Signs in John's Gospel
Arlen L. Chitwood
The Resurrection of Christ
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb.
So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first.
And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there,
and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.
Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed.
For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. (John 20:1-9
The resurrection of Christ forms the last of eight signs around which the gospel of John is structured. Jesus had called attention to His resurrection being a sign earlier in His ministry, at the Passover in Jerusalem following the “beginning of signs” in Cana of Galilee, in John chapter two:
So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
But He was speaking of the temple of His body. (vv. 18-21)
Then attention is called to the fact that His disciples, following His resurrection, remembered that which had been said at this point in His ministry, resulting in belief among the disciples:
Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. (v. 22)
Then, following Christ’s resurrection, the experiences of Thomas are recorded, both on the day of Christ’s resurrection and eight days later.
When Christ had appeared in the midst of His disciples while they were in a closed room late the same day of His resurrection, Thomas was not present. Thomas, unlike the other disciples, had not seen the resurrected Christ. And, when hearing the report by the others of that which had occurred while he was absent, he, in an unbelieving and skeptical manner, stated,
Unless I see in His hands the print [Greek: tupos, “type”] of the nails, and put my finger into the print [Greek: tupos] of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe, (John 20:25b).
Then eight days later, Jesus appeared and stood in the midst of His disciples again, but this time Thomas was present. Jesus then singled out Thomas, and said,
Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing. (v. 27b)
And Thomas, responding to the resurrected Christ, could only say, “My Lord and my God” (v. 28b).
This account then leads into the statement in John 20:30, 31, a statement revealing the purpose for the gospel of John, which could only be looked upon as the key to a proper understanding of this fourth gospel:
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book;
but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
This statement, following Christ dealing with Thomas eight days after His resurrection, points in the near context back to things surrounding Christ’s resurrection; and in the far context this statement could only point back to the other seven signs, taking the reader all the way back to the beginning sign in chapter two.
Then, approaching the matter from another standpoint, from a typical standpoint, Christ, in Matthew 12:38-40, referred to the account of Jonah as a sign of His coming death, burial, and resurrection.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”
But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
As Jonah was cast into the sea, died in the sea, and was raised from the dead on the third day, so would the Son of Man be delivered by the Jews into the hands of the Gentiles, suffer death, and be raised from the dead on the third day.
In the preceding respect, the account of Jonah forms “a type,” but this account is also referred to as a sign. The account of Jonah, “a type,” forms a sign for the Jewish people, for it is the Jew who requires a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22).
And as the type is inseparably linked with the antitype after one fashion, so must it be with the thought of signs. Not only is the type a sign but so is the antitype as well, something stated in so many words in John 2:18-21; 20:30, 31.
Peter at the Tomb
The timing of Christ’s resurrection is often associated with the early morning hours of the first day of the week. This though is derived from events at the time Mary Magdalene and other women came to the tomb before daybreak on the first day of the week and not only found the stone covering the tomb rolled away but found Christ's body no longer present in the tomb (Luke 24:1-10).
Christ was raised sometime prior to these events; and He was possibly raised hours earlier, for He could have been raised at any time following the end of the previous day, the end of the Sabbath (which ended at 6 PM [ten or so hours earlier], with the first day of the week beginning at that time).
Christ had to remain in the place of death until at least the beginning of the third day to fulfill biblical prophecy. He was to be in the place of death for three days and three nights; but then He was to be raised on the third day, as all of God’s firstborn Sons (Christ, Israel, and the Church, following the adoption) are to be raised up on the third day (the third millennium) to live in God’s sight.
(The preceding — Christ being in the tomb for three days and three nights, being raised after three days, and being raised on the third day — must be understood in the light of the way in which this is handled in the Old Testament, not in the light of humanistic reasoning or our Western way of thinking.
The expression “the third day” relative to Christ’s resurrection is used twelve times in the New Testament, [KJV]. In three of the references there is some manuscript support for the rendering, “after three days” [Mark 9:31; 10:34; Acts 10:40]. Minor manuscript support exists for another three on the alternate rendering [Matthew 16:21; 17:23; Luke 9:22]. However, for the remaining six, no manuscript support exists for a rendering other than “on the third day” [Matthew 20:19; Luke 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; 1 Corinthians 15:4].
The expression “after three days,” relative to Christ’s resurrection, is found only two places in the New Testament [Matthew 27:63; Mark 8:31]; and, as previously seen, Matthew 12:40 reveals the same period of time to also be “three days and three nights.”
Also note the expression “in [or, ‘within’] three days,” pertaining to Christ’s resurrection [Mark. 14:58; 15:29; John 2:19, 20].
The Jewish Talmud reads, “A day and night together make up an onah [word referring to a complete period of twenty-four hours], and any part of such a period is counted as the whole.” The Jewish Talmud though, at this point, is simply a reflection of that which is taught in the Old Testament, which is that the only possible source to derive information that will allow one to properly understand and reconcile the expressions in the New Testament relative to the time Christ spent in the place of death [cf. Genesis 40:13, 20; 42:17, 18; 1 Samuel 30:1, 12, 13; 2 Chronicles 10:5, 12; Esther 4:16-5:1].)
Thus, having completed the time necessary to remain in the place of death at the beginning of the third day, there would have been no need for Christ to remain in this place longer than time immediately following the Sabbath, time immediately following 6 PM. But, again, the exact timing of His resurrection in this respect is not given. We can only know that His resurrection had already occurred prior to the time Mary Magdalene and other women came to the tomb, found the stone covering the tomb rolled away, and the tomb empty except for the grave clothes.
And the stone had not been rolled away to let Christ out of the tomb, as was the case with the resurrection of Lazarus in the previous sign. Rather, the stone had been rolled away to let others in to see that He was already out.
Christ’s resurrection was unlike anything that had ever occurred in the annals of man’s recorded history. A Man had not only been raised from the dead by the triune Godhead, but He, as part of the triune Godhead, had raised Himself (cf. John 2:18-21; Acts 3:15; Romans 8:11). And His resurrection body was unlike any type of body that had heretofore existed in the human realm.
Christ, at the time of and following His resurrection, possessed a body capable of movement from one point to another at will. He could appear in the midst of His disciples and then disappear at will (cf. Luke 24:15, 31, 36; John 20:26).
And knowing these things — comparing Scripture with Scripture— it is a simple matter to understand the only thing that could have occurred both inside and outside the tomb at the time Christ was raised from the dead.
When Peter stooped down and walked into that empty tomb he saw the empty linen grave clothes that had been wrapped around the body of Christ “lying,” with the handkerchief that had covered His face “not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. (John 20:5-7). Peter saw the empty grave clothes either maintaining the shape and contour of the body (through a possible hardening of the mixture of myrrh [an aromatic gum resin] and aloes [an aromatic powered wood, also containing resin]) or simply lying in an undisturbed and somewhat collapsed manner (with the layers of linen cloth still wrapped together), with the handkerchief that had covered His face in a collapsed place by itself (collapsed in folds).
What had happened? The answer, textually, is quite plain and simple.
At the instant Christ was raised from the dead, at the instant He raised Himself, He didn’t sit up or stand up inside that tomb and then walk out of the tomb as Lazarus had done. Rather, He was immediately removed from the tomb, He removed Himself from the tomb (probably in an atomos of time [the most minute particle of time known in the Greek language, the same as time seen surrounding the resurrection and rapture of Christians in 1 Corinthians 15:52]) to another location outside the tomb.
And, with His body no longer being on the inside of the grave clothes, the linen wrappings either maintained the shape and contour of the body or they simply collapsed, apart from the body being on the inside; and the handkerchief that had been placed over His face fell in folds where His head had been.
This is what Peter saw, and what John who was with him subsequently saw as well. This resulted in immediate “belief” on John’s part (John 20:8; cf. John 2:22); and it resulted in “marveling” on Peter’s part (Luke 24:12), something that, combined with subsequently spending forty days with the resurrected Christ, resulted in the unwavering belief seen at Pentecost and beyond as Peter became the central figure in the proclamation of the message during about the first five years of the existence of the Church (Acts 2ff).
Christ’s Post-Resurrection Ministry
Christ’s ministry to Israel prior to His death, burial, and resurrection lasted for about three and one-half years. This was a ministry that had begun while John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, was still proclaiming to Israel, “Repent [all Israel], for the kingdom of the heavens [the rule of the heavens over the earth] is at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 13ff; John 3:22-24).
John’s ministry was carried out in Judea. And after John had been imprisoned, Jesus traveled to Galilee, which was north of Judea and Samaria, and began to proclaim the message that had begun under John. And multitudes began to follow Him, both from Galilee where He was ministering and from the southern region of Judea (Matthew 3:12-25).
To help in the proclamation of this message, Jesus, early in His ministry, commissioned twelve disciples. Then, at a later time, He commissioned seventy others as well (Matthew 10:1-8; Luke 10:1-9). And it was eleven of the original twelve (Judas no longer present) that Jesus took aside after His resurrection and taught for forty days (Acts 1:2, 3).
Jesus taught them “things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” which could only have been continued teachings pertaining to the same kingdom that had previously been proclaimed to Israel, beginning with John. And this could only have been with a view to the same message once again being proclaimed to Israel by the disciples — a re-offer of the kingdom of the heavens.
But something new was now seen. Prior to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, the message was proclaimed to Israel alone (Matthew 10:5, 6; 15:24; Luke 4:43, 44). However, after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, the message was to be carried not only to those “in Jerusalem and in all Judea [referring to the Jews, with the Jews in Galilee or scattered throughout the Gentile world understood as included]” but also to those “in Samaria and to the end of the earth [referring to the Gentiles]” (Acts 1:8).
And ten days following Christ’s forty-day ministry to His disciples, a new entity — the one new man “in Christ” — was called into existence, allowing those in “Samaria” and in “the end of the earth” to become part of the complete, overall picture (Acts 1:4, 5; 2:1ff). That is to say, once this new entity had been called into existence, the complete scope of the proclamation of the message as seen in Acts 1:8, involving God’s complete scope of His redemptive plans and purposes as it related to man, would then be in effect.
But, as long as the re-offer of the kingdom was open to Israel — for about the next thirty years — Israel held the priority in relation to the proclamation of this message. The message was to be proclaimed in accordance with the order seen in Romans 1:16, “. . . to the Jew first and also to the Greek [the Gentile]” (cf. Romans 2:5-10, 16; 3:9; 10:12).
The preceding is why the order of the proclamation of this message throughout the book of Acts was always to the Jew first. This was an order apparently understood by those proclaiming the message. It was only after the Jews, in each instance, had heard the message that the apostles and others carrying the message were free to go outside the bounds of that designated by “Jerusalem and in all Judea” to that designated by “Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
Prior to the events surrounding Calvary, the message couldn’t be proclaimed to the latter (Samaria and beyond); but now, following these events and those in Acts chapter two, the disciples not only could but were commanded to carry the message beyond Jerusalem and Judea.
Of course, in Acts chapter two there was no new entity beyond “Jerusalem and in all Judea” to which the message could then be carried. Rather, at this point in time, the message was carried to Israel immediately after the new entity was brought into existence by those forming the nucleus of this new entity. But once churches began to be established in the Gentile world, then the proclamation of the message, in accordance with Acts 1:8, could be carried out in its fullness.
This whole panorama of events surrounding the proclamation of the message concerning the kingdom undoubtedly formed a major part of that which was dealt with by Christ during the forty days of Acts 1:3, for note Christ’s concluding instructions prior to His ascension in the verses immediately following (vv. 4-9). These verses form a recap of the complete picture of that which was about to occur, undoubtedly reflecting back on that which Christ had apparently taught the disciples during the previous forty days.
The faith of the apostles is seen after one fashion immediately following the resurrection of Christ (cf. John 20:25; 21:3ff), but it is seen in an entirely different fashion after they had spent forty days with the resurrected Christ, being taught by Him personally.
Ten days after Christ’s ascension, on the day of Pentecost, “about a hundred and twenty” disciples, which would have included the apostles, were gathered “with one accord in one place” (Acts 1:15; 2:1). And after they had been filled with the Spirit, they, through the supernatural means of the indwelling Spirit, proclaimed “the wonderful works of God” to those present in Jerusalem — who had traveled to Jerusalem from “every nation under heaven” — in their own native languages (Acts 2:4-12).
Then Peter, with the multitude of Jews astonished and perplexed (vv. 12, 13), stood up and spoke to the entire group in a bold manner, centering his thoughts on Christ’s resurrection and all that His resurrection now made possible (Acts 2:14-40). And this same boldness is subsequently seen not only in Peter’s ministry but in that of the other disciples as well (Acts 3-7).
What made the difference?
This type of belief was not something that had generally been manifested after spending some three and one-half years with Christ prior to His death. In fact, at the end of this period, rather than exhibiting faith, “all the disciples forsook Him [Christ] and fled.” And though Peter still followed Christ “afar off,” he subsequently denied Christ three times (Matthew 26:56-58, 69-75).
But now, after spending forty days with the resurrected Christ, things were entirely different.
Only one thing possible could have made the difference. And that one thing was very much on not only Peter’s mind but that of the other disciples as well during events seen in the opening chapters of Acts. Everything in the message now centered around something that heretofore it could not have centered around — the fact that Christ had been raised from the dead (cf. Acts 2:23-36; 3:12-26; 4:1, 2, 10-12; 5:28-42; 7:51-60).
Paul, a zealous Pharisee among the Jews — one who had sat “at the feet of Gamaliel” and had been “taught according to the perfect manner of the law” — was one of the great persecutors of the early Church during the first several years of the existence of the Church (Acts 8:1; 9:13, 14; 22:4, 5, 20; 26:9-11).
But Paul, a few years following Christ’s resurrection and the events of Acts chapter two, in route to Damascus in order to bring bound to Jerusalem any that he found of “the Way,” was confronted by not only the resurrected but now the glorified Christ (Acts 9:1-5; cf. 1 Timothy 3:16). And Paul’s life, after being confronted by the One whom he had been persecuting, was immediately changed.
After “three days” without sight (blinded by having gazed upon the glorified Christ [cf. Acts 22:11; 26:13]), his sight was restored, restored on the third day; and Paul, in the same zealous manner that he had exhibited in persecuting the Church now began to proclaim “Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.”
And Paul knew enough about the Old Testament Scriptures that he could not only proclaim the message but prove “that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:20-22). And Paul was so zealous and effective in the proclamation of this message that, after a time, “the Jews took counsel to kill him” (Acts 9:23, 24; cf. John 12:10, 11).
What made the difference? Why did Paul suddenly change from one of the greatest persecutors of the Church to one of its greatest ministers? The answer is simple. It was the power of the eighth sign in the gospel of John being realized in his life.
And Paul, in his experiences in route to Damascus and his subsequent experiences after his encounter with the resurrected and glorified Christ, forms a type of that which the entire nation will one day experience.
The pierced One, in all His glory, will appear to Israel in that coming day, following the completion of that seen in Daniel’s Seventy-Week prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27; cf. Zechariah 12:10-14; 13:6; 14:4-9). And Israel, exactly as Paul in Acts chapter nine, or exactly as Joseph’s brothers in Genesis chapter forty-five, will be troubled, terrified, in Christ’s presence. Then Israel, exactly as Joseph’s brethren, or exactly as Paul, will go forth with a message concerning the resurrected Christ (Genesis 45:9, 13, 26; Acts 9:20ff; cf. Isaiah 53:1ff).
This eighth sign in John’s gospel formed the last of the signs set forth in this gospel to effect belief among those in Israel during the years of the re-offer of the kingdom (from 33 AD to about 62 AD). Though this didn’t happen, Israel will believe in that future day when Christ personally appears to the nation.
In that day, according to Zechariah 12:10, the Jewish people will “look upon Me [the resurrected, glorified Christ, exactly as Paul saw Him], whom they have pierced.” And in that day, exactly as in Paul’s experiences, the power and reality of Christ’s resurrection will do something that it didn’t do in the re-offer of the kingdom — effect belief throughout all Israel, with Israel’s blindness being lifted after two days, on the third day.