I am looking today at the commentaries on John 20. Let’s start with Calvin, who deals rapidly with a series of variations within the gospels, and correctly concentrates on the appearance of Christ to Mary and the disciples.
The theological geniuses of the time were blinded by their theory, and did not see what was happening. Instead they made a narrative that would support their position.
Now, on the first day of the week. As the resurrection of Christ is the most important article of our faith, and without it the hope of eternal life is extinguished, for this reason the Evangelists are the more careful to prove it, as John here collects many proofs, in order to assure us that Christ is risen from the dead. It may be thought strange, however, that he does not produce more competent witnesses; for he begins with a woman; but thus the saying is fulfilled, that
God chooseth what is weak, and foolish, and contemptible in the world, that he may bring to nought the wisdom, and excellence, and glory, of the flesh, (1 Corinthians 1:27.)
There certainly was nothing more of earthly grandeur in the disciples than in the women who followed Christ; but as Christ was pleased to reckon them the principal witnesses of his resurrection, on this single ground their testimony is entitled to the greatest deference, and is not liable to any objection. As to the priests, and scribes, and the whole people, and even Pilate, nothing but gross and wilful blindness prevented them from firmly believing that Christ was risen. All of them, therefore, deserved that seeing they should not see; yet Christ revealed himself to the little flock.
Before proceeding farther, however, it is necessary to show how the Evangelists agree with each other; for, at first sight, there appears to be some contradiction in their words. John mentions but one woman, Mary Magdalene; Matthew 28:1 mentions two, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary; Mark 16:1 mentions three, Mary Magdalene, and Mary (the mother) of James, and Salome; Luke 24:10, 22 does not fix the number, but only relates that women came, who had followed Christ from Galilee. But the difficulty is easily solved in this manner. As Matthew inserts the names of two women who were best known, and had the highest reputation among the disciples, so John satisfies himself with mentioning the name of Mary Magdalene alone, but yet does not exclude the others; and, indeed, it is evident, from viewing his words in their connection, that she was not alone, for, shortly afterwards, Mary Magdalene says, in the plural number, WE know not where they have laid him. Although, therefore, John says nothing about her companions, yet the other Evangelists, who relate that there were many along with her, say nothing that is contradicted by John’s narrative.
The discrepancy as to the time may be easily solved. When John says that they came before daybreak, we must understand, that they had set out on their journey during the darkness of the night; that, before they came to the sepulcher, the day had dawned; and that in the evening, after sunset, when the Sabbath was ended, they had bought the spices; and thus the narrative of the other Evangelists must be reconciled.
It may be thought that there is another appearance of contradiction in its being stated by John, that Mary spoke to none but himself and Peter, while Luke 24:10, 11 relates, that she came to the eleven Apostles, and that her words appeared to them to be idle tales. But this is easily explained, for John intentionally passed by the rest of the Apostles, because it was only himself and Peter that came to the sepulcher. As to Luke mentioning Peter alone, it is for the same reason as we have just now assigned in reference to Mary Megdalene and the rest of the women. It is also probable, that the other nine disciples were restrained by fear, lest they should be too easily observed if they went in a body. Nor is this inconsistent with what Luke appears to suggest, that they despised Mary’s words; for immediately afterwards he adds, that Peter ran, (Luke 24:12.) He therefore means simply that, when they first heard it, they appeared to be astonished, but that at length Peter took courage, and followed her for the purpose of seeing.
When Luke relates that Christ appeared to Mary before that she had informed the disciples that the grave was empty, the order of the narrative is inverted. This is evident from the context, for he adds what, John tells us, happened before she saw Jesus; nor is there any thing strange in this, for the Hebrew writers frequently relate first what is later in the order of time.
John Crysostom wrote on this chapter. The comments about the tomb and the shroud being stiff to the point where it would be impossible to be removed are clearly from someone who knew how to lay out a body during that time. Again, showing that Christ had died, and he was buried, and the tomb was truly sealed.
So his death was not in doubt, nor was his resurrection.
And because they were straitened by the time,(since the Death took place at the ninth hour, and it is probable, that what with going to Pilate and what with taking down the body, evening would come upon them when it was not lawful to work,) they laid Him in the tomb that was near. And it is providentially ordered, that He should be placed in a new tomb, wherein no one had been placed before, that His Resurrection might not be deemed to be that of some other who lay there with Him; and that the disciples might be able easily to come and be spectators of what came to pass, because the place was near; and that not they alone should be witnesses of His burial, but His enemies also, for the placing seals on the tomb, and the sitting by of the soldiers to watch it, were the actions of men testifying to the burial. . . .
“The first day of the week” (that is, the Lord’s day) “cometh Mary Magdalene, very early in the morning, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher.” (Ch. xx. ver. 1.)
For He arose while both stone and seals lay over Him; but because it was necessary that others should be fully satisfied, the tomb was opened after the Resurrection, and thus what had come to pass was confirmed. This then was what moved Mary. For being entirely full of loving affection towards her Master, when the Sabbath was past, she could not bear to rest, but came very early in the morning, desiring to find some consolation from the place. But when she saw the place, and the stone taken away, she neither entered in nor stooped down, but ran to the disciples, in the greatness of her longing; for this was what she earnestly desired, she wished very speedily to learn what had become of the body. This was the meaning of her running, and her words declare it.
Ver. 2. “They have taken away,” she saith, “my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.”
Seest thou how she knew not as yet anything clearly concerning the Resurrection, but thought there had been a removal of the body, and tells all simply to the disciples? And the Evangelist hath not deprived the woman of such a praise, nor thought it shame that they should have learnt these things first from her who had passed the night in watching. Thus everywhere doth the truth-loving nature of his disposition shine forth. When then she came and said these things, they hearing them, draw near with great eagerness to the sepulcher, and see the linen clothes lying, which was a sign of the Resurrection. For neither, if any persons had removed the body, would they before doing so have stripped it; nor if any had stolen it, would they have taken the trouble to remove the napkin, and roll it up, and lay it in a place by itself; but how? they would have taken the body as it was. On this account John tells us by anticipation that it was buried with much myrrh, which glues linen to the body not less firmly than lead; in order that when thou hearest that the napkins lay apart, thou mayest not endure those who say that He was stolen. For a thief would not have been so foolish as to spend so much trouble on a superfluous matter. For why should he undo the clothes? and how could he have escaped detection if he had done so? since he would probably have spent much time in so doing, and be found out by delaying and loitering. But why do the clothes lie apart, while the napkin was wrapped together by itself? That thou mayest learn that it was not the action of men in confusion or haste, the placing some in one place, some in another, and the wrapping them together. From this they believed in the Resurrection. On this account Christ afterwards appeared to them, when they were convinced by what they had seen. Observe too here again the absence of boastfulness in the Evangelist, how he witnesses to the exactness of Peter’s search. For he himself having gotten before Peter, and having seen the linen clothes, enquired not farther, but withdrew; but that fervent one passing farther in, looked at everything carefully, and saw somewhat more, and then the other too was summoned to the sight. For he entering after Peter, saw the grave-clothes lying, and separate. Now to separate, and to place one thing by itself, and another, after rolling it up, by itself, was the act of some one doing things carefully, and not in a chance way, as if disturbed.
The Gospel of John has many demonstrations that Christ rose. As Paul noted, this is where Christianity begins and ends. For if Christ did not rise, if this is all metaphor, we are to be pitied. But he rose, and appeared to the disciples, beginning with the women, then to many… when Paul wrote he could add that there will still living witnesses to his resurrection.
All our theology needs to begin with this. Christ died for our sins. Christ was buried. Christ rose. He has promised that those who sleep in him will rise again.
His command is that we love our brothers in Christ as he did, and he gave his life for his brothers in Christ.
The rest is important, true, but it is here we have unity.