John 20 – This I Believe

Opening question

What does it take for you to believe in something? In other words, why do you believe the things that you believe?(eg, the earth is round, Cathy Freeman one the women’s 400m in 2000, your place of birth was…, what makes your car go, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is risen from the dead).


It’s the end of the Gospel according to John. These last two chapters talk about what happens following the death of Jesus when the hour had come and gone and Jesus had finished the work that he came to earth to do. The entire Gospel of John has been outlining where Jesus came from, what he came to do and what the result will be for anyone who believes. John 20:31 gives us the purpose in John’s mind for writing everything that he wrote and why he chose to leave other things about Jesus out.

John 19:42, the final verse of the previous chapter, leaves us on the Friday of Jesus’ death and with the dead body of Jesus buried in a tomb.


The structure of this chapter is quite straight forward. It’s all narrative and so we only need to look for scene changes.

  • 1-10 – Disciples see an empty tomb
  • 11-18 – Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus
  • 19-23 – Jesus appears to the disciples
  • 24-29 – Thomas sees the risen Jesus
  • 30-31 – John  tells us why he writes

Each section reveals more and more the reality of the risen Jesus a bit like the rising of the sun reveals more and more of the details of the earth.

20:1-10 – The Disciples see an empty tomb and believe

“on the first day of the week” – This would be Sunday, the day after the Saturday Sabbath. At least 36 hours has passed since the death of Jesus. John 20 begins on the third day.

“…the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first…He saw and believed.” Well, this unnamed disciple who is probably John the writer, loves the fact that he can beat Simon in a race. But he is also listed as the first disciple to have believed as a result of seeing. What did he see? An empty tomb with discarded tomb clothes. Why would anyone steal the body of Jesus and leave the linen and cloth there? That makes no sense unless they wanted it to look like there was a resurrection! So, John saw signs of the resurrection and he believed. See John 2:22.

20:11-18 – Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus and believes

Mary is in grief and distress but she has not understood what John now understands. She is still picturing Jesus as dead. Jesus speaks to her three times before she recognizes his voice. It isn’t until he says her name, perhaps affectionately, that her eyes are open and she now knows that Jesus is risen. While John saw an empty tomb and put the pieces together, Mary needed a personal interaction with Jesus. I don’t want to take this too far, but there are different ways to come to faith and some people respond on the logic more than the relationship. Neither is more right but both are important. After all, Mary still responds to solid evidence rather than simple minded persuasion. She is responding to facts just as much, even more, as John. Both came to a point of conviction that Jesus was risen.

“I have not yet ascended to the Father.” I believe is referring to ascending to the Father in the bodily sense. After his death on the cross, Jesus dead body remained in the tomb until Sunday morning. His spirit was with God the Father in Paradise. Now, his resurrected body is to ascend to the Father. Why couldn’t Mary “hold on” to him? This is only to urge Mary not to hold him back from returning to the Father. He has not risen in order to remain on earth physically, but to be the first fruit of the resurrection.

Mary says, “I have seen the Lord.” This is her statement of faith and she now believes because she has seen Jesus. Not simply signs to a resurrected body, she has seen the living body of Jesus.

20:19-23 – Jesus appears the disciples and anoints them

This is the trickiest section of this chapter but it is all about the anointing of the disciples to continue the mission of Jesus throughout the world. It is John’s way of describing the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 (I am not saying they are the same event but that they serve a similar purpose).

Notice firstly, how Jesus immediately addresses the disciples. He says, “Peace be with you!” Remember that Jesus had spent 5 chapters before the cross preparing them for the cross and his departure. Now he returns with the great gospel truth that there is PEACE. God’s message to mankind is now: peace. But only because of Jesus. Think of all the times in the Old Testament and in the entire gospels where God’s word came through a prophet with a simple message of peace. I can’t think of any. Warnings, threats, preparation for danger, promises for a future day – but now the day has come. And the message we have is: peace from God.

Notice that he just appeared without going through any doors? I think it is good to note that a miracle took place and then move on. Does it say something about his risen body? Maybe, but Philip also moved instantly from one place to another by miracle and he had not yet died (Acts 8:39).

Notice thirdly, that “the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Moving from fear to joy is a great thing – especially when Jesus predicted this would happen. See John 16:20, 22. Their time of grief is over. Time to rejoice because Jesus is risen!

Next, we have the anointing of the disciples to continue the mission on earth. Just as the Father sent Jesus into the world to seek and save the lost, Jesus is now sending the disciples for the same end. The breathing of Jesus on them reminds us of Genesis, and the creation of mankind. Just as John begain his gospel with a reminder of the beginning (John 1:1), he ends his gospel with a new beginning. New life (John 3) is brought into the world.

“Receive the Holy Spirit.” This event is not to contradict Acts 2 which tells us that the Holy Spirit had not come yet. The two events serve different gospel purposes. In John 20, Jesus is re-establishing his 11 disciples (although Didymus wasn’t there) after they had all deserted him. Jesus is also enlightening them through the Holy Spirit about the interpretation of Old Testament scripture.  See John 7:38-39 to hear John’s promise that the Spirit would come after Jesus was glorified. What occurs in Acts 2 is an outpouring of the Spirit into the world. This account in John is about illuminating the disciples for their task of taking the gospel into the world. It is paralleld in Luke 24:45 when it says that Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

“If you forgive…” This is nothing to be scared about. Quite the contrary. When the gospel is preached and believed, the announcement that sins are forgiven can certainly follow. This is about assurance! Some have distorted these verses to think that priests can give specific absolution and announce forgivenenss for this or that sin. But Jesus is declaring that PEACE is offered to everybody now in the name of Jesus. This is the message that the disciples went out to preach, Acts 13:32, 38-39; 16:31; Romans 10:9. Jesus is not giving them special religious powers – rather, he is declaring peace where religion and the Jewish law previously was inadequate. Jesus words are about assurance.

20:24-29 – Thomas sees Jesus and believes

Just as Mary required some one-to-one attention from Jesus before she believed, Thomas demanded to see Jesus. The encouragement to us in these verses is that Jesus expects us to believe on the testimony of these first eye-witnesses and calls us blessed when we do.

Both Thomas (Aramaic) and Didymus (Greek) mean twin. He is famously remembered as Doubting Thomas – which is sad and unfortunate. He was also the Brave Thomas, prepared to go and die with Jesus back in chapter 11:16. He was also Clarrifying Thomas in 14:5 when he wanted Jesus to tell them where Jesus was going and how to get there. He calls on Jesus to declare: “I am the way, the truth, and the life!” He moves the disciples to go with Jesus to witness Lazarus’ resurrection. He is the clearest in all the scriptures to declare that Jesus is God. Poor Doubting Thomas for his sad reputation.

Notice that Jesus affirms Thomas’ conclusion about his deity. Never let anybody get away with saying that Jesus never claimed to be God. This is a very significant event. Rather than decades or centuries going by before people started to think of Jesus as more than a man, it was by the end of the day of the resurrection! A Jew who knows fundamentally that there is only one God (Ex 20:1-2; Deut 6:4, Mark 12:29). Something incredible happened that day that convinced 11 Jewish men plus the women with them to WORSHIP a man as God!

Blessed: joyful, favoured, happy and peace from God. Be happy and rejoice, everyone who believes that Jesus is LORD (Yahweh) because this is exactly what God wants from you – this is righteousness. Believe is more than imagine. I can believe that God is real and so are angels. But God is glorified in us when our hearts are turned to him and to Jesus Christ whom he sent. Thomas moved from wondering if Jesus might be risen to believing it and it changed his attitude toward Jesus and God. For a person to believe and be saved, it means to take the claims about Jesus seriously.

20:30-31 – the reason we believe

John wrote down all of the words of his gospel so that we might believe something. Many books and movies are written and produced so that we might think something, or experience something, or be moved and made aware of something. John’s hope and prayer is that everyone who reads his account would take him seriously and consider what has been written and then turn to Jesus to live. Why? 1) Because Jesus is the Christ. This is the greek word for the Hebrew word, Messiah, which means chosen one, anointed one, KING. He is the promised one that God had asked Israel to look out for. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises. 2) Because Jesus is the Son of God. His relationship with God is that he is the Son. The eternal Son. John want us to know that Jesus’ existence didn’t begin in the manger (John 1:1-18). He is not simply the Son of David as the Messiah was said to be, but the Son of God. Jesus is more than a prophet. He is better than Moses, and David and any of the angels. He is in very nature, God. 3) Because if we don’t believe, we do not have life. John 17:3, “This is eternal life: that [we] know God – the One True God – and Jesus Christ who was sent from God.” Eternal life is not about avoiding hell (although this is important) but about embracing life and living it to the full. Without Christ there is no life. Remember this corny line: Know Christ – Know Life…No Christ – No Life.

Anyone who wants to get the most out of life and is serious about knowing the truth needs to read the book written by John, study it, get to know Jesus, believe that he is who he says that he is and then live.


The empty tomb, the physical appearance of Jesus, his words of peace and the testimony of the disciples give us reason to believe and put our trust in the risen Lord Jesus. He is God, come into the world, to give life to everyone who believes.


  • Do you believe in the resurrection? Paul says that this is the most important part of our faith by far: 1 Corinthians 15. If you do not believe in the real resurrection of Jesus from the dead, then you are still lost in your sin and you have no hope. All four gospels end with this evidence. The sermons in the book of Acts all promote first and foremost, the risen Jesus. If you believe in the resurrection, then does your life show it? Ask yourself: is my life and lifestyle driven by my belief in the resurrection?
  • Do you believe in the confidence of life eternal? I’m talking about assurance. Jesus said: Peace be with you. He said, Go and tell people their sins are forgiven. He said, blessed by God are all who believe that Jesus is LORD. He finished his work on the cross so that we could be forgiven and be able to know our God in spirit and in truth. He has given us his Holy Spirit so that we will know the truth. Doubt and denial are enemies of our faith. Do you believe in the forgiveness of your sins and how has that affected your life?
  • Do you believe that life is all about Jesus?  If your life is not moving toward Christ-centredness then it is probably moving away from it.


Our Father in heaven, thank you for sending Jesus into this world to save us. We thank you for the resurrection and pray that we will be confident in the truth of the resurrection. We thank you for sending the disciples into the world and we pray that you will also send us. Fill our hearts with the joy of knowing peace through Jesus. Help us to live for the glory and honour of Jesus’ name. Amen.