This paper assumes and continues the content of Part One.
John tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection in a way that shows the new creation – new heaven & new earth – began in Jesus. As the sun begins to set on that Friday, after Jesus had died, his young broken body is taken down from the cross by two elderly sages. They tenderly wash and wrap it in cloth, with 30 kilograms of spices (very expensive, only done for kings), and place his body in a new tomb in a nearby garden (John 19:39-41).
Death entered the first garden of creation through human sin. There was no tomb in that garden, because God never intended humans to die (death is an evil invasion into pristine creation, hence the innate human fear of death – it’s our enemy). They were driven out and barred by angels from re-entering that garden. In contrast, death enters the garden near Golgotha, in Jesus’ human body. There was a new tomb in this garden, because God intended to use it to defeat death by resurrecting Jesus’ body – the body that atoned for sin on that ‘Good Friday’: The Sacrificial Lamb of God. That makes this garden a New Eden of New Creation that destroys death, that will empty all tombs (one day), that opens the way for all to enter, regenerating those who do enter with eternal resurrection life.
The Resurrection (John 20:1-18)
“Early on the first day of the week, while it is still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance” (v.1). This is the day after the Sabbath, the first day of the next week, which is the eighth day of creation. For John, that eighth day is the first day of New Creation: The Resurrection of The Last Day that Jesus proclaimed in John 11:24-25, as taught in the Hebrew scriptures (Ezekiel 37:10-12, Daniel 12:2). Many Jews believed in The Resurrection, that it would mark the end of this age and the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom.
It’s no longer Friday, Sunday has come!
The phrase, “while it is still dark”, symbolizes human hopeless, entombed by the power of evil, to be shattered by the dazzling light of this new dawn. So, the story of this new dawn unfolds. Mary comes to the tomb, only to find it empty! Shocked, she runs to tell Peter and the others. They run to the tomb. It’s empty! The strips of linen lying there just as if Jesus’ body had simply come out of them! When the youngest disciple, whom Jesus specially loved, sees it, he believes. Jesus is alive!
But Mary remains outside the tomb weeping (v.10-18). Then looks in and sees two angels, one at the head and one the feet of where Jesus’ body was laid. She was dressed in black, in mourning. They were in white, connoting a different story. The glory of God that rests between the two cherubim on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, is no longer there behind the curtain, no longer in lockdown in a tomb, but is out and about in the garden, in the home, on the street, in the marketplace. The ‘missing body’ that lay between the angels is the Resurrected Temple, the new Ark of the Presence, giving mercy and forgiveness, “life from above” to all who “receive him” (John 1:12-13). The stone is rolled away, the veil is torn open, heaven breaks out on earth, new creation explodes in broken creation.
The angels ask, “why are you weeping?”
She answers, “they’ve taken my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve put him!”
She then turns to look away from the tomb and sees someone standing there.
He asks, “woman, why are you weeping?”
Thinking he’s the gardener of the garden, she answers, “if you’ve taken his body, tell me where you’ve put him.”
Then Jesus says, “Mary”.
Recognizing his voice calling her by name (John 10:3), she sees him for who he is – risen and alive – and she comes to life.
Surprised and overwhelmed with joy, she turns fully toward him and “clings”, crying out “rabboni!” The warm relational “my teacher”, as opposed to the formal “Rabbi”. He says, “don’t cling to me because I must ascend to my Father and you must go tell my brothers that I’m returning to my Father and your Father.”
She then runs to tell them all she saw and all he said.
In the way John writes this dramatic, tender, eye-witness account, we cannot but pick up its meaning in the symbolic echoes of the first creation story (I have italicized the key words). Jesus, like the first Adam, rose to life in a garden, in spring (northern hemisphere), bursting with blossoms and new life. He is the New Adam in a New Garden of Eden. He is the gardener who tends New Creation in broken first creation, looking for us, calling us by name, “Mary”. She can symbolize the church, all believers, who turn away from the tomb of death and despair – to see Jesus, to hear him identify us by name, and embrace him.
However, the whole point of this story is not that we hold onto Jesus in a possessive way, for our own comfort and healing, but that he sends us out as witnesses of New Creation! He is the Last Adam who is a “life-giving Spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45), reversing the first Adam’s “death-giving spirit”, which infected humanity with mortality, including creation. We who turn to the Last Adam, who believe and receive, become his sisters and brothers, born again with life from above by the same Father (John 1:12-13, 3:3-8). Nowhere in John’s gospel did Jesus call his disciples “my brothers”, and God “your Father”, till this resurrection day.
New Adams & Eves – New Creation Mandate (John 20:19-23)
Then John says, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together…” Technically, he should say “on the second day of the week” – Sunday night was already Monday! His deliberate wording, however, emphasizes that what follows is still the first day in the Garden of Resurrection, the first day of New Creation.
The disciples are in self-imposed lockdown for fear of being arrested by the authorities. Suddenly Jesus walks in through the bolted door. He “came and stood among them”. What a shock! It’s the first time he appears to them, in John’s story, other than to Mary that morning. He greets them with the customary “Shalom alechem”, “peace be with you”. In other words: Hi, it’s me! Don’t fear! I’m here, I’m alive! Then shows them his hands and side, the marks of crucifixion. They are “overjoyed when they saw the Lord”.
He again pronounces God’s Shalom on them. Then commissions them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. With that he does an extraordinary thing: he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, and affirms his commission, mandating them with his authority: “if you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”.
Some explanatory observations arise from this story.
First, Jesus was resurrected in a ‘trans-physical’ body (N.T. Wright’s phrase), a ‘spiritualised’ body renewed and saturated by God’s Spirit (pneumatikon body, Paul’s phrase in 1 Corinthians 15:44-45). He walks through walls, appears, disappears, yet eats food and is fully recognizable as the person they knew. They touch him, feel his wounds, hug him – he’s not a ghost as they initially thought. We will recognize and know each other by name in our resurrection bodies when Jesus returns (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Jesus calls his resurrection body “flesh and bone” (Luke 24:39), different to the regular “flesh and blood” (Hebrews 2:14). “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50), because “the life of the flesh in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). In other words, blood is the principle of life in the mortal body. Spirit is the principle of life in the resurrection body – thus “flesh and bone” – transformed and governed by God’s Spirit, fully suited to eternal life and reign in God’s Kingdom throughout the coming ages.
Second, to show one’s wounds in a court of law, as proof of what took place, was common in those days. This thought as two applications:
a) Jesus chose to first reveal himself to women (in all four gospels) – the first witnesses of his resurrection. Why women? Their testimony was not accepted in Jewish courts as they were ‘unreliable witnesses’ because they ‘deceive and lie’ (male prejudice). Mary earlier told the men apostles she saw, heard and touched the Risen Lord. But only when Jesus gives them the irrefutable evidence of his wounds, do they believe and are “overjoyed”! Can you believe it? Yes, sadly, I can! This was, perhaps, Jesus’ most empowering act for women, and most rebuking act for men – to transform both!
b) Jesus identifies himself by the marks of the cross. There is a nail-pierced resurrected and glorified human body not only in heaven, but in the Godhead. In some sense the Trinity is forever ‘changed’! The Crucified and Resurrected God, bearing the marks for eternity. How do you ‘self-identify’? What identifies you? What marks do you carry? Jesus told us to take up his cross and follow him, meaning, lose your life to find real life. To the extent you die to self you live in resurrection power. It’s not a triumphalist gospel for winners, but a theology of God’s power made perfect in human weakness.
Third, Jesus’ commission and breathing (his) Holy Spirit – fresh from the resurrection – into his disciples, is a direct reference to the Genesis story. Two last explanations:
a) John uses the same words, “he breathed on them”, from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) in Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37:9-10. Both texts speak of God breathing (new) life into bodies: first, Adam in the garden, then Israel in prophetic renewal. Here the New Adam breathes his Spirit of Resurrection Life into a new humanity of born-again Adams and Eves. Here Israel’s Crucified but Resurrected God breathes his Ruach ha Kodesh into the new Israel, fulfilling Ezekiel’s vision. The new humanity and new Israel are the same – all who experience John 1:12-13 & 3:3-8.
John might also see Jesus’ breathing his Spirit on them as the church’s empowerment of the Spirit – their experience of John 7:37-39 and Jesus’ teaching on the Spirit in John 14 – 16. Empowerment for the New Creation Mandate. Most biblical stories tell of God’s leaders commissioning and empowering their followers before the leader dies. John’s version of Spirit-empowerment is different to Luke’s version of Pentecost. Rather than contradict, they complement each other. It’s both/and, not either/or.
b) Before and after Jesus breathes Holy Spirit into his disciples, he commissions them, sending them as the Father sent him. In the context of this resurrection story, and in the entire context of John’s gospel, this is the renewal of the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28. Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth with Eden, rule over the creation God entrusts to you. In John’s terms, the born again and empowered church of new Adams and Eves are to take God’s Kingdom of New Creation to the ends of the earth: “Go and do what I’ve been doing, forgive sins, do miraculous signs & wonders (greater than what I did, John 14:10), bring light and life by speaking my creative word, re-Shalom the earth!”
The Conclusion (John 20:26-29)
John’s conclusion comes exactly a week later in the same house; in other words, another first day of New Creation. Jesus appears to doubting Thomas and irrefutably reveals himself as resurrected. Thomas’ response is the closing climax of the entire gospel, “My Lord and my God!” (v.28). This takes us back to the beginning, “The Word was God… and became flesh” (John 1:1,14). Jesus is indeed the Enfleshed, Crucified, Resurrected, Glorified God.
Therefore, the death, and more so the resurrection of Jesus is the Big Bang of New Creation that happens in human history. It explodes and exponentially expands God’s eternal life, the coming age, within this age, transforming broken creation. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And most important, we are called to take that New Creation to the ends of the earth.