We spent the last eight weeks or so learning about second-Temple Jewish views of resurrection and how, because of Jesus’ resurrection, these views were profoundly modified, and what the modifications were.
- Last week, we summarized a large number of foundational modifications and suggested that the best and only explanation for them was that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead.
- In other words, the changes were grounded in the historical event of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, not the hysterical ideas of disillusioned disciples.
- Today we finally get back into John’s text.
In John’s Gospel (and the others as well) Jesus’ resurrection is revealed through two basic events.
- (1) The first event is the discovery that Jesus’ tomb was empty.
- (2) The second event is the bodily appearances of Jesus to his followers.
1) THE EMPTY TOMB
John 20:1–10 (ESV) — 1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
Last Sunday’s sermon dealt with this text, so we will simply point out one interesting fact.
- A tantalizing inscription was discovered near Nazareth (probably from Emperor Claudius 41-54 a.d.).
“Ordinance of Caesar. It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain undisturbed in perpetuity … If any man lay information that another has either demolished them, or has in any other way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them to other places in order to wrong them, or has displaced the sealing or other stones, against such a one I order that a trial be instituted … Let it be absolutely forbidden for any one to disturb them. In case of contravention I desire that the offender be sentenced to capital punishment on charge of violation of sepulture” – N.T. Wright.
Whatever else this inscription may teach us, it establishes for us that the reaction of Mary Magdalene and the disciples was spot on.
- An empty tomb did not mean Jesus was raised from the dead.
- An empty tomb did not mean Jesus was vindicated.
- An empty tomb did not mean Jesus was God or Messiah.
- An empty tomb is of no more value as heaven is to Paul without resurrection (1 Cor. 15).
- An empty tomb simply meant Jesus’ tomb had probably been robbed.
But John does show us that something may not be quite right – the grave clothes were still there.
“The expression ‘folded up’ may actually mean ‘rolled up’, which either points to neatness or indicates that the cloth was still in the exact same position as when Jesus’ body had been wrapped in it, or both” – Kostenberger.
- In other words, they were not “folded up” as in somebody “folded up” a towel.
- They were “folded up” as in they still retained the shape of how they were rolled around Jesus’ shoulders, neck and head when originally applied – Boice.
This would tell John and Peter two things.
- (1) The body was not stolen.
- (2) Something very unusual happened.
- Jesus’ body passed right through them – N.T. Wright, Boice, Kostenberger, et al.
So what, then, does John mean when he says he “saw and believed” (vs. 8).
- “The evangelist does not specify precisely what ‘the other disciple’ believed” – Kostenberger.
- But we can say for certain that, “For the ‘disciple Jesus loved,’ the linen strips were sufficient evidence that the body had not simply been moved” – Kostenberger.
Most suggest that “saw and believed” refers explicitly to a belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.
- If that is what it refers to, I am all in.
But none of those who advocate this contend with the following:
- 1) The cause of the action in the text is Mary Magdalene’s proclamation that someone stole Jesus body (vs. 2).
- So, this is what is “hanging in the air” and waiting to be addressed.
- So given this context, did John see and believe that Jesus was in fact gone – not stolen, but certainly gone, as Mary had said?
- 2) Verse 9 states that they didn’t grasp that Jesus must raise from the dead as taught in Scripture.
- If John didn’t grasp that from Scripture, why would he grasp this from the grave clothes?
- Nothing in his worldview would have given him the category – strange presence of grave clothes equals bodily resurrection of a dead person.
- And without knowing the meaning of Scripture (and Jesus’ words) would John even have known what to believe?
- 3) Mary Magdalene saw the grave clothes (she went into the grave) and she saw angels, but she still thought Jesus’ body had been stolen (vs. 13).
- Certainly if it is argued that strange presence of grave clothes equals resurrection, it would be hard to suggest that strange presence of grave clothes plus strange presence of angels would not also equal bodily resurrection.
- 4) The only other time in John where seeing and believing are intimately linked together is in John 2:23-25.
- There it involves a spurious faith not a legitimate one.
- And interestingly, it follows the text (vs. 22) that connects the disciples’ ability to understand both Jesus’ words about His resurrection and Scriptures teaching on it to a belief that Jesus rose from the dead.
- In other words, once they believed Jesus rose from the dead, they understood Jesus’ words and Scripture.
- However, we are told in John 20:9, that John still didn’t understand the Scripture about Jesus’ resurrection.
- This would imply, then, that John did not yet understand that Jesus rose from the dead.
N.T. Wright says, “The grave-clothes seem to be understood as a sign…”
- Maybe we should leave it at that.
- And as with the other signs of Jesus, this one needed some explaining.
- And in just a few verses we will get our explanation.
Final comment on the empty tomb:
“It would have proved nothing; it would have suggested nothing, except the fairly common practice of grave-robbery. It certainly would not have generated the phenomena we have studied in this book so far. Tombs were often robbed in the ancient world, adding to grief both insult and injury. Nobody in the pagan world would have interpreted an empty tomb as implying resurrection; everyone knew such a thing was out of the question. Nobody in the ancient Jewish world would have interpreted it like that either; ‘resurrection’ was not something anyone expected to happen to a single individual while the world went on as normal” – N.T. Wright.
But we must keep going!
2) THE APPEARANCES
John 20:11–23 (ESV) — 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
In this text, Peter and John have left and the focus is back on Mary.
- She has come back to the tomb, sees two angels, and is weeping because somebody has, “taken away my Lord” (vs. 13).
- Mary still hasn’t grasped that Jesus has risen.
And then we witness the first resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ – “she turned around and saw Jesus standing” (vs. 14).
- But, oddly, she doesn’t recognize Him.
- He then asks the same question as the angels, “woman why are you weeping” (vs. 15).
- John tells us that Mary suspects this man of being a thieving gardener (vs. 15).
- But Jesus speaks her name and at once she recognizes Jesus.
- “My sheep know my voice” – John 10:3.
And, given Jesus’ words “do not cling to me” (vs. 17), it appears that Mary ran to Him and grabbed hold of Him.
- This prompts Jesus to speak of yet another new concept for the second-Temple Jew.
- The ascension of the risen Messiah to the Father (vs. 17).
- Jesus, echoing His teaching in John 17, cannot stay – He must leave.
- So we can add this “mutation” to last week’s list.
Jesus asks Mary to go and tell the disciples.
- Another reason Mary can’t cling – she has to go and proclaim.
- And with this we have the first Gospel proclamation – “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’ – and that he had said these things to her” (vs. 18).
And that evening, John tells us of a second appearance of Jesus Christ.
- “Jesus came and stood among them” (vs. 19).
- He spoke to them and showed them the remnants of His crucifixion, “his hands and his side” (vs. 20).
Jesus then did something very interesting.
- “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 22).
- And He then tells them, John 20:23 (ESV) — 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.
This actions and words of Jesus within John’s appearance narrative bring us to three things I want to explore.
- (1) The significance of the appearances in tandem with the empty tomb.
- (2) The meaning of Jesus breathing on the disciples.
- (3) This forgiveness business.
(1) Appearances and the Empty Tomb.
- We uncovered a moment ago yet another mutation of second-Temple Judaism that must be accounted for.
- And as with all the others from last week, N.T. Wright argues that…
An empty tomb with no bodily appearances of Jesus will not serve as an explanation.
“Had the tomb been empty, with no other unusual occurrences, no one would have said that Jesus was the Messiah or the lord of the world. No one would have imagined that the kingdom had been inaugurated. No one, in particular, would have developed so quickly and consistently a radical and reshaped version of the Jewish hope for the resurrection of the body. The empty tomb is by itself insufficient to account for the subsequent evidence” – Wright.
Likewise, a vision of Jesus while His dead body is still in the tomb will not do either.
- In the ANE, visions of the dead were not uncommon – Wright.
- “The ancient world as well as the modern knew the difference between visions and things that happen in the ‘real’ world” – N.T. Wright.
- And encounters of Jesus as visions, “could not possibly, by themselves, have given rise that Jesus had been raised from the dead…Indeed, such visions meant precisely…that the person was dead, not that they were alive” – Wright.
But, both an empty tomb and the bodily appearances were necessary.
“The point of the empty tomb stories always was that Jesus was alive again; the point of the appearance stories always was that the Jesus who was appearing was in bodily continuity with the corpse that had occupied the tomb” – Wright.
- The claims of Jesus’ disciples make no sense without both.
- Jesus’ bodily resurrection was an historical event, not a provocative idea.
One further comment on this point:
“The early Christians did not invent the empty tomb and the ‘meetings’ or ‘sightings’ of the risen Jesus in order to explain a faith they already had. They developed that faith because of the occurrence, and convergence, of these two phenomena. Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion-experience would have generated such ideas; nobody would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they pored over the scriptures. To suggest otherwise is to stop doing history and to enter into a fantasy world… In terms of the kind of proof which historians normally accept, the case we have presented, that the tomb-plus-appearances combination is what generated early Christian belief, is as watertight as one is likely to find” – N.T. Wright.
(2) Appearances and Breathing.
- John 20:22 (ESV) — 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on [not breathed into] them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
We know from both John 17 and from Acts 2 that this act of Jesus cannot mean that they were indwelled with the Holy Spirit.
- He had not yet gone to be with the Father (John 17).
- And this was not Pentecost.
So what does this text mean?
There are at least two things going on here.
- 1) “The present reference represents a symbolic promise of the soon-to-be-given gift of the Spirit, not the actual giving of it fifty days later at Pentecost” – Kostenberger.
- “Jesus’ ‘exhalation’ and command Receive the Holy Spirit are best understood as a kind of acted parable pointing forward to the full enduement still to come” – D.A. Carson.
- 2) A symbolic link to Genesis 2 and Ezekiel 37.
I want to quickly deal with the second.
A Link to Genesis and Ezekiel:
- Genesis 2:7 (ESV) — 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
- Ezekiel 37:9–10 (ESV) — 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
In our John text, he breathed “on” His disciples as a group.
- In the Genesis text, God breathed “into” the nostrils of an individual, Adam.
- We know in Adam’s case, the breath was the breath of life.
- In Ezekiel, the breath is also “into” but it was “into them”.
- “The prophet calls to the wind to ‘breathe into these slain that they may live,’ after which ‘breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army’” – Beasley-Murray.
- But what is meant by the breath in our John text?
The breath of Jesus, with its allusion to original creation and with what came to represent bodily resurrection in second-Temple Judaism, is a resurrection breath.
- It is a nod both to the original creation and the promise to restore Israel.
- But it primarily serves as a symbol of the new creation grounded in resurrection.
- And the Holy Spirit is relevant because He is power to this new creation and resurrection.
Jesus’ breath, “represents the impartation of life that the Holy Spirit gives in the new age, brought about through Christ’s exaltation in death and resurrection” – Beasley-Murray.
N.T. Wright takes it even further.
- He believes that John, “intends his readers to follow a sequence of seven signs, with the water-into-wine story at Cana as the first and the crucifixion as the seventh” – Wright.
- And then we come to resurrection.
- He says John “is careful to tell us twice” that resurrection comes on the first day of the week.
- This fact, He says, is to make clear that Jesus’ resurrection was the “start of God’s new creation” – N.T. Wright.
- This means, for Wright, that the cross (“it is finished”), was the completion of the first creation.
- There was then a Sabbath day of rest, as in Genesis, and then resurrection – new creation.
- In this context, it is even easier to see Jesus’ breath as symbolic expression of a Spirit-powered new creation.
3) Appearances and Forgiveness.
John 20:23 (ESV) — 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
- After Jesus breathed on the disciples and spoke of receiving the Holy Spirit, He makes this interesting comment.
Its meaning, obviously, has to be linked to the previous verse specifically, and to resurrection generally, given the context.
- The first thing we need to notice is that the “you” is a corporate “you” – the disciples.
- This links up with Ezekiel 37’s corporate context which dealt with the restoration of Israel.
- We know of course that the twelve represented the twelve tribes of Israel.
- And we know that the “now and not yet” of resurrection and new creation is now corporately lived out in the context of the Church.
- The disciples, then, are the transition from Israel to the Church.
- And so it is within this context that the meaning becomes clear.
Jesus’ words are apparently a formal declaration that the religious “gatekeepers” have been replaced.
“Jesus is declaring that his new messianic community, versus the Jewish leadership represented by the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees, is authorized to affirm or deny acceptance into the believing (new) covenant community” – Kostenberger.
- By their preaching the Gospel, the disciples are now the ones that “affirm” believers or “deny” unbelievers.
- But NOT based on their whims, will, inclinations or power!!
- They (we) proclaim the Gospel and those given to Christ believe and are forgiven, and those that aren’t given do not believe and aren’t forgiven.
- So it is now the Christian who “…can declare that those who genuinely repent and believe the gospel will have their sins forgiven by God. On the other hand, they can warn that those who reject Jesus Christ will die in their sins” – John MacArthur.