What kind of evidence would you need in order to change your mind about something?

Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. Why do you think people can sometimes be resistant to questioning and changing their existing beliefs?

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Historical context

Jesus has suffered a hideous death: crucifixion for blasphemy because he claimed to be the Son of God. What’s more, he insisted on giving his life in this way in order to experience God’s judgement on the sins of others. But now he lies dead in a borrowed tomb. Were his offers of life merely words? Is this the end of the Jesus movement? His disciples think so. Grief-stricken and afraid, they hide themselves away, uncertain of their own future now that Jesus is dead.

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid the body in Joseph’s family tomb. The custom was to cover a body with spices, wrap it in linen and seal it in the tomb until the flesh had rotted away. About a year later the remains would have been recovered and transferred to a second burial place (an ossuary). There the story of Jesus would have ended, a dead Messiah was no Messiah at all.

But here we are, still talking about him…

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John 20: 1–18

The empty tomb

20Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).

17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.


Imagine how the disciples must have been feeling in the days after Jesus’ death. How might they reflect on the last three years with Jesus? What might their thoughts be about their future?


Mary goes to the tomb and finds that the large stone that had been placed across the entrance to prevent anyone from stealing the body has been rolled away. What conclusion does she reach about what has happened to the body?


Peter and the other disciple arrive at the tomb. They find that the body is gone, just as Mary has described. What are the possible explanations for this?


What do you think the other disciple sees in the tomb that convinces him that something more is going on than simply a grave robbery?


Mary remains standing outside the tomb. What is the cause of her distress? Read verses 11–15: what possibilities is she open to? What convinces her that Jesus is alive with her?


The pagan philosopher Celsus ridiculed Christians for having a ‘hysterical woman’ as their key witness to the resurrection. He was not alone; at this time, women were not acceptable as legal witnesses. What does it suggest about Jesus that he chose to present himself alive to Mary first? Does this suggest anything about the reliability of John’s account itself?

John 20: 19–20

Jesus appears to his disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

John 20: 24–29

Jesus appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’

But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

28 Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

29 Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’


The disciples are now in hiding, fearing for their lives. Suddenly they are aware of Jesus standing among them. What conclusions do they reach about what they see? What do you think is the significance of Jesus’ showing them his hands and side?


What is Thomas’ reaction? Do you think it is a reasonable response? Why or why not?


Thomas is clearly sceptical concerning the disciples’ claims to have seen Jesus. What persuades him to change his beliefs?


Why do you think Thomas goes beyond accepting that Jesus is alive to believing that he is God (‘My Lord and my God!’)? You might want to refer back to our very first study, specifically the quotation from Isaiah 25 concerning what God would do when he came to the world.


What is Jesus’ response to Thomas’ worship? What does this tell us about Jesus?

Jesus’ words to Thomas in verse 29 may be a mild rebuke; Thomas should have believed what the disciples told him. Jesus points to the fact that, in the future, people will believe without seeing.


Is there a difference between believing without seeing and believing without evidence? What does John hope that the effect of his account will be on us, his readers?

What does this mean for us?

John shows us people who are sceptical and do not expect the resurrection. Mary, the disciples, Peter, Thomas … they are all presented with evidence and are compelled to change their whole way of thinking.

As we come to the end of John’s account of Jesus’ life, is there anything that is keeping you from accepting the resurrection and believing that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, and receiving the life that he promises?

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