SCRIPTURE: John 20:19-31
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VERSES 19-31: JESUS APPEARS TO THE DISCIPLES
The two appearances of Jesus take place a week apart, the first being on Easter evening and the second being after eight days (meth hemeras okto) –– often translated "a week later.
Jesus speaks to the disciples three times (vv. 19, 21; 22-23; 27). "Each time his words give power to the disciples who hear them" (Althouse, 107).
This Gospel tells us that disciples are gathered, but not which disciples (see also Luke 24:36-49).
This Gospel shows us that there are different kinds of faith, and that faith comes in different ways and with differing intensities to different people. The beloved disciple believes upon seeing the empty tomb (v. 8). Mary believes when the Lord calls her name (v. 16). The disciples must see the risen Lord (v. 20). Thomas says that he must touch the wounds (v. 25) –– although that need seems to evaporate once he sees the risen Christ (v. 28). People have differing needs and find various routes to faith.
VERSES 19-23: THE FIRST APPEARANCE
19When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked (Greek: kekleismenon –– from kleio –– closed or locked) where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be to you."
20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus therefore said to them again, "Peace be to you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."22When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit!23If you forgive anyone's sins, they have been forgiven them. If you retain anyone's sins, they have been retained."
"When therefore it was evening, on that day" (v. 19a). This is Easter evening. The locked doors reflect the fear of the disciples, but will also demonstrate the power of the risen Christ, who can be contained neither by a rock tomb nor a locked door.
It is surprising that the disciples are afraid, because Peter and "the other disciple" have seen the empty tomb (vv. 6-8) and "the other disciple" has seen and believed (v. 8). Mary Magdalene has spoken with the risen Christ and has told the disciples of her experience (v. 14-18). Their fear disappoints us, because they are acting like disciples whose leader is dead.
"Peace be to you" (v. 19c). To these frightened disciples, Jesus gives his peace, even as he has promised (14:27). The disciples will have peace in spite of persecution by a world that will hate them even as it hates Jesus (15:18-25).
"When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side" (v. 20a). On one hand, Jesus enters through a closed door, suggesting that his body has assumed a different quality. On the other hand, his wounds confirm his bodily resurrection, and his body is clearly recognizable by the disciples. Luke tells of Jesus eating a meal with the disciples (Luke 24:43). There is mystery here.
"The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord" (v. 20b). This is the turning point for the disciples. Never again will they be fearful and unbelieving.
Jesus gives the disciples his peace a second time and then says, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (v. 21; see also 17:18). This is the Johannine equivalent of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). God is present in the work of Jesus; Jesus will be present in the work of the disciples.
" When he had said this, he breathed on them" (v. 22a). However, to send these disciples into the world alone would be futile, so Jesus prepares them by breathing on them –– or breathing into them (Greek: enephusesen). Just as God breathed into man the breath of life (Genesis 2:7 –– LXX), Jesus breathes into the disciples the Spirit of life.
"Receive the Holy Spirit" (v. 22b). In Luke's account, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in preparation for their Pentecostal witness (Acts 2:4).
"If you forgive anyone's sins, they have been forgiven them. If you retain anyone's sins, they have been retained" (v. 23; see also Matthew 16:19; 18:18). Rabbis have the authority to "bind" and "loose" in the sense that they interpret the law to determine what is and is not allowed, but they do not forgive sins. Jesus breaks new ground here.
This verse raises two questions: First, does Jesus give power to forgive or retain sins –– or only power to discern the will of God in particular cases and to make God's judgment known? Second, does Jesus give this power to individual Christians or to the church?
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VERSES 24-25: UNLESS I SEE, I WILL NOT BELIEVE
24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, wasn't with them when Jesus came. 25The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
"But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus (didymos), wasn't with them when Jesus came" (v. 24). Thomas is Hebrew for twin. Didymos is Greek for twin. We don't know why Thomas was absent, but we do know that he earlier thought that going to Bethany with Jesus would mean death for the disciples as well as Jesus (11:16).
"The other disciples therefore said to him, 'We have seen the Lord'" (v. 25a). Their words to Thomas ("We have seen the Lord") are essentially the same words ("I have seen the Lord") that Mary used to tell the disciples of her encounter with Jesus.
"Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe" (v. 25b).Thomas does not believe the disciples, but neither did the disciples believe Mary. They were a despondent, defeated people until they saw Jesus with their own eyes. Thomas was not the sole doubter and will not remain a doubter.
A Preaching Point: "Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus made his first appearance to them. As a result, he refused to believe. This should serve as a warning to us. It is difficult to believe when we do not strengthen ourselves with the fellowship of other believers" (Gossip, 798).
Thomas "is only prepared to lay aside his unfaith if the risen Jesus meets his criteria" (Moloney, 537).
But we must remember that the crucifixion has broken Thomas' heart. Perhaps this is the reason for the great compassion and sensitivity with which Jesus reaches out to Thomas in the verses below.
VERSES 26-29: THE SECOND APPEARANCE
26After eight days again his disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace be to you."27Then he said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don't be unbelieving, but believing."
28Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"
29Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed."
"After eight days (meth hemeras okto –– after eight days) again his disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them" (v. 26a). The eight days are to be counted inclusively –– Sunday through Sunday –– it is once again the first day of the week.
"Jesus came, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst" (v. 26b). Once again the doors are shut, but no longer is there any mention of fear.
"Peace be to you" (v. 26c). Once again Jesus gives them his peace. The scene is very much parallel to that of a week earlier.
"Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side" (v. 27a). Jesus does not condemn Thomas for his failure to believe, but gives him that which enables him to believe (v. 27).
"Don't be unbelieving, but believing" (v. 27b). Jesus says, "kai me ginou (and do not be) apistos (unbelieving) alla pistos (but believing)." We think of this as the Doubting Thomas story, but the word doubt does not appear unless we translate apistos as doubting rather than unbelieving.
"My Lord and my God!" (v. 28). In response, Thomas makes "the supreme christological pronouncement of the Fourth Gospel" (Brown, 1047). His confession goes far beyond any titles or confessions found elsewhere in this Gospel.
Jesus responds by offering a blessing to "those who have not seen, and have believed" (v. 29). In biblical times, a blessing had great meaning (see Genesis 12:2; 27; 48:15-16, 49; Psalm 37:26; Isaiah 19:24).
"Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed" (v. 29). This is Jesus' final beatitude or blessing. These words will encourage early Christians who will feel cheated, having missed seeing Jesus by only a few months or years. They also encourage us, who are among those who have not seen but who have believed.
VERSES 30-31: THESE ARE WRITTEN THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE
30Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but 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.
In verse 29, Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who will believe. Now the narrator says, "Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book;but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (v. 30-31a). The purpose of this Gospel is that we, the readers of this Gospel, may enjoy the promised blessing.
"and that believing you may have life in his name" (v. 31b). Faith rather than works determines salvation (Romans 1:6; 4:1-3; 9:31-32; 10:9; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Galatians 3:1-12; Ephesians 2:8).
Most scholars agree that these verses conclude this Gospel in its original form.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Althouse, LaVonne, "Words of Power," Clergy Journal (May-June, 1996)
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, "The Gospel of John," Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1955)
Beasley-Murray, George R., Word Biblical Commentary: John (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999)
Brown, Raymond, The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970)
Bruce, F. F., The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983).
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Carson, D. A., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991).
Craddock, Fred R.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
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Howard-Brook, Wes, Becoming the Children of God: John's Gospel and Radical Discipleship (New York: Maryknoll, 1994).
Hultgren, Arland J. in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001)
Krenz, Edgar and Vogel, Arthur A., Proclamation 2, Easter, Series C
Lindberg, Paul H., Lectionary Bible Studies: The Year of Luke: Lent/Easter, Study Book (Minneapolis/Philadelphia: Augsburg Publishing House/Fortress Press, 1976)
Moloney, Francis J., Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of John (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1998)
Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995).
O'Day, Gail R., The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Palmer, Earl F., The Book That John Wrote (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1975)
Sloyan, Gerald, "John," Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Smith, D. Moody, Jr., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: John (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999)
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