Through the Bible in One Year

Day 178

John 20:19-31

If you recall we said that are four major events that are described in John Chapter 20.  First, Mary Magdalene discovering the empty tomb, and Peter and John confirming her findings.  Second, Mary encountering the risen Jesus.  Third, Jesus appearing to the disciples when Thomas was absent, and fourth, Jesus appearing a week later to the disciples with Thomas present.  We dealt with the first two events yesterday and we are going to deal with the last two events today.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”—20:19-23

Later that evening Jesus appeared to the disciples.  The doors were locked out of fear of the Jewish leadership.  Jesus greeted them with the normal Hebrew greeting of peace.  Surely he meant by it more than a simple greeting, for he said it twice.  Jesus identified himself to them by his scars from the crucifixion.  Their joy fulfilled Jesus’ earlier prophecy spoken in the upper room.  Jesus repeated his greeting a second time to calm their hearts after showing them his scars.  He then commissioned and equipped them for worldwide evangelization.  His breathing on the disciples foreshadowed the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  God’s people need God’s Spirit to accomplish God’s work.  On the basis of the gift of the Spirit, the Spirit-filled church will pronounce forgiveness of sins or the retaining of sins based on a person’s response to the Gospel.

When Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples on the day he rose from the dead, he was not “baptizing” them in the Spirit as they would experience later during Pentecost.  Rather, it was the first time the disciples actually received the spiritually renewing presence of the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.  The Spirit would now live within them.  The inner presence of the Holy Spirit is part of the new life that all Christ’s followers now receive at the time they accept Christ’s forgiveness and surrender their lives to him.

During Jesus’ last message to his disciples—right before his arrest, trial and crucifixion—he promised them that they would receive the Holy Spirit as the One who would regenerate them (renew them spiritually): “he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).  Jesus fulfilled that promise when he was with them following his resurrection.

It is reasonable to conclude that John 20:22 refers to regeneration (spiritual birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit) because of the phrase, “he breathed on them.”  The Greek word for “breathed” is the same verb used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) in Genesis 2:7, where God “breathed into his (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”  It is the same verb found in Ezekiel 37:9, “Breathe into these slain, that they may live.”  John’s use of this verb (related also to the life-giving process as in the other references) suggests that Jesus was giving the Holy Spirit in order to bring life and “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Just as God breathed “the breath of life” into the first man’s physical body “and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7)—a new creation—so Jesus breathed on the disciples and they each became a new creation in a spiritual sense.  Through his resurrection, Jesus became a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45).

The phrase, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” indicates, or shows, that the Spirit, at that historical moment, entered the disciples and began to live in and through them.  The verb form for “receive” is aorist imperative, implying a single, immediate act of receiving—something that definitely happened at that point in time.  The Holy Spirit was given to renew the disciples spiritually, giving them new birth into a personal relationship with Christ.  This “receiving” of new life from the Spirit was a prerequisite to their receiving the authority of Jesus and their baptism in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

Prior to this time, the disciples were technically true believers and followers of Jesus and were saved according to the provisions of the old covenant.  Yet they were not regenerated in the full new covenant sense.  It was not until this point that the disciples entered into the new covenant—the “life-agreement” based on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  It was also technically at this point in time, and not a Pentecost, that the church—the community of all true followers of Jesus with the purpose to honor him and spread his message to all the world—was born.  The spiritual birth of the first disciples and the birth of the church are one and the same.

This passage is crucial in understanding the Holy Spirit’s ministry to God’s people.  These two statements are true:  The disciples received the Holy Spirit before the day of Pentecost.  The outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2:4—when God generously sent his Spirit to fill, commission and empower his first followers—was an experience that occurred after the disciples had already been spiritually renewed by the Spirit.  For this reason, their baptism in the Spirit at Pentecost is considered a second and separate work of the Spirit in them.

These two separate and distinct works of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Jesus’ disciples can and should be the norm for all Christians to this day.  The baptism in the Holy Spirit is available to give supernatural power to all who have already received spiritual salvation.  All believers receive the Holy Spirit at the time of their spiritual birth—when they first accept God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ.  After this, they can and should experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit for supernatural power to be Jesus’ witnesses and to spread his message.

There is no Biblical basis for believing or understanding that Jesus’ words “Receive the Holy Spirit,” as recorded in John 20:22 were only symbolic and prophetic of the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost as described in Acts 2.  The use of the aorist imperative form of “receive” suggests that the disciples received the Holy Spirit at that moment and in that place, just as John records the event.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”—20:24-29

Jesus’ encounter with Thomas is unique to this Gospel.  It occurred a week after the resurrection.  Thomas’s fellow disciples had reported to him the Lord’s appearance to them, but he steadfastly refused to believe unless he saw physical proof.  Then Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst.  He greeted them for the third time with the greeting of peace, and he graciously confronted Thomas’s doubts.  He invited Thomas to touch his scars and challenged him to stop disbelieving and, instead, to believe.  Thomas not only believed that Jesus was alive but declared Jesus’ divinity.  There is no greater confession in John’s Gospel.  Those of us who do not the opportunity Thomas did to see the resurrected Jesus have the certain words of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to bring about faith for those who believe without seeing.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.—20:30-31

Chapter 20 concludes with a description of the apostle’s purpose in writing.  John indicates the selective nature of what he has included.  Out of all the miracles Jesus performed, John choose seven, calling them signs.  His purpose is that his readers will believe Jesus to be both the Messiah and the Son of God and then experience abundant life in his name.  And we will pick with the last chapter of John’s Gospel tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

2 Kings 17:1-18:12, Acts 20, Psalm 148:1-14 and Proverbs 18:6-7


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