On the Sunday after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb and informed John and Peter, who then ran to the empty tomb. The resurrected Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene and later to His disciples.
To prepare students to study John 20, invite them to think about a time when a loved one or the loved one of someone they know passed away.
What feelings might we experience when a loved one passes away?
To help students understand the context of John 20, remind them that after Jesus died at about 3:00 p.m. on Friday, His body was placed in a tomb late that afternoon and a large stone was set to seal the entrance of the tomb. The Sabbath then began at sunset. (You may want to explain that before the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s covenant people observed the Sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.)
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to imagine how the disciples of Jesus felt on that tragic Friday.
“I think of how dark that Friday was when Christ was lifted up on the cross.
“On that terrible Friday the earth shook and grew dark. Frightful storms lashed at the earth.
“Those evil men who sought His life rejoiced. Now that Jesus was no more, surely those who followed Him would disperse. On that day they stood triumphant.
“On that day the veil of the temple was rent in twain.
“Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were both overcome with grief and despair. The superb man they had loved and honored hung lifeless upon the cross.
“On that Friday the Apostles were devastated. Jesus, their Savior—the man who had walked on water and raised the dead—was Himself at the mercy of wicked men. They watched helplessly as He was overcome by His enemies.
“On that Friday the Savior of mankind was humiliated and bruised, abused and reviled.
“It was a Friday filled with devastating, consuming sorrow that gnawed at the souls of those who loved and honored the Son of God.
“I think that of all the days since the beginning of this world’s history, that Friday was the darkest” (“Sunday Will Come,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 29–30).
If you had been one of the disciples who were there on that Friday, what thoughts or feelings might you have had?
After students respond, read aloud the following additional statement by Elder Wirthlin:
“But the doom of that day did not endure” (“Sunday Will Come,” 30).
Invite students to look for how “the doom of that day did not endure” as they study John 20.
Ask a student to read John 20:1–2 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what Mary Magdalene discovered when she arrived at Jesus’s tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week, or Sunday.
What did Mary discover?
What did Mary do when she discovered that the stone had been removed from the entrance of the tomb? What did she assume?
Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from John 20:3–10. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Peter and John, who was referred to as “that other disciple” (verse 3), did after hearing Mary’s news.
What did Peter and John do after hearing Mary’s news?
According to verse 8, how did John respond to seeing the empty tomb? What did he believe?
You may want to explain that until John looked into the empty tomb, he had not fully comprehended the Savior’s declarations that He would rise from the dead on the third day. As John saw the empty tomb, he remembered and believed (see John 20:8–9).
Invite a student to read John 20:11–15 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for who spoke to Mary after Peter and John left the tomb.
Invite a student to read John 20:16–18 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Jesus instructed Mary to do once she recognized Him.
To help students understand the meaning of the phrase “touch me not” (verse 17), invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“The King James Version quotes Jesus as saying ‘Touch me not.’ The Joseph Smith Translation reads ‘Hold me not.’ Various translations from the Greek render the passage as ‘Do not cling to me’ or ‘Do not hold me.’ Some give the meaning as ‘Do not cling to me any longer,’ or ‘Do not hold me any longer.’ Some speak of ceasing to hold him or cling to him, leaving the inference that Mary was already holding him. There is valid reason for supposing that the thought conveyed to Mary by the Risen Lord was to this effect: ‘You cannot hold me here, for I am going to ascend to my Father’” (The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols. [1979–81], 4:264).
According to verse 17, what did Jesus instruct Mary to do?
Invite students to imagine that they had been one of the disciples who heard Mary’s witness. Ask students to answer the following questions in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:
What do you think you would have felt as you listened to Mary?
Would you have believed her? Why or why not?
After sufficient time, invite a few students to share what they wrote. Remind them that some disciples struggled to believe Mary’s witness (see Mark 16:11).
Invite a student to read John 20:19–20 aloud, and ask the class to look for what happened that evening.
What happened that evening when the disciples were gathered together?
What important doctrine did Mary and the disciples learn? (Students may use different words but should identify the following doctrine: Jesus Christ overcame death through His Resurrection.)
According to verse 20, how did the disciples feel when they saw the resurrected Lord?
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin:
“In an instant the eyes that had been filled with ever-flowing tears dried. The lips that had whispered prayers of distress and grief now filled the air with wondrous praise, for Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, stood before them as the firstfruits of the Resurrection, the proof that death is merely the beginning of a new and wondrous existence” (“Sunday Will Come,” 30).
How can knowing that Jesus Christ has been resurrected help us as we grieve when someone we love passes away? (Because Jesus Christ was resurrected, everyone who has lived on this earth will also be resurrected [see 1 Corinthians 15:20–22].)
Summarize John 20:21–23 by explaining that after Jesus showed His disciples the wounds in His hands and side, He commissioned them to do His work and said to them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (verse 22).
Ask a student to read John 20:24–25 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for the Apostle who was not present for that sacred occasion.
Which Apostle was not present when the other disciples saw the resurrected Lord?
According to verse 25, what did Thomas say he needed in order to believe?
How did Thomas’s response recorded in this verse differ from John’s response when John saw the empty tomb as recorded in John 20:8?
Why do you think it was difficult for Thomas to believe?
Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from John 20:26–29. Ask the class to look for what Thomas experienced eight days after he said he did not believe that Jesus had been resurrected.
After Jesus allowed Thomas to touch His hands and side, what choice did He invite Thomas to make? (Be believing.)
According to verse 29, what did Jesus want Thomas to understand?
What principle can we learn from the Savior’s teaching? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: We will be blessed if we choose to believe in Jesus Christ even when we cannot see Him.)
Divide students into groups of two or three, and provide each group with a handout containing the following questions.
Invite each group to discuss these questions together and to write their answers on the handout or in their scripture study journals. After sufficient time, invite a few students to share their answers with the class.
Explain that although Jesus taught that we will be blessed if we choose to believe in Him even if we cannot see Him, He provides witnesses as a basis for our belief.
Invite a student to read John 20:30–31 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for why John recorded these events.
Why did John record these events? (You may want to explain that the word life [verse 31] refers to eternal life.)
What truths can we learn from verse 31 about the testimonies of apostles and prophets? (Students may use different words but should identify truths similar to the following: Apostles and prophets testify of Jesus Christ so that we may believe that He is the Son of God. By choosing to believe in the testimony of Jesus Christ given by apostles and prophets, we can receive eternal life. This belief implies that one will strive to keep His commandments and live true to that testimony.)
How have the testimonies of apostles and prophets strengthened your belief in Jesus Christ?
Conclude by sharing your testimony of Jesus Christ. Encourage students to apply the truths they have identified in John 20 by determining how they will demonstrate their belief in Jesus Christ.