JOHN 20:22-23 JESUS SAID IF YOU FORGIVE THE SINS OF ANY, THEY ARE FORGIVEN THEM; IF YOU RETAIN THE SINS OF ANY, THEY ARE RETAINED

26Apr

John 20:22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

 Jesus is saying that when His disciples went to others with the message of salvation, as He had done, some people would believe and others would not. Reaction to their ministry would be the same as reaction to His had been. He viewed their forgiving and retaining the sins of their hearers as the actions of God's agents.  If anyone believed the gospel, the disciples could tell the believers that God had forgiven their sins. If they disbelieved, they could tell them that God had not forgiven but retained their sins. Jesus had done this (cf. 9:39-41), and now His disciples would continue to do it. Thus their ministry would be a continuation of His ministry relative to the forgiveness of sins, as it would be in relation to the Spirit's enablement. This, too, applies to all succeeding generations of Jesus' disciples since Jesus was still talking about the disciples' mission.

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

In His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus does not ask the Father to send the Spirit, which He has promised in chapters 14-16. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is not even mentioned in this prayer! How can this be? I believe that while our Lord prepared His disciples for the coming of the Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse, He did not intend to send the Spirit until after His ascension. In other words, the Holy Spirit would not come until Pentecost. Some suggest that in our text Jesus is temporarily bestowing the Spirit upon His disciples, until Pentecost comes. I don’t agree.

In the first place, John does not report anything out of the ordinary happening as a result of our Lord’s actions. The disciples are not transformed, as they will be at Pentecost. The gospel is not preached. In fact, the next thing to happen in John’s Gospel is that some of the disciples go fishing. I do not believe that the Holy Spirit was immediately bestowed upon the disciples at this moment, as a result of what Jesus says and does. I believe Jesus is symbolically bestowing the Spirit upon His disciples, although it will not actually take place until Pentecost. Jesus will have ascended to the Father then, and so this gesture indicates to the disciples that when the Spirit comes at Pentecost, it will be as a result of what Jesus had promised earlier, and symbolically indicates here.

   I wish to be very clear here, both as to what I am saying, and as to what I am not saying. I am saying that our Lord is here symbolically bestowing His Holy Spirit on the church. This symbolic act will literally be fulfilled at Pentecost.

Jesus wants it to be clear that it is He who is sending His Spirit to indwell and to empower His church. I am not saying that the Spirit is given at the moment Jesus breathes upon His disciples. I am not saying that this is a temporary bestowal of the Spirit, until the permanent coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Specifically, I believe that what Jesus is symbolically bestowing is the coming of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples as those who will act as His apostles. Earlier, Jesus outlined some of the ministries of the Holy Spirit. For example, the Spirit would call Jesus’ teaching to their minds. He would convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. But here, none of these ministries seems to be in view. Here, the Holy Spirit is given to the apostles so that they can either proclaim the forgiveness of sins, or the retention of sins. I do not think this text justifies some priestly hierarchy, who hears confessions and grants absolution from one’s sins. Instead, I believe Jesus is giving the apostles the authority to declare men and women to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. I believe we see an example of this in the Book of Acts: Acts 11:1-18,

Furthermore there is no evidence that when Thomas returned to the scene Jesus gave him the Spirit as one would expect if the Spirit's presence was essential for the disciples then (v. 26-29)

It also explains why this event had no changing effect on the disciples. Evidently there was only one coming of the Spirit on these disciples, and that happened on Pentecost.

The ‘breathing’ of the Spirit is John’s way of describing the commissioning of Jesus’ disciples. This is John’s version of the great Commission given to the Apostles

The disciples are now apostles — those who are sent to pioneer and protect the church. [i]

He breathes on them and this raises another theological host of questions that is a great area of study on your own.  We know that when the disciples were on the earth they were His representatives.  They had His power at timesWe know that from the Gospel accounts that He sent them out and they performed miracles empowered by the Holy Spirit.  We know in the Old Testament that Saul had the Holy Spirit removed from Him and David even prayed after His own tragic sin, “Take not your Spirit from me.” Right?

 So we know the Holy Spirit could empower and indwell believers, but the Holy Spirit was not a permanent resident until Pentecost, or Acts chapter two when the birth of the church and that fulfills the New Covenant and the Holy Spirit comes and indwells the believer.

 So what’s happening here is a great field of study.  I think a number of things are going on.  I think when you go back to Genesis 2:7 and I believe Jesus Christ, as a theophany, has made a dirt Adam on His hands and knees.  That’s my sanctified imagination.  He’s from the dirt of the ground.  He’s formed a man in His image.  He breathes life into that dirt and it becomes a living man.  And Adam is made in His image, a bearer of His image.  The animal kingdom was not, Adam was.  This first Adam.

 The second Adam, according to Romans two, is Jesus Christ without sin.  And now the second Adam has been buried and resurrected and He breathes on, imparting the new life of the Spirit that is only possible from the Holy Spirit from Christ.

 He has to go to the Father to be able send the Spirit permanently.  So what’s happening here seems to be not unlike how He empowered them perhaps in their ministry.  But pre-resurrection He somehow is imparting His Spirit to them in a unique way and then it’s tied to this issue of the forgiveness of sins.

Ezekiel 37:5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.

Job 33:4 The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life. 

This is possibly an Aramaic idiom meaning “he gave them courage.” That encouragement was in the form of a promise of the Holy Spirit.

It takes a monumental work of God to convince the Jews that God has purposed from eternity past to save Gentiles (see Acts 22:21-23). Our Lord had promised to send the Spirit, which He did at Pentecost. After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit directed Peter to go to the house of a Gentile and to proclaim the gospel to those gathered in his house. The Spirit then came upon all those who had come to faith, thus indicating that the gospel (the forgiveness of sins) was not just for Jews alone, but for all who believe, Jew or Gentile. It is difficult for Gentile believers today to grasp how hard it was for Jews to accept the salvation of the Gentiles. Even the apostles found this difficult. As the Spirit came upon the apostles, this truth was embraced, proclaimed, and defended by them. By means of the Spirit’s guidance and illumination, the truth that the gospel was for Jews and Gentiles was declared by the apostles, and particularly by Paul:

Ephesians 2:11-22

23 "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. Mt 16:19; 18:18

This relates both to those who share the Gospel and to those who respond by faith. Someone with the gospel knowledge chooses to share it and someone hears it and chooses to receive it. Both aspects are required. [ii] This verse does not give arbitrary authority to clergy, but wonderful life-giving power to believing witnesses!

Their sins have been forgiven them” The grammatical construction implies God’s forgiveness, is available completely through gospel proclamation. Believers have the keys of the kingdom (cf. Matt. 16:19) if they will only use them. This promise is to the Church, not individuals. This is theologically similar to “the bound and unbound” of Matt. 18:18.[iii]

Matthew 16:19 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth 8will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  John 8:32 set free

This was a metaphor for gaining entrance. The keys are the proclamation of the gospel with an invitation to respond.[iv]

Matthew 18:18 18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 

Forgiveness of sins Jesus mentions in verse twenty-three I do not think empowers an individual to absolve people of sin.  I think what He’s saying here is that the message of the resurrection is forgiveness and when you preach the gospel of Jesus Christ raised from the dead, you must preach forgiveness. 

Essentially what Jesus is saying here is the Gospel message must, in this context, include the issue of forgiveness.  And that we as believers are the only ones who have the proclamation of the forgiveness of sinApart from Christ there is no forgiveness for our sins, that’s the message, and only in Christ, only understanding the resurrected Christ, will you have the forgiveness of sin, according to the New Covenant.  Well, the disciples are to proclaim this and that’s part of the mission that they will have.

The Great Commission not only requires supernatural power to carry it out (v. 22), but it also involves the forgiveness of sins (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Matt.26:28). In the similar passages in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, the context is church discipline. Here the context is evangelism.

The second part of each conditional clause in this verse is in the passive voice and the perfect tense in the Greek text. The passive voice indicates that someone has already done the forgiving or retaining. That person must be God since He alone has the authority to do that (Matt. 9:2-3; Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21). The perfect tense indicates that the action has continuing effects; the sins stand forgiven or retained permanently.

Jesus appears to have been saying that when His disciples went to others with the message of salvation, as He had done, some people would believe and others would not. Reaction to their ministry would be the same as reaction to His had been. He viewed their forgiving and retaining the sins of their hearers as the actions of God's agents.  If people ("any" or "anyone," plural Gr. tinon) believed the gospel, the disciples could tell the believers that God had forgiven their sins. If they disbelieved, they could tell them that God had not forgiven but retained their sins. Jesus had done this (cf. 9:39-41), and now His disciples would continue to do it. Thus their ministry would be a continuation of His ministry relative to the forgiveness of sins, as it would be in relation to the Spirit's enablement. This, too, applies to all succeeding generations of Jesus' disciples since Jesus was still talking about the disciples' mission.

All who proclaim the gospel are in effect forgiving or not forgiving sins, depending on whether the hearer accepts or rejects the Lord Jesus as the Sin-Bearer."

Who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mark 2:7) All that the Christian can do is announce the message of forgiveness; [v]

This resurrection appearance has threefold importance in John's Gospel.

  • It validated again Jesus' bodily resurrection
  • It provided the setting for the commissioning of Jesus' disciples.
  • It also provided the background for Jesus' appearance when Thomas was present and Thomas' climactic statement of faith that followed (vv. 24-29).

Lessons

  1. Trust God in every situation

2Ti 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Ro 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

  1. god has given us peace and joy

vs 20 Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  21 So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you!

Romans 5:1-11 We have peace with God and the Peace of God and His Joy

  1. god has left us here to fulfill a mission

Vs 21 As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 23 "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

We are called to go tell others about Jesus and what He has done for us and give them peace, joy and freedom too