Studies in John (Lesson 15: Jesus' Resurrection)
When Jesus said on the cross, â€œIt is finished,â€ he was making a definite assertion that no price remained to be paid for our redemption; he had suffered God's full wrath against our sins, and he had satisfied the law's fullest demands for justice. However, this did not mean that the story of redemption was complete: for even though Jesus had made satisfaction for sin, the final seal of the efficacy of that satisfaction and of his eternal victory over death and the grave (sin's bitter effects), was yet to come, three days later. The resurrection of Christ is the necessary conclusion to his sacrificial death. If his death really did overcome sin and its results; if it really did deal the death blow to the Serpent who had waged war against mankind by tempting them to sin; then it was impossible that death should hold him (see Acts 2:22-28). Jesus won the victory on the cross; but the victory that he won was displayed three days later in his resurrection from the dead. In his death, he won for all of his children an eternal, resurrection life. To borrow the title of John Owen's outstanding work, we have certainly encountered â€œthe death of death in the death of Christâ€.
The resurrection of Jesus was, from eternity, the culmination and pinnacle of Jesus' work in the covenant of redemption. In the prophecy of Psalm 2, we read of God the Father promising to the Son an eternal people and universal dominion in exchange for his obedient work; and in that context, he says to him, â€œYou are my Son; today I have begotten you.â€ Although theologians have long recognized the truth that Jesus, God's Son, is eternally begotten of the Father (and not made), this verse here is speaking of something different than that eternal relationship. It is speaking of a specific event, in which the economical outworking of the Trinity finds the perfect expression of its eternally unchanging, essential relationship. So what is that event? Paul tells us in Acts 13:33 that this prophecy in Psalm 2 was fulfilled when God raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection, then, was the culminating moment of the divine plan of redemption. It was the moment of history when the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son came to its fullest expression in their working out of their eternal purpose. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he was then â€œdeclared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holinessâ€ (Romans 1:4). Now, he sits in everlasting victory upon the throne of David, never again to see corruption â€“ for in his resurrection he has entered into the fruits of his hard-won victory on the cross (see Acts 2:29-36).
Nor do the effects of Jesus' mighty victory stop with his own incorruptible life and eternal dominion; no, the blessed results of his resurrection flow down from himself to all of his children. He was not just begotten of God by his resurrection from the dead, but he was â€œthe firstborn from the deadâ€ (Revelation 1:5); and moreover, he was the firstborn, so that he might be â€œthe firstborn among many brothersâ€ (Romans 8:29). Just as surely as Jesus is victorious over death for all eternity, so all who belong to him will share in his eternal life and victory. Oh, let us rejoice! If we have died with Christ, then we have been raised together with him; and if we have been raised together with him, then our true life is hidden with him in the heavens, and we will appear with him in glory, with the unstoppable power of his own resurrection life (Colossians 3:1-4). How precious is the crowning truth of all of history: Christ is risen! If he were not risen, we would be â€œof all men most miserableâ€ (I Corinthians 15:19). But oh, how things are changed since Christ has indeed risen! For in truth, â€œChrist has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them who have fallen asleep; for since death came through a man, so also has the resurrection from the dead come through a man. For even as in Adam all die, so also in Christ, all shall be made aliveâ€ (I Corinthians 15:20-22).
II.The witnesses to Jesus' Resurrection (John 20:1-23)
Throughout his gospel, John has been emphasizing two things, which come to the forefront again at the account of his resurrection: the first is the effect that Jesus' great miracles were designed to have on those who observed, namely, true faith. And the second is the abundance of reliable testimony to Jesus' mighty works on earth. Jesus was not just raised from the dead; he was also seen, after having been raised, by over five hundred eye-witnesses (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Certainly, this well-testified event should bring us to faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God who has power over death and the grave!
Of course, all of Jesus' previous sign-miracles should have taught that much, and the fact that he would be raised from the dead should have been understood from the scriptures (see, for example, Psalm 16:8-11); but the truth is, even Jesus' disciples and followers were still blind to these things. Mary Magdalene thought that someone had stolen Jesus' body; and even John, the beloved disciple, confessed that he did not yet know the scriptures which proclaimed that Christ must rise from the dead. But he did rise indeed â€“ and this resurrection was the last and greatest of all of his sign-miracles. It was a sign and more than a sign, for it did not just point to Jesus' ability to give eternal life, but it was the winning of that life itself; and so, it was greater than all the signs before it and the fullest display of his divine power. And finally, this last and greatest act was sufficient to bring Jesus' disciples to the full knowledge and faith that they had not had until this time. When John (who did not yet understand the scriptures) saw the empty tomb, â€œhe believedâ€. This is still the case today: people will resist and doubt and misunderstand no matter how they are confronted with scriptures; but when the Spirit of God takes them by the hand and leads them to the empty tomb of Jesus, when they see the Savior risen from the dead and highly exalted, then the veil falls from their heart, and they see Christ in all his glory, and believe in God who raised him from the dead.
So the empty tomb wrought faith in Jesus' disciples; but in order that we might have strong assurance, and the same faith in the risen Messiah, Jesus then showed himself to many witnesses, of whom the first was Mary Magdalene. She, when she had seen the Lord, hastened to tell the good news to those around her, who also believed; and now, nearly two thousand years later, the Church is following in Mary's footsteps, running to all the nations of the world, proclaiming the joyful news, â€œWe have seen the Lord!â€ O Father, guide our steps, loosen our tongues, let the message of your risen Son flood the peoples of the earth! Of course, even when Mary saw the Lord she did not recognize him until he spoke to her. How consistent are his ways! When we are still in our sins, we may have Christ presented before our mind's eye never so often, and all to no avail; but when once the voice that thundered into existence the very worlds speaks into our hearts â€œthe light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christâ€ (II Corinthians 4:6), then we see him indeed, and our hearts are filled with a joy which all eternity cannot take away.
Having thus been filled with joy at this recognition of Jesus, Mary wanted to cling to him, for she still did not recognize that Jesus' going to be with the Father was better for her than if he had remained on the earth in his physical body. It is great indeed to have Jesus at our side; but soon, we would have Jesus in our very hearts, through his Spirit which he was about to send. And this Jesus signified to his disciples as well, when he breathed on them, saying, â€œReceive the Holy Spiritâ€. Jesus, now risen, had fulfilled his promise to give the Spirit to his disciples; and how grateful we should be, for by the power of the Spirit who was now dwelling within them, and who would soon be poured out in even greater measure at Pentecost â€“ by him, the apostles' witness would also be powerful, bringing men to true faith in Jesus. They had a message by which they could proclaim the forgiveness of sins, and they had the Spirit to enable them to join the power of God to the word of God, so that those whom they forgave would be forgiven indeed. Let us rejoice, for if Jesus had not given the disciples his Spirit, we would not belong to Jesus today. But now we belong to him, and we are indwelt by his Spirit, who reveals him to us more clearly every day, as we seek him in his word.
III.Thomas' Confession and the Purpose of John's Gospel (John 20:24-31)
The results of the resurrection, which we have encountered in the first part of their chapter, come to their greatest expression in the case of Thomas, the last of the disciples to see the resurrected Lord. In fact, the account of Thomas' first sight of Jesus, after he was raised from the dead, is in a sense the most perfect illustration of John's very purpose in writing his gospel, which he will remind us of immediately after he tells us of this event. In this account, we see Thomas confronted with the evidence of Jesus' greatest act of all â€“ his resurrection from the dead. In response, Thomas is filled with a faith in the person of Jesus as the eternal Lord and God of all; and he is not just Lord and God, but to Thomas, â€œmy Lord and my Godâ€! The very essence of God's promise of salvation is that God would be our God (Genesis 17:7) â€“ and so we see here that Thomas finally believes on Jesus as the Savior, the Christ, the eternal Son of God, the Lord of heaven and earth. This is what John's gospel was written for. And this is an effect which can only occur when one is confronted with the exalted person of Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God, eternally victorious over death.
In fact, this is the very reason that John is writing his gospel in the first place. There is no life and there is no salvation apart from faith in the name of Christ â€“ but how wretched we are without eternal life, for our very reason for existence is bound up in the fabric of eternal life, which is, as we have noted before, the true knowledge of God. John has come to recognize this truth, and he has been filled with the love of Christ, a love which seeks to bring to others the great and lasting good of knowing God, even as Jesus died to bring to men that knowledge; therefore, he is writing these things, so that people might believe in Jesus, and so pass into the eternal life which is in God's presence and fellowship. In fact, this is the one purpose which governs what John has recorded. Jesus did many other signs and miracles that John did not choose to record. But he did choose those events which would the most clearly display the nature of Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God â€“ events that would designate him the Water of everlasting life, the Bread which comes down from heaven, the Light of the world, the Good Shepherd and the Door, the Resurrection, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. These are the signs which hold forth to us, in a figure, the precious nature of Jesus, our Lord and our God. Let us look to Jesus, lifted up as the serpent in the wilderness, and believe on him, and so we will pass into eternal life!
IV.Jesus Empowers a Great Catch of Fish (John 21:1-14)
After chapter twenty the gospel of John is, in a sense, finished. John has brought everything to its proper conclusion, the sober wonder of Calvary bursting forth in the triumphant exultation of the empty tomb, the greatest of Jesus' works producing the greatest confession of faith, and the author's purpose statement bringing all to a close. But in another sense this is only the beginning: for just as Jesus prayed for his disciples ahead of time, he was about to send them into the world with a mission just like the mission he was completing. When he finished his work of accomplishing redemption, he then commissioned his disciples with a new work of taking the news of that redemption to the ends of the earth. And so John included chapter twenty-one as a sort of epilogue, in which he relates how the resurrected Jesus prepared the disciples for their new task, following in the footsteps of Christ.
And it was certainly vital that Jesus should prepare these disciples. Peter, still bitter in heart over his great failure, was prepared to return to his former life as a fisherman; and some of the other disciples, confused and uncertain what to do now that Jesus was not with them, were ready to go with him. But Jesus had given his life to prepare these men, and he would not leave them now without any direction; so he appeared to them again, and worked for them one last miracle; but whereas all the other miracles in John's gospel symbolize Jesus' own redemptive work, now, after his resurrection, he is working a miracle which symbolizes the disciples' work which they were about to undertake. Remember when Jesus first called the disciples, and promised to make them â€œfishers of menâ€ (Matthew 4:19)? Well now, in this miracle, he is going to show them just what kind of men-fishers they would be. One who is fishing for men on the basis of his own strength and abilities will never be successful, no matter how knowledgeable he is; for a mere man can never open the heart of another man, no matter how he floods his ears with pleas and arguments. And so the disciples, experienced fishermen as they were, did not catch any fish all night, before Jesus came.
However, this was not to be the end of the story; for Jesus did indeed come, and when he came, the miraculous results were astonishing indeed: at one cast of the net, the disciples caught such a number of fish that it should have been impossible to drag it to shore without its tearing apart from the weight â€“ one-hundred and fifty-three large fish in one small net. In this sign, we can foresee the amazing results of the disciples' ministry, when with one sermon, filled with foolishness in the world's eyes, Peter caught three thousand souls in one day, because the Spirit of Christ was empowering him. And this was only the beginning â€“ soon the foolishness of their message would turn the world upside-down, calling out from every kindred, tongue, people, and nation a multitude of souls redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and caught with the gospel-net of Christ's fishers of men. We have rejoiced in all of the signs which Jesus has done previously, to display who he is: let us now take comfort in this sign as well, for it whispers in our ear that, no matter how impossible the task before us may seem, no matter how the lies of the devil and the discords in our midst rage against us, we will not fail to snag every wayward soul for whom Christ died from the seas of his sin and despair, because the success of the fishing is not in our own strength: it is in the almighty power of Christ, who, with a word, can bring one-hundred fifty-three fish to the shore and with a word can draw three thousand souls into his kingdom. This is the Christ we serve! Ministers of the gospel, take heart: you will finally triumph in Christ.
V.Jesus restores Peter (John 21:15-19)
Even with this sign, Peter is still in need of assurance and comfort â€“ and Jesus is never miserly in giving assurance and comfort to those who are his! So at the end of their supper together, Jesus comforts Peter's heart with the exact words that he needed to know that his shocking sin was forgiven, and that he would be used to minister the gospel to the hungry and wayward sheep for whom Christ died. Here, even as Peter had denied Jesus three times, so Jesus extracts from him a confession of love another three times (a confession which he knew to be sincere), as if to say, your bitter denial is over, and in its place is a true and loyal confession of me, which will never again be shaken. And then, Jesus gave to Peter a threefold commission to be his minister, feeding his flock as a loving and faithful shepherd under our Great Shepherd, Jesus himself. As great as his sin was, Peter was forgiven indeed, and restored to true and fruitful ministry in the service of the King! Truly, God's grace abounds to the chief of sinners, a fact for which we ought to be most grateful. Before we continue on, let us note in passing that the difference in the Greek verbs for â€œloveâ€ is perhaps not as significant as some would have it be. John often moves back and forth between synonyms for mere stylistic purposes â€“ in fact, he moves back and forth between different words for â€œsheepâ€ and â€œfeedâ€ in this same passage â€“ and this is probably all that he is doing here.
VI.The witness of John, the Beloved Disciple (John 21:20-25)
Now, John's gospel closes out with an account of John himself, with the suggestion (although as John himself notes, it was not a promise or a prophecy) that he should outlive the other disciples â€“ some thinking, mistakenly, that he would actually live until Jesus' return. Of course, as Jesus' response to Peter's question indicates, there is no more room to boast in a short and passionate life which ends in the glory of a martyr's death than there is in a long life lived in faithful service and unswerving testimony to the Savior. And the latter is what John's life would be. He would be the faithful eye-witness, testifying to the truth of what he had seen and heard and known of the Word of Life, Jesus Christ our Savior. How solemnly he undertook this responsibility, as we may learn from his three epistles to the Church â€“ and how grateful ought we to be for his long and faithful testimony, for it has given us the great and precious wonders of a gospel which outshines all other literature in the history of mankind, three letters which address the most pressing needs of every generation, and tenderly apply the most precious wisdom ever vouchsafed to us by God, and an apocalyptic revelation which shows forth more clearly than any other writing the glory of Christ the eternal king, and the blessedness of our final destiny with him. What a rich legacy John, the faithful witness, has left us. But let us not praise him, but the One who shone through him, with all power and authority, with all meekness and humility, with all the inexhaustible wonder of the Word of God, who alone reveals the inexhaustibly glorious nature of the Almighty Deity, showering all who belong to him with these unfathomable riches of wisdom and knowledge that all eternity cannot begin to exhaust. This is Christ, our Lion and our Lamb, our Savior and our God, diverse in all his myriad excellencies!
True Son of God, true Son of Man,
Both terrible and fair,
What various attributes you span!
Perfections ah! how rare,
How vast are in your person blent,
And all diversely excellent.
You only are the sovereign King,
And you the Servant mild;
Artificer of everything,
And born a human child;
You held the world up in your hand,
Even while you walked its sinful land.
You judge the world in holy fire,
Avenge the merest vice:
And you became what you require â€“
The bloody sacrifice!
O wonder! that you hate all sin,
Yet spread your arms to take it in.
And ah, the wonder does appear
Most glorious on the cross:
I see you, Savior, hanging there,
And in your deepest loss,
The greatest victory and gain
That ever flowed from God to man.
The mighty wrath of God there meets
Redemptive love his own;
There God the desperate sinner greets,
Who there forsook his Son;
Your God-like wrath, your mercy free
Clasp hands, Redeemer, on that tree.
My God! you are surpassing great:
Trembling, I bow in fear;
My Savior! you are wondrous sweet,
And gently draw me near.
I find no joy but in your name,
Jesus! the Lion and the Lamb.