[The following exposition by Robert Govett, can be found in His Commentary on John’s Gospel, pp.387- 431]
“After this Jesus, knowing that all things were already fulfilled, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, ‘I thirst.’ Now a vessel of vinegar was set there; and they having filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it on hyssop, put it to His mouth. When, therefore, Jesus had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished,’ and He bowed His head, and gave up His Spirit:” (John 19: 28-30).
I do not think that this means, that the Saviour's sacrifice was complete; for without death and the outpouring of the blood that was not finished. Jesus had yet to die, and the Roman spear was needed to pierce His side, and pour out His blood. But the evangelist cites the words as the Saviour’s perception, that it was the last of the prophecies of His humiliation which it was incumbent on Him actively to fulfil. Then, His Father’s last word accomplished, He surrenders His spirit. He came into the world to fulfil all righteousness. He has done it. And now death - His gracious, voluntary death - ensues. Each step occurs exactly at its appropriate time, according to the Father’s good pleasure and prediction.
He must die. Nothing short of that could save. ‘The soul that sins shall die.’ And Christ is the sinner’s substitute, the bearer of sin and its penalty. Jesus’ life alone will not avail. So had the Law of Eden said: ‘In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt die.’ ‘The wages of sin is death.’
Wonderful was this voluntary death; not enforced on our Lord without His knowledge, or against His will. He was not driven out of the body by the thrust of disease, as some have speculated; He surrendered His soul as the priest offering the sacrifice. Partly, as far as men’s choice were concerned, His death was enforced; but partly also His death depended on His own choice.
31-34. ‘The Jews therefore, in order that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath day was a great day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first and of the other that were crucified together with Him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was already dead, they brake not His legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and at once came forth blood and water.’
The Jews, though careless about the greater things, were
scrupulous about the ceremonial of the Law, and therefore desired that the
three crucified should die earlier than usual.
They must not be taken away till dead.
They could not bear to see them on the cross during the Sabbath, their
day of rest. That Sabbath, too, was a
festival Sabbath of especial holiness or greatness - the day of offering the
first fruits. Hence they were more particularly anxious that this ghastly sight
should not be exhibited in the face of
They strain at the gnat, and swallow the camel! Against law and justice they slay Christ, yet would keep the ceremonial law, while they broke its moral part. They observe the Sabbath, yet killed its Lord.
Notice here - God hinders one part of their plan, and prospers another. Let us trust our God in His providence, both for life and in death! He knows His own mind, and will accomplish it, not only despite His enemies, but even by their hands.
‘Break the logs of the three crucified!’
Forth they go! It seems as if
these were a new set of soldiers, detached from the governor’s castle, armed
with hammers, to break the legs of all the three. Thus Jesus’ word to the penitent robber was
fulfilled, ‘To-day thou shalt be with Me in
What follows shows us somewhat peculiar in the arrangement of the crosses. They came to ‘the first.’ How did they reckon the first? Probably that on the left hand; which, perhaps, was a trifle in advance of the other. His legs they brake, and then turned to the other, and brake his also. These two crosses were, I judge, near together, and facing one another. But though man had decreed that the legs of all three should be broken, God had determined otherwise, and had foretold that it should not be. This result He effected in the simplest way. It was understood by the soldiers, that the intent of the order was to produce death quickly, and both they and the governor supposed that all three would be alive. The cross of Jesus, it appears, was not close to the other two, but higher up the eminence. For it is said - ‘When they came to Jesus.’ As they mounted, with their eyes fixed on the third cross, they saw that Jesus was dead already: by His drooped head, and by His stiffened limbs. A soldier - man of battles - knows how to discriminate between death and life. They then, though subject to martial discipline, and accustomed to obey to the letter, ventured to disobey in this case. One pierced with a spear the Saviour’s side. It is not said which side; but whichever side it was, it was a wound capable of inflicting death, had it not already occurred. Thus we see, how exactly the Saviour’s death was timed, with a view to this result. He would not die, while one word of His Father’s yet remained to be observed. But neither would He remain in life any moment longer than was necessary to the fulfilment of this word of God.
But God would thus establish the reality of Christ’s death, as the foundation of our faith in the reality of Christ’s resurrection. Had Jesus not died already, this thrust had slain Him. This wound would prevent any return to life; even if, as some imagine without evidence, Jesus had only swooned. Considerable was the size of the wound inflicted. While Thomas was to put his finger only in the hole of the nails, he might put his hand into the gash made by the spear.
35. ‘And he that saw it hath borne witness, and his witness is true, and he knoweth that he saith true, in order that ye also may believe.’
The result of this spear-thrust was unexpected. It would appear that its issue was miraculous. ‘Forthwith came out blood and water.’ The attempts at explanation of this matter are not satisfactory. Some have affirmed that the affair was only an ordinary one; that the heart’s blood had coagulated in the body, and had separated into two parts – the watery part (or serum) drawn off by itself, and the red clot separated from it. But medical men (I believe) say, that the blood does not separate while in the body. And that, on the piercing of a corpse, blood does not flow out.
We have, then, John’s earliest commentary on the circumstance. He expects the unbelief of many in regard to this point, and accordingly lays peculiar stress upon the certainty of it, as beheld and narrated by himself, all eye-witness close by the cross of his Lord. If any one may be credited, it is an eye-witness. John was so. His character for truth was good. ‘His testimony is true.’ But were not his senses deceived? No He was too near for that. He is certain of the fact. He testifies it here, on purpose that others may believe what he saw.
‘That you may believe.’ For this is testified by the Old Testament, as well as by the eye-witness John. It is essential to salvation to believe in Jesus’ death. God has given you in the Old Testament His prophecy, and in the New His fulfilment - both the direct and the mystical.
It would seem, then, that there was something supernatural in the matter. Probably it is referred to in the crucifixion-Psalm (Ps. 22.) ‘My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels’ (ver. 14); and again – ‘I am poured out like water.’
Why is John so earnest in insisting on this? First, be it observed - that his solemn attestation does not apply to this circumstance alone, but to all the three points (perhaps more) which he has just recounted. This is proved by the citation of two passages of Scripture which were fulfilled on the present occasion: (1) the non-breaking of Jesus’ legs, though orders to that effect had been given; and (2) the piercing of His side instead, which was not ordered by man, but foretold by God. Thus is prophecy fulfilled down to its details, as well as in its greater features. Thus is it fulfilled by the hands of the ignorant, and enemies.
Both these things were subjects of prophecy: the one a typical prophecy, given by Moses; the other a direct prophecy, given by Zechariah.
1. The first relates to
the Saviour’s legs not being broken. ‘A bone of it shall
not be broken.’ Though all sorts of indignities were experienced by the
Saviour up to His death, yet as soon as death has ensued, there comes a turn in
the tide of humiliation; and speedily He begins to be exalted. The command
alluded to by John is found in Exodus 12: 4, 6, in reference to the lamb of the Passover. The same law is repeated in Numbers 9: 12, where the Passover of the second month is commanded for those who were
unable to celebrate the Passover in the first month, by reason of legal
uncleanness. This was designed then to
point out Jesus as the true Passover-Lamb.
The apostle supposes it in his Gospel, where John Baptist speaks of
Jesus, as being the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world. Now that law, as well as others, might have
been broken by
The second passage is taken from the prophets. Zechariah, who foretold the sale of the Good Shepherd for thirty pieces of silver, and the sword’s awaking against the ‘Man who was Jehovah’s Follow,’ foretells also the day yet looming in the future, when all the tribes of Israel shall mourn over their fathers’ crucifixion of the Son of God, and their own attitude of unbelief, and shall be forgiven (Zech. 12: 10).
This thrust of the spear, then, which was the result of
* To this I add that the Greek word … is generally used in the Old Testament to signify a thrusting through unto death (Judges 9: 54; Num. 22: 29)
Behold here the Lord’s foretold preparation for, and pledge
of, the better day which one day shall dawn upon
Let us then trust the powerful
But John says nothing respecting any prophecy or any fulfilment of the third point - the blood and water issuing from the wound. And why then is he so full of emphasis, as soon as thirst is mentioned? 1. He is so, I believe, in order to refute some errorists of that day, and of modern days, such as the Docetists and Swedenborgians, who affirm that the body of our Lord on the cross was not a real body of flesh and blood like ours, but only a phantom! This idea is refuted, then, by the fact that the body, pierced after death, gave forth blood and water. It was a body of flesh, therefore; and the Evangelist stakes His truthfulness on the assertion, in order that we may believe the Spirit of God who testifies it through Him, and may give credence to the saving of the soul. For if Jesus did not really become man, and die in our stead, we must die in our sins, and be lost!
2. But there is another reason, which appears in John’s first Epistle. And that Epistle, I persuade myself, was the apostle’s comment on the Gospel which he had written, and was designed to remove some objections to that, and to add some important doctrines to it. In that Epistle, as in his Gospel, John labours to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; that He is not two persons, but one. In his fifth chapter of the Epistle he affirms that the faith that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, is saving faith. It makes a man a child of God, and enables him to overcome the world. Then he adds, ‘This is He that went through* water and blood, Jesus the Christ. He was not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood; and the Spirit is He who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For three are the witnesses, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three are in favour of the unity. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God, which He hath witnessed concerning His Son’ (1 John 5: 6-8).
* Those who would pursue the subject can consult my tract, The “Three Witnesses” and my comment on John’s first Epistle – “The Trinity, the Atonement.”
This passage cannot be understood, save as the apostle’s
contradiction of false doctrine then current. Some errorists at
Moreover, the ordinances of baptism, and of the Lord’s Supper
(‘water’ and ‘blood’) are then only binding on Christians,
if it was one Divine Person who commanded them both; while the Holy Ghost had descended
at Pentecost, and had inspired believers as the Spirit of Jesus Christ the
Risen. If men had asked any of the
Christian Prophets ‘Whether Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God?’ the inspired
would with one voice of inspiration confess that it was so. Evil spirits of falsehood, the spirits of
Antichrist, inspired those outside the Church: the Holy Ghost, as the Spirit of
truth, inspired and taught the
1 ‘The water’ and ‘the blood’ refer us back to Old Testament
rites. (1) The old covenant was bound on
The water and blood were a sign. From Christ’s heart have flowed the two or three rites of His appointing. The water belongs to baptism, and the washing of feet. The blood belongs to the Lord’s Supper. They are God’s witnesses to the present dispensation.
They are two out of the three Witnesses given of God. They testify to His people of Christ’s present absence, and they call on us to believe on God’s testimony truths, which we have not seen. So the Saviour’s bones not broken testify, that Jesus is the true Paschal Lamb.
But the second passage noted here
again tells of
38, 39. ‘And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate permitted him. He came, therefore, and took away the body of Jesus. Nicodemus also came (he that came to Jesus by night in the first instance), and bore a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight. They took, therefore, the body of Jesus, and bound it in the rollers with the spices as is the manner of the Jews to bury.’
The death of the Saviour, one would have thought, would have
discouraged secret disciples, and made them afraid to be known as belonging to
the Crucified. But it drew forth into
the light two of them The first and most courageous
was Joseph of Arimathaea. He was a rich man, and was naturally slower
to move, lest he should endanger his property, his reputation, and his place in
the Synagogue and the Sanhedrim. He asks
permission to remove the body forfeited to the Law. Pilate, as soon as he is assured that death
has taken place, gives leave. For now
was to be fulfilled the word of the prophet, ‘With the rich man
was His tomb,’ Is. 53: 9 (Lowth).
has touched the lowest point of His humiliation, and He begins to ascend. The body then is taken down from the tree of
the curse, in order to be buried. This change marks the passage of the soul of Jesus into
In Nicodemus we see faith and grace increasing with the
advance of time. At first he was afraid
to peril his reputation on the being known to be a disciple of ‘the strange man
He fears not the defilement of entering the Roman Praetorium. He fears not to touch the dead, even one crucified as a malefactor. Thus God takes the body of His Son out of the hands of the Romans, and puts it into the hands of friends. This is grace to us; for had Jesus’ body been buried with those of the robbers, how should it have been distinguished with certainty?
He had pondered, perhaps, those words which Christ spake at His first interview, ‘He that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that are wrought in God,’ John 3: 20, 21. God is glorified in the confession of the Son of God, by those who believe in Him. The two friends helped one another. Thus, too, God encourages the timid to come forth before the world, by associating together in church-fellowship the disciples of Christ. ‘Union is strength.’
He showed His love and zeal by the large quantity of expensive spices prepared for the Saviour’s burial. It is remarkable, that these two spices are mentioned in close juxtaposition, in the Psalm that tells of Jesus’ return as the King of Kings. ‘Thou lovedst righteousness and hatedst iniquity; therefore, 0 God, Thy God hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. All Thy garments smell of myrrh, aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made Thee glad,’ Psalm 45: 7, 8. The two disciples disposed of the body honourably, as it was the custom to do with their kings, for instance in the case of Asa (2 Chron. 16: 14).
The two proved their faith in Jesus by their bearing disgrace and expense in order to bury the body of the Lord. But they showed also their want of faith, in attempting to preserve from putrefaction the body which was so soon to be removed from the sepulchre.
41. ‘Now in the place where He was crucified was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. There, therefore, because of the Jews’ preparation, because the tomb was near, they laid Jesus.’
He who had no house of His own in life, has no tomb of His own in death. But what need of a tomb for Him who rises the third day?
In the Garden sin began.
In the Garden Jesus’ hour of sorrow burst upon Him, and from it He was
hurried away to death. But
now His dead body is restored to the Garden, and His first appearance in
resurrection takes place there. The tomb in the Garden shows us how death has entered with
sin, to deface and pollute
Moreover, thus there could be no question as to the identity of the person buried, and the person who rose. It was not like the case of the dead man, in haste let down into Elisha’s tomb, who revived from touching the prophet’s bones.
The burial of Jesus was a part of God’s plan as foretold in
Scripture (Ps. 16: 9). Thus was He to
resemble the sons of men whom He came to redeem. Thus the gloom of the tomb is removed for the
believer. Christ has opened the
The Sabbath was so near, that they had no time to bear the
body to a distance. They were glad to be
able to dispose of it so readily, the tomb being close at hand beside
There is a future fulfilment of the law of the sin-offering, and of the burnt-offering, respectively. The whole bullock with which the atonement of the sin-offering was made, was to be carried outside the camp into a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and was to be burnt on the wood with fire (Lev. 4: 12). A similar command was given in the case of the burnt-offering (Lev. 6: 11). For Christ is both our burnt-offering, as meeting God’s entire claims upon us for a perfect service, and also our atonement for sin.
Jesus’ [body] lay during the Sabbath in the rest of the
tomb. Law can only lead to death, and
keep men there. But on the eighth day
begins a new life, beyond Law, in resurrection.
On the first day of the Creation-week, light began to be. Now begins a new light out of the darkness of sin and death. Jesus, the first of the select resurrection
(see Gk. …),
was, according to Moses and the prophets, to announce light to the people of
The morrow after the Passover-Sabbath was to be the day of the waving of the wheat-sheaf of first-fruits. And Christ is the first-fruits of the sleepers - indicating, that the whole harvest is to follow.
‘They laid Jesus.’ Here Scripture and our usual phrases agree, in opposition to Swedenborg and his followers. Those errorists maintain, that the body is no lasting part of the man, that the corpse once laid in the tomb is to be allowed to decay, and never more to belong to the man; seeing that the spirit-state is the eternal state of men. Hence, such errorists could never call the buried corpse, ‘the man.’ But Scripture, indited by the Holy Ghost, does. ‘They laid Jesus’ in the tomb!
1, 2. ‘Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene is coming early, while it was yet dark, to the tomb, and seeth the stone taken away out of the tomb. She runneth, therefore, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus used to love, and saith unto them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid Him.” ’
On the resurrection of our Lord - this great foundation of the Christian faith - infidels have a choice in their mode of attack. (1) They may say, ‘Jesus rose indeed, but He never died.’ Or (2) ‘Jesus died, but He never rose.’ But few unbelievers have chosen the first alternative. For that Jesus died was proved to the satisfaction of foes, and to the sorrow of friends. The other mode has been the usual plan of attack. But though often assailed, the proof of resurrection has proved successful. Is it not certain, that some great and wonderful events must have occurred in the fifty days between the Passover and Pentecost, to change fearful apostles into heroes? men willing to face their foes, and to dare all hazards in asserting their Master’s resurrection? The conduct of enemies, and the spread of the faith, on the very spot of the scenes which had occurred, and in spite of the greatest obstacles, discover to us the hand of God.
The Lord, then, has made this great event the test which severs between the evil generation, and His children (Matt. 12: 38, 39). As the figurative death and resurrection of Jonah was the sign to the Ninevites of his mission by God, so the true resurrection of Jesus is the sign to the world of His sending; and carries with awful solemnity home to each the threat of damnation on impenitence, and the promise of salvation to those who credit God herein.
We have in this chapter a new view of the occurrences on the first day of resurrection; and one which is somewhat difficult, though not impossible, to harmonize with the accounts of the three first Gospels. Let us observe first, that Jesus shows Himself first, not to His mother, but to Mary Magdalene. How much would have been made of it in the interests of the worship of Mary, had it been otherwise!
We learn from Matthew and Mark that the three, ‘Mary of Magdala,’ Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome, started early in the morning to see the sepulchre. The view of the heavy stone rolled away from the sepulchre-door, and lifted out of the groove in which it was intended to ply, assured Mary Magdalene that there had been some interference with the tomb. She runs back, then, to the two chief disciples with this piece of news, while the other two women continue their journey to the tomb. She sees nothing of the angel, or of the guards, or probably of the stone itself; for nothing is said of these things. This would seem to prove a peculiarity in the locality, and would help its discovery; or at all events would prove a confirmation, when the right spot had been fixed on. It would seem to show, that a hollow was interposed between her and the tomb, together with enough of a rising ground to conceal perhaps the stone, certainly the angel and the guards. The other two women do not appear to have seen these things, till they were close upon the tomb. She could see that the stone was taken away out of the tomb, by the opening of the doorway being, dark; and perhaps because the stone was so large an object, as to be apparent at some distance. Her first thought, therefore, is to let the disciples know, and those especially who were the leaders of the apostles. She runs, therefore, in her zeal, and breaks the news to Peter and to John; whose abodes seem to have been apart, as we gather from the disconnection – ‘She cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple.’ She imagines that the removal of the stone implies the removal of the body! Observe that John has said nothing before this concerning ‘the stone.’ He supposes, that the matter will have been made known to his readers, by the other Gospels. This is one of the indications that John’s Gospel was the last of the four; and that the Lord intended that all the four should be in His people’s hands - the fulness of the former ones supplying the deficiencies of the later one.
Jesus is to Mary Magdala ‘the Lord.’ She supposes, that some persons unknown have removed the body. ‘We know not where they have laid Him.’ The beautiful simplicity of this style of address shows, as the other Gospels attest, that Mary was not alone in her purposed visit to the sepulchre. When she is really alone, she says, ‘I know not where they have laid Him’ (v. 13).
She says - ‘They have taken away the Lord’ - for the body is called by the name of its owner. See her faith! Jesus is to her ‘the Lord!’ See, too, her unbelief! She cannot interpret aright the empty tomb. Living hands must have carried off the dead body! While enemies understand Christ beforehand, friends comprehend not resurrection though the event has taken place, and the proof is before them
If these so loved Christ who believed Him to be still dead, much more should we love Him who know Him to be risen, and interceding for us.
She supposes the body of the Saviour to be like all dead bodies - passive. It must be moved, it cannot move itself. Else her faith would have gathered from the open door of the empty cage – ‘The bird has flown!’ But out of disciples’ unbelief, and enemies’ partial intelligence, God gets more glory; and gives us greater confirmation of faith.
3-11. ‘Peter, therefore, and the other disciple went forth, and were going to the tomb. Now the two were running together, and the other disciple ran faster than Peter, and came first to the tomb. And stooping down at the side of the door, he seeth the linen swathes lying; but he went not in. Simon Peter, therefore, cometh following him, and entereth into the tomb, and beholdeth the linen swathes lying: and the napkin that was upon His head, not lying with the linen swathes, but separately folded inwards, so as to make up one spot. Then, therefore, entered the other disciple that came first to the tomb, and he saw and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from among the dead. The disciples, then, went away therefore again to their own houses.’
This first intelligence given by Mary was fitted to rouse the apostles, and prepare them for the full truth. ‘The stone rolled away! Who could have done that? And with what intent?’ They, however, do not stay to speculate; but, as was best, go to see for themselves. They run: for the matter deeply interests them. They have no intelligence respecting the guard posted by the enemy at the tomb. But the Lord had removed it, before they came. In the first arrival of John, and the conduct of both him and Peter, we see the difference of age and character. John stands without. He could see by a glance from the outside, whether the body was within or no. There were the grave-clothes lying, but no body lying in them! Was not that enough? Could any more be needed to be known? Or be learned by entering?
Observe the word employed by the Holy Ghost. Had John stood right in front of the narrow doorway, he would have blocked out all the light; for there was no window to the tomb. Moreover his head would have been above the doorway: so that he was obliged to stoop in order to be able to look within. He stands then at the side of the doorway, and stoops! That is the force of the Greek word - … . Then he could look within. They who would learn of God must stoop to His Word.
But Peter is not contented with a view from without, and he enters. More was to be learned within. He now notices the difference between the rollers which swathed the body, and the covering which had wrapped the head of our Lord. The head had required a different covering from the rest of the body, and therefore, a separate linen cloth had been provided. He found the napkin then still retaining the appearance which had been impressed upon it, when those who buried our Lord folded Him in the grave-clothes. The usual idea is, that the Saviour, who had been wrapped up in a broad shroud or sheet, undid the linen when He arose; and folded up the shroud in one spot, and the napkin in another. But John’s account is very different. The napkin was ‘folded inward;’ as is the case, when we put a handkerchief over the head, and tie it under the chin. It was folded ‘separately,’ and yet so as to preserve the united appearance of the grave-clothes. That is, the linen was found by them just as it had been left by those who buried the Saviour. He had not undone the swathes, or the napkin. He had slipped out from them, leaving them on the ledge of the tomb, just in the position in which they had first encircled His body. The unity of appearance which they had at first, when they encompassed the corpse, was there still; but the body which gave them that unity was not there! That is, there was something in the matter quite uncommon and unaccountable, save on the supposition of new powers acquired by the risen Saviour. This appears from comparing the matter with the resurrection of Lazarus, which John had seen with his fellow-disciples so short a time before. When Lazarus at our Lord’s word came forth, he ‘came forth bound hands and feet with the grave-clothes, and his countenance was bound about with a napkin’ (11: 44). It would have required a considerable exertion of force for Lazarus to have set free his hands and feet, if indeed he could have done it at all. Jesus, therefore, says to the bystanders, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’ But in this case of our Lord, the grave-clothes are not said to be taken off and folded up, but ‘lying;’ (1) One part of the vestments is separate from the other, yet (2) both make up a whole. The view here given accounts for both features. Jesus had left them. Grave-clothes could not bind Him who had overcome the chains of death. And He, the living, needed not the clothes of the dead.
John follows Peter – Peter’s example acts on John, as the example of friends and of others acts - even when we do not think of it - on ourselves. Peter saw the facts, but he did not draw the right conclusion. Here was enough to overthrow Mary’s hasty theory, that some persons unknown had carried off the body. It was no enemies who carried off the body; for why take the pains to strip it? And besides, the spices would have been scattered about. Enemies had devised the securing of the sepulchre, and of the body within it; lest the empty sepulchre should conspire to aid the expected story of the disciples, that He was risen. It was to their interest that all should be found as they had arranged it on the night of Saturday. Who could carry off the body, while the soldiers were there? Who would run into punishment, by breaking the Governor’s seal? And while thieves might steal away the clothes and spices, specially when the linen was new, yet they would not steal the body, and leave the clothes! Disciples knew not of the setting of the guard, which rendered it impossible for any, whether friend or foe, to enter the tomb without permission. The removal of the body perplexed the Pharisees: the presence of the corpse had been the destruction of the new religion.
It was not friends who had carried it away. For there were no marks of haste. And had they carried away the body, they would have carried it enveloped in its cerecloths. We are looking at the matter now from the disciples’ point of view, who were ignorant of the guard. In short, nothing but resurrection from among the dead, and a consequent abandoning of the trappings of the tomb, could account for what John saw. He believes then! ‘Here is resurrection, Peter!’
From this we may learn that in the Word of God, as in the tomb of Christ, more and more is to be learned by faith. Something may be gathered from an outside view; but more can be obtained from an entrance in, and a closer view. While Peter saw the very same scene as John, he failed to penetrate its real meaning, because of unbelief. John gathered it at a glance. Thus some see much more in Scripture than others. And while unbelief stumbles at the truth, faith beholds its oneness and its deep meaning, and rests there. Many are content with the first elements of faith. That is only because they are thinking more of things of the world than of the things of God. Their eye is only on their own salvation, not on God’s glory. ‘Let me be saved; und the rest of God’s counsel is of little moment!’ That is not the spirit of a true child of God, interested to know all His father’s mind. Let us not be content to stand without!
Here is the reason of much doubt and unbelief still. With God’s word multiplied, men do not understand it. Nor do most of God’s people seek to do so. Other books are more attractive. ‘They have read that before.’ What is there new to be seen in it, or learned from it?
But again - look at Luke 24: 12, ‘Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre, and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves; and he departed, wondering in himself at that which had come to pass.’
‘Now is there not here plain contradiction?’ say some stumblers. ‘(1) Peter is alone, and not with John. (2) He does not enter the tomb; while John says He did. (3) He sees only the linen clothes, and not the napkin, which is the characteristic point in John’s account of Peter’s visit.’ This objection is just like the style of observation current among many now. While in the classics, or worldly men’s writings, they make every attempt to remove contradiction from the writer whom they admire, it is just the reverse with the Scripture.
There men try to produce contradiction. Why? Because this same Scripture is the imperious word of God, from whose con demning force the guilty sons of men seek to make their escape.
The simple and effectual answer to the above suggestion is - This passage of Luke refers to a second visit of Peter; on returning from which He met the Lord Himself (Luke 24: 34). He went alone. He went, because of a new announcement, that angels had been seen in the tomb; and that they affirmed resurrection of our Lord (ver. 1-11). Peter, then, arose. and visited the sepulchre, to see if he could meet with these angels, and hear for himself. He, therefore, does not go in; because if angels were inside, he could see them from without. They were not visible; and content with a look, he returns, wondering at the strange events that had already befallen him that day. If angels where there, why did they not show themselves to him, as well as to the women? a question which we cannot answer any more than he. There was a special word, too, to Peter from the angels.
John, then, had believed in Jesus’ resurrection, as the result of His reasoning on the state of the sepulchre, and the clothes. He and the rest might have been beforehand aware of the great event, had he given credit to our Lord’s words, and to the Scriptures. The sixteenth Psalm foretold the Saviour’s resurrection, and the twenty-second supposed it. Had they accepted these testimonies, they had read all simply, and at once in the light. But now they look on with the eyes of unbelief - and so they stumble. Thus it will be again. The Most High means to bring His people out of their tombs, and take them up to Christ. There will be again empty sepulchres all over the world. Enquiry will arise, ‘To what is this owing?’ And unbelief will give its own false account of the matter. It will trace the disappearing of the bodies to the craft and fraud of Christians, designing to delude the world. And ignorant believers will be at a loss; and suppose there must be the fraud of man in it, as it was asserted on this occasion. Faith alone, conversant with the Scriptures, will say, ‘This is the finger of God.’
Jesus must rise - for no word of God can fail of its accomplishment. He must rise, not only from death, but ‘from among the dead.’ He went down as a spirit [i.e., as a disembodied soul] among departed spirits; His body was laid as dead - among the dead in their abode, the tomb; and was clad with their vestments. But now His spirit had come forth from the place of departed spirits, and His body from the mansions of the dead. He left the main body of the departed where they were, both in soul and body. So it will be also at the first resurrection.
‘They knew not the Scripture.’ The writer then is a candid and truthful man, whom we may trust. Most writers, when they speak of themselves and friends, tell only what makes for their advantage. It is not so in God’s book. There the failings of God’s own people are noted, as truly as what is good in them.
11-13. ‘But Mary was standing at the tomb, weeping outside. As, then, she was weeping, she stooped and looked into the tomb. And she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say to her, “Woman, why weepest thou?” She saith to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” ’
Very remarkable is the proof of the wisdom and foresight of the Spirit of God, that the first to behold Jesus risen from the dead was not His mother! One sees at once the strength with which the tendencies to worship Mary would have seized on such a passage, and would have declared that Mary was here a representative of the Church. This tendency is so effectually guarded against in Scripture, that it is only those who dare not read the New Testament that fall into it.
It is a second point remarkable, that the account of the honour given to Mary Magdalene was written for us by John; to whom, as a son, Mary had been handed over by our Lord. He was not deficient in affection for her. But for the Church’s sake, he, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, testifies of the honour rendered to Mary Magdalene by the risen Jesus. A new principle of honour, greatly above that of nature, or the flesh, has come in. This is formally testified by Paul (2 Cor. 5: 16). It was Mary’s supreme love to Christ which seems to have opened to her this honour. Affection to Christ is the great link: the flesh is a broken link now. ’Tis the Spirit! ‘That no flesh should glory in His Presence.’
The two disciples had gone away back – ‘No more was to be seen! It was of no use to tarry!’ So with ourselves and God’s written word! ‘All that can be got from it is got at a glance!’ we are apt to think: while those who pray and ponder over it obtain great and deep accessions of truth and grace. Mary lingered there in love, as did the sisters at Lazarus’s tomb. ‘But her tears were unbelief and ignorance!’
Nevertheless, the Lord does not refuse the good because of the evil.
She looks within. Apparently it was for the first time. For she had merely guessed before, that the open door betokened the body carried off. She had arrived at the tomb later than Peter and John; out of breath, with her previous running. Did they tell her that the body was not there? At all events, it was not the glance of strong curiosity.
The same word in the Greek, that has been noticed before, describes her look also. There is a difference between what she sees, and what was seen by the previous two disciples. She beholds two angels, while they saw only the linen clothes. How was that? They have the power of appearing or disappearing as they please. Their dress was white. This has been often noticed. That colour is the favourite colour of the saved in the world to come: not the rainbow-hues of present life. When the soul is perfect within, small will be the care of the colour of the vestments without. They were not dressed in black, as mourners with us. For they knew their Lord risen, and rejoiced.
‘Two Angels!’ A wonderful difference now appears between Christ’s humiliation and His commencing exaltation. At the cross, His executioners divided the spoil of His clothes. And two robbers are crucified with Him; one on the right hand, and one on the left. Now these two angels are like the cherubs one at each end of the mercy-seat; looking down on the proofs of the great atonement completed. ‘These things the angels desire to look into.’ Do you think, reader, that these angels quarrelled which was to sit at the head, and which at the feet? I think that as blessed spirits, they would be ready in honour to prefer one another. Shall we not imitate these ministers of Christ? The little child in these things is made our model by the Lord.
How could it be known, which was the place of our Lord’s head, and which of His feet, if the dead-clothes were folded up in one heap? This proves, that the clothes had not been stirred. The napkin which had covered His head lay there still, where the head had rested. The other end of the linen rollers showed where the feet had lain. And, it is evident, that the ledge where the body had been laid, was just fronting the door.
The angels speak to her. They know her language; though she knows not theirs. Their question is a natural one, bespeaking their interest in her. Ours is a world of sorrow, though few openly manifest their tears; and though in most cases of woo we are powerless to comfort or help.
Her reply is still as before. She was seeking her Lord, for some unknown parties had borne Him away. Here again love and unbelief mingle. But how strangely devoid of curiosity she is! Was it not strange, that at that early hour two men should be in the tomb?
Was it not Strange, that they should be apparelled in White, and not in sackcloth and ashes? strange, that they should be seated in the tomb, when the body was there no longer; and they were seemingly only guardians of grave-clothes? All this has no effect on her. She is so overmastered by the feeling of sadness, that her soul is not free to the play of the lighter sentiments of our nature. She is so absorbed by the dead, that she cares not for the living.
14-19. ‘And when she had said this, she turned back, and seeth Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith to her, “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?” She, supposing it to be the gardener, saith unto Him – “Sir, if Thou have carried Him away, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus saith to her, “Mary!” She turned, and saith to Him, “Rabboni” (that is, Teacher! Jesus saith to her, “Touch Me not; for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren, and say unto them, ‘I ascend to My Father, and to your Father; and to My God, and to your God.’”
Not every one who turns back from angels,
beholds the Lord Himself! Her tears wove
a veil, which prevented her from seeing clearly. The enquiry the Lord makes of Mary is still
the same question of kindly interest. We need to learn, what of the many causes
of tears in this vale of tears is affecting any whom, We
see weeping. And Jesus now speaks as a
man. The thought strikes her, that as this is a garden, he is the man who has charge
of it; and that now, at length, she shall learn who has carried off the
corpse. No suspicion of resurrection has
entered her mind. Jesus has died, like
all others; His body must then be passive, like those of all the dead. But, indeed, great was the real, but
unexpected difference. Adam was the first gardener. God planted a garden eastward in
Observe how her intense love and grief make her insensible to the usual style of address. Three times - to a man whom she never saw before, as she supposed - she asks respecting ‘Him,’ without giving any hint as to the person she meant. ‘If thou have borne Him, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will bear Him hence.’ To her there is but one ‘Him,’ who fills her soul; and she thinks that all the world must be as full of Jesus as she is herself. Is not that nature? Her love is greater than her strength. Could she bear away the body alone? But that troubles her not!
‘Mary!’ This Shepherd knows His own sheep, and calls them by their names.
Jesus’ reply is but one word, but it recalls her to faith. It savours slightly of reproach. Did she not know her Saviour? Did she not credit His words, that He would bear Himself away from the tomb in life? Had she not heard, ‘I am Resurrection and Life?’ No doubt ’twas the same old tone of voice, with which she was familiar. Her face was partly averted from Him, but this word makes her start, and gaze at the Risen One. Her reply is but one word also! When the heart is full of intense feeling its words are few, but laden with meaning. Her former instructor, then, from whom she had drank in the truth of salvation, stood before her! The tomb could not hold Him!
‘But go!’ She was not now to abide in the Saviour’s presence, and converse with Him, but to carry good tidings to the cast down. Even so the Christian is not always to be in prayer and over the Scripture for himself, but to carry to others the message of life. This is the day of work. The hour of rest is coming, when we shall be evermore with the Lord.
Jesus’ reply is a difficult one to interpret, and many are the meanings suggested. Why was she not to touch? Specially, why not? when very speedily thereafter the two women, her companions, ‘held Him by the feet and worshipped Him.’ And that evening He calls on the eleven to handle Him, in proof that He was no ghost. From the word, ‘Touch Me not,’ it seems that on her part there was a movement forward to embrace His feet, as in the case of her companions; which our Lord checked by these words of His. It would seem, from what follows, as if our Lord meant, that His intercourse with her was not to be upon the same footing as before. Else she would naturally have gathered, as He addressed her by her usual name, and she Him by the customary title, that all was henceforward to move on the same level as before. ‘Behold us, then, restored to each other, never more to be severed! Now shall come the kingdom and the glory!’ Nay, there is that which must precede. The Father calls for His Son’s return.
Jesus was to ascend to His Father, as He had said. That must first take place ere His dwelling with us, and ours with Him.
‘For I am not yet ascended to My Father!’ Why should Mary not touch Him because of this non-ascent? It would seem to imply, that the full intercourse between the Saviour and His saved ones should only take place after His ascent thither. Perhaps this was Mary’s thought, that every barrier was now past, and nought but the kingdom was at hand! But let us notice the point here stated. Jesus, up to that hour had not ascended to His Father. This is important, as testifying against the mistake made by many. Many suppose that our Lord mounted up to His Father as an unclothed spirit, between the time of His death on the cross, and His resurrection. The Word of God, however, is very distinct respecting the general truth, that none may present themselves to God in the glory, while unclothed of their bodies. God refuses to accept the naked (Ex. 20: 26; 28: 42; 32: 25). And this general truth is here specially authenticated to us, by the testimony of our Lord touching His own case. If He did not ascend to God till after resurrection, much less has any of the spirits [i.e., disembodied souls] of the departed done so. ‘David is not ascended to the heavens.’ Not till all traces of death and the curse are swept away, is man fit for the presence of God. If Jesus did not mount up to God’s heaven as soon as He died, neither do we.
Mary is entrusted with a commission to
apostles. They take a new and closer title
now. Not ‘My
apostles’ but ‘My brethren.’ Thus the Saviour showed His grace. Else we might have thought – ‘He is now so greatly exalted, He will show us the increased
distance between us and Him.’ ’Tis the first time of His employing the
title towards them. Jesus is, as
the Risen One, on a new footing with regard to them. They were before ‘disciples’ or even ‘friends.’
But ‘brethren’ is a nearer
title. Jesus gives them the name by
which He can embrace every believer.
The results of Jesus’ death begin to appear in resurrection. Now is God the Father of those who believe, the Father in Christ, the Son, and the Risen Man of Righteousness. God is our God too. He will prove His Godhead to us, and to Abraham, as He did to His Son; by raising us from the dead. For He is not visibly the God of Abraham, while he is in the tomb. It is only when Abraham shall be risen, while Esau and Absalom, and the array of sinners remain in the tombs, that Jehovah shall be seen to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Jesus’ resurrection then, was beheld by Mary. But He moves onward in thought and word. Resurrection [not Death] is a step towards ascension. He was to leave the world of sin and death that had rejected Him. ‘I ascend.’ By His own power and activity He was to ascend. Not as Elijah - ‘The Lord will take your Master from your head to-day.’
Christ’s work was not for Himself, but for us. Now He, having met and paid our debts in righteousness, God is free in grace to give us out of all the fulness of Christ. ‘My Father and your Father.’ Then love and kindness, then eternal inheritance are ours. ‘My God and your God.’ Then Omnipotence, all-creative, is engaged on our behalf. Is God my Father if I believe in Christ? Then all is mine. Not of any desert, for I am bankrupt; but according to His gift! And Christ the True Witness bears record of all my blessing
‘I am ascending.’ This was to prepare the disciples for His approaching severance from them. He was going to His Father on high, and the way to it was the supernatural one of ascension. The twelve, then, might know that was the way in which He was to take His leave, and thus they were to understand whither He was gone.
The Saviour has given to us who believe a standing before God like His own. He does not say, as would be natural, ‘I ascend to our God and Father.’ No! Even in this His most gracious testimony to our nearness to Him and His value for us, we are yet to learn that He occupies a nearness to God which we have not. He is with God from eternity: we, only through Him, and in time.
19, 20. ‘Now that same day at evening being the first day of the week, when the doors were locked where the disciples were, because of their fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, “Peace be unto you.” And when He had said this He showed unto them His hands and His side. The disciples, therefore, rejoiced, when they saw the Lord.’
It was not all at once that the Saviour manifested Himself to His assembled disciples. It was arranged by the Lord in His wisdom, that the light should break in upon them by degrees, each discovery preparing the way for the other and fuller ones. This seems to be the occasion, of which we read in Luke after the return of the two from Emmaus. Peter was the only one of the apostles who had then beheld Him (Luke 24: 33). But it was the same day - the first of the week, which we are accustomed to keep as the memorial of the resurrection of our Lord, the foundation of our faith. Jesus would not allow a day to go by, before the proof of that great event should be submitted to the believers in Himself. For on this all turned. We do not keep then the seventh day, or the ‘Sabbath’ of the Law; nor do we rest for the reason assigned in the Law - because God the Creator on that day rested from His creation-work. We do not rest in fallen creation but in redemption, or the new creation. We rest, because Christ rested; and the Father rests in Him, as having completed atonement. Our rest, then, is with God, on another day, and for another reason than that under Law.
‘The same day at evening.’ According to the Law, that would have been the beginning of another day. Now a new computation of time is come in, which we use.
Jesus, as we learn from the Acts, was engaged after His
resurrection in two things: (1) in establishing the proof of His resurrection;
and (2) in instructing them about the present and future
The doors were ‘locked’ - not merely ‘shut.’ But though able to keep out foes, they could not keep out the Son of God. Observe the difference, and contrast between ‘the disciples’ of Christ, and ‘the Jews.’ ‘The Jews’ were no longer God’s disciples. They refused the Son, and they were left to their sins, and to their natural hatred against the sons of God, who had put the Son of God to death. John no longer, though by birth a Jew, reckons Himself one of them. The disciples were still in the world; and power, both political and natural, was with their foes. But the day is coming that will alter all that; when disciples will have judgment given to them, and reign.
‘Jesus came and stood in the midst.’ John goes on in giving his proofs that Jesus Christ is, not two persons, but one. He comes who is Jesus ‘the Man’ risen. But He is also ‘the Lord.’ He is the same person after resurrection that He was before it; He carries on the same plan, and carries out the same promises which He had announced before His death.
Men in general, though friends, must knock at the locked door, and wait for admittance at the pleasure of those within. But this is no longer the case with our Lord. He enters by a new way, because the properties of His resurrection-body are altered, His was no longer an animal body, but a spiritual one. He was not dependent upon food and air, and the circulation of the blood. The blood had been entirely withdrawn from Him. We and He, at first, are composed of ‘flesh and blood.’ But Christ says after His resurrection, while asserting the reality of His body, ‘A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have’ (Luke 24: 36). He could come out of the tomb before the angel rolled away the stone. He can pass through walls. He can make Himself visible or invisible, like the angels. All this is the property, we may suppose, of the resurrection-body; a body whose life is no longer dependent on blood; and whose vitality cannot, therefore, be taken away by the shedding of blood. Thus it tells us of privilege to be enjoyed by ourselves also, at the rising from the dead. We are to be ‘equal unto angels, and to be the sons of God, because children of the resurrection.’
He says ‘Peace.’ (1) Though they had forsaken Him and fled, He would bear them no ill-will because of it: the offence should be forgiven. (2) He brings peace, as opposed to their trouble and sorrow at the thought that they had for ever lost Him in death. He brings peace as the result of pardon. He tells of peace with God, which could console them, and take away the fear of the Jews. Who speaks this? ‘The Prince of Peace!’
This peace is founded on Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hence He shows the signs of death together with the proofs of life. He eats before them. His body was not yet glorified, and that was wise. For how could they test clearly a body that shone like the sun? They touched the body, as Jesus bids them to do, in Luke; and as John, in the next paragraph, tells us that Thomas did. To this also John in his Epistle bears witness, that they gazed on, and felt with their hands the Word of Life, Who was from eternity with the Father (1 John 1.)
As, then, at Jesus’ death the disciples mourned, so at His resurrection they rejoiced. It was the first fulfilment of that word, ‘I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.’
Thus they are first, by evidences presented to them, grounded in the truth of the resurrection, who are to proclaim it to others.
‘He saith unto them, ‘Peace unto you!’ This was, and is, a common salutation among Easterns. It referred to their standing among men, and in relation to each other. ‘Is it peace, Jehu?’ is the question sent when that captain was riding furiously towards the palace. And the answer- ‘What hast thou to do with peace?’ refused the appeal. It was war; as the speeding arrow that quivered in the King’s heart showed. But now that which was only before a word of ceremony, a testimony of one man’s standing towards another, becomes a reality. It is peace towards God, brought in by the blood of the new covenant, and by the Priest of God. He who bore our sins in death has brought our peace in resurrection. We are no longer at war with God. God is at peace with us. This is the first fruit of faith. ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus. Christ.’
Hence, He points out to them the wounds whereby our peace was made. He is the Lamb of the Great Sacrifice - the ‘Lamb as it had been slain.’ He stands before them as the recovered from the death of crucifixion, the mark of the nails in hands and feet being still apparent. But He is distinguished from others who were crucified, by that spear-thrust in the side, which John alone has recorded. His body was flesh still. It had not been put off altogether; as Swedenborgians vainly assert. The body is an eternal part of the man. Though it corrupts and moulders away whilst it is exposed to the penalty of death, yet as soon as the power of life from Christ enters it, it shall be knit again to the spirit [and soul], no more to be severed.
The disciples present - as from Luke we learn that more than the ten apostles were there - recognized by these marks, that it was Jesus who was before them; and they rejoiced. His words were true. The grief they had felt at His sad departure was gone. Man had done his worst against Him who is ‘Resurrection and Life,’ and lo! He had survived it. This, then, presents Him as not Jesus only, or the mere man, but as ‘the Lord,’ possessor of all power in Himself, and now bestowed by gift of the Father.
21-23. ‘He said, therefore, to them again, ‘Peace be to you; as My Father sent Me, I also send you. And when He said this, He breathed on them, and saith to them, “Receive ye a holy spirit! Whosesoever sins ye forgive they are forgiven to them. Whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” ’
By the fall, God’s image was lost. By the redemption in Christ and through the Holy Ghost, that is more than restored, and anew dominion is here given. It looks onward to the great day of the kingdom to come.
Jesus again puts on them His ‘Peace’ - a double portion, designed apparently to belong to disciples as bearers to others of the Peace of God. The twelve, as originally sent forth by Christ, were to offer peace to any house they entered. If it refused it, their peace was to return to them (Matt. 10.)
Shoes of preparation of the Gospel of peace are part of our armour, provided to enable us to fight the good fight. None can properly go forth to fight the devil, but he who has peace with God. None can speak of pardon rightly to others, but he who has first found peace himself.
The Holy Trinity are all engaged in the great work. The Father sends the Son; the Son sends the Spirit; the Son and the Spirit send and furnish the disciples for their great embassy. This mission of the disciples was fully according to the Father’s mind.
Jesus now sends these His ministers and messengers with the same commission as His own. They were to bear witness to the Son of God, taking His place of testimony on earth, and possessed of His power. We should naturally have limited this position to the twelve apostles. But Scripture does not. Jesus was not addressing apostles as such. They are called only, eleven times in this chapter, which was originally the closing chapter of this Gospel. They are never called in John’s Gospel by the official title of ‘apostles.’ Moreover, these words were spoken to those present, while Thomas was away. If these were words addressed to those officially apostles, and to those only, then Thomas had no part in them, and so was not a commissioned apostle.
Jesus now sends the disciples as His witnesses into the world, even as He Himself had been sent by the Father. They were by the Spirit to bear witness to the Son of God, as the Son had borne witness to the Father. He had previously by Mary Magdalene given them His standing before God. God was to them their God and Father, and they were now to testify to the work of Christ as giving them this place. And by their witness they were to lead others, God’s elect, into the same blessed standing.
Jesus breathes on the assembly. He was the second Adam, the risen from the dead, taking the place of the old Adam before God. But He was also the Son of God - Life and Resurrection. ‘The first Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a life-giving spirit.’ When the body of the first Adam had been moulded by Jehovah out of the dust, He breathed into His nostrils the breath of life. But the disciples are possessed of a better life, for He Who inspires now bestows a spiritual gift.
I understand those words, ‘Receive ye a holy spirit,’ (the article is not there) to be parallel with the words in Luke relating to this scene. ‘Then opened He their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures’ (Luke 24: 45). It was a gift of inspiration in relation to Old Testament Scriptures; and it was by virtue of this inspired intelligence that Peter acted in the first of Acts, according as the Psalm directs - that another apostle should be chosen in the place of Judas. It did not make needless the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, of which our Lord in this Gospel had abundantly testified, as the near hope of the disciples.
There is first (1) the sign, and then (2) its significance.
Breath in the sign of life. Here it is not needed for Christ, but imparted to others. As the breath comes forth from the breast, so this spirit from Christ. Jesus is possessed of the Spirit after, as well as before His resurrection.
But this inbreathing of the Spirit was to be followed by peculiar power and privilege. The words which follow are full of difficulty.
How, then, are we to understand the difficult speech of our Lord concerning the disciples’ forgiving or not forgiving sin?
There are two main views about them.
1. That they are spoken concerning bishops and persons of authority in the church, possessed by virtue of their office, of this special power. Against this we may set the decisive Scripture plea that the word is addressed, not to disciples of a special and peculiar class, but to ‘disciples’ in general. We may add, that bishops and ‘presbyters’ (commonly called ‘priests’) are not the same as apostles. So that if this word belongs to apostles alone, then, as they have now no successors, the privilege has ceased.
2. But there is another view which empties the words of their meaning, as the other restricts them beyond God’s sense. According to this, the forgiving of sins is only the testimony of the preacher, proclaiming under the Gospel the general terms according to which sins can be forgiven or not. It is the Evangelist testifying to the world, that the sins of all who repent and accept the Gospel are forgiven; while ‘he that believeth not shall be damned.’
3. That certainly is not the sense. There are two kinds of forgiveness; or, at any rate, two divisions of pardon differently administered. There is the preaching of the Gospel of God’s grace: the testimony that whoever believes receives the pardon of sin. Some accept this testimony of God, and are forgiven by Him. Then the power here granted begins to come into play. The disciples admit believers to their fellowship, as being the communion of those pardoned by God. Their sins forgiven by God are owned by disciples also to be forgiven. The testimony of God is confirmed by the testimony of the sons of God. The admitted have a second reason for believing their forgiveness by God.
But offences arise among those so admitted to the Church. Some offend against those words of the Lord Jesus, which require a putting out of offenders from the assembly of the pardoned. The disciples agree to put out the offender, because of the offence proved. Then that his sin is retained. The general previous forgiveness of God is not done away. That rested on God’s forgiveness, and the elect one is still a son of God. But until he is restored by [God and] by the disciples, that sin is imputed to him. He is put out of the church; put back into the world.
The history of the Acts gives us examples. (1) Ananias and his wife offend against the omniscience of the Spirit of God. They were numbered among the disciples; but this special offence brings them under the power and judgment of Peter, who retains the offences; and they are cut off.
(2) Among those admitted to fellowship at
(3) Of retaining sins we have a third example, in Paul’s delivering over to Satan, Hymenmus and Alexander, because of their leaving the faith of Christ, and then blaspheming it. So, in regard of the world’s sins, we have the smiting of Barjesus, and the shaking off the dust of the feet against refusers. The ‘forgiving’ here answers to the ‘loosing’ in Matt. 16. and 18., and the ‘binding’ there answers to the ‘retaining’ here. In Matthew we have two views of the same power; in Matt. 16. as related to Peter, and the other apostles, virtually. In Matt. 18. it is a power made over to the assembly of believers.
While, then, it is not said – ‘None are forgiven but those whom you ‘forgive’ - so on the other hand, it is not merely the general statement of forgiveness as applicable to certain descriptions of persons; but it has a particular application to particular individuals. And so great is the authority and the efficacy that is made over to disciples hereby, that it is called not ‘power to forgive,’ but forgiveness. Under the Old Testament there was a year of remission of debts. Now its reality is come.
The Corinthian offender acknowledges his offence; thereupon the apostle and the disciples forgive his sin ‘in the person of Christ’ (2 Cor. 1.) The offence pardoned below is pardoned above; and the offender is restored to his place among the disciples.
‘But do you not open a wide door to mischief thus? There are assemblies of believers where some are put out wrongly - as suppose, for being immersed according to Christ’s command. Is the one so put out guilty of sin? and is his sin unforgiven by Christ? so that it will stand against his partaking of reward in the day to come?’
By no means! Such exclusion would not be according to the spirit breathed into the disciples, but according to the flesh. Such rejection, as being against Christ’s written words also would tell, not against him who was acting in obedience to Christ, but against themselves, who were disobeying Him. It would tell against their own acceptance and reward by Christ at His coming. This is a point of the utmost moment, which I would urge on all ‘Exclusives.’ Jesus says, ‘With the same measure you measure, it shall be measured unto you again.’ If so, then Jesus must at last speak to such offenders some such word as this: ‘You unjustly shut out from their Lord’s table those whom you owned to be sons of God; on Me then it devolves, to shut you out from sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God.’
24, 25. ‘But Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus* was not with them when Jesus came. 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 mark of the nails, and put try hand into His side, I will not believe.”’
* This name seems to be noticed, as indicating being distracted, or of double mind.
Why was Thomas away? We are not directly told. But it seems to be hinted, that he did not well to be away at that momentous crisis, when the tidings of Jesus’ resurrection were going abroad. At all events, it is designed as a lesson to disciples, that they should not be absent from the assembly of the disciples, except on good and sufficient cause before God; else they break a command - ‘Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is.’ This failure springs from some evil cause in themselves, and its effect is to increase the tendency to unbelief. Let the most zealous Christian wilfully stay away from God’s people, and he will speedily become cold.
Had Thomas been present, the proofs that convinced the other disciples had sufficed for him also. But their testimony did not suffice him, when he came among them. They told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ ‘Jesus’ and ‘the Lord’ are to them the same Person.
Thomas was ‘one of the twelve.’ And none of them was to be lost, but ‘the son of perdition.’ Hence, as one of the reasons of His second manifestation, the Saviour appears a second time to the apostles, that he may be restored.
The disciples did not cast Thomas off, because of his partial unbelief. But they try to lead him to faith. He was a friend and brother, although in error here: and it is a blessed thing to be permitted to guide an erring brother into truth.
Thomas doubted, that we might not doubt. For it is the glory of God to bring good out of evil. Probably he may have reasoned thus with himself – ‘If Jesus be God, He cannot die. If He die, He cannot be God. But, alas, He has died.’
He stands out against their testimony. He must have it proved to himself, ere he will believe. Was he right? Far from it! Sceptics like himself have the appearance of wisdom. But it is evil before God. Jehovah commanded that the testimony of two or three witnesses should be taken, even in a case of life and death. Here were ten witnesses (not reckoning the two angels and the women), honest men, converted men, yet he will not listen. He had had also the witness of our Lord Himself that He would rise again. Yet he credits it not. Wherein was he superior to the other apostles in critical discrimination, that he should imagine that there was some error in their senses or their observation, which would reveal itself to him if he were permitted to test the matter?
He allowed, it would seem, that they might have beheld the ghost of Jesus; but that His real body of flesh and bones had come forth from the tomb to life, he could not believe. The evidence of sight would not suffice for him. But neither had it sufficed for them. Jesus welcomed them to handle Him; they did, and were satisfied.
He must try for himself. He will have the evidence both of sight and of touch. He will see the marks of death to be found in the nails; and the especial scar made by the spear; which distinguished Jesus’ body from those of the other crucified ones.
Shall we translate his words- ‘I will not believe’- or – ‘I shall not believe’? The first makes his meaning more full of unbelief than the other. It was a matter of wilfulness, standing out against evidence amply sufficient. If we take the other rendering (the Greek does not make this distinction), he says, that the evidence was so deficient, that it would not prevail with him. This then was sin. It was a standing out against the evidence which God judged enough to convince even of so miraculous an event as resurrection. It was not, then, proof of a superior intellect, but only of a sluggish heart. For this Jesus upbraided the others as guilty of ‘unbelief, and hardness of heart.’ It is a spirit like that which prevails in the world. and keeps them far off from God and from peace. It was dictating to the Most High how much of evidence should he be given before he would credit His testimony. He might have been justly left to his unbelief. But God was gracious and met the failure of His disciple with mercy. He has, however, to wait a week in the chill of uncertainty, and out of sympathy with the rest on this cardinal point.
26-29. ‘And after eight days, His disciples were again within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh while the doors were locked, and stood in the midst, and said – “Peace be unto you.” Then saith He to Thomas – “Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands, and reach forth thy hand, and put it into My side, and become not faithless, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him – “My Lord and my God!” Jesus saith to him – “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.” ’
From the Saviour’s appearing to the assembled disciples on the
Lord’s day or first day of the week, we gather that
believers should still assemble on that day.
It is not binding on us by way of express enactment, in the style of the
fourth command given to
‘Jesus comes.’ This is God’s testimony against the error that would speak of the risen Jesus, as having put off all the body which He took from Mary. As if the body in which Jesus appeared was one which could make itself visible to faith alone, and therefore was not material. ‘All that the Lord took of Mary, by degrees He put off, till at the cross (says Swedenborg) the last portion of it was dissipated. The Lord had no material body. It was both cast off, and turned into Godhead!’
Scripture teaches the contrary to this. The Saviour, after His resurrection, is described by His human name – ‘Jesus’ still. He was seen and handled by those who did not credit the materiality of His body, till they were satisfied that the body laid in the tomb had come forth from it. Moreover, Scripture speaks of the Saviour, after His ascent to the Father’s right hand, as still a man. Let me present my reader with three passages to this effect. (1) Paul, speaking of the opposite effects wrought by the first man and by the second, says, ‘For since by a man came death, by a man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in the Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor. 15: 21). ‘The first Adam is out of the earth earthy; the second man is the Lord out of heaven’ (45-47). (2) ‘There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2: 5). To angels the earth, in its coming day of glory, is not to be in subjection. But one in a certain place testified saying, ‘What is man that Thou art mindful of him? or the Son of Man, that Thou visitest him?’ ‘Thou hast put all things in subjection under His feet’ (Heb. 2: 5-8). Paul then applies this passage to the Lord Jesus; confessing that as yet it is not entirely fulfilled in Him; but the title to this universal power is His. But if so, Jesus is both man and ‘Son of Man.’ By the latter title He is distinguished from the first Adam, who was no ‘son of man,’ but created directly by God’s hand.
In the presence of disciples Thomas had announced His unbelief, and now, in the presence of disciples, He is rebuked for his unbelief, and retracts it.
‘Become not faithless.’ This admits his previous faith. But it warns him that the tendency of doubt is to mar faith, as dry-rot saps wood. He who disbelieves one point is likely to go on further, and to refuse those points which are connected therewith. Jesus commands faith. We are responsible for our belief. Those who will not accept God’s truth cannot have God’s peace.
See how impartial Scripture is! It sets before us the shortcomings and transgressions even of apostles How unlike man’s ideas! It finds but One in Whom is no fault, but all perfection.
The Lord Jesus on this second occasion enters the room in the same manner as before, being not excluded by bolts or walls. Nor does He move from the door to their midst, but first shows Himself there. And His word is still the same. ‘He came and preached (heralded) peace to the far off and to the nigh’ (Eph. 2.). He came, not to judge and destroy His foes; but to bring peace to believers. All unbelievers are at war with God, with His people, and with themselves. The Saviour’s first gift is peace. Is there any reader who has not this peace of Jesus’ bringing? - a peace arising out of the Saviour’s atoning and obedience? ‘Ask, and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.’
Christ proceeds at once to show, that He is aware of Thomas’s unbelief, and of the attitude of his mind, as demanding special evidence. He presents to him the very kind of proof he had challenged. Though absent, He was aware of all that had passed.
Here were the pierced hands. Let him look and touch them! They were no illusion. Here was the pierced side: he could both behold and touch it. Now if the wound in the side had belonged to one possessed of blood, the blood in circulation would still have been pouring out of the fissure. Here, then, was something wholly new. The gaping death-wound is there; yet no blood is issuing thence.
Here was the evidence of resurrection. Life without blood, and yet a living flesh!
To resist evidence thus granted at his desire, would be to ‘become unbelieving.’ Thomas had believed in Jesus up to His death: would he become unbelieving now concerning the result of it? Jesus commands his faith. Unbelief is death before God, and uneasiness within.
Did Thomas try by touch the reality of the body of Christ? It is not said. Perhaps opposite conclusions might be drawn on this head; according as we regard the Saviour’s words as a permission, or a command.
But what Thomas did say at length was very effective in proof
of his faith. ‘My Lord and my God!’ Here
we have a testimony to the Saviour’s two natures. He is a man whom Thomas sees; one who has
been wounded to death, and has recovered from it. But He is also ‘Lord and God.’
He stands as the Risen One, in a position never occupied before by
man. Man as the sinner never came forth
from death and the tomb, clad in eternal
flesh. Only One
who is Righteousness and Life could so come forth. ‘Declared to
be the Son of God by the power of the select resurrection of the dead’(
‘My Lord and my God’ are words, whereby the Psalmist of
the Old Testament testified His faith in Jehovah. ‘Stir up Thyself,
and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord,’ Ps. 35: 23. ‘Yea, the
sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may
lay her young, even thine altars, 0 Lord of Hosts, my King, and my God,’
Ps. 84: 3. We may compare
Thomas’s testimony with the shout of the convinced multitude of
Here, now, is the faith of God’s elect. John, for rendering worship to an angel, is twice rebuked. But Jesus never refuses religious worship rendered to Himself. Thus the close of John’s Gospel answers to its beginning. ‘The Word was with God, and was God.’ ‘This is the true God and Everlasting Life.’ ‘God was manifest in the flesh.’ And here is the Son of God, not only accepting the worship, but teaching us, that this doctrine was henceforward to be the true faith of the Church. To recognize in Christ, the Risen Victor over sin and death, our ‘Lord and God,’ is true faith. Thus, though Thomas was the last of the apostles to believe, he is the foremost in giving to Jesus the name of God. Yet his faith still is not equal to that of the blind beggar, who worships openly, as soon as the Saviour calls Himself ‘the Son of God.’
‘But cannot the force of this passage be done away? Unitarians refuse to bow to this witness. What do they say then? That it was on Thomas’s part a profane expression, the result of sudden and excessive astonishment; just as people now say, ‘My God!’
What shall we reply? (1) That such profane expressions, seem not to have been common among the Jews in general who were rather careful, even to excess, against using even the name of Jehovah. Much less would it be in use amongst the religious men who were Jesus’ disciples. Observe also, it is not merely ‘My God,’ but ‘My Lord and my God’ – an expression less likely still.
(2) Next we observe it is not a pointless interjection to some one not visibly present, but a reply and address to the person just before him. ‘Thomas answered and said unto Him.’
(3) But the third proof is still more decisive. How did Christ take the words? He could not have mistaken their meaning. Did He regard them as a profane exclamation? Then He must have reproved it, as a sin forbidden by the Third Commandment of Moses. ’Twas a sin, worthy of rebuke. Does He so regard it? Nay, He accepts the words as good; as a testimony of Thomas’s faith concerning Himself. Up to that time the disciple had not so owned the Lord; he had not rendered to Christ the homage which was His due.
Jesus said, ‘Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed.’ That is, our Lord regards his words as the proof of the disciple’s acceptance of that truth, of which evidence sufficient had been given. Others were to accept the same truth on like evidence, and to testify to this position of Jesus Christ. It was to be the characteristic confession of a Christian.
Jesus has two classes in view. (1) His Jewish disciples and apostles, who, as men of the Law, were convinced by the evidence of sight. (2) But others, of later date, were to arrive at the same faith by the testimony of others; indeed, by the testimony of God.
This history is very important, in view of the teaching of
Again, how did Thomas, how did the other disciples know Jesus had risen? Because their sight, their hearing, their touch, affirmed that it was Jesus. On this, then, as a foundation the Christian faith rests. ‘The testimony of the senses is worthy of credit.’ Then the same proof which sets up the Christian religion overthrows transubstantiation. Or, if the testimony of the senses is not to be credited, neither is the resurrection of Jesus worthy of credit!
Thomas and the rest of the apostles were to have but for a few hours the sight of Christ risen, but their faith was to abide for ever. Our faith rests on the testimony of those who have beheld. They were happy in such a sight. But ‘Blessed’ - happy within and without, are those who believe in the Son of God without having seen Him (1 Pet. 1: 8). There is a full vision of Christ yet to come, which will be the reward of faith.
30, 31. ‘Now many other signs also did Jesus before His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that ye might believe, that JESUS IS THE CHRIST THE SON OF GOD, AND THAT BELIEVING YE MIGHT HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME.’
This was originally the close of the Gospel, as the words show. The chapter which follows was added afterwards by the apostle. Thus it answers to what we find in Mark, where also there are two endings of the Gospel.