John 20:1-18 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. According to Mark 16:1 (printed below), why did Mary and the other women go to Jesus’ tomb?

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. (Mark 16:1)

On that first Easter morning, Mary, in company with the other women (cp. Mark 16:1), did not go to the empty tomb to greet the risen Jesus. On the contrary, they went with the intention of anointing His dead corpse. They had seen the place where Joseph and Nicodemus had buried Jesus; now, as soon as the Sabbath was over, they come with spices in order to anoint the body.

2. When Mary witnesses the open tomb, what report does she bring back to the disciples? See John 20:1-2 (printed below)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (2) So she ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him. (John 20:1-2)

When Mary and the other women entered the garden and drew near to the tomb, to their surprise they discovered that the massive stone had been removed from the entrance way: the tomb stood open and empty, the body of Jesus was gone! Upon seeing this condition of the tomb, Mary immediately left the other women and hurried back to the city to inform Peter and John. She reports, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Mary assumes that someone, perhaps the caretaker, has removed Jesus’ body and re-buried it in some unknown location.

3. When Jesus confronts Mary (see verses 14-15 printed below), why do you suppose she did not recognize Him?

After she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. (15) Jesus said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking? Assuming that he was the caretaker, she said to him, Sir, if you have removed him from this place, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away. (John 20:14-15)

Mary apparently followed Peter and John back to the tomb. After their departure, she continued to linger at the entrance way of the now empty tomb. Having seen for herself that the body was no longer in the tomb, Mary turns away. Upon turning around she finds herself in the very presence of Jesus, although she does not recognize that it is Him. Her last memory of Jesus was of Him in His battered, bloodied, crucified condition. She assumes that He is still dead and her mind is clouded over with grief. Jesus’ questions (verse 15a) further serve to conceal His identity, so quite naturally, Mary assumes that He is the caretaker.

4. After revealing Himself to her, why do you think Jesus prohibited her from touching Him (verses 16-17a printed below?)

Jesus said to her, Mary. She turned toward him and said in Hebrew, Rabboni; which means, Teacher. (17) Then Jesus said to her, Do not touch me; for I have not yet ascended to the Father. (John 20:16-17a)

Upon hearing the tender call of her name, she recognizes the voice, and cries out, “Rabboni!” But as she reaches out to embrace Jesus she is met by the sharp command, “Do not touch me!” Mary’s response, “Rabboni” (Teacher), seems to indicate that to her mind all has been restored to the way it was prior to the crucifixion—she only recognizes an “earthly Jesus.” Mary needs to understand that Jesus does not belong to this present world, His position is at the right hand of God, participating in the divine and eternal glory of God the Father.

5. What message does Jesus instruct Mary to convey to the disciples? See John 20:17b (printed below)

Go to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God. (John 20:17b)

Notice how, in referring to His disciples, Jesus for the first time speaks of them as “my brothers.” Previously He had spoken of them as “servants” and “friends” (John 15:15). What is the message Mary is to convey to Jesus’ brothers? “I am ascending to My Father and your Father… (through your faith in Jesus, you become an adopted child of God, entering into the same relationship with God the Father that the divine Son of God Himself enjoys—the relationship of sonship) …and to My God and your God”(amazing as it is, the Son of God, even when He has returned to His divine glory, still identifies Himself with His people: His Father, whom His people know as their God, He amazingly identifies as His God—because throughout eternity the eternal Son of God shall continue to retain His incarnate identity as the Word become flesh.)