John 20 Continued

19.  Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

This is the same day, but now it is evening rather than morning, as it was in the previous verse.  This was again, “one of the Sabbaths,” not the first day of the week, and this refers to the feast of firstfruits on this day from which they were to count the fifty days until Pentecost.  The disciples have shut themselves in the place where they are assembled because they are afraid of the Jews.  Since they had already arrested and killed the Lord, the disciples were afraid that, being His followers, they would be next.  So, they had locked themselves in, hoping to remain undiscovered.

There is no indication here that they were in the upper room where they had kept the Passover feast with the Lord days earlier.  Much is made of this upper room by tradition, and many subsequent events are thought to have happened there.  Yet this room was really only where they had made ready the Passover.  There is no reason to suppose that they had any claim to it after this.  They did dwell in “an upper room” in Acts 1:13, but there is no reason to associate this with the Passover room, or with this room here.  We just don’t know where they were assembled.

Some people get very excited when they see the Lord entering a room with the doors shut.  They start to speculate that He could do this because of His resurrection body and some special powers it contained.  Many will go on to postulate that the Lord could do this because His new body was a “spiritual body,” as they call it.  Yet the Lord did not have a “spiritual body” in the sense of an incorporeal body, as can clearly be seen by His admonition to His disciples to touch (verse 27) and examine (verse 20) Him.  And His statement in Luke 24:39, “Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have,” clearly shows that He was not a spirit.

Those who see Christ’s resurrection body as a “spiritual body” extrapolate from this to suppose that everyone in their resurrection bodies will be able to pass through walls like they aren’t there.  This is an interesting thought, yet it leads one to wonder why privacy is something that would be undesirable in the life to come.  Would it really be good for everyone to be able to pass through walls at will?  Why would we want to be able to do this?  Moreover, compare this to Philip’s miraculous teleportation in Acts 8:39-40.  Did Philip have a resurrection body when he did this?  Most certainly not!  This was a miracle, and had nothing to do with his body.  So why do we assume that this miracle had anything to do with the Lord’s body here?  I believe that the Lord was just as capable of appearing in the middle of a room with the doors shut before He died and rose again as He was afterwards.  He was God, and had the power to do miraculous things like this.  Nothing could keep Him out if He did not want to be kept out.  This had nothing to do with some special aspect of His body.  I do not believe that walls and doors will be meaningless things in the life to come.  One of the glories of our future is not life without privacy.  This was a miracle done by our Lord.  It does not teach us anything about our future bodies.  I expect no such power to be inherent in my body at that time anymore than it is now.  I do not need such a power, and I do not know if I would even want it.  I am sure I will be perfectly happy just going through doors like usual.

20.  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

The Lord wanted them to know that this was not just a vision that they saw or imagined somehow.  Thus, He lets them examine His hands where the nails had pierced them and His side where the spear had been thrust.  After doing this, they could have no doubt that the One they saw was their Lord, the same One Who died on the cross.  Then, once the disciples are assured that this is the Lord Jesus indeed, they are glad.  As the Lord had said in John 16:20-22, their sorrow was being turned into joy, for the One Who died and for Whom they had mourned was now alive once again!

21.  So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you!  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Now that they are assured that it is indeed Him, the Lord greets them once again.  Then, He tells them that as the Father had sent Him, now He was sending them.  Thus, these men had a mission from God just as Jesus Christ did.  The disciples were to continue the work that the Lord had begun Himself.  What an amazing thing, that mere men were sent out in the same way as the Lord Himself was!  Yet in the book of Acts, we can see that these men did indeed act on behalf of the Lord in their work, and behaved as He would have in the same situations, even down to working the same powerful miracles that the Lord had done!

The first word for “sent” here is the Greek word apostello, meaning to send with authority.  The Father had sent the Son with His authority to do the work that He did.  The second word for “send” is a different Greek word, however, the word pempo, meaning a simple sending.  Yet certainly they were sent with authority, for they are positively called “apostles” many times.  It could be (as the Companion Bible suggests,) that the Lord said it this way to emphasize that it was really the Holy Spirit Who was going with them Who would be doing the work.  He was the One Who really had the authority, but they wielded it as they were moved by Him.

22.  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

After saying this, the Lord breathes on the disciples.  Remember, this was the same thing the Lord did when He brought Adam to life by breathing into his nostrils (Genesis 2:7.)  Now, the Lord breathes on these men to give them the power of the Holy Spirit.

The words “Holy Spirit” here do not have the word “the” in front of them in Greek.  Thus, this is not talking about the person of the Holy Spirit, but of His power.  In fact, we might paraphrase this as, “Receive holy power.”  The natural question then is, “Power to do what?”  And the answer is in the next verse.  But more importantly, this answers the long-standing argument about how the disciples could receive the Holy Spirit here, and then receive Him again at Pentecost in Acts 2.  The fact is that what they received was not the person of the Holy Spirit, but His power.  In this case, the Lord was granting them the power to forgive or retain sins.  In Acts 2, they received the power to speak in tongues.  Both times they received holy spirit, but they received it for different tasks.  That is the answer to the difficulty many see here.

23.  “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Many stumble at this verse.  The problem is that they take everything that the Lord said to the twelve (or in this case, the eleven, for Judas had not yet been replaced,) and act like it applies to men today.  Some try to connect this with church discipline, and deciding if someone should be expelled from their church or not.  Others try to make it have to do with baptism or some other ritual that the church can decide to perform or not to perform on someone.  Others give this power to their priests, and claim that they can forgive or retain sins.  Yet one fact remains true of every one of these men: that the Lord never breathed on them and told them He was giving them the Holy Spirit so they would have this power.

Notice that it says that the Lord breathed on “them.”  It is likely that He went from one to the other of them, breathing on each in a solemn ceremony, repeating these words as He breathed on each one.  This was a power that was given to them, and an awesome power it was indeed!  Yet for those who are to “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28,) this power would be a necessary thing.  How else could they do such a job and fulfill such a responsibility?  And we can even see them doing this in the Acts period.  For example, Peter retains the sins of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11,) but forgives the sin of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-24.)  This was power indeed!  But no man has the power to do anything like this today.  It is nothing short of pure arrogance to claim to have the power to retain and forgive sins in our day.  No one on earth has this power.  No one on earth was breathed on by the Lord and given such authority.  No one on earth has the Spirit as these men did to guide them in using this power.  This statement was completely true of these men, His disciples.  It is not true of anyone today.

24.  Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

We learn here that one of the twelve, Thomas, was not with the other disciples when the Lord Jesus came to them this first time.  Thomas is here called “the Twin,” or Didymus in Greek.  Of course, this means that he was a twin, although we never read anything about his twin or who his twin was.  We have seen him twice before in John, once in chapter 11, when he urged the disciples to go with the Lord to Judea even though the leaders there sought to kill Him, counseling them that they might as well go along, “that we may die with Him.”  He was also the one who asked the Lord in John 14:5, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  He seems to have been a pessimist, or at least a realist, and one who wasn’t afraid to question things and seek the real answer.  Now, he is elsewhere and misses this visit of the Lord to the other disciples.

25.  The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”  So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

The other disciples report what they had seen to Thomas, but he does not believe them.  This passage has earned Thomas the nickname of “doubting Thomas.”  Yet I do not know if this is entirely fair.  None of the disciples really believed that the Lord was going to rise from the dead.  Peter and John had earlier believed the story of Mary Magdalene, that the Lord’s body had been stolen.  None of them held out hope that He would rise from the dead.  None of them believed the women when they reported to them what the angels told them.  So Thomas was really no more “doubting” than any of the other disciples had been before.  It was just that now the rest of the disciples had seen the Lord and believed, and Thomas hadn’t.  The rest were thrilling in the joy of a resurrected Lord, while Thomas was still back on the gloom of His death.  And it is a frustrating thing to be depressed and unbelieving in the midst of a bunch of enthusiastic, fired-up believers.  I doubt that Thomas’ emphatic statement recorded here was the first thing out of his mouth upon hearing of the visit of the Lord to the other disciples.  He probably listened to them over and over talk about how He had come to them.  He probably heard again and again what He had said to them.  He probably had recounted for him over and over again how they had felt, and what joy they had experienced, when they saw Him before them and realized that He was truly alive.  And all this just built up in Thomas, grating on him in his sorrow and unbelief, until he couldn’t take it anymore, and finally came out with this absolute ultimatum.  Unless he saw, felt, and experienced the Lord’s resurrection for himself, he would not believe it.

Thomas used the double negative, ou me in Greek, in saying he would “by no means” believe unless he could do these things.  When the time came, however, he would fall short of this hard line that he insisted upon.

26.  And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them.  Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”

This was a week later, now again a Sunday evening.  The disciples are again indoors with the doors shut, although this time Thomas is with them.  Now, in spite of the doors being shut, the Lord Jesus comes and stands among them.  His words, “Peace to you!” were a common greeting at that time, although they were particularly appropriate for the One Who brings true peace!

27.  Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

The Lord immediately turns to Thomas to deal with his unbelief.  He calls upon him to do the very thing he had insisted upon doing in his frustrated ultimatum earlier.  He tells him to reach his finger into the nail prints on His hands, and to put his hand into His side.  And the Lord has a reason for this.  He wants Thomas no longer to be unbelieving, but rather to be believing.

We can easily blame Thomas for his lack of faith here.  Yet the Lord does not seem to be all that upset with Thomas over his insistence upon seeing the evidence for himself.  It is not unreasonable for one to want just as much evidence from God as other people claim to have before believing something.  Too many have fallen for pleasant-sounding lies because other men claimed to have seen evidence proving they were true.  It would be better for many of us if we would insist on seeing the evidence that others claim first before following them into belief.

28.  And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

When it comes right down to it, Thomas does not live up to his ultimatum earlier.  He does not really reach his finger into the Lord’s hands or thrust his hand into the Lord’s side.  Just seeing Him is enough, and Thomas testifies in awe, “My Lord and my God!”

Some, in attempting to deny the deity of the Lord Jesus, have suggested here that this is just an ejaculation, like one would say, “My Lord,” or “My God,” upon seeing something startling.  They do this to try to deny Thomas’ witness, and the Lord’s affirmation of it.  Yet there can be no real, honest doubt here.  Thomas knew that the Lord Jesus was indeed God.  And he made no mistake, for that is truly Who the Lord was.

29.  Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

This is an extremely important statement that the Lord makes here.  Thomas has believed because he has seen the Lord.  The word “seen” here is the word horao, and means to perceive with the eyes.  That is what Thomas had done, for he had not really handled the Lord like he had said he would want to.  Then, the Lord reveals that there would be a company of people who would not see, and yet would believe.  Here, the Greek word for “seen” is eidon, which means to perceive something with all of the senses.  Those who believed in this way would believe without any evidence of their senses to support it.

Now this would be a strange thing indeed, far stranger than we might think at first.  As we read through the Old Testament, we see example after example of people who are expected to believe only after seeing.  Moses, the great lawgiver of the Old Testament, saw a burning bush, heard the voice of God, and received the signs of his staff turning into a serpent, and the sign of his hand becoming leprous and then not leprous again as he put it into his shirt.  This was the usual way things were done in the Old Testament.  All who were asked to believe were given evidence to do so.  Many heard a voice from God.  Some saw the form of God.  Others received some sign in the physical world.

These disciples certainly had seen plenty of signs.  John, the author of this book, could not even remotely claim to be one who had believed without seeing.  In I John 1:1-2 we read the very opposite, that, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life– the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us–”  So, John did not believe without seeing, but believed those things that he had perceived with his senses.  Paul certainly did not believe without seeing, for he saw the Lord Jesus shining upon him in power upon the road to Damascus.  Yet when this dispensation of the mystery or secret began, God started working to create a company of people who believed entirely apart from any evidence.  These people truly would believe without seeing any evidence whatsoever.  And that company has continued and grown ever since, and we as believers today are members of it.  We see nothing to prove what we believe is true.  In fact, anyone who claims to have seen something is lying, for we live in a time where there is no evidence to back up what we believe.  We truly are those who believe without seeing, and for that we are blessed indeed!

30.  And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book;

John now is completing the great treatise that he has been writing through all these chapters.  Finishing with the story of the resurrection, and calling Thomas as his final witness, he is now willing to rest his case and state to us at last his final conclusion, the grand statement that he has been leading us towards throughout the entire book.  Yet first he assures us that what he has given us is not a comprehensive record of all the evidence for the Messiahship and Godhood of the Lord Jesus.  Rather, the Lord did many other signs that showed these things to be true.  John has not chosen these, however, but only what the Spirit inspired him to include in this book.  Yet he assures us that this further evidence does exist, and offers still further witness to the great truth of Who the Lord really was.

31.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Here, the Holy Spirit states through John the great purpose for which this book was written.  No other book in the Bible declares itself so boldly to be THE book written to produce believers in these two great facts regarding the Lord Jesus.  This great statement tells us that this book was written for the deliberate purpose of producing believers, and when God has written a book for such a purpose, we can be certain that that purpose will be accomplished through that book.  God wishes us to believe because of the things written in this book.  We would do well if we would pay attention to them, and if we would believe them, for that is clearly what He wants us to do.  Moreover, we are assured that life (that is, eonian life) is promised in His name to those who believe these things.  Clearly, this book is extremely important when it comes to faith.

What exactly does it mean to believe that Jesus is the Christ?  We know that Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah.  We also know that both Christ and Messiah mean “The Anointed One.”  But what does it mean to be anointed?  In English, this word means to smear with oil, or to pour oil on someone ceremonially.  But this definition will only bring confusion once we carry it into the Word of God.  Anointing in the Hebrew mindset signified a setting apart, a marking out or electing for a certain office or task, and a designating for service.  David was anointed as king over Israel, and though oil was poured on his head at God’s command, the oil wasn’t really the important part.  What was important was that God had marked David out to perform this special service to Him.  This marking out was what was true anointing, not the pouring on of the oil.

So it is that Jesus Christ was the One Who was marked out by God, given a task, and commissioned as a servant for Him.  His is the role of King, of Judge, of Governor in God’s government.  Moreover, He was designated as the Deliverer, as the One Who would take our sins away.  He was indeed set apart by God to work the most important work of all: that which He accomplished on the cross.

What exactly does it mean to believe that Jesus was the Son of God?  We use our word “son” to mean someone’s male child.  Thus, I would be my parents’ son, as would my brother.  The word “daughter” is the female equivalent of the word “son.”  Yet this is not what the word “son” meant to the Hebrew.  A “son” was not just someone’s little boy.  In the early days, when Israel was a nomadic people, the family was ruled by a patriarch.  In later years, the family business was likewise run by the male leader of the family.  When that man died or retired, however, someone in his family would have to take over for him.  This important role, that of assuming leadership once the father could no longer remain as leader, was assigned someone, usually the oldest boy, and that man became the “son.”  Someday, when the son took over the business, he would be the representative of the father.  Though the father might still be living, he was no longer in charge, and the son now had all the power.  He could act in all ways as his father formerly had acted, and he could carry out all business that his father formerly had carried out.  In all practical ways, he had now become his father to those he did business with.  He was the current representative of the family as the head of the family business.  Thus, the son was the representative of the father, the one privileged to take on the responsibility of his father, and the one who would act on behalf of the father when he was not around to do his own work.

So the Lord Jesus was the representative of the Father.  He was not “God’s little boy.”  He was the One Who acted on behalf of the Father, the One Who did the Father’s work, and the One Who represented the Father to the world.  He was the visible, physical, touchable, understandable representative of the invisible, unknowable Father.  Thus, He was the Son, not born from God like a human child, but representing God as a Son to a world that had lost knowledge of Him.

If we believe these great truths, we will experience eternal life.  The word “you” here is a second person pronoun.  Yet what is its antecedent?  Who is the “you” referred to here?  The context reveals no antecedent for this word “you.”  In fact, there is no antecedent for it.  This passage uses a common literary device whereby the person reading the book is to substitute himself in for the word “you” here.  The “you” being referred to is the person reading this book now, at this time, during the dispensation of grace.  Anyone who reads this can plug himself into this statement, and know that, if he believes the things written in John, he will have life in His name.  That is the great promise of this book.

What does it mean to have life “in His name”?  Remember, someone’s name is the reputation people hold that person in.  Yet it can also mean “with His permission or authority.”  That is what I do when my brother orders some item, and I pick it up for him.  I am doing it “in his name,” and with his permission.   So, it is with the permission and power of Christ that we receive life.  He is the One Who gives us the opportunity for a second life after this one.  Praise the Lord that He has provided us a way to experience that great, future life that He will someday give to all who believe!

So, John’s great treatise draws to a close.  Having presented his case, he now shifts the focus to us.  What will we do with the information he has given us?  Will we believe?  Will we accept the premise he has worked so hard to prove to us here, and receive the life that is promised to all those who believe this great truth?  Or will we reject it and go on trying to please God through our own good works and actions, or else go on ignoring God and living for ourselves?  What will you do with these great truths John has set forth?  The choice is up to you.