John 20:19-23


To be a spirit-filled community of peace requires that we learn and practice and experience the reality and art of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Year A
Easter 8
Pentecost Sunday, Alternate Reading A 

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 20:19-23, The Message   or   John 20:19-23, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required. Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart,"


To begin with the end ...

Verses 20:30-31 (NRSV) state the purpose for which John has written this Gospel.

Note the direct address to YOU, the reader.

But these are written so that YOU ...

John is not writing an abstract treatise for whoever may happen to come upon it. He is writing with a very specific audience in mind. Namely, those second and third generation believers who are under-going severe persecution at the hands of the current Roman Emperor. (And, now, also to you and me.)

Malina and Rohrbaugh make two points about the English NRSV translation. (See footnote below.)

The first is that "believe" in John is better translated as "believe into." In John, "believe" does NOT mean "hold an opinion about." "Believe" means "trust," "bond with," "be loyal to." Think, "I am the vine and you are the branches." That is what "believe" means.

The second is that in this context, "may come to believe" and "may come to have life" could also be translated as: "may continue to believe" and "may continue to have life."

In either case, it is important to note that "believe" is not the end product. The crucial thing is that:

through believing, you may have life in his name.

That is, the questions we must be asking ourselves as we consider the various signs that John has chosen to write down for us are:

How does this help me to have life?
And not just any old sort of life, but the life that is in Jesus - in his name?

(And remember that "name" means reputation, quality, influence, and honour.)

These are the questions to ask of the whole Gospel, and today, of Verses 19-23.

But to begin again with a personal aside ... If you feel anxious or uncertain about talking calmly and matter-of-factly about these appearances of Jesus-now-resurrected, try reading this note about why we in the Western world have so much trouble with "spiritual" realities; or this one about not letting current science be the sole arbitrator of what is really real.

And now to begin with the beginning ...

Whereas in his appearance to Mary, Jesus could not be touched because he was in the process of ascending to his Father (John 20:17), this process is completed by the evening, and Jesus-now-resurrected descends from his Father to appear to the disciples.

Verses 19 to 23. The Galilean disciples are behind locked doors in fear that the Judean authorities (not "the Jews") are seeking to have them arrested. The authorities were trying to obliterate Jesus and his "movement." And so the authorities would most certainly act against this group if they were found out.

Just as Jesus had spoken of these things at the Last Supper (John 14 and following), Jesus-now-resurrected performs 3 actions:

  1. He blesses them with his peace.
  2. He blesses them with the Holy Spirit.
  3. He makes them his agents to forgive - or retain - sins.

The latter is significant for the followers of Jesus because it replaces the Temple and sin offerings as the location and means for reconciliation with God and fellow believers.

This single verse provides the foundation for the Jesus movement to separate itself from its origins within Judaism. Only John specifies this particular authority being given to the disciples.

I really like the way Eugene Peterson translates Verse 23:

If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?
The Message

To be a spirit-filled community of peace requires that we learn and practice and experience the reality and art of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

David Ewart,,
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.

Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh,  Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 281-285; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al.

John 20:19-23 (NRSV)

   19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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John 20:19-23 (The Message)

   19 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, "Peace to you." 20 Then he showed them his hands and side.

      The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. 21 Jesus repeated his greeting: "Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you."

   22 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he said. 23 "If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?" 

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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