John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 20:11-17, Easter Sunday: Jesus Lives!

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

//You have been reading the account of Jesus’ resurrection as found in John’s Gospel. Each Gospel tells the story a little differently, but John’s Gospel deviates the most radically. He has his own understanding of the nature of the risen Jesus.

In this gospel, Jesus ascends immediately to heaven on the morning he rises from the grave. Note the present tense of his words: “I am ascending.”

In Jewish thinking, after you died, you went down to Sheol, a dark, dreary underworld. Only a select, chosen few—martyrs for God—did not go down. They rose and ascended to heaven, to be with God. Jesus surely qualifies as a martyr, and so he goes up, not down. Mary, who happens to be at the tomb at just the right moment, happens to spy him in mid-ascent, and Jesus dispatches her to explain to the others that he has gone to heaven. That is why the tomb is empty.

But if Jesus rises immediately, rather than forty days later, how does he happen to appear to the Twelve, behind locked doors, later that day?

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. –John 20:19-20

This is indeed a mystery. Is this the same form of Jesus as Mary saw ascending, or is it something different?

John opens and closes his gospel with Genesis, a new world. Here, his double emphasis on the gift of peace implies the age of the Messiah. His age-old greeting, “peace” or “shalom,” was a wish of well-being, but between believers it came to mean the deeper, worldwide peace that God would grant in the age to come.

According to John’s Gospel, the anticipated great age of God’s rule begins at this moment. The Holy Spirit is granted on that day, not forty days later. “Jesus,” in whatever form he has returned from heaven, does not then fade away, like a scene from Star Trek, but remains with them forever, for the promise of the scriptures was that the Messiah would reign and rule “forever” (for the age).

John’s viewpoint is unique, radical, and inspiring. To dive deeper into John’s theology, pick up my book on the topic: John’s Gospel: The Way It Happened.

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