Home > Prayer > The Disciples became Apostles

The Disciples became Apostles

John 20:21-23 confuses me. But I also love it- that is until the last little bit. Do you ever read the bible saying “yes! Yes! YES!” and then you read the rest of the section and say “….” That’s my relationship to this little bit of Jesus’ teaching. Even as I’ve started studying it I find myself in the same cycle. The first two verses get me excited, but then verse 23 is still there tripping me up each time. Here’s the text from the NIV:

“21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'”

Okay let’s break this down verse by verse. 21 starts by saying ‘Peace be with you’  that could also be “The way of Salvation be with you” or, what I most prefer, “calm down”; there’s a lot of room for interpretation on that one. If you know the context of the story Jesus was just murdered and came back to life. He then went into a locked room where his old buddies were hiding for fear of their lives. What I usually do when I go visit my friends in hiding for fear of their lives is knock on the door and tell them who I am and come in only when invited. Jesus on the other hand just walks straight trough a locked door. Imagine the disciples and how scared they would be to see a 13th person in the room (I’m assuming Mary was among the 11- although I suppose it’s still only 12 because Thomas isn’t there yet). So naturally when they start screaming Jesus says “calm down”. What I think is more interesting is that John records Jesus saying “peace be with you” twice during that encounter, and once 5 verse later. Once when he first comes in, once here in verse 21 and once when Thomas joins the party eight days later.

Jesus sends them in this verse as well. This sending is the mark of apostleship. By sending them he gives them the authority of Jesus as messengers carrying their master’s message. That’s very important. Let’s put it this way if a guy named Gary Bobston comes up to me and says “you’re a great guitarist”, Then I would be flattered and shake his hand and be grateful. If Gary Bobston comes up to me and says, “I’ve been sent over here by Glen Hansard to say you’re a great guitarist” I would fall over and die from joy. That’s the power Jesus gives the disciples here and in John 17:18, and other places as well.

In verse 23 Jesus breathes on the disciples (most likely Mary as well). Can I be the one to say it? That’s weird. I usually don’t like it when people breathe on me. I find it discomforting and all together unpleasant. However, after I read Genesis 2:7 I get the giggles and a big ass smile on my face: “Then the Lord formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Here scholars all agree that this was Jesus’ symbolism for a new holy creation mirroring the first creation. What trips up the scholars, however is the implications of Jesus’ words that follow: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This seems to contradict the baptism of the Holy Spirit they receive on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. I personally don’t think so. But merely disagreeing doesn’t mean anything.  So, I’ll share some thoughts. The word translated ‘spirit’ in English is in the Greek actually the word for “breeze” which is used figuratively to mean ‘spirit’ but the word is not a separate thought entirely like it is in English. If we accept a connotative definition of “breeze” to mean spirit it could be translated, “He breathed on the, and said, ‘Receive the Holy Breeze.” a little  bit of dual meaning on Jesus’ part, possibly even a humorous play on words to lighten the mood while still referring to the original creation and being a weird breathing on his friends. I like to think of it as a not so serious moment mixed in the drama. Maybe that’s just because I like a funny Jesus more than the stick up his ass Jesus.

Through all this I’ve been super excited, but then we get to verse 23. In verse 23 Jesus says that when I (reading you as talking to me) forgive anyone’s sins they are forgiven; if I do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. First I want to talk about grammar. When Jesus says ‘they‘ and ‘them‘ is he referring to the people or to the people’s sins? I think that’s an important question. Young’s Literal Translation says “if of any ye may loose the sins, they are loosed to them; if of any ye may retain, they have been retained.” This seems to put the emphasis on the sins rather than the people. Still there’s more grammar discussion to be had. Bob Utley has an online study of John 20. In this study he says “This grammatical construction is a PERFECT PASSIVE INDICATIVE” I think I know what that means, haha. It refers to the act of forgiveness, not the condition. The NIV says “the are forgiven” not “they will be forgiven”. This would make the forgiveness already to have taken place but the reception of the forgiveness to be incomplete. Does this mean that forgiveness is actually contingent on repentance, or acceptance of the forgiveness itself? I would like to says so, but that’s not what the bible says. That’s why I’m stumbling and fighting for this. I want the responsibility of salvation to remain in the individual or even with the opinion of Jesus, but not with a messenger of Jesus. That’s too great a responsibility, as a messenger, and as one in need of forgiveness. So in conclusion: AHHHHH!

Moving on. This is, inevitably, about intercession. Let’s look at John 17:17-19. Here Jesus is praying before he’s arrested and murdered on the cross. ‘Them’ is the disciples and ‘You’ is God the Father. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you send me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too maybe truly sanctified.” Notice that Jesus here is talking to his Dad about the disciples being like himself. If you read the rest of John 17 that’s all Jesus talks about. He wants his

followers, his messengers, to be like himself and the Father. If apostles (messengers) of Jesus have the same relationship to Jesus and Jesus did to God, then there is a holiness and submissiveness. In that situation the apostles do not forgive based on their own systems of merit, but by Jesus’ standard of grace. We know from the grammar of John 20:23 that the forgiveness is already complete, Jesus on the cross said “it is finished”- whatever “it” may be (reconciliation to the Father perhaps). So then, the messengers are merely bringing the message of love and grace to the world. In doing so they forgive those who accept the word of truth, that sanctity, you know. The disciples, who are no longer disciples (followers) but are now apostles (messengers) treading new ground, they are not forgiving sins. Forgiveness is complete. The apostles are now stretching the forgiving hands of God to the world. I must see them not as men of their own accord living by their own passions, but as Jesus’ messengers, their words carry the authority of Christ, their forgiveness carries the authority of Christ, their doing of justice carries the authority of Christ, and their lives submit entirely to the authority of Christ.
I think that’s just about right. It makes these three verses a whole hell of a lot harder to swallow, as one sent by Christ to extend his work of forgiveness through intercession. It makes me want to rethink my life. I need my life to be submissive to the authority of Christ.

  1. July 1, 2012 at 7:21 PM

    Do you see the act of forgiveness on the part of the christian to be what conveys forgiveness to the person or to learn about what forgiveness means?

  2. July 1, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    Xander, could you expound your question a little before I begin to answer it?

  3. December 16, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    Sorry for the delay. i thought I had responded months ago.

    When talking about forgiveness, we are told to forgive. If we hold that Jesus died for all of our sins, then all of our sins have been covered and forgiven. So when the statement is made that if we do not forgive others, then we are not forgiven, doesn’t that make what Jesus did conditional?

    It already is conditional in that if you fail to believe you miss out on the forgiveness, but now are we not being told to perform additional acts to be “forgiven”?

    Or, does the act of forgiving others teach us about the forgiveness that we have received in order to appreciate what all we have received because of forgiveness?

    i think this made more sense to me in July.

  4. December 16, 2012 at 10:16 PM

    To begin answering your question forgiveness is conditional. The bible has never made a claim that it is not. However, forgiveness is for all no matter the transgression (excepting only the blaspheme of the Holy Spirit which is an all together different conversation)- that is what is truly baffling about God. I have known no other who will forgive no matter what sin is done against them.
    In John 20:19-23 Jesus isn’t saying if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven, he’s say if we do not forgive then they will not be forgiven. That’s very different from what he said in other places.
    I suppose the question is what is the conditions of forgiveness and how do the apostles discern such things?

  1. December 16, 2012 at 10:48 PM

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