<< John XX: Spiritual Meaning and Commentary >>
We have passed over with as much brevity as possible the painful history of the Lord’s cruel treatment and crucifixion, the more especially as, in its main features, it is given in all the gospels, and has already been explained as it appears in the gospel by St. Matthew. We now come to the bright, glorious, and hope-inspiring event of the Lord’s resurrection, and the tender and instructive incidents connected with it.
1. The 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. The dawn of the first day of completed redemption and glorification had succeeded the three days and three nights during which the Son of man had lain in the heart of the earth. Early, when it was yet dark, cometh Mary Magdalene unto the sepulchre. Purified seven times, the soul of Mary clung to her Saviour, and, prompted by the love which casteth out fear, bent her footsteps in the dim twilight to the tomb where she had seen him laid, that she might perform the last duties of pious affection to his crucified body. It is. in keeping with the character of John and of his gospel that Mary of Magdala is mentioned alone as having come first to the sepulchre. Although she is here mentioned alone, this does not exclude the idea that others might be with her, according to the testimony of Matthew and Mark. Indeed, the presence of one or more companions is implied in the words of Mary to the two disciples. ” They have taken away the Lord, and we know not where they have laid him.” But we infer it was the object of John, or of the Spirit which guided him, to speak of Mary Magdalene only as having come to the sepulchre. John is the apostle of love, and his gospel describes the activity of that grace, as directed to the Lord as well as to man. Mary Magdalene was the type of the purest, because most fully purified, love, that of which the Lord the Saviour is the supreme Object, the love of him as Love. When Mary came, she saw that the stone was taken away from the sepulchre. The sepulchre where the Lord was entombed represented the Word, so far as it describes his estates of, humiliation, and the stone which was placed against its mouth symbolized the outward natural sense, which encloses the inward spiritual meaning. Mary as yet knew the Lord only in his unglorified humanity, as perceived by the natural senses, as apprehended by the natural mind. To those like Mary the Lord’s divinity shone through his maternal humanity; but it was only seen as through a glass darkly. The Lord had now put off all his maternal humanity, and had risen in a glorified Divine Body, therefore the stone was removed from the mouth of the sepulchre, and the interior laid open. In the simple, historical sense, the stone, we are led to infer, was removed by the angel who descended from heaven, to admit of the Lord’s resurrection. But this could not be necessary for the going forth of one who now, at least, had all power in heaven and on earth, and who appeared in the midst of his disciples while the doors were shut. The stone was not removed for his sake, but for that of his disciples, to allow them to see into and to enter the sepulchre, and to instruct us that the glorification and resurrection of the Lord opened the Word in its inner sense, so as to allow of the disciples entering into its inner meanings, the inmost of which relates to the Lord, and describes his glorification. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, and the whole Word, in its inmost sense, is prophetic of him.
2. The first effect of seeing into the sepulchre was disappointment and alarm. Then she runneth, and cumeth 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. Every transition state is one of uncertainty and anxiety. Old things are passed away, but all things are not yet become new. There is a blank in our spiritual existence. The night is indeed past, and a new day has dawned, and the day-star has arisen in the heart, and the affections are induced to seek the Lord; but it is yet dark to the understanding, which has obtained no clear perception of the risen truth. That singular state has come which was predicted by the prophet, one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day nor night, when the light shall not be clear nor dark, but at the evening-time there shall be light (Zech. xiv. 6, 7). Such is the state of mind represented by that of Mary when she came to the sepulchre. In her disappointment at not finding the body of the Lord, her first impulse was to run to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved. This running was the effect of the intensity of Mary’s feelings, and is a symbol of the state of mind of those whom Mary represented—who do not, in the heaviest trials, stand still in stupefied amazement, but hasten to seek relief where they expect it is to be found. Mary’s running and coming to Peter and John describes how the mind, under the strong impulse of its best affection, seeks to awaken into activity the dormant faith and charity, which the two stricken disciples represented. Mary addresses to them the desponding words, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.” In the time of the end, when the Lord is crucified in the church, by hatred and practical denial of his truth, those few who have received him as their Saviour are subjected to heavy trials. The darkening of the Sun of righteousness, like that of the sun of this world at the time of the crucifixion, casts a gloom over the minds even of the faithful. They still, indeed, cling to the Lord, and desire to embalm him. in their best affections. But, while desiring to perform this pious office, they seek him. where he is not to be found—in the sepulchre, which, although it represents the Word, represents it as it relates to the Lord’s humiliation—and more remotely to his glorification. ” He is not here, he is risen.” But as yet, the faithful think his enemies have taken him away. The Lord’s own teaching, that he would be crucified, and would rise from the dead the third day, is, with all else that is hopeful, forgotten. The state of the disciples, at this period of their history, is, in some respects, common both to the believer and the unbeliever. The Lord dies to the righteous as well as to the wicked. But there is this great difference in favour of the righteous: although the Lord is crucified in them, he is not crucified by them; and, as a consequence, the Lord rises in the righteous, but not in the wicked. Whether we say that, in the righteous, the Lord is crucified and dies, or that the old man is crucified and dies, it amounts to the same; for that which died in the Lord is that which dies also in the disciples. The frail humanity must lay down its life, and be buried, that the glorified humanity may rise, in its true life and power, in the heart. The empty sepulchre signifies the entire removal of the Lord’s truth, as the object of natural apprehension, and a state of Spiritual devastation, when nothing remains for the mind to rest upon. Thus it is the total removal from the mind of all that is old, to prepare it for the reception of all that is new.
3, 4. When Mary had imparted to them this seemingly sad intelligence, Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. Faith and love, roused into activity, go forth from their retirement, in the mind, where they have been brooding over their loss, and betake themselves to the Word, that they may examine and ascertain for themselves, whether those who have deprived the truth of its life have taken it away likewise. The running of the disciples, like that of Mary, indicates intense desire. The fact of John outrunning Peter, and coming first to the sepulchre, may indeed be naturally accounted for from, his comparative youthfulness, but it no less significantly expresses the comparative energy and activity of that grace which he represents. Love outruns faith, and is primary in all that relates to regeneration, as John was now first at the sepulchre,—first as to time signifying first as to state.
5-8. And he, stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. John’s stooping down is expressive of humility. Stooping here is not, however, that kind of bowing down which is a sign of worship, but is a reverential and earnest looking into ; and in two of the other three places in the New Testament in. which the word occurs (Jas. i. 25, 1 Pet. i. 12) it is so rendered. Spiritually, it means reverential investigation and contemplation. Of the two acts, ” stooping down,” describes an act of the will, and ” looking into,” describes an act of the understanding. In agreement with the view, that John’s gospel describes acts done from the will, and thus from the deepest ground of affection, John is the one who is here said to have stooped down; while in Luke (xxiv. 12) this act is ascribed to Peter, who alone is there spoken of as having come to the sepulchre. Our deepest humility and most earnest looking for the Lord are from love. “When love is powerfully active it takes the precedence of faith. The Lord becomes to us, for the time, an object of affection rather than of thought; his image is imprinted on the heart rather than upon the understanding. Such is, indeed, the case whenever the feelings are greatly excited. And in what circumstances can we conceive them to be more powerfully excited than in such as correspond to those in which Peter and John were now placed ? If there is joy in heaven over a lost sinner found, what must be the joy of an earnest and loving soul over the finding of a lost Saviour? Nothing less is the subject of this beautiful narrative. When the mind is awakened from deep despondency to high hopes, no wonder that in pursuing the desired object love comes first to the sepulchre. But thought comes betimes to the aid of feeling, as Peter did to John. And reflective thought does what excited feeling does not; it enters into and examines minutely what feeling had only discovered, as Peter entered into the sepulchre, which John had first reached, and into which he had looked, but did not enter. And it discovers particulars and distinctions which feeling has not attended to, as Peter saw the linen clothes lie, and the napkin wrapped together, in a place by itself. The particulars here recorded have an instructive spiritual meaning; but there is one point of a more doctrinal character which may usefully engage our attention first. The “finding in the sepulchre of the linen clothes in which the body of Jesus had been wrapped, while a proof that the body had not, as the Jews asserted, been stolen away, or otherwise removed by mortal hands, is evidence of another very important fact. It shows that the Lord’s body, at the resurrection, was no longer material. When Lazarus was called from the tomb, he came forth bound hand and foot with grave clothes, Ms face bound about with a napkin; and not till the Lord had commanded them to loose him and let Mm go, was he set at liberty and able to move about freely. When the Lord at his resurrection left behind him in the sepulchre the linen clothes wMch had been wound round his body, and even the napkin wMeh was about his head, is it not an evident proof that the body in which he rose was not of the same substance as the body that had been buried ? The spiritual lesson we learn from the linen clothes being left in the sepulchre, itelates to the Lord’s glorification and to our own regeneration. These clothes are emblematical of the truths of the Word which testify of Jesus. The clothes that had been about his body are the truths of its spiritual sense, and the napkin that had been about his head is the truth of its celestial sense. These truths testify that the Lord glorified his humanity, both as to what is spiritual and as to what is celestial, so that both his spiritual kingdom and Ms celestial kingdom are included in his divine work. His humanity was glorified in all its degrees, from the highest to the lowest, or from the inmost to the outermost; so that the napkin and linen clothes testify of him, in his glorified humanity, as the First and the the Last, the Beginning and the End. By this the Lord became the Saviour or Begenerator, both of the celestial and the spiritual. These, and the means of their regeneration, are distinct, and the distinction was more fully manifested when our Lord came into the world, and effected redemption, and the glorification of his humanity. This is described by several signs, and among them by the napkin being found in the sepulchre, not with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. When Peter had examined the sepulchre and seen the disposition of the grave clothes, ” then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw and believed.” John was first at the sepulchre, but Peter was the first to enter it. Love is the most rapid in its motions and quickest in its discernment, but faith is most active in its investigations. So we find that John came to the sepulchre and looked in, and after Peter had gone into the sepulchre and examined it, John also went in and saw what Peter had found. When faith, or the understanding, has entered into a subject, and satisfied itself that it is as has been revealed, then love, or the will, enters also, and sees and believes. The faith of the understanding then becomes the faith of the will likewise, and when this is the case faith is complete.
9 But what Peter and John now believed was only what Mary had told them, that the Jews had taken away the Lord’s body. No thought occurred to them of that which the state of the sepulchre might have suggested; for as yet they know not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Belief and hope were now more than ever depressed. The object of their faith was both dead and borne away. The anchor of their hope had lost its last hold, and their frail bark was now tossed on the troubled sea, and they themselves without the power and almost without the disposition to guide it. But he whom they now, in the hour of darkness, supposed to be gone for ever, was with them, and within them, upholding them in their great tribulation, and leading them by a way which they knew not to the desired haven. Who can fail to see in this the experience of the Christian disciple in the great trial of his faith and love, when passing from death unto life.
10 When they had thus seen an end of all their hopes, then the disciples went away again unto their own home. What is here rendered their own home, and which no doubt implies it, is, literally, themselves, their own. Understood spiritually, how expressive is this of the state of the Christian disciple now represented. When his mind has been awakened from a state of stupor into one of intense action, only to be convinced of its loss, he returns into himself, relapses into his former state, only more hopeless than before.
11. 12. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and, as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. The sepulchre presents an entirely new scene to Mary to that which it presented to the two disciples. These angelic messengers were the first to announce to Mary, and through her to the church, that the Lord had risen, and there is reason to believe that this was one object, at least, of their mission. But is it not reasonable also to suppose that their appearance had yet another purpose, and an edifying meaning? They did not appear to Peter and John. Why was not the resurrection thus made known to them? Divine wisdom appointed otherwise; and we may reasonably conclude that some special purpose was to be answered by the circumstance recorded. Let us look at the subject as a spiritual lesson, and connected with that already considered. Although the mind, with its love and faith, has relapsed into its former state of hopeless inactivity, still the inmost affection of goodness in the heart retains its vitality and wakefulness, and lingers near the centre of its attraction, as Mary lingered near the tomb. Still suffering from the sorrow of her great privation, Mary weeps. Weeping is expressive of the deepest sorrow, and godly sorrow is the misery arising from the sense of being deprived of goodness and truth, of him who is Goodness itself and Truth itself. But Mary, while she weeps, stoops down and looks into the sepulchre, and sees two angels seated where the body of Jesus had lain. Previously the linen clothes only had been seen, now two angels appear. The linen clothes are the truths of the Word as dead knowledges; the angels signify the truths of the Word as living principles; and these living truths relate also to what is highest and lowest in the first and in the last states in our Lord’s glorification, and of man’s regeneration. One was at the head and the other was at the feet; and they were seated, for ; this posture is expressive of an interior and confirmed state, by reception in the will. These living truths excite reflections and produce convictions which mere knowledges could but remotely suggest.
13 These living truths appeal directly to the mind, and excite reflections as to the cause of its tribulation and sorrow. The angels say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? To know why we weep, and to be called upon from heaven to give a reason for our sorrow, are two different things. They have also two different results; for all heavenly searchings of the heart are designed, and have a tendency, to lead to self-examination, and to conviction and elevation of mind. To the question of the angels, Mary replies in the words she had addressed to the disciples, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. Mary now calls Jesus my Lord, expressing a nearer and dearer connection with him; feeling him to be her Saviour, and, therefore, feeling her own need of salvation; but, as yet, seeing neither her Deliverer, nor the prospect of her deliverance from sin and sorrow.
14. But this which has taken; place leads to a conversion of the mind. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Mary’s turning herself back was not, we venture to think, so much a result of what the angels had said, as of what the Lord, who stood behind her, did: it was more the result of his influence than of their words. The Lord turns the loving Mary to himself. It is recorded by John (Rev. i. 12), that he heard a voice behind him, and he turned to see the voice that spake with him. The back of the head, where the lesser brain is, corresponds to the will, and the face, where the larger brain is, corresponds to the understanding. The meaning of John’s record is this, that the divine influence first enters into and affects the will, the more immediate organ of which is the ear, and, through the will, enters into the understanding, the more immediate organ of which is the eye : and when anything affects a man’s will, he turns his understanding to see or understand it. When Mary turned herself back, she turned herself to the Lord, whose influence she felt. But although he now stood before her, she did not recognise him. She knew not that it was Jesus. She yet wanted the discernment to recognise him through the veil which her own state had drawn between herself and her Saviour.
15 The Lord addresses Mary in. the words of the angels, Woman, why weepest thou? but he adds, Whom seekest thou? The question, as asked by the Lord, is from a deeper ground in our own consciousness than as asked by the angels; leading therefore to a more interior perception of the cause of sorrow, and to a profounder humiliation on account of it. But when the Lord adds another question, Whom seekest thou? the mind is directed, not only to the person of the Saviour, but to all that constitutes his character, and to the greatness of the loss, under a sense of which the mind so deeply sorrows, and for the recovery of what it so ardently desires. But Mary knew not by whom these questions were addressed to her. 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. It is a remarkable circumstance that after his resurrection, the Lord’s disciples did not know Jesus, till he had vouchsafed them some special means of recognition—a proof that his appearance was no longer the same as before, and not always alike—a proof, in fact, that his body was no longer material. The Lord having put off materiality, the law of the spiritual world, that the Lord appears to every one according to his state, was now in operation with respect to him and his disciples. It was in accordance with this law that Mary supposed Jesus to be the gardener. She did not, it is true, think of the Lord as being present, but the true cause of her not recognising him was, that she did not yet think of him in his true character, as the Resurrection and the Life. This is not the only instance in which Jesus was seen but not known after his resurrection, by those to whom he was most intimately known. What took place on those occasions may be considered as both miraculous and parabolic, and is not less beautiful and instructive than the things our Lord did and uttered during his sojourn with his disciples. Mary in the garden is the spectator of one of these. What took place there has been recorded for our instruction. In the Word the church is compared to a garden, a vineyard, a sheepfold, and the Lord to a husbandman, a vinedresser, a shepherd. In the present case the garden is the church, the sepulchre in the garden is the Word, Jesus in the sepulchre is the Lord as’to his humanity. The sepulchre containing the crucified body of Jesus is the Word, as it is in the church, when its divine truth, especially as it relates to the Lord, is denied ; the sepulchre with the angels in it, announcing that the Lord had risen, is the Word, when it is seen to contain a spiritual and a celestial sense, which teach the fact and the nature of the Lord’s glorification. Mary, who seems not yet to have heard of the Lord’s resurrection, was still under the impression that he had been removed from the sepulchre by human hands, and may be supposed to have naturally concluded that the gardener was the most likely person to have taken him away. But the Lord appearing to her, and being mistaken for the gardener, expresses the spiritual idea that she was only as yet capable of seeing him in a character not his own, and not divine, but human. Addressing the supposed gardener, she says, ” If thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away ” She little thought that he whom she addressed was the Lord, who, by his own almighty power, had risen from the dead. Mary sought him among the dead, and knew not yet that he was among the living, nay, the Life itself, he that liveth and was dead, and is alive for evermore. She sought him among the dead, because he was yet dead, at least not yet risen, in her, not dead in her, inmost affection, but dead in her outermost thought. He had died out of her natural mind, but was not yet risen, at least consciously, in her spiritual mind. She supposed that the Lord had been taken out of the sepulchre, and she wished to know where they had laid him, that she might take him away. She had a desire therefore to discover where the Lord was and to take him, away, and was thus so far prepared for the announcement which Jesus was about to make to her.
16. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. It is natural to suppose that the utterance of her name would draw her attention to the speaker, and reveal who the speaker was. Yet, even here, there is room for reflection. Neither by the eye nor by the ear had Mary discerned who he was that addressed her, although she must have been familiar both with his appearance and his voice. Sight and sound had failed her. Rather, Jesus was no longer what her eyes had been accustomed to see and her ears to hear. The form and the voice with which she had become so familiar, and which were so dear to her, were no longer there. Jesus was transformed. He now appeared to his disciples in a form and character according to their state. They saw him outwardly as they conceived of him inwardly. Not that the Lord’s body was less substantial, or that his presence with his disciples was less real, than they had hitherto been. Not less, but more so. There was this difference. He was not now an object of the natural but of the spiritual senses. And the spiritual senses have this peculiarity, which distinguishes them from the natural senses, that sight and thought, hearing and affection, are concordant. The eye and the intellect, the ear and the will, are but the external and internal of the same power, and act in unison. But there is a deep spiritual interest in the circumstance of the Lord pronouncing the name of the Magdalene, and of her recognising him by his doing so. In the spiritual sense, the name of a person expresses his whole character; and this is exemplified in. the other life by every one having a name which is the verbal image of himself, and gives an idea of his whole mind. “When the Lord addressed Mary by her name, and by that only, he addressed her as one who knew her inmost heart; and her inmost heart told her he was that one who alone knew it—Jesus, her Lord and Saviour. This is that state of which the apostle speaks,—when we know even as we are known, when we see eye to eye, when the Lord knows us, and his knowledge, communicated to us, enables us to know him. Mary again turns herself, that is, turns herself to the Lord, which in reality is the Lord turning her to himself. And, when turned, she saith unto him, Babboni, Master. The use of the term Master implies a perception and acknowledgment of the Lord as Divine Truth, which the Lord had now made his humanity by glorification; and which he is to the Christian disciple at the corresponding stage of the regenerate life. The Lord salutes his loving disciple by the single word, Mary, and she answers him by the single word, Master; and in these two words, uttered in a moment, a whole revelation is conveyed, so far as the state of Mary could receive it. In the ecstacy of the moment, Mary threw herself at her Saviour’s feet, and was about to clasp his knees.
17 Jesus 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. This is a very singular circumstance. We read that the women who met Jesus on their return from the sepulchre held him by the feet and worshipped him (Matt, xxviii. 9), and that the Lord invited Thomas to put his hand into the print of the nails, and thrust his hand into his side (ver. 27). Yet here he tells Mary not to touch him. Various theories have been proposed with the view of reconciling this with the other cases we have mentioned; but none give any satisfactory solution of the difficulty, when the historical sense is alone regarded. The reason on which the prohibition to touch the Saviour rests, would seem equally applicable to all others : ” for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” If the Word is divinely inspired, it must have a constant view to the end of its inspiration, which is spiritual edification. We have remarked (ver. 16), that the Lord having now put off materiality, the law of the spiritual world, that every one sees the Lord according to his state, had come into operation, with respect to him and his disciples. In accordance with this law, some of the disciples might be permitted to touch the Lord, while others were prohibited from doing so, their experience being as different as their states. The reason which the Lord gave to Mary, when he commanded her not to touch him, affords us the means of explaining the circumstance. The Lord made his humanity Divine Truth when he was in the world, and made it Divine Good when he went out of the world. His humanity was now Divine Truth, but it was not yet Divine Good. This it was now in the process of becoming. Ascension to the Father was the completion of this mysterious process : then the humanity became the Divine Love itself in form. But why should this be a reason for Mary being not allowed to touch him before his ascension, while others were permitted and even invited to do so ? Because the states of the others corresponded to the present state of the Lord’s humanity, while Mary’s state corresponded to that of the Lord’s humanity, not as it was now, but as it would be, after he had ascended to the Father. Mary, we have seen, represents those who are in that highly regenerate state, in which they love the Lord as Love. May we not see then the deep significance of the Lord’s command to Mary, “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father!” In this prohibition he intimated that those celestial ones, whom Mary represented, could not obtain conjunction with him till he had made his humanity Divine Love itself. Through her we learn, that those who are in states of celestial love, cannot be conjoined with the Lord as Divine Truth, but only as Divine Love. Such as Mary Magdalene must not seek conjunction with the Lord as a Master, but as a Father; they must therefore look upward and forward to the Lord’s ascension —practically, to the ascension of the Lord into the heaven of their own inmost hearts, where lie is no longer Truth but Goodness, the supreme object of celestial love. Instead of touching him, the Lord commanded Mary .to go to his brethren, and say unto them, ” I ascend unto my Father and your Father ; and to my God and your God.” As the female disciples are types of the affections of the will, and the male disciples are types of the thoughts of the understanding, the word being sent through Mary to the Lord’s brethren, is expressive of the Lord’s truth entering through the will into the understanding, through the affections into the thoughts. But especially does it imply that the Lord enters into the minds of the regenerate through the inmost and highest affection of the heart, the affection of love to him. The Lord’s influx is through love into charity, in virtue of which the disciples are honoured by the Lord with the name of brethren. Brethren are those who are united among themselves by charity, or brotherly love; and those who are conjoined to the Lord by charity are spiritually his brethren. Mary was to announce to the disciples that the Lord was about to ascend; and he uses the remarkable language, ” to my Father and to your Father, and to my God and your God.” This is a very striking testimony to the truth, that when the Lord speaks of himself and the Father, he speaks of his humanity and his divinity. Suppose him to have spoken as a second person of the Trinity, he could not have called his Father his God. This is farther evident from his placing himself and his disciples in the same relation to God and the Father. “My Father and your Father, my God and your God.” Isolated, these words might be regarded as teaching a perfect equality between Jesus and his disciples. They teach this truth, which is the great truth of the New Testament, that Jesus is human, as his disciples are human. God has become man, and his humanity is in communion with humanity as it is in his disciples, and indeed in the whole human race. Highly exalted as the Lord’s humanity is, it is still human. Nay, it is more human than before it was glorified. Man was created in the image of God, and the more he is an image, the more he is man. Jesus as man is the express image of the Father, and, therefore, he, and he alone, is perfect Man. The message of the Lord to his disciples by the hand of Mary is a most cheering and hopeful one to humanity in general, and to every disciple in particular. ” I ascend,” is the announcement of a possibility of their ascending also. They have a common interest with him in this exaltation of humanity. To tell them that he ascends is to tell them that they may ascend, and be with him where he is.
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her. The Lord’s message was carried to his disciples by the faithful and devoted Mary. Thus does the Lord’s living words descend through the inmost affection of good in the will into the perceptions of truth in the understanding, communicating to the mind a knowledge both of the Lord’s glorification, and of their own regeneration, now about to be completed. When, on her visit to the sepulchre, Mary found not the body of Jesus, she ran and told two of the disciples; and now, when, on her second visit, she had seen the Lord, and had been entrusted by him with a message, she came to deliver it to the disciples generally.
19. From early morning, when the Lord showed himself to the women, we now come to the evening, when he manifested himself to the men. He had shown himself to two of the disciples, as they travelled to Emmaus, but the whole of the eleven remained unbelieving, regarding the report of the several witnesses as idle tales. The fact and the manner of the Lord’s appearance to the eleven were sufficient to convince them. Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week (sabbaton), when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. There is need for no argument to prove that the Lord appeared in the midst of the disciples instantaneously, the doors remaining shut; for the spirit and letter of the relation demand this. A striking evidence this that the Lord’s body was no longer material. The day of the resurrection is again called by the name applied to it (ver. 1), where the visit of Mary to the sepulchre is related. Though the day after the Jewish sabbath, the name of the Sabbath is applied to it, no doubt for the purpose of expressing the idea that the Lord’s resurrection day is a sabbath, and realizes all that was represented by the sabbath instituted by the mandate of Jehovah himself. It was indeed the first day of the week, and thus the beginning of a new week, but it was also a sabbatical period, the introduction of a state of sanctity and rest. Or, considering that the term Sabbath is here used, as it is in some other places (as in Matt, xxviii. 1; Mark xvi. 9; Luke xviil 12) to mean a week, we may infer that the Christian week is a sabbath, sanctified by-the resurrection of the Lord on its first day. The Jewish sabbath on the seventh day represented a state of rest which rewards states of labour; but the Christian Sabbath is a holy state which is to extend its influence into the succeeding states of toil. It was on the evening of this first day of new sanctity, when the doors were shut for fear of the Jews, that Jesus came and stood in the midst of his disciples. So was fulfilled the divine prophecy, “In the evening time there shall he light.” He who was the Light itself and the Light of the world, stood in their midst. The day had passed in despondency, and they were now in the obscurity of unbelief, but they were assembled together, bound by one common sentiment of devotion to their Lord, and they had shut the door for fear of the Jews. Thus it is, when in the midst of the deepest affliction, the affections and thoughts are united, and the door is closed against the admission of evils, that the Lord appears in the midst, in the centre of our life, in the interior thoughts and affections of our minds. It is then also that he is able to say, ” Peace be unto you,” for all things are brought into a state of peace when the Lord, with his love and truth, occupies the highest place in our hearts and minds. Peace in the supreme sense is the union of divinity and humanity in the person of the Lord ; in a secondary sense it is his conjunction with heaven and the church; and in the individual sense it is the conjunction of goodness and truth in the human mind. Peace is like the morning of the day and the spring of the year, which dispose the mind to the reception of peace, and all pleasantness and delight, from the freshness and beauty of nature. Peace is the blessedness of heart and soul arising from the conjunction of goodness and truth among those who are therein. Thence there is no more combat of what is false and evil against what is good and true, or no more spiritual discord and war; the consequence of which cessation is peace, in which all fructification of good and multiplication of truth is effected, and therefore also intelligence and wisdom. And since peace is from the Lord alone among the angels of heaven and the men of the church, therefore peace in the supreme sense signifies the Lord, in the respective sense heaven and the church; hence, also, good conjoined with truth among those who are therein.
20 And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. By giving this evidence of his identity, of his being the same Jesus which was crucified, the Lord accommodated himself to the infirmities of his disciples. Although we cannot conceive that his death wounds were still open, or that they existed in the hands and side of his resurrection body, yet, according to the law, that the Lord appears to men and angels according to their state, he appeared on this occasion as the disciples must have expected to see him. His body, though no longer material, was substantial. Its immateriality was evidenced by the Lord’s entering the room when the doors were shut; its substantiality by his disciples touching him, and by other infallible signs. But the Lord’s showing his hands and his side was also a symbolical act, such as witnesses to the true disciple that the Lord is in very deed the Saviour who was crucified for him, that Jesus is he who was dead and is alive again, and liveth for evermore. The Lord’s hands were the symbols of his power, and his side was the symbol of his love. To the faithful disciples the Lord shows his hands and his side, when, after he has been “put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter iii. 18), he manifests in them the power of his truth and the influence of his love, by renewing them again to faith and love. When he had showed them his hands and his side, ” then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” Great must have been the joy of the disciples when they beheld alive him whose death had plunged them into uncontrollable grief. Not less joy is felt by the disciple now, when, after the dark night of temptation, in which he refuses to be comforted, he is at last assured by his own experience that the Lord is risen indeed, risen in his heart, attested to his understanding by infallible signs. How pure and exalted the joy of this experience! Holy joy is not the joy of the natural affections on the recovery of a lost object of attachment, but of the spiritual affection of a new heart, which the Lord has been creating in the faithful during the whole course of their regeneration, and has perfected by the last temptation, through which they have passed from death unto life.
21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. How befitting the occasion the salutation and the gift of peace ! The disciples had passed through states of anguish and tribulation far greater than those they experienced on the sea of Galilee, when the great tempest threatened them with swift destruction; and he who came to them walking on the troubled sea, and said, ” Peace, be still,” and there was a great calm, now comes to them, treading the waves of that sea of tribulation on which they were helplessly and despairingly tossed, and by the same omnipotent word— Peace, calms their troubled spirits, and fills them with joy unspeakable. But there were other reasons for the suitableness of the Lord’s salutation and .gift of peace. Jesus had now ended his great warfare and achieved his. great victory, and had established peace on the sure foundation of conquest and glorification. The peace which he had conquered for himself he now bestowed upon his disciples, who had followed him in his humiliation. While bestowing his peace upon them, he gave them a commission, that they should impart to others of what they had received themselves. As they had received the Lord’s peace, they were to folio \v his example by carrying forward his saving work. “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” It was most suitable that the work of human regeneration, which he had begun, should be carried on by his disciples. The Gospel of the kingdom was now to be preached anew. The disciples had been sent forth to proclaim the glad tidings of the Messiah’s advent, and to show the commencement of his reign by its beneficent results. Now, they were to renew their work, and to do it from a purer motive and with a higher aim. The true nature of the Lord’s kingdom was about to be disclosed to them, and a new influence was about to descend upon them, and a new pattern was placed before them for the direction of their efforts. As the Father had sent the Son, even so the Son sent the disciples. The Divinity had sent the Humanity. Divine Truth had been sent by the Divine Love. So the disciples were to do as the Lord had done. He did not go, ho was sent; he, as Truth, was sent by Love. So with the disciples. Love must be the moving cause in all their operations; truth the instrumental means. There must not only be the faith that worketh, but the faith that worketh by love.
22 And when he, had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. This act of our Lord is very instructive and significant. It shows that the Holy Spirit is the blessed Spirit of the Lord’s love and truth, as it proceeds from his glorified body into the hearts and minds of his disciples. The spirit which our Lord breathed on his disciples was the Spirit which could not be given before his glorification, because it did not then exist as a regenerating Spirit (vii. 39). There had always been the Spirit of God—an emanation from the Divine Being, of which we read often in the Old Testament, and which is mentioned in the New, as having overshadowed the virgin. But the nature and effects of this Spirit were very different before and after the Incarnation. The Holy Spirit, as it now proceeds from the Lord, is not the Spirit of Jehovah, but the Spirit of Jesus— not the Spirit of his creative but of his redemptive love and power. It is the Spirit which breathes the breath of spiritual life into those who had been dead in trespasses and sins, and restores them to a life of obedience and righteousness. The Spirit which the Lord breathed on his disciples was, in brief, the Spirit of regeneration, by the reception of which man becomes a new creature.
23 When the Lord had breathed his Spirit upon the apostles, he said unto them, Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. The power here given to the apostles must be understood consistently with the truth, that sin can be forgiven by God only. The sense in which the Lord’s words are generally regarded is, that the apostles were authorized to pronounce forgiveness to penitent sinners. When we consider that the remission of sins is really their removal, and that even infinite mercy and grace cannot remit them in any other way, we may see that the Lord could not give to his servants a power which he himself does not possess. Sins are remitted to the penitent. The agency of the apostles, in remitting and retaining sin, will be best seen by regarding these words as addressed to them in their representative as well as in their personal character. Considered as representing the principles of goodness and truth, we can see how they remit and retain sin. The truths of the Word remit sins when they remove them, which they do by convincing men of sin, and leading them by repentance to newness of life. They also retain sins : for it is truth which condemns. ” I had not known sin unless the law had said. Thou shalt not covet.” Thus that which is a savour of life unto life is also a savour of death unto death (2 Cor. ii. 16). The power of remitting and retaining sins was given to the apostles, to intimate, that the light of the Gospel distinguishes more clearly between good and evil, than that of the Law, and more fully reveals their consequences. The Lord said, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth in me should not abide in darkness.” But he also said, ” This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
24, 25. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. It is remarkable, and was no doubt a part of the divine purpose, that the twelve apostles should comprise men of such marked difference of character. Their diversity of character was needed, to enable them to represent all the varieties of character and state among the members of the church, and the principles that enter into and form the character of each of its members. Thomas represents those whose faith rests upon the testimony of the senses. Thomas was not among those who are in a negative state, and are predetermined not to believe. He had the principle of belief in his heart, and only wanted what, to his constitution and condition of mind, was sufficient evidence to warrant full and firm belief. Thomas was only a step behind his fellow disciples. All had refused to believe the testimony of the women, whose account of what they had seen and heard seemed to them as idle tales, and Thomas refused to receive the testimony of his fellow apostles. There is this difference between the ten and Thomas, and it would seem to be the only difference in their favour, that the ten wore satisfied with having seen Jesus, while Thomas demanded that he should not only see him but feel him, by touching the very wounds of his crucified body. The sense of touch is the lowest of the senses, and the basis of all the others; it supplies the last link in the chain of evidence, beyond which the demand of faith cannot go. “We see something of this gradation in the character of those to whom Jesus successively appeared. We find that the Lord first appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to the other women, then to the two male disciples on their way to Emmaus, afterwards to the ten, and lastly to Thomas. Then, too, did the Lord Jesus show that his humanity includes and sympathizes with all persons and all states, from the highest to the lowest; and that he is able to save all who come unto him, even those who regard him as still bearing in his body the wounds that he received on the cross.
26 And after eight days, again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. This meeting was again on the first day of the week—the Lord’s day—expressive of a new state, after the intervening states of labour and trial; but it is called after eight days, because eight signifies, not merely a completed state, like, seven, but the beginning of a new one. Thomas on this occasion, was with the disciples. The doors were again shut, and again Jesus stood in the midst of his disciples, giving Thomas, as he had previously given the others, a proof of his actual existence in his resurrection body. The Lord again, and now the third time, gives them a salutation of peace, as a sign that he was about to complete the object of his appearing amongst them. Looking at the circumstance in reference to ourselves individually, as those whose inward experience is described in these outward events, we may see something instructive. When we are brought into states of deep trial, as the apostles were, as the means of divesting our minds of imperfect views and feelings, our new convictions and affections are produced gradually. When the truth, in its new aspect, is presented to our minds, it finds the greater difficulty of reception the lower it descends into the faculties or degrees of the mind. And even after it has been perceived and acknowledged with joy by the will and intellect of the mind, objections arise from the ‘fallacies of the senses. The sensual principle, like Thomas, refuses to believe, except on evidence suited to its nature. And even this the Lord condescends to give.
27, 28. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him. My Lord and my God. By appearing instantaneously in the midst, the Lord showed his omnipresence, by addressing Thomas as he did, he showed his omniscience. Jesus showed Thomas that he knew his unbelief and his demand for suitable evidence; and offering him the testimony which he had demanded, called upon him to be not faithless but believing. Whether this double appeal to him carried conviction to his mind with or without his actually touching the Lord’s risen body does not appear; but whatever was the cause of conviction, that conviction was complete. How deeply must conviction have sunk into his soul to have drawn from him the exclamation and confession, my Lord and my god ! We shall not stop to dispute with those who regard this as an exclamation of surprise, and not also an expression of faith. The language of the evangelist shows that it was an acknowledgment of his faith in Jesus. Thomas did not simply utter his words as an exclamation; but, addressing Jesus, ” he said unto him, My Lord and my God.” Jesus was therefore the person to whom the words referred, as being the person to whom they were addressed. They were an acknowledgment that to the hitherto unbelieving disciple Jesus was Lord and God. But there was something still more than the doctrinal acknowledgment of the divinity of Jesus. There is the acknowledgment of Jesus as his Lord and his God. Jesus entered at once into his understanding and his heart, as the living Object of his faith and love. Jesus is indeed both Lord and God. The confession of Thomas is not the only testimony to this great truth. But it is a valuable testimony nevertheless. But the practical lesson we acquire from this is different, though coincident with its doctrinal teaching. When, after trial, and doubt, and denial, the truth of Jesus is brought home by irresistible evidence at once to our understanding and our heart, then it is that we see and feel that Jesus is our Lord and our God. He is the Lord of our hearts by his love, and the God of our understandings by his truth. These two names applied to the Lord are expressive of his love and truth.
29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. This was no doubt intended as a gentle reproof to Thomas, and through him to all who demand external evidence for faith, which is ” the evidence of things not seen.” The Lord is a God that hideth himself. In him we live and move and have our being, but we have no sensible or even conscious evidence of the divine presence and operation within us. His Providence is continually over us, and his Spirit is ever with us, but we see and feel them not. There is, indeed, external testimony to the truth that there is a God, and that he governs in his own universe. But we have far better and more convincing evidence when he governs in our hearts and lives. There are indeed in this and in all things of religion two kinds of evidence, internal and external. The best evidence for the divinity of the Word and of the Lord is that which the truth carries with it, when it brings inward light and peace to the soul. This is internal evidence. The belief arising from this carries a divine blessing in its bosom. The faith that rests upon tradition, or authority, or miracles, or the testimony of the senses, is that of which the Lord spake when he said to Thomas, ” Because thou hast seen me thou hast believed.” People of an external character crave such means of faith; and such means are mercifully permitted to them, that they may not be faithless but believing. But heavenly faith rests on higher testimony, the testimony of truth as revealed in the Word, and of the Spirit of truth as revealed in the heart. This is truly blessed, for it satisfies the highest demands of the reason and the purest desires of the heart.
30, 31. And many other signs truly did. Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. The many signs Jesus did, which divine wisdom has left unrecorded in the gospels, are not to be regarded as lost; they are written in the great works he performed, and on the work which he was even then performing in the spiritual world, preparatory to his ascension into heaven. We may even venture to suppose that they contributed to that mysterious change which was effected in the Lord’s humanity, between his resurrection and ascension—that change by which the Lord made his humanity divine good, in virtue of which he ascended to the Father. The things which the evangelist has written, have been given for establishing the faith of the Lord’s disciples, and these it is our privilege to possess. The words of the evangelist, taken in their simplest sense, must be understood to teach that the few of the many signs which Jesus did in the presence of his disciples, after he was risen from the dead, are sufficient to convince them that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. These signs are to be regarded as evidences of the Lord’s resurrection, which itself is a proof that he is the Christ, the Son of God, and may be usefully employed to convince of this truth those who require such evidence. To the disciples themselves they were no doubt regarded principally as evidence of the Lord’s identity. The signs, generally, have not so much the character of proofs in favour of the Lord’s superhuman power as some that he showed before his crucifixion. There were two indeed greater than all that Jesus had done before his crucifixion. His resurrection, effected by his own power, or, which is the same, by the power of the Father, was a far greater miracle than raising Lazarus from the dead. This, however, is not included among the signs of which John here speaks. This miracle was immeasurably greater, not only in itself, but in its results. Lazarus, after he was risen, died again, but Jesus, risen from the dead, dieth no more. One of the signs to which the evangelist refers, and which is a striking proof that Jesus is the Son of God, is the circumstance of his appearing and disappearing instantaneously, showing that he, as a man, was no longer subject to time and space. And this is an evidence of his being the Son of God, because Jesus is the Son of God as to his Humanity, and the humanity became truly and fully the Son of God by glorification, that is, by putting off finiteness and putting on infinity; and such a humanity is omnipresent, and could therefore appear and disappear, not by changing its place, but by changing the states of men, by opening and closing the spiritual sight of the disciples. These and the other signs which Jesus did, in order to produce true spiritual belief in him as the Christ, the Son of God, must not only be read by us as written in. John’s gospel, but as written in our own hearts and understandings. They must become matters of experience, they must be written in the book of our own life. And as matters of experience there are many other signs which Jesus does in our presence which are not written in the book of our lives, many which never come to our knowledge. Regeneration is a work which contains wonders that never come to our consciousness, and which transcend our highest conceptions. Those which do come to our knowledge and perception are more than sufficient to produce belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God—as essential divine truth and essential divine good—and through belief to give us life in (not through) his name. To have life in his name is to live in him, and to live in the spirit and power of which his name is expressive. A living faith in Jesus as our God and Saviour gives us life spiritual and eternal.
Author: William Bruce –1870
Pictures: James Tissot—-Courtesy of the Brooklyn museum