John 20:19-31 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Where and in what condition do we find the disciples on the evening of the first Easter Sunday? See John 20:19a (printed below)

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews (John 20:19a)

On the evening of that first Easter Sunday, the disciples were all gathered together in one place; most likely it was the upper room where they had partaken of the Last Supper together with Jesus the previous Thursday evening. There they are found huddled together behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Since the time of the crucifixion they have stayed in hiding, expecting the Jewish leaders to come after them just as they came for Jesus.

2. What does Jesus now bestow upon His disciples (see verses 19b,21-22 printed below) and what effect does this have upon their lives (note Acts 4:1-3,8-12 printed below?)

Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you… (21) Again Jesus said to them, Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, so now I am sending you. (22) When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:19b, 21-22)

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. (2) They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. (3) They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day…(8) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers and elders of the people! (9) If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, (10) then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. (11) He is the stone you builders rejected, that has become the capstone. (12) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:1-3,8-12)

Suddenly, on that first Easter Sunday evening, the risen Lord Himself came and stood in their midst, and He bestows upon His disciples the blessing of His peace. Consider the transforming power of Christ’s legacy to His church. Here in John 20:19 we find the disciples huddled together behind locked doors in the upper room. It is into this situation that the risen Lord comes and bestows upon them the legacy of His peace and His Holy Spirit. When we turn to the book of Acts (cp. Acts 4:1-3,5-12), we witness the life-transforming effect of Christ’s legacy upon these men. In the same setting where Peter had previously denied his Lord, he now boldly testifies on behalf of his Lord.

3. What commission does Jesus give His disciples (and His church?) What authority does He give them? See John 20:21b-23 (printed below)

Jesus said to them…Just as the Father has sent me, so now I am sending you. (22) When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. (23) If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive their sins, they are not forgiven. (John 20:21b-23)

The Father sent Christ to be the Light of the world—to reveal to men the life of God (John 14:9a) and to reveal to men the way back to God (John 14:6). Now Christ has given the same commission to His church (note Philippians 2:15-16a)—the original disciples were the nucleus of the church that would expand to include all those who respond in faith to their gospel ministry. In order to fulfill this divine commission the risen Lord gives as His legacy to His church the gift of spiritual authority; bestowing this authority by anointing His disciples with the Holy Spirit (verse 22). The divine authority conveyed to the church by the presence and anointing of the Holy Spirit pertains to the forgiveness and retention of sins (verses 23).

4. How is this spiritual authority exercised by Christ’s church? Note Matthew 16:16-19 and Matthew 18:15-20 (printed below)

Simon Peter answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (17) Jesus replied, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. (18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (19) I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:16-19)

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. (16) But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (17) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (18) I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (19) Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything for which you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven—(20) for where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:15-20)

This divine authority is exercised through the proclamation of the gospel (Matthew 16:16-19). Peter’s confession (Matthew 16:16) is a declaration of the gospel (cp. John 20:30-31). Through the proclamation of the gospel (by means of preaching and personal witness) Christ will build His church, and it shall break open the gates of Hades (i.e.; the kingdom of darkness), releasing precious souls from spiritual bondage and the sentence of final condemnation (Matthew 16:18), bringing them to Jesus Christ, the only Source of forgiveness and reconciliation with God (cp. Acts 2:38a). This spiritual authority is also exercised through the use of Christian discipline (Matthew 16:19 makes reference to such discipline; Matthew 18:15-20 elaborates upon it more fully). Matthew 18:15-17 outlines the procedure to be followed when dealing with a professing Christian who is engaged in sin and who refuses to repent. As Matthew 18:18-20 indicates, in the exercise of Christian discipline there is the exercise of genuine spiritual authority: what is done on earth in the name of Christ is ratified in heaven.

5. How does Thomas (who was not present with the other disciples that first Easter Sunday evening) respond to the news that Jesus is alive (see John 20:25 printed below?) What does Jesus do for him (see verses 26-28 printed below?)

The other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord. But he said to them, Unless I see the nail prints in his hands, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. (John 20:25)

Eight days later the disciples again were in the upper room, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them, and said, Peace be with you. (27) Then he said to Thomas, Put your finger here and examine my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. No longer doubt, but believe. (28) Thomas responded by saying to him, My Lord and my God. (John 20:26-28)

When Thomas does rejoin the group, the disciples excitedly relate to him the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and His reunion with them. But Thomas refuses to accept the testimony of his fellow disciples, he insists upon personally meeting the risen Lord himself. Eight days later, when all the disciples, including Thomas, are again gathered together in this same upper room, Jesus once again comes to them. He invites Thomas to examine Him and so be assured of His resurrection. Thomas had insisted upon a personal encounter and inspection of the risen Lord Jesus; Jesus graciously granted Thomas just such an encounter with Him. As a result of that encounter Thomas now worships Jesus, acknowledging Him to be his Lord and his God. Our Lord Jesus desires for us as His disciples to have the assurance of His resurrection life and presence with us in this world.