John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) 2000
In this section John fills in some more essential information about Jesus' resurrection body. And he does it from the point of view of Thomas, one of his fellow apostles (Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16).
Thomas was not part of the original group of five who had been disciples of John the Baptist, and followed Jesus when he was baptized beyond the Jordan (see 1:35-45). John calls him Thomas, the Twin, and mentions him as rather brashly saying "Let us also go that we may die with him" (11:16). At the last supper Thomas still had his doubts. "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (14:5). And when all the other ten apostles assured him they had seen the resurrection body of Jesus, and had actually eaten with him (Luke 24:35, 41-43), Thomas just about called them liars or deluded. Nothing would convince him of such an impossibility unless he put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand into the gash in Jesus' side (20:25).
But when Jesus came through the doors the next Sunday, and invited Thomas to do just that, the doubter said "My Lord and my God" (20:28). In the next chapter John will describe how Thomas was out on the fishing expedition with Peter (21:1-3), and he shared in the breakfast Jesus had prepared (21:12-13). We will suggest (see notes on 21:1, 14) that Thomas again encountered Jesus' in his resurrection body the next Sunday on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20), and again when 500 disciples gathered for the first convention of Christians in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 15:6). Thomas was also present on the Day of Pentecost when he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) as Jesus had promised at the last supper.
Based on various traditions I am convinced that Thomas made an overland journey to North India where he worked as a carpenter building the palace of the Hindu King Gudnaphar (Greek Godnophores) whom he baptized. Then he returned to Jerusalem, and made a second journey by ship to the south-west Malabar coast of India. The seven churches he planted in the present state of Kerala are in existence to this day. And we can still visit the place in Madras where he was martyred by being speared to death. The traditional sign of Thomas is a carpenter's square and a spear.
The carpenter's square and spear could also be emblems of the Messiah. But, as we will suggest (see the note on 20:25), the Messiah's resurrection body forever bears the emblems (war medals) of the nail prints (crucifixion) and the spear thrust (death, as in Revelation 1:7).
In the Gospel John has already given the emblems of Word, Light, Bread, Shepherd, Vine. And in the Book of Revelation John will add other emblems such as those of Son of Man (Revelation 1:13, 14:14), Reigning Lord (throne, Revelation 4:2), Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), Lamb (Revelation 5:6, 8, 12, 13, and 24 other references), Messiah (Revelation 11:15), Man child (Revelation 12:4-5), King (crowns, Revelation 19:12), Commander in Chief (sword, Revelation 19:15-16)
In the Gospel John has made clear that by essential nature the Messiah is the eternal son of God (5:17-23, 8:54-58), but these and other emblems (medals) are the marks of many battles and much loving. They do not refer just to the end times, but to the continuing work of the Messiah among the nations.
The gathering that Sunday evening is reported in the longer ending of Mark as "Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen" (Mark 16:14).
Luke describes it this way. When the two who had gone to Emmaus hurried back "they found the eleven and their companions gathered together" (Luke 24:33). They were saying "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon." The two "told them what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of bread" (Luke 24:34-35). As they were talking about this, "Jesus himself stood among them and said to them "Peace be with you" and they were "startled and terrified.." Then he told them to "Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." While in their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence" (Luke 24:33-43).
It is interesting to see what John adds as an obvious eyewitness of what happened that evening. It is "the first day of the week" (as in 20:1). He remembers the atmosphere of fear among the disciples : "the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews" (20:19 - the term Jews is often John's shorthand for the religious authorities, as in 10:19, 24, 31, 33, 18:12, 14, 31, 19:7, 12, 21, 31).
He reports Jesus' shalom greeting "Peace be with you" (still common in the Arabic salaam aleycum, and as in Luke 24:36).
20:20 Luke had spoken twice of Jesus showing his hands and feet (Luke 24:39,40), but John remembers the mention of "his hands and his side," and the sudden sense of joy "when they saw the Lord."
20:21 The second shalom is also a commissioning, "As the Father has sent me, so send I you" (picking up the prayer in 17:18). Having received God's peace, we are sent to be peace makers among others. As Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9). Jesus made peace with hated tax gatherers, Romans and Samaritans, prostitutes and outcaste women. Soon slave owners and slaves, parents and children (Ephesians 6:1-9), husbands and wives (1 Corinthians 7:1-16, Ephesians 5:21-33), Jews and Greeks, Barbarians, and people of all nations (Colossians 3:11) would find themselves called into peace and love in each Christian congregation.
As Paul explains "He is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one, and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us" (Ephesians 2:14). This is why Paul uses the term "Grace and Peace from God" at the beginning of every one of his epistles (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:3, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 3).
Peace and peace making is no formality, but the very heart of what church congregations are about.
And it is commanded to be expressed in the peace greeting (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14).
20:22 And for this awesome peace making task the Messiah breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. This is not the outpouring of the Spirit on the new church promised at the last supper (14:26, 15:26, 16:7, 13). They would need to wait till they had been "clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:5). This preliminary inbreathing was like an engagement ring, a token before the event, a downpayment on a large legacy, an advance when an employee is hired, the keys of the building before we begin work (see Matthew 16:19, 18:18-20).
20:23 But already the inbreathing of the Spirit has given them signing authority. They were empowered to write forgiveness checks on the bank of heaven. When Moses prayed "forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love" the Lord said, "I do forgive, just as you have asked" (Numbers 14:19-20). We too have the right to ask for the forgiveness of others. And in our own experience we know that God is always ready to forgive us, but we often need the words of assurance that a spiritual person can give us.
But the Spirit also gives us authority to refuse those who wish to use spiritual power for destructive purposes (as in Acts 5:1-3, 8:20-21, 1 Corinthians 5:3-5, Galatians 1:8-9, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 2:14-18, Titus 1:11, 3:10). In these instructions the "retaining" of sin does not refer to consigning people to eternal damnation, but to assigning consequences there and then in the churches.
There is also some retaining of sin that is destructive of one's own person here on earth: "the minister did so and so, my parents did so and so, my wife or husband did so and so, that family member did so and so, and I will never forgive that." Such "retaining of sin" destroys us, and takes away our confidence in being forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15)
20:24-25 The Apostle Thomas was not present at this gathering and he refused to believe that the others had seen the resurrection body of the Messiah. We can understand why the nail prints in the Messiah's hands and feet were of eternal significance. Jesus suffered the agony of those for three long terrible hours as a sacrifice for the whole of humanity. But why does John consider the spear gash in the side so important? John reported that Jesus had already said "It is finished" and gave up his life (see notes on 19:30). So obviously Jesus was dead for some time before the spear went in. In the notes at the beginning of this section we offer an explanation of why both the nail prints (sign of crucifixion) and the gash of the spear (sign of death) are given us. As Paul said "I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn received: that the Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), which suggests that for the early church both the sufferings of crucifixion and the subsequent death were both essential parts of the good news.
20:26 By using the words "A week later" (20:1) John wants us to know that the disciples are again gathered together on a Sunday. As on the Sunday a week earlier (20:19), the doors were locked (20:26). Whereas on the previous occasion the disciples were so startled and terrified (Luke 24:37) that they did not think about how Jesus came through the locked doors, now John makes the careful observation: "Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them." And for the third time he says shalom (see 20:19, 21).
20:27 For the significance of the gash in the side as a sign (emblem, war medal?) of death see the notes above.
20:28 Finally Thomas is sure that the Messiah is not only his Lord, but "true God from true God" (Nicene Creed).
20:29 "Those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" misses the force of the two Greek aorist tenses which tell us that people are makarioi (happy, or blessed as in the nine beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11) when "having not seen they believe." It is not a single experience of believing without having had physical evidence, but a frequent experience of living by faith, not by sight (as in Hebrews 11:1-39).
20:30-31 For the word 'sign' see notes on the first sign (2:11) and the second sign (4:54) and other signs ( 2:23). John says he has been very selective among many other evidences he could have presented. But his one aim throughout the Gospel has been to help people "believe the Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God." And the result of that kind of faith is "life in his name," which takes us back to the prologue "in him was life, and the life was the light of all people" (1:4) and "to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (1:12). We have seen that John's very clear aim has ordered the structure of this whole astonishing book.