John 20 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
John 20
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
XX.

[6. The Climax of Faith. Resurrection and Appearances of Jesus (John 20).

(1)ST. PETER AND ST. JOHN AT THE EMPTY SEPULCHRE. THEY SEE AND BELIEVE (John 20:1-10).

(2)MARY MAGDALENE AT THE SEPULCHRE. THE ANGELS. “RABBONI.” CHANGED CONDITIONS OF LIFE (John 20:11-18).

(3)THE FIRST APPEARANCE TO THE TEN. PEACE TO THEM AND TO THE WORLD (John 20:19-23).

(4)THE APPEARANCE TO THE ELEVEN. “MY LORD AND MY GOD” (John 20:24-29).

(5)CLOSE OF THE ORIGINAL GOSPEL AT THIS HIGHEST REACH OF FAITH. ITS OBJECT; LIFE THROUGH BELIEVING (John 20:30-31).]

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
(1) For the visit of the women to the sepulchre, and their announcement to the disciples (John 20:1-2), comp. generally Notes on Matthew 28:1-4; Matthew 28:8; Mark 16:1-4; Mark 16:8; Luke 24:1-3; Luke 24:9-11. Each of the three narratives separates the return from the visit by an account of the appearance of the angels at the sepulchre.

The first day of the week.—The same phrase occurs in Luke 24:1.

Cometh Mary Magdalene.—St. Matthew has, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary;” St. Mark has, “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome;” St. Luke has, “The women which had come with Him from Galilee” (Luke 23:55), and enumerates them in Luke 24:10, as “Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the others with them.” St. John speaks of only one of the group, who was specially prominent.

And seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.—This fact is made emphatic in all the accounts. See especially Luke 24:2.

Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
(2) To Simon Peter, and to the other disciple.—St. Matthew has, “to His disciples;” St. Luke has, “to the Eleven, and to all the rest.” St. John relates only that announcement of which he had special personal knowledge.

For “the other disciple” comp. Introduction, p. 375. For the connection between St. John and St. Peter, comp. Introduction, p. 371.

Whom Jesus loved.—Comp. Note on John 11:3; John 21:15. The word here used of St. John is that which is used of Lazarus in John 11:3. It is not the word which occurs in John 19:26; John 21:7; John 21:20.

We know not where they have laid him.—The plural has frequently been pressed to prove that Mary included the other women with herself in what she says—i.e., that St. John’s narrative here implies that of the earlier Gospels. This certainly may be so, but we cannot say more than this. It certainly may be that, in her feeling of despair, she speaks generally of the utter hopelessness of human effort, whether her own or that of others. It is the passionate cry of her woman’s heart. They have not only crucified the Lord, but have robbed the body of the resting-place which love had provided for it, and of the tender care with which love was seeking to surround it—“They have taken away the Lord; and we know not to what fresh indignity their hatred, against which even the grave is not proof, has subjected the body of Him whom we have loved. We know not where they have laid Him.”

Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
(3) The details of the visit of Peter and John (John 20:3-10) are peculiar to this Gospel. St. Luke mentions the visit of Peter only (24:12, but comp. John 20:23); but here we have the whole scene pictured with all the vividness and exactness of one who stated what he himself saw and took part in.

Peter therefore went forth, and . . . came to the sepulchre.—In the original there is a change of tense here; the latter verb expressing the continuance of the journey towards the sepulchre.

So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.
(4) So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter.—This is simply the result of the greater activity of John, who was probably younger than his companion. The thought that love outran doubt or fear, which has often been connected with the words, is not in harmony with the context, for “Peter therefore went forth” as soon as he heard Mary’s words (John 20:3); and Peter it was who first entered into the sepulchre (John 20:6).

And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.
(5) And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying.—Better, . . . seeth the linen clothes lying. The tense still describes the scene as it actually occurred. The words “looking in” rightly complete the meaning. (Comp. Note on John 11:38, and for the word, Note on Luke 24:12.) It is used again in the New Testament only in John 20:11, James 1:25, and 1Peter 1:12. It meant, originally, to stoop sideways, and was used, e.g., of a harp-player; then, to stoop over, peer into, inquire into. For the “linen clothes,” comp. John 19:40.

Yet went he not in.—He is restrained by wonder, not unaccompanied, perhaps, by fear, at what he sees, and waits for his friend and companion.

Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
(6) And went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie.—Better, . . . beholdeth the linen clothes lie. The word is not the same as that in John 20:5, but expresses the close observation of the linen clothes by St. Peter, while St. John did but see them from without.

And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
(7) And the napkin, that was about his head.—Comp. Note on John 11:44.

Not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together . .—This was not seen from without (John 20:5), but was in a separate place, perhaps on the inner side of the sepulchre. In this description and in this verse the minute knowledge and remembrance of an eye-witness reaches its climax. The very fact that the napkin was folded did not escape the writer’s eye, nor fade from his memory.

Then went in also that other disciple . . .—If the vivid details of this picture impress us with the fact that we are in the presence of an eye-witness, none the less do the traits of character remind us of all that we know from other sources of the actors in the scene. The bold impetuosity of St. Peter, and the gentle reverence of St. John, are represented in him who quickly entered into the sepulchre, and in him who stood gazing into it, and afterwards went in. He went in, “therefore,” as the original exactly means, because he heard from Peter of what he had seen.

And he saw, and believed.—The gentler character was also the more receptive, and this appears to be intimated in this verse. Nothing is said of St. Peter’s faith, but St. John seems to unveil for us the inner history of his own spiritual life. The word for “see” is different from either of those used before in John 20:5-6. (Comp. Luke 10:23.) It is not that he saw, as from a distance, nor yet that he beheld that which was immediately presented to the gaze; it is not that he saw in any merely physical sense, but that he saw with the eye of the mind, and grasped the truth which lay beneath the phenomena around him. He saw, and he who had believed before, found in this fact the stepping-stone to a higher faith. (Comp. Note on John 2:11.)

For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.
(9) For as yet they knew not the scripture.—This explains in what sense it was that St. John now believed. Up to this time they knew not the meaning of the Scripture which foretold the Resurrection; but from that moment at least they recognised in the fact of the absent body of Christ the truth that He must rise again. (Comp. Notes on John 2:21-22.)

That he must rise again from the dead.—Comp. especially Notes on Luke 24:26; Luke 24:44.

Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
(10) Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.—More exactly, of course, to their lodgings in Jerusalem. They had accomplished the object of their visit to the sepulchre. One, at least, had realised, and he must have told his thoughts to his friend, that the Lord was not to be looked for in the empty grave, and that Mary’s fears (John 20:2) were groundless. No enemies had taken the body away. They return, then, with hearts filled with this truth, to ponder over its meaning, or to tell it to others of the Eleven, or to wonder and to wait until He should come again to them, as He had promised.

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
(11) But Mary stood (better, was standing) without at the sepulchre weeping.—She had before gone back as soon as she saw that the stone was taken away (John 20:1-2), and had told the two disciples of what she found. She was left behind by them in their haste to reach the sepulchre, but has followed them, and now that they have returned with the joy of a new and fuller faith, she remains without the sepulchre, not venturing to enter, and giving vent in tears to the sorrow that weighs upon her heart.

She stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.—Comp. Note on John 20:5.

And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
(12) And seeth two angels in white sitting.—Comp. generally on the vision of angels, Notes on Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-8. This is to be regarded as a distinct vision to Mary, which, from the fulness with which it is recorded, we must suppose that she herself related to the Evangelist. (Comp. Introduction, p. 379.) It rests, therefore, upon her testimony, and as a vision to her only may seem to be less certainly objective than the other appearances. Great caution is, however, necessary in estimating the truth of that which is wholly beyond the application of our ordinary canons of evidence. If we admit the earlier vision of angels, of which there were several witnesses, there can be no reason for rejecting this; and if the evidence was at the time sufficient to convince the Evangelist, who himself had seen no such vision, but was guided by the Spirit to accept and record this, as seen by Mary, we have a decisive judgment of higher authority than any which criticism can attain.

With the words “in white” we are, of course, to understand raiment. The ellipsis is frequent in the classic, and indeed in all writers.

The one at the head, and the other at the feet.—The idea is apparently that of sitting and watching the body. She had feared that some outrage had been wrought upon the body; but God had given His angels charge concerning Him.

And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
(13) And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?—Comp. Matthew 28:5.

Because they have taken away my Lord.—The passionate feeling of John 20:2 still has entire possession of her mind. It is now more fervent, for she is not addressing her own friends and the Lord’s disciples: “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” (Comp. Note on the plural, “we know not,” in John 20:2.) She is here alone, speaking to strangers, and may, therefore, have used the singular, whether she went in the early morning with other women or not.

And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
(14) And saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.—There is no need to imagine an external cause for her turning round, and if there was one it is useless for us to ask what it was. She has expressed her woe, and turns aside again to weep, when she sees another form. Weighed down by her sorrow, not looking intently, it may be, or seeing indistinctly through tear-filled eyes, she does not recognise her Lord. We know not what the appearance was. Figure, feature, clothing, there must have been; but these differing, in this as in other manifestations, from those with which they had been familiar. She, perhaps, hardly looked at all, but supposed that the only person there at that early hour would be the keeper of the garden.

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
(15) Sir, if thou have borne him hence . . .—The word rendered “Sir” is generally a mark of respect, but like the corresponding word in most languages, was also used to a stranger, and even to an inferior. The “gardener,” moreover, corresponded more to what we should call a “bailiff.” He would have been a servant of Joseph of Arimathæa, and as such may have become known to Mary at the time of embalming. She says, with emphasis, “If thou hast borne Him hence;” turning away from the angels to address him. The word rendered “borne” here means properly “to bear,” and then “bear away,” “remove,” and then “remove secretly.” (Comp. John 12:6.) Of this last meaning there are many undoubted examples in Josephus, and this seems clearly to be the thought here.

Tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away .—Three times she refers to the Lord simply by the pronoun “Him.” She has named Him in the previous verse, and perhaps thinks that the gardener had heard those words; but the impression formed from her eager words is that her own mind is so entirely filled with the one subject, that she supposes it to be in the minds of others. The same passionate eagerness is heard in the words which follow. Devotion such as hers does not weigh difficulties. A place of safety for that sacred body is the object of her will; and that will neither dreads danger nor sees that the task would be physically impossible, but asserts in the confidence of its own strength, “and I will take Him away.”

Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
(16) Jesus saith unto her, Mary.—It is to that devoted love that the first words of the risen Lord are spoken. He who knew her whole past, and knew that her devotion to Him had sprung from the freedom from the thraldom of evil which He had wrought for her, is near to that woman weeping by the grave-side, while Apostles, even the true-hearted Peter and the loving John, have gone to their own homes. The voice of God is always most quickly heard by the hearts that love Him; the presence of God is never so truly felt as in the utter helplessness of human woe.

Saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.—The better reading is, saith unto Him in Hebrew, Rabboni . . .—Comp. Notes on John 19:13, and on Mark 10:51, which is the only other passage in the New Testament where “Rabboni” occurs. She had heard in the well-known voice her own name, and it has brought back to her all the old associations. It is the “Master,” or, as the Hebrew word means, “My Master,” and she falls at His feet to embrace Him.

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
(17) Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.—The probable explanation of these words is to be found in the fact that she had cast herself at His feet with the customary reverential embrace of the knees, and perhaps to make doubly sure the fact that it was the Lord’s body, and that His words are meant to prevent this. The words themselves must be carefully considered. “Touch” represents a Greek word which means to “cling to,” to “fasten on,” to “grasp” an object. The tense is present, and the prohibition is, therefore, not of an individual act, but of a continuance of the act, of the habit, “Do not continue clinging to Me.” Her act supposed a condition which had not yet been accomplished. He had not returned to earth to abide permanently with His disciples in the presence of the Paraclete (comp. John 14:18), for He had not yet ascended to the Father. There should come a permanent closeness of union in His presence in the soul; but then the spirit which her act was manifesting was one which would prevent this presence. The coming of the Paraclete depended upon His going to the Father (comp. John 16:7), but she would cling to a visible presence, and has not learnt the truth so hard to learn, “It is expedient for you that I go away” (John 16:7.)

But go to my brethren, and say unto them.—Comp. Notes on Matthew 28:10, and on John 15:15. There is a special force in the word “brethren” as spoken by the risen Lord, in that it declares the continuance of His human nature. (See Hebrews 2:11.)

I ascend unto my Father, and your Father.—The present is used of the future, which He regards as immediately at hand. The message to the brethren is an assurance that the going to the Father, of which He had so often spoken to them, was about to be realised. The victory over death has been accomplished. This appearance on earth is an earnest of the return to heaven. “Unto My Father,” He now says, “and your Father.” It is a more emphatic expression than “our Father” would have been. “I ascend unto My Father. Because He is My Father, He is also your Father, and you are My brethren. My victory over death was the victory of man, whose nature has in Me conquered death. My ascension into heaven will be the ascension of human nature, which in Me goes to the Father.”

My God, and your God.—This phrase contains the same fulness of meaning, and adds the special thought of the continuity of the human nature of our Lord, which has already appeared in the word “brethren.” (See Note above.)

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
(18) Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples.—Better, Mary Magdalene cometh, and announceth to the disciples. The coming is described from the point of view of the writer, who was one of the disciples.

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
(19) For this appearance to the disciples (John 20:19-25) comp. Mark 16:14 and Luke 24:36-43. Between the last verse and this we must suppose to occur the bribing of the guard (Matthew 28:11-15), and the conversation on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35; see also Mark 16:12-13, and comp. Chronological Harmony of the Gospels, p. 37)

When the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled . . .—This fact is noted here and in John 20:26, and the obvious intention is to point out that the appearance was preternatural. The body of the risen Lord was indeed the body of His human life, but it was not subject to the ordinary conditions of human life. The power that had upheld it as He walked upon the Sea of Galilee (John 6:16-21) made it during those forty days independent of laws of gravitation and of material resistance. (Comp. Notes on Luke 24:15-16; Luke 24:31; Luke 24:39.) The supposition that the doors were shut, and were miraculously opened (comp. Acts 12:10), is opposed to the general impression of the context, and the incident is one which would probably have been mentioned.

The “fear of the Jews” naturally followed the Crucifixion. The Shepherd was struck, and the flock was scattered. They would remember, too, His own words, which foretold persecution for them (John 15:18 et seq.), and there may have been definite charges against some of them. Peter, e.g., had drawn upon himself the hostility of the high priest’s household, and John was known to be among the disciples. (Comp. John 18:8; John 18:25 et seq.)

Peace be unto you.—The salutation is given also in Luke 24:36. (Comp., in this Gospel, Note on John 14:27.) The well-known words of greeting would come to them now, as her own name came to Mary (John 20:16), bringing, as the familiar tones fell upon the ear, the assurance of the Master’s presence in their midst. But the words would also have the fuller meaning of a message from the spirit-world to them. It is a voice from the darkness beyond the grave into which the living have tried in vain to see, and that voice is one of peace. It is the message of the conqueror of death to man who has conquered in and through Him, declaring that the victory is won. It is the message of atonement, declaring the peace which flows from pardoned sin and reconciliation with God to the disciples themselves, and through them-as the apostles of peace, to all mankind.

And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
(20) He shewed unto them his hands and his side.—In St. Luke’s account (Luke 24:39) we have “hands and feet.” The piercing of the side is related by St. John only. (Comp. John 20:25-27.)

Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.—Better, the disciples therefore were glad . . . Their joy arose from the proof of corporeal identity which He had given them in the wounds. Their first impression was that they saw a spirit, and they were afraid, but the conviction that it was indeed the Lord, filled them with joy. (Comp. John 6:19-21, and Luke 24:37; Luke 24:41.)

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
(21) Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you.—These words may be here a solemn repetition of the greeting in John 20:19, by which our Lord’s own message of peace is immediately connected with that which the Apostles were to deliver to the world. It is, however, more natural to understand the words in John 20:19 as those of greeting, and these as words of farewell. (Comp. John 14:27.) Other words had intervened, as we know from St. Luke’s narrative. He is now about to withdraw the evidence of His presence from them, and does so with the customary “Shalōm;” but with this He reminds them of the apostleship to which He has called them, gives them an earnest of the Presence which will never leave them, but always qualify them for it (John 20:22), and places before them the greatness of the work to which He sends them (John 20:23).

As my (better, the) Father hath sent me, even so send I you.—Comp. Note on John 17:18, where the words occur in prayer to the Father. As spoken here to the disciples ‘they are the identification of them with Himself in His mediatorial work. He is the great Apostle (Hebrews 3:1); they are ambassadors for Christ, to whom He commits the ministry of reconciliation (2Corinthians 5:18 et seq.). He stands in the same relation to the Father as that in which they stand to Him. He declares to them, and they in His name are to declare to the world, the fulness of the Father’s love, and the peace between man and God, witnessed to in His life and death. He and they stand also in the same relation to the world. At this very moment they are assembled with shut doors, for fear of the Jews, who are triumphing over Him as dead. But to that world, which will hate, persecute, and kill them, as it had hated, persecuted, and killed Him, they are sent as He was sent; they are to declare forgiveness, mercy, love, peace, as He had declared them, to every heart that does not harden itself against them; and they are to find in His presence, as He had ever found in the Father’s presence, the support which will ever bring peace to their own hearts (John 14:27).

And when he had said this, he breathed on them.—The word rendered “breathed” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but was familiar from its use in the Greek (LXX.) of Genesis 2:7. St. John uses to describe this act of the risen Lord the striking word which had been used to describe the act by which God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life. He writes as one who remembered how the influence of that moment on their future lives was a new spiritual creation, by which they were called, as it were, out of death into life. It was the first step in that great moral change which passed over the disciples after the Crucifixion, and of which the day of Pentecost witnessed the accomplishment.

And saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.—These words are not, on the one hand, to be understood as simply a promise of the future gift of the Holy Ghost, for they are a definite imperative, referring to the moment when they were spoken; nor are they, on the other hand, to be taken as the promised advent of the Paraclete (John 14:16 et seq.), for the gift of the Holy Ghost was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:39; John 16:7 et seq.). The meaning is that He then gave to them a sign, which was itself to faithful hearts as the firstfruits of that which was to come. His act was sacramental, and with the outer and visible sign there was the inward and spiritual grace. The very word used was that used when He said to them, “Take (receive ye), eat; this is My body” (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22). It would come to them now with a fulness of sacred meaning. The Risen Body is present with them. The constant spiritual Presence in the person of the Paraclete is promised to them. They again hear the words “Receive ye,” and the very command implies the power to obey. (Comp. Excursus C: The Sacramental Teaching of St. John’s Gospel, p. 556.)

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
(23) Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them . . .—Comp. for the “power of the keys,” the Notes on Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18. Assuming what has there been said, it will be sufficient to add that this power is here immediately connected with the representative character of the disciples as apostles sent by Christ, as He was Himself sent by the Father (John 20:21), and that its validity is dependent upon their reception of the Holy Ghost (John 20:22), by whom Christ Himself is present in them (John 14:18; John 16:7-11). Sent as He was sent, they are not sent to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved; but in their work, as in His, men are condemned because the light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light.

The ultimate principles upon which this power rests are those stated above—the being sent by Christ, and the reception of the Holy Ghost. God has promised forgiveness wherever there is repentance; He has not promised repentance wherever there is sin. It results from every declaration of forgiveness made in the name of the Father through Jesus Christ, that hearts which in penitence accept it receive remission of their sins, and that the hardness of the hearts which wilfully reject it is by their rejection increased, and the very words by which their sins would be remitted become the words by which they are retained. (Comp. especially Notes on John 3:17 et seq.; John 16:8 et seq.; and 2Corinthians 2:15-16.)

On individual words in this verse it is important to note that in the better text the tense of that rendered “are remitted” is a strict present, while that rendered “are retained” is in the perfect-present. The difference is not easy to preserve in English, but the thought seems to be, “Whose soever sins ye remit—a change in their condition is taking place—their sins are being remitted by God; whose soever ye retain—their condition remains unchanged—they have been, and are retained.”

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
(24) But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus . . .—Comp. Notes on John 11:16; John 14:5. It is in harmony with the desponding character that looks upon the visit to Jerusalem as necessarily leading to death, that he now is as one who has given up the common hope of the band of disciples, and is not present with them. It has happened as he had thought; the death he had foretold has come to pass. Is this the end of all the Messianic hopes which he had cherished? Is the grave the “whither,” and the cross the “way,” which they knew not?

The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
(25) Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails.—This demand for the evidence of his own senses, and refusal to admit the testimony of eyewitnesses, though these were the whole of his ten brethren in the Apostolic band, remind us of the demand made to Christ Himself, “We know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?”

The reading of the second clause varies between “print of the nails” and “place of the nails.” The Greek words vary by only one letter (τύπος, “print”; τόπος, “place”), so that copyists may easily have taken one for the other. If we read “place,” it answers to the touch of the finger, as “print” does to the sight of the eye; but, on the other hand, there is in the repetition an expression of determination, almost, we may say, amounting to obstinacy, which corresponds with the position which Thomas is taking.

And thrust my hand into his side.—Comp. John 20:20. The feet are not mentioned, but the hands and the side would be demonstrative evidence. We cannot properly infer from this verse that the feet were not nailed.

I will not believe.—The determination is expressed in its strongest form by the double Greek negative, “I will by no means believe.”

And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
(26) And after eight days again his disciples were within.—That is, on the octave of the first appearance to them; as we should now say, on the first Sunday after Easter. There is no reason for thinking that they had not met together during the interval, and that their meeting was a special observance of the Lord’s Day. At the same time this appearance on the recurrence of the first day of the week would take its place among the steps by which the disciples passed from the observance of the Jewish Sabbath to that of the Christian Sunday.

The place is obviously the same as that of the first appearance, and the doors are shut for the same reason. (Comp. Note on John 20:19.)

The repetition of the greeting, Peace be unto you,” is partly the natural salutation as He appears to them, but now indeed full of a new meaning, which the thoughts of the week must have written upon their hearts, and partly, it may be, is specially intended to include Thomas, who was not present when it was spoken before.

Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
(27) Then saith. he to Thomas . . .—This implies a knowledge of the words of John 20:25, which in itself would carry conviction to the mind of Thomas. This repetition must have carried with this conviction a sense of shame at his unbelief.

And be not faithless, but believing.—Better, and become not unbelieving, but believing. The words do not apply to the fact of the Resurrection only, but to the general spiritual condition of the Apostle. He was in danger of passing from the state of a believer in Christ to that of an unbeliever. His demand for the evidence of the senses was a step backward, a resting on the less, not on the more, certain. His Master would have him retrace that step, and become one who rests upon the intuition of the Spirit.

And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
(28) Thomas answered and said unto him.—It is implied that he did not make use of the tests which his Master offered him, but that he at once expressed the fulness of his conviction. This is confirmed by the words of the next verse, “Because thou hast seen Me.”

My Lord and my God.—These words are preceded by “said unto him,” and are followed by “because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed;” and the words “my Lord” can only be referred to Christ. (Comp. John 20:13.) The sentence cannot therefore, without violence to the context, be taken as an exclamation addressed to God, and is to be understood in the natural meaning of a confession by the Apostle that his Lord was also God.

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
(29) Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed.—The name “Thomas” is omitted in all the better MSS., and the order of the other words suggests that they should be read interrogatively—Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen Me, hast thou believed? The tense of the word rendered “hast thou believed” is the perfect-present—“hast thou become, and art thou a believer?” The command of John 20:27 had done its work, and the words are words of approval; but yet they are not wholly so. He had arrived at conviction by means of the senses, but the higher blessedness was that of those who see by the eye of the spirit and not by that of the body; who base their confidence on the conviction of the faith-faculty, and are independent of the changing phenomena of the senses.

Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.—The truth is expressed in its general form. It is not to be understood in any special sense of the Ten, for the Greek is against it, and the other disciples also had seen and had believed; but it includes all who have become believers without having seen. This blessedness is thought of as existing from the moment of believing, and the act of faith is therefore spoken of in the past tense. The words look forward to the development of the Church which is to be founded upon Apostolic witness, and whose faith must ever be in the unseen. (Comp. Notes on John 1:9 and 1Peter 1:9.)

And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:
(30) And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples.—More exactly, Yea, and indeed many and other signs did Jesus. (Comp. Note on John 2:11.) We must understand the “signs” not of the proofs of the Resurrection only, but of the works wrought during the whole life. The writer’s narrative is drawing to a close, and he explains the fact that he has recorded so little of a life which contained so much. There were, indeed, many other signs which he, as an eye-witness, remembered, but which it was not within his purpose to relate.

That he refers to the whole work of Christ, and not to the Risen Life only, is clear, because (1) there were not “many other signs” during the forty days; (2) the words “did Jesus” are not applicable to the manifestation to the disciples; (3) the words in this book” refer to all that has preceded.

It would seem to follow from this that these verses (John 20:30 and John 20:31) are the conclusion of the original Gospel, and that John 21 is to be regarded as a postscript or appendix. We shall find reason for believing that, though an appendix, it proceeded from the hand of the Apostle himself.

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.
(31) But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.—We have here the writer’s own statement of his object in writing his narrative, and also the explanation of what seems an abrupt end. His object is that those for whom he writes may become believers, and read in these signs the spiritual truths which lay behind them. He has traced step by step the developments of faith in the Apostles themselves, and this has reached its highest stage in the confession of Thomas. He has recorded the blessedness of those who shall believe without sight, uttered in his Master’s words. In the confession of Thomas, and in the comment of our Lord, the object of the author finds its full expression, and with their words the Gospel finds its fitting close. “Become not faithless, but believing;” “My Lord and my God;” “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”—these are the words the author heard and records. “But these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” This is the object he had in recording them. On the special meaning of these words as connected with the Gnostic heresies of the time, comp. Introduction, p. 378.

And that believing ye might have life through his name.—Better, . . . in His name. Thus the last words bring us back again to the first. (Comp. Notes on John 1:4; John 1:12.)

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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