Jesus breathes God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, into the disciples. In doing so, He restores God’s original intent—His people take up His image again. They also become bearers of order in a chaotic world through healing people and imparting to them words of life: the message of Jesus, who came from God as God in human form, suffered, and died for the sins of everyone so that all may have eternal life.
There is no doubt from the context that the reference is to forgiving sins, or withholding forgiveness. But though this sounds stern and harsh, it is simply the result of the preaching of the gospel, which either brings men to repent as they hear of the ready and costly forgiveness of God, or leaves them unresponsive to the offer of forgiveness which is the gospel, and so they are left in their sins.
It is the sins of whatever69 people, not the sins of whatever person, to which this verse refers. Jesus is not speaking of individuals, but of classes. He is saying that the Spirit-filled church has the authority to declare which sins are forgiven and which sins are retained.70 This accords with rabbinical teaching that spoke of certain sins as “bound” and others as “loosed.”71 This referred to classes, not to individuals, and this is surely what Jesus is saying also.
What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.