John 20:1-17, “1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Commentary on John 20:1-17
The Resurrection (20:1–9) The first person to the tomb of Jesus was Mary Magdalene. Upon seeing the stone removed from the tomb, she ran to Peter and John, exclaiming that they had taken Jesus from the tomb. Mary did not understand that Jesus’ body had not been stolen but that He had been raised from the dead. Peter and John ran to the tomb, finding only the strips of Jesus’ burial clothes. Peter and John, as did Mary, failed to understand that the resurrection had taken place (20:9).
20:6–7. Had robbers stolen the body (a rare practice) they would have taken it in its wrappings; had they left the wrappings, they would have left them in disarray. Whoever left them, left them there neatly. The face cloth separate from the linen is not merely “folded up” (NIV) but “rolled up” (NASB, NRSV, TEV), which could be an indication of neatness, or that it was still rolled the way it had been when it was wrapped around Jesus’ head—that his body had risen straight out of the wrappings and cloth.
The skeptic’s proposal that Jesus had only swooned and then recovered would not explain how he could have loosed the strips tied around him or escaped a sealed tomb, but it also ignores the nature of crucifixion: Josephus had three of his friends taken down alive from a cross, but two of them died despite medical attention because their bodies had been so weakened from the crucifixion.
20:8–9. This disciple’s faith may have been due to parallels with John 11 or to the way the cloths were laid (20:6–7); John implies that they would have already believed it from Scripture had they understood. Them not understanding the Scripture proves that the disciples did not fabricate a story to fit their preconceived notions of what was predicted. Rather, they were confronted with certain facts, which they were initially unable to relate to Scripture. Only later, aided by the Spirit’s teaching ministry, were they able to do so. In referring to “the Scripture,” John may be thinking of specific OT passages (such as Ps. 16:10; Isa. 53:10–12; Hos. 6:2) or of broader themes in the entire scope of Scripture (cf. Luke 24:25–27, 32, 44–47).
First Appearance (20:10–18) Commentators often have suggested that Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus following His resurrection because she was the person who needed to see Him the most. After all the others had left the empty tomb, she stood alone by its side weeping. Two angels appeared to her, asking her why she was expressing such grief. After answering that someone had taken her Lord away and she didn’t know where He was, she turned and saw Jesus. The tenderness of the moment when he said “Mary” and her recognition of Him and cry of “Rabboni!” (teacher) is one of the emotional highlights of the entire Gospel. Jesus’ warning not to “hold on” to Him for He had “not yet returned to the Father” is at first confusing (20:17). When Jesus spoke of not having returned to the Father, clearly the ascension is in view. Also to be considered here is the idea that Jesus was not to be held to in the same sense as before the resurrection, for now Mary’s relationship with Him would be through the Holy Spirit (16:5–16).
The witness of women was worth little in Judaism; that Jesus first appears to a woman would not have been fabricated and shows us how Jesus’ values differ from those of his culture. Even the later church did not always maintain Jesus’ countercultural stance, and they would hardly have chosen such initial witnesses in an environment where this account would reinforce pagan prejudices against Christians (see comments on Eph 5:22–33).
Study Guide John 20:1-17
- Read the passage aloud to the group. Review the commentary.
- Discuss the different elements of the passage / commentary.
- Consider the scene of the resurrection, but this time put yourself there.
- Put yourself in Mary’s place. What would that have felt like?
- Now put yourself in John’s place. Discuss the different thoughts and emotions that you would have experienced.
- Finally, put yourself in Peter’s place. Think about his life with Jesus from the moment he was first called to the moment he stood in the empty tomb. Discuss the different thoughts and emotions that you would have experienced.
- Discuss the following statement and the implications it has for your life:
The resurrection is the central point of all history: Jesus has risen as he said he would! For us who believe, the resurrection of Christ Jesus is the anchor of our lives. It’s what we KNOW to be true even when our thoughts and feelings and circumstances are confusing.
- Does the fact that a man lived in the Middle East in the first century and was executed at around age 33, and then supposedly rose from the dead have any bearing at all on the bad news of this day? Why? What about your own life; how does the resurrection matter to you personally? Are you living in the freedom that Jesus bought for us through His death and resurrection?
1 Cor. 15:17 “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
- Close by spending a few minutes in prayer:
Repent: take your sins to Jesus so that you can be forgiven…doubt, pride, lack of love for others
Reflect: the reality of the resurrection, or your own doubts and struggles
Rejoice: death has been defeated
 Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 20:6–10). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 20:11–18). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.