Text: John 20:19-31
Event(s): Jesus appears to the disciples and breathes on them to receive the Holy Spirit; Thomas believes
John 20:19 “Jesus came and stood in the midst…” I love this. The doors were shut, and Jesus passed right through them to get to His disciples. There is nothing that can separate us from Him.
John 20:21 “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Before He commissions His disciples, He imparts peace to them. Peace is the preparation for service in the kingdom.
John 20:22 “He breathed on them, and said…Receive the Holy Spirit.” There are many different views as to what exactly took place here and how it differed from what would take place later, on the day of Pentecost. Based on my own personal experience with the Holy Spirit and how He worked in my life, along with what I’ve collected from various commentaries and expositors, here’s what I believe (though I’m not saying this is ultimately all that is implied in the text. I, like you, am still learning. So I willfully admit that my knowledge and understanding is at this point limited to where I am in my own personal walk with God and what I’ve learned thus far. Saying that, here goes.)
Although the disciples were already following Jesus while He walked the earth, they were not yet regenerated, or “born again” because Jesus had not died on the cross yet for their sins. I believe, at this point, when He breathes on them, they are born again. They received the Holy Spirit. What would happen later, at Pentecost, had to do with a releasing of power in their lives. I like how one commentator puts it,
“Jesus’s words “Receive the Holy Spirit” help to set in context two different works of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life. First, here on Easter night, the disciples do in fact, “receive the Holy Spirit” as the Spirit of “life”. Jesus’ word is direct and unequivocal, “Receive” and in doing so, the disciples are “born again” by the Spirit’s regenerating work in them. This passage parallels the breath of the Father on Adam in the first creation, as Jesus breathes on them and the “new creation” is begun (2 Corinthians 5:17). Second, however, on Pentecost the work of God’s Spirit as the Spirit of power is to enable Jesus’ disciples for ministry – witness and service – to fulfill their mission in the world.” -Scott G. Bauer
John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any…if you retain the sins of any…” We, as Jesus’ ambassadors, don’t provide forgiveness – we’re not the source. But we do proclaim it. So for example, if we encounter someone who says, “I don’t feel forgiven”, it is our responsibility to declare to them that according to God’s Word and the work of Jesus Christ, if they will only open their hearts and believe in Him, their sin is gone.
However notice, this verse also talks about “retaining sin”. What does that mean? Jesus appears to have been saying that when His disciples would go out with the message of salvation, as He had done, some people would believe and others would not. Reaction to their ministry would be the same as reaction to His had been. If any believed the gospel, the disciples could tell these new believers that God had forgiven their sins. But if they disbelieved, they could not proclaim a message of forgiveness outside of Jesus because only His blood washes our sin away.
John 20:25 “Unless I see…I will not believe.” Thomas had no doubts that Jesus had died. However, he refused to believe the other disciples’ report—that Jesus was alive— without personal physical proof. He insisted on touching Jesus, and specifically His crucifixion wounds, not just seeing Him. No one else in the New Testament made demands like these before believing. The Greek text clarifies that the other disciples kept saying to him that Jesus was alive. They evidently sought him out and shared the good news with him. In spite of this repeated verbal testimony by those who knew Him best, Thomas refused to believe. We can be somewhat like that sometimes, can’t we? God gives us a promise, or we read the truth in His Word, but unless we “see” in the natural, we reserve some of our belief.
Today’s Takeaway: Our author, John, goes on to say that “these things were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” I know my faith is so greatly stirred when I read the Gospels; when I read the whole Bible! And today, as we get closer to the end of this study, I think about how you and I have a story to tell. Just think, even if just one person could be impacted by reading your account. If just one person would come to believe that Jesus is the Christ by reading what He has done in your life. How awesome would that be? It doesn’t mean you have to author a book (though I do believe some of us are called to) but it does mean that you can proclaim what He has done in your life and know that it will make a difference. We are here to proclaim. To be a walking testimony that draws others to “life in His name.” So friend, shine on. Open your mouth. Speak up. Write, if you feel more comfortable doing that. But do whatever you have to do to reflect His handiwork in your life. He is glorified in and through us, His children.
Additional (optional) reading: Hebrews 11 in the NLT is a great chapter on faith. Also, a parallel account of part of today’s text may be found in Luke 24:36-49