The Gospels: John 20:18-29 – Can You Believe It?
Jesus died on a cross. So have many other people. But only one came back to life—Jesus. The early church announced the resurrection of Jesus, and it has been a key teaching of Christianity ever since.
But some people find it hard to believe. There must be some sort of mistake—either a mistake in the diagnosis of death or a mistake in thinking that the person is alive again.
Jesus knows that it’s hard to believe—an incident with Thomas illustrates this and has a lesson for us as well.
In John 20, we are told that some disciples found that Jesus was no longer in his tomb. He soon appeared to Mary, and she told the other disciples about it. But one woman’s word was not enough to convince them.
The disciples see Jesus (verses 19-20)
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” We do not know exactly how Jesus got into the room on that Sunday evening, but John implies that it was in some supernatural way. Jesus could still do miracles.
He greeted them with peace, and “after he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” Apparently there were still holes in his hands and a spear wound in the side—although the wounds caused by scourging were presumably gone.
“The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” They believed.
Authorized to preach (verses 21-23)
Jesus repeated his greeting and then added, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” This is John’s version of the Great Commission. Just as Jesus was sent to earth with a mission, so now this mission is given to the disciples.
Jesus had promised that he would not abandon the disciples—he would come to them in the form of “another advocate…the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-18). Jesus fulfilled that promise: “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
Some scholars think that Jesus was reissuing the promise and that it was not fulfilled until 50 days later, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Others say the disciples received the Spirit at this time, and the Spirit came again in a visible way on the day of Pentecost. We do not need to resolve that question now, but we see here that Jesus was not a ghost, vision, or apparition—he was a living, breathing human being with a real body.
Jesus described the results of their mission: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Does this mean that God may want to forgive someone but will be thwarted by disciples who are not quite so gracious? No, Jesus is not giving the disciples the power to control what God can or cannot do.
Rather, he is speaking about what people experience. The context is the mission of the disciples: preaching the gospel. When the disciples preach forgiveness, people will experience forgiveness. When the disciples don’t preach it, people will not have the joy of knowing they are forgiven. Jesus wants the disciples to announce forgiveness to all the people God forgives (and that, as we find out elsewhere in the Bible, includes everyone).
Thomas believes (verses 24-29)
However, one disciple was absent from the Sunday evening gathering. “Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”
But he was skeptical. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” He wanted not just to see, but also to touch.
Jesus gave him what he wanted: “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though 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; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” Jesus not only appeared—he knew what Thomas had said a week earlier.
We do not know whether Thomas touched Jesus, but he responded with faith. “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” Earlier, Thomas had called Jesus Lord (John 14:5); now he calls him God. As John tells us in the opening verse, “The Word was God” (John 1:1). John wants Thomas’s response to be ours as well, that we accept Jesus as our Lord and our God.
Jesus himself moves the discussion to future believers, including us: “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
Author Biography: Dr. Michael Morrison teaches classes in the New Testament at Grace Communion Seminary. More information about the seminary can be found at: www.gcs.edu.
Author: Michael Morrison