Commentary on John 20:19-31
The disciples were in seclusion because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.
They were fearful of being arrested and suffering the same fate as Jesus. They still did not believe Mary’s story that Jesus was alive. The doors were locked and Jesus appeared before them.
Reflections on John 20:20
Jesus showed them his wounds and then they rejoiced. It is noteworthy that like so many of us the disciples had to see Jesus for themselves. For them, the movement ended with the crucifixion of Jesus. They were totally unprepared for the resurrection. The words of John 16:16-24 which foretold of Jesus’ death and return to the Father had not take root in their lives. They did not believe Mary’s report. They only believed when they saw Jesus for themselves.
Reflections on John 20:21
Jesus now sends them out just as God the Father has sent them. This is a recurring pattern in John’s Gospel: the connection between heaven and earth, God and the Johannine community. God the Father has sent Jesus to Earth to proclaim God’s message of love for humankind. Jesus now sends out his disciples to continue that ministry. This established an unbroken tradition from God to Christ to the Beloved Disciple to the Johannine community. This verse helps to validate the witness of Johannine Christianity.
Reflections on John 20:22
This verse further substantiates the connection between the heavenly community and the earthly communion through the activity of the Holy Spirit. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the first paraclete who connects heaven and earth. The Holy Spirit is the second paraclete who serves this same purpose. The Holy Spirit will replace Jesus in the community, remind the community of all that Jesus has taught and will guide the community as Jesus would have in the future. The Holy Spirit represents the ongoing presence of God and Christ within Johannine Christianity (16:5-15).
Reflections on John 20:23
Jesus then empowers his disciples to forgive sins or not to forgive them in his stead. The preceding two verses have established the right of the community to re-present the Godhead. This verse empowers the community to act. It appears that we have here an attempt to substantiate the legitimacy of the Johannine tradition within the wider Christian community. It is clear that the Johannine tradition is significantly different than the Synoptic tradition and also the Pauline tradition. We know from church history that these differences led some to question the authenticity of this tradition over against others. It may be that Johannine Christianity held a more developed Christianity from the start that might have distinguished them from other Christians.
Reflections on John 20:24-25
However, Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared. The others tell him that they have seen the Lord. Thomas is not impressed. He declared that he would not believe unless he saw Jesus for himself. Through the centuries Thomas has taken a theological beating for doubting, but his position is essentially the same as the other disciples who had not believed until they saw Jesus for themselves. Mary gave her report. The tomb was empty, but they did not believe her testimony until they saw Jesus themselves.
The doubt of Thomas and the other disciples as well as Mary Magdalene initially was not unreasonable. People are not resurrected every day. That was as true in the first century as it is in the twenty first century. It was incredible, unbelievable. However, the God of Israel majors in the incredible and the unbelievable.
In the last half of the twentieth century, a lady named Anna lived in Charlottesville, VA, and she said she was Anastasia, the lone surviving child of the last czar of Russia. Many persons believed her claim and supported her attempt to gain the late czar’s inheritance. After she died, an American network did a DNA test on some of her post-operation tissue being stored in a local hospital.
They compared her DNA with that of a member of the British royal family who was a close relative of the czar. The results showed that Anna was not the czar’s daughter. When the network told one of her staunch supporters the findings, without missing a beat he said, “I don’t believe.” If sane people can find it difficult to accept scientific proof, can we blame someone for not believing the unbelievable? Indeed, which one of us would have believed the fantastic without seeing it for ourselves?
Reflections on John 20:26-29
In New Testament times, eight days later would have been a week later in our terms since first century persons began counting not 24 hours later but now.
Thomas was present and the narrator makes it clear that the doors are locked. Jesus appears and asks Thomas to place his hands in his wounds. He tells Thomas not to be faithless (apistos) but faithful (pistos). Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds. Thomas then utters the highest Christological statement in the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” These are not mere titles which Thomas has spoken. They are words of adoration and reverence. Thomas has come full circle from total unbelief to total devotion. Thomas represents all of us who are reasonable men and women who find it difficult to believe in the incredible. On the other hand, Thomas also represents those persons whose new beliefs take them where no one has gone before.
Jesus then makes a statement that is often slightly misinterpreted. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the ones who have not seen but believe.” Traditionally, this statement has been seen as a chastisement of Thomas and at the same time praise of the others. However, our earlier analysis has shown that none of the persons in the room had believed in the resurrection without first seeing Jesus. This statement by Jesus is not directed to the people in the story but to those reading the story.
This word would have been a powerful exhortation to the original readers who were not eyewitnesses still believed in Jesus. They probably regularly encountered people who questioned their beliefs and also their motives. Passages like this would have encouraged them to keep the faith.
Reflections on John 20:30-31
These verses constitute the original ending of the fourth gospel. They assert that Jesus performed many more miracles that could not be included but what has been included should be sufficient for people to believe in him. We note here two themes which recur throughout the Gospel of John: miracles/signs and belief.
The book contains a sufficient number of signs to engender belief if people allow themselves to believe. Belief sometimes requires us to rely on the testimony of others.