The first day of the week has arrived. Mary Magdalene and the women came to the tomb and found the stone taken away. Rather than believing Jesus had risen from the dead, the women believe that the body has been moved. Peter and John also go to the tomb. But verse 9 tells us that the disciples “did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise form the dead.” Mary remains at the tomb crying. She sees Jesus but does not know it was him. But when Jesus says her name, she recognizes that it is the Lord Jesus. The message John is showing by the Holy Spirit through this gospel is that faith comes from understanding the scriptures, not by sight. The apostle Paul taught the same message in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Seeing the empty tomb was not how the disciples came to faith. Understanding the scriptures is what is needed for any person to become a disciple. This leads us into the rest of the events on this first day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus Appears To His Disciples (20:19-23)
In verse 19 we have come to the evening of the first day of the week. The disciples are gathered and the doors are locked because they fear the Jews. This is an important reminder to us to think about when we read about the actions of the disciples. It was dangerous to be a disciple of Jesus in Jerusalem. This is the reason they fled when Jesus was arrested. This is the reason that we do not read about them at the cross of Jesus. This is why they have the doors locked when they are gathered. So the doors are shut so that they cannot be opened. Though the doors are locked, Jesus appears in midst of the disciples. I do not think that we need to make much of this as others have. For example, John MacArthur writes that Jesus glorified resurrected body simply passed through the walls. We must be careful that we do not imply that Jesus’ resurrected body was not a really body, but was spirit like or ghost like. The body of Jesus that was buried three days earlier is now the very same body that is alive again. This is all we should draw from the idea of resurrection. Further, we know that this is the same body because he still has his marking in his hands, feet, and side from his crucifixion, as we will read about in a moment. So we should not think of Jesus being in some phantom form.
We must consider that we have read about Jesus doing these things before, not because he has a resurrected body, but because he is God. In Luke 4:29-30 the crowd was going to throw Jesus off a cliff but he passed through their midst. Jesus is God and is greater than creation. We do not need to assume a different body for Jesus to be able to appear in the midst of the disciples, though the doors are locked.
It is the first words of Jesus that are encouraging and amazing. “Peace be with you.” This was a common Jewish greeting. It was also a common greeting for various heavenly appearance on earth. But this greeting is wonderful. Jesus does not appear to them and say, “What is wrong with you?” “Where were you?” “How could you deny me?” “You are complete failures!” Rather, Jesus offers the common greeting and his words are wonderful: “Peace be with you.” Then after showing the disciples his hands and feet, he says to them again, “Peace be with you.” Not wrath, condemnation, disappointment, or anger are expressed by our Lord. “Peace be with you.” What a loving, forgiving, merciful God we have!
Then Jesus presents to his disciples the evidence of his body. He shows them his hands and his side. John continues to offer that we have eyewitnesses to the risen Lord. These disciples, who did not believe Jesus would raise from the dead or that he had risen from the dead, see Jesus and are glad.
In verse 21 we read Jesus giving his disciples their commission. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” This is important to note for understanding what Jesus does in verse 22. Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Verse 23 helps us further understand what this action means. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness of any, it is withheld.” What we are reading here is very similar to the commission Jesus gave to his apostles before his death in Matthew 16:18-19.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18–19 ESV)
We are reading the apostles receiving kingdom authority. They are given authority by Jesus to continue the mission of Jesus. How to do we understand what is happening in verse 22? I think it is a simple image that the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, is pictured in the scriptures as giving life (cf. Ezekiel 37; Genesis 2). God breathed into the nostrils of Adam and he was given life. God breathed on the dead bones in Ezekiel’s vision and the bones came to life. Jesus is commissioning the apostles with his mission which will give life to all who hear them and obey.
Jesus Appears To His Disciples Again (20:24-29)
Now, for some reason Thomas was not with the apostles when they were gathered on this first day of the week. We do not know why he was not there. It is certainly a curiosity and makes us wonder why he is not there with the other disciples. The other disciples tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord. But Thomas declares that he will never believe unless he sees and touches the wounds of Jesus. The gospel is setting up another important teaching for us with this setting.
Verse 26 tells us that it was eight days later. It is the first day of the week again. The ancient reckoning of days counted the current day. We do not count the current day so we say it is seven days later. But they would say it is eight days later. So it is the first day of the week. We should see that the disciples are gathered on Sunday again. John is emphasizing for us that disciples gather on the first day of the week. Verse 26 gives us the same set up as the last appearance of Jesus. The doors are locked but Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.”
Then notice what Jesus does. He knows that Thomas said and he knows what was going on in the heart of Thomas. Jesus knew what Thomas claimed. So Jesus instructs Thomas to do as he said he must do. Put your finger here. See my hands. Put your hand in my side. But it is what Jesus says next that should be rattling to us. “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” This is a very forceful statement. The NLT reads, “Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” The NET reads, “Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” Stop being faithless, Thomas! He does not have faith. He does not believe. This continues a theme in John’s gospel: People seem to believe but do not have true faith. Thomas becomes another picture of this teaching in this gospel. Thomas is presented as an unbeliever. But before we are upset by this we must recognize that all the disciples have been presented as unbelievers at various times in this gospel. Even in this chapter we have seen all the disciples lacking faith at the news of the empty tomb. The problem was clearly identified in verse 9, that the disciples did not understand the scriptures. With Jesus appearing in the midst of the disciples, we hear the confession of Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
Now carefully notice Jesus’ response. Jesus does not commend this of Thomas. Notice what is commended. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This is another key teaching point that we have seen throughout this gospel: seeing is not how saving faith is received. Seeing is not necessary for faith. Crowds saw the miracles of Jesus and did not believe in him with the saving faith that God requires. God’s goal is not for us to have a shallow faith. His desire is not to have a minimal belief that needs to see for faith to be confirmed. This gospel has taught that there are levels of belief but only full faith in Jesus that brings life. The book of James makes this point when he observes that even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19). We saw this taught early in this gospel and exemplified throughout its pages.
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23–25 ESV)
Therefore, when Jesus taught in John 3:16 that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life, he was not referring to a shallow, surface level faith. Thomas believed in Jesus. But he did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. He even did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus though there were the eyewitness accounts of the apostles that Jesus was alive.
Great faith will come through the word of God. The blessed ones are those who have not seen but believe. This belief will come through God’s amazing word. Notice that this is why John lays his purpose for this gospel at this point. Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples. But these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you will have life in his name (John 20:30-31). This is a powerful finale for the resurrection of Jesus. John is asking us an important question. You may believe. But do you really believe? Do you believe with the faith that will lead to eternal life?
If you do not believe in Jesus, then I must ask you if you have read his word? Too many make decisions about God but have not read what God said. They have seen what is on television or read some books about God. But these are useless and usually inaccurate. Your eternal soul is too important and too valuable for you not to investigate for yourself and read what God has said. You are making an uninformed decision about the Lord if you have not read the scriptures for yourself. Can we give you a copy of the scriptures and have you read it for yourself? John says that he wrote these things down, recording their eyewitness testimony, so that you would believe in Jesus. Have you read it?
Are you struggling with faith? Perhaps you are like Thomas who has a degree of faith in Jesus, but it is not deeply rooted. The scriptures are the solution for your faith. Read what God has done for your through Jesus. Every person struggles with faith at various seasons of life. Put your anchor in the scriptures. Show Jesus to be your treasure. Stop the other wastes of time, get yourself a readers Bible, and read the life-giving, all-satisfying word of God each day.