John 20-21

Good morning! Today we move from death to life, crucifixion to resurrection. The death of Jesus does not “come undone”, yet the disciples discover that death is not the last word. Jesus reveals a new and resurrected life—with ongoing calls for discipleship—proceeding from the last place anyone expected it: the tomb itself.

John 20 narrates several encounters of the empty tomb, and then several appearances of the risen Christ himself. Mary Magdalene discovers the tomb unsealed first, then the footrace between two male disciples leads to the discovery that the tomb is genuinely empty. Mary Magdalene has the first encounter with the risen Jesus, though oddly she doesn’t recognize him at first. One can only imagine the simultaneous mix of astonishment, fear and joy which she experiences. When the other disciples hear it they don’t reply as though it were “an idle tale” (as in Luke), but they do not embrace resurrection as the truth. Jesus then appears to the disciples in the locked room that night, manifesting himself to them (and disciples every time, though by different means) when they are caught up in fearful withdrawal. He shows up despite the barricaded mentality and bequeaths the Holy Spirit by breathing on them. We do not hear what happens in the week that follows, only that the disciple who missed out on seeing the resurrected Jesus (Thomas) receives another opportunity to do so. Jesus gives Thomas the proof he needs, but then offers a blessing on those who believe without seeing. By this, John certainly includes those who read the Gospel in subsequent generations, even up to the present moment.

John 20 could serve as the end of the gospel (and maybe did at one point), so chapter 21 feels like an epilogue. Here John recounts the story of the overwhelming abundance of fish. (I love the scene of a campfire breakfast fish-fry on the beach!) In other gospels the story of a boat-swamping catch of fish is connected to Jesus’ original call to discipleship. Here though, the narration focuses on Jesus’ particular call to Peter, and the disciple’s response. Three times Jesus repeats some form of “Feed my sheep”, once for each time Peter betrayed Jesus. The risen Christ tests and seals Peter’s commitment here, on the other side of the resurrection. A final mysterious element of John that finishes out this gospel is the nature and identity of the Beloved Disciple. This character shows up several times throughout John, never with a name and always with the suggestion of special closeness to Jesus. There have been a thousand theories for this disciple’s identity (the gospel’s writer? Mary Magdalene? the reader?), but I’ve not found any that persuade me beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Now that we’ve finished all four of the gospels, have you found a particular one most compelling or surprising? Matthew’s emphasis on Torah righteousness, Mark’s haste and messianic secret, Luke’s emphasis on healing and women, or John’s nearly-superhuman Christ? I found myself appreciating more things in John than I ever have before, making this read-through an especially enriching one. What about you? Happy reading!

Read John 20-21.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Acts 1-2. Thanks for reading!

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