Last week, we saw Mary weeping uncontrollably at the tomb, not knowing what was about to happen. John had been unraveling the evidence to the Resurrection one detail at
a time. Mary stooped down and saw the two angels who asked her why she was weeping. God was preparing her for a very special meeting.
Mary should have gotten the idea that this was no mere grave robbery. The very presence of the angels in white should have tipped her off. But we must not be too hard on Mary as this was a very confusing and emotional time. I doubt whether any of us would have managed as well, no less better.
She turned and saw Jesus. But she though Him to be the gardener and asked where they had taken Jesus. But Jesus made Himself known in a very personal way, by the calling of Mary’s name. Others would be sure that Jesus had risen by the breaking of bread, touching the nails, watching Him eat, or even in a glorious vision on the way to Damascus. It is important to know that Jesus is personal and deals with us as individuals and not just as a large group.
Mary was told to go tell the brethren that Jesus had risen. The first preacher was a woman! Jesus could have revealed Himself to Peter and John first, but waited for Mary. And He sent her to tell rather than going in person. She had a very difficult bunch to witness to. They would think her mad, even as the world thinks us mad. But the truth would be known soon enough.
Exposition of the Text
John 20:19—It was evening on the first day after the Sabbath, and the doors were securely locked where the disciples were because they feared the Jews. And Jesus came into their midst and said to them, “Peace be unto you.”
This account most closely relates to the account in Luke 24:36-43. In both cases, Jesus appears suddenly in the midst of the disciples and says “Peace be unto you” which was a familiar Hebrew greeting. This means that Jesus had already appeared to some of the followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus where he identified Himself to them in the breaking of bread. He had also appeared once to Simon Peter (Luke 24:33).
I would guess that the disciples appeared anything but peaceful at the appearance of Jesus. Peter had seen Him, and Mary Magdalene and the women had seen Him. There was probably a mixture of excitement, confusion and fear. They were at a loss to understand what this all meant. We do know that John mentions that the doors were securely locked because of fear of the Jews. They were not about to let anyone in who was knocking at the door, regardless of who they said they were. So Jesus had to find another way in.
The very fact that Jesus just appeared in their midst without coming through the door must have convinced them that they were seeing Jesus’ angel or spirit. People are not in the habit of materializing out of thin air unless one thinks of Star Trek. This would have been in the realm of their belief as they did believe in spirits and ghosts.
John 20:20—And after he said this, He showed them his hands and side. Then the disciples rejoiced knowing that it was the Lord.
The showing of Jesus’ wounds cheered the disciples in that they knew it wasn’t just any ghost or spirit. It seems unlikely at this point that they understood that they were not just seeing Jesus’ angel, but Jesus in His resurrected body. Luke goes on to tell us that Jesus asked for a bite of fish and that a ghost did not have flesh and bones as He had (Luke 24:39). Jesus in the account in Luke invited them to touch Him. We can see how the details given in Luke and those in John confirm and explain each other. This is a certification that the testimony is valid and believable.
John 20:21—He said to them again: “Peace be unto you! Even as the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.
Jesus now repeats His “Shalom to you”. This time, I think the disciples were more at peace with the greeting. Jesus comes to bring peace to those who will accept Him. All of the gospels give a “Great Commission” in which Jesus commands His disciples to go out into the world as witnesses. And Jesus probably repeated this commission several times to make sure it sunk in using slightly different words. The word for sent in the Father’s sending of Jesus is the same base word for “apostle”. Jesus uses a different word for “sent” for the apostles, but they are closely related in meaning. What is significant is that the verb for the Father’s sending of Jesus is in the perfect tense in Greek. It indicates that the end of Jesus mission on earth was very near because the act of sending is related as a past tense event. But the result of Jesus’ mission to earth has everlasting consequences. This is what is brought out by the perfect tense in Greek.
Jesus’ mission was to be carried out by His disciples when Jesus returned to the Father. The Holy Spirit would be sent to empower them in the mission, but the emphasis is that the disciples were to continue in the mission that Jesus had begun. This in a sense the ongoing result of the Father’s sending of the Son.
John 20:22—And when He said this, He breathed on them and said to them: “Receive Ye the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit first is mentioned in the gospel in the first chapter in the promise that God gave John the Baptist that he would know Who was the Messiah by the descent of the Spirit upon Him. The Spirit was proof that the Father sent the Son. The same Holy Spirit is proof to the world that Jesus has sent us. From this point on, the giving of the Holy Spirit to the believers appears from time to time. So the disciples would have known about the Holy Spirit for some time. The fact they were empowered to cast out demons and perform miracles in the sending of the twelve and the seventy must indicate that they had at least had the Holy Spirit in them for some time, although this was a time to time filling for a particular purpose. This would have been no different than the Old Testament prophets who were filled with the Holy Spirit on various occasions for a particular work.
But the giving of the Spirit here would go beyond that of empowerment for a particular mission. In John 1:33, the Holy Spirit came and remained on Jesus the Messiah in the sense of a permanent abode. We know that Jesus is Himself God, the Second Person of the Trinity who could act on His own authority if He had wished. In John’s Gospel, the authority of the Father is emphasized in that He completely fulfilled the Father’s will and not His own. In Luke, the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life is emphasized. He is always being “led by the Spirit”. Luke tells us of the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus and then emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the church in the book of Acts. Jesus never used this power, no less His own, for personal comfort and enrichment. He healed others but would not heal Himself. Perhaps this indicates that the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not for our own personal benefit either, but for the mission of the church.
Commentators call this the “Johannine Pentecost” as though this is John’s account of Pentecost. From plain view, it is obvious that this is an entirely different account from that of Acts 2 written by Luke. However, many of these commentators are just trying to find fault with the Bible. Here Jesus is talking to just ten of the disciples (Thomas was missing, and Judas had betrayed Him and was now dead.). The account in Acts 2 has over 120 people given the Spirit. I tend to see this as another reminder on Jesus’ part of what was about to happen at Pentecost, although the Holy Spirit may have been given here as well. What is important to remember in this verse is that the same Holy Spirit was involved in the sending and empowerment of Jesus for His mission is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to continue the mission.
John 20:23—Whosoever’s sins you all forgive have already been forgiven, and whosoever’s sins you hold have already been held.
Undoubtedly, this verse has been one of the most abused verses in all of Scripture. This is because we do not correctly understand the verb tenses. We treat the two verbs in the perfect tense as though they were future tense. This gives us the translation “Whosoever’s sin you forgive will be forgiven, and whosoever’s sin you retain shall be retained. This makes it sound like we have the power to bind God’s will by determining who will and not be forgiven. The Catholic Church used this verse to abuse the believers into following her dictates by claiming they could both forgive and not forgive sin.
But understanding the perfect tense easily clears up the abuse. The future tense in Greek refers to an event which happened in the past which has ongoing implications. This means that God has already forgiven or not forgiven the sin before the Christians offering forgiveness or not offering forgiveness. All the Church which is led by the Holy Spirit can do is to confirm what God has already willed. The abiding result of God’s will concerning whether to forgive or not is what is emphasized. All claims of power to affect God’s will in this matter are grossly in error. The church can intercede in this manner in asking God to forgive. And God does hear these intercessions. But the final decision is in the hand of God. And no one can change this.
An additional note on the verb “to forgive”: This verb also appears in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:11-12 which is translated “Forgive us our debts, even as we forgive our debtors.” But the second use of the verb here is also in the perfect tense, which indicates that our forgiveness of others precedes God’s forgiveness of us! This verse should be translated: “Forgive us our debts, even as we have already forgiven our debtors.” And if we want to stress the abiding result of the perfect tense, it can be translated: “Forgive us our debts, even as we have forgiven (and forgotten) the debts of our debtors.” This does give the idea of forgiveness a much different emphasis and agrees with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount in which forgiveness and reconciliation is to be offered to someone who has offended the one bringing the gift to the altar before God before offering the gift (Matthew 5:24).
John 20:24—But Thomas, one of the twelve, who was called “The Twin” was not with them when Jesus came.
We do not know why Thomas wasn’t there. Perhaps he felt safer by himself. But the news got to Thomas somehow. Jesus is very personal in His relationship with His followers. He indicated he would leave the ninety and nine sheep to find one that was lost. And here, Jesus will draw Thomas back. Jesus makes Himself known in His own special way. His approach with Nicodemus was different with the woman at the well. He always uses what is unique about the persons He is dealing with as a bridge to faith. We see this in the Book of Revelation also in His use of what was unique about each city to address the church in that city. Jesus’ making Himself known after the Resurrection was also unique to the individuals involved. To Mary, it was the sound of His voice, to the disciples at Emmaus, it was the breaking of bread, to Paul, it was the vision at Damascus and to Thomas, it was the personal touch. In the same way, Jesus knows us who are His sheep and knows how to reach us.
John 20:25—The other disciples were telling him: “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, unless I see in His hand the marks of the nails and put my hand into His side, I absolutely will not believe.
John uses the imperfect tense in Greek to describe how Thomas found out. The imperfect tense indicates that Thomas did not just hear once that the disciples had seen the Lord but heard it several times. This seems that the other ten disciples had to work at trying to convince Thomas that Jesus had indeed risen. Finally, Thomas tells them in no uncertain terms that he would not believe unless he could see the prints of the nails and feel the wound of the spear in Jesus’ side.
When we think of our glorified bodies in heaven, we think of what age we will be and how perfect we will look. No one wants to go to heaven with warts! Yet Jesus appeared to them wounds and all. It seems certain that He could have appeared any way He wished. But it was important for Jesus to show the wounds for the sake of the believers. This shows His love for us and that He was more concerned about the disciples than Himself.
John 20:26 Eight days later the disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them this time. And Jesus comes, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst and said: “Peace be unto you.”
God works on his own schedule. The disciples had gotten together again and Thomas was with them this time. I think it was important for Jesus to reveal Himself with the other disciples and not to just Thomas alone. This would reinforce the idea that the disciples were a team. Also it would help strengthen the faith of the other ten as well. Perhaps it had taken 8 days for the disciples to convince Thomas to join them. We don’t know. All we know was that the time was right. The situation was similar to that of the first meeting. The doors were securely locked, and Jesus came suddenly into the midst and repeated His “Peace be unto you all”. This would have been familiar to the ten and would be similar to what the disciples had first told Thomas.
John 20:27—Then He says to Thomas: Take your finger here and behold my hands and take your hand and cast it into my side. End your unbelief AND believe.
Thomas had asked to see the print of the nails in the hands. But Jesus goes a step further. He invited Thomas to see with his finger and touch the print of the nails. He wanted Thomas (and the others) to be absolutely sure that He had risen from the dead and did so in bodily form. The disciples were going to be sent out into a world which would be hostile to the gospel. They needed to be absolutely sure of the bodily resurrection of Jesus because they would someday have to lay down their lives even as Jesus had laid down
His. Jesus tells Thomas to once and for all come to faith in Jesus.
John 20:28—Thomas answered and said to Him: “My Lord and My God!”
It is unfortunate that written language cannot always express the emotion in which something is said. It is obvious from the context that it was an emotional awakening for Thomas. We can sometime say “Oh my God!” with emotion and still not have things right concerning God. It is an expression which even atheists might use when caught by surprise and shock. But I think the context here demonstrates that Thomas was saying more than this. The only question would be whether Thomas said this in the sense that he was kicking himself for being so clueless or relieved and overjoyed that Jesus was alive.
Some have used this verse as a proof of the divinity of Christ. The Jews who translated the Old Testament into Greek used “Lord” to translate the Divine name of Yahweh. IF the word “Lord” is used in this way here, it is an absolutely clear reference to Jesus being Yahweh (Jehovah). I do not doubt that Jesus is God. John does express this idea throughout his writings. But he leaves the “I” undotted and the “T” uncrossed in most cases as though this is a conclusion that every believer must discover for himself/herself.
John 20:29—Jesus says to him, “Because you have seen Me, you have come to faith. Blessed are those who did not see and still believe.”
Jesus answer to Thomas shows clearly that Thomas was now a believer. The word for “believe” or “come to faith” is in the perfect tense in Greek. This means that Thomas had come from unbelief to an abiding state of belief. He no longer was in a state of unbelief.
But Jesus also notes that Thomas had only come to faith because Jesus had made Himself physically available to Thomas. He had in a sense confronted Thomas in such a way that he could not make any other conclusion than that Jesus was alive. But what about others? What about us? Jesus did make one other visit we know about to the Apostle Paul after the Ascension, but He is in heaven now and not to come back to earth until the second coming. How are others to believe without this awesome experience?
It would seem unfair to us that we are asked to believe without being given the same opportunity to believe. Thomas hadn’t deserved it, this is true. He had run in the time of greatest need and refused to believe the account the other disciples had given him. But I guess this is the point. None of us deserve it. It is entirely a gift of God’s grace that we believe at all. So we really do not have any grounds to complain. If God gave Thomas the gift of faith to believe, He will give others this gift as well without physically seeing
Jesus. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. And we have the promise of blessing, even if we can not see or touch Him as Thomas did. If you do not have faith, pray for it. God says He is not willing that anyone perish. So if your faith is weak, ask the Lord for the faith to believe.
We have more than the Apostle’s word for it and the words of Scripture. These are important witnesses. And we have more than the witness of the church. We have the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jesus rose and lives evermore.
John 20:30-- But there are many more signs which Jesus did which are not written in this book.
John wants to make it clear that his gospel is not an exhaustive account of all that Jesus said or did. He has carefully selected only the things Jesus did or said which helped him make the case for those who read the gospel to believe. Sometimes a case may get bogged down if too much evidence is presented. I can think of the OJ case in which the prosecution overloaded the jury with facts as though a lot of evidence was better than little evidence. Instead of presenting the best evidence in a convincing manner, they took every shred of evidence whether it was helpful or not. As a result, the long-sequestered jury got tired of the proceeding. Worse than that, the prosecution presented evidence such as Shupe’s dream which was of questionable validity. Then they grandstanded the case with the glove. Anyone who will think for a moment should have known that wet leather gloves will shrink considerably when they dry. Of course, the gloves didn’t fit. What the prosecution did in this case was to ruin one of the most airtight cases in history. In short order, OJ was found not guilty.
So John’s wisdom here is considerable. Don’t try to overwhelm the listener or they will turn on you. Present your case and shut up. Preachers have been guilty of saying in 45 minutes what could have been said better in 15. And present the best evidence, from the Bible. Some think there is more truth about Jesus in the Lord of the Rings, Veggie Tales, Santa Claus, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
John 20:31--But these things have been written that you might believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing, you might have life in His name.
John was not interested in writing a biography of Jesus as one would write to remember what some great figure in history did. He wasn’t trying to entertain the audience. He plainly states the gospel was written to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God in the Scripture and to get them to believe in Him. The result of this belief would be eternal life. So the case has been presented before you. You are not the jury. What is your verdict?
Jesus took great pains to make sure that the disciples were certain that He had risen from the dead. This is because they were going to need to be sure before they could convince others. An unsure witness is an ineffective witness. And this brings us to today. We too are called to witness to the world that Jesus is alive. But it seems so often that we need to convince ourselves first. Perhaps this is why new converts are so effective in bringing people to Christ and we aren’t. They are fresh from the fire that has changed their life. They know what has happened to them. And they want to tell everyone.
I don’t know why so many Christian’s start to doubt. And when doubt creeps in, it affects the way we live our Christian life. We start to cut corners. And this only serves toincrease doubt. This vicious cycle must be broken before all is lost. If there is anyone here who needs to be reassured that Jesus has risen and is coming back for His church, you need to come back to the evidence. The tomb is empty! But don’t let your heart be empty. Ask the Holy Spirit to confirm that Jesus is alive. Get those fresh coals from the fire. You need to be absolutely sure of your faith because the easy times for being a Christian are soon coming to an end and the time of trial to begin. If you are not sure, you will fail the test and fall.