15.Lord, if thou hast carried him hence. She calls him Lord, according to the custom of her nation; for the same appellation, Lord, (Κύριε) is employed by the Hebrews in addressing laborers and other persons of low condition. We see that Mary has no view of this matter but what is earthly. She desires only to obtain the dead body of Christ, that she may keep it hidden in the sepulcher; but she leaves out the most important matter, the elevation of her mind to the divine power of his resurrection. We need not wonder, therefore, if such grovelling views place a veil before her eyes.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
15. the gardener] Because he was there at that early hour.
if thou have borne him hence] The omission of the name is very lifelike: she is so full of her loss that she assumes that others must know all about it. ‘Thou’ is emphatic; ‘Thou and not, as I fear, some enemy.’
I will take him away] In her loving devotion she does not measure her strength. Note that throughout it is ‘the Lord’ (Joh_20:2), ‘my Lord’ (Joh_20:13), ‘Him’ thrice (Joh_20:15), never ‘His body’ or ‘the corpse.’ His lifeless form is to her still Himself.
16.Jesus saith to her, Mary! That Christ allowed Mary, a short time, to fall into a mistake, was useful for confirming her faith; but now, by a single word, he corrects her mistake. He had formerly addressed her, but his discourse seemed to be that of an unknown person; he now assumes the character of the Master, and addresses his disciple by name, as we have formerly seen that the good shepherd calleth to him by name every sheep of his flock, (Joh_10:3.)
That voice of the shepherd, therefore, enters into Mary’s heart, opens her eyes, arouses all her senses, and affects her in such a manner, that she immediately surrenders herself to Christ.
Thus in Mary we have a lively image of our calling; for the only way in which we are admitted to the true knowledge of Christ is, when he first knows us, and then familiarly invites us to himself, not by that ordinary voice which sounds indiscriminately in the ears of all, but by that voice with which he especially calls the sheep which the Father hath given to him. Thus Paul says, After that you have known God, or rather, after that you have been known by him, (Gal_4:9.)
And said to him, Rabboni! The efficacy of the address is evident from this circumstance, that Mary immediately renders to Christ the honor which is due to him; for the word Rabboni is not only respectful, but involves a profession of obedience. Mary therefore declares, that she is a disciple of Christ, and submits to him as her Master. This is a secret and wonderful change effected on the human understanding, when God, enlightening her by his Spirit, renders her clear-sighted, who formerly was slow of apprehension, and, indeed, altogether blind. Besides, the example of Mary ought to serve the purpose of exhortation, that all whom Christ invites to himself may reply to him without delay.
The word Rabboni is Chaldee, though the Chaldeans pronounce it Ribboni; but it is customary to make a change on words, when they are transferred to a foreign tongue. The meaning is the same as if we were to say, My Lord! or, My Master! But in the time of Christ this mode of expression had gained currency, of using Rabbi and Rabboni instead of Master.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
16. Mary] The term of general address, ‘Woman’ awoke no echo in her heart; the sign of personal knowledge and sympathy comes home to her at once. Thus ‘He calleth His own sheep by name’ (Joh_10:3).
saith unto him] We must add with the best authorities, in Hebrew. The insertion is of importance as indicating the language spoken between Christ and His disciples. S. John thinks it well to remind Greek readers that Greek was not the language used. Comp. Act_22:2; Act_26:14. The expression here used (Hebraïsti) occurs only in this Gospel (Joh_5:2, Joh_19:13; Joh_19:17; Joh_19:20) and in Revelation (Joh_9:11, Joh_16:16). See on Joh_19:37
Rabboni] More exactly, Rabbuni. This precise form occurs also in Mar_10:51, but has been obliterated in the A. V. It is said to be Galilean, and if so natural in a woman of Magdala. Would any but a Jew of Palestine have preserved this detail?
Master] Or, Teacher. Its literal meaning is ‘my Master,’ but the pronominal portion of the word had lost almost all meaning. S. John’s translation shews that as yet her belief is very imperfect: she uses a mere human title.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary. The more general expression, “woman” (Joh_20:15), makes her seem to us the representative of the whole of suffering humanity, weeping over the inability to find any link of fellowship between itself and the invisible God, feeling unconsciously after the Christ and haply not finding him, weeping because hostility had obliterated him or superstition had concealed him, while all the while he is near at hand. But now Jesus stirred the affection of the living, weeping person at his side by uttering her own name in tones that thrilled her to the heart, and created the new sublime conviction that he had risen, as he said. She turned herself, as though the previous glance had been momentary and partial, and now the vision and voice blended, and she knew him. And saith unto him in Hebrew, Rabbouni Ἑβραι ́στι is here introduced by modern editors, This word only occurs in this Gospel and the Apocalypse), a word (the evangelist adds) which is to say, Master. The Hebrew term—probably preserved in its Galilaean form, ינִוּבּרַ, rabbouni, rather than in the ordinary form (see Authorized version) ינִרֹבּרַ, rabboni—if strictly translated, would be “my Teacher,” or “my Master,” yet the personal pronoun must not be pressed. It doubtless had lost its specialty as we find in many other languages (monsieur, mein herr, “my Lord,” are familiar instances). Even if the full force of the pronoun were urged, Mary’s faith had not gone beyond the ideal of her devotedly loved Teacher, Friend, Master, and fell far short of the insight which even the incredulous Thomas would soon exhibit, that the Lord had put on Divine glory, and filled all things. She apparently fell in speechless, passionate affection at his feet, as the other women did shortly afterwards (see Mat_28:9); but with the idea that now the old relations between Teacher and loving disciples would be resumed. She was in no mood answering to the doubtfulness of the disciples who desired proof of his identity, of the fact of his corporeity, before they could understand his claim to be their perpetual Guide, and his promise to be with them “unto the end of the world;” but she thought at once of the old life in Galilee. Her joy knew no bounds, but her conception of the reality of that which was revealed to her was most imperfect. It was the realization of love rather than the perception of intellect. She rushed hastily to a very limited conclusion; and she suffered an obvious correction, if not repulse, which has been interpreted in many ways.
17.Touch me not. This appears not to agree with the narrative of Matthew; for he expressly says, that the women held him By The Feet,and worshipped him, (Mat_28:9.) Now, since he allowed himself to be touched by his disciples, what reason was there for forbidding Mary to touch him? The answer is easy, provided that we remember that the women were not repelled from touching Christ, till their eagerness to touch him had been carried to excess; for, so far as it was necessary for removing doubt, he unquestionably did not forbid them to touch him, but, perceiving that their attention was too much occupied with embracing his feet, he restrained and corrected that immoderate zeal. They fixed their attention on his bodily presence, and did not understand any other way of enjoying his society than by conversing with him on the earth. We ought, therefore, to conclude, that they were not forbidden to touch him, until Christ saw that, by their foolish and unreasonable desire, they wished to keep him in the world.
For I am not yet ascended to my Father. We ought to attend to this reason which he adds; for by these words he enjoins the women to restrain their feelings, until he be received into the heavenly glory. In short, he pointed out the design of his resurrection; not such as they had imagined it to be, that, after having returned to life, he should triumph in the world, but rather that, by his ascension to heaven, he should enter into the possession of the kingdom which had been promised to him, and, seated at the right hand of the Father, should govern the Church by the power of his Spirit. The meaning of the words therefore is, that his state of resurrection would not be full and complete, until he should sit down in heaven at the right hand of the Father; and, therefore, that the women did wrong in satisfying themselves with having nothing more than the half of his resurrection, and desiring to enjoy his presence in the world. This doctrine yields two advantages. The first is, that those who are desirous to succeed in seeking Christ must raise their minds upwards; and the second is, that all who endeavor to go to him must rid themselves of the earthly affections of the flesh, as Paul exhorts, If ye then be risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, (Col_3:1.)
But go to my brethren. Some limit the word brethren to the cousins and relatives of Christ, but, in my opinion, improperly; for why should he have sent to them rather than to the disciples? They reply, Because John elsewhere testifies, that His Brethren did not believe in him. (Joh_7:5.)
But I do not think it probable that Christ conferred so great an honor on those who are there mentioned. It must also be admitted, that Mary Magdalene fully obeyed the injunctions of Christ. Now, it immediately follows, that she went to the disciples; from which we conclude, that Christ had spoken of them.
Besides, Christ knew that the disciples, whom those men, by their opinion, treat as separated, were assembled in one place; and it would have been exceedingly absurd that he should pay attention to I know not what sort of persons, and disregard the disciples, who, having been collected into one place, were subjected to a violent conflict between hope and fear. To this it may be added, that Christ appears to have borrowed this expression from Psa_22:22, where we and these words: I will declare thy name to my brethren; for it is beyond all controversy, that this passage contains the fulfillment of that prediction.
I conclude, therefore, that Mary was sent to the disciples in general; and I consider that this was done by way of reproach, because they had been so tardy and sluggish to believe. And, indeed, they deserve not only to have women for their teachers, but even oxen and asses; since the Son of God had been so long and laboriously employed in teaching, and yet they had made so little, or hardly any progress. Yet this is a mild and gentle chastisement, when Christ thus sends his disciples to the school of the women, that by their agency, he may bring them back to himself. Here we behold also the inconceivable kindness of Christ, in choosing and appointing women to be the witnesses of his resurrection to the Apostles; for the commission which is given to them is the only foundation of our salvation, and contains the chief point of heavenly wisdom.
It ought likewise to be observed, however, that this occurrence was extraordinary, and — we might almost say — accidental. They are commanded to make known to the Apostles what they afterwards, in the exercise of the office committed to them, proclaimed to the whole world. But, in executing this injunction, they do not act as if they had been Apostles; and, therefore, it is wrong to frame a law out of this injunction of Christ, and to allow women to perform the office of baptizing. Let us be satisfied with knowing that Christ displayed in them the boundless treasures of his grace, when he once appointed them to be the teachers of the Apostles, and yet did not intend that what was done by a singular privilege should be viewed as an example. This is peculiarly apparent in Mary Magdalene, who had formerly been possessed by seven devils, (Mar_16:9; Luk_8:2;) for it amounted to this, that Christ had brought her out of the lowest hell, that he might raise her above heaven.
If it be objected, that there was no reason why Christ should prefer the women to the Apostles, since they were not less carnal and stupid, I reply, it does not belong to us, but to the Judge, to estimate the difference between the Apostles and the women. But I go farther, and say, that the Apostles deserved to be more severely censured, because they not only had been better instructed than all others, but, after having been appointed to be the teachers of the whole world, and after having been called the light of the world, (Mat_5:14,) and the salt of the earth, (Mat_5:13,) they so basely apostatized. Yet it pleased the Lord, by means of those weak and contemptible vessels, to give a display of his power.
I ascend to my Father. By using the word ascend he confirms the doctrine which I have lately explained; that he rose from the dead, not for the purpose of remaining any longer on the earth, but that he might enter into the heavenly life, and might thus draw believers to heaven along with him. In short, by this term he forbids the Apostles to fix their whole attention on his resurrection viewed simply in itself, but exhorts them to proceed farther, until they come to the spiritual kingdom, to the heavenly glory, to God himself. There is great emphasis, therefore, in this word ascend; for Christ stretches out his hand to his disciples that they may not seek their happiness anywhere else than in heaven; for where our treasure is, there also must our heart be, (Mat_6:21.)
Now, Christ declares, that he ascends on high; and, therefore, we must ascend, if we do not wish to be separated from him.
When he adds, that he ascends To God, he quickly dispels the grief and anxiety which the Apostles might feel on account of his departure; for his meaning is, that he will always be present with his disciples by Divine power. True, the word ascend denotes the distance of places; but though Christ be absent in body, yet, as he is with God, his power, which is everywhere felt, plainly shows his spiritual presence; for why did he ascend to God, but in order that, being seated at God’s right hand, he might reign both in heaven and in earth? In short, by this expression he intended to impress on the minds of his disciples the Divine power of his kingdom, that they might not be grieved on account of his bodily absence.
To my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God. The benefit and efficacy of that brotherly union, which has been lately mentioned, is expressed, when Christ declares that we have this in common with himself, that he who is his God and his Father is also our God and our Father. I ascend, says he, to my Father, who is also your Father. In other passages we learn that we are made partakers of all the blessings of Christ; but this is the foundation of the privilege, that he imparts to us the very fountain of blessings. It is, unquestionably, an invaluable blessing, that believers can safely and firmly believe, that He who is the God of Christ is their God, and that He who is the Father of Christ is their Father. Nor have we any reason to fear that this confidence will be charged with rashness, since it is founded on Christ, or that it will be proud boasting, since Christ himself has dictated it to us with his own mouth.
Christ calls Him his God, in so far as, by taking upon him the form of a servant, he humbled himself, (Phi_2:7.)
This is, therefore, peculiar to his human nature, but is applied to his whole person, on account of the unity, because he is both God and Man. As to the second clause, in which he says that he ascends to his Father and our Father, there is also a diversity between him and us; for he is the Son of God by nature, while we are the sons of God only by adoption; but the grace which we obtain through him is so firmly established, that it cannot be shaken by any efforts of the devil, so as to hinder us from always calling him our Father, who hath adopted us through his Only-begotten Son.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
17. Touch me not, for, &c.] This is a passage of well-known difficulty. At first sight the reason given for refraining from touching would seem to be more suitable to a permission to touch. It is perhaps needless to enquire whether the ‘for’ refers to the whole of what follows or only to the first sentence, ‘I am not yet ascended to the Father?’ In either case the meaning would be, that the Ascension has not yet taken place, although it soon will do so, whereas Mary’s action assumes that it has taken place. If ‘for’ refers to the first clause only, then the emphasis is thrown on Mary’s mistake; if ‘for’ refers to the whole of what is said, then the emphasis is thrown on the promise that what Mary craves shall be granted in a higher way to both her and others very soon. The translation ‘touch Me not’ is inadequate and gives a false impression. The verb (haptesthai) does not mean to ‘touch’ and ‘handle’ with a view to seeing whether His body was real; this Christ not only allowed but enjoined (Joh_20:27; Luk_24:39; comp. 1Jn_1:1): rather it means to ‘hold on to’ and ‘cling to.’ Moreover it is the present (not aorist) imperative; and the full meaning will therefore be, ‘Do not continue holding Me,’ or simply, hold Me not. The old and often interrupted earthly intercourse is over; the new and continuous intercourse with the Ascended Lord has not yet begun: but that Presence will be granted soon, and there will be no need of straining eyes and clinging ands to realize it. (For a large collection of various interpretations see Meyer.)
to my Father] The better reading gives, to the Father; with this ‘My brethren’ immediately following agrees better. The general relationship applying both to Him and them, is stated first, and then pointedly distinguished in its application to Him and to them.
I ascend] Or, I am ascending. The change has already begun.
my God] The risen and glorified Redeemer is still perfect man. Comp. Rev_3:12. Thus also S. Paul and S. Peter speak of ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Comp. Eph_1:3; 2Co_11:31; 1Pe_1:3; and see on Rom_15:6; 2Co_1:3, where the expression is blurred in the A. V.
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for, etc.
(1) Some, Bengal and others, make the γάρ govern the whole clause that follows, and so give the meaning,” Stay not to touch me, but haste to my disciples, and say,” etc.; but this would render the first clause very obscure, unless the further supposition be made, as by Baur, Bush, Sears, and many others, that our Lord was just on the point of ascending to heaven, i.e. of one (nay, the first) of his many ascensions to the Father, after which the touching, in the sense either of worship or of verification, would be possible and rightful, and also the supposition that an “ascension” intervened between the appearance to the Magdalene and the other women, or at all events before the revelation to the disciples at Emmaus, to Simon Peter, or to the eleven, at all of which both verification of his personality, if net worship at his feet, was permitted or encouraged. This hypothesis is perilously near to an assumption of a succession of illusive visions of that which had nothing but subjective reality.
(2) Olshausen and Schleiermacher give the utterly naturalistic view, that the Lord’s spiritual body was so tender that he could not bear a vigorous grasp or physical touch. Still worse,
(3) Paulus supposed that he was still suffering from his cruel wounds, which, of course, would only imply an apparent death on the cross, and is a denial of the Resurrection altogether.
(4) Meyer’s view seems to imply that Mary wondered whether he had only a glorified spirit without bodily form, and she wished to verify the latter by handling his Person, and “Jesus gives her by his verbal assurance the certainty she seeks, adding, For I am not yet ascended to the (my) Father; therefore as yet I am not a glorified spirit who has again come down from heaven, whither he had ascended.” This is very subtle, and is equivalent to our Lord’s saying, “Do not you, Mary, seek that kind of bodily tangible proof;” “I am not yet a glorified spirit, and have not yet the glorified body which you imagined.” The difficulty of this interpretation is not what Godet says, “Jesus glorified does not become pure spirit,” but that Mary is credited with a breadth and depth of apprehension so far in advance of her apparent despondency and her small amount of faith in the dignity of her Lord.
(5) Many take the μὴ μου ἄπτου, “Hold me not fast,” as though ἄπτομαι were equal to κρατεῖν, “to hold fast,” or to hold for purposes of enjoyment, and imply that Mary rushed to “embrace” our Lord (Hengstenberg and Bruckner), to clasp him by the knees or feet; that Jesus warned and repulsed the effort, implying that he repressed the exuberance of the joy which she manifested, pointing to a much higher and holier contact that would be possible when his glorification would be complete. Augustine, “‘ Touch me not,’ that is, Believe not thus on me according to thy present notions. For how could it be otherwise than carnally that she still believed on him whom she was weeping over as a man? For I am not yet ascended to my Father.’ There shalt thou touch me when thou believest me to be God in no wise unequal to the Father.” Leo the Great: “I am unwilling that you should approach me (carnaliter) by any mere physical touch, that you should recognize me by the physical senses (sensu carnis). I am drawing you to sublimer things; I am preparing greater things for you. When I shall have ascended to the Father, then you will handle me more perfectly and truly, being ready, as you then will be, to apprehend what you do not touch, and to believe that which you do not perceive.” Many of the most able of modern expositors adopt this view or some modification of it (Calvin, Melancthon, Lampe, De Wette, and Tholuck); Luthardt now sees a difficulty in this interpretation, from the twofold sense thus attributed to the word ἄπτεσθαι, and falls back on the earlier view, “Cling not to me, but go and tell my disciples,” etc. Godet, however, puts it thus: “I have not yet reached the state by means of’ which I shall be able to live with you in the communion which I promised you;” and many of the ecclesiastical divines discover in the words an allusion to sacramental communion which will be possible in the future, when the dispensation of the Holy Spirit shall have beau inaugurated. The ascension of which he speaks is not of one definitive act, but of a continual state (ἀναβε ́βηκα, not ἀνέβην), and so the idea of the repeated ascensions is precluded. The difficulty arises from the permission the Lord gave to the eleven to prove by tangible evidence, by visible signs, the reality of his resurrection, showing them by way of identification the marks upon his person of the great agony. But there is no need to suppose that Mary was refused one touch when she seemed wishful to cling to his feet, and thus redouble the conviction already wrought in her by sight and hearing of his new mode of being. Ἄπτεσθαι has this double meaning, “to handle” and “to hold fast.” The key of the passage is in the οὔπω, “not yet have I ascended to the Father;” and the reasonable, nay, the imperative, inference is that when he shall have ascended to the Father, there will be ample opportunity for that spiritual communion with him which will make him for ever present with his Church. The goal of all Christ’s teaching (as recorded by John) is his return to the Father, and the consequent fullness of his disciples’ joy. Because he will be glorified straightway in God himself, he will henceforth be as near to them, as competent to teach and guide and protect them, as in the days of his flesh; nay, more so, for they will do greater works than he wrought before them, because he goes to the Father, ascending up to where he was before (Joh_14:18-21, Joh_14:23, Joh_14:28; Joh_16:14, Joh_16:17). He will be “seated at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens,” he will pass “through these heavens, that he may fill all things.” Because he is “the Lamb in the midst of the throne,” he will lead them to the living fountains of water. Because he is on the eternal throne, he can dwell in them and manifest himself to them. But go to my brethren. The new name, dearer than “slaves,” than “servants,” than “disciples,” than “ministers,” than “apostles,” than “friends;” one that involves in itself an eternal inheritance. Observe that, though our Lord (Mat_12:48, etc.) had prepared the way for this unspeakable privilege, it is not until he has put on the life eternal, the life of victory over death, that he freely confers this lofty designation upon that timid and dispirited band of special followers who had forsaken him and fled in his great humiliation. Peter especially (Mar_16:7) receives this significant assurance and (Luk_24:34) confirms its realization together with Paul (1Co_15:5). These eleven men are henceforth his brethren. And say to them, I am ascending; the process of ascension has begun; I am beginning to assume all the prerogatives of spiritual corporeity; I am clothing myself with my eternal form; I have laid down my life, that I might take it again, and use it for the highest blessedness of my brethren. I am ascending to my Father, and to your Father. Let it be observed that he does not say, “to our Father.” “He who is Father of Christ and Father of men, is so in different ways. He is Father of Christ by nature and of men by grace” (Westcott). “He saith not ‘our Father;’ in one sense, therefore, is he mine, in another sense yours; by nature mine, by grace yours”. To my God, and your God. The same remark may be made here. Christ does speak of “my God” from the throne of glory (Rev_3:2, Rev_3:12). His human consciousness of God has throughout been unique; his eternal consciousness of the Father’s love dignified all his human relations with the Father, and became the true inspiration of all consciousness of God possessed by his disciples. “He appears in the presence [before the face] of God for us,” and so we have access unto one Father and draw near to God. Nevertheless, he did not say to “our God,” any more than to “our Father.”
Cambridge Bible Plummer
18. came and told] Better, cometh and telleth; literally, cometh telling instead of the more usual ‘having come telleth.’
Thus as Mary’s love seems to have been the first to manifest itself (Joh_20:1), so the first Manifestation of the Risen Lord is granted to her. It confirms our trust in the Gospel narratives to find this stated. A writer of a fictitious account would almost certainly have represented the first appearance as being to the Virgin, or to S. Peter, the chief of the Apostles, or to S. John, the beloved disciple, or to the chosen three. But these are all passed over, and this honour is given to her, who had once been possessed by seven devils, to Mary of Magdala, ‘for she loved much.’ A late and worthless tradition does assign the first appearance to the Virgin; but so completely has Christ’s earthly relationship to her been severed (Joh_19:26-27), that henceforth she appears only among the other believers (Act_1:14).
Mary the Magdalene cometh and telleth the disciples. She rushes at once with speed and zeal, and the word is on her tongue, I have seen (she does not say, I have grasped him by the hand, or kissed his feet) the Lord, and how that he said these things to her. This special message, not recorded in Mat_28:10, was clearly not given to the women who held his feet. Some harmonists endeavor to identify the narrative in Matthew with this passage and others to make Matthew’s narrative identical with the account of the revelations made to Joanna’s party at a later hour, and therefore entirely distinct from this. John’s account is free from ambiguity in itself, whereas the rapid summary given in Luke and the general impression produced by the whole group of events, as recorded by Matthew, suggest the need of supplementary intelligence. The narratives of the synoptists, then, record that in the course of this Easter Day a company of women who may reasonably be supposed to be those who bore the names of Joanna, Susanna, and others, and who had gone to the tomb with their spices, had been met by the Lord himself, either going or returning, and had received the summons to tell the disciples that he would see them in Galilee. The two disciples on their way to Emmaus had at length discovered that the mysterious stranger who accosted them and discoursed so fully was the Lord himself. They returned to Jerusalem to affirm the fact, and found the eleven rejoicing that the Lord had risen indeed, and that “he had appeared to Simon Peter.” It would certainly seem, and is at length admitted by all, that the narrative given in the following verses of events occurring on the late evening of the Easter Day could be none other than that which Luke describes (Luk_24:36). This is rendered somewhat perplexing by the record of Mar_16:12, that the language of the two disciples was not accepted by τοῖς λοιποῖς, “the rest.” But it is obvious from every one of the narratives how slow of heart even the apostles themselves were to accept the assurance of such unexpected and wonderful phenomena. The extreme dejection of the disciples, followed by their vigorous and invincible faith, is testified by each evangelist; but from the nature of the ease the resurrection of Jesus was, during the course of the entire day, doubted by some. The nature of the doubt, and the method in which it was put to rest, is portrayed in some detail by John (see note on verse 1).
19.When, therefore, it was evening. The Evangelist now relates that the resurrection of Christ was proved to the disciples by his presence. It did not happen without the providence of God, that all were assembled in one place, that the event might be more certain and more manifest. It is worthy of notice how gently Christ acted towards them, in not keeping them in suspense any longer than till the evening. Besides, he enlightened them, bringing the pledge of a new life, while darkness was overspreading the world.
Where the disciples were assembled. As to their having assembled, it was an indication of faith, or, at least, of religious feelings. As to the circumstance of their keeping themselves concealed by shut doors, we perceive in it some proof of their weakness; for, though the strongest and boldest minds are sometimes seized with fear, yet it may easily be inferred that the apostles, at that time, trembled in such a manner as to manifest the deficiency of their faith. This example is worthy of notice; for, though they are less courageous than they ought to have been, still they do not give way to their weakness. True, they seek concealment for the sake of avoiding danger, but they gather courage so far as to remain together; otherwise they would have been scattered hither and thither, and no man would have ventured to look at his neighbor. In this manner we ought to struggle against the weakness of our flesh, and not to indulge fear, which tempts us to apostacy. Christ also blesses their zeal, when he appears to them while they are assembled; and Thomas is justly deprived of the favor bestowed on all his brethren, because, like a wandering soldier, he had withdrawn from the standard of union. Here, then, is a lesson for those who are excessively timid, to sharpen and encourage themselves to correct their carnal fear; and particularly they ought to beware lest fear should cause them to scatter.
And while the doors were shut. This circumstance was expressly added, because it contains a manifest proof of the Divine power of Christ; but this is utterly at variance with the meaning of the Evangelist. We ought, therefore, to believe that Christ did not enter without a miracle, in order to give a demonstration of his Divinity, by which he might stimulate the attention of his disciples; and yet I am far from admitting the truth of what the Papists assert, that the body of Christ passed through the shut doors. Their reason for maintaining this is, for the purpose of proving not only that the glorious body of Christ resembled a spirit, but that it was infinite, and could not be confined to any one place. But the words convey no such meaning; for the Evangelist does not say that he entered through the shut doors, but that he suddenly stood in the midst of his disciples, though the doors had been shut, and had not been opened to him by the hand of man. We know that Peter (Act_10:10) went out of a prison which was locked; and must we, therefore, say that he passed through the midst of the iron and of the planks? Away, then, with that childish trifling, which contains nothing solid, and brings along with it many absurdities! Let us be satisfied with knowing that Christ intended, by a remarkable miracle, to confirm his disciples in their belief of his resurrection.
Peace be to you! This is the ordinary form of salutation among the Hebrews; and by the word peace they denote all that cheerfulness and prosperity which is usually desired for a happy life. The phrase, therefore, means, “May you be well and prosperous!” I mention this, because there are some who, in explaining these words, enter into unnecessary discussions about peace and harmony, though Christ intended nothing else than to desire that his disciples might be happy and prosperous.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
20: 19. Then the same day, &c.] Rather, When therefore it was evening on that day, the first day of the week. Note the great precision of the expression….
Comp. Joh_1:39, Joh_5:9, Joh_11:49, Joh_18:13, where ‘that’ has a similar meaning. Evidently the hour is late; the disciples have returned from Emmaus (Luk_24:23), and it was evening when they left Emmaus. At least it must be long after sunset, when the second day of the week, according to the Jewish reckoning, would begin. And S. John speaks of it as still part of the first day. This is a point in favour of S. John’s using the modern method in counting the hours: it has a special bearing on the explanation of ‘the seventh hour’ in Joh_4:52. See notes there and on Joh_19:14.
when the doors were shut] This is mentioned both here and Joh_20:26 to shew that the appearance was miraculous. After the Resurrection Christ’s human form, though still real and corporeal, is not subject to the ordinary conditions of material bodies. Before the Resurrection He was visible, unless He willed it otherwise; after the Resurrection it would seem that He was invisible, unless He willed it otherwise. Comp. Luk_24:31.
where the disciples were] The best authorities all omit ‘assembled.’ S. Luke says more definitely, ‘the eleven and they that were with them’ (Luk_24:33); ‘the eleven’ meaning the Apostolic company, although one was absent. It was natural that the small community of believers should be gathered together, not merely for mutual protection and comfort, but to discuss the reported appearances to the women and to S. Peter.
for fear of the Jews] Literally, because of the (prevailing) fear of the Jews (comp. Joh_7:13). It was not certain that the Sanhedrin would rest content with having put Jesus to death; all the less so as rumours of His being alive again were spreading.
came Jesus] It is futile to discuss how; that the doors were miraculously opened, as in S. Peter’s release from prison, is neither stated nor implied.
Peace be unto you] The ordinary greeting intensified. His last word to them in their sorrow before His Passion (Joh_16:33), His first word to them in their terror (Luk_24:37) at His return, is ‘Peace.’ Possibly the place was the same, the large upper room where they had last been all together.
When therefore it was evening, on that day, being the first day of the week; i.e. the close of the day on which the Lord had risen; on “that day” which became so memorable in the history of the Church. Consequently, after most astounding and independent revelations had been made to several individuals, about 8 p.m. there occurred that which John now proceeds to describe. The note of time identifies it with the scene and event described by Luke (Luk_24:36-43); consequently John had the former account before him in the record of his own reminiscences. To understand the full force of the passage we must bring to it the statements of Luke, Mark, and Paul. The disciples had been prepared,
(1) by the reports of the women, that the grave had been opened and was empty, and that angelic appearances had asserted the resurrection of Jesus.
(2) By the impression made on Peter and John when they found it as Mary and the other women had said. The disappearance of the body of Jesus, confirmed by the four independent lines of testimony, is strangely difficult to account for on any hypothesis except that of the Resurrection. The disciples were evidently confounded by the fact. The Pharisees and priestly party were quite aware that such an event would checkmate their supposed victory over a hated rival. The Roman soldiers were pledged in honor and by pride and passion not to allow themselves thus to be reduced to impotence. Hence there is no explanation of the rise or beginning of such a legend, except the historical fact.
(3) By an assertion of the Magdalene that she had seen the Lord, and that he had sent a special message to his brethren as to the completion of his glorification in his ascent to the Father.
(4) By the announcement, the details of which are not recited, concerning an appearance to Peter: this fact stands on remarkably strong evidence of Mark, Luke, and Paul.
(5) By the immense excitement of the appearance and disappearance of the Lord at Emmaus. This was evinced by the return of the two disciples to Jerusalem, charged with new ideas of the meaning of the Scriptures and of the will and power of God, and with fundamentally new notions of the very nature of spiritual body—body entirely and absolutely under the power of the spirit. The apostles were prepared for the wonderful manifestation of a new mode of being; but they needed something more convincing than they had yet received. They were still suffering from intellectual blindness and slowness of spirit, and were apparently incapable of accepting mere testimony. Mark’s statement (Mar_16:14) embraces the special scene which John describes in much more vivid and instructive manner (verses 26-29). But Luke expressly implies that far more than the eleven had gathered together, either in the room where the Paschal supper had been celebrated, or where the election of Matthias subsequently took place. Joseph and Nicodemus, the women, and some of the seventy disciples were there; nor can we conceive excluded from their fellowship Mary of Bethany, or Lazarus, or Simon the Cyreman, or the “brothers of the Lord” so designated. We are told that after the arrival of the Emmaus disciples, the doors having been locked (shut) where the disciples were [assembled £] because of the (their) fear of the Jews. This expression is once again repeated (verse 26), showing that, after the lapse of seven days, fear and precautions against surprise still prevailed. They were on both occasions in ignorance of the purpose or meaning of the Sanhedrin, nor could they tell whether the malice of the world would at once compel them to follow their Lord’s example, drink of his cup, and be baptized with his baptism. The doors were closed, when Jesus came, and stood in the midst—a phrase which is here identical with that in Luke’s narrative. Now, John, who, consonantly with Luke, has recorded his evidence that the body of Christ was not a phantasmal imagination, but a veritable, visible, and tangible reality (see Luk_24:37-43), identifiable with the very body which had been so cruelly wounded and bruised for them, takes special pains to hint, By a single clause, that the body of Christ was a new creation, and was submitted to laws profoundly different from those which we have generalized from the intimations of the five senses only. John does not say that the doors were opened by some magic process, nor that Christ simply passed through the closed doors, nor that they were miraculously removed; but that he had taken up his position before them by a process which, to the body made of the dust of the earth, would be supremely miraculous. Were we have a revelation made to prepared minds of a new order of existence (see Westcott’s ‘Revelations of the Risen Lord,’ and Milligan’s ‘Resurrection of Christ,’ on the likeness and on the unlikeness of the risen body with that which had died). It is more than possible—nay, it is entirely presumable—that the spiritual body becomes possessed of additional senses, of which we have no conception or experience; and, therefore, the spirit clothed with such body is alive to properties of matter and dimensions of space and active forces all of which would be supernatural to us, “cribbed, cabined, and confined” as we are now and here. Our Lord, before his Passion, gave numerous proofs of the dominance of his spirit over the body: his repeated escapes from his enemies, the power of his voice and glance, his transfiguration-glory, his superiority to gravitation in walking upon the sea and hushing its storms. So that he, on this occasion, is revealing to the world some of the functions of spiritual corporeity. £ He is manifesting the kind of life which will eventually be the condition of all the redeemed—visible and tangible at will to those who are limited to our present condition and stage of being, but also in its normal state invisible, impalpable, to eye and touch of mortal sense. There can be little doubt that John deeply recognized what Paul described as “the spiritual body.” Jesus stood suddenly in their midst, not a phantasm, as the disciples (or some of them) were ready to suggest. His first word, though consisting in form of the common salutation of the East, must have meant immeasurably more to them than it does in ordinary parlance. And Jesus saith unto them, Peace be to you! which, uttered in well-remembered tones, reminded them of how he had discriminated his “peace,” and his manner of giving it from the world’s “peace,” and the world’s manner of giving (Joh_14:27). It meant the hushing of their fear, the expulsion of terrible alarm (see Luk_24:37, Luk_24:38). This is John’s summary of all that he said. Luke, with much detail, records how the Lord proved that he was, not a mere subjective vision, but a veritable man, with flesh, and bones, and voice, and power to take food. Consequently the evangelists labor to make evident the fact that the spiritual resurrection-body, though a continuation of the old life, with signs of its identity, is, nevertheless, emancipated from the ordinary conditions of our material corporeity. This is one of the places where the narrative transcends experience and imagination, and appeals to faith in a higher order of being than crosses the field of scientific vision.
20.He showed them his hands and his side. It was necessary to add this confirmation, that by all these methods they might be fully assured that Christ was risen. If any person think it strange and inconsistent with the glory of Christ, that he should bear the marks of his wounds even after his resurrection, let him consider, first, that Christ rose not so much for himself as for us; and, secondly, that whatever contributes to our salvation is glorious to Christ; for, when he humbled himself for a time, this took nothing away from his majesty, and now, since those wounds, of which we are speaking, serve to confirm the belief of his resurrection, they do not diminish his glory. But if any person should infer from this, that Christ has still the wounded side and the pierced hands, that would be absurd; for it is certain that the use of the wounds was temporary, until the Apostles were fully convinced that he was risen from the dead.
Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. This means, that all the grief which had been occasional to them by the death of Christ was dispelled by his new life.
When he had said this—i.e. when he had uttered all that was involved in his Divine salutation—he showed them his hands and his side. Luke says “his hands and his feet;” John calls attention to the special wound in his sacred side, the making of which he had so closely described and verified (Joh_19:33-35). Igor was this vision of the Lord restricted to the ocular testimony, to the bare fact of the Resurrection, but it was a solemn assurance that he, though risen, had died for them. He is the Living One that was dead, and is alive for evermore. He is in the midst of the throne, a Lamb as it had been slain. In his greatest glory neither does he nor can his people forget his sacrificial death. “He showed them his hands and his side.” Some have argued, from John’s silence about his” feet,” that he intended to correct a general impression which the synoptic narrative had produced, viz. that our Lord’s feet had been nailed to the cross. There is no reason whatever for any such hypothesis. The evangelist simply emphasizes the ghastly proof of his Lord’s actual death, with its supernatural accompaniments, as a more vivid evidence of identity than the piercing of the feet: moreover, it was a fact to which he had borne special testimony. Some conception is given in both the Gospels of the marks and vestiges of the earthly pilgrimage which will survive death and pass on into the eternal world. The disciples, therefore, were glad when they saw the Lord. In Luk_24:41 we read that they were incredulous from the excess of their joy, and surcharged with wonder. In the bewilderment of their rapture he added to their assurance, and transformed their joy into faith by publicly and before them all participating in food. Extreme dejection is transformed into triumphant conviction of the truth. A new revelation had been made to them of the very nature of life, while the veil that had from the beginning of time concealed the abode of the blessed dead, had at length been rent in twain. They heard, they saw, they handled, the Word of life. They felt that in their Lord they too were now at home in both worlds. Their fellowship was with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.
21.Jesus saith to them again, Peace be to you. This second salutation appears to me to have no other object than that the Lord should receive such a degree of attention as was due to the greatness and importance of the subjects on which he was about to speak.
As the Father hath sent me. By these words, Christ, as it were, instals them in the office to which he had previously appointed them. True, they had been already sent throughout Judea, but only as heralds, to issue a command that the supreme Teacher should be heard, and not as Apostles, to execute a perpetual office of teaching. But now the Lord ordains them to be his ambassadors, to establish his kingdom in the world. Let it therefore be held by us as an ascertained truth, that the Apostles were now, for the first time, appointed to be ordinary ministers of the Gospel.
His words amount to a declaration, that hitherto he has discharged the office of a Teacher, and that, having finished his course, he now confers on them the same office; for he means that the Father appointed him to be a Teacher on this condition, that he should be employed, for a time, in pointing out the way to others, and should, afterwards, put those persons in his room to supply his absence, for this reason Paul says that he gave some, apostles; some, evangelists; some, pastors, to govern the Church till the end of the world, (Eph_4:11.) Christ therefore testifies, first, that, though he held a temporary office of teaching, still the preaching of the Gospel is not for a short time, but will be perpetual. Again, that his doctrine may not have less authority in the mouth of the Apostles, he bids them succeed to that office which he has received from his Father, placesthem in his room, and bestows on them the same authority; and it was proper that their ministry should be ratified in this manner, for they were unknown persons and of mean condition. Moreover, though they had the highest splendor and dignity, yet we know that all that belongs to men does not approach to the excellence of faith.
It is not without reason, therefore, that Christ communicates to his Apostles the authority which he received from the Father, that thus he may declare that the preaching of the Gospel was committed to him, nut by human authority, but by the command of God. But he does not substitute them in his room, in such a manner as to resign to them the highest authority as a teacher, which the Father intended to be vested in him alone. He therefore continues, and will eternally continue to be, the only Teacher of the Church; but there is only this difference, that he spoke with his mouth so long as he dwelt on earth, but now speaks by the Apostles. The succession or substitution, therefore, is of such a nature that it takes nothing from Christ, but his authority remains full and entire, and his honor unimpaired; for that decree by which we are enjoined to hear him, and not others, cannot be set aside:
This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him, (Mat_17:5.)
In short, Christ intended here to adorn the doctrine of the Gospel and not men.
It ought likewise to be observed, that the only subject which is handled in this passage is the preaching of the Gospel; for Christ does not send his Apostles to atone for sins, and to procure justification, as he was sent by the Father. Accordingly, he makes no allusion in this passage to anything which is peculiar to himself, but only appoints ministers and pastors to govern the Church; and on this condition, that he alone keeps possession of the whole power, while they claim nothing for themselves but the ministry.
21. Then said Jesus] Jesus therefore said; because now they were ready to receive it. Their alarm was dispelled and they knew that He was the Lord. He repeats His message of ‘Peace.’
as my Father, &c.] Better, As the Father hath sent Me. Christ’s mission is sometimes spoken of in the aorist tense, as having taken place at a definite point in history (Joh_3:17; Joh_3:34, Joh_5:38, Joh_6:29; Joh_6:57, Joh_7:29, Joh_8:42, Joh_10:36, Joh_11:42, Joh_17:3; Joh_17:8; Joh_17:18; Joh_17:21; Joh_17:23; Joh_17:25), in which case the fact of the Incarnation is the prominent idea. Sometimes, though much less often, it is spoken of, as here, in the perfect tense, as a fact which continues in its results (Joh_5:36; 1Jn_4:9; 1Jn_4:14), in which case the present and permanent effects of the mission are the prominent idea. Christ’s mission is henceforth to be carried on by His disciples.
The Greek for ‘send’ is not the same in both clauses; in the first, ‘hath sent,’ it is apostellein; in the second, ‘send,’ it is pempein. The latter is the most general word for ‘send,’ implying no special relation between sender and sent; the former adds the notion of a delegated authority constituting the person sent the envoy or representative of the Sender. Both verbs are used both of the mission of Christ and of the mission of the disciples. Apostellein is used of the mission of Christ in all the passages quoted above: it is used of the mission of the disciples, Joh_4:38, Joh_17:18. (Comp. Joh_1:6; Joh_1:19; Joh_1:24, Joh_3:28, Joh_5:33, Joh_7:32, Joh_11:3.) Pempein is used of Christ’s mission only in the aorist participle (Joh_4:34, Joh_5:23-24; Joh_5:30; Joh_5:37, Joh_6:38-40; Joh_6:44, Joh_7:16; Joh_7:18; Joh_7:28; Joh_7:33, Joh_8:16; Joh_8:18; Joh_8:26; Joh_8:29, Joh_9:4; and in all the passages in chaps. 12–16); the aorist participle of apostellein is not used by S. John, although the Synoptists use it in this very sense (Mat_10:40; Mar_9:37; Luk_9:48; Luk_10:16). Pempein is used of disciples here and in Joh_13:20 (of the Spirit, Joh_14:26, Joh_16:7).
“The general result … seems to be, that in this charge the Lord presents His own Mission as the one abiding Mission of the Father; this He fulfils through His Church. His disciples receive no new commission, but carry out His.” Westcott in loco.
send I you] Or, am I sending you; their mission has already begun (comp. Joh_20:17, Joh_17:9); and the first and main part of it was to be the proclamation of the truth just brought home to themselves—the Resurrection (Act_1:22; Act_2:24; Act_4:2; Act_4:33, &c.).
Therefore [Jesus ] said unto them again, Peace be unto you. With added emphasis, and in obvious reference to his valedictory discourse, he gave to them the essence of his own sublime repose, the blending of an infinite joy with a measureless sorrow; the equilibrium that springs from the spirit mastering the flesh. Not an ecstatic rapture, nor a joy that would make their life on earth insupportable by its contrast with their abiding frame of mind; but peace—”the peace of God, which passeth understanding.” The first “peace” gave to all who were assembled a new revelation; the second “peace,” a summons to service. The Lord added the memorable words, As the Father hath sent me (ἀπέσταλκε, hath sent me on a special commission), I also send you (πέμπω, charge you to go forth and accomplish this commission of mine); see Westcott’s excursus on the New Testament usage of the two verbs, which does much to justify these shades of meaning. Both verbs are used of both the mission of the Son and the mission of believers, but in the two senses,
(1) that sometimes the special service on which he or they are sent is emphasized by the use of ἀποστε ́λλω; and
(2) that at other times the simple mission or sending forth is the dominant idea when πέμπω is employed. Thus in Joh_4:38 the Lord says, “I sent (ἀπέστειλα) you to reap that on which ye bestowed no labor;” and Joh_17:18 (see note) the same word is appropriately used twice—for the Lord’s own commission, and also for the commission of the disciples. Then it seems to point back to an event in their history and the work done already and before Christ’s death for the world. Now the disciples have a new conception of Christ and of his work, and they must go forth to fulfill it. This usage of ἀποστε ́λλω is more or less conspicuous in Joh_1:6; Joh_3:28; Joh_5:33; Joh_18:24. Πέμπω is used often to describe the Father’s mission of the Son, the mission of the Comforter, and the mission of the disciples (Joh_13:20; Joh_14:26; Joh_16:7). Moulton says, ” Ἀροστε ́λλω means ‘commission’ and πέπμω ‘mission.’ With the first word our thoughts turn to the ‘special embassy;’ with the second, to the authority of the ‘ ambassador’ and the obedience of the sent.” Another peculiarity of this passage is that the Lord uses the perfect tense, ἀπέσταλκε, rather than the aorist used elsewhere, suggesting a complete commission on his own side, whose meaning and effects are still in operation. Those who have received this revelation are to become at once witnesses to the fact of his resurrection, agents and organs of his Spirit. Moulton suggests that τέμπω is used in order to enforce the physical separation between the Lord and his disciples; and that we cannot overlook in the similarity of the ideas the difference in the manner of the sending, by the Savior of the disciples, from the manner in which the Son had been sent by the Father. Christ came forth from the eternal companionship of the Father, in the fact of his incarnation, taking humanity up into his eternal substance. The disciples were sent forth by the risen Lord, who had called them by grace into fellowship with himself, and who equipped them for his service. The difference in these two methods of sending is as conspicuous as the resemblance.
22.He breathed on them. Not one of the sons of men is qualified for discharging so difficult an office, and, therefore, Christ prepares the Apostles for it by the grace of his Spirit. And, indeed, to govern the Church of God, to carry the embassy of eternal salvation, to erect the kingdom of God on earth, and to raise men to heaven, is a task far beyond human capacity. We need not be astonished, therefore, that no man is found qualified unless he be inspired by the Holy Spirit; for no man can speak a word concerning Christ unless the Spirit guide his tongue, (1Co_12:3;) so far is it from being true that there is any man who is competent to discharge faithfully and honestly all the duties of so excellent an office. Again, it is the glory of Christ alone to form those whom he appoints to be teachers of his Church; for the reason why the fullness of the Spirit has been poured out upon him is, that he may bestow it upon each person according to a certain measure.
Receive ye the Holy Spirit. Though he continues to be the only Shepherd of his Church, he must necessarily display the power of his Spirit in the ministers whose agency he employs; and this also he testified by the outward symbol, when he breathed on the Apostles; for this would not be applicable, if the Spirit did not proceed from him. So much the more detestable is the sacrilege of the Papists, who seize and claim for themselves the honor which belongs to the Son of God, for their mitred bishops, when they make priests, have the effrontery to boast of breathing the Holy Spirit on them. But the fact plainly shows how different their stinking breath is from the Divine breathing of Christ; for what else is it that they do than to change horses into asses? Besides, not only does Christ communicate to his disciples the Spirit which he has received, but he bestows it as his own, as the Spirit which he has in common with the Father. Consequently, all those who boast of giving the Spirit by breathing lay claim to the glory of Divinity.
It ought to be observed, that those whom Christ calls to the pastoral office he likewise adorns with the necessary gifts, that they may be qualified for discharging the office, or, at least, may not come to it empty and unprovided. And if this be true, there is no difficulty in refuting the foolish boasting of the Papists, who, while they employ lofty terms of commendation in extolling their hierarchy, cannot show a single spark of the Holy Spirit in their bishops. They wish us to believe that they are the lawful pastors of the Church, and, in like manner, that they are the apostles and vicars of Christ, while it is evident that they are utterly destitute of the grace of the Holy Spirit. A sure criterion is here laid down for judging of the calling of those who govern the Church of God; and that criterion is, if we see that they have received the Holy Spirit
What Christ chiefly, however, intended by it was, to uphold the dignity of the rank of the Apostles; for it was reasonable that those, who had been chosen to be the earliest and most distinguished preachers of the Gospel, should possess uncommon authority. But if Christ, at that time, bestowed the Spirit on the Apostles by breathing, it may be thought that it was superfluous to send the Holy Spirit afterwards. I reply, the Spirit was given to the Apostles on this occasion in such a manner, that they were only sprinkled by his grace, but were not filled with full power; for, when the Spirit appeared on them in tongues of fire, (Act_2:3,) they were entirely renewed. And, indeed, he did not appoint them to be heralds of his Gospel, so as to send them forth immediately to the work, but ordered them to take repose, as we read elsewhere, Remain ye in the city of Jerusalem till ye are endued with power from on high, (Luk_24:49.)
And if we take all things properly into consideration, we shall conclude, not that he furnishes them with necessary gifts for present use, but that he appoints them to be the organs of his Spirit for the future; and, therefore, this breathing ought to be understood as referring chiefly to that magnificent act of sending the Spirit which he had so often promised.
Although Christ might have bestowed grace on his Apostles by a secret inspiration, he chose to add a visible breathing in order to confirm them more fully. Christ took this outward emblem from the ordinary manner of speaking in the Scriptures, which very frequently compare the Spirit to wind; a comparison which we briefly accounted for in the exposition of the Third Chapter of this Gospel. But let the reader observe, that with the visible and outward sign the word is also joined; for this is the source from which the sacraments derive their efficacy; not that the efficacy of the Holy Spirit is contained in the word which sounds in our ears, but because the effect of all those things which believers receive from the sacraments depends on the testimony of the word. Christ breathes on the Apostles: they receive not only the breathing, but also the Spirit. And why, but because Christ promises to them?
In like manner, in baptism we put on Christ, (Gal_3:27,) we are washed by his blood, (Rev_1:5,) our old man is crucified, (Rom_6:6,) in order that the righteousness of God may reign in us. In the Holy Supper we are spiritually fed with the flesh and blood of Christ. Whence do they derive so great efficacy but from the promise of Christ, who does and accomplishes by his Holy Spirit what he declares by his word? Let us therefore learn, that all the sacraments which men have contrived are nothing else than absolute mockeries or frivolous amusements, because the signs can have no truth unless they be accompanied by the word of the Lord. Now, since we never sport in this manner with sacred things, without wickedly pouring contempt on God and ruining souls, we ought to be most carefully on our guard against those stratagems of Satan.
If it be objected, that we ought not to blame the Popish bishops, when by breathing they consecrate their priests, because in those cases the word of Christ accompanies the sign, the answer is obvious. In the first place, Christ did not speak to the Apostles so as to appoint a perpetual sacrament in the Church, but intended to declare once what we said a little ago, that the Spirit proceeds from no other than from himself alone. Secondly, he never appoints men to an office without at the same time communicating strength to his ministers, and furnishing them with ability. I do not mention that in Popery the priests are ordained for a totally different, or rather a contrary purpose; namely, to murder Christ daily, while the disciples were made Apostles in order to slay men by the sword of the Gospel. Yet we ought also to believe that it is Christ alone who gives all the blessings which he represents and promises by outward signs; for he does not bid the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit from the outward breathing, but from himself.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
22. he breathed on them] The very same Greek verb (here only in N.T.) is used by the LXX. in Gen_2:7 (Wis_15:11) of breathing life into Adam. This Gospel of the new Creation looks back at its close, as at its beginning (Joh_1:1), to the first Creation.
We are probably to regard the breath here not merely as the emblem of the Spirit (Joh_3:8), but as the means by which the Spirit was imparted to them. ‘Receive ye,’ combined with the action of breathing, implies this. This is all the more clear in the Greek, because pneuma means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit,’ a point which cannot be preserved in English; but at least ‘Spirit’ is better than ‘Ghost’ We have here, therefore, an anticipation and earnest of Pentecost; just as Christ’s bodily return from the grave and temporary manifestation to them was an anticipation of His spiritual return and abiding Presence with them ‘even unto the end of the world.’
Receive ye] Or, take ye, implying that the recipient may welcome or reject the gift: he is not a mere passive receptacle. It is the very word used for ‘Take’ (Mat_26:26; Mar_14:22; Luk_22:17) in the account of the institution of the Eucharist; which somewhat confirms the view that here, as there, there is an outward sign and vehicle of an inward spiritual grace. The expression still more plainly implies that some gift was offered and bestowed then and there: it is an unnatural wresting of plain language to make ‘Take ye’ a mere promise. There was therefore a Paschal as distinct from a Pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit, the one preparatory to the other. It should be noticed that ‘Holy Ghost’ is without the definite article in the Greek, and this seems to imply that the gift is not made in all its fulness. See on Joh_14:26, where both substantive and adjective have the article.
23.To all whose sins you shall remit. Here, unquestionably, our Lord has embraced, in a few words, the sum of the Gospel; for we must not separate this power of forgiving sins from the office of teaching, with which it is closely connected in this passage. Christ had said a little before, As the living Father hath sent me, so I also send you He now makes a declaration of what is intended and what is meant by this embassy, only he interwove with that declaration what was necessary, that he gave to them his Holy Spirit, in order that they might have nothing from themselves.
The principal design of preaching the Gospel is, that men may be reconciled to God, and this is accomplished by the unconditional pardon of sins; as Paul also informs us, when he calls the Gospel, on this account, the ministry of reconciliation, (2Co_5:18.) Many other things, undoubtedly, are contained in the Gospel, but the principal object which God intends to accomplish by it is, to receive men into favor by not imputing their sins. If, therefore, we wish to show that we are faithful ministers of the Gospel, we must give our most earnest attention to this subject; for the chief point of difference between the Gospel and heathen philosophy lies in this, that the Gospel makes the salvation of men to consist in the forgiveness of sins through free grace. This is the source of the other blessings which God bestows, such as, that God enlightens and regenerates us by his Spirit, that he forms us anew to his image, that he arms us with unshaken firmness against the world and Satan. Thus the whole doctrine of godliness, and the spiritual building of the Church, rests on this foundation, that God, having acquitted us from all sins, adopts us to be his children by free grace.
While Christ enjoins the Apostles to forgive sins, he does not convey to them what is peculiar to himself. It belongs to him to forgive sins. This honor, so far as it belongs peculiarly to himself, he does not surrender to the Apostles, but enjoins them, in his name, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, that through their agency he may reconcile men to God. In short, properly speaking, it is he alone who forgives sins through his apostles and ministers.
But it may be asked, Since he appoints them to be only the witnesses or heralds of this blessing, and not the authors of it, why does he extol their power in such lofty terms? I reply, he did so in order to confirm their faith. Nothing is of more importance to us, than to be able to believe firmly, that our sins do not come into remembrance before God. Zacharias, in his song, calls it the knowledge of salvation, (Luk_1:77;) and, since God employs the testimony of men to prove it, consciences will never yield to it, unless they perceive God himself speaking in their person. Paul accordingly says, We exhort you to be reconciled to God, as if Christ besought you by us, (2Co_5:20.)
We now see the reason why Christ employs such magnificent terms, to commend and adorn that ministry which he bestows and enjoins on the Apostles. It is, that believers may be fully convinced, that what they hear concerning the forgiveness of sins is ratified, and may not less highly value the reconciliation which is offered by the voice of men, than if God himself stretched out his hand from heaven. And the Church daily receives the most abundant benefit from this doctrine, when it perceives that her pastors are divinely ordained to be sureties for eternal salvation, and that it must not go to a distance to seek the forgiveness of sins, which is committed to their trust.
Nor ought we to esteem less highly this invaluable treasure, because it is exhibited in earthen vessels; but we have ground of thanksgiving to God, who hath conferred on men so high an honor, as to make them the ambassadors and deputies of God, and of his Son, in declaring the forgiveness of sins. There are fanatics who despise this embassy; but let us know, that, by doing so, they trample under foot the blood of Christ.
Most absurdly do the Papists, on the other hand, torture this passage, to support their magical absolutions. If any person do not confess his sins in the ear of the priest, he has no right, in their opinion, to expect forgiveness; for Christ intended that sins should be forgiven through the Apostles, and they cannot absolve without having examined the matter; therefore, confession is necessary. Such is their beautiful argument. But they fall into a strange blunder, when they pass by the most important point of the matter; namely, that this right was granted to the Apostles, in order to maintain the credit of the Gospel, which they had been commissioned to preach. For Christ does not here appoint confessors, to inquire minutely into each sin by means of low mutterings, but preachers of his Gospel, who shall cause their voice to be heard, and who shall seal on the hearts of believers the grace of the atonement obtained through Christ. We ought, therefore, to keep by the manner of forgiving sins, so as to know what is that power which has been granted to the apostles.
And to those whose sins you retain. Christ adds this second clause, in order to terrify the despisers of his Gospel, that they may know that they will not escape punishment for this pride. As the embassy of salvation and of eternal life has been committed to the apostles, so, on the other hand, they have been armed with vengeance against all the ungodly, who reject the salvation offered to them, as Paul teaches, (2Co_10:6.) But this is placed last in order, because it was proper that the true and real design of preaching the Gospel should be first exhibited. That we are reconciled to God belongs to the nature of the Gospel; that believers are ad-judged to eternal life may be said to be accidentally connected with it. For this reason, Paul, in the passage which I lately quoted, when he threatens vengeance against unbelievers, immediately adds, after that your obedience shall have been fulfilled, (2Co_10:6;)
for he means, that it belongs peculiarly to the Gospel to invite all to salvation, but that it is accidental to it that it brings destruction to any.
It ought to be observed, however, that every one who hears the voice of the Gospel, if he do not embrace the forgiveness of sins which is there promised to him, is liable to eternal damnation; for, as it is a living savior to the children of God, so to those who perish it is the savour of death to death, (2Co_2:16.) Not that the preaching of the Gospel is necessary for condemning the reprobate, for by nature we are all lost, and, in addition to the hereditary curse, every one draws down on himself additional causes of death, but because the obstinacy of those who knowingly and willingly despise the Son of God deserves much severer punishment.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
23. Whose soever sins, &c.] This power accompanies the gift of the Spirit just conferred. It must be noticed (1) that it is given to the whole company present; not to the Apostles alone. Of the Apostles one was absent, and there were others who were not Apostles present: no hint is given that this power is confined to the Ten. The commission therefore in the first instance is to the Christian community as a whole, not to the Ministry alone.
It follows from this (2) that the power being conferred on the community and never revoked, the power continues so long as the community continues. While the Christian Church lasts it has the power of remitting and retaining along with the power of spiritual discernment which is part of the gift of the Spirit. That is, it has the power to declare the conditions on which forgiveness is granted and the fact that it has or has not been granted.
It should be noted (3) that the expression throughout is plural on both sides. As it is the community rather than individuals that is invested with the power, so it is classes of men rather than individuals on whom it is exercised. God deals with mankind not in the mass but with personal love and knowledge soul by soul. His Church in fulfilling its mission from Him, while keeping this ideal in view, is compelled for the most part to minister to men in groups and classes. The plural here seems to indicate not what must always or ought to be the case, but what generally is.
are remitted … are retained] Both verbs are perfects, though there is some doubt about the reading as regards the former. The force of the perfect is—‘are ipso facto remitted’—‘are ipso facto retained.’ When the community under the guidance of the Spirit has spoken, the result is complete.
retain] i.e. ‘hold fast,’ so that they do not depart from the sinner. The word occurs here only in this Gospel. In Revelation it is used of ‘holding fast doctrine,’ &c. (Joh_2:14-15; Joh_2:25, Joh_3:11; comp. 2Th_2:15).
And when he had said this, he breathed upon them, and saith to them, Receive ye (the) Holy Spirit. The word ἐνεφυ ́σησεν is not elsewhere used in the New Testament, but is used by the LXX. in Gen_2:7 to describe the essential distinction between the living soul of Adam and the living soul of all other animals. Man’s life was no evolution of the life in other creatures, or consequence of pre-existent properties in the dust of the ground. A direct volition of the Almighty conferred upon humanity the life of the flesh. So here the second Adam, the life-giving Spirit (1Co_15:45), was represented as visibly and sensibly conferring on those whom he now sends forth to complete the mission of his grace the Divine life which would make them new creatures, and bestow on them power to generate the same spirit in others. They will have power to do this by bearing testimony to that which they see and know to be the fact of the ease. The celebrated passage (Joh_7:39) which asserts the “glorification” of Jesus to be the condition of the mission of the Comforter (cf. Joh_16:7) makes the bestowment of the Spirit on this occasion a proof that the glorification had already begun. Has he not already said to Mary, “I am ascending to my Father”? So now he implies that the. time will come when, though he is sending his disciples forth from his immediate corporeal presence, they will touch him by other faculties than eye, or ear, or hand. He is about to leave them for seven days; they are to learn the reality of his spiritual presence by an earnest of Pentecost, by such a gift of the Spirit that they will recognize, in the rushing mighty wind, the presence of the same uplifting, revealing, supernatural Energy. It is urged by Hofmann, Luthardt, Gess, Moulton, and to some extent Westcott and Coder, that the absence of the article must be represented in the translation, that we have here either “a holy spirit,” or an energy, an impersonal force of Spirit, or “a gift of the Holy Spirit,” an effusion of Holy Spirit, and not “the Spirit of the Father and Son,” not the fullness of the Holy Ghost, not the realization of the Divine indwelling, only an earnest of the sublime reality, a symbolic expression of the promise of the Father. Godet says, “This communication is to the Resurrection what Pentecost will be to the Ascension. As by Pentecost he will initiate them into his ascension, so now he associates them with the life of the Resurrection.” This last may be perfectly true; yet Πνεῦμα Ἅγιον, with or without article, is “the Holy Spirit” (cf. Rom_8:4; Gal_5:16). Meyer says, “The idea of an intermediate Holy Spirit, distinct from the Holy Spirit, lies outside of Scripture.” Nor can we minimize the full force of λάβετε, which emphasizes the special action of Christ, by which he communicated to this first gathering of the Church the sense of his Divine presence, the gift of spiritual insight, the God-consciousness, the experience of two worlds, the unity and community of life with himself, which has been augmenting in positive realization, in vivid proofs, in mighty powers, from that hour to this. Whosoever enters into the sphere of that Divine breath becomes “alive unto God;” his faith is invincible; he comes to know that which passes current experience. This was the beginning of the supernatural life which makes Christian consciousness unique among religious experiences. From that hour the holy world and kingdom in which Christ rules has been an objective fact. It lies far beyond the ken of science, and cannot find any place in a sensational philosophy, because it is not a universal experience. It will become so. The further revelations of the Lord all contributed to create the conviction, and Pentecost sealed it to the world. It is desirable to remember (cf. Luk_24:33, etc.) that not merely the eleven apostles received this Divine girl but all the others who had gathered together with them. This circumstance must be held to govern to some extent the solemn and mysterious privilege which appears to follow the Divine bestowment of the Holy Spirit. We cannot divide the company into two parts, one of which received the Holy Spirit, and the other which did not receive him; one of which became conscious of the Divine reality, and the other not. The women who had been the first witnesses and proclaimers of the resurrection-life of the Lord could not have been deprived of this sublime privilege. To the little society of believers, before long to swell to a company of a hundred and twenty, was this great grace given, and to the new fellowship of faith was the high privilege vouchsafed; for he continued, Whosesoever sins ye (remit) forgive, they are forgiven £ unto them—absolutely forgiven by God; for who can forgive sins but God only, and the Son of man who had and exercised the power on earth to forgive sins?—and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. The history of the interpretation of this remarkable passage is given at length in Herzog’s ‘Real Encycl.,’ art. “Schliisselgewelt,” by Stein. The patristic, scholastic, Tridentine,’ Reformation doctrines are very carefully treated. The decrees of the Council of Trent, session 16. co. 1.—6., show that every form in which apostolic custom, reformed theology, and modern exegesis have solved the problem of their meaning, was repudiated and anathematized by the Church of Rome, and that the function of forgiving or retaining sin was reserved for the priesthood alone, whether in respect of venial or mortal sin (see ‘ Ecclesia: Church Problems considered in a Series of Essays,’ article by the present writer “On Forgiveness and Absolution of Sins”). It is impossible to sever this passage from those passages in Mat_16:19 where Peter’s confession of the Messiahship draws forth from the Lord the extraordinary benediction and privilege, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Lightfoot and Schöttgen have shown, by numerous quotations from the Talmud, that the phrases “bind” and “loose” are repeatedly used by the rabbis to denote the declaration of what is binding and what is immaterial in ethic and religions life. Thus say they, “The school of Hillel binds, the school of Schammai looses or declares indifferent, this or that regulation.” We know that it was given to Peter, by the conference upon him of the powers of the Holy Ghost, to declare the terms of admission and exclusion from the kingdom of God. Thus Act_2:37-39; Act_3:19; Act_5:1-11; Act_8:20-24; Act_10:34-48; Act_11:17; Act_15:8, etc. Now, we find James in the same assembly proceeding still further than Simon Peter (James, who was not even one of the twelve disciples); and Paul repeatedly, in the Acts and in his Epistles, declaring by Divine inspiration the duties, the privileges, the ideas, the redeeming principles, of the kingdom of God, “binding and loosing,” in the full confidence that he was the minister and mouthpiece of Jesus Christ. This is not remarkable, because we find that the identical privilege which was in Mat_16:1-28. described as a privilege of Peter is in Mat_18:15-19 conferred, not merely on Peter, but on the whole Church, and still more explicitly upon any two who should agree as touching the forgiveness of a brother, to ask the Father in heaven for this great boon. This privilege is based on the ground that “where two or three are gathered together” in Christ’s Name, there, says he, “am I in the midst of them.” If the offending brother had refused all repentance and neglected to hear the judgment of the Church, this prayer cannot be urged. Peter then seeks for further information, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?” In answer to this question Christ reminded Peter of the Father’s boundless love, and made it the pattern of human forgiveness; and the whole question of the forgiveness of injuries is shown to be closely associated with this binding and loosing power, this anticipation, this discovery of the will of the Father, this acquisition of the truth in answer to earnest prayer. Prayer is, as we have seen in numberless places, the rising up of human desires into the very purposes and grace of God, not a change wrought by us in the mind and will of God—God forbid that we should ever, to our contusion, secure such a result as that!—but it is in essence a change wrought by God in us, helping us to say, “Thy will be done!” Let it be borne m mind that this privilege of learning and uttering in our prayers the forgiving love of God, upon the conditions of repentance and faith and a forgiving spirit, is not confined to Peter, but conferred on all the disciples, nay, upon any two of them who should agree to pray with the sinning brother for forgiveness. This great law of love, prayer, and forgiveness was doubtless given for all time. Our Lord, in this repetition of a promise made on an earlier occasion, emits all reference to the binding in heaven of what is bound on earth. Yet he does not repeal the promise, but rather specifies the occasions on which the disciples would find that most frequently they would have to exercise it. Whosesoever sins ye, etc. It is as much as to say—Announce boldly remission of sins on conditions of faith and repentance (Luk_24:47) “to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Your forgiveness even of my murderers, your forgiveness of’ Samaritans and publicans, of chief priests and Pharisees, of Greeks and Jews, of those that stone you and persecute you; as well as your announcement of the infinite compassion of God, shall be justified and ratified in heaven. This has been the divinest function of the Church and of the disciples of Christ ever since. There is no case that we can find in the New Testament in which the apostles as an order of men, or the ministers of the Church as such, assumed in any other way the power of personally forgiving, in the stead of God, the specific sins of any individuals. We cannot here trace the matter into the controversies that have arisen as to the power of a specially ordered ministry to absolve personally individual sinners from the consequences of their sin against God. Spiritual communion with Christ, personal reception from Christ himself of his own Spirit, is the highest guarantee of power to proclaim with emancipating effect the amnesty of love, or to utter with subduing might the terrors of the Lord.
26.Reach hither thy finger. We have already spoken once about Christ’s entrance, and the form of salutation which he employed. When Christ so readily yields to the improper request of Thomas, and, of his own accord, invites him to feel his hands, and touch the wound of his side, we learn from this how earnestly desirous he was to promote our faith and that of Thomas; for it was not to Thomas only, but to us also, that he looked, that nothing might be wanting which was necessary for confirming our faith.
The stupidity of Thomas was astonishing and monstrous; for he was not satisfied with merely beholding Christ out wished to have his hands also as witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. Thus he was not only obstinate, but also proud and contemptuous in his treatment of Christ. Now, at least, when he saw Christ, he ought to have been overwhelmed with shame and amazement; but, on the contrary, he boldly and fearlessly stretches forth his hand, as if he were not conscious of any guilt; for it may be readily inferred from the words of the Evangelist, that he did not repent before that he had convinced himself by touching. Thus it happens that, when we render to the word of God less honor than is due to it, there steals upon us, without our knowledge, a glowing obstinacy, which brings along with it a contempt of the word of God, and makes us lose all reverence for it. So much the more earnestly should we labor to restrain the wantonness of our mind, that none of us, by improperly indulging in contradiction, and extinguishing, as it were, the feeling of piety, may block up against ourselves the gate of faith.
My Lord and my God! Thomas awakes at length, though late, and as persons who have been mentally deranged commonly do when they come to themselves, exclaims, in astonishment, My Lord and my God! For the abruptness of the language has great vehemence; nor can it be doubted that shame compelled him to break out into this expression, in order to condemn his own stupidity. Besides, so sudden an exclamation shows that faith was not wholly extinguished in him, though it had been choked; for in the side or hands of Christ he does not handle Christ’s Divinity, but from those signs he infers much more than they exhibited. Whence comes this, but because, after forgetfulness and deep sleep, he suddenly comes to himself? This shows, therefore, the truth of what I said a little ago, that the faith which appeared to be destroyed was, as it were, concealed and buried in his heart.
The same thing happens sometimes with many persons; for they grow wanton for a time, as if they had cast off all fear of God, so that there appears to be no longer any faith in them; but as soon as God has chastised them with a rod, the rebellion of their flesh is subdued, and they return to their right senses. It is certain that disease would not, of itself, be sufficient to teach piety; and hence we infer, that, when the obstructions have been removed, the good seed, which had been concealed and crushed, springs up. We have a striking instance of this in David; for, so long as he is permitted to gratify his lust, we see how he indulges without restraint. Every person would have thought that, at that time, faith had been altogether banished from his mind; and yet, by a short exhortation of the Prophet, he is so suddenly recalled to life, that it may easily be inferred, that some spark, though it had been choked, still remained in his mind, and speedily burst into a flame. So far as relates to the men themselves, they are as guilty as if’ they had renounced faith and all the grace of the Holy Spirit; but the infinite goodness of God prevents the elect from falling so low as to be entirely alienated from God. We ought, therefore, to be most zealously on our guard not to fall from faith; and yet we ought to believe that God restrains his elect by secret bridle, that they may not fall to their destruction, and that He always cherishes miraculously in their hearts some sparks of faith, which he afterwards, at the proper time, kindles anew by the breath of his Spirit.
There are two clauses in this confession. Thomas acknowledges that Christ is his Lord, and then, in the second clauses, he ascends higher, and calls him also his God. We know in what sense Scripture gives to Christ the name of Lord. It is, because the rather hath appointed him to be the highest governor, that he may hold all things under his dominion., that every knee may bow before him, (Phi_2:10,) and., in short, that he may be the Father’s vicegerent in governing the world. Thus the name Lord properly belongs to him, so far as he is the Mediator manifested in the flesh, and the Head of the Church. But Thomas, having acknowledged him to be Lord, is immediately carried upwards to his eternal Divinity, and justly; for the reason why Christ descended to us, and first was humbled, and afterwards was placed at the Father’s right hand, and obtained dominion over heaven and earth, was, that he might exalt us to his own Divine glory, and to the glory of the Father. That our faith may arrive at the eternal Divinity of Christ., we must begin with that knowledge which is nearer and more easily acquired. Thus it has been justly said by some, that by Christ Man we are conducted to Christ God, because our faith makes such gradual progress that, perceiving Christ on earth, born in a stable, and hanging on a cross., it rises to the glory of his resurrection, and, proceeding onwards, comes at length to his eternal life and power, in which his Divine Majesty is gloriously displayed.
Yet we ought to believe, that we cannot know Christ as our Lord, in a proper manner, without immediately obtaining also a knowledge of his Divinity. Nor is there any room to doubt that this ought to be a confession common to all believers., when we perceive that it is approved by Christ. He certainly would never have endured that the Father should be robbed of the honour due to him, and that this honor should be falsely and groundlessly conveyed to himself. But he plainly ratifies what Thomas said; and, therefore, this passage is abundantly sufficient for refuting the madness of Arius; for it is not lawful to imagine two Gods. Here also is declared the unity of person in Christ; for the same Jesus Christ is called both God and Lord. Emphatically, to, he twice calls him his own, MYLord and MY God! declaring, that he speaks in earnest, and with a lively sentiment of faith.
And after eight days—i.e. after the Passover week was over, during which the disciples were pondering the new revelations of the Easter Day, and becoming more able to understand the meaning of a spiritual presence—to understand what the real “touching” of the risen Lord meant—again his disciples were within the same or a similar abode referred to in Joh_20:19. Some have urged that this manifestation occurred in Galilee, whither the disciples had been directed to journey to receive the most convincing proofs of his power and presence. There is no evidence of this at all, and the form of expression corresponds so closely with the description of the conditions of the first meeting, that we cannot accept the suggestion of Olshausen and others. Some have urged that this is the beginning of the celebration of the Resurrection-day—the sanctification of the first day of the week. Such a conclusion cannot be positively asserted. “Eight days” having fully elapsed might bring them to the evening of the second day of the second week. The expression, “seven days,” is unquestionably used for a week in the Old Testament, though Luke (Luk_9:28) seems to use the expression, “about eight days,” for a well-known division of time, probably “from sabbath to sabbath;” and from the Jewish way of reckoning the beginning of a day on the sunset of the preceding day, we might reckon that, from the middle of the first Sunday to the evening of the second, the period would include parts of eight days. There is nothing, therefore, to prevent the calculation of parts of eight days from the great events of Easter Day as a whole to the evening of the second Sunday. And though, as Meyer says, there is nothing indicative of any consecration of the first day of the week, it is obviously calculated to explain the custom which so rapidly sprang up in the Christian community. Nor is it without interest that John, in the Apocalypse, described himself as receiving his first great vision on “the Lord’s day.” And Thomas was with them. He had not broken with the disciples, even if he could not accept their unanimous testimony. He was now, at least, sharing their excitement, and perhaps their hope, and many in addition to the eleven disciples were striving to realize with them the new condition of things, even their common relation to an invisible and triumphant Lord. The Gospel of Matthew and the undisputed portion of Mar_16:1-20. describe no appearance to the apostles in Jerusalem, and consequently the opponents of the Fourth Gospel have commented on the apostles’ cowardly flight from Jerusalem, and on the unhistoric character of the two appearances to them in the metropolis. The fact is that there is no indication of flight in the synoptists, and the Fourth Gospel throws light on the return to Galilee in Joh_21:1-25.. Matthew gives rather a summary of the appearances of forty days (Act_1:3), in an event to which probably St. Paul refers (1Co_15:6). When the doors had been shut, Jesus cometh, and stood in the midst, and said (once more, as he saw their natural perturbation; for do not men always shrink from manifestation of pure spirit or spiritual body?), Peace be unto you (see notes on verses 19, 20). The repetition of the appearance at a similar hour and place confirmed and intensified their previous experience. If doubts had crept into any minds, the rectification of the first impression would be secured, and a Divine joy once more surcharge their minds.
Then (εἶτα, not οὖν; delude, Vulgate; darnach, Luther) saith he to Thomas, as though he had read his heart and sounded the depth of his complicated conflict between hope and fear, despair and love, and moreover intimating the fact that he had heard his disciple’s protestations, as well as mercifully appreciated his genuine difficulties, and not unnatural hesitation, Reach hither thy finger, that organ with which thou wouldest test the reality of my being. Do what thou wilt. See! my hands; and as the word was spoken he spread before his doubting, loving disciple those hands which were nailed to the cursed tree, with all the signs of his great agony upon them still. Thomas had said that he must “see,” and that he must touch—”lay his finger in the print of the nails.” Here was the Divine opportunity for him, with more than one sense, to assure himself of the reality. And reach hither thy hand (again the Lord quoted the very words in which the incredulousness of Thomas had been expressed), and put it into my side. He says nothing of the print of the nails, but offers the sacred privilege to the doubtful disciple. Thomas shall have the precise evidence he craved. The most hesitating of the entire group shall have the aid to his faith which he fancied indispensable in his particular case. How often has the unbeliever said, “If such or such evidence be not granted to me, I cannot, I will not, I by no means will believe”! Thus Gideon proved the Lord’s willingness to utilize his feeble strength in delivering Israel from the Midianites; and even Ahaz was summoned by Isaiah to choose any sign whatsoever in heaven above or in the earth to prove the indestructible vitality of the true seed of Israel and real house of David. Consequently, we cannot say with Bengel, “Si Pharisseus its dixisset, ‘nisi videro, etc.,’ nil impetrasset sed discipulo pridem probato nil non datur.” The Lord does sometimes offer exactly what we ask by way of proof; but we cannot know the precise effect it will produce, even when it is bestowed or when something still more explicit is actually provided for our weakness. Just as the cruel taunts which malice heaped or hurled on the name and work of our Divine Lord became wreaths of glory for his brow, so the cruel wounds which unbelief and bigoted hatred of goodness had inflicted on Immanuel became from that very hour the high, main, indelible evidence of his supreme victory. And become not (μὴ γίνου) what thou art in danger of becoming—the Lord does not say that Thomas’s—faithless, but that he runs the risk of ultimately becoming so through the dependence of his spirit upon the outward (so Meyer, Lange, Westcott, etc.); but be believing, faithful. It is impossible fully to express the play upon these two words. Ἄπιστος is not so much a worthless, untrustworthy person, as one who has settled down into an abiding condition of unbelief; and πίστος is not simply” believing,” but” trustworthy,” “trusty,” and “trustful.”
Cambridge Bible Plummer
28. And Thomas answered] Omit ‘and.’ This answer and Christ’s comment, ‘because thou hast seen,’ seem to shew that S. Thomas did not use the test which he had demanded. In accordance with his desponding temperament he had underrated the possibilities of being convinced.
My Lord and my God] Most unnatural is the Unitarian view, that these words are an expression of astonishment addressed to God. Against this are (1) the plain and conclusive ‘said unto Him;’ (2) the words ‘my Lord,’ which manifestly are addressed to Christ (comp. Joh_20:13); (3) the fact that this confession of faith forms a climax and conclusion to the whole Gospel. The words are rightly considered as an impassioned declaration on the part of a devoted but (in the better sense of the term) sceptical Apostle of his conviction, not merely that his Risen Lord stood before him, but that this Lord was also his God. And it must be noted that Christ does not correct His Apostle for this avowal, any more than He corrected the Jews for supposing that He claimed to be ‘equal with God’ (Joh_5:18-19); on the contrary He accepts and approves this confession of belief in His Divinity.
29.Because thou hast seen me, Thomas. Christ blames nothing in Thomas, but that he was so slow to believe, that he needed to be violently drawn to faith by the experience of the senses; which is altogether at variance with the nature of faith. If it be objected, that nothing is more unsuitable than to say that faith is a conviction obtained from touching and seeing, the answer may be easily obtained from what I have already said; for it was not by mere touching or seeing that Thomas was brought to believe that Christ is God, but, being awakened from sleep, he recalled to remembrance the doctrine which formerly he had almost forgotten. Faith cannot flow from a merely experimental knowledge of events, but must draw its origin from the word of God. Christ, therefore, blames Thomas for rendering less honor to the word of God than he ought to have done, and for having regarded faith — which springs from hearing, and ought to be wholly fixed on the word — as bound to the other senses.
Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed Here Christ commends faith on this ground, that it acquiesces in the bare word, and does not depend on carnal views or human reason He therefore includes, in a short definition, the power and nature of faith; namely, that it does not rest satisfied with the immediate exercise of sight, but penetrates even to heaven, so as to believe those things which are hidden from the human senses. And, indeed, we ought to give to God this honor, that we should view His truth as (αὐτόπιστος) beyond all doubt without any other proof Faith has, indeed, its own sight but one which does not confine its view to the world, and to earthly objects. For this reason it is called a demonstration of things invisible or not seen,(Heb_11:1;)
and Paul contrasts it with sight, (2Co_5:7,) meaning, that it does not rest satisfied with looking at the condition of present object, and does not cast its eye in all directions to those things which are visible in the world, but depends on the mouth of God, and, relying on His word, rises above the whole world, so as to fix its anchor in heaven. It amounts to this, that faith is not of a right kind, unless it be founded on the word of God, and rise to the invisible kingdom of God, so as to go beyond all human capacity.
If it be objected, that this saying of Christ is inconsistent with another of his sayings, in which he declares that the eyes which behold him are blessed, (Mat_13:16,) I answer, Christ does not there speak merely of bodily sight, as he does in this passage, but of revelation, which is common to all believers, since he appeared to the world as a Redeemer. He draws a comparison between the Apostles and the holy kings and prophets, (Mat_13:17,) who had been kept under the dark shadows of the Mosaic Law. He says, that now the condition of believers is much more desirable, because a brighter light shines around them, or rather, because the substance and truth of the figures was made known to them. There were many unbelievers who, at that time, beheld Christ with the eyes of flesh, and yet were not more blessed on that account; but we, who have never beheld Christ with the eyes, enjoy that blessedness of which Christ speaks with commendation. Hence it follows, that he calls those eyes blessed which spiritually behold in him what is heavenly and divine; for we now behold Christ in the Gospel in the same manner as if he visibly stood before us. In this sense Paul says to the Galatians, (Gal_3:1,) that Christ was crucified before their eyes; and, therefore, if we desire to see in Christ what may render us happy and blessed, let us learn to believe, when we do not see. To these words of Christ corresponds what is stated in another passage, in which the Apostle commends believers, who love Christ whom they have not seen, and rejoice with unspeakable joy, though they do not behold him. (1Pe_1:8.)
The manner in which the Papists torture these words, to prove their doctrine of transubstantiation, is exceedingly absurd. That we may be blessed, they bid us believe that Christ is present under the appearance of bread. But we know that nothing was farther from Christ’s intention than to subject faith to the inventions of men; and as soon as it passes, in the smallest degree, beyond the limits of the word, it ceases to be faith. If we must believe without reserve all that we do not see, then every monster which men may be pleased to form, every fable which they may contrive, will hold our faith in bondage. That this saying of Christ may apply to the case in hand, we must first prove from the word of God the very point in question. They bring forward the word of God, indeed, in support of their doctrine of transubstantiation; but when the word is properly expounded, it gives no countenance to their foolish notion.
Cambridge Bible Plummer
29. Thomas, because, &c.] ‘Thomas’ must be omitted on overwhelming evidence, although the addition of the name seems natural here as in Joh_14:9. ‘Thou hast believed’ is half exclamation, half question (comp. Joh_16:31).
blessed are they that have not seen] Rather, Blessed are they that saw not. There must have been some disciples who believed in the Resurrection merely on the evidence of others. Jesus had not appeared to every one of His followers.
This last great declaration of blessedness is a Beatitude which is the special property of the countless number of believers who have never seen Christ in the flesh. Just as it is possible for every Christian to become equal in blessedness to Christ’s Mother and brethren by obedience (Mat_12:49-50), so it is possible for them to transcend the blessedness of Apostles by faith. All the Apostles, like S. Thomas, had seen before they believed: even S. John’s faith did not shew itself until he had had evidence (Joh_20:8). S. Thomas had the opportunity of believing without seeing, but rejected it. The same opportunity is granted to all believers now.
Thus this wonderful Gospel begins and ends with the same article of faith. ‘The Word was God,’—‘the Word became flesh,’ is the Evangelist’s solemn confession of a belief which had been proved and deepened by the experience of more than half a century. From this he starts, and patiently traces out for us the main points in the evidence out of which that belief had grown. This done, he shews us the power of the evidence over one needlessly wary of being influenced by insufficient testimony. The result is the instantaneous confession, at once the result of questioning and the victory over it, ‘My Lord and my God.’