A Surprise in the Garden
Tim Temple


The purpose of John's Gospel is to manifest Jesus' glory. This chapter is certainly the ultimate manifestation of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. The manifestation of His glory was so great that even the most doubting disciple gave what turned out to be the greatest statement of faith in the Scripture: “My Lord and my God.” It is a statement that any of us can make by faith, but it came originally from the lips of one to whom it had to be proven that this was really Jesus.

The Gospel started with the birth of Christ and the entrance of Christ into the world and the birth of faith in Him, so it is fitting that it ends with the consummation of the life of Christ and the faith that came into the hearts of people who were familiar with what happens here in this chapter—the Resurrection.

In a nutshell, this chapter first shows the person of Christ and secondly, the triumph of faith in the hearts of people who were facing an unbelievable situation. It is a very valuable chapter even though it is talking about a subject that is familiar to most Christians. It is easy for us to overlook the significance of it. I hope as we move through the chapter that you will try to remove yourself and your thinking from your familiarity with this event and try to see it through the eyes of John and the others who are describing it in this chapter as the shocking, surprising thing that it was, unheard of in all of history before this.

The chapter is divided into three parts. We are going to look at the first two of those in this lesson. First, in verses 1-10, the empty tomb is described; then in verses 11-18, there is the encounter with the Teacher. When Mary realized who Jesus was, she uttered one word, Rabboni , which was the Aramaic word for teacher ; then we have the entrance of the truth in verses 19-31.

We want to begin our study by looking at the empty tomb in verses 1-10, and in the first part of that is the discovery of the empty tomb in verses 1-9. There were two who discovered the empty tomb—Mary, in verses 1-2, and then the men. Keep in mind that the men only discovered it because the woman told them about it. The discovery was first by Mary and then by the men whom she told.

Mary's Discovery of the Empty Tomb

Let's look at Mary's discovery of the empty tomb. Notice verse 1:

John 20

1The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
2Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

Notice the entrance that Mary makes on the scene. The other Gospels tell us that some other women were with her. They tell us that these women had come to anoint the body of Jesus, technically to finish anointing Him for His burial because they had had to do it so hurriedly after they took Him off the Cross on the night before the Sabbath, in order to get Him in the tomb before the Sabbath day started at sundown. They came now to try to finish that job.

Of course, they were faced with an impossible task because they had heard by now that the tomb had been sealed. They were worried about that and wondering if it would even be possible to do what they wanted to do, but they were going just with the possibility that they might be able to honor the Lord in this way. Probably, they sensed that just by going, they would honor the Lord whether they actually got to do what they wanted to do or not.

That is an interesting and important principle that the Lord knows what we want to do, and it may be that what we want to do is something that really cannot be done or something that cannot be done right now or cannot be done in the way we really want to do it; but the Lord knows if there is something that we want to do, and I believe that God is pleased and honored when we just want to do something. Here were these women, realizing that they probably were not going to be able to do what they wanted to do, but they went anyway. That is a good example for us.

John zeros in on Mary. He doesn't mention the other women that Matthew and Luke mention. He singles out Mary and probably that was because of the personal relationship with Jesus that develops later in the chapter. It is probably that John wanted to make his account a bit more personal. His account was the last one written. John, all through the Gospel, assumes that his readers have already read or heard Mathew's, Mark's and Luke's accounts, so he leaves out a lot of things that the other writers put in. It becomes obvious, as you make a systematic study of the Gospel, that he is not disagreeing with that. Just because he doesn't mention some things that the others do doesn't mean that he is not aware of those things or that he disagrees with them. It is rather that he assumes we know that and he is just filling in some specific and more personal details that the others haven't brought out, even though he does also bring out a number of things that they bring out.

The bottom line in this situation is that the women did not come to discover the Resurrection. Remember, they were not familiar with the Resurrection as we are. They had not heard these stories in Sunday School. It is all totally new to them, and they did not get up that morning thinking, “Well, this is the day that we are going to go and find the tomb empty.” That was the farthest thing from their minds.

So Mary comes with the others, but John singles out Mary. This is her entrance into the situation. As soon as she got there, she faced an emergency because she was not expecting what she saw. She saw, in the middle of verse 1, that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. For her, this was a real emergency. The stone would have been a huge, round stone like a stone cartwheel, and it would have rolled in a track. Luke tells us that as they walked along, they discussed the stone and the difficulty that there would be in moving it.

The next verses are going to show that she was terrified by this event. The stone was rolled away, and that could only mean something bad had happened. Her efficiency is shown in verse 2. She did something about it. Notice again in verse 2:

John 20

2Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved…

Notice her running. This was an urgent matter, and John is clear to tell us specifically that she ran to tell Peter and John. Again, that shows the shock of this situation. It shows the urgency of it, but she did the right thing. When she discovered a situation that was beyond her, she went for help.

That, too, is a sideline lesson of all this. This was a spiritual situation. It had to do with her faith. Many times people come to a situation that they do not understand which doesn't line up with what they had expected, which doesn't line up with what they would have expected God to do, and they say, “God doesn't do what He says He will do,” and they just sort of give up. They sort of check out of the Christian life. They wouldn't tell you that they have lost their faith, and they probably haven't, but they just don't do much about it after that. Mary presents a good example of what we ought to do when we come to a situation that we don't understand, and that is go and find some help. Call a more mature Christian friend; call the pastor. Get some help with that situation that you don't understand.

Her report is in the last part of verse 2. Notice, she went to John and Peter. John, who in his typical, humble way, refers to himself as “the other disciple whom Jesus loved,” said to them:

John 20

2…They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

Notice the emphasis here. “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb.” To read these eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection by people who were there in those first hours of the discovery of it, you can realize how ludicrous it was to think that the disciples had stolen the body and then had pretended that Jesus had risen from the grave. Of course, Matthew tells us that that was the story the religious leaders put forward, and it was being repeated even at the time he was writing his Gospel. The standard idea was that the disciples had stolen the body.

The disciples were saying, “The body is gone, but somebody has taken the body, and we don't know what they have done with it.” Mary's report emphasizes the missing body. Notice at this point her report is not that the Lord is risen. Her report is simply that the body is gone. Her assessment of it is they— whoever they are—have taken the body. They are the same ones who spread rumors; they are the ones who are going to vote for the other candidate. We don't know who they are, but they did it. She was not at this point understanding the Resurrection. She just knew that something she thought was terrible had happened. The discovery by Mary leads to the discovery by the men in verses 3-9. Notice verse 3:

John 20

3Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
4So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.
5And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

Let's think about their run. Notice again that John specifies that they ran to the tomb. John's emphasis here is on the excitement and really, in a sense, the terror that they felt in this situation. This was not what they expected. They were running around, literally trying to get a handle on it, trying to see what was there. It shows their alarm and their consternation about the situation.

Notice that John tells us that he outran Peter. Here is an interesting thing about Christians in general that I think typified this situation. John stays pretty much in the background except for the fact that he is the writer of this Gospel, and we don't know very much about his involvement in the life of Christ. As we read the other Gospels, we really don't hear very many things about John, but we are always hearing about Peter. We know things that Peter said. We know things that Peter did. He was often the one who was the spokesman for the other disciples. John, except for the fact that he was one of the disciples, is very much a background kind of person, but notice how intently interested John was in this situation. He outran Peter and came to the tomb first.

If we were to assess John and Peter the way Christians generally assess other Christians, we would assume that Peter was the one who was most intensely interested in what happened to the body of Jesus. We would assume that Peter would be the one who would get there first. But here is quiet John—never says much, never takes the lead, quietly confident of how much Jesus loved him. John gets there first.

I believe that even if it is not a primary lesson of this story, it is an important lesson for us to remember that, to use a more secular quotation, “You can't judge a book by its cover.” There are some Christians who are not very demonstrative. They don't often stand up and say things, but many times those quiet, in the background Christians, are more aware of Jesus' love for them than some of the people who are always standing up and saying something and making the observations. Some of those quiet, behind-the-scenes believers like John would get there first if they were in a race with some of the people who are really the ones who are up in front of people. It is a very important thing to keep in mind that you shouldn't base your judgment of a believer on the basis of how much he is in the floodlights or how much he has to say.

That is not to put down those who are in the pulpit or in the open. Those people are sincere, too, but don't look down on somebody just because they have a quieter kind of spirituality than you do, a more behind-the-scenes kind of relationship with the Lord than you do. John was as interested or more interested than Peter was; he got there first.

Reactions of John and Peter

As they get to the tomb, look at their reactions. In the last part of verse 4, John comes to the tomb. Notice verse 5:

John 20

5And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.
6Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
7And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

Here is the situation: They come here and see the situation—John in verse 5 and Peter in verses 6-7. Another important thing to keep in mind is that in the Christian life, in facing various situations, our experiences and our attitudes vary, but God allows us to come to the same understanding. The truth comes to all who sincerely seek it. John got there first, but John's attitude was, “I'm not going in there.” For whatever reason, he stopped at the door. His activity was different from Peter's. He looked in; he stooped down; he could see what was in there, so he got the truth that God wanted him to have. He saw that the tomb was empty, and he saw that the grave clothes were lying there.

Peter's actions were completely different. Peter got to the door and went right on in the door and didn't even slow down. John had a very different activity than Peter had, but he saw the same truth that Peter saw. So again, it comes back to these differences between Christians, and it seems to me that in this particular time in the history of the Body of Christ, that is an important issue. To me, it seems as if it is a more glaring issue right now in our church and in other churches than it ever has been in the past. It seems to me that there is much more emphasis on, “we ought to be doing it my way. I stop at the door; I don't go running in.” Other people go running right in and what do they see? They see the same thing that we who stop at the door do.

You see, the Lord works in different ways with different people. Different personalities do different things, but for the sincere runner who doesn't want to slow down at the door, God reveals the truth to him, and for the person who thinks that he is too unworthy to go into the place where Jesus lay (that may have been what John thought), God reveals that same truth to him. So let's be careful that we don't insist that everybody do exactly what we do. If that person who wants to run right on in the door is sincere, God will show him the truth. If that person who wants to stop at the door—he is the one who is usually considered not as spiritual—doesn't come as close to the subject as the guy who goes running in the door, God will reveal the truth. He revealed the same truth to John that He did to Peter. So again, just a little truth woven into the more major story here.

Details About the Grave Clothes

Notice the specific details about the grave clothes that are mentioned in the last part of 6 and into verse 7:

John 20

6Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
7And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

As I was studying this passage, I saw something here that I had never thought about before. This may embarrass me, because I may be the only one here who has never thought of this before, but what occurred to me was, why would grave robbers have taken the time and gone to the effort to remove the grave clothes? Did you ever think about that? The predominate theory about that and what the religious leaders said was that the disciples stole the body. The disciples thought the religious leaders had stolen the body, but why would neither one of them bother to take the grave clothes off before they did it?

You see, the fact that the grave clothes were still there showed that this was not a human event. Only God would have left the grave clothes. John doesn't record it, but the other Gospel writers record that the angel told Mary, “Look, you can see where He lay because the grave clothes are there.” It was obvious that Jesus wasn't there because the grave clothes were there, and very likely they still had the same shape Jesus had. The face cloth was taken off. Remember, these grave clothes are essentially strips of linen that were soaked in spices and then wrapped around and around each finger, both arms, the toes, and the feet. Every part of the body was bound up in these grave clothes.

That is why, when Lazarus came out of the grave, Jesus said, “Loose him and let him go.” They had to take those grave clothes off, somewhat like removing a cast from a broken arm when they used to use the old plaster casts which I guess they still use some today. So to say that the grave clothes were lying there was a significant statement. First, that would not be the way that you would do it if you were hurriedly stealing the body. Secondly, it gave a visible demonstration that Jesus was not there. The fact that the grave clothes were there accentuated the fact that Jesus was not there. It fits better the idea of the body coming out of the wrappings than being taken out of the wrappings for them to still be there like that.

John's reaction is in verses 8-9:

John 20

8Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.
9For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

This is a verse that gives some people trouble. They say, “How in the world could John not have known the Scripture that He must rise again from the dead?” Jesus had talked about this over and over again, but now we read that John did not know the Scripture that said that. Actually, a better understanding of this, and again an example of the advantage of God having given this to us in the Greek language is in verse 9: “As yet, they did not know the Scripture that He must rise again.” That word know is a Greek word that speaks of not just knowledge, but an understanding of the knowledge that you have. Certainly they had heard Jesus say that the only sign He was going to give was the sign of the prophet Jonah—as Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish, so will the Son of man be in the earth.

They had heard Him say other things about the fact that He would die and rise again, but they had not understood that. They probably either thought that He was just speaking in general spiritual terms, that He was spiritualizing the fact that He would always be with them or that He would live in their memories, as we sometimes hear people say at funerals now: “He will always be with us because he will live in our memories.”

Thank God that is not all there is to a loved one who has died and gone on to Heaven. The memories are great, but that is not the only way a fellow believer who has gone on to Heaven lives on. Maybe John had thought something like that, but the point is, in verse 9, he had not understood those things that he had heard. He had not understood all the implications of the Old Testament passages that said that, but now he sees the missing body and the light comes on. It all falls into place for him, and he understands what he knew that Jesus had said and what he knew of the Old Testament.

As we study God's Word, we need to be careful that we ask Him to give us not just a knowledge of His Word, but an understanding of His Word. It is one thing to know the Scripture; it is another thing to understand what we know. One of the beautiful things about the Word of God is that as we study it, even though we may study it for years, as we continue to study it, suddenly we come to understand those things that we knew, and we come to understand things that we may have thought that we understood; but we realize that there is a deeper meaning or a different application to our own lives at this time than there was when we studied it the last time. That is the beautiful thing about understanding the Word of God.

Keep in mind that there are men who have doctor's degrees in Old Testament and New Testament who don't believe a word of it. It is possible to be an expert in the literary contents without understanding any of it spiritually and in a limited sense, that is where John was. He understood that the Bible talked about the Resurrection. Even Job had talked about it. He understood that Jesus had talked about it, but he didn't really understand what they were saying. But now, when he saw the empty tomb, he believed that Jesus would rise again from the dead.

John and Peter Depart

Their departure is in verse 10. Notice an interesting little statement:

John 20

10Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

I have made that a separate part of the paragraph. First, there was their discovery in verses 1-9, and then their departure. John apparently went home to think about it. Peter went back to go on with his business. In Luke, chapter 2, verse 19, it tells us that when Gabriel spoke to Mary and told her that she was going to be the mother of the Lord Jesus, she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Can't you just imagine that she did? Can you imagine what it would be like for a very young, possibly still teenaged girl, to have an angel appear to her? Can you imagine that in the first place, just to have an angel appear to you to tell you that you are going to be the mother of the earthly incarnation of God? I think it is one of the great understatements of the Bible that tells us that she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. I guess she did. That would take some thought. You would have to chew on that one a little while. But it speaks that in a commending way. It is a commendation of Mary that she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Listen, there are some deep truths of the Word of God and the Resurrection is one of them that really require some time for meditation and assimilation, and I think that is implied when it says that they went away to their own homes. Think about what they must have thought about as they went to their homes after making this startling discovery that the body of Christ was not there. With all of the human reasoning about how that could have happened, at least with John's understanding that it was the Resurrection, that took some time to absorb.

I am afraid that sometimes we are too quick in our study of the Word. I spend a lot of time talking about how important it is to take in the Word, so I don't want to downplay that. I am afraid that most Christians don't take in nearly as much of the Word as they should, but on the other hand, there is the other side of that coin in which we take in the Word so quickly that we don't give it time to soak in. We don't give it time to work into our lives.

The reason that I have set this apart as a separate part of the paragraph is that these disciples went home and worked with and pondered what they had seen.

Mary Speaks With the Angels In the Tomb

In verses 11-18, we come to the second section of the chapter and this is the encounter with the Teacher—Mary's encounter with the Lord Jesus. The setting for her encounter is in verses 11-13:

John 20

11But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
12And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my LORD, and I know not where they have laid him.

Think about this: She looked into the tomb, and she saw angels sitting there. She didn't run away screaming. She didn't say, “Oh no, I'm losing my mind.” She calmly spoke to them. They spoke to her, and she answered them in a very calm way. She expressed to them the same concern that she had expressed to Peter and John: “They have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they have laid Him.” Her concern was for the body of Christ.

As glorious as this appearance of the angels was, it was only the setting for what was about to happen. Before we look at this encounter with the Lord that she had, let me touch on something else. Critics often say, “If there were really angels there, why didn't Peter and John see them?” In fact, the other Gospels record the appearance of the angels in different ways, but they all mention that it was the women who saw the angels. Why didn't the men see these angels?

Women libbers can all have a good time with answering this question, but I think there is a better answer. It was not that the women were necessarily more worthy, although we can't deny that many times women are much more spiritually perceptive than men are. That may have had something to do with it, but I believe the answer is in II Kings, chapter 6. The setting for this passage is that Elisha kept telling the king of Israel where the king of Syria would attack next. The king of Syria couldn't understand why his plots against Israel were always being uncovered, so he began to do some investigation and found out that it was Elisha doing this. So the king of Syria said, “We can take care of that,” and he surrounded the city where Elisha lived with his troops. At dawn's first light, he wiped out that city or whatever it took to do away with Elisha. In the morning, when the servant got up and went outside, he saw these Syrian troops amassed outside Elisha's home and outside the city where they were. He was terrified by that. In verse 15, we read:

II Kings 6

15And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
16And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
17And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes that he may see.” Elisha was able to see what his servant could not see and that was the fact as he said, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

I don't know if somebody prayed that God would open the women's eyes, but the women, like Elisha, were able to see what the men could not see. The angels were there when Peter and John looked into the tomb, but they didn't see them. I want to also remind you that this is something that is true to this very day.

I want you to think carefully about this because it sounds kind of off-the-wall if you have never thought about this before. Do you realize that the unseen spiritual world around us is far greater than the physical world that we see around us? The unseen spiritual world is more real than what we see. II Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 18, says:

II Corinthians 4

18While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Let me remind you of some things about angels. For one thing, we know that there are at least as many angels as there are human beings living on the earth at any one time because apparently every human being has a guardian angel. In Matthew, chapter 18, verse 10, some children were bothering Jesus and the disciples were worried that the children were going to interfere with what Jesus was trying to do, and Jesus said, “Leave them alone.” In the course of reprimanding the disciples about that, He said, “I tell you that their angels are always beholding the face of My Father who is in Heaven.”

Later Paul wrote that angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will be the heirs of salvation. There are Bible scholars who say that guardian angels are for children because of Jesus' statement in Matthew, chapter 18. They say that they leave when they become twenty-one.

I can look back on the things that have happened to me since I was twenty-one, and I don't believe that. I have heard a lot of stories about things that have happened to adults that could only be explained by God's divine protection which I would assume would be through a guardian angel. Even if we limit the number of angels to the number of children on the earth at any one time, that is a significant number. There are lots of angels around folks because besides those guardian angels, there are many others whose jobs are apparently for protection. You remember what Jesus said in the garden when Judas brought the priests to arrest Jesus, and Peter cut off the servant's ear? Jesus said, “Peter, put up your puny, little sword. If I needed a sword, I could call twelve legions of angels to help Me. I don't need protection. I sure don't need your protection.”

So there were thousands and thousands of angels that Jesus could have called on besides the guardian angels. Peter's guardian angel wouldn't have had to go off duty to be one of the ones that Jesus called in. Besides the guardian angels, there are apparently thousands and thousands of angels available at any moment for protection. There are others in Isaiah, chapter 6, and in several different places in Revelation whose job it is to cry out “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,” who flutter around the throne room of God enhancing the holiness of God.

There are other angels who have to do with national affairs. If we read Daniel, chapter 9, literally, every nation has an angel assigned to that nation and then other angels who work with him. There are many more angels than there are people. The things which are not seen are around us in bigger numbers than the things which we see around us.

Why do you suppose we get so wrapped up in what we can see, when what we can't see is so much more important in terms of numbers, accomplishments, in terms of magnificence, in terms of eternality? The things which we cannot see around us—angels, and all the spiritual concepts—are the things that are important. We need to be careful that we don't get so wrapped up in that which is temporal and that which is visible that we miss that which is spiritual. That is where God really works; that is where God really reveals Himself.

Mary's Encounter With Jesus

Coming back to the text in John, chapter 20, verses 14-15, we see Mary's actual encounter with the Teacher. The setting is in verses 11-12, and the actual scene is in verses 14-15. She spoke to the angels and then:

John 20

14And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

Again the emphasis is on the fact that Mary didn't know where He was, and she had no idea of His resurrection. She kept talking about where they had laid Him. “They have taken Him away, and I don't know where they have laid Him. I want to find Him so I can lay Him somewhere and take care of those remains of that precious body.” All she knew was that she wanted to take care of His remains. She wasn't thinking in terms of the Resurrection at all. But all of that is solved in the speaking of her name. Notice verse 16:

John 20

16Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

Try to imagine the thrill of which she said that. I am not a good enough thespian to even try to imitate that, but think of the most thrillingly shocking thing that you have ever seen and how you may have screamed out some expression of joy or thrill. That is the way that Mary said, “Rabboni.” She was absolutely thrilled to death. The Teacher was still there. She would have been satisfied to find His body, but now it is the One Himself—Rabboni, the Teacher. He is still alive. Notice that she knew Him simply by the sound of His voice pronouncing her name.

We have an illustration of this in our own world today when somebody calls us on the phone, and those whom we know well we recognize without them even having to tell us who they are. Usually they are polite enough to go ahead and tell us who they are, but many times I get a phone call from somebody and they tell me, “This is so-and-so.” I don't usually say it, but I feel like saying, “You don't need to tell me who you are. I know.” How do I know that? I am so familair with that person's voice that I know who he is. Mary was familiar with the Lord Jesus Christ. He said one word, and she knew who He was.

How well do you hear the voice of the Lord? Is your spirit in tune with what God says to you through His Word and through the guidance of your thinking? Are you aware of when God is speaking to you? I think it is tied in pretty directly with how well we know Him and how close we are to Him.

Jesus Instructs Mary to Not Touch Him

Verse 17 brings out a problem text as they call it in seminary. In verse 17 Jesus says:

John 20

17Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
18Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the LORD, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

The problem is that later on that same day at evening He came to the disciples in the upper room and He encouraged them to touch Him. In Paul's account, there were others, so the critics say, “Why did He tell Mary not to touch Him when later on other people are going to?”

Well, there are a couple of suggested answers to that. One is that possibly during that day (notice the next reference that we have to Jesus is that evening) Jesus ascended to the Father. We know from the book of Hebrews that when Jesus came out of the grave, He ascended to the Father and either spiritually or physically presented His blood in the inner sanctuary of Heaven as a visible symbol that the work was completed. He entered into the holiest of all in Heaven, not without blood, the Hebrews writer tells us, so many Bible scholars believe that this took place during that day; and then when He came back at evening, it was all right for people to touch Him and in the days that He was on earth after that to touch Him because by that time, He had ascended to the Father.

That is a theory, and those who hold it hold it as a theory. It is the one that makes the most sense to me. Another theory is that He was preparing Mary for that future spiritual relationship that He would have with her, and as soon as He ascended to the Father, she would not be able to touch Him physically, and He was preparing her for that future day.

A third theory is that Jesus was saying, “Mary, don't take time to touch Me; go tell My disciples that I have risen.” Some Bible scholars hold that theory, but that doesn't sound like Jesus to me: “Don't touch Me. Just go do what I tell you to do.”

I believe that probably the best explanation is that during that day, Jesus continued His journey into the presence of the Father. That is the time when He took His blood into the presence of the Father in the inner sanctuary of Heaven and went through the ceremony indicating the completion of our salvation. Be that as it may, I think that the major point, no matter what explanation we may make, was that Jesus was concerned about everything being done properly, even in Mary's excitement.

In verse 18, we have the spreading of the news:

John 20

18Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the LORD, and that he had spoken these things unto her.


Our time is gone, so just let me mention quickly the application of that verse that I think is evident if you think about it for a moment and that is that knowledge of the risen Lord Jesus Christ carries with it the responsibility of sharing it with other people.

It was easy for them to share it because it was first time news. It was shocking, and it was exciting. It is not as easy for us, I think, because so many people have heard it and discarded it; but you know, our responsibility is no less than Mary's was, though our task may more difficult. If we understand the Resurrection, we have a responsibility to tell others about it—not only the Resurrection, but all that it implies: the finished work of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners.

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