19 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!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again 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. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 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.”
26 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!” 27 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.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 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.
(John 20:19-31 NIV)
In the last two passages, John tracks Mary Magdalene as she discovers the horrific sight of the empty tomb, and later, her inexpressible joy of meeting Jesus face-to-face.
In today’s passage, John is still focused on the first day of the week, when Mary discovered Jesus’ empty tomb, then met Jesus in person. John notes that it was evening time, likely after the evening meal and sunset. If we compare notes with the other three Gospels, this would have taken place after Jesus’ encounter with the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).
John notes that the disciples were locked in a house somewhere, for fear of the Jewish leaders. In the Luke 24 passage, Luke records that the two men did not stay in Emmaus, but hurried back to Jerusalem to report that they had seen the Lord. Luke records that while the two men were recounting their experience to the disciples, Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst. John’s Gospel picks up at this point.
John records that Jesus appears and greets everyone. Jesus does not identify Himself by His face, but by the scars in His hands and side. Remember what Jesus said in Chapter 16, verses 20-22? The disciples would weep and mourn when Jesus went away, but He would appear to them, and they would then have everlasting joy. This first encounter with Jesus is that joyous moment that Jesus promised.
In verses 21 – 22, Jesus then commissions His disciples and symbolically gives them the Holy Spirit. They are to go and share the good news of Jesus, just as the Father had sent Jesus. The disciples are to go forth with God’s power and authority.
Verse 23 is a warning, not a promise. The disciples were to forgive, just as Jesus had forgiven their sins. The Jewish Law of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth had been fulfilled. The new command was love and forgiveness. If the disciples did not proclaim and offer Christ’s forgiveness and live it out in their daily lives, then Jesus says that no one would hear the message.
John records that Thomas was not with the disciples the night that Jesus appeared to them. He did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, and wanted to see it for himself. A week later, Jesus appears again, and Thomas is with the disciples. Jesus does not chastise Thomas, but in a light-hearted moment, offers Thomas the chance to examine His wounds and scars first-hand. Thomas simply replies in worship: “My Lord and My God!”
In verse 29, Jesus offers a invocation to all who have not seen Jesus’ resurrected body and have believed in Him. That blessing includes you and me.
In verses 30 – 31, John reminds us that these events are just a sample of what Jesus did while on earth, and why he wrote this Gospel. Remember that the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus’ life – they are testimonies. And as testimonies, they are evidence to point to Christ as Messiah and trust in Him as Lord, so that we may have eternal life with Him.
May we rejoice with the disciples that Jesus is alive, resurrected from the dead and alive forevermore. And may we heed Jesus’ warning to live out the forgiveness we have in Him, visibly demonstrating what He has done for us as we point others to Him.