The disciples were running scared and confused for the tomb of Jesus was empty. It was as though all the teachings of Jesus had gone in one ear and out the other. They needed help, and soon it would come to them. Many times in our lives we come under those same conditions. It is in those times that the Lord sends us peace and comfort by His Spirit.
THE DISCIPLES MEET JESUS (John 20:19-21).
On the very same day that the tomb where Jesus had been buried was discovered to be empty, the disciples found themselves gathered together. The writer of this gospel points out that this gathering was on “the first day of the week” (20:19) John, the gospel writer, shows the importance to his readers that day of Christ’s resurrection is their set apart time to be assembled.
The gathering of the disciples instead of celebrating was gathered in a state of fear. So fearful the writer tells us that, “the doors were shut,” meaning locked, “for fear of Jews.” The missing body of Jesus at the tomb had without a doubt put an arrest warrant out for the disciples in their minds. Once the doors were secured and the disciples gathered that Jesus “stood in the midst.” Right in the middle of disciples fear was Jesus and He spoke, “Peace be unto you.” The Jewish customary greeting was to say, “Shalom” which means peace. This saying of Jesus was greater than peace for it echoed the promise of Him giving them peace earlier in their journey (14:27).
It shouldn’t come to us as a surprise that the disciples were probably in a state of shock. They knew that Jesus had just been crucified and verified dead by the Roman soldiers. The disciples themselves and a few others had buried the body. A few of the disciples and a few women discovered the body missing just earlier that morning. Now, Jesus was right in front of them, and there is no doubt they were stunned with silence. Jesus took the initiative and showed “them his hands and his side” (20:20). This was proof enough to the disciples that this One that now stood in front of them was not a spirit or figment of their imaginations but indeed Jesus Christ.
Jesus once again repeats the greeting, “Peace be unto you” (20:21). Rather than repeating the same greeting to make sure the disciples heard Him, Jesus adds to His greeting that He was sending them out and His Father had sent Him. This was a clear commissioning of the disciples to ministry. Jesus was not ending His work but deputizing or authorizing the disciples to carry the same message of peace to others. It is not just in the plan of salvation that we become the recipients of salvation but that we also become the heralds of God’s peace to others. We are all called to be witnesses to the peace of God that we have received by faith in Jesus.
RECEIVE THE HOLY GHOST (JOHN 20:22-23)
The task of carrying the gospel faithfully to the ends of the earth is too much for us alone. We lack in our human ability the understanding, strength, endurance, and love to lead people to Christ. This is why the Holy Spirit has come. To not only lead us into greater depths of our relationship with Christ but also to empower us to carry the Gospel.
Once Jesus had finished commissioning the disciples to be sent out with the Gospel, “he breathed on them” (John 20:22). This breathing on the disciples symbolizes a different working of the Holy Spirit than what the day of Pentecost brought. (cf. Acts 2) On the day of Pentecost, almost two months later, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with a show of power through the wind, a symbol of purity by the fiery tongues, and a display of unity through the languages. The different working of the Holy Spirit is shown in the way the Spirit is given. The breathing upon the disciples resembles the giving of life to humanity in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:7).
Enabled by the Holy Spirit to carry the gospel the disciples are then told what that gospel will do. By delivering the gospel to an individual, there will either be a “remitting” or a “retaining” of sin (John 20:23). When a person believes the gospel, their sins as remitted, meaning forgiven and forgotten. Just as in the courtroom when a judge acquits a criminal and all charges against them is dropped. The opposite happens when an individual turns away from the gospel in unbelief. They retain or keep their sins.
The power of remitting or retaining is not in the disciples unless you count not sharing the gospel as power. Neither are the terms of who receives forgiveness set by us. The power to forgive and establishing the terms of forgiveness belong only to God. The terms are, “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (20:31). Forgiveness is given to those that through the moving of the Holy Spirit believe in Jesus Christ. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). Forgiveness is withheld from those that hear the gospel and turn from it in unbelief. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).