John’s Gospel: Chapter 20:21-31 (“My Lord and my God!”)

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

The disciples were commissioned by Jesus to continue his mission. “Peace be with you” is not merely a polite greeting. Coming from the lips of Jesus, it’s a blessing and a promise of his protection.

(John 20:22 ESV)  22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Greek and Hebrew words for “spirit” can also mean “breath.” To “breathe” on someone is also to “spirit” on someone. It’s a play on words.

But it’s more than that. It strikes me as very reminiscent of Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones.

(Eze 37:9-14 ESV) 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”

10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.  11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’  12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.  13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

The disciples had lost much of their faith and their hope. They’d abandoned Jesus at the cross. They’d given up. They’d become like the dry bones of Israel — dead in their souls, needing the breath of God to be restored.

Ironically, the man who’d just risen from the grave breathed on the supposedly living to bring them out of the grave (v. 13) so that they’d have “my Spirit within you” and “know that I am the LORD” (v. 14).

This was, of course, only the beginning of the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. The promise was more completely honored in Acts 2 and continues to be honored every day as people believe on Jesus throughout the world, joining the army of formerly dry bones, restored by the Spirit — the breath of Jesus.

Another parallel, of course, is God breathing the breath of life into Adam in Genesis 2:7. Just as God began the human race with a breath, so Jesus begins the New Creation with a breath.

(Emphusaō (breathe on) is found only here in the New Testament, but in the LXX, it appears in both of the mentioned passages.)

The exegetical challenge here is that Acts seems to record that the apostles did not receive the Spirit until Pentecost, creating a seeming contradiction. The NET Bible translators suggest —

Finally, what is the relation of this incident in John 20:22 to the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2? It appears best to view these as two separate events which have two somewhat different purposes. This was the giving of life itself, which flowed out from within (cf. John 7:38-39). The giving of power would occur later, on the day of Pentecost – power to witness and carry out the mission the disciples had been given. (It is important to remember that in the historical unfolding of God’s program for the church, these events occurred in a chronological sequence which, after the church has been established, is not repeatable today.)

Personally, I’m inclined to see Jesus acting in John 20 proleptically, breathing on the disciples so that they would receive the outpoured Spirit at Pentecost.

To me, it’s not an important question. Two gifts of the Spirit or two effects of the Spirit or one event preparing for the next. It’s not of great consequence.

More important is the observation that Jesus felt no need to baptize the disciples, even though, in the Kingdom, the Spirit would normally be received at baptism. Obviously, Jesus is not bound to follow his normal pattern, when it suits him. I guess that’s one benefit of being a divine person, rather than a divine rulebook.

(John 20:23 NAS) “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

I think the NASB gets the verb tenses more exactly. At least, the commentators seem to think so.

Thus, Jesus is not giving them the power to forgive sins on behalf of God. And notice that Jesus is speaking to his “disciples,” not just his apostles. This is addressed to those who soon become the infant church, but not just to the 12 future leaders.

What the church has the power to do is to declare that God has forgiven someone’s sins. And we do that all the time. We very comfortably say that after someone’s baptism. We’ll also assure our fellow members when they “come forward” and ask for forgiveness that God has answered their prayers.

Indeed, for a church that deeply understands grace, this is not a hard thing to do. We should be able to distinguish those who’ve been forgiven from those who have not. After all, that’s the same as knowing who is and isn’t a Christian.

(John 20:24-25 ESV)  24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

We all know people who are like Thomas. They are afraid of being hurt or embarrassed. They hold their emotions and commitments close. They’re afraid of taking a chance. And that’s just the way God made them, and that’s good enough to be an apostle!

(John 20:26-27 ESV)  26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

This was on a Monday. “Eight days later” belies the argument of a few that the disciples began meeting on Sundays before Pentecost. That “pattern” is not obvious here at all.

Jesus seems to have made this appearance especially for Thomas. Again, he entered through a locked door. Again he greets them with a blessing of peace. And then, this time, he challenges Thomas to believe.

(John 20:28 ESV)  28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas was convinced! Indeed, he declares Jesus to be God.

(John 20:29 ESV)  29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus commends Thomas’ faith, but he further commends those who reach faith based on the testimony of others.

(John 20:30-31 ESV)  30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  31 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 states what should be obvious, of course. This is not a complete narration of all Jesus’ miracles. Rather, he’s selected his material to help the reader come to faith and so eternal life.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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