John 20:19-31

Jesus showing wounds to Thomas, locked door in background.
 "Jesus showing wounds to Thomas, locked door in background." 
Reprinted from Icon: Visual Images for Every Sunday, copywrite© 2000 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.


This passage is paralleled at Luke 24:36-49 and Mark 16:14-18 which ought be read. It was late in the evening. The group was composed of the disciples, those with them and the two Emmaus disciples. They were eating.

John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"

Mark has only "later."  Luke agrees remarkably with the first genitive absolute which gives time of day (late) and day of the week. We understand that it was the same as verse 1. By the way, higher critics claim that John compresses the Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost into one day, verses 17-23. Ridiculous. Context prohibits this. The second genitive absolute tells us under what circumstances they were gathered together.

Quite obviously, they must have unlocked the doors to let the Emmaus disciples in. The fact that "doors" is plural (inner and outer), and that the perfect participle is used, shows clearly that they had locked themselves inside.

We know not exactly where they were. Likely in the place where the women originally found them.  "Fear," causal phrase, obviously modifies the second genitive absolute.  "Fear" is both subjective genitive (the Jews caused the fear) and objective genitive (the fear is now directed toward the Jews). On this phrase cf. 7:13; 9:22; 14:27; 16:2-4; 19:38. Besides showing how utterly the Jews rejected Jesus, it clearly shows the disciples' lack of faith at this time. After the Ascension and Pentecost they are joyful and fearless.

"Jesus came and stood among them" clearly exemplifies what we call the genus maiestaticum. Cf. Hendriksen, John, pp. 458-9 and Lenski,  John,  1364-6, on the difference between Reformed and Lutheran theology.

To this day the Reformed reject what frightened the disciples, the wonders involved in Jesus' State of Exaltation. Hendriksen rejects Calvin's explanation of Jesus' coming through a window. But he rejects this that Jesus' human nature now fully used the attributes of the divine nature. Oddly enough, Lenski concludes by stating that even in heaven we will not comprehend this but Hendriksen says that we will. Read the two passages side by side.

The disciples knew that Jesus was alive but this sudden appearance filled them with wonder and awe.  "Peace be with you!" This is not just an empty greeting. This is full Gospel. It is an absolution. The greeting is in keeping with the Greeter. The first thing He does is to forgive their sins and declare that all is well.

John 20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

These items prove His suffering and resurrection. They are "visible" Gospel if we may call them that. The God-man shows them all His wounds. In verse 19 we have narrative. But here, in 20, we have inference. Because He spoke and showed, the disciples were glad.

Most translations consider "when" as temporal. Lenski makes it causal. Beck is not quite correct: "delighted to see."  The rejoicing was subsequent to the seeing. The use of "the Lord" is significant, their heavenly, divine Lord.

Lenski: Jesus appeared again and again, intensifying faith and joy, until nothing could ever disturb the solid certainty.

John 20:21 Again Jesus said,  "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

"Again" in the sense of "next," or a second time. First He actually bestowed the peace to them personally. Now He does it again for their important office, not just to the disciples, for more than the disciples were present.

"As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  Note juxtaposition of subjects.  "Sent" and "sending" are synonyms but there is a difference. Jesus was sent to suffer, die and rise for all human beings. Christians are sent with the message which is as valid as if Christ were dealing with human beings Himself.

John 20:22 And with that he breathed on them and said,  "Receive the Holy Spirit.

"Breathed and said" are aorist and historic present are difficult to explain grammatically. The intended sense is that He actually and very personally bestowed a gift through His Word.

Note the repetition of "them" in 19,20,21,22, all of them, not just the disciples. The gift is given through the command. The gift is the Holy Spirit for a specific purpose. They already had the Holy Spirit for they were believers. And this is not the same bestowal of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost for that is called "power from on high."  On Pentecost 3,000 were added to the Church. Here in John 20:22 Jesus bestows the Office of the Keys, a permanent bestowal on all Christians. Cf. Matthew 16:19; 18:17-20. Read Luther's  Catechism  on the Office of the Keys.

John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

RSV, NEB, NASB, Beck, NIV make this read (twice) "If you."  KJV has  "Whosoever."  It is not conditional. It means "of whomever" and note that it is plural. There are only two classes of people, those who are to be absolved and those who are not to be absolved. Christians are to apply the two keys according to God's Word and will.

Lenski as often in his commentaries, quotes Psalm 103:12; Micah 7:19; Isaiah 43:25. Forgiven sins are buried and gone. The sins have already been lastingly forgiven. Christians merely declare what is already true.

Jesus strengthened the faith of the disciples first by absolving them and then by giving them the commission of the Office of the Keys. But on Calvary Christ attained redemption, justification, reconciliation, forgiveness of sins for all people. Christians have the Office of the Keys. They merely declare and announce what is already true for the repentant sinner. Read Walther, Law and Gospel,  pp. 168-176.

All Christians exercise privately the Office of the Keys. The pastor, by virtue of his call, exercises it publicly for the specific congregation to which he is called.

John 20:24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

"Now" is clearly "but."  Why he was absent is not known. But to absent oneself from Christian brethren in a time of crisis leads to trouble. Christians assemble for mutual comfort in Christ. Hebrews 10:25.

John 20:25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them,  "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 it."

"So" is "therefore" meaning  "because he had been absent."  Brown suggests "they tried to tell him." 

"Them" is at least the ten, perhaps more considering the parallel in Luke.

"Have seen" with lasting results. They believed. And the use of "the Lord" is to be noted. They use it in the fullest sense as did Mary in verse 18. Look at 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 John 1:1.

In a future more vivid condition, Thomas lays down three conditions. If not met, he will not believe, a firm or categorical denial. "Nail marks."  NEB and Hendriksen translate "mark-place."   "Mark caused by the nails--place where the nails were."  Thomas was not just doubting. Thomas would not believe. And in this state he speaks in a superior, demanding fashion. He was not so "gullible" as were the rest, and he wishes to maintain his position.

John 20:26 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!"

The verse begins with a Greek word which means "now." This is a subparagraph. "Eight days," in the Greek, translated in the NIV as "a week" is inclusive time computation. We would say "seven days later." 

By the way, why the disciples had not yet gone to Galilee (Mark 16:7) is not known.

Ylvisaker: None of them could summon the courage necessary for such a journey.
Lenski: As far as making the start for Galilee is concerned, the safest view is that the disciples awaited specific directions from the Lord.

In any case, their waiting in Jerusalem was providential, for it afforded opportunity to retrieve unbelieving Thomas. Jesus cared much for Peter who had denied Him, Mary Magdalene, from whom He had driven seven evil spirits, and Thomas who would not believe.

Again we have an absolution but it has special meaning for Thomas.

John 20:27 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."

"Then" in the sense of "first of all."  Jesus condescendingly meets all demands made by Thomas in verse 25. The commands are almost word for word the same as Thomas' demands. Thomas ended with a categorical denial. Jesus ends with a prohibition. This display of omniscience in the human nature of Jesus must have impressed Thomas deeply, plus the fact that Jesus' human nature now fully used the omnipresence of the divine nature.

Did Thomas actually feel Jesus' wounds? We know not. But we know what 1 John 1:1 says. Did he kneel or prostrate himself before Jesus? We know not but we know what he said in verse 28.

NEB: "Be unbelieving no longer."  Jesus conquers unbelief by His Word. With the prohibition comes the power to believe.

John 20:28 Thomas said to him,  "My Lord and my God!"

To understand Thomas' answer as a mere exclamation of surprise "My God!" is blasphemous in view of the context. The words are, of course, an exclamation, but, at the same time, an address (vocative) and a humble confession, confession of sin and confession of faith.

He uses "Lord" as did Mary and the other disciples. He recognizes this man Jesus as true God. The two "my" are beautiful examples of the genitive of relationship. Look at Matthew 27:46. By the way, if Jesus were not true God He surely would have rejected Thomas' confession.

John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

The commentators and translations are divided as to whether Jesus' first words in verse 29 are a statement (KJV, NEB, NIV) or a question (RSV, NASB, Beck). In either case, what Jesus is really criticizing is not merely "seeing" but the fact that Thomas categorically rejected the witness of the other disciples. When the women told the disciples, they did not make the demands which Thomas made.

"Blessed" and its cognates always denote the blessedness of the believer in Christ.

John 20:30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

The many signs which Jesus actually performed are contrasted with those which have been recorded. This verse introduces what has been called the conclusion, stating the purpose of the Gospel of John. (See note below.)

"Many other" in the sense of "additional."  This Gospel records six great signs of Jesus. Many have not been recorded. The many were performed "in the presence of the disciples." 

"Are not recorded" means "have not lastingly been recorded."   "This book" is, of course, the Gospel of John.

The signs spoken of in 30 and 31 do not refer to proofs (Acts 1:3) of His Resurrection, but those performed throughout His life beginning with the first miracle in Cana. Do they include His Resurrection? Yes. But it is not called that here, because it was not performed "in the presence of His disciples." 

John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

"These" are the six great "signs" in the Gospel of John.

Lenski: It would be misleading to regard 'signs' as in any sense being in contrast with 'the words' of Jesus. The 'written' are at times contrasted with the oral testimony, as in 10:37.38, but even then the oral testimony is attested by the works. ...It is John's Gospel in particular which connects the signs with the discourses of Jesus. ...The signs (or works) form the basis and the background without which the discourses would hang in the air.

In other words, do not consider the "signs" as something apart from Jesus' Word.

"But these are written."  "Have lastingly been recorded."  The Word of the Lord stands forever.

Now follows an important purpose clause. The sole purpose of the recording is the gift of faith to believe in the person of the Messiah, the Son of God.

This purpose clause is followed by a second purpose clause.  "By constantly believing."  Life is the Christian's possession now already, "through His revelation." 

"Through HIS revelation," is the man-ward side of God. That which God has revealed of Himself to man. That consists, first and foremost, of redemption, salvation, eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Is the first verb for "believe," in this verse, present or aorist subjunctive? It is a difficulty. The United Bible Society  Greek Textual Commentary  cannot decide. If subjunctive it means "grow in faith."  If the aororist subjunctive it means either "come to faith" or "truly believe."  These  Notes  suggest that if the aorist is read it means "truly believe." 

Much has been written as to whether the Gospel of John ends here or at the end of chapter 21. These  Notes  suggest that 21 is neither addition, epilogue, appendix or whatever. There are two passages (20:30.31 and 21:24.25) which bring the book to a conclusion. What they have in common: God has not told us everything. He needn't. Wherein they differ: 20:31 gives us the purpose of the book. And 21:24 is testimonial of a testimony by people whom we cannot now identify.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1980, pp. 86-89. Used with permission.

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