The Gospel of John: Jesus’ First Post-Resurrection Appearance.

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:11-18)

John 20:11-18 records Mary Magdalene’s second visit to the empty tomb of Jesus. She is a woman in the midst of deep grief. The text says “she wept.” The verb κλαίουσα (klaiousa) is in the present active form and it means to lament, to cry and to wail. Mary was in a continual state of grief. She was inconsolable. The Lord she loved, and whose dead body she wanted to further anoint for burial as a sign of her love and devotion, was gone from the tomb. In her mind, there were no thoughts of a victorious resurrection but rather the ignominy of thieves who had stolen the body of her Lord.

It was at that exact moment that Mary “stooped to look into the tomb.” What she discovered was amazing. Instead of an empty tomb she “saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” The angels appeared after Peter and John’s arrival and departure from the tomb.

One commentator explains that, “Mary saw two angels sitting in the empty tomb, one where the head of Jesus had lain and the other where His feet had been (vv. 11–12). Luke 24:4 also reports the presence of two angels at the tomb, while Matthew 28:1–2 and Mark 16:5 tell us that one angel was there. Some skeptics have made much of this difference, but there is no warrant for believing that the Gospels contradict one another. If there were two angels there, then there was certainly one angel there. Matthew and Mark simply choose not to tell us about more than one of the messengers God sent to the tomb of our Lord.”

More important that the number of angels in the tomb was the question they asked Mary. “They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’.” The angels question may have been a mild rebuke to her. In instead of weeping she should be rejoicing. Jesus is no longer in the tomb: not because someone stole His body but rather because He is alive.

It was this precise moment that John records one of the most stirring recognitions scene in all of Scripture. “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).”

It is significant that Jesus’ first appearance following His resurrection was not to Caiaphas, Annas or even Pontius Pilate. Neither did Jesus first appear to Peter, James and John. Rather, He appeared to Mary. Why is this so important? Dr. John Walvoord explains that, “The fact that He appeared to Mary rather than to Pilate or Caiaphas or to one of His disciples is significant. That a woman would be the first to see Him is an evidence of Jesus’ electing love as well as a mark of the narrative’s historicity. No Jewish author in the ancient world would have invented a story with a woman as the first witness to this most important event. Furthermore, Jesus may have introduced Himself to Mary first because she had so earnestly sought Him. She was at the cross while He was dying (John 19:25), and she went to His tomb early on Sunday morning (20:1).”

Why didn’t Mary immediately recognize Jesus? Jesus’ disciples did not recognize that He rose from the dead perhaps because there was some kind of change in His physical appearance after the resurrection. While we do not  exactly know what this change was, but both Mary Magdalene and the Emmaus Disciples did not realize they had seen Jesus face-to-face after His resurrection until He revealed Himself to them (Luke 24:13–35John 20:14).

Teacher Robert Rothwell writes that, “Although the same body of Jesus that died was raised, something about His glorified body was different from His body before His death. His resurrected body is a spiritual body, not in that it is nonphysical but in that it is suffused by and transformed into incorruptible flesh by the Holy Spirit. We will be changed in like manner when our bodies are resurrected (1 Cor. 15:35–49).”

The text goes on to say that, “Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

There have been many interpretations about what Jesus meant when He said to Mary “Do not cling to me.” I submit that Dr. R. C. Sproul’s interpretation to be the simplest and the best. “Jesus was telling Mary that He was not yet leaving to return to heaven. She was holding on to Him as if she would never see Him again, but she would see Him again before His departure. It was not yet time to say goodbye.” That would occur in 40 days (Acts 1:1-11).

What is also important for us to note is that Mary did not keep this good news to herself. ”Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” She could not keep such good news to herself. Neither should we.

May God’s truth and grace reside here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

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