Trusting the Risen Christ


Sunday School Lesson for February 16, 2003


Background Passage: John 20:1-31


Focal Teaching Passage: John 20:1-9; 19-29



The Discovery of the Empty Tomb (20:1-9)


Verses 1-2

This passage details for us what happened in and around the tomb of Jesus early in the morning “on the first day of the week” (v. 1).  In is interesting that each of the four Gospels speak of the day of resurrection as the “first day” rather than referring to it as the third day following His crucifixion [Carson, 635]. This serves to highlight the inauguration of a new era of redemptive history, one that would soon include the granting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.


According to John’s chronology, the first person at the empty tomb on that morning was “Mary of Magdala” who had come in order that she might anoint the body of Jesus with perfumes and spices (v. 1).  Mark’s account notes that she hoped that someone would be available to assist in the moving of the massive stone in order to provide access to the Lord’s body (Mk. 16:1-3). However, when she arrived at the scene she was surprised to see that the heavy stone used to seal the tomb’s contents “had been removed from the entrance.” Hendriksen concludes that this language implies that the massive stone had not been simply rolled to the side, but actually lifted up off the ground out of its track and laid flat [448]. Since the robbing of graves was not an unusual event in early times, Mary came to the understandable conclusion that someone had “taken the Lord” (v. 2).


Verses 3-9

Mary reported her fears regarding the body of Jesus to “Simon Peter” (v.2) who immediately ran to the tomb accompanied by the “other disciple” (v. 2), John, the one Jesus loved” (v. 4). Upon investigation (vv. 5-6), the men discovered the remarkable evidence that something incredible had occurred within the tomb:


  • First, they saw the “strips of linen lying there” (v. 7).  In dramatic contrast to the raising of Lazarus, Jesus had apparently passed right through the many layers of linen wrappings that had been used in the postmortem preparation of His body.  Their shape and position within the tomb made it evident that no one had moved or stolen His body.


  • Secondly, they observed that the “burial cloth” used to secure “Jesus’ head” had been “folded up by itself, separate from the linen” (v. 7).  That the cloth was “folded up” seems to highlight the neatness of the cloth and “indicates that the cloth [was] in the exact same position as when Jesus’ body was wrapped in it” [Kostenberger, 187]. 


Having witnessed this unusual and thoroughly convincing evidence, the men, especially John himself, “believed” that Christ had risen from the dead (v. 8). It is quite significant that both Peter and John observed the evidence of the empty tomb first hand. This fact ensured that their testimony regarding the resurrection of Jesus would be admissible under Jewish law (Deut. 17:6; 19:15).


In verse 9, John mentions that the disciples still had not connected the amazing things they had just witnessed with the Old Testament Scripture promising that Jesus would “rise from the dead.”  While John may have in mind a particular passage that speaks of the resurrection, his language most likely refers to the Old Testament as a whole which, according the Jesus’ own declaration, testified of Him (Luke 24:25-26).



Jesus’ Appearance to the Disciples (20:19-29)


Verses 19-21

John records that “On the evening of that first day of the week” at least ten of the disciples (minus Judas and Thomas) of Jesus gathered behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” (v. 19).  This meeting, prompted by the likelihood that the Jewish authorities would seek out the followers of Jesus, probably occurred at a private home in the city of Jerusalem. Despite the bolted doors, however, John describes how the resurrected Jesus “came and stood among them” (v. 19).  The description provided by John seems to imply that the resurrected body of the Lord literally passed through the locked doors just as it had passed through the burial wrappings earlier. His greeting, “Peace be with you” (v. 21), serves to calm the fears they surely had both in reference to the Jewish authorities and those related to their “desertion of him prior to the crucifixion” [Kostenberger, 189].


In order to provide further confirmation of His identity, Jesus displayed His “hands and side” (v. 20). Upon seeing the scars and the undeniable evidence of His crucifixion the men immediately understood that the same One who had been crucified by Pilate was literally standing before them alive and well. Understandably, they were “overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (v. 20). William Hendriksen outlines four major implications of this powerful display [459]. First, it proved that the very person standing in their midst was really Jesus—the same Jesus they knew, loved, and served. Secondly, it proved that Jesus had a real human body—He was no phantom man. Thirdly, it proved that Christ had actually risen from the dead bodily—not just spiritually. Finally, it proved that the peace Jesus promised them was a real peace—one that was dependant only upon Him.


Verses 21-23

With the hearts of the disciples now reassured, Jesus repeated His earlier greeting, “Peace be with you!” and then re-commissioned His men for their apostolic mission—“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  Thus, as the Son obeyed His Father and faithfully accomplished the task set before Him, the disciples were to see themselves as equally sanctified and dispatched to the world in the Father’s power and authority. In many ways, then, the disciples were not to begin a new mission, but were to continue the very ministry inaugurated by Jesus.  That Jesus then “breathed on them” (v. 22) and declared, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22) draws attention to the gift of the Spirit soon to be experienced at Pentecost.  These words, therefore, serve as a promise of what is to come as well as marking the formal constitution of the disciples as “the new messianic community” [Kostenberger, 189] fully empowered by the very breath of Yahweh Himself.


Verses 24-29

Next, John recalls the meeting of Jesus and “Thomas” who was not present when the Lord previously appeared before the disciples (v. 24).  When he received the news that the others had “seen the Lord” (v. 25), he announced that he would not believe in the resurrection unless he personally beheld “the nail marks in his hand,” placed his finger “where the nails were,” and put his hand “into his side” (v. 25). However, just one week later, while the disciples were once again gathered at the house behind locked doors, “Jesus came and stood among them” (v. 26). When the Lord appeared, He immediately presented His body to Thomas for inspection in the manner he had demanded—“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side” (v. 27).  With such an undeniable and dramatic display of the reality of Christ’s bodily presence Thomas’s only reasonable option was to “Stop doubting and believe” as the other disciples had done. Finally convinced that his Lord was indeed alive, Thomas confessed “My Lord and my God” (v. 28).  Thus, as Bruce concludes, “Thomas’s confession corroborates the prologue to the Gospel: ‘the Word was God’” [394].




Major Themes for Application and Reflection


One: Christ’s complete victory over sin, death, and hell—Think carefully about the many practical implications of Christ’s bodily resurrection.  For help, look at Paul’s argument powerfully set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19.




Two: The centrality of the resurrection in the preaching of the Gospel—Look at the content of the very first Christian sermons ever preached as recorded in Acts and note the compelling appeal to the resurrection.  Why did the apostles and Paul preach this way? See: Acts 2:14-36; 3:11-26; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 17:16-31.




Three: Seeing, believing, and the purpose of evidence—Why did Jesus pronounce a blessing upon those who have believed in Him without seeing? (20:29). How does this statement relate to Romans 10:17? If evidence helps produce and support faith, why does God not provide more miraculous evidence for people today?