John 20:1-18



Step I.  Initial Acquaintance

  1. Comparison of Texts

v.4  RSV:  They both ran

Message:  They ran neck and neck

NIV:  Both were running


v.7  RSV:  and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.

Message:  and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloth but separate, neatly folded by itself.

NIV:  as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head.


v.8  RSV:  and he saw and believed.

Message:  …took one look at the evidence and believed.


v.14  RSV:  Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus.

Message:  After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there.  But she didn’t recognize him.

NIV:  At this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize it was Jesus.


v. 17:  RSV:  “Do not hold me for I have not yet ascended…”

Message:  “Don’t cling to me…”

NIV:  “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”


  1. Textual Criticism

v. 11:  outside weeping: sinaiticus

 weeping outside: Bezar Cantabrigiends

weeping: Sinaiticus, original hand


v.17:  patera-- sinaiticus, et. al.

patera mou --Alexandrinus


  1. Rough Translation

Now on the one of the week Maria the Magdalene comes early darkness yet being into the tomb, and the stone having been taken out of the tomb.  She runs therefore and comes toward Simon Peter and toward the other disciples who loved Jesus, and says to them, “They took the Lord out of the tomb, and not we know where they put him.  Went out therefore the Peter and the other disciple and came into the tomb.  And ran the two together.  And the other disciple ran ahead more quickly Peter and came first into the tomb and bowing down sees lying the cloths not however he entered.  Comes therefore and Simon Peter behind him and entered into the tomb.  And he beholds the cloths lying.  And the kerchief which was on the head of him, not with the cloth lying but apart having been folded in one place.  Then therefore entered also the other disciple the having come first into the tomb and he saw and he believed.  Not yet for they knew the writings,  that must him out of death to rise again.  Departed therefore again to themselves the disciples.  Mary stood at the tomb outside weeping.  As therefore she was weeping she bowed down into the tomb.  And she beholds two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet where lay the body of Jesus.  And they say to her those, Woman why do you weep?  She says to them, They took the Lord of me, and not I know where they put him.  These saying she turned into the back, and beholds Jesus standing and not knew that Jesus is says to her Jesus, Woman why do you weep? Who you seek?  That thing that the gardener is, says to him, Sir, if you carried him, tell me where you put him, and I will take him.  Says to her Jesus Marian.  Turning that says to him Hebraically, Rabboni (the called teacher). Says to her Jesus, Not me touch not for I have ascended to the Father;  you go toward the brothers of me and tell them I ascend to the Father of me  and Father of you and God of me and God of you.  Comes Marian the Magdalene heralding to the disciples,  “I have seen the Lord, and these he said to her.


Step II.  Genre – How the text says what it says.

This resurrection narrative takes place in the pre-dawn darkness, continuing the Johannine theme of people coming to the light through faith in the risen Jesus.  A sense of breathless excitement is conveyed by Mary Magdalene, and the two other disciples, as they hasten back and forth to the tomb.  The empty tomb is the focus, and we witness the dawning faith of the beloved disciple upon “seeing” it.  Other details of note include the description of the burial cloths; Mary Magdalene’s weeping; the case of mistaken identity; her recognition of Jesus’ voice calling her name; Jesus’ command, “Do not hold me”; the fact that a woman is first to announce that she has seen the Lord; and Jesus’ instruction to her that she is to announce his ascension to “my Father and your Father”


  1. Personal Interaction:  Questions and observations
    1. What is the “status” of Mary Magdalene that she plays such a big role in John’s account of the empty tomb?
    2. How does the breathless running function in the narrative?
    3. Why does Mary M. say, “WE don’t know where they’ve put him”?
    4. Why does Mary not even think of the possibility of resurrection?
    5. Any significance to why the “beloved disciple” arrived first?
    6. Why the attention to the pieces of grave clothes?
    7. Why does Peter go right in, and the other stay back?
    8. Why isn’t it said of Peter that “he believed”, but only of the other disciple?
    9. What did he “believe”?
    10. Why did no one yet “understand from the scripture that he had to rise from the dead?
    11. Why did Mary stay at the tomb, rather than return with the other two?
    12. Does Mary recognize the two angels as angels?
    13. Any significance to her thinking Jesus was the gardener?
    14. She is really fixated on the body having been taken.
    15. Who, indeed, are we looking for?
    16. She knew him only when he pronounced her name.
    17. What is the significance of “Rabboni” as the first name applied to the risen Jesus?
    18. Was Mary actually holding him or was he peremptorily forbidding her to do so?
    19. What is the existential import of trying to hold on to Jesus, before his ascension?
    20. Why the instruction about ascension at this point?
  2. Organization – Where the elements of B are located.

Historical background:  1, 5, 6, 17

Narrative elements:  2, 5, 7, 11, 13, 14, 16

Author’s intent:  3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 18

Theological:  9, 13, 17, 19, 20

Homiletical:  3, 4, 6, 15, 16, 19


Step III  Composition

  1. Immediate context – preceding/following passage

Preceding texts describe the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, and the depiction of the body by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. 

Following texts record resurrection appearances to the disciples (and the bestowing of the Holy Spirit), to Thomas, and again to disciples as they were fishing.

  1. Organization of the Compositional Whole

The gospel of John as a whole is preparation for this resurrection narrative.  John maintains narrative elements throughout, such as darkness-into-light; slowly-dawning theological understanding; “levels” of meaning; the prominence of women and their unusual relationship to Jesus and disciples; descriptions of strong emotions; inability to recognize Jesus apart from his self-revelation; entrusting the missionary task to followers who “see” and “believe”; relationship with the Father made possible through Jesus

  1. Issues of Authorship


Step IV – Context

  1. Primitive Christianity

This climactic text of Christian faith of course finds parallels in the “Easter” accounts of the other gospels, with interesting differences.  In the synoptics Mary Magdalene is present, but not alone.  There, other women make their way to the tomb together.  They go “very early on the first day of the week” but the sun was already up in Mark (16:2).

Mark records one “man” in a white robe; Luke two “men” in dazzling white; Matthew, a mighty angel.  Mark apparently ends with the women failing to carry out their instructions.  In Matthew, Jesus himself seems to appear before the group of women as they are on their way to tell the disciples what the angel had communicated. In Luke, the women tell all, but they are scoffed at by the disciples.  John alone has Peter and the beloved disciple go to the tomb to see for themselves.  The Pauline corpus seems to have little interest in the details of “Easter” day, but the reality of Jesus’ resurrection is crucial for Paul’s theology. In 1 Corinthians 15, he names as core doctrine “he was raised...in accordance with the scriptures, …he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve….then to more than 500….then to James, then to all the apostles…last of all, to me.” How these appearances all square with the gospel accounts of the women as first witnesses, is problematic.  The early Christian communities seemed to experience Jesus’ ongoing presence with them through the felt power and miracles of the Holy Spirit, rather than apparitions.

  1. OT and Judaism

We gather that resurrection was a point of difference and perhaps of conflict between  “Sadducees” and “Pharisees”.  John refers to “the (OT) Scripture” in describing the as yet incomplete faith of disciples.  Early Christian interpretation of Scripture, as alluded to here and in Luke 24:26-27, understood much of OT prophecy as referring to the Messiah and his death and resurrection.

  1. Hellenistic World

Bodily resurrection was not a part of the Greek philosophy of life, but myths of the dying and rising redeemer were known.


Step V.  Distillation

  1. Summary of Salient Features

This text brings to fulfillment Johannine themes of awakening faith, the voice of Jesus calling disciples to proclaim the gospel; the movement from darkness to light; faith based on the “evidence” of the empty tomb; intimate personal relationships with the risen Jesus which is nevertheless not “private”, but rather a new reality which makes possible access to God for all.  The risen Jesus is also the one who wipes tears away, both by his gracious presence with us and by his urgent call to proclaim the gospel.  Here his ascension to the Father is seen as a crucial part of the kerygma, for by it all are his “brothers” and God is Father of all who believe.

  1. Smooth Translation

In the wee hours on Sunday, when darkness still prevailed, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and was stunned to see that the stone had been shoved aside from the entrance.  Immediately, she took off for Simon Peter and the other disciple, Jesus’ favorite, and blurted out, “They’ve taken him away, and we don’t know what they’ve done with him.”  Peter and the other disciples were off like a shot, racing each other to the tomb.  The other disciple edged Peter out.  Peering inside, he saw the grave cloths lying there, but he hesitated.  When Peter arrived he dashed right in, taking note of the cloths and another detail:  the head cover was not with the other cloths but carefully folded and placed by itself.  Then the other disciple- who had beaten Peter to the punch – went inside, sized up the situation, and BELIEVED.  (No one had yet put two and two together from the scripture--that Jesus had to rise from death.)  Then the disciples returned to headquarters.  But not Mary.  Reluctant to leave, she stayed on, weeping away.  Finally, she herself knelt down to have a look inside the tomb.  Get this:  she saw two angels sitting there, all dressed in white, one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus’ body should have been.  They asked her, “What are you crying about?”

“They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know what they’ve done with him.”

Having said this, she turned to leave and saw Jesus standing there – only she didn’t know it was Jesus!

He also said to her “Lady, what are you crying for?”

Figuring it was the gardener, she said, “Look, if you took him, please--just tell me where he is so I can minister to the body.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Wheeling around and looking directly at him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!”

Jesus said, “Don’t try to keep me here – my mission isn’t quite done yet: I still have to go up to the Father.  Go to my ‘siblings’ and tell them, ‘I’m going to my Father and yours, my God – and yours!’”  So, off she went, and announced to the others:  “I just saw the Master!”  And she told them exactly what he had instructed her to say.


  1. Hermeneutical Bridge

While the center of this text is of course the resurrection of Jesus, attention is also given to the dawning faith of followers, especially Mary Magdalene. She makes an emotional journey this Easter morning, from mourning, to panic, to near-despair, to a turn-around encounter with the Lord, to the radiance of a missionary with a God-given message.  Her story is representative of millions of people through history who have in one way or another been encountered by the risen Christ, and then empowered to live a life of purpose and service to God.


Step VI    Contemporary address

    1. Description of Audience

The Easter congregation is usually composed of visiting family members and those who attend only rarely, in addition to regular members. There can be an openness and sense of expectation that may help hearers to be responsive to the gospel.

    1. Goal for this Address

By tracing Mary’s experience at the empty tomb, I hope to challenge hearers to think about who or what they are “seeking” in life, and present to them the possibilities of faith in the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.