The Spirit and People's Eternal Destiny

Scripture: John 20:22-23 ‘And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”


Observations: Following the resurrection Jesus appears to his disciples and both comforts them and confirms their mission, sending them into the world as the Father had sent him into the world (v21). But then Jesus does something unusual. The ESV (as most translations) has Jesus ‘breathe on them,’ and say ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’ However, the Greek only has ‘he breathed and said to them receive the Holy Spirit.’ The translations imply that Jesus imparted the Holy Spirit there and then by breathing ‘on them.’ And most commentators believe this is John’s version of Pentecost. However, it is better to see this as a promise of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus’ breathing as symbolizing the coming of the Holy Spirit i.e. just as Jesus breathed, so they will receive the Holy Spirit. But then Jesus says something even more strange, ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’ Firstly, it’s worth noting that the verbs here are passive, which means that it’s ultimately God who is doing the forgiving and withholding of forgiveness. Secondly, it’s worth noting the context, which is not church discipline (as in the parallel passages in Matthew 16:19; 18:18), but rather evangelism. Therefore people receive forgiveness when they accept the disciples’ message of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, and they don’t receive forgiveness when they reject their message.


Application: Firstly, we can be assured of the Holy Spirit with just as much confidence as we have in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus rose from the dead as a living breathing person, so those who put their faith in him will receive the Holy Spirit. If you trust in Jesus you can be assured that you have the Holy Spirit. Secondly, our mission to proclaim the gospel has serious consequences. For those who accept it, it means forgiveness and eternal life; but for those who reject it, it means remaining in their sin and therefore eternal separation from God. We have been given a message that separates the sheep from the goats (Mt 25:32), that opens the gates of heaven or leaves people on the broad road to destruction (Mt 7:13). How seriously do you take the eternal destiny of those around you?


Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I often wonder where Your Holy Spirit is in my life, because I still seem to struggle with sin, I still seem to lack power, and I struggle to produce the fruit of righteousness. But I trust in Your Son Jesus Christ for my victory over sin, for he is my righteousness, and he has defeated the powers of this world on the cross. But Lord, may Your Holy Spirit work in my life that I might be holy as You are holy, that I might give my life in service to you. Lord, help me be bold in sharing the gospel that people might be saved from their sin, and rescued from an eternity without You. Help me be bold in prayer. Help me give my time and energy to what matters most, the eternal destiny of people and the glory of Your name. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

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