KEY THOT: This was Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to his disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday itself: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week…” (v.19). Very likely, the women who told the disciples about Jesus’ disappearance from the tomb were among them, for they had just returned from the tomb. Jesus’ first words to the disciples gathered behind closed doors were: “Peace be with you!” In Hebrew, it would be “Shalom!” And this peace is not just the absence of anxiety but the presence of God in our midst. Wherever Jesus is, there is peace, because He is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Peace also means we are in harmony with God, self, others and nature. It’s the restoration of God’s harmony as in the Garden of Eden. We are “at peace” with everything in God’s creation.
But what Jesus did next was reminiscent of the creation of Adam: “he breathed (Gk: enefuseesen) on them” The Greek word used here for “breathe” is the only place in the NT used and is the same word used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) for the what God did to Adam: “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed (Gk: enefuseesen) into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). Just as the first breath of God brought physical life to Adam (“living being”), so the first breath of Jesus brought spiritual life to the disciples. Or we may say, the disciples were regenerated for this breathing upon them was followed by the imperative: “Receive the Holy Spirit”. The “Spirit” in Greek (pneuma) can also be translated as “breath”. So Jesus breathed the life of the Spirit into the disciples and they now had the life of God within them. Note that it was not only the eleven disciples who received the Spirit, but all who were with them (Luke 24:33).
And because of God’s life within, they have become new creations—the new Adamic race—born in the New Adam (Christ), no longer part of the Old Adam. It was a transition from death to life. And this is marked by the new authority given to them to forgive sins of others who are not yet regenerated: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld" (ESV). Only those who are already “in Christ” can exercise the same authority that Christ has—namely the power to share the good news of God’s forgiveness to others who are still outside God’s kingdom realm of forgiveness of sins. As believers and disciples of Jesus, we have the power to proclaim forgiveness of sins and actually help others find forgiveness when we share the Gospel. But when we do not share the Gospel, we deny them the opportunity for their sins to be forgiven—and their sins are therefore withheld by our inaction.
[NB: To align what happens here with their doctrines, some scholars have chosen to interpret this incident as prophetic and even symbolic, in lieu of Pentecost. But it's dangerous to twist Scripture to fit it into our theological boxes. We must read and interpret Scripture as it stands.]
Father, thank You that You have breathed upon us the Breath of Life and we now have authority to declare God’s forgiveness of sins to those whose sins have not been forgiven. May Your Spirit grant us power to release forgiveness of sins to others. Amen.