A word for the heart

with Alan Bailey

John 19:38-20:18 - The Gospel of John

Bible study


Welcome to this Bible Study. Read what I have written slowly. If you have a Bible look up the reference verses given, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul through them.

John 19:38-20:18

In John’s Gospel, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are closely connected. Together they form the central event that brings salvation to mankind. The verses we look at now tell us just what happened after Jesus gave up His life on the cross. The writer wants us to grasp some detail as it is so important to understand that something amazing, something of great significance was taking place. Also, John wants us to see that he is telling truth that is to be relied upon.

Verse 38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body.

We learn from Matthew that Joseph was a rich man and a member of the Jewish council. Rather than agree with the council, Joseph sided with Jesus as he had for some time been a believer. In respect for Jesus, Joseph wished to see Him buried honourably. His reason for secrecy was apparently that he would have been harshly dealt with if found out.

Verse 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy five pounds.

Here was another Jewish leader who was a secret disciple. We read about him in John chapter 3 where Jesus tells him how he needs to be ‘born again’ in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He had a large amount of costly spices for anointing Jesus’ body. It should be noted that secrecy for disciples is not at all encouraged in Jesus’ ministry. Today it remains the same. We need to be unashamed to show that we belong to Him.

Verse 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

We will see that this procedure was important in the record of Christ’s resurrection. His whole body was virtually encased in ointment. This would show that he truly was dead and that no-one could steal the body without taking the graveclothes and all.

Verses 41 & 42 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no-one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

The tomb belonged to Joseph. It was eventually to hold his body. Instead, he made it available for Jesus’ body. The tomb was a cave cut out of rock, fairly spacious, with a ledge on which the body was placed. Over the opening, a stone was laid. The stone was circular, large and flat. As it was heavy, it was rolled in a groove to cover or to uncover the opening. Such tombs can still be seen in Israel today. The day of Preparation mentioned was the time of preparing for the Passover Feast.

Chapter 20
Verse 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.

The other Gospels show that there was a small group of women who came. John highlights the presence of Mary Magdalene, perhaps as the spokesperson. It was surprising to them to see that the stone which sealed the tomb was no longer in place.

Verse 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!’

The women had found the tomb empty. Their first thought was to tell the disciples, fearing that the body had been stolen. Though Jesus has spoken several times about His coming resurrection, it had not been grasped by his followers. It was too difficult for them to accept.

Verses 3-5 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.

We can imagine that there was a good deal of mystery and excitement about what was happening. Why was this so? Who could possibly want a corpse? Why was the linen and ointment lying there like a cocoon with no body in it?

Verses 6 & 7 Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.

No doubt Peter was baffled by what he saw. Why would the cloth be left there and why would the piece from around His head be folded and placed to one side? Notice that the writer wants to bring these details to our attention.

Verses 8 & 9 Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

John refers to himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ and ‘the other disciple’. Here he is giving us his first hand witness of what he saw and what convinced him. Over the years, people have tried to deny that the resurrection happened. Some have suggested that Jesus did not actually die but fainted and later came around. There are a number of reasons why this is not possible. His blood was shed on the cross by the spear wound, ensuring His death. The covering of spices would make life impossible. From the beginning the accusation was that the body was stolen. John could see that a thief would have taken everything after he had managed to break through the group of soldiers keeping guard over the tomb. But the clothes told that Jesus had left the tomb Himself. John believed, though the note that follows points out that up to that point the truth of resurrection had not dawned on any of them. However, they had been told by Jesus and the Old Testament had predicted it also. (Psalm 16:10 etc)

Verses 10-12 Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

The disciples were still afraid of the authorities at this stage and would want to keep out of sight as much as possible. But Mary was too upset by all that had happened to leave the tomb. No doubt she was amazed at the sight of angels.

Verses 13 & 14 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put Him.’ At this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

Angels are God’s messengers and they would have come to this scene to give authority to the event of Jesus’ rising from the dead. They were God’s confirmation. In turning, Mary did not immediately recognize Jesus. This could have been because He had changed somewhat through the suffering He went through and most likely she wasn’t seeing too well with her eyes full of tears.

Verses 15 & 16 ‘Woman’ he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’
Thinking He was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him and I will get Him.’ Jesus said to her ‘Mary.’ She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni’ (which means Teacher).

The empty tomb and the graveclothes showed that Jesus had risen. Now His actual appearances show and prove this truth. Mary was first to see and grasp the fact. How her heart must have leapt when she realized the one she loved was in fact alive.

Verses 17 & 18 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary of Magdala went to the disciples with the news that she had seen the Lord and that He had told her this.

Mary may have reached out to grip His feet but He gently told her not to keep holding Him. She had a job to do. To go and tell the tremendous news of her personal encounter with the risen Christ.


The Christian faith stands firmly on the fact of Christ’s resurrection. It shows that Jesus was right in what He had taught. It shows that He is the Son of God. Also, that he had paid the price for sin and had conquered death. It means that He is the only Saviour and that no other man can ever be compared to Him. He is unique. He is Lord. We need to ask ourselves the question again ‘Is He my Lord.’

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