The Pulpit Commentary

John 20:1-10 (John 20:1-10)

The Resurrection: Peter and John at the sepulcher.

We approach an event which bespeaks a new life for Christ and a new life for man.

I. IT IS A WOMAN WHO IS FIRST AT THE TOMB ON THE RESURRECTION MORN . "The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher."

1. She evidently was not alone during the whole scene , but she seems to have reached the sepulcher before the other women of her company ( Matthew 28:1 ). "Certain women of our company were early at the sepulcher" ( Luke 24:22 , Luke 24:23 ).

2. Mary's purpose was to embalm the body of Jesus . This implied that she had no more expectation than the apostles of his approaching resurrection.

3. It was an act of great courage to go in the darkness and to confront, if necessary, the rude watchmen.

4. It is suggestive of the loyalty of women to Jesus that "woman was last at the cross, and first at the tomb."

5. Her discovery of the empty tomb was the first indication of a fact which is the most fundamental in Christianity.


1. Mary ran in breathless haste to acquaint the two disciples with her discovery. "So they both ran together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in."

2. John, as the younger man, outran Peter, but the eager haste of both disciples indicated their amazement, their curiosity, their expectation.

3. The hesitating look of John, as he stooped down but did not enter the tomb, bespeaks the awe of his deeply contemplative spirit.

4. The alacrity with which Peter entered the tomb without a pause, and descried the empty clothes, is characteristic of the impulsive and eager son of Jonas.

5. Both disciples believed, as the effect of their visit to the sepulcher. Yet there was an evident unreadiness on their part to believe in Christ's resurrection. "For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that be must rise again from the dead." The condition in which they found the clothes would suggest that the body had dot been taken away by enemies. It was still less probable that friends had carried it away.

6. The two apostles left the tomb convinced that the Lord had risen, but still, no doubt, unable to fathom the mystery that underlay the transaction. "Then the disciples went away again unto their own home"—one at least believing, the other meditating deeply, but awaiting the first personal interview with Jesus which dissipates all his doubts.

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John 20:1-31 (John 20:1-31)

2. The complete glorification of Jesus in his resurrection. The record pauses for the awful day of that great sabbath, and resumes the marvelous recital when the greatest event in the history of the world is assumed and asserted to have taken place. Heathen and foes admit the fact of the death of Jesus; the evidence is overwhelming, multiform, sufficient to establish itself to the ordinary reason of mankind. It is a matter of indubitable history. The proof was given to all the world; but it is otherwise with the fact of the anastasis of Jesus. That stupendous event was revealed to the eye and mind of faith by a series of communications, which afford to different classes, groups, kinds, and states of mind specimens of the manner and quality of the resurrection-life. "Many infallible proofs" wrought (as St. Luke says, Acts 1:1-26 .) irresistible conviction as to the reality of the Resurrection. The Church of Christ was originated by a faith in this new and transcendental mode of existence. A generation of men passed, scores of communities were called into being throughout Palestine, Phoenicia, Syria, Lybia, Asia Minor, Achaia, Macedonia, Cyprus, Crete, and even in Italy and the capital of the Roman empire, all of them held together by the life-giving conviction of the reality of a world of spiritual body, into which the redeemed enter. Of this reality the resurrection-life of Christ was the type, the proof, the first fruit, and the earnest. This most astounding fact was preached in Galatia and Macedonia, in Corinth and Rome, in Babylon and Alexandria, before one word of the Gospels had been put on parchment. When the preaching of the apostles was reduced to written form, it was not with the idea of recording a fully detailed or easily harmonizable account of the Easter Day, or of providing rational, or juridical, or historic evidence of the method or order of the great events, but rather to provide five independent series of evidences to the revelations which the apostles and apostolic company received of the nature and quality of the new life for humanity which had now begun. Several details of profound interest occur in the synoptic narrative, concerning which John is silent—such e.g. as the rolling of a stone to the door of the sepulcher, the sealing of the stone by the Roman guard, the resurrection-appearances of the saints, the special preparation made by the women for further embalmment on the following days the great earthquake, the two companies of women that resorted to the sepulcher at successive intervals of time, and the different signs and even appearances by which their timorous hope was quickened into an adoring homage and world-compelling faith. Though John does not recite these well-known narratives, he presupposes some of them. Thus

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John 20:1-10 (John 20:1-10)

(1) The process of John's own personal conviction, by the discovery that the sepulcher was deserted.

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John 20:1 (John 20:1)

Now on the first day of the week . All the evangelists agree about the day of the week, which thenceforward became the new beginning of weeks, "the Lord's day." Cometh Mary £ the Magdalene . Here all the evangelists are at one, although, judging from the synoptists, she must have been accompanied by other women. This is implied in the οἴδαμεν of John 20:2 , though Meyer repudiates such a hint by the remark that, in addressing the angels, she uses the singular, οἴδα ; but this difference rather confirms, than otherwise, the significance of the plural, when she first breaks on the ear of the astonished disciples the wondrous news. But when she is confronted by the angels she is manifestly alone, and speaks for herself. It is probable that Mary Magdalene had preceded the other women, driven by the intensity of her adoring love and abounding grief, and hence some slight divergency appears as to the time at which she started on her pilgrimage. While it was yet dark , early, in the depth of the dawn ( Luke 24:1 ); before the breaking of full day, and λίαν πρωΐ́ , "exceeding early" of Mark, although, as he adds, after sunrise ( ανατείλαντος τοῦ ἡλὶου ). This latter expression is difficult to reconcile as a statement of identical time. But many simple suppositions would explain the discrepancy. The Magdalene's home may have been at a greater distance from the sepulcher, down in the shadows of the eastern hills, while the home of the other Marys may have been readily accessible to the sepulcher. After the great earthquake described by Matthew ( Matthew 28:2 ), and the supernatural darkness of the day but one before, there is no incompatibility in the twofold statement that it was yet dark (not night), although the sun had risen. A deep pall may yet be hanging over the world and place which had held in its bosom the body of the murdered Lord of glory. (She) cometh to the sepulcher, obviously with the purpose stated by all the synoptics. She was bringing the spices which she, with others, had bought on the Friday evening. They would not be behind Nicodemus and Joseph in the expression of their boundless love. The critics make merry over the superfluousness of these women purchasing fresh spices when they must have known the lavish expenditure of the two rich men upon the same design. But the combination of the two statements is absolutely true to nature; it is exactly what women would do all the world over, and an evidence of the authenticity of both narratives. And seeth the stone taken away out of the sepulcher. This is all the information that St. John gives us, as antecedent to Mary's flight to Simon Peter and himself. We have to decide between three hypotheses: either

(a) John's narrative entirely differs from the synoptic account of what Mary saw and heard, and what she brought as her contribution to the apostles' ears, and therefore discredits one or the other or both narratives; or

(b) Mary of Magdala, having preceded the other women, found the empty sepulcher, and, without waiting for them, rushed to the home of Peter and John with this preliminary intelligence and nothing else, then, returning with them to the tomb, joined the ether women who had arrived after John and Peter had withdrawn; or

(c) That (Hengstenberg) Mary said more than she is reported by John to have uttered,—that she told them not merely that they (the Jews) had taken away the body, but that she had seen a vision of angels, who affirmed that the Lord had risen, and gave certain commissions. From Luke's account of the first effect of the news from the tomb, the apostles thought them idle tales, but they went to the sepulcher, and found it even as the women had said, but him they saw not. What were the "idle tales"? Not that the tomb was empty, for that was a simple matter of fact, which the two chief apostles verified, but the story of angels who affirmed that Jesus was alive. Still, such a report is very likely to have roused the apostles to the eagerness of their first visit to the tomb, and the effect of it to reappear in the conversation of the disciples on their way to Emmaus. If the third of these hypotheses be followed, then the narrative of John simply records with brevity what the other evangelists had reported at greater length, distinctly omitting the story of the angelic visitors, given in all three synoptists. This seems to me the fairest and best interpretation of the four narratives. On this hypothesis the account which Mary Magdalene brought to Peter and John corresponds with Matthew ( Matthew 28:6-8 ), where the women generally ran with the news, blending fear with great joy, excited beyond all parallel with the strange wonderful assurance which they had received, that they should meet their risen Lord in Galilee. According to Mark ( Mark 16:1-8 ), we hear of angels, the sight of the vacated tomb, and the angelic message to the apostles, specifying Peter as one especially singled out to hear the commission. Trembling, ecstasy, fear, shut their mouths as they hurried to the abode of the eleven; they spake nothing to any man, but the intelligence was conveyed "to the eleven and all the rest" ( Luke 24:9 ). St. Luke afterwards sums up in one statement all the various messages that were brought, and mentions by name, not only the Magdalene but Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and says, "the remaining ones with them" (at λοιπαὶ σὺν αὐταῖς ). The effect was so far fruitless; the apostles did not believe the words ( Luke 24:10 ). The fact stands in the synoptics that the first communication which was carried by women to the apostles, and was not confined to them, consisted not only of the fact of the empty tomb, but of the language of angels. The first thing might easily have been set to rest by direct inspection; the other part of the narrative might easily be disregarded as the voice of wild enthusiasm and excited imagination. It should be distinctly perceived that the women must have scattered in diffusing their intelligence, and John positively asserts that the main strain of Mary's report was as to the opening of the tomb and disappearance of the body, and that it was delivered personally to himself and Peter. This solution of the first difficulty was thrown into confusion by the T.R. form of Matthew's account, which says ( Matthew 28:9 ), "As they went to bring his disciples word, behold Jesus met them." If that were the true text of Matthew, it is in irreconcilable antagonism with John's Gospel, i.e. if Mary Magdalene must be regarded as one of the party who were advised to tell the apostles that the tomb was opened and rifled, and that the Lord was risen. It would also be opposed to the statements of both Luke and Mark concerning the first message they brought to the apostles and to the rest, as well as the manner of their departure from the sepulcher. If, however, Matthew is here referring to a second party (called by harmonists the Joanna group), then they must, in their passage to the apostles, have missed Peter and John on their way to and from the sepulcher, and it would contradict the assertion of all four evangelists, that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the Lord. This most difficult clause in Matthew's account has, however, been rejected by modern critics, £ and consequently the narrative of Matthew is delivered from its greatest perplexity. The fact that Jesus met them must be identical with the appearance described with far greater detail in John's own statement (verses 11-18). Matthew's Gospel throughout is singularly devoid of notices of time, and we find grouped here, as elsewhere, events or teachings without chronological perspective.

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