon Jesus’ death, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus came forward to ask for Jesus’ body and gave the Lord a stately burial. Yet Jesus’ death is not the end of the gospel message. What is about to occur three days after His death— His resurrection and His ascension—is what brings a living hope to all Jesus’ followers. If Jesus is not raised to life, then the prophecies of Scripture and the claims of Jesus would be in vain, and Jesus would be no more than a charismatic and
powerful teacher. But being the Lord of life, Jesus is not confined by death. He takes up His life just as He willingly laid it down. In this lesson, we will read the accounts surrounding Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disciples through which all the disciples may come to believe that Jesus is truly Lord and Savior.

Key Verse

(20:17)

Did You Know...?

1. “The stone had been taken away” (20:1): The entrance of the tomb “was often closed with a large circular stone, set up on edge and rolled in its groove to the mouth of the tomb so as to close it securely.” [ref]

2. “Raboni” (20:16) is Aramaic for “my lord.”

Outline

  • Visits to the Empty Tomb
  • Mary found the tomb empty and reported it to Peter and the other disciple
    (1–2)
  • Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb and saw it for themselves
    (3–10)
  • Jesus’ Appearance to Mary
  • Mary saw and spoke with the two angels
    (11–13)
  • Jesus appeared and spoke to Mary
    (14–18)
  • Jesus’ Appearance to the Disciples
  • Jesus’ Appearance to Thomas
  • Epilogue: Purpose of the Recorded Signs

Keywords/Phrases

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General Analysis

  • 1.

    Observe and record Mary’s actions. What do they tell you about her?

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    Mary went to the tomb early (1), ran and came to Peter and the other disciple (2), stood outside by the tomb weeping (11), stooped down and looked into the tomb (11), turned (16), and clung to the Lord (17). Many of these actions expressed Mary’s deep love for the Lord Jesus.

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  • 2.

    Why is Jesus’ resurrection so important?

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    Jesus’ resurrection validates His own prediction (Mt 17:23, 28:6; Mk 8:31, 9:31, 10:34; Lk 18:33, 24:6–7; Jn 2:19, 22). It is the sure evidence that He is Lord and Christ as foretold by the Scripture and that He has power over death (Acts 2:32–36; Jn 10:17–18; Rom 6:9; cf. Jn 11:25, 26). By His resurrection we can be sure that His death indeed paid for our sins and that we can truly be justified through Him (Acts 10:42, 43, 13:33–39; Rom 4:24, 25). Because God has raised up Jesus from the dead, we have a firm hope that we will also one day be raised to eternal life (1 Cor 6:14, 15:1–58; 1 Thess 4:14–16).

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  • 3a.

    Observe the crucial role of the following two words in the passage: “see”

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    At the beginning of the narrative, Mary, Simon Peter, and the disciple whom Jesus loved saw the empty tomb (1, 5, 6). Out of these three, only the disciple whom Jesus loved believed after he saw (8). Afterwards, Mary also saw two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had lain (12). When Jesus appeared to Mary, Mary saw Jesus standing there but could not recognize Him (14). Having been entrusted with a message to the disciples, Mary went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord (18). That evening, Jesus came, stood in the midst of the disciples, and showed them His hands and His side. The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord (20). Thomas, who was absent, refused to believe when the disciples told him they had seen the Lord (25), and he insisted on not believing unless he sees the print of the nails in Jesus’ hand, puts his finger into the print of the nails, and puts his hand into Jesus’ side (25). Eight days later, Jesus appeared to the disciples and asked Thomas to reach his finger and look at His hand (27). When Thomas proclaimed his confession in the Lord, Jesus taught Thomas an important lesson on seeing and believing (29).

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  • 3b.

    “believe”

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    In the first part of the story, before Jesus appeared to Mary and the disciples, the belief of the disciple whom Jesus loved is quite remarkable (8) and functions as the climax of that part of the narrative. The theme of believing becomes even more prominent in the Thomas story. The Lord Jesus deliberately addressed Thomas’ unbelief when He spoke to Thomas and He further promised His blessing to those who believe without seeing (24–29).

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  • 4.

    In which verses does the Bible record Jesus’ greeting, “Peace to you”? Why is such a form of greeting important in the context of the story?

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    In both appearances to the disciples, the Lord’s first words were “Peace be with you” or “Peace to you!” (19, 26; the two greetings are identical in Greek). When the Lord was about to give His commission to the disciples, He again said to them, “Peace to you!” (21). The disciples had shut the doors out of fear of the Jews, but the Lord Jesus brought them the much needed inner peace. His words, not to mention His very presence among them, must have been a great comfort for the disciples. As the Lord had promised before His departure, He would not leave the disciples orphans, but would come to them (Jn 14:18). He would also give them His peace even through the tribulations they would undergo in the world (Jn 14:27, 16:33). Jesus’ appearance was concrete evidence that the disciples’ faith had not been in vain and that they could be confident in the promise that they would have peace in the Lord.

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Segment Analysis

  • 20:1–10

    1.

    Identify the progression in what Mary, the other disciple, and Peter saw in turn.

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    Mary saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb (1). The other disciple, whom Jesus loved, did not go into the tomb at first, but stooped down and looked in. He saw the linen cloths from where he was standing (4, 5). Simon Peter went into the tomb, and he saw the linen cloths lying there as well as the handkerchief that had been around Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself (6, 7).

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  • 2.

    Explain the significance of what Peter saw.

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    Peter saw the linen cloths that had been wrapped around Jesus’ body and the handkerchief that had been around His head. Clearly, Jesus’ body was not there not because someone had taken Him away as Mary had supposed. Anyone who might have attempted to carry away a corpse would not have first removed the handkerchief and the linen cloths which had been covered with a huge amount of spices. What Peter saw was proof that Jesus had resurrected.

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  • 3a.

    What did the other disciple believe?

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    It may seem that the most straightforward reading of verse 8 is that the other disciple believed Mary’s report that someone had taken away the Lord out of the tomb (cf. v. 2). The narrator’s comment in verse 9 also appears to support this. Nevertheless, the verb “believe,” a key word in the Gospel according to John, is always used in the context of faith in the Lord Jesus. Where the verb is used without an explicit object, as is the case in this verse, it is always understood to mean believing in Jesus (Jn 1:7, 50, 3:12, 4:41, 42, 48, 5:44, 6:36, 64, 9:38, 10:25, 26, 11:40, 16:31, 19:35). In the present passage, the word ‘believe’ is likewise referring to belief in the Lord Jesus and His resurrection (Jn 20:25, 27, 29, 31). It is unlikely, therefore, that the writer would use the word “believe” in verse 8 to mean belief in the report that Jesus’ body had been taken away, especially when this key word pertained to the disciple whom Jesus loved. We should interpret it as expressing the faith of the disciple in the Lord Jesus after he had seen the things left behind in the empty tomb. He understood the significance of what he had seen.

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  • 3b.

    How do you relate your answer to verse 9?

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    The statement in verse 9 seems to contradict the interpretation that the other disciple believed that Jesus had resurrected. However, we may understand verse 9 in one of the following two ways: 1. The verse may be referring to the lack of understanding on the part of Simon Peter and Mary. 2. The statement may refer to the state of all the disciples up to the point when the disciple whom Jesus loved saw and believed. A question remains concerning verse 10, which states that the disciples went away again to their own homes. One may ask why the disciple whom Jesus loved did not go and proclaim what he had seen if he believed that the Lord had risen from the dead. But the same question would hold if he and Simon Peter realized that the Lord’s body had been taken away but did nothing about their finding. To address this question, we may take verse 10 as simply a closure to the story of the visit to the tomb by Peter and the other disciple, especially when the story has reached its climax in verse 8. If we read the narrative in this light, questions about why we do not read further actions on the part of the two disciples would be irrelevant.

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  • 20:11–18

    4a.

    What is the meaning of the message Jesus asked Mary to convey?

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    Jesus told Mary to convey to the disciples that He was ascending to His Father. For the disciples, this meant that Jesus had indeed come from God and was returning to God in glory (cf. Jn 13:3). It also meant that what the Lord Jesus had promised the disciples, including the sending of the Holy Spirit, answering their prayers, preparing a place for them in His Father’s house, and coming again to receive them, would all come true (cf. Jn 14:1–3, 19–21, 23–28, 16:7, 16, 22–28).

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  • 4b.

    Why did the Lord Jesus call the disciples “My brethren”?

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    Jesus Christ became flesh in order to give to believers the right to become children of God (Jn 1:12, 13). He took on flesh and blood like us so that through death He may destroy the power of death and to set us free from bondage. Believers are Jesus’ brethren because He had become like them in order to deliver them from sin and to lead all the sons of God into glory (Heb 2:10–18). God has also predestined them to conform to the image of His Son, thereby making Jesus the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29). Jesus’ victory over death and His glorification qualified Him as the firstborn among God’s children. It was therefore particularly significant that Jesus called His disciples His brethren at this moment, as He was about to ascend to His Father.

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  • 4c.

    Explain the significance of the words “My Father and your Father” and “My God and your God.”

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    Jesus, being the firstborn among the children of God, has brought believers into a new relationship with the heavenly Father. Through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have received the new identity as God’s children (Jn 1:12; Gal 3:26). God also sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, by whom we cry out “Abba, Father!” (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15) By the salvation of our Lord Jesus, we may now address God as our Father and our God the same way Jesus addressed God as His Father and His God.

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  • 20:19–23

    5.

    What change took place in the disciples after seeing the Lord?

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    Their fear turned to joy (19, 20).

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  • 6a.

    What did the Lord Jesus send the disciples to do?

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    The passage itself does not state directly what the Lord Jesus was sending the disciples to do, although the commission was connected with the forgiveness and retaining of sins (21–23). If we compare this passage with the parallel commission passages in the synoptic gospels (Mt 28:18–20; Mk 16:15–18; Lk 24:46–49; cf. Acts 26:17, 18), we understand that the Lord Jesus was sending the disciples to witness for the Lord to the ends of the earth, preach repentance and remission of sins in Jesus’ name, and make disciples of all nations.

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  • 6b.

    How would the disciples exercise the authority to forgive and retain sins?

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    A crucial part of fulfilling Jesus’ commission is to baptize believers for the remission of sins. That is why baptism is included in Jesus’ commission statements (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:16). Those who believe in the Lord Jesus and are baptized will be saved, but those who do not believe will be condemned. Therefore, when the apostles carried out the Lord’s commission, they administered baptism to the converts for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16). On the other hand, they also testified against those who refused to accept the gospel, declaring their guilt (Acts 13:51, 18:6; cf. Mk 6:11).

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  • 6c.

    Why is receiving the Holy Spirit necessary for the commission?

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    While it is the disciples of the Lord Jesus who administer baptism for the remission of sins, on the spiritual level it is the Holy Spirit who baptizes believers and brings them into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). In baptism, the Spirit, who is truth, bears witness to the fact that Jesus Christ has come by water and blood (1 Jn 5:6). Therefore, the water in baptism carries the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood through the presence of the Spirit among the disciples. That is why the Lord Jesus called the spiritual birth that is necessary for entrance into God’s kingdom a birth “of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5). Baptism is not merely immersion in water but a spiritual birth. This involves the work of God’s Spirit. It is for this reason that when He sent the disciples to forgive and retain sins, the Lord Jesus first breathed on them and commanded them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22). In obedience to the Lord’s command, the disciples waited in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:5). It was when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them on the Day of Pentecost that the disciples began to baptize for the remission of sins (Acts 2:1–4, 38–41).

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  • 20:24–29

    7.

    Jesus answered Thomas’ specific demand (see verses 25 and 27). What does this tell us about Jesus?

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    1. Although He was not visibly in the midst of the disciples when Thomas uttered words of unbelief, the Lord Jesus, being the all-knowing and all-present God, was fully aware of what Thomas had said. 2. Jesus cared about Thomas and was compassionate toward him. He met Thomas’ exact demands even though He was under no obligation to prove Himself to Thomas. Out of love for Thomas, He appeared again eight days later just for Thomas. He knew Thomas’ needs and came to him in order to restore his faith.

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  • 8.

    What brought about the complete change in Thomas?

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    The sight of the risen Lord certainly convinced Thomas and removed his skepticism and unbelief. But more than that, Thomas must have been deeply moved by the fact that the Lord spoke to him personally and even graciously met his exact demands, which he had uttered arrogantly in disbelief (27). Coming face to face with the Lord who loved him so, Thomas humbly confessed his faith in his personal Savior, “My Lord and My God!” (28).

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  • 9.

    Recall a personal encounter you had with the Lord that led to the confession, “My Lord, My God!”

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  • 10a.

    Is it wrong to believe upon seeing evidence?

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    Jesus’ words to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” may seem to suggest that believing based on seeing evidence is not acceptable to Him. But this is not true. The disciple whom Jesus loved “saw and believed” (8). The very fact that the Lord Jesus appeared to Mary and the disciples tells us that He wanted them to see Him with their own eyes. He would not have expected the disciples to come to faith in the resurrection without any evidence at all. On the contrary, He presented Himself alive to the apostles by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days (Acts 1:1–3; cf. Jn 20:30). Our Lord Jesus came to this world to reveal the God whom we cannot see so that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life (Jn 1:18, 6:40). Therefore, not only does God not condemn belief upon seeing, He provides ways for man to see and believe.

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  • 10b.

    What was wrong with Thomas’ demand for evidence?

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    Thomas’ error was that he refused to believe unless the terms he had set down were met. The words, “I will not believe,” expressed the strongest form of negation in Greek, and may be translated “I will by no means believe.” In other words, even if evidence was presented before him, he would still not believe as long as the evidence did not match his conditions. As human beings, we are not in the position to demand God to prove Himself on our terms. Nevertheless, God in His great mercy reveals Himself to us and speaks to us in many ways (cf. Heb 1:1, 2:1–4). When the Lord Jesus was in the world, He also performed many signs to lead people to believe in Him. We need to open ourselves to God’s revelation and not insist on our own demands.

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  • 10c.

    Explain the Lord’s message to Thomas (vv. 27, 29).

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    The Lord told Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” “Unbelieving” and “believing” indicate the state of a person rather than particular actions at a given moment. Jesus was telling Thomas not to remain in the state of unbelief, but continue to walk in faith. While our faith may initially be the result of seeing evidence, we should not always expect proofs from God before we trust Him and obey His words. We must go from seeing to believing, and live a life of faith that is not dependent on sight. That is why Paul reminds us believers, “We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” (2 Cor 4:18) and “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Thus the Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29). These are they who have come to live by faith in God and do not demand God to constantly prove Himself with visible evidence.

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  • 11.

    How is the story of Thomas written for us today?

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    Jesus’ appearance to Thomas serves as a valuable lesson for believers of all ages. Perhaps part of us is still unbelieving like Thomas, and we set our own expectations on God. Even then, God still often helps us in our weakness and answers us according to our needs in order to strengthen us. However, He does not want us to remain in the state where we would only believe Him when we are blessed with material goods, health, success, or when He removes our difficulties. Instead, even in the face of tribulations and hardships, or when there seems to be no tangible reward for trusting God, we must continue to walk by faith in Him. This is a mature faith that is most precious in God’s eyes.

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  • 20:30–31

    12.

    What do these two verses tell us about the nature and purpose of Jesus’ signs?

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    The signs Jesus performed revealed that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and their purpose is for us to believe in Him and have eternal life.

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  • 13.

    What does it mean to you to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?

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    The title “the Christ” literally means “the anointed.” The roots of this term are in the Old Testament, and it was used of the king anointed by God (1 Sam 2:10; 2 Sam 22:51; Ps 2:2, 18:50). Furthermore, it had become a designation for the future king who would be a descendant of David and who would rule on the throne of David over Israel (cf. Mt 22:41–44; Mk 15:32). The title “the Son of God” is likewise associated with this kingly figure (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7; Lk 1:32, 33; Jn 1:49). Not only so, being the Son of God implied equality with God (Jn 5:18). In short, to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, means believing that Jesus has come from God into this world to save His own people from their sins and to bring them into His everlasting kingdom.

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