The Gospel of John by William R. Cannon
Before his election to the episcopacy in 1968 United Methodist Bishop William R. Cannon served as Professor of Church History and then Dean of Chandler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. Other books by Bishop Cannon include The Gospel Of John, Jesus The Servant, and The Book Of Acts. The Gospel of John was published by The Upper Room, 1985. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 8: The Incarnate God
Everything John has written up to now is preface to the great event of our Lord's death and resurrection. The six miracles he has presented are but signs pointing to the one great miracle of the sacrifice that effects redemption and destroys death in resurrection. In John's perspective, what happens on Calvary and what takes place afterwards in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb are not two events, separate and distinct from one another, but a single act in the divine drama of salvation. Death is not the obverse of life but only a passing phase of its endless continuity. The crucifixion is not tragedy that must be overcome by the resurrection but rather stands together with resurrection as God's victory over evil and his conquest of sin.
Therefore, in the Johannine perspective, it is not appropriate to speak of our Lord's passion. Jesus is not so much acted on and mistreated by the hands of evil people as he is active in using the deeds of sinners to manifest God's glory and at the same time to bring about their salvation.
In the earlier parts of the Fourth Gospel, as we have shown by the titles to the various chapters of this book, John has delineated some essential characteristics of God in his revelation of himself in his son, such as Word, Deed, Light. Life, Way. and Truth. Jesus has incarnated and therefore
manifested in human form and behavior the great attributes of the omnipotent and everlasting God. Butnow in this chapter, he reveals the full personality and character of God. He shows himself to be God in human form. He is what God would be if God became a human being. And he is that because God did become a real historical person in him. John presents Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate God. "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him" (13:31-32). "(And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (1:14). "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (1:18).
Arrest and Interrogation by the Jewish Authorities (18:1-27)
After prayer with the disciples at the conclusion of his table talk in the upper room, Jesus descended with them from Mount Zion, crossed the Kidron (Cedron) Valley, and entered a garden on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. The Kidron is a wadi, a small stream of running water in the rainy season but usually a dry bed of sand and stones. John does not name the garden, but says that it was a place to which Jesus frequently repaired with the disciples. No doubt, before Judas left the meal, arrangements had been made for the little group to convene after supper at its customary meeting place for prayer before crossing over the Mount of Olives to Bethany to spend the night.
No sooner had Jesus and the disciples entered the garden than Judas arrived with a band of soldiers, including officers whom he had procured from the chief priests and the Pharisees. This band must have been from the Temple guard, an entirely Jewish constabulary force which protected the Temple and enforced its ritualistic regulations and functioned under orders from the high priest.
How large was it? "Band" might refer to a Roman cohort, which numbered six hundred men, or it might mean a maniple, which was a unit of two hundred men. To say the least, Jesus was captured by a host of enemies. The guards came equipped not just with lanterns but lighted torches as well. They thought they might have to hunt him down, perhaps surrounded by his army, among the trees and bushes on the mountainside.
Instead, he came out to them and asked them whom they sought. Immediately, he identified himself to them. He did not wait for Judas to point him out. The power and magnetism of his personality was such that it repelled arrest. The professional soldiers realized the enormity of their guilt, in executing the orders the chief priests had given them in apprehending Jesus. They drew back and fell on their faces before him. In describing this, John impresses on us the regal character of our Lord even as he suffered the indignity of being apprehended as a criminal. The spontaneous response of the Temple guard in prostrating themselves before Jesus was a token of his deity, even though those who paid him homage were not aware of what they had done. Perhaps all of this happened before the treacherous kiss of Judas, mentioned by the other three evangelists.
John, alone of the Gospel writers, tells us that Jesus was willing to submit to the guards if they would consent to let his disciples go. This was in fulfillment of what he had said to the Father in his high priestly prayer: "Of those whom thou gavest me I lost not one" (18:9, RSV; 17:12). It was also essential that they remain free if his life and work were to be remembered and if the Church, his new Israel, was to be formed. Jesus' turning himself over to the guards bought for the disciples their freedom. Jesus bought their life with his death.
But Peter was not willing for Jesus to surrender himself without resistance to the guards. He wanted to put up a fight. And fight he did, for he drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. At this point, John supplies two details that the synoptic writers miss. He tells us who it was that struck the servant. When the other evangelists wrote their Gospels, Peter was still alive, and it might have endangered him to supply this information. Peter was dead when John wrote his Gospel. But John also supplies the name of the person whom Peter injured. His name was Malchus. Evidently John knew his name when the others did not.
Jesus told Peter to sheathe his sword. This ordeal had been permitted by God. Was it not his duty to accept it and undergo it? He calls it his "cup" that he must drink (18:11). He uses similar language here that the synoptic writers report he used when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that this cup might pass from him, but not his will but God's will be done (Matt. 26:39, Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). With that, the guards bound him and led him away as if he were a common criminal.
Jesus was not taken directly to Caiaphas, the high priest, but was carried to the house of Annas, Caiaphas' father-in-law. Annas had served as high priest from A.D. 6 to 15. Peter and another disciple, not named, followed along after Jesus and his captors. The Johannine narrative is not clear as to whether the interrogation took place at the home of Annas or of Caiaphas. It states the high priest asked Jesus certain questions. But that still might well have been applied loosely to Annas as well as Caiaphas, as we still address former presidents of the United States as "Mr. President" even though another now occupies the office.
What we know is that the unnamed disciple was permitted to enter the house, while Peter was detained outside. The other disciple was known to the high priest. Probably this unnamed disciple was John, for John through his mother was related to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. That could account for John's knowing the name of the high priest's servant. This would be further evidence that John, the son of Zebedee, wrote the Fourth Gospel.
No matter, this unnamed disciple got Peter admitted, and the serving maid accused him as he entered of being a disciple, too. This relationship Peter denied.
Jesus' priestly interlocutor, either Annas or Caiaphas, asked but two questions. One question was about Jesus' disciples, and the other, about his doctrine or teachings. Jesus told him he could get this information better from his listeners. Then it was that an officer slapped him for being impertinent to the high priest.
Jesus was but observing the nicety of the law. Rabbinic law relieved one of giving evidence that might incriminate himself. Jesus but asserted his rights when he asked the officer if he had said anything inadmissible as evidence in a Jewish court. Why should he be called impertinent by declining to supply information which rabbinic law itself forbade the authorities to wheedle out of an accused person?
Peter had been standing warming himself before the fire when a maid said, "Aren't you one of his disciples?"
Peter said, "No."
Then a servant akin to Malchus, whose ear Peter had severed, said, "Didn't I see you in the garden with him?" Peter was afraid this person would connect him with the crime he had committed against Malchus. He denied again that he even knew Jesus. He had but followed, like the rest, out of curiosity. At this point, the dawn broke and the cock began to crow. Peter, who had so boldly tried to defend Jesus in the garden and who at the Last Supper had declared he would die for his master, now realized that he could not save Jesus. He desperately needed somebody to save him. He did not realize it then, but that somebody would be Jesus, whom he had denied.
John makes it clear in this part of his narrative that, both at his arrest in the garden and at his interrogation by the high priest, Jesus is still in control of the situation. The guards who arrested him were appalled at his majesty. And his authority and mastery of rabbinic law are superior to the high priest's who judged him. His behavior throughout this ordeal was divine.
The Roman Trial (18:28-19:16)
If not noted for compassion and mercy, Rome was, at least, recognized for its justice. The term "Roman justice" is legendary. When we use it, we mean a person gets exactly what that person deserves. Rome, more than any other state in antiquity, gave to the world law and order. Therefore, the subjects of her conquered provinces preferred to be judged by Rome than by their own local authorities. This procedure was not always possible. One had to be either a Roman citizen, as in the case of Paul, or else guilty of a crime against the empire rather than an infraction of a provincial or racial law over which the recognized authorities among the conquered people had the right of judgment.
In the trial of Jesus, however, even justice was subverted. The subversion, odd as it may seem, came not from his Roman judge but from his Jewish accusers, that is, his own race and his own people. The Roman judge was able to secure and properly to assess the evidence and on the basis of it to render a just verdict. Pilate gave Jesus a fair trial. ln it, we see a clear and unimpeachable example of Roman justice. But we also see a pitiful example of the inability of Rome in this instance to apply the justice she had so correctly perceived. Political pressure from the conquered overpowered the justice of the conqueror. Pilate in Jerusalem fell under the control of the people he had been sent out by Rome to control.
The Roman capital of the province of Judea was Caesarea. In that city by the Mediterranean Sea. the procurator lived. The Jewish capital. of course, was Jerusalem, with its Temple and the Sanhedrin or governing assembly. The Roman procurator came to Jerusalem only on special occasions, generally when a riot or political demonstration was expected. On such occasions he lent his presence and that of his soldiers to preserve law and order and to assert the authority of Rome. The Passover was one of those occasions, for this the supreme religious feast of the Jews was also the most dangerous time of the year. Disorder and violence were more apt to break out at Passover than at any other time. The Jews' remembrance of their delivery from slavery in Egypt in the long ago made them anxious to throw off the Roman yoke and become once again an independent nation.
Therefore, the Sanhedrin wanted to take advantage of this situation. By accusing Jesus of being a political agitator and threat to law and order, they expected to induce Pilate to execute him. If a riot ensued, the blame for it would not be on them (they knew how popular Jesus was with the people) but on the Roman procurator who sentenced him. Rome could not blame them for a sentence her own agent had rendered.
The examination of Jesus by the high priest and presumably the Sanhedrin had lasted all night, so he was taken shortly after daybreak to Pilate's "hall of judgment" (18:28), the Antonia, which was a Roman fortress as well as seat of government in Jerusalem. This is where the procurator stayed when he was in the city.
"Early" as used in the Gospel is a technical term. The last two watches of the night were "cockcrow" and "early." Peter's denial had taken place at "cockcrow," just before the breaking of the day. "Early"
was daybreak itself. The Jewish authorities got to the Antonia with Jesus before 6:00 a.m. Pilate, no doubt, had to be awakened and brought out to them. Since this was the day of preparation for the Passover, which began at sunset, they would not go inside. They did not want to defile themselves by entering a gentile establishment. It is difficult to know why they were so precautious. They could have cleansed themselves and washed away all defilement by taking a hot bath at sunset. Maybe they would be too busy with Temple duties to have time for this. Whatever the reason, they stayed in the courtyard outside.
When Pilate asked them what the accusation was, they gave no specific charges other than the general complaint that Jesus was a malefactor. In the light of Pilate's examination of Jesus, the implication was that Jesus was an agitator against Rome. When Pilate told the chief priests to judge him by their own Law, they responded that capital punishment was not in their power to inflict but was reserved for Rome to administer. But later the Jews stoned Stephen to death and made him the first Christian martyr. Rome had no hand in that. And John himself tells how they were about to stone the woman caught in adultery. Their own Law prescribed that a person guilty of blasphemy be stoned to death. This is exactly what they had found Jesus guilty of (19:7). The Jews could not inflict crucifixion. This is the type death Jesus foretold he would encounter (18:32).
Pilate took Jesus inside and immediately asked him if he were the king of the Jews. Jesus, in response, asked him if he had heard this or did he discern it himself, implying thereby that it was true. Pilate said, "I am no Jew. How would I know one way or the other what you are? You are here before me simply because you have been accused by your own people."
Jesus reassured him by saying that he was not in competition with him or any other earthly ruler. His kingdom was not of this world. But, when Pilate asked again if he were a king, Jesus admitted that he was, for he was born into the world to give regal witness to the truth. He ruled by the persuasion of great ideas, not by coercion and force. "Every one that is of the truth (anyone who is sincerely interested in truth) heareth my voice" (18:37).
Pilate sarcastically asked, "What is truth?", but he did not tarry for an answer. He went immediately back out to Jesus' accusers to say to them that he found no fault in the accused. If they did, however, and wanted him publicly to validate their judgment, he could do so and afterwards release Jesus according to the custom at Passover of pardoning and releasing a criminal chosen by the people. But they said they would not choose Jesus but Barabbas, a convicted robber.
Pilate did all he knew to save Jesus from death and, at the same time, to satisfy the Jews. He allowed his soldiers to scourge him, a punishment next to death. When one was scourged, his body was lashed with whips impregnated with nails. Many died under the ordeal. The soldiers mocked him by pressing a crown of thorns on his head and putting a royal purple robe around him. Then he led him back to the Jews in the courtyard. "Look now," he said, "this is your king! What power has he? What can he do to harm anybody? He is weak and helpless! Isn't this punishment enough? Let him go! I find no crime that he has committed against anybody, much less Rome!" The Jews then reminded Pilate of their law against blasphemy. They said that Jesus had called himself the son of God.
John says at this point Pilate appeared to be very much afraid. Why? It may have been that he was superstitious. Maybe, he thought, the Jews also worship a real god with real power. It could be, in the light of all this man has done, he is that god's son. If so, he did not want to endanger himself by mistreating him.
So he took Jesus back inside to the judgment hall. He asked him outright who he really was and where he came from, but Jesus decided to remain silent. He felt he had said enough. Then Pilate reminded him that he had the power of life and death over him. He implied that it would be in his interest to speak up. Jesus' reply but enhanced Pilate's fear of him, for he said that Pilate had no power other than the power God permitted him to wield. So Pilate tried all the more to win the consent of the Jews to release Jesus.
Why was he so eager to please the people whom he ruled and also despised? What advantage was there to him in this? In this instance, he was afraid of them, because Jesus had admitted to being a king and the Jews had said publicly that he had cast himself, by that declaration, in rivalry with Caesar. The Jews had influence in Rome. If they could convince Caesar that Pilate had been lax in protecting the name, title, and honor of the emperor, then he would certainly be recalled and perhaps even condemned and executed. In the end, his fear of the misrepresentation of the Jews and the bad effect it might have on his relationship with the emperor was greater than his superstitious fear of Jesus or his duty as a judge to administer justice. Therefore, he sat down in the judgment seat in the courtyard of the Antonia on what was called "the Pavement" (19:13). We do not know exactly what "pavement" means. We know from Josephus that the courtyard of the Antonia was an area paved with tiles. But we also know that the procurators carried with them for purposes of rendering judgment a piece of pavement large enough to hold a chair in which they sat. This is probably what pavement" refers to in the Fourth Gospel.
Once again Pilate asked, "Shall I crucify your king?"
When the Jews answered, "We have no king but Caesar" (19:15). Pilate gave in to them and pronounced the sentence of crucifixion on Jesus.
As at his arrest and interrogation before the high priest, so again at this Roman trial, Jesus displayed his divine nature more authoritative and in command of himself than Roman judge. Indeed, it looks from start to end as if he were the judge and Pilate the person under examination.
When Pilate asked him if he were the king of the Jews, he said that if his kingdom had been political, his followers would have resisted his arrest by force and he would not have fallen into the hands of the Jewish leaders. When Pilate threatened him, he said calmly that Pilate had no authority but by divine providence and that the God who permitted him to exercise it could take it from him at will. The clear implication is that Jesus who stands in judgment could and in the end would judge his own judge. Even Pilate's sentence and the death penalty were dependent upon Jesus' willingness to undergo it and his divine permission for it to be carried out. Here is God in the form of a man allowing himself to be tried, condemned, and put to death by sinners, his own creatures who have rebelled against their creator. Pilate's words, "Behold the man" (19:5) have a meaning for us beyond his intention: "Behold the God!"
The Crucified Savior (19:17-42)
John's account of the crucifixion is more compressed than the accounts of the other three evangelists and shorter than theirs. He omits many important historical details such as the conscription of a bystander to carry Jesus' cross for him after he had stumbled and fallen, the confession of the Roman centurion, and Jesus' assurance of salvation to the penitent thief. Likewise, he makes no reference to the darkness in midafternoon, the rending of the veil of the Temple, or the parade of the dead through the streets, so vividly described by Matthew. John is selective rather than comprehensive in what he reports about the crucifixion.
He implies that Jesus bore his cross all the way to Golgotha, the Hebrew word for "skull." The place of the skull may have gotten its name from the fact that it was the hill for executions or maybe its geographical appearance was that of a skull. "Gordon's Calvary" (the place General Gordon identified as the site of the crucifixion) looks exactly like a skull with a ridge for a nose and two huge indentations on either side of the ridge that look like eye sockets. John says that Jesus' cross stood between the crosses of two others who were crucified with him, but he does not identify them as malefactors (perhaps insurrectionists), as does Luke.
He gives the inscription Pilate affixed to Jesus' cross. It was customary to put the name of the criminal and the crime for which he was given the death sentence on his cross. The crime Pilate affixed was "King of the Jews." The Jews complained that he was not their king, but an imposter who claimed to be their king. Pilate refused to alter what he had written.
This crime guaranteed to Rome that Pilate had rendered justice in his sentence. Death was the only penalty that could be inflicted on one who made himself the ruler of a subjugated province of the empire and thereby threatened revolt leading to independence. But if he were a Jewish king, he had to have Jewish subjects who followed him. The Jews thought this inscription might implicate them in Jesus' crime, Pilate, in protecting himself, might endanger them. But to John there is "poetic justice" in the inscription. Pilate was confirming Jesus' regal status without knowing what he was doing, and the Jews were having it inflicted on them against their wills. In John's mind, there was irony in this title, for these mocking words were the truth.
The evangelist reports that the title was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, here again, without Pilate's realizing it or the Jews' accepting it, indicating the universality of Jesus' kingship. The man on the cross was king of the Jews, who rejected him, and king of the Romans, who sentenced him to death, and king of the Greeks, too, though they had never heard of him. This title, or inscription, promised that eventually every knee will how to Jesus as king whether it wants to or not.
John says that the soldiers divided his garments among them but cast lots for his coat because it was without seams and was too valuable to be cut up into pieces. John says that this is in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy (Psalm 22:18). Psalm 22 is one of the messianic psalms. Subtly the fourth evangelist uses this reference to indicate that the people were killing their own Messiah. John also implies a connection between the coat of Jesus and the tunic of the high priest. Aaron was instructed to come to the altar wearing it when he did sacrifice (Lev. 16:4). The Roman soldiers had at their disposal the tunic of the high priest who was offering himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
There were just four Roman soldiers sent to carry out the crucifixion. This was the prescribed mode for such executions. It is evident by this time neither Pilate nor the Jewish leaders expected a riot. People lost interest in Jesus when they thought he had lost his power to accommodate their wants.
John is the only evangelist to preserve the charge that Jesus gave to the son of Zebedee to look after his mother. By this, he showed that there was at least one disciple with him when he died. There is no evidence whatever that the others, even Peter, were present. John names three women who came there: the mother and aunt of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The synoptics supply names of others (Mark 15:40; Matt. 27:55-56). Could it be that John mentions this charge that Jesus gave to the young disciple to care for his mother because that disciple was the fourth evangelist himself?
When death was too slow in coming to people being crucified, the soldiers would come by and break their legs. This took from the victims what little support they had to hold themselves upright on their cross. It forced them to slouch down and thereby restricted their breathing, so that death ensued shortly therefrom. The Jews insisted that this be done, so that the victims might be removed and their bodies disposed of before the beginning of the sabbath at sunset. This the soldiers dutifully did on the other two condemned men. But it was unnecessary in Jesus' case, since he was already dead. A soldier, however, took a spear and pierced his side to make certain he had expired. From the wound flowed blood and water. In the mind of the evangelist as well as in that of the later church, this historical incident had more than historical significance. The water and the blood symbolize the cleansing power Jesus exerts in baptism and the property of everylasting life he confers through sacrifice, celebrated at holy communion. As in life, so in death, Jesus is still the incarnate God and merciful Savior.
John is careful to show that the burial of Jesus is that of a rich, powerful, and affluent person. He was put in a sepulcher that had never been used before. That sepulcher was in a garden near the skull, where he had been crucified. Its owner was the influential and affluent Joseph of Arimathea, a secret admirer and follower of Jesus, but who now openly claimed the body from Pontius Pilate.
The person who brought the mixture of myrrh and aloes was Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, who had come to consult Jesus at night early in Jesus' ministry. Myrrh and aloes blended together comprise the ointment commonly used by Jews to anoint the bodies of their dead. It is not what was used but the amount that is impressive. Nicodemus brought for the burial one hundred pounds worth of the mixture. That was enough to use on a great many bodies, but all of it was expended on Jesus. Jesus was wrapped in fine linens, and the mixture was poured on the body and between the linen wrappings. This prisoner, condemned as a malefactor, was given a burial as splendid as the burial of kings.
His last words had been: "lt is finished" (19:30). He had been in command of himself to the very end. He did not have life wrested from him, though he had been crucified as a criminal. He freely laid it down. He had offered himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
The fourth evangelist indicates that Jesus died in the middle of the afternoon on the day of the preparation for the Passover. He died at the very hour the lambs were being slain by the priests on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover meal that would begin at sunset. The Iamb of Passover had to be without blemish, with no bones broken. So was this lamb, the Lamb of God, slain in the purpose of God from the foundation of the world.
"It is finished" meant more than the end of Jesus' earthly life. It meant also, and more poignantly, that the act of redemption had taken place, that the price of sin had all been paid, and that sinners before and since could be justified and counted as righteous before God. This theme is reflected in Charles Wesley's hymn "‘Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies":
'Tis finished'. The Messiah dies
In the synoptics, the discovery that the tomb in which Jesus had been laid was empty belongs exclusively to the women. In the Johannine narrative, this remarkable event is shared with two of the disciples, and only one woman is associated with them in the discovery. That woman is Mary Magdalene.
She came between the watches of "cockcrow" and "early" to the sepulcher and found the stone which sealed the tomb rolled back and the entrance open. This was the extent of her discovery. It was still dark. She was startled and afraid. She did not even look in. She ran to find Peter and "the other disciple whom Jesus loved" and told them what she had found. She assumed that the body of Jesus was no longer inside, for she added that it had been removed and she did not know where it had been placed. Since Jesus had had to be buried hurriedly before sunset when the sabbath began, it is probable that Joseph of Arimathea had just lent him his tomb temporarily and had intended to move him to another grave after the sabbath had passed. If so, the disciples would have fully expected to be informed of this and to help in the removal.
This other disciple whom Jesus loved was John. On receiving the news from Mary, the two ran to the sepulcher, and John, being younger, outran Peter and got there first. He waited for Peter before going in. When they entered, all they found were the grave clothes. These convinced them that something more than the removal of a body had taken place. If the body had been removed, it would have stayed wrapped in its burial clothes. Therefore, John "believed" (20:8). He realized that Jesus was what he said he was. He was the incarnate God.
The two men left. Mary alone remained. When she entered the sepulcher after their departure, two angels had come and taken their places at the head and foot of the tomb. During the time that the two disciples were inside, Mary had stayed in the garden weeping. She was still in tears as she entered the sepulcher. The angels asked her why she was weeping. As she answered them but before they could reply, she looked back and saw a man standing at the entrance to the sepulcher. Her eyes were too full of tears for her to do more than glance at him. He repeated the question of the angels. She took it for granted that he was the gardener and asked what he had done with the body of Jesus. But when he called her name, she knew for certain who he was. The sheep always know the voice of their shepherd. She cried out in joy, "Rabboni" (20:16). The word means "master," as the King James Version indicates. But it means more. Rabbi was the word for a teacher or master. Rabboni was used for God, the perfect or true teacher. Mary Magdalene, like John, recognized her earthly master as the incarnate God.
As she started to touch him, Jesus asked her to refrain, saying, "I have not yet gone up to my Father," implying that his condition was not as it was before the crucifixion but as it should forever be in company with his Father in heaven. He told Mary to go tell his "brethren," meaning the disciples, that he was on his way to his Father and their Father. This is the first time that Jesus referred to his disciples as his brothers. Yes, and the first message the risen Lord gave to anyone to deliver in his name he entrusted to a woman. Mary Magdalene is the first person after the resurrection to announce the Christian gospel to the world.
The risen Lord reappeared at nightfall to visit with the disciples in Jerusalem. To the Jews, this was another day, since their day began at sunset; and so it was to the disciples it this time. But John is writing from Ephesus many years later. For him at the time of his writing, it was the evening of the same day (20:19). It was still the day of the resurrection. The Christian reckoning of time had displaced the Jewish.
The disciples were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Yet Jesus came to them without knocking. He stood among them, though they had not admitted him. He was recognizable. He had his same body with the nail prints and the wound in his side. But now his body was no encumbrance. It adjusted to his will. What he did was no longer limited by it. In this appearance, he shows us what life is like in heaven. We will all be recognizable! We will have our personalities. But we won't be limited by our physical bodies any more.
Jesus gave the disciples their commission to witness to him. He sent them forth to the world as the Father had sent him to them. And he breathed on them and thereby gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Just as God breathed into man and woman the breath of life at creation, so Jesus gave spiritual life by breathing on believers. They received the Holy Spirit, which is his spirit as well.
Thomas was not present when this took place. He would not believe what the others had told him. So eight days later, Jesus came again to him. Our Lord made his appearance in the same manner as he had on the night of his resurrection. Thomas had said that he would not believe until he felt with
his hands the nail prints and the open spear wound. So Jesus, before Thomas could ask, laid bare his wounds and insisted the doubter examine them. Thomas did not touch him but cried out in shame and, yet, in joy, "My Lord and my God." Thomas stated the first confession of the Christian church. Honest doubt is a necessary prelude to genuine faith.
It took the visible presence of Jesus to convince Thomas. But more blessed are we who do not have that visible presence but, through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, believe.
The crucified Savior is the risen Lord. The cross has become not just the instrument of shame on which a criminal died but the sword of victory over sin and the sole means to everlasting life.
As Charles Wesley wrote in the second verse of "And Should It Be That I Should Gain":
'Tis mystery all! th' Immortal dies!
The incarnate God died for our sins on the cross. On the third day, he rose again from the dead and has opened thereby the gates of heaven to all believers. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, God in human form.
Questions For Reflection And Study
I. Peter did not want Jesus to submit to the authorities without a fight. When is it right to resist those in power? When is it wrong?
2. Pilate tried both to save Jesus' life and satisfy the demands of the crowd. How do you mediate conflicting demands in your life? What standards guide you in such situations?
3. What do you think enabled Jesus to remain calm during the ordeal of the trial? Are you able to remain calm in tough situations? What can we do in such times that Jesus did?
4. Jesus appeared to Thomas specifically to reassure him. Do we put forth a special effort to accept and reassure doubters? How do you respond to others' doubts? Row do you respond to your own doubts?