John 20:1-18 and Waldenström's Commentary

by Paul Peter Waldenström and translated by Tommy Carlson

Verse 1 — However1 on the first day of the week came Mary of Magdala2 early in the morning, while it was still dark, to the tomb and saw the stone removed from the tomb.

  • With regard to verses 1-10 see Matt. 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, and Luke 24:1-11.
  • Though the evangelist only mentions Mary, he is by no means saying that she was alone. See Matt. 28:1.
  • Verse 2 — Then she ran and came to Simon Peter and to1 the other disciple that Jesus loved,2 and said to them: "They have taken away the Lord from the tomb,3 and we4 do not know where they have laid him."

  • The repeating of the word "to" seems to mean that Peter and John were not together. She went first to the one and then to the other. If this understanding is correct, one can imagine that Peter followed Mary to John (see verse 4). Regardless, it is clear from this verse that the disciples were not gathered together that Sunday morning.
  • That is to say John.
  • Instead of reporting what she had seen, she reports something which is not true, but she TOOK IT FOR GRANTED based on what she had seen. In this way most of the inaccurate information began to circulate without anyone lying.
  • That she says WE means that she certainly includes herself and the other women that came with her to the tomb.
  • Verse 3 — Then Peter and the other disciple left and came to the tomb.

    Verse 4 — But they ran both together, and the other disciple ran faster than Peter and came to the tomb first.1

  • John was perhaps younger. It is not unlikely, as some have presumed, that the deep sorrow of his denial had depressed Peter so that he was not able to run as fast as the other.
  • Verse 5 — And when he leaned forward,l he saw the linen wrappings laying there; yet he did not enter.

  • The opening to the grave was low, so he had to bend down in order to look in.
  • Verse 6 — Then came Simon Peter, following after him and he went inside the tomb1 and saw2 the linen wrappings laying there.

  • The grave was a substantial tomb chamber.
  • He probably examined them.
  • Verse 7 — and the sudarium, that was on his head was not with the linen wrappings but in a different place, folded.1

  • The order in which the grave-clothes lay showed that here no grave robbing could have taken place.
  • Verse 8 — Then even the other disciple went in, he who had first come to the tomb, and he saw and believed.1

  • The Lord had foretold that he should arise and when John now saw the empty tomb, he believed that he was risen. Whether Peter believed is not certain. It is probable that he did not. Otherwise it is hard to understand why it is only of John that it is told that he believed.
  • Verse 9 — Because still they1 did not understand the scriptures that he must arise from the dead.2

  • Namely Peter and John. The same was naturally the case with the others.
  • Had they understood the scriptures, they would have known that he would arise. That the prophets talked about his resurrection they had no idea. This understanding of the scriptures they did not receive until much later (Luke 24:25ff, 45ff, Acts I:3). Not through the scriptures, but by seeing the empty tomb, John was assured that Jesus was resurrected.
  • Verse 10 — Consequently the disciples went home to their own again.1

  • They went accordingly not to the other disciples, but each to his own place. It must have been through one of them, probably John, that the others learned that the tomb was empty. John did not mention his belief that Jesus was risen, he had no proof.
  • Verse 11 — But Mary1 stood2 outside the tomb, crying. When she thus cried, she leaned inside the tomb

  • Who during this time had come hack to the tomb.
  • When the two disciples departed, she remained. It is possible that Peter and John had already departed before she came. Regardless, it does not appear that a conversation took place between her and them at the tomb.
  • Verse 12 — and saw1 two angels in white clothes, sitting one at the head and one at the feet where Jesus' body laid.2

  • When she saw them she looked at them carefully.
  • While it was still in the tomb. They had been guards for Jesus' body and they were still there. But Peter and John did not see them. Those who see angels must first receive a special vision from God.
  • Verse 13 — They said to her: "Woman, why do you cry?" She said to them: "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him."

    Verse 14 — When she said this, she turned around1 and saw Jesus standing there and she did not know that it was Jesus.2

  • Possibly because she heard the sound of someone approaching from behind her. Old church fathers assume that the movements and expressions of the angels made her believe someone was coming. It is possible.
  • This was primarily because she did not think she would ever see him. Possibly, because of her sorrow, she was looking down toward the ground so that she could not see his face clearly. Besides, his clothes must have been different than she was used to.
  • Verse 15 — Jesus said to her: "Woman, for what reason do you cry? Whom do you seek?" She who thought that he was the gardener said to him: "Sir, if you1 have buried him,2 tell me where you have laid him and I shall remove him."3

  • In the original text there is a strong emphasis on the word YOU: "It it is you...."
  • That had been buried here. Very likely she thought that the stranger had heard her conversation with the angels and must know whom she meant.
  • To bury him someplace else if he could not be buried in this tomb.
  • Verse 16 — Jesus said to her: "Mary!" She turned around1 and said to him in Hebrew: "Rabboni!"2 which means teacher.

  • She had obviously turned again toward the tomb, while she was talking to the stranger.
  • See comments to Mark 10:51, the word Rabboni is used with greater reverence than Rabbi, though they mean basically the same thing.
  • Verse 17 — Jesus said to her: "Do not touch me;1 because I have not yet departed up to the Father,2 but go to my brothers3 and say to them: I will depart up to my father and your father and my God and your God."4

  • At these words it appears that Mary tried to touch him. But FOR WHAT REASON did she want to touch him? Without a doubt she had fallen down to worship him and thereby tried to put her arms around his legs. That this was her plan is evident by her outcry, "My Lord," and also by the Lord's words: "because I have not yet departed up to my father," and also from Matt. 28:9, where it says that the women worshiped him, which in all probability is the same event that is here described. See comments to the next verse.
  • And before I have departed up to my father, you shall not worship me. Note in this verse, 1) that the Lord in his exalted authority shall be worshiped by his own; 2) that he who often talked about his departing to the father (Chap. 7:33, 13:3, 16:5, 10, 17) did not mean specifically his death, but rather in general his divorce from the earth, which begins with his death and is completed with his ascension.
  • Even in spite of their fall, he still calls them his brothers. Mary understands right away who he means.
  • With these words he not only wants to assure them that he himself is ascending to his father, but that even they shall one day be glorified with him and, also, that his father is their father.
  • Verse 18 — Mary from Magdala came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had told her all this.1

  • To coherently unite the evangelists' different accounts of the events of that Easter morning is a task that meets with much difficulty. Yet, we shall try it. With the death of Jesus, the apostles had separated each one to his own home (John 16:32, Matt. 26:56). Then they did not come together until Sunday when the wonderful rumors of what had happened at the grave brought them together again. See comments to verse 2.
  • When the sabbath was over (6 o' clock on Saturday) the women bought ointment and spices so that on Sunday morning they could come and anoint the Lord's dead body (Mark 16:1). Early on Sunday morning they went to the tomb — at dawn, says Matthew (28:1), at sunrise says Mark (16:2), while it was still dark, says John (20:1). Of all these statements it is clear that it was not yet full daylight when they started out. While they were on the way, they wondered who would help them remove the stone from the opening to the tomb (Mark 16:3). About the guard at the grave they knew nothing for he had been placed there during the sabbath (Matt. 27:52ff) and on the sabbath the women did nothing (Luke 23:56). When they now came toward the grave and looked up, they saw that the stone had been moved away (Mark 16:4). How this had happened, Matthew talks about in chapter 28:2ff. An angel had rolled away the stone and scared the guards so that they ran away. The women go forward to the tomb. When they find it empty, Mary from Magdala turns around right away — possibly she never went up to the tomb with the others but turned around as soon as she saw that the stone was removed. She ran to Peter and to John and said: "They have removed the Lord and we know not where they have laid him" (John 20:2). In the meantime the other women remained, bewildered by the tomb (Luke 24:4). Then appeared to them an angel (Mark 16:5, Matt. 28:5). That Matthew and Mark say ONE and Luke TWO angels (Luke 24:4) is because none of them make any distinction between this revelation that was given to these women by ONE angel and the revelation that Mary of Magdala later had when she saw TWO angels (John 20:12). The angels comforted the women and instructed them to go to the disciples and especially Peter to tell them that he was risen (Matt. 28:5-7, Mark 16:6,7, Luke 24:5-8). Then the women ran with great fright and joy to tell everything to the disciples (Matt. 28:8, Mark 16:8). They knew of course where the apostles were. But, they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

    By meeting these women, Peter and John, because of Mary's word, ran toward the grave. They found the grave empty, turned around and went home, each to his own. Mary, who had followed them to the grave remained there when they left. When she leaned inside the tomb, she saw two angels who asked her why she cried. Later, when she turned around, she saw the Lord, wanted to worship him but was stopped by him. He sends her with a message to the disciples — everything that is told in its entirety by John in this chapter. Thus it is evidently true, what is told in (the otherwise not genuine) Mark 16:9, that Jesus after his resurrection showed himself first to Mary of Magdala.

    Before Mary with the assignment that the Lord had given her reached the disciples, two had left Jerusalem to walk to Emmaus. The Lord appeared to them as an unknown stranger on the road. Later he became known to them during the meal at Emmaus whereby they immediately went back to Jerusalem to seek the others and tell them that the Lord was risen. When they came to Jerusalem, they found the eleven (without Thomas) [should it not 8? 12-Thomas, Judas, and the 2 of them - ed.] gathered and they were now convinced that the Lord had risen. The Lord had revealed himself to Peter — what time of the day that happened is not certain. See all about this in Luke's detailed story in Chapter 24:13-35. While the disciples were talking with each other, a revelation took place that John talks about here in verses 19-23, also Luke in chapter 24:36-43.

    Against this description of the happenings' course and context, it can now be stated that Matthew in chapter 28:9ff says that when the women had seen the angels and left the grave, they met Jesus and worshiped him and were sent by him with a message to the disciples. And this story does not have any room in the above mentioned description of the events. Thereby we note that what Matthew here talks about is in all probability an incomplete rendering of the revelation TO MARY FROM MAGDALA that John very carefully describes in chapter 20:14ff. It was also not the WOMEN that saw and worshiped Jesus hut only Mary from Magdala. This we conclude from the following circumstances: 1) Matthew's story about resurrection day is throughout very short and concise. Therefore he does not differentiate the revelation that happened to Mary from that of the other women hut rather talks about the two as if they arc one. And, he talks about all the women concerning what happened only to Mary. 2) Luke 24:23 shows that the above mentioned women on their return only talk about the angels, hut not that they had seen the Lord — which is unbelievable if they had really seen him. If thus our described understanding of Matthew correct, we have in this Bible passage the right explanation of Mary's meaning when she tried to touch the risen Jesus. She only wanted to worship him.

    Paul Peter Waldenström was a Swedish revival preacher, and served as editor of Pietisten from 1868-1917.

    See all articles by Paul Peter Waldenström

    Tommy Carlson remodels homes and is an editor of Pietisten.

    See all articles by Tommy Carlson