For this evening, please read through the story of the Resurrection as told to us by John in John 20-21. Before reading this account, re-read the prologue to John’s gospel found in John 1:1-18. This prologue finds its fulfillment in John’s Resurrection account. In John’s account, we also have one of the great confessions in all of Scripture. Please read chapter 17 of N. T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God if you wish to dive deeper into John’s account.
John’s setting of the scene at the tomb is different than the other gospels. The other three gospels tell us it was the day after the sabbath and it was the early dawn. John opens his account by immediately telling us that it was ”the first day” of the week, and that “it was still dark.” (v.1). This opening references the same scene in Genesis 1:1, which John quotes as the first line of his gospel. Mary Magdalene (no other women are mentioned) appears at the tomb and is truly surprised the tomb is empty. Jesus appears to Mary at the tomb, but Mary doesn’t recognize him. Only when Jesus calls her by name does she see him (because the sheep recognize the voice of the good shepherd (John 10:3)). Jesus instructs her to go and tell the other disciples what she has seen. As in the other gospels, Mary is the apostle to the apostles and is the first proclaimer of the Good News of the Resurrection.
At the tomb, John alone gives us the story of the footrace between Peter and John to the tomb. (Luke mentions that Peter and others went to the tomb after hearing Mary’s testimony 24:12,24). The men saw the clothes lying there, and the head covering still rolled as it would have been around Jesus’ head. Like the other gospels, and Luke specifically, John tells us that the disciples did not know the scriptures that Jesus must rise again. Certainly, the disciples knew the scriptures, but until the Resurrection, they lacked the ability to read them correctly. (See, Luke 24:27, 2 Cor. 3:16).
Like the other gospels, John is equivocal on the exact nature of the resurrected body. The grave clothes are still in the tomb, with the head covering described as still being wound as it would be around the body’s head. (As an aside, the Shroud of Turin (Jesus’ alleged burial cloth) shows a photonegative of a crucified male which could have been caused by a release of energy generated inside of a wrapped body which would explain how Jesus got out of his graveclothes unwound.) Jesus appears to Mary, who mistakes him for a gardener, but he is apparently now clothed despite his last set of clothes lying in the tomb. John tells us that Jesus can pass through walls (v.19) and yet his wounds are still physically manifested (v.27). The resurrected body defies easy categorization.
John gives us a unique account of one of Jesus’s post-Resurrection appearances to the disciples. On the evening of the Resurrection, Jesus appears among the disciples who have locked themselves in a house. Our English translations say that Jesus “breathed on them” and said to them “receive the Holy Spirit.” (v.22). The Greek word used for “breathed on” is enephusesen which can mean breathed on or upon or into. This is the exact same word that the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) uses in Genesis 2:7 when it says that “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The same breath that animated a lump of clay, now animates the early church. It is the dawn of the new creation.
The highpoint of John’s Resurrection account is the story of Thomas’ confession in verses 26-29. As we heard in last Sunday’s gospel reading (John 14:1-14), Thomas was the inquirer in the group. When Jesus appears to the disciples on Easter night, Thomas wasn’t there and therefore didn’t believe in the Resurrection. Eight days later, Thomas was again with the disciples in the same house, and Jesus appears to them all. Upon seeing Jesus’ wounds Thomas proclaims “My Lord and My God.” (v.28).
In the story of Thomas, the first thing to notice is that Thomas doubted, yet the disciples did not turn him out. Rather, he remained as part of their group, doubts and all. One of the great themes in John is to “believe” (the word is mentioned 85 times in the gospel), but Thomas’ unbelief was not grounds to remove him from the group or to separate from him.
In the Greek, Thomas literally calls Jesus “The Lord of me” and “The God of me.” (v.28). Both of these statements are revolutionary. Both statements also turn on the use of the definitive article (o or “the”) in the Greek which is translated using a capital letter in the English. (e.g. a god vs. the God).
First, Thomas proclaims Jesus as “The Lord of me.” The earliest Christian confession is that Jesus is the Lord. (Rom. 10:9). In the ancient world, the title “lord” (Gk: kyrios) was used as a sign of respect towards any superior such as in a master/servant or teacher/student relationship. In Roman society, there could be many lords, but there was only one “The Lord” (Gk: O Kyrios) and that was Caesar. For Thomas to proclaim that Jesus is “The Lord of me,” is for him to proclaim that Caesar is not The Lord of me. Thomas’s confession (and the Church’s early confession) was treasonous. Throughout history, the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” has remained a source of confrontation between Christians and the present government or society. If Jesus is Lord then Christians are not bound by unjust laws or societal arrangements but must be in confrontation with them. If you wish to go deeper, please read chapter 4 of The First Paul by Marcus Borg and John Crossan that discusses the treasonous nature of the confession that “Jesus is Lord” (and particularly pp. 108-10).
The second part of Thomas’s confession is that Jesus is “The God of me.” John opening to his Gospel is traditionally translated as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1. However, in Greek, the first mention of the word “God” is “the God” whereas the second mention of the word “God” lacks the definite article. Throughout his Gospel, whenever John means “God” it is always with the definitive article, and whenever he means “god” it lacks the definite article. (This is why John 1:1 can be used to both support Jesus’ divinity and to oppose it (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and some other fringe fundamentalist denominations do.)) For example, in John 10:35, the definite article is the difference between “God” and “god.” Although John will hint as to Jesus’s divinity, particularly with the “I am” statements, it is only in Thomas’s confession, that Jesus is directly identified as being the God and fully divine. Just as a correct reading of Scripture is only possible in the light of the Resurrection, so to is John telling us that a correct understanding of Jesus’ divinity is possible only in the light of the Resurrection. If you want to go deeper, please read the first “Concluding Scientific Post-Script” (pp. 533-537) of David Bentley Hart’s New Testament.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31