- Religion and Philosophy
John's Gospel, a New Look Number 22: Chapter 20 - the Empty Tomb
John's Gospel. A New Look-Number 22: Chapter 20 - The Empty Tomb.
As the disciples scattered the so called " secret disciples" of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, took change of the body. This then should have been the end of the story. The problem of taking care of the body by the disciples was a huge one as they came from Galilee. How could they now honour their loved but deceased leader after his death so far from home? Fortunately the "secret disciples" from Jerusalem took care of that problem by supplying a suitable grave and the necessary burial ritual for Jesus of Nazareth. The story of a great teacher who challenged the Jewish Leaders in Jerusalem, and who some claimed did some amazing miracles, has effectually ended. Perhaps there would have been written on his tomb the following: "Here lies Jesus, who claimed to be the King of the Jews. A great but sadly misguided teacher."
His disciples would have gone back to their fishing nets, tax collecting and previous lives with some wonderful memories and great stories to one day tell their grandkids. "Yes, we were there and saw him feed the 5000 people on the grass banks of Galilee". What an anti-climax that would have been. But on that fateful morning as the women went to pay their last respects to their beloved leader, they found the tomb open and the body missing.
Matthew records that the Jews warned Pilate that there was a rumour that Jesus would rise from the dead and they feared that the followers of Jesus may come and steal the body. They were told by Pilate to take care of it so they closed the cave/grave with a big stone and sealed it. They also placed a guard in front of the tomb.(Mt.27:62-67)
John records what happened when Mary Magdalene (and Luke tells us there were other women also) arrived at the tomb. After the Sabbath she and the other woman followers needed to pay their last respects to the leader they loved so much. On finding the stone rolled away John tells us that Mary came running to Simon Peter and him with the theory that the body had been stolen. Here it is interesting to read the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels for more details, but to John the many details recorded elsewhere are not important. He is moving towards the conclusion of his stated aim.(John 20:30,31)
In John 20:8 John records; "Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside". Here John sees an amazing sight; the cloths that had been used to embalm Jesus were still intact so this was obviously not the work of grave robbers. John records of himself; "He saw and believed". John was then the first true believer in the resurrected Lord.
John and Peter leave the tomb but Mary is still confused and she weeps in her anguish at the entrance to the open grave. Jesus appears to her in a form that she does not immediately recognize. Later on along the banks of Galilee the other disciples also do not recognize the resurrected Jesus. (John 21:7) After meeting Jesus she returns to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord".
John is patiently building his case and bringing it to a conclusion as he records how Jesus appeared to them that evening where they were hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Jesus greets them with words that are much needed in their confused and fearful hearts: "Peace be with you". He also gives them the commission that he came to install: "As the Father sent me I am sending you". He breathes the Holy Spirit on them as he promised earlier as recorded in 7:37 and gives them the task that he has set for them, to go out and preach the message of forgiveness of sin.(John 20:21,22 cp. Matthew 28:18,19)
In order to give his message more weight and proof, John then presents us with the testimony of the disciple Thomas, the questioning one. As Jesus appears to Thomas personally, Thomas makes the great statement as recorded in verse 28: "My Lord and my God!"
Then Jesus brings the wonderful message of who he is into the present by promising a blessing to all those who in future times who would also believe, even if they did not see him personally. So John's aim has been achieved.(20:30,31) There is however one final act in this remarkable account by John and he writes about that in the final chapter.
The miracle of the empty tomb makes up the central argument that Peter is to make in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2, to convince those present who Jesus was and is. Every other leader in times past and in the present also has a grave that can be visited or at the very least searched for. There is no grave that can hold the Son of God and that fact sets him aside from any other religious leaders, and gives us the hope of eternal life.