These small group studies of John contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

John 20 Inductive Bible Study


  1. The empty tomb (20:1-10)

    1. Discovered by Mary Magdalene (1-2)

    2. Examined by Peter and John (3-10)

  2. Christ appears to Mary Magdalene (11-18)

    1. Mary weeps (11)

    2. Mary talks with the angels (12-13)

    3. Mary talks with Jesus (14-16)

    4. Jesus tells her to tell the disciples (17)

    5. Mary tells the disciples (18)

  3. Jesus appears to the disciples (19-25)

    1. Jesus appears to the disciples (19-21)

    2. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit (22)

    3. Jesus makes the disciples His representatives (23)

    4. Thomas doubts (24-26)

  4. Jesus appears to the disciples and Thomas (27-29)

  5. The purpose of John’s Gospel (30-31)


Synoptic Gospels

Matthew 27:57-66 – The tomb is made as secure as possible with guards and a seal.

Matthew 28:1-7 – The angel appears and the soldiers are scared to death.

Matthew 28:11-15 – The bribery of the soldiers.

Luke 24:1 – The women were bringing spices that they had prepared for Jesus’ body.

Matthew 16:21 – Jesus had told them ahead of time that He would die and be raised again.

Luke 24:10-12 – The disciples thought it was nonsense at the beginning.

Luke 24:13-35 – Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Luke 24:41-43 – Jesus ate in their presence.

1 Corinthians 15:1-19 – Jesus’ appeared to more than 500. If He didn’t arise our faith is worse than worthless.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28 – Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection. His resurrection shows that believers will arise again with a new body in the future.

Psalms 16:10 – The Holy One will not undergo decay.

Acts 2:29-36 – The preaching at Pentecost revolved around the resurrection.

Romans 1:4 – Jesus was declared the Son of God because of His resurrection.

Intro- Review. Introduce the chapter as the crux of the Christian faith.

Verse by Verse Commentary – Remember to read cross-references and ask questions.

I. The empty tomb (20:1-10)

What kind of stone would have been blocking the entrance?

Why was Mary coming?

What did she think had happened to the body? Why is this significant?

What was Peter’s and John’s reaction?

What is the significance that the linen wrappings were still and the head wrappings were separate?

What was John’s reaction to the empty tomb and the linen wrappings?

Mary Magdalene and some other women (according to the other gospels) came early on Sunday morning (the morning after Jesus had been buried). They fully expected Jesus’ body to be there, but were surprised that the stone had been rolled away. According to Mark 16:3-4 they were discussing among themselves how they would be able to roll away the stone since it was so large. They were hoping someone would be able to help them roll it away.

From Luke 24 we see that they saw the stone was not there and entered. Then two angels appeared and told them that Jesus had arisen. At this point their reaction was to go back and immediately tell the group of disciples. These thought it was nonsense. Luke 24:10-12, but Peter and John went anyway in a hurry to check it out for themselves.

Many times people reject that resurrection out of hand without even attempting to look at the evidence and consider that it might be true. Peter and John didn’t believe it immediately, but at least they sought out the truth and wanted to know more.

John just took a peek inside, but Peter went in and examined the situation. The grave clothes and empty tomb were enough to convince John. After the resurrection Jesus’ body was different physically. It was a bodily resurrection (hence no body), but His new body was different in that it could go through walls. John’s belief could either be a belief in Mary that His body was taken away or simply a partial and incomplete belief in Jesus’ resurrection. The first seems more likely to me. See Psalms 16:10, Matthew 16:21. There was both Old Testament prophecy and Jesus’ own words telling what would happen.

In verse 10 we learn that they went back to their own homes. If it was just a hoax that would have started preaching immediately. But they didn’t see Jesus yet and most of the disciples weren’t persuaded yet. Throughout this whole account we see that the disciples were scared of the authorities, didn’t even understand that Jesus must raise again, and skeptical when confronted with evidence that He did rise again.

II. Christ appears to Mary Magdalene (11-18)

Did Mary know she was talking with angels?

What did Mary still think was the reason Jesus wasn’t there?

Why wouldn’t Mary recognize Jesus?

What is significant about Jesus calling the disciples “brethren” here?

Before Jesus said that the one who is forgiven much will love much. In Mark 16:9 we learn that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary. So it is no wonder she had a deep attachment and love for Christ. She went back to the tomb after reporting what had happened to the disciples. Although the angels had already told her and her companions (Luke 24) that Jesus was alive she didn’t believe it either and was still searching for where Jesus might be. The angels were still around and questioned why she was weeping. She still believed someone had taken Jesus away. Jesus then appeared and asked her why she was weeping.

Verse 13. They had no reason to take away Jesus’ body as that would have increased the “rumor” of His resurrection. If they had, they would have produced the body later.

At the beginning she could not recognize Him. Perhaps it was the tears, the difference in His resurrected body, or supernatural blinding for a short period of time. At the sound of her name she immediately recognized Him and believed. Jesus commanded her to go and tell the apostles what happened.

Why would Jesus show Himself to her first? Unknown. Perhaps because she had shown more affection and loyalty to Him than the others.

This was the first time Jesus ever called them His “brethren” or “brothers”. Before He had called them friends (John 15:15). Why the difference? Before they couldn’t possibly be His brothers. But because of His finished atoning work they were adopted into the very family of God. The relationship between believers and God was fundamentally changed. Now even the least in the kingdom of God would be greater than the previous greatest, John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).

III. Jesus appears to the disciples (19-25)

What were the disciples doing during this time? Why?

What is the significance of verse 20? (Jesus had to show them evidence because they were reluctant to believe.)

Send them to do what?

When did the disciples receive the Spirit? So what did Jesus mean here?

Explain verse 23.

What does Thomas’ doubt show?

The disciples were shut up, hiding in secret. They were scared of being seen and caught by the Jews. Jesus came (other accounts show He just appeared in the room) into their midst and first thing told them “Peach be with you.” He knew their fear, and wanted to comfort them.

In this encounter we see that the disciples were reluctant to believe in Jesus. They weren’t gullible or easy targets. They wouldn’t have believed a hoax themselves. They weren’t deceived. Jesus showed them evidence in person so that they could see with their own eyes and believe. Once they knew it was true then they rejoiced.

In verse 21 is the first hints of the coming Great Commission.

Verse 22 is a pledge of the coming Holy Spirit. They didn’t receive Him until Pentecost. Jesus promised before that the Holy Spirit would come after He left and He hadn’t left yet.

Verse 23 doesn’t mean that first believers divinely forgive somebody and then God acquiesces. God first forgives or doesn’t forgive a person. The church, by following the principles put forth in Matthew 18 and the rest of the Word, can declare what God has already done for a person. If somebody is unrepentant, the disciples, the church, and us can declare that God has not forgiven them. If they are repentant, the disciples and then the church could declare that they are forgiven as God has already promised that He would do that. See Matthew 16:19, 18:18.

Thomas has been called “doubting Thomas”. This incident makes him famous. He demands what many people still demand today, to see some empirical evidence. Why did God show Him this clear evidence, but not many others? Thomas had already believed the different miracles He saw Jesus doing and was loyal to Him. If we believe the things God has already shown us He is far more likely to show us more.

IV. Jesus appears to the disciples and Thomas (27-29)

What did the resurrection prove about Jesus? (verse 28)

Who is Jesus referring to in verse 29?

Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas and blame Him, but compassionately showed him the evidence so that he would believe. Jesus was willing to show the evidence to them and didn’t require any of His disciples to believe in Him against reason.

In verse 28 we see that the resurrection proves Jesus is God. Thomas called Him “my God”. He recognized that this miracle proved Jesus’ divine identity. Indeed it is the crux of the entire gospel and the entire Christian faith. Jesus allowed him to call Him God without rebuke.

If you believe without seeing you will indeed be blessed. Sometimes people think it is better to see everything in person, but we know that we will be blessed for believing what we have not seen. That is what faith is. Hebrews 11:1.

In the whole account Jesus only appears to believers. He doesn’t cast His pearls before swine. They had already rejected Him and the miracles that He done.

What is the purpose of John’s gospel?

Has this purpose been accomplished for you?

Nearing the end of the book, it is helpful to remember the purpose of all we have studied and learned. John has only shown us a fraction of the signs that Jesus did. Knowing the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is not meant for our head knowledge, but is meant to persuade us to believe fully in Christ, the Son of God, and that by doing so we can have eternal life and thus serve Him fully with our life. The point is not to learn history, but to recognize Jesus’ power and divinity.

Let’s discuss first some of the false theories and true evidences of the resurrection and then the spiritual implications of the resurrection. It’s a physical, historical fact, that proves a spiritual reality. The spiritual means nothing if the physical act didn’t occur and the physical act while amazing would not have long-lasting influence if the spiritual implications were ignored.

False theories of the resurrection

If an unbeliever would ask you to give them evidence for the resurrection what would you say? Is that a reasonable question?

What are the evidences for the resurrection? Why do you believe it?

Swoon theory-

This was a common theory several hundred years ago. It was never very viable and was based only on conjecture. The fact is that the centurions told Pilate Jesus was dead and they were experts in this kind of thing. The water and the blood is a testament to a ruptured heart. Joseph thought He was dead. John, who was watching, thought He was dead. Even if by some miracle, He had survived in a deep swoon the spices and cold stone and laying there for days wrapped tightly would have killed Him. And how could a weak, “almost dead” person role away a stone (that some say needed 20 men to roll) and then get past all the guards?

The disciples stole the body theory-

This also has no evidence. Firstly, is the question of would it be likely for the disciples to try this? No. They were in hiding and they were scared. They didn’t want to risk their lives for the purpose of spreading some dumb hoax. What would be the point even if they were successful? They didn’t gain anything. Because they ended up dying as martyrs they clearly believed Jesus had raised again. Secondly, even if they had attempted it would they have been able to succeed? They would have had to fight off and kill a band of rugged Roman soldiers. The idea that they were all sleeping is preposterous since the penalty for sleeping would be death. Thirdly, if they stole the body it is fairly likely the Jews would have been able to discover it later perhaps by offering money (since stealing the body would show lack of character) to them.

The hallucination theory-

Another theory is that the more than five hundred people Jesus appeared to all hallucinated. Again, this theory has no evidence and would be a bigger miracle than Jesus’ resurrection. It still doesn’t explain where Jesus’ body was.

Evidences of the resurrection-

Seal- The seal was the Roman way of saying, “Don’t mess with this!” There would have been a strict penalty if people were caught messing with the seal.

Stone- The stone was likely very large and needed at least a few and as many as twenty men to push aside. How could Jesus have done that in His weakened state? How could the disciples have done that without being noticed?

Guards – Rugged Roman soldiers were guarding the tomb. The Roman army was very strict and even minor offences were paid for by death. The Romans had no interest in the religious dispute. They were simply performing their duty, which was to guard the tomb from intrusion. In the process of trying to prevent the resurrection they actually gave much stronger evidence that the resurrection was true.

Empty Tomb – Perhaps now it is hard to say if the tomb is empty because we don’t really know where it is. But at that time the Jews and the Romans knew where the tomb was. The disciples were preaching that Jesus was raised from the dead. If He was still in the tomb, the Jews would have produced the body to crush that idea.

Grave clothes- The position of the grave clothes helped convince John that Jesus had arisen. Apparently they were in such a position that Jesus’ body just went out of them and left them undisturbed. Also if the body had been stolen away, why leave the grave clothes?

No body – No body has ever been produced and you can bet the Jews wanted to produce one. They were willing to pay Judas 30 pieces of silver, how much more would they have paid for information about Jesus’ body!

Disciples’ cowardice – The disciples were mostly uneducated fishermen. They were scared for their own lives. They viewed the “Jesus experiment” as being over. They wouldn’t have even attempted to steal Jesus’ body for the purpose of hoaxing others. They themselves needed convincing of Jesus’ resurrection.

Enemies never refuted the resurrection with any evidence or even logical explanation – Christians preached from the months after Jesus’ resurrection until now without any logical alternative ever being offered to the resurrection. There is none.

Transformed lives of the disciples – These cowards ended up giving their lives for the belief that Jesus raised again from the dead. Where did they get this boldness? Why would they give their life for a lie?

Eye-witnesses – Not only were the disciples eye-witnesses, but there were more than 500 others. Now we can’t ask them, but when the New Testament was being written most of them were still alive and could be interviewed about Jesus’ resurrection. If they hadn’t seen it the NT would never have gotten that popular.

Worshipped on Sunday – Devout Jews began worshipping on Sunday. Why? The resurrection occurred then. It was the Lord’s Day. If Jesus hadn’t arisen they would have stuck to the traditional Sabbath.

What are the spiritual implications of the resurrection?

Read cross references. Ask questions.

What would have happened if Jesus hadn’t arose from the dead?

Nothing. If Jesus hadn’t arisen from the dead nothing would have happened. The disciples would have gone back to their jobs. The Jews would have continued exulting in their triumph. The story would have ended. The movement would have been crushed. The New Testament wouldn’t have been written. Churches wouldn’t have been established. Peter’s Pentecost sermon wouldn’t have been preached.

What meaning does Christianity have without the resurrection?

Nothing special. Without the resurrection Christianity would be reduced to a number of moral principles. Even those would have to be followed with doubt as one wonders about the truth of the teachings having come from someone who didn’t tell the truth. There wouldn’t be Christianity without the resurrection. Judaism would have continued as it had.

In what way does the resurrection set Christianity apart from other religions?

Jesus was the only religious leader that ever arose from the dead. Buddha is dead. Mohammed is dead. Confucius is dead. Joseph Smith is dead. All of these guys are still in the tomb as is Marx and Mao. But Jesus isn’t. It’s the proof that Jesus is of God while the other religions are just man-made.

Why is the resurrection so important to believers?

It shows that Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was effective. If Jesus didn’t arise He would have been just another sinner who couldn’t pay for His sins, much less ours. The resurrection is also a symbol of the new life we have in Christ when we believe in Him. If Jesus didn’t arise then we are still in our sins with no hope to solve the sin problem. It’s also important because it shows that the curse will not last forever. Death is a product of sin and the curse. It won’t always exist.

What implication does the resurrection have for our future?

Jesus’ resurrection gives the hope that we too will be resurrected one day. Read cross-reference. Jesus was the first fruits, the first of many to be resurrected. Just as He received a new and perfect body so shall we. We can all look forward to the day when we will not be affected by sin any longer.

The main point of the resurrection is that it proves Jesus is indeed the Son of God and it proves that everything else He taught and did were true. See Matthew 12:39-40. This was the sign that Jesus hung all of His claims on. If Jesus didn’t arise, at best He is a good teacher and at worst He is a deluded liar. So remember the physical, historical fact that Jesus did arise from the dead, but most importantly remember its spiritual implications.
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