John 20 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Mary Magdalene and Two Disciples Visit the Tomb
Disciple at the expense of Peter has become popular, but is not supported by the text, for "in no place is Peter criticized or devalued" (Schnackenburg 1982:314; cf. Brown 1970:1006-7; Beasley-Murray 1987:373-74). The idea that the Beloved Disciple was spurred on by a greater love is possible, given that Peter's love must be reaffirmed later (21:15-17). But perhaps it was not a lesser love that slowed Peter, but rather a great love that was burdened by shame. But if the Beloved Disciple had so much love, why did he pause at the tomb entrance? And if Peter loved less or was ashamed, why did he charge on in? Others attribute the cause to Peter's being older. The text does not offer guidance for such speculations.
While there were a few different kinds of tombs in use at this period (cf. Meyers 1976:906-8), the details provided here (vv. 5-7) help indicate the type in which Jesus was buried. Most likely it had a low entrance and a step down into the central, rectangular pit, with shelves cut into the rock around the pit (see diagram in R. H. Smith 1976:414). If Jesus had been laid on the shelf either to the right or left of the entrance, then only part of the grave clothes would be visible from the entrance. If he had been positioned with his head toward the entrance wall, this would explain why the cloth for Jesus' head was not noticed until they actually entered the tomb.
Great attention is given to the grave clothes. The strips of linen (vv. 5-6; othonia) were the covering for the body, whether they consisted of strips, as in the NIV, or a shroud (see comment on 19:40) or both. Since Jesus' resurrected body was able to appear in a locked room (v. 19), it seems he simply passed through the grave clothes. With the body gone, the clothes were presumably collapsed, though perhaps retaining much of their shape due to the spices. The cloth for Jesus' head (soudarion) was either a face covering or a cloth tied around Jesus' face to hold his jaw in place (see comment on 11:44). If the latter, then perhaps John's description indicates the cloth was lying in place, still in the oval shape it had when around Jesus' head. Or it could be John means this cloth, however it had been used, was in a separate place, rolled or wrapped up (v. 7, entetyligmenon). Jesus' body passed through the grave clothes, presumably including the soudarion, so the fact that the soudarion was rolled up suggests Jesus tidied up before leaving! "There were no traces of haste. The deserted tomb bore the marks of perfect calm" (Westcott 1908:2:340). The royal calmness of Jesus throughout his Passion is also hinted at here in his resurrection.
When the Beloved Disciple entered, he saw and believed (v. 8). What is this faith, since the next verse says they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead (v. 9)? Such faith, with only limited understanding, has been true of the disciples throughout this Gospel, beginning from the first sign (2:11). It is a true faith, for it is based in an openness and receptivity to God. With this faith one is able to recognize what is seen and heard in God's presence and activity, though often one does not understand much more than that. Here the Beloved Disciple sees an empty tomb and inside grave clothes neatly rolled up. If Jesus' body had been stolen, the thieves would not have left the grave clothes behind. If Jesus had revived and had somehow struggled out of the grave clothes (not likely since seventy-five pounds of spices held them together), then they would be torn to shreds and the soudarion would not be rolled up. So the Beloved Disciple sees that something very strange has happened. He has faith in that he recognizes God's fingerprints at the scene. But he still does not understand the full meaning of what he sees.
John does not say whether Peter also believed at this point. But he does say that neither of them understood the Scripture regarding resurrection, thereby admitting his own ignorance at this point. Several texts of Scripture have been suggested as the ones to which John is referring (Ps 16:10; Hos 6:2; Jon 1:17), but he may simply mean the Scripture's witness as a whole, as when Paul says Christ "was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:4; cf. Lk 24:44-47; Beasley-Murray 1987:373).
This confession of ignorance puts the Beloved Disciple in the same boat as Peter, contrary to views that play the two disciples off against one another. They are able to bear witness to the empty tomb and the grave clothes, though not yet to the resurrection. But they do not bear witness at all. Rather, they simply return to the places where they are staying (v. 10; see comment on v. 2). If they do speak to the other disciples, John does not mention it. This lack of witness is another sign that although the Beloved Disciple's faith may be significant, it is still lacking.
Often in Scripture the person who encounters an angel is struck with terror. But if Mary felt such a reaction, John does not mention it. Indeed, there is no indication that she even recognizes them as angels, presumably due to is the depth of her grief. The angels speak to her with great compassion: Woman, why are you crying? (v. 13). This is in striking contrast with the angels' triumphant announcement of the resurrection recorded in the Synoptics (Mt 28:5-7 par. Mk 16:6-7 par. Lk 24:5-7). In the face of this grief the angels do not bombard her with good news but rather ask the question that can lead to the healing word.
Mary's answer (v. 13) shows that she is totally focused on the fact that Jesus' body is missing. He is still her Lord even though he is dead; her loyalty is still fixed on him. In saying she does not know where they have put him she seems to assume that Joseph of Arimathea had his workmen move Jesus to a more permanent site (H. C. G. Moule 1898:58).
Her answer gives the angels a perfect opportunity to proclaim the good news, but they are interrupted by the appearance of the Lord himself. Mary turns to see Jesus (v. 14). Perhaps she heard him or simply sensed a presence behind her, or perhaps, as Chrysostom suggests, "while she was speaking, Christ suddenly appeared behind her, striking the angels with awe" (In John 86.1). She saw him, but she did not realize that it was Jesus (v. 14). She had not been able to pick up on the clues provided by the grave clothes nor even recognize the angels who spoke with her. Now she sees the very object of her concern, but she is unable to recognize him. Such can be the blinding effect of profound emotions. In this case her inability to recognize him also seems to be due to the character of Jesus' resurrection body, since such failure is typical of encounters with him (cf. Mt 28:17; Mk 16:12; Lk 24:16, 37; Jn 21:4).
Jesus is well aware of her condition, and he comes to her with great love and gentleness. The good news is not just that Jesus arose but that the character of God is revealed in Jesus. He is life, and he is also love. He asks the same question asked by the angels, Woman, . . . why are you crying? but immediately he focuses it further: Who is it you are looking for? This question, the first thing the risen Jesus says, echoes the very first thing he said at the beginning of this Gospel (1:38). It is a question that reveals the heart.
Mary does not answer the question but assumes that Jesus is Joseph's gardener and that he knows whom she is looking for (v. 15). His appearance has given her hope--hope that she can now find Jesus' dead body. She wants to care for Jesus' corpse. "So she plans a second interment for Jesus, while the living Jesus is there, and just about to lift her in the embrace of His manifested power and love" (H. C. G. Moule 1898:59).
The sight of the grave clothes and of angels and of Jesus himself have not been able to pierce her darkness. But when Jesus calls her name she knows his voice, for she is a true sheep (10:3-4). Rabboni could mean "my dear teacher," and such endearment would be in keeping with Mary's attachment to Jesus. But the term is not always used so (cf. Mk 10:51), and John simply translates it teacher. Jesus calls her by the name he used for her before, and she responds with the title she used before. She would naturally assume that their relationship could pick up where it left off and continue on as before. Jesus' response, however, lets her know there has been a radical change in him and consequently in his relationship with his followers.This change is indicated when Jesus tells her not to touch him (v. 17). The use of the present tense (haptou) suggests in this context that he is not forbidding her to touch him but telling her to stop that which she is already doing. Apparently, then, when Mary recognizes Jesus she approaches him and touches him. John does not describe what exactly happens. It is possible that she is touching him on the arm or hand, to be assured that he is really there (H. C. G. Moule 1898:64-66). In this case, Jesus would be saying, "You don't have to continue to touch me since (gar) I have not yet ascended to the Father--I really am here." Or perhaps she kneels before him and grabs his feet (Mt 28:9; cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:376), not just touching him, but holding onto him, as in the NIV. Such clinging may suggest she is not only trying to assure herself that he is really there, but expressing her desire that he not leave again. In this case, Jesus lets her know that she must not try to restrict him, for he has not yet ascended to the Father.
Jesus says he is still on the move, and he also sets Mary in motion to bear the news to the disciples. She has just found him, and now she is sent away, but she is sent with a commission. As the ancient church put it, she becomes an apostle to the apostles. The message she is given says a great deal about the new phase that has begun in the relations between the Father, the Son and the disciples. Indications of change begin with the commission itself: Go instead to my brothers and tell them (v. 17). This is the first time in this Gospel that Jesus refers to his disciples as his brothers (cf. Mt 12:50 par. Mk 3:35 par. Lk 8:21). This implies not only that Jesus has not put off his humanity in his resurrected state (Alford 1980:980), but that he has inaugurated a new level of intimacy between himself and his disciples. The new community he founded during his ministry became a new family at the cross (19:26-27), and now the disciples are to enter into this new form of relationship.
This new relationship is expressed in the message Mary is to convey: tell them, "I am returning [ascending, anabaino] to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (v. 17). It is perhaps surprising that his first message is not "I have risen from the dead." He does not focus on himself in this way; he focuses on himself in relation to his Father. Jesus had spoken of his going to the Father, both in his general teaching (7:33-36) and in the farewell discourse to his disciples (13:3; 14:2-4, 12, 28; 16:5, 10, 17, 28). The Father is his center of reference, and to return to him is his greatest joy and therefore the joy of his disciples (14:28). So the message I am returning to my Father expresses Jesus' great delight. He has finished the work (19:30) and can now return to the Father.
His returning to the Father is also good news for the disciples, not just because they share in his joy, but also for their own condition. For when Jesus returns to the Father he will send the Paraclete, who will teach them all things and complete their union with the Father and the Son (16:7; cf. 14:16-17, 28; 15:26). This new relationship has already been established through Jesus' death and resurrection, but the disciples will enter into it fully when the Spirit comes. The message Jesus gives Mary shows the christological basis of the new relationship. "Because God is Jesus' Father, he is also their Father; because he is Jesus' God, he is also their God. They are taken up into the fellowship that unites Jesus and the Father" (Ridderbos 1997:640). Jesus is the point of contact between the disciples and the Father (see comment on 17:21-22). The Father is the Father of the disciples in this new intimacy precisely because he is Jesus' Father, for the disciples are now Jesus' brothers.
Jesus characterizes the time of his resurrection appearances as the time when he is ascending to the Father. He has received his orders, and he is about to ship out. This focus implies a contrast between "the passing nature of Jesus' presence in his post-resurrectional appearances and the permanent nature of his presence in the Spirit" (Brown 1970:1015). But it does not mean the resurrection and the ascension have somehow been blended into one another or that the one has been replaced by the other (Carson 1991:645). Jesus must return to the Father before the Paraclete can come (16:7). The fact that Jesus imparts the Spirit later this same day (v. 22) suggests to many that John does not view the ascension as a definite act as described by Luke (Lk 24:51; Acts 1:9-11). But we will see that the account of Jesus' breathing impartation of the Spirit suggests his giving of the Spirit, like his ascension, was not a simple event. John may not describe the ascension, but his account assumes it, as becomes evident in his description of the impartation of the Spirit and what follows.
Mary Magdalene goes off and announces to the disciples what she has seen and heard. John does not mention the poor reception that was given to her message (Mk 16:11 par. Lk 24:11), though the fearful, doubting state of the disciples in the next section implies as much. All a witness can do is share what he or she knows to be true. Christian witness should not attempt to share an experience; it should direct people to Jesus so people can encounter him for themselves. Mary's message could alert the disciples to the fact that Jesus was alive, but they had to come to faith for themselves. Jesus met Mary in a way that was best for her. Now he will do the same for the disciples as a group.
Despite the locked doors, Jesus appears in their midst and greets them with the greeting still common today in that part of the world--Peace be with you (v. 19). In his farewell discourse Jesus had given them peace and charged them not to fear (14:27), and now he will begin to lead them into that experience. This may be a common greeting, but in this context the full significance of the word peace is present. In the Old Testament peace is closely associated with the blessing of God, especially the salvation to be brought by the Messiah (cf. Ps 29:11; Is 9:6; 52:7; 55:12; Ezek 37:26; Zech 9:10; cf. Osborne 1984:166). Now indeed such peace has come, for "his `Shalom!` on Easter evening is the complement of `It is finished!` on the cross, for the peace of reconciliation and life from God is now imparted" (Beasley-Murray 1987:379).
The disciples, apparently did not receive peace from this greeting, for it is only after Jesus showed them his hands and side that they were filled with joy at the sight of him (v. 20). Jesus had said they would have joy when they saw him again (16:21-22), and now they do, once the wounds have certified it is really him. Such joy, like peace, was viewed as a mark of God's salvation, including the expected time of salvation in the future (Ps 96:11; 97:1; Is 49:13; 61:10; 66:10, 14; Joel 2:21-27; Hab 3:18; Zech 10:7). Both the peace and the joy come from the presence of Jesus himself, the very presence of God come to earth.
Jesus immediately speaks of a mission for these disciples, just as he did with Mary Magdalene. He repeats his blessing of peace. If peace prepares them to receive him, they also need it to receive his commission: As the Father has sent me, I am sending you (v. 21). Over forty times throughout the Gospel, Jesus is said to have been sent by God, and now that will become the characteristic of his disciples also. The Son has a role in the sending of the Paraclete (14:16; 15:26; 16:7), and he plays a role in the sending of the disciples. The Son, like the Father, sends. Mission is at the heart of discipleship.
Two different words are used here for sending: As the Father has sent [apostello] me, I am sending [pempo] you. It is often said that apostello denotes being sent with a commission with an emphasis on the sender whereas pempo focuses on the sending as such (Rengstorf 1964a:398-406). But this distinction is quite dubious (Köstenberger 1998b:97-106) and certainly the two words are used interchangeably in John (Barrett 1978:569). Of greater significance is the idea of comparison. The Son was sent as one completely dependent upon the Father and one with the Father, so he was the presence of God while yet remaining distinct from the Father. Such a relationship is also at the heart of the community of Jesus' disciples. This text, accordingly, has enormous implications for the nature and mission of the church. C. K. Barrett addresses this issue with great clarity:
The sending of Jesus by God meant that in the words, works, and person of Jesus men were veritably confronted not merely by a Jewish Rabbi but by God himself (1:18; 14:9; and many passages). It follows that in the apostolic mission of the church . . . the world is veritably confronted not merely by a human institution but by Jesus the Son of God (13:20; 17:18). It follows further that as Jesus in his ministry was entirely dependent upon and obedient to God the Father, who sealed and sanctified him (4:34; 5:19; 10:37; 17:4, and other passages: 6:27; 10:36), and acted in the power of the Spirit who rested upon him (1:32), so the church is the apostolic church, commissioned by Christ, only in virtue of the fact that Jesus sanctified it (17:19) and breathed the Spirit into it (v. 22), and only so far as it maintains an attitude of perfect obedience to Jesus (it is here, of course, that the parallelism between the relation of Jesus to the Father and the relation of the church to Jesus breaks down). The life and mission of the church are meaningless if they are detached from this historical and theological context. (Barrett 1978:569)
Thus, in this Gospel, which focuses so much attention on the identity of Jesus, we also have a clear revelation of the core identity of the church. Unfortunately, the church has difficulty living up to this identity, despite the giving of the Spirit, which John now recounts.
If this community is to function in the way just described, then the gift of the Spirit is essential. Human beings in themselves are not capable of manifesting God's presence and doing God's will as Jesus did. Indeed, without the Spirit there is no spiritual life (3:3, 5). But Jesus now has been glorified, so the Spirit can be given (7:39; see comment on 16:7). At this point the life that has been in Jesus in his union with God is now shared with the disciples. The new state of affairs, described in the farewell discourse and hinted at already by the risen Christ (v. 17), begins to take effect among the disciples. They have been reunited with Jesus and now are given his very life by the Spirit--not only reunited with him, but beginning to be united to him. The word used for breathed on (emphysao) is the same word used in the Greek Old Testament to describe God's action when he formed the man from the dust of the ground and "breathed into his face the breath of life" and the man became a living being (Gen 2:7; cf. Wisdom of Solomon 15:11; also Ezek 37:5-10, 14). This allusion implies there is now the new beginning of life, though, as George Beasley-Murray says, "Strictly speaking, one should not view this as the beginning of the new creation but rather as the beginning of the incorporation of man into the new creation which came into being in the Christ by his incarnation, death, and resurrection, and is actualized in man by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Cor 5:17)" (1987:381).
This imparting of the Spirit is clearly a climactic moment in the Gospel. Precisely because it is climactic one wonders how it is related to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). On the assumption that both John and Luke are describing the one giving of the Spirit a number of scholars think the accounts reflect different theological emphases (for example, Brown 1970:1038-39; Beasley-Murray 1987:381-82). Others would embrace a view condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in A.D. 553, namely, that the imparting of the Spirit in John is symbolic of the later experience at Pentecost, "a kind of acted parable pointing forward to the full enduement still to come" (Carson 1991:655). Yet another position is that the two accounts describe two different events, though there is much variety in how the differences are understood (cf. Brown 1970:1038; Beasley-Murray 1987:381).
The evidence seems, in fact, to suggest that two different events are mentioned. The breathing of the Spirit by Jesus is certainly climactic, but the results do not fulfill the promises he made earlier in this Gospel. A week later they are not bearing witness but are back in the room with locked doors (v. 26). In the next chapter they are back fishing for fish, not for disciples. Furthermore, the conditions for the presence of the Spirit have not been completely met. The Spirit will be given after Jesus' return to the Father (14:16, 26; 16:7, 13). Jesus is in the process of returning but has not yet returned. Thus, it appears that Jesus' giving of the Spirit, like his ascending to the Father, is a complex process and not a simple, one-time event. John is filling in details not given by Luke regarding the beginning of the disciples' new life and ministry (though see the hint in Acts 1:2) just as he did regarding the outset of Jesus' ministry in his connection with John the Baptist and in the calling of the first disciples.
John's account describes a preliminary stage of preparation for ministry. "The mission is inaugurated, but not actually begun. . . . The actual beginning of the mission lies outside the scope of the Fourth Gospel. There remains, therefore, room for the Pentecostal outpouring, after which the disciples take up the mission in public in the power of the Spirit descending from Father and Son in heaven" (Hoskyns 1940b:653). Such preparation is clearly the point in Jesus' bringing the disciples to faith in himself and in the commissioning. But in what sense is the presence of the Spirit preparatory? A clue may be found in one of the strangest aspects of these first encounters: Thomas was not present when the Spirit was given (v. 24), yet he is the one who confesses Jesus as Lord and God, a confession which is the work of the Spirit. This suggests that the breathing of the Spirit was not simply directed at the individuals present, as if one had to be hit by the molecules coming from Jesus' mouth or nose in order to receive the Spirit. Rather, the Spirit is now unleashed into the world in a new way and begins to bring about new life where he finds faith. The disciples enter into a new phase in their life with God, but it is not yet the time of their active witness, as it will be from Pentecost on. Thus, it would seem John is describing the conception of the church, and Luke (in Acts), the birth.Jesus then speaks further of his commission to them: If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven (v. 23). This is a surprising way to put the commission, since it is never said that anyone is "forgiven" in this Gospel. While the reality of forgiveness is depicted (e.g., see comments on 5:14 and 8:11), this is the only occasion where it is stated explicitly. The ultimate sin for which one needs forgiveness is the rejection of Jesus (9:41; 15:22-24; 16:9). The disciples are to bear witness to Jesus (15:26-27), not just by representing Jesus but by actually being the presence of Jesus through the Spirit. In this way they will be the agents of the Spirit's confrontation of the world (16:8-11), which is a continuation of Jesus' own confrontation. "The apostles were commissioned to carry on Christ's work, and not to begin a new one" (Westcott 1908:2:350). Through the disciples' witness to Jesus by word and by the life and love of the community, the world will be forced to choose for or against Jesus, just as they were during Jesus' own ministry. Those who repent and believe in Jesus can be assured of forgiveness, and those who refuse to repent can be assured that their sins are not forgiven. Such is the consequence of rejecting the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. This is how judgment takes place as people come in contact with the light (see comments on 3:19-21; 9:39-41; 12:44-50).
The ancient church understood this forgiveness and nonforgiveness as referring to admission to baptism (cf. Brown 1970:1042). Since baptism is associated with the forgiveness of sins (for example, Acts 2:38) this is certainly an important way in which this commission has been fulfilled, though it does not exhaust the commission. The text has also been applied to the matter of discipline within the community. Accordingly, the text has served to ground the sacrament of penance (cf. Brown 1970:1041). Such discipline was indeed necessary. The issue of cleansing and forgiveness among the disciples is of concern in the Gospel (13:3-11; 21:15-17; cf. Hoskyns 1940b:650). John's later reference to the sin unto death and the sin not unto death (1 Jn 5:16) seems to deal with matters that preclude membership in the community (cf. Whitacre 1982:136-40). The value and validity of the forms that developed over the centuries to embody such discipline is a separate matter, but such discipline in itself would be another way in which this commission has been fulfilled. This would be true whether or not the group gathered at this point is limited to the eleven (minus Thomas), though if this commission is given to the disciples in general, then presumably the exercise of discipline in the community was not limited to the leadership, as represented by the Twelve (cf. Mt 16:19; 18:15-17). John's first letter is an interesting study in the combination of a strong authority figure (John) and shared responsibility, as illustrated by 1 John 5:16 itself.
Both of these matters--entering into the community and maintaining the health of the community and its members--are a significant part of the missionary part of this commission. For the life of the community itself is a major aspect of the witness to the world (17:21, 23). It is through the disciples' unity with God and with one another that the world will be confronted with the truth about the Father and the Son. Such unity in God cannot include error and evil, for they are not of God, hence the need for discipline for the sake of the mission itself.
This encounter between Jesus and his band of disciples comes in the midst of a series of stories concerning individuals and speaks of the community Jesus has created. Both the imparting of the Spirit and the commission given reveal that the foundation of the church, its conception and its commissioning, was a concern to Jesus. "The foundation of the church is shown to be the actual words, actions, death and resurrection of Jesus who came in the flesh. And it is from him that the Spirit proceeds" (Hoskyns and Davey 1947:165). In Luke, Jesus' involvement is evident in his gathering the disciples together and charging them to wait for power from on high (Lk 24:48; Acts 1:4-5). In John we see Jesus' own giving of the Spirit. "What the Lord will do invisibly from heaven He here does visibly on earth" (Hoskyns 1940b:653).
John's description of Thomas touching the wounds is quite dramatic (v. 25). Thomas wants to shove his hand into Jesus' side! On the assumption that the disciples have told Thomas about Jesus' wounds, some have taken Thomas's statement as evidence that Jesus' wound was large enough for one to put one's hand in and that it was not closed over. But more likely Thomas is simply being dramatic, as he was earlier in the Gospel (11:16). Similarly, the language he uses when he says he will not believe is very emphatic (ou me pisteuso).
A week later, the next Sunday after the resurrection, the disciples (including Thomas) were again in a locked room (v. 26). Jesus' appearances on Sundays, along with the timing of the resurrection itself, contributed to the church's making that the primary day of worship (cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:385). The expression John uses is literally "after eight days," since Jews counted the beginning and the ending of a period of time. This term itself was taking on special meaning at the time John is writing. In Barnabas (from about A.D. 96-100) the eighth day represents "the beginning of another world" (15:8). The author links it with Jesus' resurrection: "That is why we spend the eighth day in celebration, the day on which Jesus both arose from the dead and, after appearing again, ascended into heaven" (Barnabas 15:9).
Faith throughout the Gospel is depicted as progressive, renewed in the face of each new revelation of Jesus. The other disciples have moved on to the next stage, but Thomas has not been able to. To not move on when Jesus calls us to do so is to shift into reverse and move away. Both believing and unbelieving are dynamic--we are growing in one direction or the other. Thus, when Jesus appears in their midst he challenges Thomas to move on ahead in the life of faith, to stop doubting and believe (v. 27). The actual expression used may capture the dynamic quality, since ginomai often has the sense of "becoming" and the present tense "marks the process as continually going on" (Westcott 1908:2:355). Translated woodenly this reads, "Stop becoming unbelieving and get on with becoming believing" (me ginou apistos alla pistos). To get Thomas moving in the right direction again Jesus offers him the chance to feel his wounds. His offer echoes Thomas' own graphic language from verse 25, suggesting that Jesus was actually present when Thomas was making his protest or that he could at least perceive what was going on, an ability Jesus had even before he was raised from the dead (cf. 1:48).
John does not say whether Thomas actually did touch Jesus' wounds. The impression is that he did not, for John says, "Thomas answered and said to him . . ." That is, Thomas' confession is an immediate response to seeing Jesus and hearing his offer. Furthermore, in Jesus' response to Thomas he mentions seeing but not touching (v. 29).
Thomas' confession of Jesus as my Lord and my God is yet another climax in this Gospel. Jesus has invited him to catch up with the others in their new stage of faith, and he shoots past them and heads to the top of the class. His confession is climactic not only as part of the Gospel's story line, but also as an expression of the core of John's witness to Jesus in this Gospel. Thomas confesses Jesus as God when he sees that the crucified one is alive. It is in the crucifixion that God himself is made known, for he is love, and love is the laying down of one's life (1 Jn 4:8; 3:16). But God is also life. In John, this God is revealed perfectly in the death of the Son, but this death would be nothing without the life. When Thomas finds death and life juxtaposed in Jesus he realizes who the one standing before him really is.
Thomas has accepted the revelation, but he gets no commendation from Jesus. Rather, Jesus looks ahead to those who will believe through the witness of these disciples who have seen (cf. 15:27; 17:20): blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (v. 29). This beatitude, like others Jesus had spoken, is a shocking reversal of common expectations (cf. Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-26). It suggests that if seeing is believing, as it was for Thomas, believing is also seeing. What matters is the relationship established by faith. But this faith is not a vague or general feeling, nor is it merely an intellectual assent to a position. It is openness and acceptance and trust directed toward God in Jesus. In John, as in the rest of the New Testament, the concern is not simply with various conceptions of God or various ideas, but with events in history that demand an interpretation and a response. If John is the "spiritual Gospel," as Clement of Alexandria said (Eusebius Church History 4.14.7), it is so not in the sense of being nonmaterial or ahistorical, for in John there is no sharp dichotomy between spirit and matter, though the two are not confused with one another. Rather, this Gospel is spiritual in the sense that it interprets historical events in the light of divine reality. As E. C. Hoskyns and Noel Davey have said, "The Fourth Gospel persuades and entices the reader to venture a judgment upon history" (Hoskyns and Davey 1947:263). Thomas' confession was such a judgment, and now Jesus challenges all who come after to venture a judgment upon this history, that is, upon his person, his presence through the Spirit in this particular community and through the life he offers. Peter later describes such believers: "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Pet 1:8-9).