+Rt. Rev. Dr. Vince McLaughlin
It is important for us who sometimes are so fiercely independent and consumed with the ‘me’ to know that we are a part of something much larger than us. Our ethnic and cultural diversities acquiesce to the unity of our faith, that is, an unyielding belief in Yeshua the Risen Christ, the Son of the Living God. We proclaim, “Χριστός ανέστη εκ νεκρών, θανάτω θάνατον
πατήσας, και τοις εν τοις μνήμασι ζωήν χαρισάμενος.” (Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by His death, and to those in the tombs, granting life!).
In our passage today, we see narrative movement from the evening of Resurrection Sunday where Yeshua enters a locked room containing the 10 disciples. Judas had already hung himself and St. Thomas for whatever reason was not with them.
We have the articulation of St. Thomas’ doubts and need for evidence in order to believe. The inspired narrative now moves eight days ahead to another Yeshua risen encounter within a locked room but this time St. Thomas is present. There is the most dramatic scene with St. Thomas where Yeshua overwhelms him with empirical evidence that demands a verdict from him. His confession of “My Lord and my God!” says it all.
Our passage concludes with the ‘why’ the Gospel of St. John was written, that is, “that you might believe that Yeshua is The Christ, the Son of God resulting in eternal life in His Name!”
In John 20:19-23, we see this offer of lasting peace in the reality of His Resurrection. The troubled disciples needed peace, and that is what Yeshua brought in the first group appearance. He had promised to relieve the disciples’ grief by replacing it with joy (John 16:20), and now He fulfilled that promise. He also gave them a measure of the Holy Spirit, probably to
enhance their learning times between the resurrection and the ascension.
In 20:19–20, the narrative scene now moves from predawn hours to the evening of the same day. The disciples were locked in and riddled with fear in spite of what St. Peter and St. John had seen and what Mary had reported. Miraculously, instantly, the Adonai Yeshua appeared to offer them a warm “Shalom.” Before they could respond, He revealed to them the nail prints in His hands and the spear scar in His side. Why such a display? These fearful believers had to grasp that the
same Yeshua who died now lived again and stood before them.
Important concept: The Resurrected Yeshua the Christ will overwhelm your senses (physical & spiritual) with empirical evidence to remove doubt and in its place usher in “a conviction of certainty.”
In the disciples’ minds the locked doors protected them to some extent against Jewish authorities who might want to do to them what they had done to their Lord. But in St. John’s view, the locked doors served as a symbolic reminder that nothing can stop or hinder the resurrection body of Yeshua.
There is some discussion regarding the number in the group to which Yeshua appeared in this chapter. St. John had used the term the disciples throughout his book to identify the Twelve when it appears with the definite article. As previously noted there would have been ten but many reliable interpreters take a wider view of inclusion, largely by linking the text in John 20 with Luke 24:33.
In 20:21–23, we see that again the Father became the center of Yeshua’s words. He had been a servant on a mission, and now He sent His people out to witness. Most conservative scholars including this olde scot believe this reception of the Holy Spirit was temporary—an illumination of their hearts for the next fifty days before Pentecost.
This impartation of the Spirit was not the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer and promise given earlier on the night before His crucifixion (14:16–17, 26; 15:26–27; 16:7–15). That fulfillment occurred on the Day of Pentecost. Why then did Christ impart the Spirit before His ascension and the actual descent of the Holy Spirit? It is my interpretative suggestion that a temporary filling of the Spirit was given to provide for their spiritual illumination needs prior to Pentecost. In that sense
they received a ‘pre-church’ age filling of the Spirit in anticipation of the Day of Pentecost so they could fully understand the Savior’s instructions. It is my understanding that without the Holy Spirit there can be no understanding, comprehension or assimilation of Scriptural Truth to one’s life.
Of greater difficulty in this context is v23. On what basis could human beings forgive the sins of others? Obviously, much has been made of this in some segments of the Christian faith. Perhaps the best interpretation emphasizes the difference between absolution and proclamation. The duty of the disciples was to proclaim the forgiveness of sins; the actual forgiving would take place in heaven by the Lord who paid for those sins. Nevertheless, the claims of the gospel are clear— forgiveness only on the basis of Yeshua’s death on the cross.
Please note an important exegetical interpretative grammatical note that will impact our understandings of this passage. According to the best text, the verbs ‘are forgiven’ and ‘are retained’ are in the Greek perfect tense. The meaning of this is that the Spirit-filled church can pronounce with authority that the sins of such-and-such men have been forgiven or have
been retained. If the church is really acting under the leadership of the Spirit it will be found that her pronouncements on this matter do but reveal what has already been determined in heaven.
In 20:24-31, we see a genuine invitation to stop being characterized by ‘unbelieving’ but instead be characterized by ‘believing.’ Please be careful to note that the account of St. Thomas appears immediately before St. John’s mission statement in vv30–31. The goal of St. John’s Gospel is always evangelistic. He wanted people to understand the truth about Yeshua, to believe that He is the Son of God, and thereby to experience the life of which we have been reading in this Gospel. Faith itself is not an end but a means to an end.
In 20:24–25, the issue of “Are Christians gullible?” is addressed. Some may be, but St. John wanted to tell us about one who was not. St. Thomas the Twin was the original “show me” man from Missouri, long before that state existed. If Judas depicted betrayal and Peter denial, Thomas demonstrated skepticism. In the Greek language, verbal tense is very important. The word translated ‘told’ in v25 appears in the imperfect tense. The disciples kept on telling St. Thomas they had seen the Lord. St. Thomas, fed up with such nonsense, grew weary of holding on to a faith that had crumbled. He took the old motto “seeing is believing!” to frightening dimensions. He removed
himself from the disciple band, telling them he wanted to hear no more about this ridiculous notion of a resurrection. St. Thomas used strong language with his friends, indicating the frustration to which the events of the past week had driven him.
St. Thomas wants empirical evidence to not only to see the scar made by the nails in the hands, but also to put his finger into the place where the nails had been. For St. Thomas, without this overwhelming evidence there is absolutely no possibility of belief!
In 20:26–27, St. John now moves on to show us doubting alleviated. In spite of what he had said, St. Thomas at least joined the Sunday evening service a week later. Again, in spite of locked doors, Yeshua appeared and greeted them exactly as He had a week earlier. But rather than showing His hands and side to the entire group, He turned to St. Thomas and invited empirical investigation. Sincere Christianity has always welcomed sincere research. Yeshua did not scold St. Thomas or condemn his hesitation. He provided the evidence. Only then did He say to him, “Stop doubting and believe!”
In 20:28–29, St. John next offered us a record of doubting abandoned. The overwhelmed St. Thomas moved quickly from rough-talking skeptic to willing worshiper. In the New Testament, no one had yet said to Yeshua, My Lord and my God. Here again the theme of our study looms large—believing is seeing. St. Thomas saw and believed—and that was fine. But happy are the millions who since that day have not had the opportunity of Thomas and the other ten and yet have believed.
More than 375 times in the Old Testament and 100 times in the New Testament, the Bible talks about blessing. This one is related to faith and especially faith in the resurrection.
What really convinced Thomas? Some have suggested that it was Christ’s obvious knowledge of what St. Thomas had said, though Yeshua had not been physically present when St. Thomas said it. To do that, so the argument goes, Yeshua would have had to be God. But logical as this is, I do not find myself believing that this is what really got through to St. Thomas. What finally got through to him was the Presence of Christ, identified by the wounds in his hands, feet, and side.
It was the Christ of the cross who reached St. Thomas, just like us!
In 20:30–31, many Bible scholars remain hopelessly divided on how many miracles Yeshua did in the presence of His disciples, but thirty-five seems a reasonable approximation. St. John recorded only ten at the most. The number was of little concern to St. John. He chose the works and words of Yeshua that would prompt readers to faith. That faith would give meaning to experience as believers found life in the Name of Yeshua. The Resurrection of Yeshua the Christ is our “faith’s anchorage” and tells us: “The living risen Christ is the Centre of the church’s creed, the Creator of her character, and the Inspiration of her conduct. His resurrection is the clearest note in her
battle-song. It is the sweetest, strongest music amid all her sorrows. It speaks of personal salvation. It promises the life that has no ending, it declares to all bereaved souls that ‘them also that are fallen asleep in Yeshua will God bring with him,’ and therefore the light of his resurrection falls in radiant beauty upon the graves where rest the dust of the holy dead.
The historical fact of the resurrection and its theological meaning will become the centerpiece of apostolic preaching in the Book of Acts. Perhaps from impetus provided by St. Peter and St. John, New Testament preachers claimed that the Savior is forever alive—a dramatic truth of the heart of the gospel to this very day. Our living Lord has conquered both sin and death. We can function in spite of trouble and heartache, knowing the ultimate victory is his and ours.
The take-way principles of our passage today as we answer the question “Does the Resurrection Really Matter?” are the following:
• When it comes to spiritual truth, be prepared to believe what you have not seen.
• Know the difference between noticing something in God’s Word and perceiving it.
• Full acknowledgement of the resurrection means taking your eyes off the empty tomb and placing them on the Risen Adonai Yeshua the Christ.
As I have pondered and reflected on this passage, the following suggestions on ‘put some sandals on’ as real life
applications are as follows:
• Allow the reality of the living Lord to handle your hesitation to obey him in everything.
• When believers gather, be present in faith and expectation.
• In the tough days remember that Yeshua said, “Peace be with you!”
• Never forget Yeshua’s promise, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The lasting peace of salvation and service can only come through the conviction of certainty in the Resurrected Yeshua the Christ, Son of the Living God. Yeshua gives each one of us a genuine invitation to address our doubts, to alleviate our doubts by empirical evidence, and to abandon being characterized by non-believing and to be characterized by believing.