JOHN 20: Encounters with the Risen Christ

seeds_12162013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24 ESV).

How do you respond to the risen Christ?

In John 20 we observe 8 encounters with the risen Christ.

1. The first encounter is really not an encounter so much as an expression of fear of the unknown.  Mary Magdalene saw that the stone had been move from the grave and she ran to tell Peter and the others.  Actually, she did not even look inside although she reported that Jesus’ body had been taken (vv 1-2).  Maybe she did look, but we are not told.

2. The second encounter is Peter’s.  Peter ran on Mary’s report to see the tomb, found it empty, and left (vv 2-7).  We are not told how Peter responded to the empty grave.

3. The third encounter is that of the “Other Disciple”, presumably John, who was with Peter.  He experienced everything that Peter did (and ran faster), but, unlike Peter, we are told that he “saw and believed” (vv 7-8).  He too then left.

4. The fourth encounter is Mary Magdalene’s second encounter.  She remains at the gravesite grieving.  This time, however, she peeks inside the tomb and sees two angels who ask her why she is crying (vv 12-13).  The angel’s presence in the tomb is most curious because neither Peter nor the other disciple saw angels only moments earlier.

5. A fifth encounter occurs, this time between Mary Magdalene and Jesus.  Jesus is standing right next to her and she does not recognize him (v 14).  He repeats the angel’s question (why are you crying?) and then asks her: who are you seeking?  She then begins to quiz him about the whereabouts of Jesus’ body (v 15).

6. A sixth encounter occurs as Jesus addresses Mary by name.  She recognizes and grabs him.  He cautions her not to hold on to him, but sends her to the other disciples with the word of his resurrection (vv 16-17).

7. The seventh encounter is with the disciples behind locked doors later that evening.  Here Jesus comforts them, commands them to evangelize, grants them the Holy Spirit, and bestows on them the power to forgive or retain sins. The dialog is often interpreted as  commissioning service (vv 19-23) to which Thomas is absent.  When Thomas is told about it, he refuses to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

8. The eighth encounter arises a week later when Thomas is present and on seeing Jesus comes to faith.  Thomas’ initial doubt and subsequent belief are significant for us because Jesus’ words—Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29 ESV)—appear directed as us.  Interestingly, John closes out the chapter by commenting on his writing objective—that his readers come to faith (v 31).

We each come to Christ in different ways.  Reviewing these encounters we observe 4 things:

(1) Revelations to the disciples differ in time and content,

(2) The disciples do not all respond immediately in faith,

(3) Jesus reveals himself to some, but not others, and

(4) Mary Magdalene ties these accounts together.

How has Jesus revealed himself to you?


  1. How has Jesus revealed himself to you? How have you responded?
  2. When did Mary Magdalene visit Jesus’ tomb? (v 1) Why is it interesting?
  3. How did Mary Magdalene know Jesus’ body was gone? Did she look into the tomb? (vv 1-2)
  4. How did she respond to this discovery? (v 2)
  5. How do Peter and the other disciple respond to Mary? (vv 3-4)  Who is the other disciple?
  6. Why did the other disciple wait before entering the tomb? (v 5)
  7. How did Peter and the other disciple respond to the empty tomb? (vv 5-10)
  8. How did Mary respond to the empty tomb? (v 11)
  9. Why did Mary see angels where Peter and the other disciple did not? (vv11-12)
  10. What did Mary ask the angels? What did she ask? (vv 12-13)
  11. Why did Mary not recognize Jesus? (vv 14-15)
  12. When did she recognize Jesus? (v 16) When did she recognize Jesus?  Why is this episode theologically interesting?
  13. What does Jesus say to Mary? (v 17)
  14. How did she respond? (v 18) Why did the disciples not run back to the garden?
  15. How does Jesus appear to the disciples? (v 19)
  16. What 4 things does Jesus say to the disciples? (vv 19-23)What is this series of statement like?
  17. What is significant about Thomas’ encounter with Jesus?(vv 24-29)  What happens?  How does he respond?
  18. What is John’s purpose in writing? (vv 30-31)


JOHN 20: Encounters with the Risen Christ

Also see:

JOHN 21: From Fish to Sheep

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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