Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 20

This account of the resurrection is the longest in the New Testament. There are two sets of narratives between Chapters 20-21. Each event also has a counterpart in the Synoptics.

Language and the Beloved Disciple in John 20 The situational language in John 20 seems to rule out Mary Magdalene as a possibility for the identity of the Beloved disciple. In verse 2, the Beloved Disciple and Mary Magdalene are clearly established as separate entities. In every gospel, including John, the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb is credited to a woman or women. However, in all of these gospels Mary Magdalene is named. The language used pertaining to the "Beloved Disciple" is John 20 puts the beloved disciple in a seeming contest with Peter (Smith). "Typically, Peter is placed in a kind of rivalry with the Beloved Disciple, in which he fares none too well, coming in a clear second (20:3-4) (Smith 374). Peter sees the empty tomb and does not believe, while the beloved disciple does. "While Peter is said to have seen, he does not believe. That the Beloved Disciple believes on the basis of what he has seen fits John's portrayal of him as the truthful witness (19:35; 21:24) (Smith 374).

Thomas in Chapter 20

John's unique account of Jesus' second appearance to the disciples one week after the first is important for several reasons. First it reflects another detail unique to John and that is of the piercing of Jesus’ side. Thomas requests to put his hand in Jesus’ side and there is some speculation that this might be a clue that Thomas is in fact the beloved disciple who was the only one in position to have witnessed the piercing of Jesus’ side, and furthermore that he might have in fact been the author of John. Also you have Jesus knowing Thomas' request before it is ever asked of him, a clear example of divine knowledge, a phenomenon well attested not only in John but also in the synoptic gospels. And finally you have an important theological statement by Jesus in verse 29 coupled with the profession of Jesus as “an elohim” or specifically "My adoni and My elohim!" by Thomas in verse 28. This claim of Jesus as "an elohim" is found only in John and has been misunderstood to teach the deity of Jesus. That being said, this idea of Jesus as God is an extremely radical one, especially in a Jewish society in which even evoking the name of God could result in execution. Such views have caused some to question whether John was in the mainstream of early Christianity or if he might have written a gospel considered heretical by early Jewish-Christians. If you read Thomas' comments in the Hebrew he is not calling Jesus Lord as in Adonai, but adoni which is a term of respect for a leader. And he is calling him an elohim which is means an agent of the high Elohim, like Moses was an elohim.

The Concept of Resurrection During the time of Jesus, resurrection was the form that belief in the afterlife took for most of the Jews. It was a common, mainstream understanding, and definitely not a concept unique to Jesus' situation. If it was such a common view, many would wonder why the disciples were so surprised at the sight of Jesus, and why Thomas doubted Jesus' reality. This is probably because there was most likely a diversity of views in the physicality of resurrection. Thomas says he wants to touch Jesus' hands and side in order to actually, physically, feel Jesus' person. After Jesus, the earliest Christian belief was that resurrection was expected to happen to everyone; Jesus was the first one it happened to.

Reason for The Gospel of John:

John 20:31 gives the reason for the Gospel, saying, "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name."

Notice he does not call him God the son. Jesus is never called the Son of God. It is not required to believe he is God the son to be a believer only that you recognize him as the son of God. In fact since the gospels insist he was a real man and a so it is a grievous error to call him God the son. Throughout the Gospel of John, the author tells things from a certain perspective which seems to portray certain stories and characters in a way that may seem unjust. This verse justifies the argument that the author may be biased. Rather than suggesting that every word in the book is true, or that every side of an argument is represented, the verse explains that the text of this account of the life of Jesus was in fact a persuasive text, or a biased argument. Prior to this verse, the author of the Gospel of John writes, "Jesus did many other miracles that were not recorded in this book" (v. 30). The author may have picked out only the miracles which would seem to create a sense of awe for the reader. Or perhaps listing other miracles which were not recorded elsewhere would destroy the validity of this account. On the other hand, why would the author leave out miracles that would have helped to accomplish the goal of leading others to believe in Christ? John 21:25 shares a reason: that "if every one of them were written down, I supposed that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." So why does the author interject this two verse segment into the end of Chapter 20, when another account of a miracle is given in the next chapter? This may be due to a change in authorship toward the end of the book (see Chapter 21).

It is obvious that the author of John took a lot of time in the arrangement of this book. He did do so in order "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31 NAS) Throughout the gospel of John this theme of bringing his readers to faith in Jesus as the Messiah and then redefining Him as the Son of God is very prevalent (1:7, 12; 3:15; 11:26, 14:1; 17:20; 19:35). For instance the word "believe" is used 98 times . Since each book has been so carefully collected the Evangelists in the synoptics have different purposes in the retelling of the passion story. In John, there is an emphasis on doubt which the entire community takes part in. Jesus, throughout the gospel, performs signs so that all of those who were in unbelief would believe and become witnesses.(6:29, 10:38, 20:8) With that said, when Thomas does not believe that Jesus had been resurrected it is no surprise to the reader. The author has already presented us with so much doubt in the gospel, including from the disciples, that this is familiar. However, this is done so that the story is influential and persuasive to the reader so that they may believe.

The purpose of verse 30 and 31 is to convince people to believe. John's purpose is not just a profession of faith, but also the experience of eternal life. Eternal life begins the moment relationship with God through Christ begins. After we have met the Risen Christ and as we study and reflect upon the God who is revealed in Christ and in Scripture, we find understanding, appreciation, and joy continually growing and unfolding through the rest of our lives (R. Hahn, 2007). The resurrection of Jesus is significant to us because it is the reason for our faith.