33. As the Father Sent Me, So I Send You (John 20:19-31)

Caravaggio, ‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’ (c. 1601--1602), oil on canvas, 42 x 57 inches, Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Berlin, Germany.
Caravaggio, 'The Incredulity of Saint Thomas' (c. 1601--1602), oil on canvas, 42 x 57 inches, Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Berlin, Germany.

The disciples' sprint to the grave to witness the orderly grave clothes and Mary's experience of the risen Christ begins the first day of the week. But this Resurrection Day concludes with Jesus ministering hope and vision to his dear disciples behind closed doors.

While Jesus' appearance to Mary is intended to help the reader grasp the truth of the resurrection, John's account of Jesus' Upper Room appearances are designed to help the reader grasp the implications of the resurrection for the future.

Jesus Appears to Ten Disciples (20:19)

"19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!'" (20:19)

We're not sure where the disciples were staying at this point in the feast, but it may have been the same "Upper Room" in Jerusalem where the disciples stayed until Pentecost, fifty days after Passover (Acts 1:13). Since the fourth century, the traditional site of the Cenacle (from Latin cena, "dinner") or Upper Room has been venerated in the southwest corner of Jerusalem.

Because of their fear of arrest by the Jewish authorities[897], the disciples had locked the door. Though simple keyed locks had been known for 2,000 years, verse 19 probably indicates merely barring the door from the inside to prevent it from being forced open.[898]

Location of the Praetorium, Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.
Location of the Praetorium, Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. Larger map.

By Sunday evening, the apostles had begun to receive reports of Jesus-sightings. They knew that Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene. Jesus had appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34). The disciples Jesus had appeared to on the road to Emmaus had also reported in (Luke 24:33). But the door was still locked.

Now Jesus appears to the assembled disciples -- though Thomas is absent on this occasion.

"19b 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[899] when they saw the Lord." (20:19b-20)

Luke adds a few details about this meeting.

"36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' 37 They were startled[900] and frightened[901] , thinking they saw a ghost.[902]

38 He said to them, 'Why are you troubled[903] , and why do doubts[904] rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.'  40 When he had said this, he showed[905] them his hands and feet." (Luke 24:36-40)

Jesus comforts and assures them in several ways. First, he comes with the words, "Peace be with you." Shalom was the standard Hebrew greeting, offering to the hearer wishes of peace, prosperity, completeness, welfare. But I think Jesus' words offer two more thoughts: (1) "I come in peace!" to calm their very understandable fears, and (2) "True peace with God is yours through the forgiveness of sins." Jesus came with the full blessing of multiplied peace.

Second, since they think he must be a ghost or spirit, he demonstrates his physical reality by showing them his wounds from the crucifixion, and in Luke's account invites them to touch him. [906] In 1919, Edward Shillito wrote a poem entitled "Jesus of the Scars." A couple of lines give the idea.

"... Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord, Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace."

Jesus gained credibility by revealing the scars from his horrible torture. There is a sense in which we gain credibility with those who are seeking authenticity when we have the transparency to reveal our personal scars as well as the healing that God has done in our lives. Jesus' body is not just some kind of vision or hologram, but a phenomenon that can be touched with the hands and probed with the fingers. Jesus' resurrected body has substance.

Third, in Luke's account, Jesus eats in their presence.

"And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence." (Luke 24:41-43)

This third proof of Jesus' corporal presence is in eating something -- something presumably a spirit or ghost would not be able to do.

What We Learn about Jesus' Resurrected Body

Was Jesus raised bodily from the dead? That is, was his resurrection body the same physical body as before? The answer is yes, but more. The Gospels give us several characteristics of Jesus' resurrection body:

  • Jesus described it as flesh and bones (Luke 24:39c).
  • He could eat (Luke 24:42-43; Acts 1:4).
  • His body could be touched and handled by others (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:39b).
  • He could walk and talk (Luke 24:15), even cook (John 21:9), just as a normal human body.
  • Yet Jesus' wounds were still visible in his resurrected body (Luke 24:39-40; John 20:20, 25-27).
  • Jesus could be recognized by others -- but only when he wanted to be. The timber of his voice remained the same (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:16, 31; John 20:14-16, 20; 21:4, 12).
  • Jesus could enter locked doors (John 20:19, 26), disappear (Luke 24:31), and appear (Luke 24:36) at will.

To summarize, Jesus' resurrected body:

  • Has definite physical aspects -- flesh, bones, the ability to eat food, converse intelligently, and walk for miles on a road.
  • Has continuity with the previous body before death. Jesus' wounds in his hands, feet, and side are still clearly visible, and probably still open rather than healed over. The Gospel writers are making utterly clear the nature of a real body, not just the appearance or vision that is not physical or corporeal.
  • Is not bound to the physical sphere -- it can appear and disappear at will, and walk through locked doors. While Jesus' body can relate to the physical world, it is not bound by space and time.

Jesus' resurrection body is clearly one that has continuity with the old, but includes new powers and abilities. We don't know a lot more about Jesus' resurrected body than this. But we have a promise that when Christ returns our earthly remains will be resurrected in the same way he was (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). And the Apostle John promises:

"We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
(1 John 3:2b)

Q1. (John 20:19-20) What do we know about the relationship of Jesus' physical body to his spiritual body? Was Jesus' resurrected bodily? How is his body similar to his physical body? How is it different?

As the Father Sent Me, So I Send You (20:21)

John includes elements in the Upper Room account that aren't mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. The first is Jesus' commission.

"Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent (apostellō[907]) me, I am sending (pempō[908]) you.'" (20:21)

Curiously, two different Greek words are used in verse 21, but their meanings are quite similar. Use of synonyms merely for the sake of variation is part of John's style.

In John's Gospel, Jesus has placed considerable stress on the fact that he has been sent by his Father. Thirty-eight times we read about "him who sent me."[909] It is a constant theme. The implications for Jesus are clear. He does not come as an independent agent with his own message. He doesn't ad lib. Rather, he only says what the Father tells him to say (5:19, 30). He stays "on message" throughout his entire time on earth. Jesus said:

"16 My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17  If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18  He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him." (7:16-18)

Jesus' mission of redemption is not something we are to duplicate. His role as the Son of God to redeem the world to himself on the cross is a once-for-all event. Nevertheless, we share his mission to spread word of his redemption throughout the world.

It is important to recognize, however, that we are sent in the same way Jesus was sent. We are under orders just as Jesus was; we bring another's message, and are charged to bring it accurately and clearly. Sometimes we're tempted to water down parts of the message that are difficult for the world to receive. Yes, we must communicate the Word in ways that are clear to our own culture, but we do not have freedom to alter the message to make it more palatable. It is not our message, it is his.

The Father sent Jesus. Now Jesus sends us on this holy relay team. And we are to pass on this responsibility to those who follow us.

"As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." (17:18)

As Paul put it,

"We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted[910] with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts." (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust[911] to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." (2 Timothy 2:2)

The Great Commission

John's Gospel talks specifically about the sending. Each of the Synoptic Gospels further details the Great Commission:

"Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15)

"Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)

Q2. (John 20:21) What is the relationship between the way the Father sent Jesus and how Jesus sends us? How careful are you to listen and get directions from Jesus in serving the Lord?

Power and the Holy Spirit (20:21-22)

Now we move to Jesus' next directive:

"21 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent  me, I am sending you.' 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (20:21-22)

Luke's Gospel and Acts connect the sending of the Holy Spirit with the disciples' commission to declare the gospel.

"Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:47-49)

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

It is clear that the disciples must receive the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, in order to have the power to accomplish Jesus' mission. They are not to attempt to accomplish their sending on their own power; rather they are to wait for his power.

Receive the Holy Spirit (21:22)

But this word in the Upper Room is difficult to understand:

"He breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (21:22)

We ask, What is the significance of Jesus breathing on them? And when do they receive the Spirit? On that occasion before Jesus' ascension, or at Pentecost as described in the Book of Acts, or both?

First, Jesus breathed or blew upon[912] his disciples. No doubt this is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, since the word for "spirit, breath, wind" are all the same word -- and this is true in both Hebrew (ruach) and in Greek (pneuma). The idea of giving life through breathing upon a person comes from the Old Testament (Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 37:9).

In verse 22, Jesus commands his disciples to "receive the Holy Spirit." "Receive" is the very common verb lambanō, "take, grasp, receive," here probably, "to take into one's possession, take, acquire."[913] In the Book of Acts, "receive" is often used in the context of the initial experience of the Holy Spirit -- at Pentecost (Acts 2:38), at Samaria (8:15), at Caesarea (Acts 10:47), and at Ephesus (Acts 19:2).

But in John's Gospel, when do the disciples receive the Spirit? There are several interpretations that have been put forward.

  1. Some sort of actual impartation of the Spirit took place, perhaps a preliminary enduement.
  2. This verse is John's Pentecost, the promised endowment of the Spirit.
  3. It is a symbolic promise of the gift of the Spirit to be given later at Pentecost.

I think in light of the historic coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, and Jesus' statements that the Spirit comes only when Jesus has gone (16:7), that the least confusing explanation of verse 22 is the third possibility. Jesus breathing on the disciples is some kind of proleptic or anticipatory symbol of a future act.[914] Just as footwashing was symbolic of cleansing from sin that had not yet taken place (13:8), so Jesus breathing on his disciples is symbolic of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Q3. (John 20:22) Why do you think Jesus commissioning the disciples (verse 21) is so closely linked with his giving the Holy Spirit (verse 22)? (See Acts 1:4, 8) Why is Jesus sending the Holy Spirit?  Why do you think the work of the Holy Spirit tends to be neglected and misunderstood in our day?

Power to Forgive Sins (20:23)

If verse 22 is difficult to grasp, so is verse 23.

"If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (20:23)

Reception of the Holy Spirit in verse 22 seems to be linked to forgiveness of sins in verse 23; the disciples can forgive sins because they are filled with the Holy Spirit.

But what does this mean? In what way do believers have the power to forgive sins? All sins, or just some sins?

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus indicates that amazing power is granted to Jesus' disciples.

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19)

"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:18-20)

In these passages, the metaphor of keys could apply to control of provisions,[915] or to admission to or exclusion from the Kingdom. The metaphor of binding and loosing was used by the rabbis for declaring something forbidden or permitted, so this metaphor seems to refer to the regulation of conduct.[916] 

Later in the epistles, James and John connect intercessory prayer with forgiveness of sins.

"And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (James 5:15-16)

"If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that." (1 John 5:16)

How shall we understand this? Historically we see different understandings about whether a pronouncement of absolution is:

  1. Conferring forgiveness upon a person.
  2. Declaring the forgiveness brought about by Christ's redemption.

Conferring. The Roman Catholic Church, as well as Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran[917] churches, teach that the Church through her priests (unworthy though they are) can grant absolution from sin, where there is true repentance and sincere confession. For example, after hearing a confession, a Roman Catholic priest will say:

"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Declaring. During the Reformation, many Protestants rebelled against what they perceived to be abuses of the power of absolution, for example, granting absolution to those who went on the Crusades, selling indulgences, and excommunication of individuals for political reasons. Many reformers argued that only God can forgive sins, that there is no mediator except Christ (1 Timothy 2:5), and that the power of the church to forgive sin is to declare through the gospel that God forgives sins through Jesus' death on the cross.[918] I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, which would include in its worship service a prayer of confession followed by this assurance of pardon:

"Almighty God, who freely pardons all who repent and turn to Him, now fulfill in every contrite heart the promise of redeeming grace; remitting all our sins, and cleansing from an evil conscience; through the perfect sacrifice of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen."[919]

However, you interpret Jesus' words, whether forgiveness is by conferring or declaring, or a combination of both, we have strong assurance of forgiveness from the Lord himself. The Apostle John, late in his life, wrote:

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:1-2)

Note: Christians disagree about the power to forgive sins, so be kind and loving in your responses, even if you disagree with another participant.

Q4. (John 20:23) In what sense does the Church have the power to forgive sins? Do we (or the church's authorized representatives) confer forgiveness or declare it? Or both?

Thomas Refuses to Believe (20:24-25)

"24  Now Thomas (called 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 it.'" (20:24-25)

Thomas -- always referred to as "the twin[920]" in John -- gained a reputation as "doubting Thomas" from this account. John's purpose in relating the story seems to be to set up the blessing for those who believe even when they don't see (verse 29).

For some reason Thomas wasn't with the other disciples at Jesus' first Sunday night appearance. And he is particularly obstinate when he hears the others' testimony that Jesus has indeed been raised. His statement is what we might characterize as both crude and disrespectful. He sounds like a lot of agnostics I've talked to.

"Unless I see the nail marks[921] in his hands and put[922] my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." (20:25b)

Thomas concludes his rant with a very strong statement that he won't believe -- emphasized by a Greek double negative.[923]

Trust but Verify

Thomas's philosophy seems to be, "seeing is believing." I need to personally verify the truth of things if I am to believe them. When US President Ronald Reagan was negotiating with the Soviet Union about nuclear arms in the mid-1980s, he learned a Russian proverb, "Trust, but verify" (doveryai no proveryai) that he then used extensively in developing treaties that included monitoring of a country's compliance with the terms of a treaty.

Sometimes we fear for our children's safety because they haven't developed critical thinking that teaches them to question things that seem to good to be true. It makes them vulnerable to people who would harm them.

I had a friend who fell for the Nigerian scam, which ended up costing him and his wife their life savings. In business we are taught to perform "due diligence," an investigation of a business or person before signing a contract. When making big decisions, this is wise.

I've found that this is important in spiritual things as well. I've heard preachers say a lot of things -- some of which don't accurately reflect what the Scripture teaches. I've learned to look it up myself in the Bible, to check the context of the passage, to see if an interpretation will hold up to scrutiny. This is careful interpretation.

However, there are some things we can't investigate thoroughly. History, for example. We can't go back and view a video recording of Jesus teaching in the temple. Nor can we see a video of Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. So we test historical events by examining and weighing sources, eyewitness accounts, indirect witnesses, plausibility, results of an event, etc.

I've heard some people talk about a "leap of faith." A more considered approach to faith might be resting on the "preponderance of the evidence," a legal concept.

If you're wondering about the truth of Christianity, be assured that our faith can bear careful examination. Many books are available to help you examine the sources and consider the credibility of a Christian world view in comparison with competing world views.[924]

But Thomas was particularly obstinate. He had heard eyewitness testimony from people he had worked closely with over a three year period. He had heard Jesus' own predictions of his resurrection, and was, no doubt, reminded of them by the other disciples. And he had the evidence of the graveclothes and the empty tomb. Thomas was not willing to accept the preponderance of the evidence, and he stated his doubts in the most graphic terms.

My Lord and My God (20:26-28)

Jesus loves Thomas -- and challenges Thomas's adamant unbelief.

"26  A week[925] 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[926] and believe.[927]  28  Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!'" (20:26-28)

 Would Jesus challenge your faith? Have you been doubting, even after examining the preponderance of the evidence? There is a time to stop studying and commit yourself to a conclusion. There is a time to put your faith fully in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.

Notice Thomas's reaction. He no longer needs to put his hands in Jesus' wounds. Rather he speaks words of faith: "My Lord and my God!"

Is Jesus actually God? Or some kind of lesser god? Or only the son of God in a lesser sense? If Thomas had misunderstood Jesus' divinity, surely Jesus would have corrected him at this point and John would have recorded it. But letting his words stand helps us clarify this issue: Jesus IS God, fully God! And Thomas's use of the word "Lord" probably reflects the Hebrew Adonai, which was used as a substitute for Yahweh when Jews read the Old Testament Scriptures. Thomas is saying that Jesus is both Yahweh (the specific name for the God of the Old Testament) and God himself!

The rest of the story church tradition tells us is that Thomas preached in present-day Iraq and Iran. Then he went to India in 52 AD to found a church that still exists today. He was martyred in Mylapore, India, in 72 AD. He had a strong faith!

Appearances of the Risen Christ

John records specific post-resurrection appearances. But the New Testament includes a number of other appearances of the Risen Christ:

  • Mary Magdalene saw him first and spoke to him (Mark 16:9, longer ending; John 20:16).
  • Other women also saw him and touched him (Matthew 28:9).
  • Jesus appeared to Peter and the other apostles (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5; Mark 16:14 longer ending; Luke 24:36).
  • Jesus appeared to Thomas (John 20:26-28).
  • Later, Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6).

The disciples who were in deep depression after his crucifixion were finally convinced that he had indeed risen from the dead. Paul sums up for us the faith of the first century church:

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also...." (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen, Yet Believe (20:29)

Jesus concludes his words to Thomas with a general statement that touches you and me.

"Then Jesus told him, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'" (20:29)

Thomas had the privilege of seeing Jesus with his own eyes, a privilege denied to those of us born twenty-one centuries later. Thomas's belief  is understandable. But there is a special blessing for those of us who have examined the evidence, believed, and encountered the Risen Christ ourselves.

Q5. (John 20:24-29) Why do you think Thomas is so stubborn about believing that Jesus was raised from the dead? How do you think he felt when Jesus appeared before him? What was Thomas's confession in verse 28? What is Jesus' blessing offered to future believers?

The Purpose of John's Gospel: That You May Believe (20:30-31)

John has pointed us to the blessedness of belief for those of us who haven't seen Jesus. Now he states the purpose of his Gospel, which I have quoted numerous times in this study.

"30  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (20:30-31)

John explains that he was very selective in what he included in his Gospel. We believe that his readers were familiar with one or more of the Synoptic Gospels, so he wasn't required to repeat all the incidents included there. John concludes the book with the acknowledgement:

"Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." (21:25)

There is a two-fold purpose that guides John in selecting materials for this Gospel:

  1. That you may believe, and
  2. That you may have life.

The belief John strives for is not just a general openness, but very specific: "that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." Christ, of course, means the same thing as Messiah. Jesus is the Son of David, promised for nearly one thousand years and pointed to by many prophets. He is the Promised One. And he is the Son of God. This is more than "son of God" in the sense of being Israel's king. It is clear that Jesus' relationship as a Son to the Father is one of equality and shared divinity.

Notice how John differentiates between belief and life. Belief is not life in itself, but it opens up the door to the eternal life that flows from relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit -- a life of joy and fellowship, now and forever. Amen.

Q6. (John 20:30-31) How did John decide what to include in his Gospel and what to leave out? What is the purpose of his Gospel? John differentiates in verse 31b between believing and having life. Why?

Lessons for Disciples

John's Gospel: A Discipleship Journey with Jesus, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Entire study is available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

This passage gives us disciples a number of things to ponder.

  1. Jesus' resurrection body has continuity with his physical body, so that we can say he was raised from the dead bodily. But it is not bound to the physical sphere; it can appear, disappear, and walk through locked doors. (20:19-20).
  2. Jesus' disciples are sent in the same way Jesus was sent by the Father -- with a mission to accomplish, to do and say particular things. We are to communicate his message clearly to our generation, not add to it or take away from it (20:21).
  3. Jesus links his sending and commissioning his disciples to the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. This is because the power of the Holy Spirit is indispensible for us to be able to spread his gospel with power (20:21-22; see Acts 1:4, 8).
  4. Jesus gives his disciples (and through them to the Church) the awesome responsibility to forgive sins. Christians disagree about whether this authority is to actually confer forgiveness, or to declare God's forgiveness, or both. The authority to forgive sins is very much connected to both the Great Commission and the sending of the Holy Spirit (20:23).
  5. Reflecting on Thomas's adamant refusal to believe: We need to balance critical thinking that comes with experience, with the realization that God's power can act in ways outside of our experience.
  6. Thomas's confession is a powerful statement declaring Jesus to be God himself (20:28).
  7. Jesus extends a blessing to those who believe in him without confirming his resurrection with their own eyes (20:29). We must do this by relying on a preponderance of the evidence, as well as through the revelation of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
  8. The guiding purpose of John's Gospel is to help readers both believe (intellectual) and find life (spiritual) in Jesus Christ (20:30-31). The intellect is not enough. We must put our trust in Jesus and experience him personally.


Lord, there are several things that seem a mystery to us about your appearances to your disciples. However, we ask you to send your Holy Spirit to us again and again so that we are filled to overflowing. Send us to fulfill your mission in our world that sins might be forgiven through the amazing power of grace released by your resurrection. And help us to believe in you. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.'" (John 20:21, NIV)

"And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (John 20:22, NIV)

"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." (John 20:23, NIV)

"Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!'" (John 20:28, NIV).

"Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29, NIV)

"Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31, NIV)

End Notes

[897] "Fear of the Jews" (20:19) is mentioned three times in John, here and 7:13 and 12:42.

[898] "Locked" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "shut" (KJV) here and in verse 26 is kleiō, "to prevent passage at an opening, shut, lock, bar" (BDAG 546, 1a); William S. LaSor, "Locks and Keys," ISBE 3:149.

[899] "Overjoyed" (NIV), "rejoiced" (NRSV, KJV), "were glad" (ESV) is chairō, "to be in a state of happiness and well-being, rejoice, be glad" (BDAG 1074-1075, 1).

[900] "Startled" (NIV) or "terrified" (KJV) is the Greek verb ptoeō, "be terrified, be alarmed, frightened, startled" (BDAG 895).

[901] "Frightened" is the Greek adjective emphobos, "pertaining to being in a state of fear, afraid, startled, terrified" (BDAG 326).

[902] "Ghost" (NIV, NRSV) or "spirit" (ESV, KJV) is pneuma, "an independent non-corporeal being, in contrast to a being that can be perceived by the physical senses, spirit, ghost."

[903] Greek tarassō, "be troubled, frightened, terrified" from the idea of "stir up, disturb, unsettle" (BDAG 990).

[904] Greek noun dialogismos, "reasoning that gives rise to uncertainty, doubt" (BDAG 232-233).

[905] Deiknymi, "to exhibit something that can be apprehended by one or more of the senses, point out, show, make known" (BDAG 214).

[906] "Touch" (NIV) or "handle" (KJV) psēlaphaō, "to touch by feeling and handling" (BDAG 1097-1098).

[907] "Sent" (NIV) is apostellō, "to dispatch someone for the achievement of some objective, send away/out" (BDAG 121, 1c).

[908] "Sending/send" is pempō, "to dispatch someone, whether human or transcendent being, usually for purposes of communication, send someone." The idea of moving from one place to another, which is inherent in 'sending', can retreat into the background, so that pempō takes on the meaning, "instruct, commission, appoint" (BDAG 794, 1).

[909] Jesus says that he is sent by the Father in John 3:34; 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36-38; 6:29, 38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 28-29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44-45, 49; 13:30; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21.

[910] "Entrust" (NIV), "put in trust" (KJV) is pisteuō, "believe," here, to believe in someone enough that you "entrust something to someone" (BDAG 818, 3). See Galatians 2:7; 1 Timothy 1:11; Titus 1:3.

[911] "Entrust" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "commit" (KJV) is paratithēmi, "to entrust for safekeeping, give over, entrust, commend" (BDAG 772, 3a).

[912] "Breathed" is emphysaō, "to blow on someone" (BDAG 326, 1), from en-, "on" + physaō, "to blow."

[913] Lambanō, BDAG 583, 3.

[914] Carson (John, pp. 649-655) argues convincingly for this interpretation over several pages.

[915] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdmans, 2007), p. 625.  The key conveys the ideas of access and admission: "To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open." Revelation 3:7

[916] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Eerdmans, 1992), pp. 425-427.

[917] Augsburg Confession, Articles 11, 12, 25. Luther's Larger Catechism, 2, III.

[918] Resources for this section are from: Wikipedia article on "Absolution"; William Cecil Gibbon Proctor, "Absolution," Walter A. Elwell (editor), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker, 1984), pp. 7-8.

[919] Book of Common Worship (Philadelphia: Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church USA, 1946), p. 12. See the Second Helvetic Confession, 14. Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), 30: "To these [church] officers the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are committed, by virtue whereof they have power respectively to retain and remit sins, to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the word and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the gospel, and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require."

[920] Didymus means "twin." Used also to describe Thomas in 11:16 and 21:2.

[921] "Mark" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "print" (KJV) is typos, "a mark made as the result of a blow or pressure, mark, trace" (BDAG 1019, 1).

[922] "Put" (NIV) is ballō, "throw, cast," here, "to put or place something in a location, put, place, apply, lay, bring" (BDAG 163, 3b). Used in verse 25 twice and once in verse 27.

[923] "Not" (NIV, NRSV, KJV), "never" (ESV) is ou mē, a marker of reinforced negation. In combination with ou, has the effect of strengthening the negation" (BDAG 646, 4aα).

[924] Some books I recommend include C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1941-1943); Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (1998); and Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods (2000, 2002). There are many excellent Christian apologists. I've found helpful Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (1994), among others.

[925] "Week" (NIV, NRSV) is actually "eight days" (ESV, KJV).

[926] "Doubting/doubt" (NIV, NRSV), "disbelieve" (ESV), "be faithless" (KJV) is the adjective apistos, "without faith, disbelieving, unbelieving" (BDAG 104, 2).

[927] "Believe/believing" is the adjective pistos, "pertaining to being trusting, trusting, cherishing faith/trust" (BDAG 821, 2).

Copyright © 2022, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

Sign up now!To be notified about future articles, stories, and Bible studies, why don't you subscribe to our free newsletter,The Joyful Heart, by placing your e-mail address in the box below. We respect your privacy and never sell, rent, or loan our lists. Please don't subscribe your friends; let them decide for themselves.
Country(2-letter abbreviation, such as US)
Preferred FormatHTML (recommended) Plain text