Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
In chapter 20, we have, in a summary of several of the leading facts among those which took place after the resurrection of Jesus, a picture of all the consequences of that great event, in immediate connection with the grace that produced them, and with the affections that ought to be seen in the faithful when again brought into relationship with the Lord; and at the same time, a picture of all God's ways up to the revelation of Christ to the remnant before the millennium. In chapter 21, the millennium is pictured to us.
Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons, appears first in the scene a touching expression of the ways of God. She represents, I doubt not, the Jewish remnant of that day, personally attached to the Lord, but not knowing the power of resurrection. She is alone in her love: the very strength of her affection isolates her. She was not the only one saved, but she comes alone to seek wrongly to seek, if you will, but to seek Jesus, before the testimony of His glory shines forth in a world of darkness, because she loved Himself. She comes before the other women, while it was yet dark. It is a loving heart (we have already seen it in the believing women) occupied with Jesus, when the public testimony of man is still entirely wanting. And it is to this that Jesus first manifests Himself when He is risen. Nevertheless her heart knew where it would find a response. She goes away to Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, when she does not find the body of Christ. Peter and the other disciple go, and find the proofs of a resurrection accomplished (as to Jesus Himself) with all the composure that became the power of God, great as the alarm might be that it created in the mind of man. There had been no haste; everything was in order: and Jesus was not there.
The two disciples, however, are not moved by the same attachment as that which filled her heart, who had been the object of so mighty a deliverance [See Note #68] on the Lord's part. They see, and, on these visible proofs, they believe. It was not a spiritual understanding of the thoughts of God by means of His word; they saw and believed. There is nothing in this which gathers the disciples together. Jesus was away; He had risen. They had satisfied themselves on this point, and they go away to their home. But Mary, led by affection rather than by intelligence, is not satisfied with coldly recognising that Jesus was again risen. [See Note #69] She thought Him still dead, because she did not possess Him. His death, the fact of her not finding Him again, added to the intensity of her affection, because He Himself was its object. All the tokens of this affection are produced here in the most touching manner. She supposes that the gardener must know who was in question without her telling him, for she only thought of one (as if I inquired of a beloved object in a family, "How is he?"). Bending over the sepulchre, she turns her head when He approaches; but then the Good Shepherd, risen from the dead, calls His sheep by her name; and the known and loved voice mighty according to the grace which thus called her instantly reveals Him to her who heard it. She turns to Him, and replies, "Rabboni my Master."
But while thus revealing Himself to the beloved remnant, whom He had delivered, all is changed in their position and in His relationship with them. He was not going now to dwell bodily in the midst of His people on earth. He did not come back to re-establish the kingdom in Israel. "Touch me not," says He to Mary. But by redemption He had wrought a far more important thing. He had placed them in the same position as Himself with His Father and His God; and He calls them which He never had, and never could have done before His brethren. Until His death the corn of wheat remained alone. Pure and perfect, the Son of God, He could not stand in the same relationship to God as the sinner; but, in the glorious position which He was going to resume as man, He could, through redemption, associate with Himself His redeemed ones, cleansed, regenerated, and adopted in Him.
He sends them word of the new position they were to have in common with Himself. He says to Mary, "Touch me not; but go to my brethren, and tell them that I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." The will of the Father accomplished by means of the glorious work of the Son, who, as man, has taken His place, apart from sin, with His God and Father and the work of the Son, the source of eternal life to them, have brought the disciples into the same position as Himself before the Father.
The testimony borne to this truth gathers the disciples together. They meet with closed doors, unprotected now by the care and power of Jesus, the Messiah, Jehovah on earth. But if they had no longer the shelter of the Messiah's presence, they have Jesus in their midst, bringing them that which they could not have before His death "Peace."
But He did not bring them this blessing merely as their own portion. Having given them proofs of His resurrection, and that in His body He was the same Jesus, He sets them in this perfect peace as the starting point of their mission. The Father, eternal and infinite fountain of love, had sent the Son, who abode in it, who was the witness of that love, and of the peace which He, the Father, shed around Himself, where sin had no existence. Rejected in His mission, Jesus had on behalf of a world where sin existed made peace for all who should receive the testimony of the grace which had made it; and He now sends His disciples from the bosom of that peace into which He had brought them, by the remission of sins through His death, to bear testimony to it in the world.
He says again, "Peace be unto you," to send them forth into the world clothed and filled with that peace, their feet shod with it, even as the Father had sent Him. He gives them the Holy Ghost for this end, that according to His power they might bear the remission of sins to a world that was bowed down under the yoke of sin.
I do not doubt that, speaking historically, the Spirit here is distinguished from Acts 2, inasmuch as here it is a breath of inward life, as God breathed into the nostrils of Adam a breath of life. It is not the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Thus Christ, who is a quickening Spirit, imparts spiritual life to them according to the power of resurrection. [See Note #70] As to the general picture figuratively presented in the passage, it is the Spirit bestowed on the saints gathered by the testimony of His being risen and His going to the Father, as the whole scene represents the assembly in its present privileges. Thus we have the remnant attached to Christ by love; believers individually recognised as children of God, and in the same position before Him as Christ; and then the assembly founded on this testimony, gathered together with Jesus in the midst, in the enjoyment of peace; and its members, individually constituted, in connection with the peace which Christ has made, a witness to the world of the remission of sins its administration being committed to them.
Thomas represents the Jews in the last days, who will believe when they see. Blessed are they who have believed without seeing. But the faith of Thomas is not concerned with the position of sonship. He acknowledges, as the remnant will do, that Jesus is his Lord and his God. He was not with them in their first church gathering.
The Lord here, by His actions, consecrates the first day of the week for His meeting together with His own, in spirit here below.
The evangelist is far from exhausting all that there was to relate of that which Jesus did. The object of that which he has related is linked with the communication of eternal life in Christ; first, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and, second, that in believing we have life through His name. To this the Gospel is consecrated.
"Seven demons." This represents the complete possession of this poor woman by the unclean spirits to whom she was a prey. It is the expression of the real state of the Jewish people.
It is impossible to me, in giving great principles for the help of those who seek to understand the word, to develop all that is so deeply touching and interesting in this twentieth chapter, on which I have often pondered with (through grace) an ever-growing interest. This revelation of the Lord to the poor woman who could not do without her Saviour, has a touching beauty, which every detail enhances. But there is one point of view to which I cannot but call the reader's attention. There are four conditions of soul presented here which, taken together, are very instructive, and each in the case of a believer: 1st. John and Peter, who see and believe, are really believers; but they do not see in Christ the only centre of all the thoughts of God, for His glory, for the world, for souls. Neither is He so for their affections, although they are believers. Having found that He was risen, they do without Him. Mary, who did not know this, who was even culpably ignorant, could nevertheless not do without Jesus. She must possess Himself. Peter and John go to their home; this is the centre of their interests. They believe indeed, but self and home suffice them. 2nd. Thomas believes, and acknowledges with true orthodox faith, on incontestable proofs, that Jesus is his Lord and his God. He truly believes for himself. He has not the communications of the efficacy of the Lord's work, and of the relationship with His Father into which Jesus brings His own, the assembly. He has peace perhaps, but he has missed all the revelation of the assembly's position. How many souls saved souls even are there in these two conditions! 3rd. Mary Magdalene is ignorant in the extreme. She does not know that Christ is risen. She has so little right sense of His being Lord and God, that she thinks some one might have taken away His body. But Christ is her all, the need of her soul, the only desire of her heart. Without Him she has no home, no Lord, no anything. Now to this need Jesus answers; it indicates the work of the Holy Ghost. He calls His sheep by her name, shews Himself to her first of all, teaches her that His presence was not now to be a Jewish bodily return to earth, that He must ascend to His Father, that the disciples were now His brethren, and that they were placed in the same position as Himself with His God and His Father as Himself, the risen Man, ascended to His God and Father. All the glory of the new individual position is opened to her. 4th. This gathers the disciples together. Jesus then brings them the peace which He has made, and they have the full joy of a present Saviour who brings it them. He makes this peace (possessed by them in virtue of His work and His victory) their starting-point, sends them as the Father had sent Him, and imparts to them the Holy Ghost as the breath and power of life, that they may be able to bear that peace to others. These are the communications of the efficacy of His work, as He had given to Mary that of the relationship to the Father which resulted from it. The whole is the answer to Mary's attachment to Christ, or what resulted from it. If through grace there is affection, the answer will assuredly be granted. It is the truth which flows from the work of Christ. No other state than that which Christ here presents is in accordance with what He has done, and with the Father's love. He cannot, by His work, place us in any other.
Compare Romans 4-8 and Colossians 2 and 3. Resurrection was the power of life which brought them out of the dominion of sin, that had its end in death, and that was condemned in the death of Jesus, and they dead to it, but not condemned by it, sin having been condemned in His death. This is a question, not of guilt, but of state. Our guilt, blessed be God, was put away too. But here we die with Christ, and resurrection presents us (Romans, as quoted, unfolds the side of death; Colossians adds resurrection. Romans is death to sin, Colossians to the world) living before God in a life in which Jesus and we by Him appeared in His presence according to the perfection of divine righteousness. But this supposed His work also.