Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
No one gospel gives us all the various appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples after His resurrection. In fact, all of them together do not give us every such appearance. For while we have a number of instances mentioned in each of the different Gospels, we are told that our Lord “showed himself alive after his passion [after he was raised from the dead] by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). For forty days He continued with His disciples, teaching them and instructing them pertaining to the kingdom of God, so that on many other occasions than those definitely mentioned in the Gospels the Savior appeared to them and outlined the marvelous program with which He expected them to cooperate as they went forth as His messengers into all the world.
But of these instances that are recorded we might say that each one seems to have some special lesson for us. Here we have two definite appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ in the same place, an upper room in Jerusalem, possibly in the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. And on these occasions He appeared, first of all, to ten of the apostles and then to eleven, Thomas being absent the first time but present the second time. And He gave them, in a very definite way, their commission to go out as His representatives.
We are told in verse 19, “Then the same day [that is, the day on which John, Peter, and Mary Magdalene had visited the sepulcher early in the morning] at evening, being the first day of the week [for, as the seventh day was the Sabbath of the old dispensation, the memorial of creation, so the first day of the week became the rest day of the new dispensation, the memorial of new creation, the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ arose from the dead], when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews,” suddenly they looked up and there stood the blessed Lord in their midst. Not a door had been opened to admit Him. That gives us some idea of the difference between the resurrection body and these present bodies that are subject to their various limitations. When our Lord Jesus was here on earth, He allowed Himself to be self-limited, but after resurrection, He came out of the grave cloths, as we have seen, without disturbing them. We might even say He left the tomb without opening the door, for the stone was not rolled away to let Him out, but to let the women and the disciples in.
Now He is able to present Himself in a material body of flesh and bones but no longer subject to the former laws, appearing in a room without coming through a door or entryway! Some day we shall have bodies like His, and throughout the glorious kingdom age we shall be able to flit from place to place at His command, unhindered by what men call “the law of gravitation.”
“Came Jesus and stood in the midst” (v. 19). This was His rightful place. What infinite grace! He took the place in the midst on the cross. There, we read, they crucified Him and two thieves with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. He was numbered among the transgressors, and He took the central place as though of all of the malefactors He was the worst. There He was bearing our sins in His own body on the tree.
But before He went away He gave this promise to His disciples, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst” (Matt. 18:20). This was the first time since His resurrection that His disciples were gathered together, and they were there because of their mutual love for Him. They were meeting in His name, and suddenly He manifested Himself among them, fulfilling His words. So, though now we cannot see Him with the mortal eye, whenever we are gathered together in His name, He is always in the midst. We do not need to ask Him or plead with Him to be in our midst. He says He is there. What we do need to ask for is opened hearts that we may discern Him.
Why is He in the midst of His friends? In the second chapter of Hebrews He says, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee” (Ps. 22:22). That is one reason He is in the midst. He is in the midst of His saints in order to draw out their thanksgiving and praise. I love to think of Him as the great Choir Leader. These hearts of ours are the instruments with which we make melody to the Lord, and it is He who touches the strings of one heart after another. He is in the midst as our great Intercessor. It is His presence in the midst of the gatherings of His people in the power of the Holy Spirit that gives each meeting its peculiar character. I think that if we always remembered this it would have a very sobering influence upon us. It would make us realize that in the holy assembly of the saints of God nothing should be done or said or sung that could not have His approval. By and by when we gather home to glory, He will still be in the midst.
John tells us that he looked up into heaven and that he saw the throne of God surrounded by the living creatures and the twenty-four elders, representing all the ransomed saints. He says, “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6). Jesus in the midst is the glory, bearing upon His glorified body the marks of His passion, the reminder of all He suffered for sinners when He died on Calvary’s cross!
And so we see Him on this resurrection evening in the midst of His gathered people. They were not very clear as to what had taken place and did not understand very much, but they loved Him. When they were thus together He fulfilled His word and manifested Himself to them.
And now He speaks. What is His word of greeting? “Peace be unto you” (John 20:19). That is the way one oriental greets another even today: “Peace be unto you.” But oh, how much meaning there was in this salutation coming from the lips of our precious Lord. He had just been to Calvary, where He made peace by the blood of His cross. He said to them before He went away, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (14:27). And as He stood in the midst of them He seems to say, “It is all done. I have been through the sorrows of the cross. I have made peace, and now it is yours. Enter into and enjoy it.”
Do you enjoy the peace that has been made? “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1), a peace we did not make, a peace He made for us, and that we enter into and enjoy when we believe the word of the truth of the gospel. We are told, “He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). Oh, the blessedness of knowing Him who is our peace! Peace in the midst of all the trials of earth. Peace in the day when everything that men have counted upon is being shaken. If you do not enjoy this peace, it is for you. But in order to enjoy it, you must receive the One who made it. You must trust Christ for yourself.
He said to them, “Peace be unto you.” He showed them His hands and feet, the wound in His side. “Here are the wounds that tell you it is I, and not another, and I have borne all this for you!”
We, too, may see those marks of His love in the glory, and when we look upon those pierced Hands and upon the wound in His side, how they will speak to us and move our hearts. We will say to ourselves, “That is the most lovely thing about Jesus, for those wounds tell what He thought of us. He might have gone out free when He finished those wonderful years of service here. He might have gone back to the glory from which He came.” But He went to that cross of shame, and there he received those wounds that tell of a love that was stronger than death. And He will bear the scars for all eternity.
You say, “But how do you know that He still has those wounds upon His body, that He still bears those scars?” I know because in Zechariah we read, “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn… And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (12:10; 13:6).
And so those wounds will be the perpetual token of His love for the church and His love for Israel.
“He showed unto them his hands and his side” (John 20:20). Have you not sometimes gone to a gathering of the Lord’s people feeling depressed, troubled? You had wondered whether to go or remain at home. But you went and took your place with them. As the hymns were sung, the Word was read, and God’s truth declared, your eyes were opened. You looked up and saw the Lord Jesus, and you went away refreshed, saying, “I have seen the Lord.” We do not just come together to meet with one another. It is a great mistake if we think we come together merely for a social time. We come to meet Him.
Then Jesus again said, “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (v. 21). Why did He say it again? Well, I do not think it is too farfetched to say that it was because He knew they were going into the world and they would meet with suffering, persecution, and disillusionment. Paul could say, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Now He sends His servants to tell the story to lost men everywhere, and as they go He will keep their hearts in peace, if they but confide in Him.
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). That carries our minds back to the creation of man in the first place. God formed man from the dust of the earth. He breathed into the man the breath of the spirit of life, and man became a living soul. Now here are the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, born again, it is true, but going forth upon that great mission, and the Lord breathed upon them. Just as of old, God breathed upon Adam and he became a living soul, so it was when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost. The first Adam was a living soul; the last Adam, we are told, is a quickening spirit. And here the Lord Jesus Christ breathes upon them. It was not that He actually gave them the Spirit at that time, but they would understand when, later at Pentecost, the Spirit actually descended and abode upon them and dwelt with them, that He was given by their exalted Lord.
With this He gives them a marvelous word of authority: “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained” (v. 23). What does this mean? It has been claimed by some that these disciples were the first bishops of the church, and the Lord was giving them the authority to remit sin and retain sin. That they were to go out into the world and people were to confess sins to them. They would tell them what penance to do and thus obtain remission of their sins. I do not find anything like that here.
One of the most important of the group, the apostle Peter, was there that day, and Peter went forth in the name of the Lord to proclaim remission of sins. How did he do it? Did he say, “You come to me and confess your sins to me, and I will forgive them?” Did he say anything like that? Let us see. In Acts 10 we find Peter preaching the gospel in the household of Cornelius. He tells of Christ’s wonderful life. “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) … To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever (confesseth his sins to a priest) … shall receive remission of sins” (vv. 36, 43). Is that right? Do you have your Bible open? What does it say? “That through His name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Believe on Jesus and you will get remission. That is the commission that every servant of Christ has. We go out to the world and say, “We are commanded by Jesus Christ to offer you remission of sin if you will believe on Jesus. And when they do, we dare to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven or remitted.’” And if they will not believe, what then? We say to them, “Your sins are retained.” How do we know it? Because He said so. There is nothing sacramental here. This is just a clear, definite gospel statement.
But we are told that Thomas was not present. You know, sometimes people do not realize what they lose by not attending where God’s saints are gathered together when Jesus comes to take His place in the midst. They lose out. We can imagine the disciples saying to Thomas when they again see him, “Oh, Thomas, we have had a wonderful time! We have seen the Lord!” Thomas looks up in a hopeless kind of way, and replies, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). And so Thomas goes on all through the week without getting any assurance, until eight days. “And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst” (v. 26). He knows what Thomas said. He heard him. And He turns to him and says, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing” (v. 27). We do not read that he attempted to reach out his hand. But the sight of the risen Christ was apparently enough, and he exclaimed with adoring love, “My Lord, and my God!” (v. 28).
And what did Jesus say? Did He say, “You must not call me God. I am only the Son of God. Don’t do that. That is a great mistake?” Did He do that? That is what He ought to have said if the Unitarian is right. But what did He say? Thomas had called Him, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (v. 29). Is that blessing yours? We have never seen Him with mortal eyes but we gladly confess Him as our Lord and our God.
John closes this section by saying, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (vv. 30-31).
The selected instances recorded here are written that we might know who Jesus is. And if you have any doubt about it, read John’s gospel over and over again.
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.