Summary: "These things are written" so that we too "might believe, and receive life through the name of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God."
THE RISEN LORD
The first half of this chapter concerned the empty tomb, and its impact upon three individuals. This second half concerns two appearances of the risen Lord to the gathered church, and includes John’s version of the great commission. It also contains the profession of faith of one of the more sceptical disciples.
It was the evening of the first day of the week: the day of the resurrection; the first day of the new creation. The disciples met together behind closed doors “for fear” (John 20:19). Fear stifles faith: this is why the Lord and His messengers so often say, ‘Fear not.’
Suddenly, and inexplicably, Jesus stood in their midst! That Jesus was able to do this is informative of the nature of the resurrection body. Walls and locked doors are no barrier, but His was still a flesh and bone body (John 20:20), with the wounds still open (John 20:27).
We can hardly imagine how startled the disciples were! Jesus’ first words to them were both familiar and reassuring: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). Having proclaimed the Peace, Jesus displayed the marks of the Cross (John 20:20).
Imagine the delight that the disciples now felt, that their crucified Lord had most surely risen from the dead! Think of their joy, also, at His presence! Jesus repeated His greeting, and commissioned His disciples as Apostles (John 20:21).
Then Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). Just as the LORD had breathed the life-giving spirit into Adam, so our Lord was symbolically infusing His Apostles with His own resurrection power, thereby anticipating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the whole church at Pentecost. (This text gives us grounds to believe - along with the creeds of the church - that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, as well as from the Father.)
The remission or retaining of sins (John 20:23) is declarative, and belongs to the task of preaching the gospel. Just as the high priest declared who was clean and who was unclean in cases of leprosy, so the Apostles were empowered to pronounce who would be forgiven (Acts 10:43), and who would not be forgiven (John 3:18). This is in keeping with prophetic language (Jeremiah 1:10). (Modern-day preachers share this authority only inasmuch as they faithfully proclaim what is taught in the Word of God.)
The absence of Thomas from the Easter gathering of the disciples (John 20:24) does not necessarily exclude him from the conferring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostolic band. Perhaps his position was similar to that of the two absentee elders who ‘prophesied in the camp’ in Moses’ day (Numbers 11:27-30). However, his absence did expose him to his own gloomy predisposition (John 11:16; John 14:5).
We hear of no word of censure from the disciples, but they kept on telling him, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25). Thomas, for his part, would not believe it, except on his own terms. All week long Thomas was kept in limbo, struggling with his doubts.
“Eight days” (John 20:26) brings us back round to the first day of the week again. The embryo church was gathered once more, this time with Thomas also in attendance. Again the doors were shut; again the Lord “stood in the midst”; and again He pronounced the Peace.
It is part of the amazing condescension of our Lord that He also had no word of censure for Thomas, but was willing to meet the requirements of his earlier demands. Jesus’ gentle but firm reproof was, “be not an unbeliever, but a believer” (John 20:27). History is unfair to Thomas when he is continually branded ‘doubting’ - especially when we consider the depth and sincerity of his eventual declaration of faith: “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Jesus’ final word in this passage reaches down through the ages to ourselves, and to the end of time. Thomas had at last believed, having seen the wounds: but “blessed are those who have not seen, and yet still believe” (John 20:29). There are other things, John admits, not written in this book (John 20:30): but these are written that we too might believe, and receive life through the name of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31).