Jesus Appears To His Disciples
The Appearance, vss. 19, 20.
John mentions only four of Jesus’ appearances. These He evidently considers sufficient for his purpose in writing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Last time we noticed how Christ manifested Himself to Mary Magdalene. Here He appears to the disciples as a body, Judas Iscariot naturally being excluded. Thomas is also absent. Much has transpired during this day, the one on which Jesus arose. The ten were gathered together with a number of other disciples, Luke 24:33. The women had met the angels and then had seen Jesus. They had also brought the news to the disciples. Peter and John had seen the strange sight in the tomb. Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus at the tomb. Then came the appearance of Jesus to Peter, Luke 24:34, I Cor. 15:5, of which we know the fact but no details. But all this did not produce faith among the disciples, Luke 24:11, Mark 16:14. Now, as they are gathered together, also having eaten together, the Emmaus travelers suddenly appear on the scene and narrate their experiences. Then Jesus came and showed Himself unto them.
Having the doors locked was a measure of precaution against the hostile Jews. But here it is mentioned with reference to the appearance of Jesus. About Jesus’ entrance into the house there are all kinds of strange ideas. Some think that He climbed up a ladder and through a window, others that He descended from the roof down a stairway, etc. All these naturally deny the miracle and the risen Lord. Remember, Jesus arose on the other side of the grave, the spiritual. Lazarus and others that were raised came back to this side, the earthly and temporal. But Jesus, being on the other side, is no longer hindered by doors and walls. The spiritual is different than the natural, the heavenly than the earthy. Hence, the disciples do not see Him walking into their midst; suddenly He was in their midst, that is all.
Two times Jesus greets them with the customary greeting: Peace be unto you. This greeting occurs in Scripture as a greeting on arrival, as a farewell greeting, and also as a gracious form of dismissal.
Here it is the risen Lord who so greets them. This is a most blessed thing in itself, for when Jesus says “peace” He actually gives what the word says, and shows that now as the risen Saviour. Through His cross, death, and resurrection, He has established peace with God for them; now He will give it unto them in their hearts.
Therefore they must first be convinced of His identity, for Luke tells us that they supposed that they had seen a spirit. Hence, He shows them His hands, His feet, and His side. He also eats a piece of broiled fish before their very eyes. Now they are sure that He is the risen Lord.
Questions: How do you explain the unbelief of the disciples, even after they are told that He had risen? If Jesus arose with a spiritual body, how could these earthly people see Him?
Their Commission, vss. 21-23.
Here we have the second part of this manifestation. He sends them out into the world. As possessors of the Lord’s blessed peace they must dispense this priceless treasure unto others in a peaceless world. From this we can conclude that the gospel certainly is a message of peace, peace for sinners through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the grave. At one time it appeared as if Christ’s work was all in vain, now as the risen Lord He gives peace, the peace with God which surpasses all understanding, and instructs the disciples to give it unto millions of others. Unto that, however, they must receive the Holy Spirit. This Jesus does at this time, vs. 22. He enables those whom He sends. Notice that we read that He breathed on them the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is often spoken of with such terms. The Old Testament word for Spirit literally means wind. Here Jesus’ breathing is symbolical, showing that the Holy Spirit now given unto them is His very life and power.
So the disciples receive the gift of remitting and retaining sins. This is the power of the Keys. The disciples will be vested, with special powers regarding sins. Think of Ananias and Sapphira, and Simon the Sorcerer.
One question remains to be answered. How must we explain this giving of the Holy Spirit in connection with Pentecost? Also there we read that these disciples received the Spirit. Some say that this is a kind of first-fruit of Pentecost, others that John “telescopes” the resurrection, ascension and Pentecost, i.e., that He speaks of all of them here. We would explain it this way: First of all the Spirit is always given in connection with the Word; the more complete and blessed the Word is, the more blessed is the operation of the Spirit through that particular Word. In the Old Testament the saints also had the Spirit but only in connection with the “imperfect” types and shadows. No doubt the disciples also had the Spirit during the time that they followed Jesus. However, Jesus had not yet been crucified, etc. At that time the Holy Spirit worked only through the “earthly” Jesus. But now He is risen, and as the risen one He gives them peace by the Spirit, and also the commission to bring this peace unto others. What the disciples receive here is: 1. The conviction of faith that Jesus is risen. 2. The peace of God, which is in Christ Jesus, in their hearts. 3. The external and internal calling to bring this word of peace unto others. This does not yet mean that they now understood everything. This is plain from Acts 1:6 and other passages. On Pentecost all would be made plain to them, receiving the Spirit of the risen and glorified Christ.
Questions: What do the Catholics teach regarding the popes and this commission to the disciples? How could the disciples forgive and retain sins, since Christ only can do this?
The Risen Lord and Thomas
Thomas Refuses to Believe, vss. 24, 25.
Thomas had not been with the other disciples with the first appearance of Jesus. We immediately ask: Why not? Thomas undoubtedly was a singular man in many ways. He certainly was no superficial thinker, not easily convinced, but on the other hand stable and dependable. Cf. John 11:16 and 14:5. To him it now seemed useless to meet as a body of disciples. It had been on account of Jesus that they had become one group. Now Jesus was gone. What did they further have in common with each other? Really nothing. True, he heard the reports. Undoubtedly all the other disciples and the women as well did their utmost to convince him, but all was in vain. He simply could not conceive of Jesus being risen from the dead. He would not believe except he should see His hands, etc. Now there were many mere that did not believe for some time; fact is that the disciples didn’t even believe at first. But the difference between them and Thomas is that he would not believe except he saw the print of the nails in His hands, etc. He wouldn’t believe even though there would be a thousand witnesses. He had to see Jesus.
Questions: What else can you say about Thomas’ character in the light of John 11:16 and 14:5? Is it right to use the expression “Unbelieving Thomas”?
Jesus Appears to Him, vss. 26-28.
It is for his sake that Jesus comes to them for the second time; yet what transpires between Jesus and Thomas is for all to hear and to see. The three statements of Jesus correspond exactly to the three that Thomas had made in vs. 25. He will give them another sign that He is indeed the risen Lord. Without asking any Questions He immediately approaches Thomas, showing that He is acquainted with His unbelief. “Come Thomas”, says Jesus, very likely at the same time pointing to His body, “Put your finger into my hands and thrust your hand into my side”. But this is too much for the unbelieving disciple. He sees before him the crucified One as risen, the Lamb as having been slaughtered.
Seeing is enough. The risen Lord drives away the unbelief of man. Thomas wilts and as it were sinks away. And what a confession he utters: My Lord and My God. The crucified One is Lord and God, yes, but also his Lord and his God. How blessed to see before him his Master, but now the one who had conquered death, as the Son of God.
The More Blessed Ones, vs. 29.
To us it always seems blessed to have been privileged to see Jesus. Who would not like to see Him? But then to see the risen Jesus! Surely this must have been blessed for the disciples after these dark days of hopelessness and despair. But notice what Jesus says in vs. 29. The idea is that they who have not seen Him and yet have believed are much more blessed. In other words, their blessedness is much greater than that of Thomas. Much more blessed it is for them, even now. Why? Because by faith the invisible things are even more sure than the visible. The Christian does not live by sight, but by faith, believing the unseen things. First of all this is a greater blessedness because it is spiritual and therefore deeper. The faith of a Thomas is worked by a seeing of Jesus, the more blessed faith is wrought in our hearts by the Spirit of the risen Lord Himself. And that Spirit convinces us of the truth. Hence they are blessed because it is the Spirit working in their hearts whereby they are convinced, and whose fellowship they experience. Therefore Thomas and the other disciples certainly need more than the mere seeing of the risen Jesus.
Besides, all they knew is the fact of the resurrection. Soon He would leave them and they would have the mere knowledge that He had risen, and ascended to heaven. But of what benefit would that be to them? No, they must know Who He is as the risen One, know Him as the Saviour from sin and death, as the Saviour who establishes His spiritual kingdom even now. Undoubtedly they did receive this through the Holy Spirit.
Questions: Why must all the disciples see the risen Jesus, if faith in Him, without seeing, is more blessed? How many appearances were there in all? Who saw Jesus after He ascended to heaven?
Conclusion, vss. 30, 31.
These two verses constitute the formal conclusion of the Gospel as composed by John. What he actually traces is the Person of the Son of God in the attestation of His ministry and His passion and His resurrection. That attestation we have in his Gospel, and certainly comes to a climax in the incident of Thomas. To be sure, all is not written here. Many other signs there were, but these John considers sufficient for us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name.
Jesus’ Manifestation to the Seven’
To understand this work of Jesus it is best to first read all fourteen verses, getting a complete picture of all that takes place.
We now find the disciples at the sea of Tiberias, also called the sea of Galilee. Look this up on your map. Thither they (also Thomas) had gone according to the command of Jesus. “Go to Galilee, there ye shall see Me.” But how perplexed they were! In fact, everything very likely confused them. Jesus’ suffering, death and burial, as well as the resurrection were tremendous problems for them. Why? Now they are by the sea of Galilee, but why? And why doesn’t He come? It all seemed so strange, so much different than when He sojourned with them. Then they were with Him day and night, but now they would see Him for a few moments and then He would disappear again. Where to no one knew, neither did they know when they would see Him again.
Apparent it is that they waited for Him here for several days. Will He come at all? That question possibly arose in their minds. But Peter is tired of it and decides to go fishing. Notice first of all that he doesn’t ask any of the others about their opinion. Let them do as they please, he’s going fishing. Secondly, this does not mean that he will fish while he’s waiting for Jesus, but that he will again take up his former work, that of fishing.
The others, join him. But they catch no fish, though they toiled for hours. Now Jesus appears on the scene, but He will manifest Himself only in actions, not in words. Notice how abruptly the disciples answer Him when He asks if they have any meat. It is remarkable that when this “stranger” ordered the disciples to throw their net on the other side of the boat they at once do so. Psychologically they are ready to try anything, if only they can catch a few fish. We get the impression that the net was filled immediately. This must have made a tremendous impression on the disciples. No wonder that John says to Peter: “It is the Lord”. John recognizes Jesus in His actions. Peter abandons everything and jumps out of the boat to meet Jesus. He is in such haste that he cannot wait until they get to shore, possibly some 300 feet away. The rest not being able to haul the net into the boat, dragged it to shore. Richly laden they came to shore. John remembers the exact number, 153.
A special note is made of the fact that the net did not break. Then Jesus bids them to have breakfast which He has prepared for them. But still Jesus does not identify Himself. From beginning to end everything is action, and every word spoken by Jesus pertains only to the action, omitting to add even the slightest reason for, or explanation of, the action. And what a tremendous effect this has upon them! They know it is Jesus and yet they don’t dare ask Him. There is no doubt in their minds and yet they would like to have Him tell them outright that He is the Lord. But couldn’t they recognize Him, for they had seen Him before? Possible it is that none of the appearances during these forty days were similar. Neither must they know Him in His physical appearance, but in His work. They must learn to know Him spiritually as their Lord. Hence, with the first appearance Jesus shows His hands and feet, but now they must learn to know Him in action.
The Significance of the Event.
First of all read Luke 5:1-11. The disciples are to be fishers of men. That was their calling. But their success would be sure only when and if they would obey His command and rely on His Word, no matter what their own skill and reason might advise. How foolish it must have seemed to merely place the net on the other side of the boat! In Luke they are told to go into the deep, the poorest place for fishing; moreover, now the heat of the day has come, the poorest time for fishing, while they had fished for hours during the best time but caught nothing. But no, they must always cast the net at the word of the Lord. According to God’s Word and with God’s Word they must be fishers of men. And if they go out of their own accord, they will catch nothing, not even one little fish. Without Jesus they can do nothing. He alone gathers His people, through the God-given means.
The first time the net brake, not so now. In the New Testament after the Day of Pentecost they will lose none of those given unto Jesus by the Father. Not one of God’s elect, gathered by Christ through the word of the apostles will go lost. Finally, they must sit down to eat. Jesus has prepared breakfast for them.
The apostles must see and learn that the Lord Himself will feed and care for them as His own chosen and called servants. Their one thought is to do His will and work according to His Word; all bodily and temporal cares belong in the Lord’s hands.
Questions: In the light of this miracle what one thing does the Church of Christ need above everything else? Do such fishers of men ever experience that fishing is no good?
The Restoration as Such, vss. 15-17.
Jesus has broken the bread for Peter as He had done for the rest. He treats Peter as one who belongs to the rest. But that is the very reason for what Jesus now does with Peter. He restores him as an apostle. This was necessary because Peter with his denial of Jesus had publicly severed all connections with Jesus. In doing so Jesus uses the old name of the apostle, Simon, borne by him before he joined Jesus, in order to remind him of his natural descent and all that had clung to him in the way of weakness because of this descent.
In this restoration Jesus opens up that old wound, and lays His finger on the most tender spot. He does not ask him merely to renounce all that he has done, but whether he loves Him. Does He love Jesus? This was the root of the whole matter. With the denial he has shown that he loved himself more than Jesus.
It is rather difficult to explain the various questions and answers according to the original language and so convey the thoughts of Jesus as well as those of Peter. First of all the Greek uses two words for love here, the first one denotes a true, strong, genuine love. The same word is used in John 3:16. The second one, though also a work of the Holy Spirit when wrought in the hearts of God’s people, is not as strong and the former one, denoting an affection, being attracted to someone. For the first one we will use the ordinary word love and for the second the word like. First of all Jesus asks Peter whether he loves Him more than these, i.e., more than the other disciples. Once he had boasted that his love was stronger than that of the others, for though they would forsake Him, he would never do so. But how is it now, Peter? And Peter answers: “Lord, Thou knowest that I like you.” Notice, he doesn’t even dare use the word love.
The second question is as important as the first one, perhaps even more important. “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me”? Does he really have any love for Jesus? And again Peter answers: “Lord, Thou knowest that I like you.” But Jesus isn’t finished yet. In the third question He asks: “Simon, son of Jonas, do you like me?” In other words, do you have any affection for me at all?
Most beautiful is the confession that Peter makes. No, he has no excuses to offer. That is the beauty of a David, a Peter and of all those who make true confessions. By nature we are always inclined to come with alibis. Couldn’t Peter have appealed to the circumstances in which he found himself, to his tired, physical body, etc.? But nothing of the kind. He is humble, all pride has vanished. In the light of his past actions he doesn’t even dare to say that he loves Jesus. Neither does he boast that he will never again deny Jesus. All he can say is that he likes Jesus. And what proof does he have for this? None at all, for he surely cannot point to his deeds. They would certainly testify against him. He can appeal to only one thing: “Thou knowest that I love Thee.” He means to say to the Lord that He knows his heart and the recesses within. And there that affection, or liking is certainly found. Other proof Peter does not have. Is there one saint that has any other proof? What a beautiful confession!
We must not overlook the fact that Peter has learned to know that Christ saved him and Christ alone. Where was Judas Iscariot now? And Peter here? Why the difference? The only answer is the work of Jesus, having prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. Further, it is Jesus who appears to Peter after His resurrection. He is indeed the Saviour who seeks and saves the lost. In the light of these deeds of marvelous love Peter must have been overwhelmed with the love of Jesus for him. Now he certainly was fit material for the apostleship.
Therefore he now receives his commission. With each answer of Peter the Lord gives him a command. Also here again the beauty of the text is lost in the translation. In the Greek three different words are used, that of sheep, little sheep and lambs. Applied to God’s people the distinction is not merely one of age or size, but of spiritual strength and development. A young man may be a lamb, while an older one may be a little sheep. Some need milk, others a heavier diet, and still others meat. Some are weak and others strong. But they are all Jesus’ flock. In the name of Jesus Peter must feed them, according to their needs. He must be a good shepherd for all of them, for the little sheep, the weak little lambs and for the stronger ones. Naturally, this is the calling of all the apostles.
Questions: Why must Peter be restored into his office? Why must this be a public restoration? Why do you think Jesus asked him three questions? Why, in the light of good works of God’s people, is in the final analysis the only proof for our love to be found in our hearts, as was the case with Peter?
How Peter will Manifest his Love, vss. 18-23.
Having been fully restored the Lord amplifies the word spoken before Peter’s denial, the word about dying for his Lord. He prophesies that he will have to give the highest proof of love, be a martyr for the faith. And knowing this in advance, he must not only go forward joyfully to meet it, but must also, while his life lasts, devote himself most zealously to the flock entrusted to him. “And when He had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.” And Peter does so literally indicating that this he will do. Having gone a few steps, Peter looked around and saw that his friend John was also starting to follow. Where Jesus was going we don’t know. Possibly He walked away and then suddenly disappeared. But before this happens Peter asks a question, vs. 21. From these words it is often supposed that Peter is jealous of John, Peter having drawn the harder lot.
But this is not true. Peter is wondering what the Lord has in store for his friend, John, having been told what is awaiting him. Does martyrdom also await John? The answer Peter receives is wholly indefinite. He must leave John’s future in the hands of the Lord. Even if Jesus would want John to remain on this earth until He returns, let his care be for himself, to follow the Lord. These things belong to the Lord. The disciples, however, failed to understand these words, the result of which was the rumor that John would not die. Therefore John gives his commentary on these words in vs. 23, stating that Jesus did not say that, but if he would so will, what would that be to them.
Conclusion, vss. 24, 25.
Here we have the final words of the apostle who wrote these words that we may know that Jesus is the Son of God. Oh no, he does not write about all the signs Jesus did. If this were done the world itself could not contain the written books. This is hyperbole, but it does show the feeling of the author. He is simply overwhelmed with all that Jesus did to give infallible proofs of the Word having become flesh. What we have is sufficient.