Receive the Holy Spirit. Jn 20:19-31

John 20:19-31 is the source of the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter. This is Christ’s first post-resurrection appearance to the disciples in John’s Gospel, where he appears to the ten (excluding Judas and Thomas) in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Christ commissions the apostles on that first Sunday that he appears in the Upper Room.  On the following Sunday, the faith of Thomas is affirmed when he sees the risen Lord.


God Sends – Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Apostles

In his first appearance in the Upper Room, Jesus accomplishes three different things. First, he sends or commissions the disciples. We should remember that in the fourth gospel, to be “sent” means to receive and possess the authority of the sender. In the beginning of John’s Gospel, we are told that John the Baptist is sent by God (Jn 1:6, cf. Jn 1:33 and Jn 3:28).  But John the Baptist himself tells us that God will send someone greater than himself (also cf. Jn 1:33 and 3:28).  The Baptist, speaking of Jesus, says the one who comes from above is above all. Then, making sure that he himself is not misunderstood as being the messiah, John the Baptist confesses, Jesus must become greater, I must become less.

This theology of sending is epitomized in the classic Johannine passage about Jesus:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (Jn 3:16-17)

In John chapters seven, eight and nine, ten and eleven, Jesus repeatedly tells us that the Father has sent him.  Christ’s sending is even rooted and tied to the Eucharist and the Bread of Life discourse.  Jesus tells us that the work of God is to believe in the one whom [God] has sent.  And the one whom God has sent is also the bread that comes down from heaven, and the bread of life. 

Jesus also tells the disciples at the Last Supper that He will send the Holy Spirit, in chapters 14, 15, and 16.   In chapter 14, Christ says the father will send in my name the advocate, or the Holy Spirit.   In chapter fifteen, Christ tells the Apostles that their words will be inspired by the Spirit.  Jesus explains that the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father.

Much the same way that God sent the Son, and that Jesus promised to send the Spirit, Jesus now, in the Upper Room, sends the apostles to proclaim the good news.

A Gift of the Spirit 

Secondly, Jesus gives the apostles gathered the gift of the Holy Spirit. Specifically, Christ breathes on the men, reminding us that the term for breath and spirit (ruah) is the same in Hebrew.  This gift of the Spirit signifies that the apostles are sealed and given the authority to act on behalf  of Jesus. This is not the first time the apostles have been given authority to act on behalf of Jesus. However, it is formalized in the post-resurrection appearance in the upper room.

The Authority to Pardon

Finally, Jesus gives the apostles the authority to bind and to loose. In English, the scripture passage says, whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained.  In the original Greek the verbs used are aphiemi and krateo. These two verbs mean “to release” and to “hold.”

My Lord and My God

The following Sunday, the apostles are gathered in the Upper Room again. This time, Thomas, who had been absent the week before, joins them. The apostles pray behind closed doors, yet suddenly Jesus appears in their midst. Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds in Christ’s hands and side. And Thomas responds with the exclamation, my Lord and my God. 

Thomas the Apostle offers us additional evidence that these particular appearances of the Lord are not simply manifestations of a ghost, or simply a vision. Jesus is indeed, a human who has risen from the dead. And Thomas inspects the wounds in his hands and side.  John’s Gospel, reminding the reader that the testimony of the Gospel should be as credible as the testimony of an eyewitness, because the Gospel is based on eyewitness testimony, says blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.











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    • Hello and thank you for your question. I think the account you are referring to is the Pentecost account described in Acts Chapter 1. In that account the twelve and the women “were dedicated to prayer.”

      Of the four Gospel accounts, the post resurrection upper room account (not the Pentecost account) is mentioned in Luke and John. It is not mentioned in Matthew and Mark. Here is the language of the upper room accounts in the Gospels:

      John 20 – On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
      21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

      Luke 24: 36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

      37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

      40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

      44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

      45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

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