This morning we continue on in our consideration of John’s account of this First Easter. So far we’ve seen Peter and John greatly perplexed and greatly encouraged by seeing the grave clothes in the tomb, we’ve seen Mary turn from deep distress to deep joy with a sight of the Risen Christ, and now in the text before us we see the rest of the disciples encounter Christ in His resurrected state. What happens when the rest see Him? In 20:19-28 Jesus greets His disciples three times with peace explicitly, and I’ll argue Jesus greets us with peace implicitly in v29. That’s four times in this text then that peace from the resurrected Jesus flows forth to His people. What’s this about? Why such repetition? Why is it peace that flows forth from Jesus now? What’s the result of this peace? It is to these things I now invite you. If you’re using one of the black Bibles we’ve provided for you, you’ll find the text on page 853.
Peace in His Presence (v19-20)
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”
John begins with another reference to time and place, allowing us to gain our bearings. It is still Sunday, the same Sunday, the same first day of the week it’s been since the beginning of this chapter. The events of v1-18 occurred in the morning of this day and now in v19 we come to the evening of this day. And even though Peter and John returned to them with news of the grave clothes still being in the tomb and the face cloth being neatly folded, even though Mary had returned to tell them the best news in the world, that Jesus had risen from the dead, what are the disciples doing? For fear of the Jews they’ve tucked themselves away in a room and locked the door. No doubt they’ve also likely closed all the windows as well for fear of being recognized as followers of Jesus, arrested, and executed as He was. You can imagine the tension present in the room whenever they heard a noise outside. Was someone just walking by? Was someone carrying a load of goods nearby and dropped something? Was it just an animal? Or, was someone curious at this closed up room wondering why it seemed all locked up? The fear was immense, the tension was high, you likely could’ve heard a pin drop after a…while surely, Mary was ever eager to remind them they had no need to fear because Jesus wasn’t dead. Clearly they didn’t believe her and were probably tired of telling her to be quiet.
Into this tense seen comes Jesus.
Now be sure to read what John actually tells us here. John tells us Jesus came and stood among them. He doesn’t tell us Jesus somehow materialized in their midst as if He’s not there one moment and then ‘poof’ there He is. John also doesn’t tell us Jesus walked through the closed door as if His risen and glorified body could walk through walls without issue. All we read is that into this fear filled scene comes the risen Christ. He was clearly not limited by the heavy stone blocking the entrance to His tomb and He clearly isn’t limited by a locked wooden door here, no. He isn’t even limited by the fear of man! As to how exactly He entered into this room, John doesn’t tell us. But one thing John surely desires us to glean is this: where the Son of God wants to go, He goes, and when He goes, nothing stands in the way. So in He comes and His first words to the fearful disciples are “Peace be with you.” For Hebrews ‘peace’ is quite a loaded term, coming from the word ‘shalom’ it means wholeness or fullness. It was often used as a greeting in Jewish culture, meant to indicate one’s desire for another’s full happiness. So when Jesus greets them saying “Peace be with you” He means ‘May you be full and abundant, whole and prosperous.’ Think of what this would been like for them. It likely produced a mixed response among them. On one hand this isn’t quite what they expected to hear from Jesus after their behavior on Good Friday. They had deserted Him and abandoned Him in the very hour of His deepest need, so it’s natural for them to expect not a warm welcome of peace but a firm rebuke.But on the other hand they’re overjoyed to see Him! Right there before them stood the One who has called them, taught them, loved them, and to their great dismay…left them. He was nailed to a cross, He died, and He was buried, do they really dare to hope against hope that this is truly Him standing before them now? This greeting was a greeting but it was so much more for them. It was was balm for their fears and healing for their hurts. Because after getting over the initial shock of seeing Jesus in their midst, perhaps they would’ve remembered what He had taught them before. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
But be reminded of what occurs here in the passage. That Jesus appears in their midst with this greeting of peace and then shows them the wounds of His hands and His side confirms that His words are much more than just a greeting, much more than just proof that it’s really Him. That He greets them with a word of peace and then shows them His wounds it makes this an announcement of resurrection victory. How so? It’s by these very wounds from His cross and by His miraculous resurrection from the dead that He brings us into true peace with God and fills our souls with the very peace of God. Or to say it like Paul would say it Romans 5, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Think about it, being God Himself He didn’t have to still allow the wounds to be present in His flesh, He could’ve removed them and had a whole body with no marks of suffering in it. But He chose otherwise. And so they here in this locked room, us today here in this room, and even in glory the blood bought Church of God will forevermore praise the Lamb for these wounds. These wounds will ever be in the flesh of our Savior because these wounds are precious to Him, for they bring Him glory by bringing us to Himself, and if these wounds are so precious to Him, shouldn’t they be precious to us? This again, brings back what He taught them earlier, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful…but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:20, 22). This promise He has now made good in their midst.
So what do the disciples do upon hearing His proclamation of peace and seeing His wounds? What else could they do? They rejoice in His presence! Sure they don’t know the full extent of what all this means yet, but they surely know it in part. So literally in v20, “…they were glad when they saw the Lord.” For them and for us, foolish fears abound in Jesus’ absence, but in His presence His resurrection peace reigns supreme.
Peace in His Service (v21-23)
“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Once again Jesus repeats His greeting/announcement of resurrection victory of peace in v21, probably because the disciples though glad were still stunned at this point and unsure of what was really going on. The first proclamation of peace brought gladness in His presence, this proclamation of peace brings the disciples a commission into service. “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” Notice in these words that the disciples commission is based within and founded upon the commission of the Son. As the Father sent the Son, so too the Son sends His disciples. If they remembered the words of Jesus’ high priestly prayer they would’ve known that Jesus already said this before. In John 17:18 Jesus prays to the Father, “As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” What does all this mean? Long ago the angel told Joseph that Mary will have a son, “…and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). So wrapped up in the name of Jesus is the mission of Jesus, to save His people from their sins. And now here at the end of John 20 what was true of the Son’s mission is now true of the disciples mission. Don’t misread this. The disciples won’t be sent to save people from their sins, but they will be sent to spread the name of Him in whom there is salvation from sin. How are they to carry this out? Surely not in their own strength, but in the Spirit’s. Notice that after this commission comes the giving and receiving of the Holy Spirit. Similar to how God breathed life into Adam once created from the dust, similar to how God breathed life into the vast but dead army of dry bones in Ezekiel 37, so too Jesus breaths on them and they receive the Holy Spirit to empower them in this mission. And as before Jesus also spoke of this moment many times when He said He’d give them and send to them the great helper, the comforter, and the assistance of the Spirit once He rose from the grave, and here that happens! So the full view of the mission of God can now be seen: from the Father to the Son to the Spirit to the disciples to the world.The disciples are to now take up their mission in the power of the Spirit, not in the sense that the disciples mission replaces Jesus’ mission but that Jesus continues His own mission through the disciples by His Spirit being in them. In this sense Jesus, the Sent One, carries on His mission through the disciples, sent by Him out into the world.
But wait a minute. Did John just tell us Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the disciples? Doesn’t that not happen until Pentecost later on in Acts 2? How then can it happen here before that moment? Well, as you can imagine there is a large debate about this verse and opinions abound what exactly is going on here, but in the midst of all the opinions about what’s going on here, you know what stands out to me? That the disciples received the Spirit and didn’t immediately go out and begin preaching as they do later on after Pentecost leads me to believe this giving of the Spirit, while true, is a prelude to the full giving of the Spirit to come, where they’re fully empowered for their mission in the world.And right after this Jesus gives them a preview of the authority their work will entail. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Roman Catholics read this passage and conclude with the doctrine of the confessional booth and that priests really do have power to forgive/withhold forgiveness of sins. But, we pause, and think, ‘Only God can forgive sins, so what does this mean?’ Think of like this. When the gospel is preached it is clear that those who believe in Jesus have their sins forgiven, and that those who reject it do not have their sins forgiven. Yes God only can forgive sins, but the gospel goes out of our mouths and as it goes out we confidently declare that those who believe it are forgiven and that those who reject it are unforgiven. And to make it more close to home…when someone walks away from the faith after joining to a church in membership, this verse also means that person should tremble before God and repent and return, because Jesus says the elders of a church carry the keys of the kingdom and confirm here below what God has already pronounced above. That’s what in view here. So Church, see the high calling of a disciple of Christ: filled with the Spirit of Christ, to proclaim the message of Christ, continuing on in the work of Christ. Though this calling may bring us into difficult or hostile settings, He promises us His peace.
Peace in His presence, peace in His service, now in v24-28 we come to peace in seeing.
Peace in Seeing (v24-28)
“Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although 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, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Now we come to the infamous moment of Thomas’ doubt. It’s in v24 where we learn one of the disciples wasn’t present when Jesus appeared among the rest of the fearful disciples in the locked room. We don’t know why he’s gone nor do we receive an explanation as to why Thomas was absent. So no doubt once he returns to the scene v25 happens. The other disciples begin telling him the miraculous events that occurred and his response is doubt surely, but it’s greater than doubt, it’s unbelief.Thomas needs tangible proof, only the plainest of evidence will convince him. After all he loved the Lord Jesus and was shattered when He was crucified, so for Thomas the wounds of Jesus hold a high prominence, only seeing them and touching them could truly persuade him.In this unbelief Thomas remains for a week. In v26 we see them meeting again, still in a locked room just as fearful as before. And again, into this tense scene comes Jesus proclaiming now for the third time His great peace. The other disciples are no doubt glad to see Him again and Thomas, this man who’s remained in unbelief, has never been happier to be proven wrong. But notice how it plays out? Jesus appears among them, announces His peace, then what? Tells Thomas to get out because He only wants those who are on fire for Him, those who are fully convinced about His resurrection from the dead? No, not at all. See the tender mercy of Christ as He invites Thomas to both see and touch the wounds for himself, and urges him to no longer continue in unbelief but believe. To this invitation what does Thomas do? Does he come forward and carry out an in-depth investigation? No. Instead, he cries out with one of the greatest confessions of faith in history, “My Lord and my God!” Not just ‘Lord’ and ‘God’, but “My Lord and my God!” Seems Thomas wasn’t as skeptical as he believed himself to be.No skeptic really is truthfully speaking. When it came down to it, all it took to convince Thomas was the wounds and the words of Christ: wounds that displayed His suffering and words that not only knew his unbelief, but words that called him out of unbelief into belief. In this moment Thomas learned something wonderfully true. ‘Mere men do not rise from dead, no, this One standing before Me is one whom I know, who knows me, He truly died, and He is now fully alive! I must not only believe in Him, I must worship Him!’And by believing Thomas gains peace in seeing Him. But is such peace only available to those who see the resurrected Christ physically?
Praise God, the answer is no. Which leads us to v29 where we see…
Conclusion:Peace in Not Seeing (v29)
Various angels, many prophets of old, and even the apostle Paul were thought to be gods by various people that saw them or heard them. But in these instances, they all immediately corrected these people because they knew only God deserved such worship and adoration. What does Jesus do after receiving such a worshipful confession from Thomas? Does He say, ‘No, no, Thomas, don’t worship Me, I’m not who you think I am.” Wrong. Jesus says in v29a that Thomas believed because he saw the truth with own eyes and was blessed. Lesson? Jesus is the God Thomas believes Him to be. Hear v29, “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Many think this is a kind of gentle rebuke to Thomas for having to see for himself to believe instead of believing the testimony of the other disciples. I don’t think it is, I think Jesus is making a statement of contrast here with what comes after it, saying ‘Thomas you’ve believed because you’ve seen Me, and you are blessed indeed, but blessed also are those who haven’t seen and still believe.’ Three times now Jesus has pronounced His peace to the disciples who’ve seen Him and believed. In saying this last word to Thomas, and no doubt the others listening in, He means to teach that His peace isn’t restricted to only those who see Him. Rather, from this point forward all who come to Him in faith after hearing His gospel will be brought into true peace with God and will be filled with the very peace of God. This is the definition of blessed.Thomas and the others were blessed with His peace in their seeing and believing, we today are blessed with His peace by our not seeing and believing.
Since this moment the world has seen many Thomas’s. Those who require, who demand evidence and proof and remain immovable in their unbelief unless their demands are met. Maybe you know some of these Thomas’s, maybe you yourself were once a Thomas, I think if we’re honest we’d admit that there’s a little bit of Thomas lingering beneath the surface in all of us. Be encouraged. Jesus isn’t destroyed by our questions, but welcomes them and tenderly meets those who have them. But do not miss it! Thomas questioned, but never carried out his investigation into what he required, He saw His wounds and heard His words and that was enough.
The same is true of us today. Whether inside or outside the Church, whether it’s yourself or another playing a Thomas like role, the wounds of Christ and the Word of Christ are a fire sparkling with colors of grace…strong enough to heal a thousand hurts and warm enough for a thousand cold nights. May you gather round this fire all your days, and be blessed with His peace in believing.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 844.
Grant R. Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 467.
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 649.
Reformation Study Bible, note on 20:22, page 1900.
Osborne, page 469.
Morris, page 852.
Morris, page 853. See also Carson, page 657.
Ibid., page 854.