John’s account of the crucifixion and the events that play out with that is very brief and to the point, especially compared to the accounts given in the Synoptics (Matt., Mark, & Luke). We are given the details behind how it happened and by whose hand it was done, and then we have brief details concerning the final moments of Jesus before His final breath. This brief recounting given by John was intentional. He realized the validity that the other three accounts carried, which go into greater detail, so he didn’t feel the need to include it all. But he does include the story in general, in order to clearly point to Jesus and the glory of the Father raising His Son, the Messiah, from the dead. Which gets us into John 20 and the resurrection.
Again, John doesn’t include too many details concerning this event. Just simply what he felt was needed in light of his purpose for writing. This brings us to John 20:21-23, which is what I want to focus on today.
“Again He said, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you.’ Then He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'” – John 20:21-23 (NLT)
Every time I have read this passage, I have always stopped to consider its meaning. I have never fully been able to grasp exactly what Jesus meant by this, and I am sure that there is still more to it than what I will say today. But there is a deep weightiness to this statement from Jesus. Those we forgive are forgiven, and those we do not forgive are not forgiven.
Here is what I believe this to mean. Jesus tells His disciples (all of His followers really) that they are to go into all the world, making disciples of all nations. Meaning that they are to take His Gospel, His story of salvation, to all peoples. As we know, not all are going to accept the Truth of Jesus. Some will, but many will not. Jesus came so that He could provide a Way for all to be saved by His name, allowing them to turn from their sinful, wicked ways and to live in the light of Heaven.
“If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.” This statement, I believe, encompasses those people who will hear the Truth and allow to saturate into their very being, changing them as a person into a child of God that abides in Truth. Because they have turned and repented from their way of wickedness, they have stepped into the realm of being forgiven for their sins. This is what we see displayed by Jesus through His ministry. Those who have faith, and then put that faith into practice, their sins can be and should be forgiven.
“If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Then there is this group of people, which makes up a large percentage. These are the ones who refuse to listen to the Truth, turning a blind eye and deaf ear to it. They reject the Truth that can set them free for eternity, and they choose instead to remain on the path of death. They do not have faith, and therefore they cannot know forgiveness.
This is Jesus’ commission to His disciples, those who follow Him in Truth and Spirit. He is telling us, His faithful followers, that we are to recognize whether someone has truly turned from their old, sinful nature in order to walk a life of righteousness through faith. If we see this in the fruit of a person’s life, then we are to extend forgiveness to this and recognize that they have been forgiven. However, if a person does not bear fruit through the exercising of their faith, if they produce fruit that is contrary to walking in righteousness by faith, their sins are not forgiven and cannot be forgiven. We, His followers, are to recognize this reality of a person’s life.
Now there needs to be an understanding in light of this. We do not do this in pride or arrogance, but we do it from a place of being rooted in love. It is not love to allow the standard which Jesus set to be dropped. But rather, love is when we see the dropping of the standard and we raise it back to the place where it was meant to be all along.
We see this with Peter and his encounter with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). We see this with Peter and John with Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8. Each of these accounts is an example of the attempt of someone to drop the standard which Jesus set, and the disciples recognized it and called it out for what it was.
This is just another reminder of the power and authority with which Christ left us to walk in. He gave us authority like He had on this earth. Now we must return to the purity of heart in order that we might walk in it.