The Gospel of John

J. N. Darby.

<47020E> 348

(Notes and Comments Vol. 6.)

John 20

- 4. As to the order of this see a note elsewhere.

"The first shall be last, and the last first." The thing they came to was the empty sepulchre. Such is this world, the empty sepulchre of the risen Jesus; though we have the witness in it of the risen Lord, the sure and composed proofs to faith that He has been in it, and though under the power of death there, is gone out free. I have a strong conviction that John and Peter here note the Gentile and Jewish people thus cognisant here of the death and rather resurrection of Christ, owning He is gone, and that it was He, the Lord indeed, the Son of God, that was rejected, and was dead. They had not known the Scriptures, nor taken the testimony of faith, but believed on the presented evidence. They went to their own. It had no other effect on them here. There was evidently considerable confusion of spirit about them yet.

With Mary it was otherwise. She was not so satisfied. She was a sinner to whom the Lord was most dear as a Saviour, a very gracious Saviour, above all a Saviour. She was bent over the tomb because her remembrance of the Lord was there, and she had not found Him elsewhere yet. She looked for Him only there in sorrow without. This was the Church's position. The Lord was taken away, and it knew not where they had laid Him. But as yet it knew not the resurrection. This is taught it, for she stood as the Jewish remnant, the received one by grace; not yet the ascension, but the answer is there. Jesus Himself reveals Himself to her risen. Before, we have seen the value of the death. Forthwith, when the body was pierced, when the death was seen, into the heart, and some of it opened, blood and water came thereout. Now the comfort of the resurrection. Angels watched the tomb for her that came. She looks away now from the tomb, the answer of her soul being given to the angels, but the answer to her not being found there because Jesus was not there, and His Person was the place of blessing. But as yet, till He calls His sheep by name, they knew Him not. But "Why weepest, whom seekest thou?" is His word. The Church, the quickened soul, knows Him thus speaking as risen, and owns Him as Master.

349 Thus is the Church planted in grace in the Remnant. This is its principle, the principle of its mission in the resurrection. Not the restoration or reception then into corporate fellowship with Himself as present, bodily present, as He will be hereafter; for He must ascend first. He was now only manifested to them to establish the ground of their faith, not to give the actual present accomplishment of their Jewish hopes. In result He must go in the accomplishment of His glory to receive the kingdom above, establish righteousness in the heavens, receiving the kingdom of the Father, make the kingdom properly heavenly, and also in its heavenly glory the Father's kingdom. Therefore He says, "Touch me not; for," etc.

But it does not separate Him from them otherwise. He now, on the contrary, for the first time calls them "brethren," because sanctified to be sons by His resurrection, wherein He was as to us "determined Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness"; now therefore especially and the rather showing the exceeding greatness of the grace, He says, "Go to my brethren"; they are now put in this relationship; I am still identified with them as a Man; I never lose this character: "I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." This is the message of grace. This is the position in which the disciples are set. She (Mary) saw the Lord, and He said these things. The Lord still identifies Himself in His position with them. Thus they are owned as disciples. We shall see just now how He meets them collectively so received. Moreover the Lord said, I am going as so associated (see Psalm 22:22.).

350  - 17. "Touch me not." May this text present to us the revelation of our Lord's state as the Firstborn among many brethren, "the First Begotten from the dead," "the Firstborn of all creation," as contrasted, on the one hand, with His ministry in the form of a servant, and, on the other, with His personal glory, the glory which He had with the Father before the world was; in a word, presenting Himself in the character into which we enter as partakers by hope, and therefore purify ourselves even as He is pure; that in which His humiliation and His glory meet, and hence their bond?

"Touch me not." They thought that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel; but all seemed confounded by His death. "Messiah abideth ever," but lo! He is alive, and they were disposed to receive Him as now entering in the flesh on earth into the throne of the kingdom of Israel, as those that held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him. Nor were they wrong. Nor was it, on the other hand, without the body He arose; for when He would show to them and to the ages to come this truth also, He says, "Handle me, and see … for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." But we should have been short of all the blessed instruction which He meant to give us concerning Himself if we had merely known His divine dominion and His resurrection in the body. We have further here, previous in order as well as time to His ascension to the mediatorial throne, His proposal of Himself as risen in human nature, as "the firstborn among many brethren," "Go, tell my brethren, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; my God, and your God." See Hebrews 2, the whole of which epistle indeed is a development of the great truths of our Lord's Person and offices as God the Son as Man, and the offices of redemption, primogeniture in the Church, and mediation founded on the offering of Himself, flowing from the wondrous incarnation; and in this gospel He is fully proposed to us in all these characters; and the study of it with this apprehension will unfold its spiritual instruction in a way wonderful to the soul, and which can only fathom it or find rest in it from the apprehension that, while He is every way infinite, He is love, and that knowing Him thus by love is alone knowing God. What a blessed thought! for love peculiarly meets necessity, while it satisfies the highest delight. It can be approached, though infinite, by infirmity; for who could dare to know God if He did not reveal Himself in love?

351 But to return to the text. Our Lord presents Himself here, as above mentioned. In saying therefore, "Touch me not," I conceive He means, You err in addressing Me here as the Object of your allegiance and worship. I have not yet entered on the throne of My kingdom; but go to My brethren (blessed word!) and tell them I do ascend; I am about to fulfil all their hopes; yea, far indeed beyond their hopes. I ascend; yet I ascend not separating Myself from them in the body of love; for in ascending I own them still as brethren; nay, I ascend in this character to their Father and Mine, to their God and Mine. So that in entering in as King of Glory where, and not here, they are to look for Me, I still am in perfect union with them as My brethren.

I think John's gospel will be found to contain, not so much as matters of fact as in the declarations of our Lord Himself, a perfect revelation of the mystery of incarnate love, how God was in Christ, and this in all its fulness, everything which in purpose and work, as well as manifestation, filled up all that infinitude which was between a sinful, rebellious, apostate creature and the infinite God in love, having its foundation, not (which were impossible and contradictory, making us God) in our loving Him, but in His first loving us. Wherein we would be gods we enter into enmity against God, and so into that which is essentially contradictory of the divine nature. O foolish and deceived man! Well might David say, "Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God! My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?"

There is but one other thing to the renewed soul, that for which the Son left the glory of the Father; the work of love in patience here. "Therefore," says the apostle, "I am in a strait betwixt two." But indeed the exceeding riches of love gives both to His children; that as the Lord set forth the fulness of both, so, as we are partakers of His Spirit, we are made partakers, as Peter says, of the sufferings of Christ and the glory which shall be revealed.

If I might suggest as a matter for more full development and possibly more enlarged accuracy of statement, Matthew's gospel contains the dispensation of the kingdom of heaven; Luke's gospel the moral nature of that kingdom, and the development of the work of conversion in its members whomsoever. Of Mark's I am not prepared to speak, and I suspect that the epistles, though all containing the same great truths, will be found to be relatively characterised in such a way; certainly the epistles of John and the Hebrews are the revelation of the Person and offices of Christ; that is, of the Son of God in the flesh by whom we know and see the Father; while the Romans, Galatians, Colossians and Ephesians unfold the dispensations of God's grace and counsels in their several bearings, from the lowest personal truths to the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God, whose judgments are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out. It is not given me to pursue this further at present. There is another more general view of the same subject which with God's blessing I will take other occasion to enter on: I mean the structure of Scripture and its perfectness.

352  - 19. We have now the manner of the Lord's manifesting Himself to the gathered Church; that is, in the midst of the world, gathered in the midst of it, in hostility to itself, in token of the resurrection, and as of it; gathered on the first day of the week, when man's hindrance might be complete. Then nothing separated from Jesus' love. The doors were shut, but Jesus, "that same Jesus," came and stood. He was personally present in the midst of them, saying, "Peace be unto you." He had never so said before; but now peace was spoken through Him because He was risen. He spoke peace, I say, that very same Jesus, for He showed them His hands and His side; and joy was their portion now. Once, though not dead, "they were affrighted, supposing," etc. Thus we have just the picture of Jesus present, in spite of every obstacle, in the midst of His brethren, gathered in the power of His resurrection; thus too sanctifying by His presence. We may remark in passing their gathering, as after, "the first day of the week." But the point is the manner of His revelation, the presence of Jesus risen, in the midst of His brethren, giving peace and joy in believing. The Lord's presence is as true now in the midst of His brethren so meeting as in the day of His glory; though not in the same sort; but He is as present. He distinguishes afterwards the difference of those who believed without seeing; to wit, the Church and those who by [it]; to wit, the Jews and world in the latter day. His first salutation of them, the establishment of their certain knowledge of Him; and, being doubled, the thing certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

As necessary to eye-witnesses, they saw Him personally; but it is true wherever two or three are gathered together in His name. They are sent from "Peace," from Jesus, missionaries from Him with peace. The knowledge of Jesus, and carrying it about them as so gathered, enjoying the Lord's presence (having peace), they are constituted missionaries as so receiving the blessing. It is not the twelve apostles' nomination. It does not appear they only [were] there; though they doubtless were pre-eminent. And if it were only by virtue of this, as commissioning them, Thomas had no apostolic commission at all. But it is, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed"; showing the then power to rest in faith: "I believed; and therefore have I spoken."

353 Care is taken to show by Thomas it was no simply apostolic commission in its immediate application: chapter 17:18 was. Upon His sending upon His commission to the Church He qualifies them, endues them with authority and competent power as such. Saying this, He breathed on them, and says (blessed words! He then had power to give it), "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." The ministerial gift of the Spirit is surely the perpetual gift of the Church, and by receiving by virtue of this, sinners to whom peace had been preached receive their forgiveness; and if rejected, cast out, their sins are retained, and bound upon them. This applies to the least case of discipline; but I speak of the principle; hence acted on, testified of by the Spirit, in holiness (for here Holy Spirit), and so that bound in respect of which this holiness acted. Not here the Spirit of truth, but a Holy Spirit; and thus their act is recognised, is the act of God in result, so done. So given it was a most important office, a most important competency. They received the Holy Spirit as given of Jesus, so binding the Church by His mission, sending. Who shall not go according to his measure, the measure of the gift of Christ?

Is this the portion of the Church? It is. It is the Church is here designated. Peace by virtue of His resurrection is the blessing to them. Peace is the basis of their mission, out from Jesus abroad. Verse 22 gives the ground of their reception of others. It is not mission of gift (that from ascension), but mission from His Person with the blessing; mission of the Church from Jesus risen; not ministry, save as the whole Church is sent in principle by the knowledge of the same Jesus who died being risen, and in this sense positive ministry; the Church being ministerial for Christ by virtue of the Holy Spirit dwelling in it, breathed in it in the power of resurrection life, as Adam. The man so breathed into became a living soul. We are made partakers of the life of Jesus, the quickening Spirit. The style runs: "Having quickened us together with him, having forgiven us all trespasses."

354 The Paraclete abides with us for ever, given in character of the Spirit of truth and Holy Spirit. And there are those who shall believe when they are looking on Him whom they have pierced, to whom Jesus will yet show Himself in due and appointed time in mercy, but with this reproach. And, as verse 28 will give the full confession of the Jewish Church and brought in Gentiles in that day, so verse 29 gives the judgment of the Lord on the difference. The saints are those who, having not seen, yet have believed, and they shall be in the glory. This point therefore of believing on Him, the basis of the Church here set out, is the comment on the whole paragraph in verses 30, 31. 1 Peter 1:8, etc., rests thus on this ground. Resurrection day is marked in verse 26. They are the two visions of the Jewish remnant of Christ, the former being that on which the Church is based; verse 29 being the warrant and ground of blessing of every subsequent believer or believing Gentile. The general fact of the establishment of His resurrection has its weight from all the circumstances. Verse 21, to the end of verse 23, is the part which is of such importance as giving the position and state of the Church.

The substance has been given: first, conviction of resurrection, but no communion; the disciples went to their own home. Their calling by grace by name; Jesus' revealing of Himself and individually; then His presence, and giving communion, not as when bodily present, saying, "Fear not"; but on the contrary, when met in private for fear of the Jews, His presence as risen giving peace and joy; glad when they saw the Lord; common peace and joy in believing, in communion, thus acting. Then again peace given as the ground of mission, and efficacy to the word by the Spirit breathed, and all their acts sanctioned; that is, as so led by the Spirit; as the place of forgiveness when no imputation was, but judgment of evil so receiving or rejecting. This the abiding portion of the Church so having the Spirit; forgiveness being the character of the dispensation, and communion. Then the conduct of Thomas, as we have seen, represented the Jewish people.


355 Resurrection, as to circumstances. First, the angel rolled away the stone, and sat on it, alarming the keepers. Next, Mary Magdalene comes alone to the sepulchre, and, seeing the stone rolled away, she goes and tells Peter and John (or, at any rate, left alone at once on seeing the stone rolled away), who came to the sepulchre. Mary returned with them, and perhaps other women (or these came afterwards). She stays there when Peter and John go; and then she sees the Lord, and speaks to Him, besides (as the other women did) seeing the angels in the sepulchre. She returns to tell the disciples in general (so that we are sure there were two messages). It is this second time on turning she sees, and, on His naming her name (calling His poor sheep by name), she knows Jesus.

I doubt, however, that this was the same as the other women's seeing Him. But it is very probable they came somewhere about this time; but He appeared first to Mary Magdalene. She returns to the disciples, and so did they with, first their message from the angels, and, secondly, both Mary and they with the fact that they had seen the Lord. Hence it is stated in general that the women did so; though John and Mark give more minute details. But I suppose Mary Magdalene was alone. I should rather doubt she had communications from the angels. Her words to Jesus on her second visit seem to make it certain; and, moreover, she then saw them.

In Mark, I take it, it is general, as in Matthew the women. Matthew 28:2-4, happened before the women came, I judge, and the address to the women is given generally as the angel's message to them. It might prove it was the same angel, but no more. She was a lonely one, this Mary Magdalene. We can tell, I suppose, why.

The only difficulty in this account seems to me to be Luke 24:22. But it is evident verses 10-12, are a mere summary of what happened, to give the general idea. Hence also we have merely women from Galilee, where (note) it is said "certain others." Perhaps these were women not of Galilee. They may have been men. Mary Magdalene is said to have gone alone in John; and it is evident that, if the others went with her, all her conduct was solitary in its connection with Jesus. If the other women went with her at first, they must, on her leaving, have wandered away somewhere, and most of what is in John [have] taken place in their absence. I hardly think Mark's "seen first by Mary Magdalene" can be the "All hail" to the other women; nor this last the "Mary" and "Rabboni."

356 Note, first Mary looks behind her as she was stooping looking into the sepulchre. On His saying "Mary," she turns right round. It is to be remarked that Mary first says, "We know not"; so also it is "My Lord"; which, if not showing that the other women were there, at least shows that, as to the state of her soul, she was associated with them in mind, or associated them with herself. But this could not continue; there was not the same energy of affection. Hence afterwards it is, "I know not where they have laid him." Here she felt her lonely, isolated affection; for full affection is always lonely, save its object.