Jesus' Parables for Disciples
Piero della Francesca (1420-1492),"Resurrection" (1463-65), Mural in fresco and tempera, 225 x 200 cm, Pinacoteca Comunale, Sansepolcro, Italy.
How do you talk matter-of-factly about an event so mind-boggling as the raising of a person from the dead, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Hollywood would use special effects to impact the viewer. Novelists would employ powerful prose. But the Scripture just tells the story of the disciples, both male and female, as they discover this unexpected and life-jolting joy. And the Scripture tells it simply, clearly, and convincingly.
The historicity of the Resurrection is crucial to the Christian faith. Our own eternal future hinges on this question. Paul writes:
"And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is
useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false
witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from
the dead... If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still
in your sins.... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be
pitied more than all men."
(1 Corinthians 15:14-15, 17, 19)
Each of the Gospel writers adds specific details to the story of the resurrection. Occasionally, it is hard to understand just how all these details fit together, though it is possible to harmonize them. (See Appendix 11. A Possible Harmonization of the Resurrection Accounts.) However, we're studying John's account, so I won't try to weave in everything included in the Synoptic Gospels. For example, John doesn't mention the Roman soldiers who guard the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15) or the women who accompany Mary Magdalene to the tomb. We'll focus on John's telling of the story.
But before we can understand the impact of the resurrection on the disciples, we need to assess their emotional state. Jesus has been tortured, crucified, and succumbed to the agony of the cross with an early death. The death of the bandits crucified on each side must be hastened by having their legs broken, but not Jesus. When a soldier pierces his side to confirm his death, water and blood flow out.
The body is taken down, Mary his mother probably embraces him one last time and then the body is carried in a large shroud to the nearby burial place. The women follow, and perhaps help as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus fold myrrh and aloes into the grave wrappings. Then the men together put their shoulders to the heavy stone and with all their might roll it into place, where it stops with a clunk. The grave is shut.
With heavy hearts the women follow the men into the city as Sabbath night falls, lit by the full moon of Passover. Saturday seems to take forever to be over, as the disciples go through the motions of the day. They are deeply depressed. Hope is gone and replaced by fear. Are they thinking of resurrection? No! They have seen their Messiah and Lord die a horrible death. It is over. Their dream of a glorious kingdom is gone. They walk as dead men.
That night they furtively bar the doors of the place they are staying against the soldiers who may well come for them as well. They are exhausted, but sleep doesn't come easily. They toss and turn until the wee hours of the morning when they fall into a fitful sleep. That is their emotional state -- all of them.
But early -- very early -- on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and some other women rise and go to the tomb to complete the hurried burial. And that is when all glory begins to break loose in their lives. Not easily, but Jesus gradually pries loose their faith so they can see his glory, the resurrection glory of the Only-Begotten of the Father.
At this point John introduces an important member of Jesus' ministry team, a woman, who is the first witness to the risen Christ. Let me fill in some details about her life taken from Luke's Gospel:
"The Twelve were with him and also some women who
had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom
seven demons had come out;
3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means." (Luke 8:1b-3)
Mary is from Magdala, which was probably on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, the modern Migdal (meaning "watchtower"), about three miles northeast of Tiberias along the coast. It was a strongly Hellenized town with an important dried-fish industry. Josephus refers to it by its Greek name Tarichaea, meaning "drying and salting." Archaeological digs in the early 1970s revealed a small 26.5 x 23.5 foot synagogue from New Testament times, and confirmed its urban character. Rabbis criticized the immorality of its inhabitants. It was a prosperous city that by AD 60-70 had a hippodrome (stadium for horse races) and 40,000 inhabitants.
Mary is from a wealthy family, since she helped support Jesus and his disciples from her personal fortune.
Mary was troubled, and had been healed by Jesus from seven demons which he had cast out of her. Some paint Mary as a prostitute or loose woman, but the New Testament clearly distinguishes the demonized from sinners and prostitutes. How this demonic activity manifested itself, we don't know. Perhaps in some kind of mental illness or self-destructive behavior. As mentioned in Lesson 21 (12:3) above, later writings conflated the sinful woman that anointed Jesus feet in Luke 7:36-50, with Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene. But nowhere are we told that Mary Magdalene was a sinful woman.
Mary is single. We are not told anything about her husband, as we would have been if she were married. She was either unmarried, or, more likely, a widow.
Mary is devoted to Jesus. She traveled with his party throughout Galilee, and was with him in Jerusalem at his crucifixion and resurrection. She was one of those who followed Jesus because her life had been so remarkably changed by his healing power.
Women's place in Judaism was in submission to the patriarchal or father-led power structure. Many rabbis, at least, had a misogynist view of women. There are, however, indications of a place for women in Judaism, especially, evidence that some women held the office of ruler or president of synagogues.
However, the way Jesus treats women, ministers to their needs, and allows them to travel as a regular part of his team is unparalleled in ancient history. Jesus strongly denounced sexual immorality, adultery, and lust (Matthew 15:19; 5:28), and commanded an adulteress to "go and sin no more" (John 8:11). But there is no indication that within his band there is any sexual immorality whatsoever.
I have little doubt that the women who have been healed by Jesus and travel with him play an important part in ministering to the throngs of suffering women who come to him. I would expect they do a lot of encouraging, counseling, and instruction with those of their gender, as part of Jesus' ministry team.
But this woman, Mary Magdalene, has the immense privilege of being the first to see the resurrected Christ.
Q1. (John 20:1; Luke 8:1-3) What do we know about Mary
Magdalene? Why do you think a woman was given the honor of seeing the risen
"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!'" (20:1-2)
The first day of the week for Jews, of course, was the day after the Sabbath -- Sunday. This is the third day since Jesus' burial. Mary Magdalene begins her trek to the garden tomb very early, before it is light. We know from the Synoptic Gospels that other women accompanied her (24:9-10), but John focuses on Mary Magdalene's experience of the resurrection. She knows the correct location of the tomb, since Mark specifically tells us,
"Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid" (Mark 15:47).
When Mary Magdalene arrives she sees that the stone that closed the entrance to the tomb has been removed, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the cliff. She is shocked and imagines a grave robbery.
Eugene Burnand (French painter, 1850-1921) 'The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulcher on the Morning of the Resurrection' (1898), Paris, Musée d'Orsay.
She runs to where Peter and John are staying with the breathless message: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" (20:2). Note that the reference to "we" in verse 2 implies that Mary had been accompanied to the tomb by other women.
John's Gospel certainly reads like an eyewitness account.
"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."(20:3-7)
To understand what Peter and John are seeing, it helps to review Jewish burial practices. "Strips of linen" (NIV), "linen wrappings" (NRSV), "linen cloths" (ESV), "linen clothes" (KJV) is the Greek noun othonion, "(linen) cloth, cloth wrapping." There is some debate between the translation of strips of linen (NIV) or larger cloth wrappings. The raising of Lazarus gives us some idea of burial customs in Palestine at that time (John 11:44, Lesson 20). Sanders and Bastin describe the practice.
"The corpse would have been placed on a strip of linen, wide and long enough to envelop it completely. The feet would be placed at one end, and the cloth would then be drawn over the head to the feet, the feet would be bound at the ankles, and the arms secured to the body with linen bandages...."
The "burial cloth" (NIV), "cloth" (NRSV), "face cloth" (ESV), "napkin" (KJV)  that had been on Jesus' head was folded separately. Ladd says that this was a separate piece of cloth that was wrapped over the head and under the chin to prevent the jaw from sagging.
Luke mentions Peter seeing "strips of linen lying by themselves" (Luke 24:12) and John tells of "the strips of linen lying there" (20:6) -- not scattered about the tomb but lying together! The presence of the grave clothes neatly folded on the shelf are mute testimony that Jesus' body had slipped free of the grave clothes without disturbing them whatsoever. Church Father Chrysostom observed,
"If anyone had removed the body, he would not have stripped it first, nor would he have taken the trouble to remove and roll up the napkin and put it in a place by itself."
As Peter and John survey the scene, it becomes pretty clear that the body wasn't stolen. The modern theory that Jesus had been in a coma and somehow revived in the cool of the tomb meets its match as well. If Jesus had revived, he would have had to unwind the grave shroud in order to walk free.
As Michael Perry puts it,
"It seems to be the evangelist's intention to suggest that Peter saw the grave clothes like a chrysalis out of which the risen body of the Lord had emerged."
"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...." (20:8-10)
Something remarkable has taken place. John believes at this point, but Peter can't quite fathom what is happening. He goes away "wondering to himself what had happened" (Luke 24:12b). He is amazed, but not believing that Jesus is raised from the dead. Not yet.
It is hard for us to understand why the disciples can be so dense as to ignore Jesus' clear foretelling that he would be raised from the dead, outlined in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus gave three clear predictions of his resurrection.
- Caesarea Philippi: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." (Matthew 16:21)
- Galilee: "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life." (Matthew 17:22-23)
- Going up to Jerusalem: "The Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!" (Matthew 20:17-19)
In John's Gospel, Jesus has repeatedly hinted that they will see him again (16:16, 22). And after the death of Lazarus, Jesus tells Mary:
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)
But the thought of Jesus' death and leaving them is so overwhelming that they don't listen to the resurrection part. They have seen Jesus raise people from the dead, but the idea of Jesus' resurrection wasn't yet part of their understanding. We can criticize the disciples for their dullness, but, dear friends, we too are dull sometimes about things too amazing for us to grasp at this point in our lives and experience.
Q2. (John 20:3-9) What is the significance of the
presence and position of the grave clothes in the tomb? Why do you think it was
difficult at this time for Peter to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead?
In John's account, the disciples return to where they are staying, but Mary remains.
"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.'" (20:10-13)
The words translated "crying" and "weeping/wept" in verse 11 are the same word in Greek, klaiō, which we examined in the account of the raising of Lazarus in Lesson 20, "to cry, wail, lament," of any loud expression of pain or sorrow. Mary is weeping loudly and without restraint because she believes that Jesus' body has been stolen.
As she weeps, she leans down and looks into the tomb again. Now on the shelf where Jesus' body had been laid are two angels sitting, dressed in white. They ask her why she is weeping. She answers:
"They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him." (20:13b).
Mary doesn't seem surprised by their presence in the tomb. That she seems to be in shock is evidenced by the strangeness of her conversation with the angels and the supposed gardener in verse 15.
She has been peering into the tomb, conversing with angels. Now she straightens up and sees someone nearby.
"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)." (20:14-16)
Mary, still overcome by grief and wailing, now glances back and sees someone behind her. It is Jesus, but she doesn't recognize him. On other occasions, too, Jesus isn't immediately recognized after his resurrection -- by the men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:16; Mark 16:12), and on the beach at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:4).
She tells the supposed gardener that if he knows where Jesus' body is, she will arrange to have people fetch it and provide for reburial. After all, she is a woman of some means (Luke 8:2-3).
Jesus speaks to Mary gently.
"'Woman,' he said, 'why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?'" (20:15a).
In our culture, to address a person as "woman" seems harsh, but in Jesus' culture, it was perfectly proper for a man to address a woman this way. Jesus asks her about her grief, but, of course, he knows why she is weeping. He just wants to get her attention, for her to snap out of her grief and look at him. She is still facing away towards the tomb. She tells him, "Sir, if you have carried him away...", without identifying who she is talking about. She is overwhelmed with grief and hardly functioning. When she finishes her sentence. Jesus speaks one word, her name: "Mary." She suddenly recognizes his voice and turns to face him:
"She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means Teacher)." (20:16b)
Rabboni is Aramaic for "my lord, my master," literally "my rabbi." While it doesn't mean "teacher" specifically, it is the term used to convey respect and obedience by disciples towards the rabbi or teacher they followed. Hebrew rab denotes one who holds an exalted position, for example, an official.
Now Jesus gives Mary a gentle rebuke.
"Jesus said, 'Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.'" (20:17a)
"Hold on" is haptō, generally, "touch, take hold of, hold." It could mean simply touch -- "Don't touch me." But we know that Jesus invited the disciples (Luke 24:40) and doubting Thomas (20:27) to touch him, so that isn't likely the sense. Here it probably has the connotation, "cling to." Jesus is saying, "Stop clinging to me!"
Mary had seen her Master die a most horrible death. She had watched as he was taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb. She had seen the great stone rolled in place to seal the doorway. And then she has thought that his body has been stolen by grave robbers. Now that she has found him again, she cannot stop holding him, overcome by emotion. But she can't hold on forever.
How often we want to cling to Jesus as Mary Magdalene did, or build shrines to commemorate great occasions, as did Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:5). Our life is not in just the high points, but in the entire journey, and he calls us forward. It is enough to know that he is always with us and we with him -- and always will be!
Jesus interrupts her fervent embrace to tell her that he has a mission -- to return to his Father -- and Mary has a mission as well.
"Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (20:17b)
And so Mary hurries back into the city -- probably running -- brimming over with wonderful news.
"Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: 'I have seen the Lord!' And she told them that he had said these things to her." (20:18)
Mark tells us of their reaction.
"He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it." (Mark 16:9b-11)
Q3. (John 20:14-18) What has been Mary's emotional
state prior to recognizing Jesus? Why does Jesus tell her not to "hold on" to
him? What is the mission he gives her?
Q4. (John 20:1-18) What are the evidences for the
resurrection presented in this passage? Why is the truth of the resurrection so
important as an indispensable foundation stone of the Christian faith? What does
Jesus' resurrection mean to your outlook on life?
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What are we as disciples to learn from this passage? Several things:
- Jesus dies, is buried, and is raised from the dead in history, in real-time. This is not portrayed as a myth but as an historical event.
- The neatness and position of the graveclothes attest that his body was not stolen, nor that he unwrapped himself (20:4)
- Mary Magdalene, before any man, is given the privilege of seeing the risen Christ. That should tell us something about the place of women in Jesus' kingdom.
- The discovery of the empty tomb is not a case of mistaken identity, since the women were witnesses to Jesus' burial.
- The fact of the empty tomb and the presence of the graveclothes are attested by Peter -- and John -- before they are convinced that Jesus has actually been raised from the dead.
My dear friends, John's testimony -- and the testimony of each of the Gospel writers -- is that Jesus is not dead. He is risen. The historical fact of the resurrection is the foundation stone of the Christian faith. Years later, the Apostle Paul declares the same truth:
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Father, thank you for the fact that Christ is risen! It is wonderful news! Help us to put each and every aspect in our lives in that perspective. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
"Simon Peter ... arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen." (John 20:6-7)
"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.'" (John 20:17)
"Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: 'I have seen the Lord!' (John 20:18a)
 Green, Luke, p. 320.
 Avraham Negev (ed.), "Magdala, Migdal Nunayah, Taricheae," The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (Revised Edition; Thomas Nelson, 1986), pp. 225-226. Edersheim, Life and Times 1:571 cites Midrash on Eccl. x. 8., ed. Warsh, p. 102b. Edersheim, Life and Times 1:572, suggests that it might be a suitable location for a dyeworks using shell-fish that abound in these waters for the purple and scarlet dye, but gives no evidence that that such an industry actually existed here.
 Rainer D. Riesner, "Archeology and Geography," DJG, pp. 37-38, citing Strack and Billerback, I, 1047. Edersheim, Life and Times 1:571 cites Jer. Taan. u. s.; Midrash on Lam ii. 2., ed. Warsh. p. 67b middle.
 Josephus, Wars of the Jews, ii, 21,3-4. During the rebellion against Rome, Taricheae was fortified, and finally taken by Vespasian.
 David M. Scholer, "Women," DJG, p. 881, citing Kraemer. See B. Brooten, Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue (Chico: Scholars, 1982). See Ross S. Kraemer, "Sampler of Inscriptions Documenting Jews and Judaism in the Greco-Roman Diaspora," University of Pennsylvania, 1995.
 While modern westerners might measure days in 24-hour periods, the Jews measured time differently, counting each portion of a day as a whole day. The Greek adjective used in Luke 24:7 is tritos, "third in a series" (BDAG 1016). Looking forward, the third day would be the day after tomorrow. Looking backward, it would be the day before yesterday. This is the third day counting parts of three days -- Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Even though Jesus refers to his entombment as a sign such as Jonah (Luke 11:29-30; Matthew 12:39-40), this is a minor parable, not an historical statement. It does not require us to believe, against the clear evidence of all four Gospels, that Jesus remained in the grave for three days and nights (Jonah 1:17). The rabbis said, "A day and a night make an 'Onah and a part of an 'Onah is the whole"; and again, "The part of a day is as the whole day" (Strack and Billerback, I, p. 649, cited in fn. 101 by Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Eerdmans, 1992), p. 325-326). Morris notes: "Matthew elsewhere speaks of Jesus as rising 'on the third day' (16:21) and 'after three days' (27:63); there is no reason to think that he sees any difference between these expressions."
 "Outran" is protrechō, "run ahead" (BDAG 889).
 "Bent over and looked in" (NIV, NRSV), "stooping to look in" (ESV), "stooping down and looking in" (KJV) is parakyptō, "to bend over for the purpose of looking, with focus on satisfying one's curiosity, take a look," here 20:11 and Luke 24:12 (BDAG 767, 1).
Othonion, BDAG 693. The term keiria,
"binding material," used to describe Lazarus' grave wrappings, may refer to some
kind of webbing (BDAG 538). Barrett (John, p. 404) sees the meaning
"bandage" attested in the papyri, and observes that "such winding strips that
seem to have been in use in Jewish practice." He sees othonion as "a
linen bandage, such as might be used for wrapping a corpse" (John, p.
559), and cites Moulton and Milligan for the phrase othonia euona, "fine
linen wrappings for a mummy."
Brown, John 2:941-942, contains an extended note designed to defend the idea that the Shroud of Turin (a linen sheet 14 feet long and 4 feet wide) could have been described by othonia, rather than the modern interpretation of "linen strips" or "bandages." He says there is no evidence that Jews wrapped their corpses with bands or strips similar to those used for Egyptian mummies. "Granted the obscurity of the term," he concludes, "we had best translate it vaguely as 'cloth wrappings.'" Danker observes concerning the word othonion, "The applicability of the sense 'bandage' in our literature is questionable" (BDAG 693).
 J.N. Sanders and B.A. Mastin, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John (Black's NT Commentary, 1968), p. 276, cited by Beasley-Murray, Word Biblical Commentary: John, p. 195.
 "Burial cloth" (NIV), "cloth" (NRSV), "face cloth" (ESV), "napkin" (KJV) is soudarion, "face-cloth" for wiping perspiration, corresponding somewhat to our "handkerchief," probably simply, "a cloth " (BDAG 934).
 Ladd, Resurrection, p. 94.
 Chrysostom, In Jo. Hom. 85.4 quoted in Beasley-Murray, John, p. 372.
 S.H. Hooke, The Resurrection of Christ (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1967), p. 79, cited by Ladd, Resurrection, p. 94.
 "Wondering" (NIV, KJV), "amazed" (NRSV), "marveling" (ESV) is the Greek verb thaumazō, "to be extraordinarily impressed or disturbed by something, admire, wonder at" (BDAG 444-445).
 Liddell Scott, Greek-English Lexicon; cf. BDAG 545, 1; K.H. Rengstorf, TDNT 3:722-726.
 Brown, Death of the Messiah, p. 1020. He notes that the word is not found elsewhere for a son addressing his mother (citing P. Benoit, Jesus and the Gospel (Herder, 1973), p. 86). We see this expression elsewhere in John, with Jesus speaking to his mother (2:4), to the Samaritan woman (4:21), and to the woman taken in adultery (8:10). The angels also address Mary Magdalene as "woman" (21:13). See also Luke 13:12 = Matthew 15:28; Luke 22:52).
 Rhabboni, BDAG 902.
 Rhabboni is an alternate form of rhabbi and doesn't differ significantly (Eduard Lohse, TDNT 6:961-965).
 Luke uses the verb psēlaphaō, "to touch by feeling and handling, touch, handle" (BDAG 1097-1098, 1).
 Haptō, BDAG 126, 2b. See the discussion of possible meanings in Carson, John, pp. 641-643. He notes, "This verse belongs to a handful of the most difficult passages in the New Testament."
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