Bible Study with Jairus – John 20
How To Deepen Our Knowledge and Experience of the Resurrection of Jesus
Do you know the risen Christ? Have you experienced His presence? Has he appeared to you personally? You may say, “Is it possible to experience the resurrected Jesus and know him personally?” My answer is, “Yes, you can. But you have to remove the obstacles that are preventing you from seeing the risen Jesus.” In John 20, Jesus helped various disciples remove the spiritual blinders that were preventing them from seeing the risen Jesus. When these veils were removed, each of them experienced Jesus’ presence and the risen Christ appeared to them. When we properly use our minds, wills, and emotions, we will be allowed to experience the resurrection of Jesus Christ as well.
For example, when we meditate and ruminate on Jesus’ words, it often leads to spiritual experiences. Madame Jeanne Guyon once said that when we pray and meditate on the Lord’s words, we will certainly be able to enter the presence of God. But if we do not meditate and pray properly, then hindrances in our minds, wills, and emotions will prevent us from knowing and experiencing the resurrection of Christ. For example, the disciples’ closed hearts, doubt, fear, and guilt prevented them from seeing the resurrected Lord. Let’s look at these stories more closely.
- Mary’s strong emotions kept her from recognizing Jesus when he appeared to her.
- Thomas had to see the Lord’s nail marks before he believed. Jesus showed him His nail marks, and only then were the doubts in his mind were resolved.
- John believed in the resurrection when he saw the empty cloth that had been around Jesus’ face (John 20:8), but there is no record that Peter believed at that time (John 20).
- Peter’s guilt about his betrayal kept him from fully embracing the risen Jesus.
In John 20 and 21, Jesus helped each of his disciples overcome any obstacles that were keeping them from experiencing the resurrected Christ. With his help, they were each able to experience the Lord’s appearance. This is true not only for the first-century disciples, but for all of us. “God is no respecter of persons,” as Peter said in Acts 10:34. Everyone in the Bible who loved the Lord, whether Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, or Solomon, each experienced the Lord’s appearance. It is hard to imagine anyone who could love God that much and not experience His personal presence. The experience of his presence only further increases our love for him.
Every disciple present in John 20 knew and experienced the appearance of the resurrected Christ, but each was unable to believe in the resurrection or recognize the resurrected Christ because of some kind of hindrance. As modern-day Christians, we must learn from their experiences so we can know and experience the appearance of the resurrected Christ today.
Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen and Yet Have Believed?
We should desire and believe that we can experience the life-changing presence of the risen Christ. Yet in modern times, many people have belittled the reality of personal spiritual experiences. They underestimate the benefits of pursuing the Lord’s appearance. They dismiss these experiences for several reasons. Let’s address the reasons for this overcorrection.
- Some people say that this type of spiritual experience is only for spiritual giants. When lay people testify that the Lord appeared to them in dreams or visions, others protest that God doesn’t appear to common people. But in reality, the Lord desires to appear to everyone.
- Many Muslims testify that the Lord Jesus appeared to them in dreams which led them to become Christians. They are very ordinary people, not spiritual giants. Yet some people dismiss these experiences for American believers, saying that the Muslims only had those experiences because they lived in countries where the gospel was forbidden. That is the only reason that Jesus chose to preach the gospel to them in this way. This is correct, but it absolutely cannot be used as an excuse to say the Lord only appears to certain special people.
- Some people point to Jesus’ words to Thomas to prove that we do not need to see Jesus. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Many people mistakenly understand this verse to mean that those who have the most faith do not desire to see Jesus.
Let’s examine these claims. Yes, those who believed without seeing are indeed blessed. But this does not mean that the Lord does not approve of us longing for His appearance. In John 14:21, the Lord Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” The Lord said that He will appear to those who love Him. Therefore, if we have not experienced the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, it does not necessarily prove that “Jesus does not appear to ordinary people today.” Perhaps we don’t really love the Lord’s appearance enough. When we assume Jesus can’t appear to us, we lower our expectations. However, Jesus wants us to ask for what we desire. A basic principle in Scripture says that “everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:10). James, Jesus’ biological brother, agreed: “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3). The Lord promised His presence to those who love Him, so we can be assured that our request to experience His appearance is not wrong or selfish.
Factors Hindering Us From Experiencing the Risen Lord
Eventually, every disciple in John 20 experienced Jesus’ appearance. Their experience is instructive for each and every one of us. We need to see how the Lord Jesus helped each of the disciples to move from the expectation of being with Him in His physical presence to being able to experience His resurrected presence in faith and spirit. The disciples needed to learn this lesson in order to experience the resurrected Christ.
Let’s take a look at the problems of each of the disciples in John 20 and how these problems prevented them from believing in the resurrection of Christ. Let us look first at Mary, whose love for the Lord caused her to go to the tomb very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark. There, she saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance of the tomb. She didn’t immediately think about resurrection. Instead, she assumed that someone had taken the Lord’s body. So she went to tell Peter and John. Peter and John set out for the tomb. John ran to the tomb and saw the linen cloths, but he did not go into the tomb. Peter arrived, went in and saw the linen cloths and the face cloth. The Bible does not mention whether or not he believed at that point. After Peter arrived, John went into the tomb, saw the face cloth, and believed that Jesus was alive (20:8). This passage seems to indicate that the first person to believe in the resurrection was not Peter or Mary, but John.
This account is very interesting. Why was John the first to believe? Why did he believe when he saw the face cloth, but did not believe when he saw the linen cloths initially? The Bible says the face cloth was not lying together with the linen cloths, but was folded up in another place by itself (20:7). Why was the face cloth of Jesus lying in another place? Is it so that John would believe in the resurrection? My personal guess is that John, the Beloved Disciple, was familiar with the Lord’s way of folding his face cloth. Just like a person’s signature cannot be imitated by others, John knew that no one else could imitate Jesus’ signature style of folding a cloth. When John saw the way the Lord folded the face cloth, he knew that it had been done by the Lord Himself, not by anyone else. I believe this was the Lord’s personal message to John.
However, John’s faith was not yet complete. The verses that follow explain that the disciples did not yet fully believe: “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead” (John 20:9). The disciples’ minds and hearts were not yet fully open, so God would need to open their hearts through their emotions or other means.
The two disciples saw that the tomb was empty. John believed that Jesus was alive, but Peter most likely didn’t believe, so he went back home. Why do I say that Peter did not believe? Because the Gospel of Mark records that the angel told Mary after the Lord’s resurrection, “Go and tell His disciples and Peter…” (Mark 16:7). So Peter probably did not believe.
Let’s return to Mary. Mary loved God, and her deep affection for Jesus moved Him to appear to her before He ascended to the Father. But when the Lord appeared to her, she did not recognize the risen Christ because she was too caught up in emotions. When an angel appeared to her, she didn’t realize it was an angel. She just kept on weeping. The Lord appeared to her, but she did not recognize Him either. She did not recognize the risen Lord until the risen Christ called her by name: “Mary.” The Lord awakened her spiritual identity in Christ, and only then did she recognize Christ. Mary was one of the Lord’s sheep, and the Lord’s sheep know the Lord’s voice (John 10:3), so she recognized the Lord when He called her name.
Peter failed to fully experience Jesus’ resurrection because of his guilt about his betrayal. The Lord Jesus had appeared to Peter and the other disciples several times. Yet despite these appearances, Peter still went out to fish, as if his relationship with Jesus was a thing of the past. It was then that Jesus appeared to him again and asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter then had his own personal experience of spiritual death and resurrection. Jesus helped Peter finally overcome the guilt.
In John 21, the Lord Jesus appeared to the disciples, but they did not recognize Him at first. Similarly, the disciples on the road to Emmaus failed to recognize the resurrected Christ. Only after the Lord broke bread and gave it to them were their eyes opened to recognize Jesus (Luke 24:31). These disciples returned to Jerusalem and told the other disciples what they had seen. While they were still talking, the Lord Jesus appeared to them again. But they thought He was a spirit (Luke 24:37). The Lord Jesus said, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (24:39). To prove he was real, he ate a piece of broiled fish.
As Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to understand the Scriptures (24:45), they finally understood the resurrection. Clearly, the disciples’ closed minds were an important factor in their inability to recognize the resurrected Christ. Another factor is that Jesus’ resurrection body may have looked different from his natural body. This may be why the disciples could not recognize him. He may have looked different every single time he appeared. Perhaps his appearance was different each time, personally tailor-made for every individual he appeared to. For example, in my personal experience, Jesus has often appeared to me as an old Chinese lady. I never realized she was representing the Lord until the last day of 2017, when she took me into heaven and transformed into Christ.
To prove this point, let’s look at John 21. When the Lord appeared to Peter and the other disciples by the sea, John said, “Just as the day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” (John 21:4). These disciples had seen the risen Christ several times already, yet they still did not recognize the Lord. Most likely, Jesus’ appearance was different every time he appeared. For this reason, we need to be discerning so that we can recognize the risen Lord in our spiritual experiences.
There are many reasons that we fail to experience Jesus’ presence in our lives, just like the disciples did.
- Emotions: our lack of desire for the Lord.
- Mind: accepting wrong concepts and beliefs.
- Will: stubbornness and self-will.
Each of these can hinder us from experiencing the presence of the risen Lord. These obstacles are like electrical insulators, preventing us from experiencing the appearance of the resurrected Christ. It’s as if the power is connected to our house, but a small insulator is keeping us from connecting to the power supply. We need to remove those insulators so we can powerfully connect to Jesus.
Our Love for God Is a Response to God’s Appearance to Us
The Bible says that Jesus appeared personally to Peter, but God does not describe this meeting in detail. The disciples on the road to Emmaus told the other disciples that the Lord Jesus had appeared to Simon (Luke 24:34), and Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:5, “He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” According to this passage, Jesus appeared to Peter before he appeared to the twelve disciples (John 20:19-25), so this can’t be the same experience recorded in John 21, which occurred after Jesus’ appearance to the disciples and Thomas (John 21:1). Clearly, there was a personal meeting with Peter that is not described in the Bible.
Why is there no detailed record of the Lord’s appearance to Peter? Jesus Christ gave John a sign with the face cloth so he would know He was alive. The Lord Jesus called Mary’s name so that Mary would recognize His voice. The angel told the women to go and tell the disciples and Peter that the Lord was alive. This may have been a prelude to the Lord’s appearance to Peter.
The Bible does not record this appearance to Peter in detail, but we know that 1 Peter and 2 Peter are summaries of Peter’s experiences with Jesus. Perhaps these two books can give us some perspective. In Peter’s epistles, there is no explicit mention of this conversation with Jesus. But Peter did say, “The tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:7-8). The “revelation” mentioned here can be understood as the future appearance of Jesus Christ. But perhaps it also refers to experiencing Jesus on earth. Peter goes on to say, “you have not seen Him.” He did not say, “I have not seen Him.” Peter had seen Jesus, both in his pre-death body and in his resurrection body. Before the resurrected Jesus appeared to Peter, he had experienced the trials of faith mentioned in this passage. When he passed through these trials and was restored by the Lord Jesus, his faith in Jesus Christ was as precious as gold that had been tested by fire.
The Appearance of Christ Gives Us a Deeper Understanding of the Resurrection
In the Catholic “mysticism” tradition, there are many accounts of Jesus’ appearing to people. It’s easy to dismiss all of these experiences because Catholics tend to believe in superstitious accounts, such as the appearance of the Virgin Mary. I once translated a Catholic documentary that described the Virgin Mary’s appearance to many people. Personally, I think this is just a superstition, like the stories of idols appearing in Chinese idol temples. Martin Luther saw the corruption in the Catholic church and decided to completely deny all such experiences. He overcompensated by taking refuge in rationality. But we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater. We need to distinguish which of these are superstitions and which are real manifestations of the Lord’s presence.
After the Reformation, the church began to emphasize the prominence of Scripture and to ignore spiritual experience. This led to a focus on dry dogma. However, the saints in the Bible almost all experienced God’s personal presence to some extent.
When Jesus appears to us, it ignites our love for him. At least that has been my experience. After I was baptized in 2002, I lost interest in spiritual things. But during a conference in 2004, the Lord appeared to me and spoke to me personally, calling me to dedicate myself to Him. After that day, I began to love the Lord like crazy.
I believe we need to oppose the false teaching that leads people to ignore personal spiritual experiences. We need to bravely pursue the appearance of Jesus Christ. Remember, Jesus promised to manifest Himself to those who love Him (John 14:21). In John 20, Jesus patiently helped each of his disciples overcome their obstacles so they could each experience the presence of the resurrected Christ. He will do the same for each of us today.