“So Send I You”
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
The last two chapters of John contain what I have called “the real last words of Christ.” Spoken after the resurrection, as opposed to those more commonly discussed words spoken from the cross, they are words of encouragement, instruction, and promise: “Peace be with you” (20:19); “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (20:21); “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22); “Stop doubting and believe” (20:27); “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed” (20:29); “Feed my sheep” (21:16–17: cf. v. 15); “Follow me” (21:19; cf. v. 22).
Our text contains the second of these last words, though, as we will note, it follows quite closely upon the first and leads to the third. It is John’s version of the Great Commission.
The Great Commission occurs five times in the New Testament, once at the end of each of the four Gospels and once in the opening chapter of Acts. The repetition is significant. Anything God says is important; if something is repeated more than once, it is especially important. Besides, in each case the emphasis is different. Matthew emphasizes the authority of the Lord. Standing on a mountain, presumably looking out over numerous towns and villages, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations” (28:18–19). In Mark the emphasis is on the final judgment: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not will be condemned” (16:16). Luke presents the commission as the fulfillment of prophecy: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day; and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (24:46–47). Acts presents a program for world evangelization: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8).
These words are drawn from a variety of circumstances and were spoken to a variety of people. John’s version is unique in that it is probably the first expression of this command and links our commissioning to the prior commissioning of our Lord.
Peace Be with You
John’s words are linked to the first of the seven last words, which occurs just two verses before. Lest we miss this connection, John repeats it in the verse which is our text. The full text says, “Peace be with you. As my Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
This is not accidental. In fact, the reason is apparent. It is simply that we must ourselves have peace, both inwardly and outwardly, before we can effectively preach the gospel of peace to others. There are two kinds of peace involved here, as we saw in our last study. The first is peace with God achieved by the death of the Lord on our behalf. In ourselves we are not at peace with God. We are at war with God. But Christ has made peace by bearing the punishment due us for our sins. In bestowing this peace he provides us with forgiveness of sins and the assurance of it. The second peace is the peace of God. The disciples were cowering in an upper room. They were afraid, but Jesus told them to have no fear but rather to be of good courage. They were in hiding, but he told them to abandon their shelter and go out into the world as his missionaries. Christ’s words seem to be the opposite of the disciples’ experience. But they are reasonable because of who it is who speaks them. He is the risen Lord. He was arrested, beaten, crucified. But he rose again. It is as the One who has been triumphant over death and sin that he now speaks peace to his followers.
John Stott writes of this passage, “We learn then that the Church’s very first need, before it can begin to engage in evangelism, is an experience and an assurance of Christ’s peace—peace of conscience through his death that banishes sin, peace of mind through his resurrection that banishes doubt.… Once we are glad that we have seen the Lord, and once we have clearly recognized him as our crucified and risen Savior, then nothing and no one will be able to silence us.”
Into the World
The gift of peace is not the characteristic emphasis of this verse, however. Instead, as we have already indicated, the emphasis is on the connection between our commissioning and the commissioning of the Lord Jesus Christ by his Father. These words are a command to evangelize, but they are more than this; they establish a pattern for us as we evangelize. The key words are “as” and “so”—“As my Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” They mean that our mission in the world is to be patterned on Christ’s. He was the first missionary; our labors are to be conducted like his.
But what does that mean specifically? The first thing it means is that, as Jesus was sent “into the world,” so also are we sent “into the world.” This context is not made explicit in John 20, but it is clearly stated in that verse from Christ’s high priestly prayer which is a close parallel to it. There Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). This is the principle of incarnation, the principle of becoming one with those we would help. Think how significant it is that Jesus came “into the world.” It means that he did not stay in heaven, though he certainly could have. It means that he did not shout words of salvation to us from the safety of heaven’s ramparts. Having determined to come down to us, he did not even then come in the effulgence of his divine glory but rather divested himself of that glory and appeared in humble form. In fact, he did not even appear in a human disguise, which is what the Gnostics taught, but actually became a human being, just like us. He was born; he grew; he suffered; eventually he died.
That is what it means to come “into the world.” Since this is the way Jesus came into the world, this is the way we are to come also. We are to become one with those to whom we are sent. If we do not, we fail in carrying out the spirit even if not the letter of the Lord’s commission.
Most of us are guilty at precisely this point, and the evangelical church in particular is guilty. We have retreated from the world rather than invading the world. We have retreated to the suburbs or whatever our equivalent may be. Schools, churches, magazines, institutions, individuals—many have done this. They have retreated to where it is nice or safe or nonthreatening, and as far as one can tell from their actions, what they are actually saying is that the world can go to hell. Shame on us! We spend millions of dollars to send faithful women and men overseas to tell the Good News there. But we will not go to our cities or neighbors if to do so costs us comfort or prestige.
Here is John Stott’s statement of the problem. “I personally believe that our failure to obey the implications of this command is the greatest weakness of evangelical Christians in the field of evangelism today. We do not identify. We believe so strongly (and rightly) in proclamation, that we tend to proclaim our message from a distance. We sometimes appear like people who shout advice to drowning men from the safety of the seashore. We do not dive in to rescue them. We are afraid of getting wet, and indeed of greater perils than this. But Jesus Christ did not broadcast salvation from the sky. He visited us in great humility.… We cannot give up preaching, for proclamation is of the essence of salvation. Yet true evangelism, evangelism that is modeled on the ministry of Jesus, is not proclamation without identification any more than it is identification without proclamation. Evangelism involves both together.”
Stott continues, “Frankly, this is my own greatest dilemma and problem as a parish minister. I love to preach the Gospel—to those who will listen to it. I find no greater joy in any ministerial activity than in the exposition of God’s Word, whether to believers or to unbelievers, who come to Church (or even to open-air services) to hear it. But how are we to identify with the people of the parish who will not hear? That is the problem. How can we become so one with secular men and women, as Christ became one with us, that we express and demonstrate our love for them, and win a right to share with them the good news of Christ?”
Do not think that I have a simple answer to this. I do not. I am ready to confess that this is also a great problem (and failure) for me as well. But while I do not know the full answer, I do know this: We are not really fulfilling the Great Commission until we live with, befriend, love, and enter into the experiences of those to whom we are sent.
If we are going to go into the world as Christ was in the world, we are going to have to learn how to become friends with unbelievers and then work out the issues of life by their side.
To Save Sinners
The second area in which our mission is to be patterned on the mission of Jesus is its purpose. We are sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world—that is context. But why are we sent into the world?—that is purpose. It is seen in Paul’s solemn affirmation to Timothy: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15). Christ came into the world to save sinners. And so must we, if we would be faithful to his commission.
This can be applied profitably on two levels. First, our purpose must actually be to see others saved and not merely to fulfill our duty as witnesses by unloading a certain presentation of the gospel on them. It is true that we cannot save anyone and that our duty in one sense is simply to be Christ’s witnesses. We are to share the gospel with others whether they believe or not, knowing that ultimately the drawing of the unbeliever to Christ is God’s doing. But this does not mean that we have no interest in whether or not they will believe or that we should not use every means at our disposal to see that they do. Do we talk too much? Perhaps. But it can never be that we overidentify or overwork while waiting for Christ to be formed in others by God.
Jesus said, “No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). But that did not prevent him from doing everything in his power to teach others and persuade them of the truth of the gospel.
The second way in which the verse may be applied is by stressing the word “sinners.” In the first case, we stressed the word “save” (“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”). Now we must say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Those who consider themselves theologians may be raising the objection, “But aren’t all of us sinners?” Of course, that is true. But I remember as well that our Lord once said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). Jesus had been eating in the house of Matthew, the tax collector, and many of Matthew’s low friends had come to eat with him. The Pharisees had rebuked Jesus for associating with such people. They thought that it was beneath his dignity as a distinguished rabbi. Jesus did not buy this line of reasoning. Instead, he taught that it was precisely to such persons that he was sent.
That is what I am talking about. I am saying that if we would go into the world as Christ went into the world, we must go to such people. Someone has defined a banker as a man who lends money to those who can prove they do not need it and refuses to lend money to those who do. That may be an unfair appraisal of the banking industry, but it is accurate where the philosophy of the world is concerned. The world gives to those who can give back—with interest. It expends praise, kindness, and generosity on those who do not need them. But this is not Christ’s way. He went to the bankrupt. If this is his way, it must be ours also.
What would Jesus say if he were here to instruct us? He would say, “When you invite someone to dinner, invite someone who will not be able to invite you back.” He would say, “Feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe him who has nothing; visit the prisoner. None of these are in a position to return the favor.”
There is one more thing that comes from Paul’s statement. It is an explanation of why we do not naturally think as Christ thinks. Notice that when Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” he went on to add “of whom I am chief.” Jesus came to save sinners. Paul likewise went to sinners, and the reason Paul went is that he knew he was one of them. In fact, he was the chief. That suggests why we do not go. We think we are better than others and are concerned to maintain our position. We feel that we would have to stoop to save sinners, and we do not want to do it. Jesus had to stoop. He laid a real glory aside in order to become man and die for our salvation (Phil. 2:5–8). We do not have to stoop. We are beggars among beggars. Our task is that of one beggar telling another where to find bread. When we get that into our heads we will actually go to those who really need us and help them as the Lord did.
Glorified in Them
Not only is our mission to be like that of the Lord in its context and purpose, it is to be like his in its goal as well. What is that goal? Well, in John 17, in the midst of that prayer in which the Lord intercedes for us in regard to the lives we are to live in this world, Jesus said first, “I have brought you glory on earth,” and then a little later added, “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them” (vv. 4, 10). These verses and others teach that the ultimate goal of Jesus’ coming was to glorify the Father, that is, to make his glory known. Then, because our goal is to be patterned on his, they likewise teach that we are to glorify Jesus by our thoughts, words, and actions.
This is our mission: (1) We are to go into the world, as Jesus entered into the world; (2) We are to go so that people might be saved through faith in him; (3) We are to glorify Christ, as he glorified the Father.
Some years ago Peter K. Haile, assistant headmaster of the Stony Brook School on Long Island, told a story that illustrates this point and gives a closing challenge. He had a missionary friend, a woman doctor, who went to India on rather short notice because of a pressing need in a certain hospital. She had not had time to go to language school but instead was put to work in the hospital immediately, where she spoke through an interpreter. After she had been there a while she wrote to the Hailes expressing frustration and discouragement. She had been trying to show love and gentleness to the people, but they did not seem to be responding. She asked them to pray about it. A few weeks later another letter came, this time saying that she had discovered what the problem was. It was the translator. She had been loving, but he was apparently a rude, arrogant fellow who never conveyed her concern for the patients at all. He was a barrier to her message.
We are interpreters of the Lord Jesus Christ in this world. What is the picture of Jesus that others have through our speech and actions? What picture do they have of him in me? Do they see his glory? Or do they see my lack of concern, pride, and impatience? May God make us interpreters for Christ who present him as he truly is.
The Crucified Christ Preaching
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:20)
Preachers have long celebrated the seven sayings of Jesus spoken on the cross, sometimes referring to these as the last words of our Lord. That description is misleading, however, since Jesus had much to say after he rose from the grave. For this reason, some commentators speak of the “real last words of Christ,” the statements recorded by John during Jesus’ postresurrection appearances in chapters 20 and 21. These sayings include Jesus’ benediction of peace (John 20:19–21), John’s version of the Great Commission (20:21), Jesus’ command for Thomas to believe (20:27), Christ’s benediction on those who will believe without having seen him (20:29), his command for the disciples to “feed my sheep” (21:17), and his final exhortation to “follow me” (21:19). These are all vitally important sayings of the Lord, all the more so because of their having been spoken in the period after Christ’s resurrection.
Important as the postresurrection sayings are, Jesus’ own emphasis was expressed not in words but actions: “he showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20; see also 20:27). A similar emphasis on the cross is seen in Luke’s record of Jesus’ ministry to the downcast Emmaus road disciples. Jesus urged them: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26).
By noting Jesus’ emphasis, we are helped to understand the relationship of the resurrection to the crucifixion. It is the resurrected and living Christ who comes with power to bring us to faith. That faith is to be focused on his atoning death, which Jesus presents as the source of every blessing to those who believe. This priority is found throughout the New Testament. Paul summed up the apostles’ ministry, saying, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). How appropriate, then, that in his record of Jesus’ postresurrection ministry, John presents our Lord as the crucified Christ preaching.
Christ in the Midst
Having focused in the previous passage on the events of the resurrection morning, John now advances to the evening of that most pivotal of days. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week” (John 20:19), John tells us about Jesus’ appearance to the gathered disciples and the cross-centered message that Jesus brought.
Speaking of the resurrection Sunday, the disciples unwittingly began a practice that Christians observe today: meeting together on the first day—the resurrection day—of the week. Luke’s parallel account informs us that included in this gathering were “the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,” presumably including the faithful women. Also included were the two Emmaus road disciples, who had returned to Jerusalem after conversing with Jesus on the road. They reported: “ ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:33–35).
We can imagine the amazed wonder and confusion that marked this gathering. John’s eyewitness record specifies that the doors were “locked … for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). So violent were the impressions of the crucifixion that even this gathering to hear reports from those who had seen Jesus alive was marked with fear and dread. Might they be arrested—especially now that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb—and might they suffer a similar fate as their Lord? Still, merely gathering as Jesus’ disciples was an act of faith. John Calvin comments: “This example is worthy of notice; for, though they are less courageous than they ought to have been still they do not give way to their weakness … but they gather courage so as to remain together.” Many Christians today, living under government persecution, continue to meet secretly and in fear. They, like the disciples gathered on the resurrection Sunday, will find that Christ cannot be kept from joining his people in their need.
It is not hard to imagine these disciples casting anxious glances at the locked door, perhaps starting at passing footfalls in the street. A knock at the door announced the Emmaus road disciples, who then gave their remarkable account of conversing with Jesus and hearing his scriptural explanation for the cross and resurrection. Luke says that it was while this report was being made that the most amazing visitor of all arrived. John writes: “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’ ” (John 20:19).
The clear impression given by John’s account is that Jesus appeared to the disciples without entering the door. This would be impossible for a normal human body, but Jesus now possessed a gloriously resurrected body. This same body, having earlier passed through the graveclothes in the tomb, appeared among the disciples seemingly out of thin air. F. B. Meyer summarizes the facts: “He was not subject to all the laws that govern our physical life. He could pass freely through unopened doors, and at will He could manifest Himself, speak, stand, and walk, or subject Himself to physical sense.”
Luke’s Gospel specifies that Jesus’ resurrected form was a true, though marvelously transformed, physical body. He notes that the disciples “were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit” (Luke 24:37), so Jesus showed them his hands and feet to prove that this was the same body that had been crucified. “Touch me, and see,” he said. “For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (24:39). Jesus even ate a piece of broiled fish to prove that his body was real. This being the case, any theory of Christ’s resurrection body that considers it to have lost a finite, human form is disproved. The Gospels’ evidence rules out, for instance, the Roman Catholic idea that Jesus’ body took on such divine attributes as infinity, which is necessary to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, whereby millions of people may eat Jesus’ literal flesh in the ritual of the Mass.
Furthermore, there is an organic connection between Christ’s postresurrection body and the bodies that we will possess after Christ returns. In his first letter, John says that in our resurrection, “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Paul states that our raised bodies, having borne the curse of sin in Adam, will in Christ bear resurrection glory: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). Believers do not receive new bodies in the resurrection, but rather our old, corrupt, and mortal bodies are gloriously renewed, Paul describing them with words such as “imperishable … glory … power … a spiritual body … [and] immortal” (1 Cor. 15:42–45, 53).
Jesus appeared not only to prove that he was raised and living, but also to deliver a message: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). The traditional Hebrew greeting, shalom, offered the blessing of God’s rich peace. Coming from Jesus’ lips on this occasion, the blessing of peace brought relief to the disciples. Since their last gathering, perhaps in this same room, the disciples had failed Jesus miserably. Peter had denied him, and the others had forsaken him. Would Jesus now reject them or subject them to bitter reproach? A. W. Pink writes: “Well might He have said, ‘Shame upon you!’ But, instead He says, ‘Peace be unto you.’ He would remove from their hearts all fear which His sudden and unannounced appearance might have occasioned.… Having put away their sins He could now remove their fears.”
Having appeared and spoken his benediction of peace, Jesus “showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20). Showing his wounds proved that this glorious visitor was the very Lord they had known and seen crucified. George Beasley-Murray comments that “the Crucified is the risen Lord, in the fullest sense of the term, and the risen Lord is the Crucified, the flesh and blood Redeemer, whose real death and real resurrection accomplished salvation.”
The Source of Peace
It is noteworthy that Jesus’ resurrection did not remove the marks of crucifixion from his body. Jesus considered these wounds to be a vital part of his resurrection glory and essential for his saving ministry for his people. George Hutcheson comments: “Christ, even in his exaltation, looks upon his sufferings for his people as his crown and glory; therefore did he rise again with his pierced hands and side … and retained these prints … in his state of exaltation.” Having presented these wounds to his followers, Jesus pointed out three glorious realities that flow to his people through his atoning death.
First, Jesus announced the blessing of peace for those who believe in him. “Peace be with you,” he said in greeting the disciples. Jesus then “showed them his hands and his side” and repeated his words of blessing, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19–21). Before departing for the cross, Jesus had promised, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (14:27). Now Jesus shows what he has done to provide that peace. Jesus’ “Peace be with you” on Easter evening is the counterpart to his words, “It is finished,” spoken on the cross.
Through his sacrificial death in our place, Jesus provides peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins. The marks on Christ’s body proclaimed that God’s just wrath against our sins has been satisfied by Jesus’ death. In biblical terms, Jesus offered a propitiation on our behalf: that is, the cross exhausted the fury of God’s holy anger toward our sins, receiving the full punishment that we deserved by our violations of God’s law. Paul expressed these truths in the pivotal statement of his letter to the Romans: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23–25).
The book of Revelation, in which John opened a window for us to see the worship of heaven, presents Christ’s saving death as the defining act by which God’s saving reign of peace is forever established. John describes the hushed awe of mighty angels as Jesus appears in glory as “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). Falling on their faces, the heavenly congregation sings rapturously before the Lamb of God: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9). Heaven had wept at the breaking of God’s peace through sin, but now heaven rejoices because there is peace with God for sinners through the atoning blood of his holy Son. Here on earth we have equal reasons to rejoice in the wounds that Jesus displayed to his disciples. Paul explained that since we are justified through faith in God’s Son, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
In addition to affording us peace with God, Jesus’ death offers believers the peace of God to dwell in our hearts. This is what Jesus had in mind when he promised his disciples, “My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). This is God’s own peace dwelling in our souls. Paul wrote of this blessing as belonging to believers who turn to God in prayer: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Jesus’ peace is not like that of the world—“Not as the world gives do I give to you,” he said (John 14:27). To the world, peace is merely the temporary cessation of hostility. A fragile truce is the only kind of peace known to the nations of our world, and often even our closest personal relationships are corrupted by sin. In contrast, Jesus offers a divine peace that comes from knowing that our acceptance in God’s love has been secured by Jesus’ sacrifice and that God’s blessing of spiritual provision has been secured through our union with Christ in faith.
Do you know the peace that flows from Christ’s wounds on the cross? If you have not looked to Jesus in faith, trusting his blood to cleanse your sins, then you have no legitimate hope for peace with God and no access to the peace that God gives through the ministry of his Word and in prayer. “Peace be with you,” Jesus declared to his disciples, showing forth the wounds of his cross. Having died for sin, Jesus offers everyone his peace through faith in his atoning blood.
The Source of Joy
Verse 20 speaks of a second blessing that flows from Jesus’ wounds and results from the peace that he gives: the blessing of joy. John recounts: “He showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” The disciples rejoiced both in the proof that Jesus was alive through his resurrection and in the display of the wounds that had redeemed them from their sins.
It is important for Christians to live with godly joy. We are to embrace all of God’s saving gifts and give God glory through our rejoicing in his grace. Paul wrote that we can even “rejoice in our sufferings,” since we know that in Christ our suffering leads to endurance, “and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” all “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3–5).
It is Christ’s intention that those who know their sins forgiven by his cross should live with great joy in the Lord. The situation for most Christians today, however, is illustrated by a king who commanded his subjects to come to his palace and bring their best bags. His subjects were confused and alarmed, wondering why the king wanted their bags. Many of them, resenting the command, brought their smallest bags or even bags filled with large holes. When they arrived at the palace, however, the king did not take their bags from them but invited them to enter his treasury and fill their bags with gold to take home. Those who had brought their largest bags to offer the king went home with an abundance of treasure, while those who came resentfully went home with little from the king. This is how it works for Christians coming to God and his gift of peace and joy. Those who withhold themselves from God gain little of his treasures, while those who open wide their lives for the praise and service of God end up greatly enriched with an abundance of rejoicing.
John’s brief statement shows how we can find the joy that Jesus offers. Jesus had offered peace and showed his followers the wounds of his cross. “Then,” John says, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). The Puritan Thomas Goodwin writes that “when a believer, though but by faith, seeth the Lord Jesus Christ … it begets a joy which is unspeakable.… All the joys in this world are mean things, things that men shall be ashamed of, but this … is a magnific joy … full of glory.” It was the sight, by faith, of Christ and his peace-winning wounds that sent Charles Wesley’s heart soaring in song:
Arise, my soul, arise, shake off your guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my Surety stands, before the throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on his hands.
The Source of Mission
The third consequence of Christ’s atoning death is the commissioning of his disciples to the missionary work of his gospel. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you’ ” (John 20:21). We should see this as a natural progression of Christ’s saving work in a sinner’s life. His atonement grants peace, and that peace fills a Christian with supernatural joy. It is out of that joy that we go to the world, bearing the news of Christ’s peace to everyone that we can.
The question is sometimes raised: what gives Christians the right to go about proclaiming their Savior’s message and calling others to reject their former beliefs so as to trust in Jesus? The answer is that Christ has commissioned his followers to proclaim his gospel to the world, calling all to faith in him. As he was sent by the Father, now believers are sent by Jesus to proclaim his gospel to the world. Leon Morris writes: “The church … is a group of people who have been saved by Christ’s saving death and resurrection and who, on the basis of that death and resurrection have been commissioned to bring the message of salvation to sinners everywhere.”
Some think that since John says that believers are sent by Jesus “as the Father has sent me” (John 20:21), then Christians are to model our ministry on the kinds of miracles that Jesus performed, or at least on social activism that is designed to implement his ethics. It is true, of course, that good deeds and works of mercy should commend our witness, yet the Gospels place their emphasis on our proclaiming the message of Jesus and his salvation. Luke’s version of the commission that Jesus gave elaborates on what he did and what we now are to do: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46–47). Atoning death and life-giving resurrection are Christ’s chief works. Our chief work is to proclaim the forgiveness and renewal that Christ offers to all who believe.
There is, however, an important consideration for us in the word sent. Jesus was sent into the world, and now he has sent believers into the world. We therefore dare not stand aloof from the world or be unconcerned for its troubles. Christians are to be involved in the world as life-preserving salt, and we are to shine in the midst of the world with the saving light of Jesus’ gospel (see Matt. 5:13–16). By his incarnation, Jesus identified with the world into which he came, without entering into its sin. Then, by his atonement, Jesus proclaimed his gospel of salvation. We are likewise to identify with the world and be involved in its life, without participating in sin. Having loved the lost, we are then to proclaim Jesus as the only true hope of peace and joy, offering a dying world life in his name.
How does God make missionaries out of the kind of self-centered and spiritually hesitant people who come to salvation through faith? The answer is found in our passage. As peace and joy result from Christ’s atoning death, so also does grateful rejoicing in the cross motivate Christians and make us effective as gospel witnesses.
An illustration of how God makes true witnesses is seen in the book of Jonah. Jonah’s book begins with God’s commissioning of the prophet in a way similar to Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples. “Arise,” God said, “go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it” (Jonah 1:2). Nineveh was the most wicked city of that age, and Jonah so resented God’s command to preach there that he rebelled and fled. God pursued Jonah and struck the ship on which he was fleeing with a great storm. The prophet ended up being thrown overboard into the sea to drown. God, who was orchestrating all this, arranged for Jonah to be swallowed by a great fish so that he would not die. There in the darkness of that hellish watery sepulcher, Jonah realized his sin and turned to the Lord in faith. “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” he cried in praise (Jonah 2:9). God then had the great fish spit Jonah out onto dry land, so that his experience served as an example of saving death and resurrection.
Having experienced God’s grace for himself, Jonah was now willing to obey God. God gave him the same instructions as before, but with one small and vitally important modification. Whereas the Lord had previously commanded Jonah to go to the great and wicked city of Nineveh and call out “against” it, now God called him to the same place, yet this time to preach “to” it. Jonah shows that anyone can preach against sin, but only those who have rejoiced over the wounds of Christ’s death can preach to sinners in the power of God’s grace. We will likewise proclaim Christ’s salvation to our world, as he proclaimed it to us, if our hearts are gripped with wonder for the marvel of God’s grace and if we are made glad by seeing the Lord and the marks that show how he died for our sins.
This informs us, finally, of the message that Christians are to bear to the world on Christ’s behalf. John’s record presents the crucified Christ preaching, and the apostle Paul declares in response: “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). This means that in the same manner that Jesus presented himself to the fearful disciples, we bear to the world a message of divine peace and joy through atoning mercy. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said to his disciples, holding forth his hands and pointing to the wound in his side. To an unbelieving world, we lovingly offer a peace that it has never known: peace with God through the forgiveness of sins achieved by Christ’s death and the peace of God as Christ’s Spirit lives within the hearts of all who believe, who thus were made glad “when they saw the Lord.”
Christ’s Appearance to Ten of the Disciples
So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 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, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (20:19–23)
The scene now shifts to the evening on that very resurrection Sunday (for a discussion of the significance of the first day of the week, see the exposition of 20:1 in the previous chapter of this volume). The disciples (minus Thomas) had gathered together in an unspecified location (possibly the upper room in Jerusalem, scene of the Last Supper) and the doors were shut (the Gk. verb can also mean “locked”). The disciples were in hiding for fear of the Jews, expecting any minute that the temple police would arrive to end this whole movement by arresting them. The authorities had executed their Master, and not unreasonably they feared they would be next.
Suddenly, something happened that was far more startling than the arrival of the temple police: Jesus came and stood in their midst. The locked doors were no deterrent to Him; His glorified resurrection body simply passed through the walls. The words He spoke to them, “Peace be with you” (cf. 14:27), were intended to calm and reassure the terrified disciples, who thought they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:37; cf. Matt. 14:26). They also complemented His words on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), since it was His work on the cross that brought about peace between God and His people (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:14–18). To reassure them that it was really Him, Jesus showed them both His hands and His side. Luke records that He said to them, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). Recognizing Him at last, the disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord—but not before He offered a conclusive proof that He was not a spirit by eating a piece of broiled fish (Luke 24:41–43).
With the disciples at last convinced that He had risen from the dead, the Lord proceeded to give them instructions and promise them empowerment. In a preview of the Great Commission He would give them later in Galilee (Matt. 28:19–20), Jesus charged the disciples, “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (cf. 17:18). Having formally commissioned the disciples, Christ ceremonially empowered them as a pledge of the power they were actually to receive on Pentecost forty days later (Acts 2:1–4). Signifying that coming reality, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This was a purely symbolic and prophetic act, reminiscent of the vivid object lessons frequently employed by Old Testament prophets to illustrate their messages (cf. Jer. 13:1–9; 19:1–11; Ezek. 4:1–4). In other words, Christ did not through this puff of breath actually and literally impart the Spirit in His fullness to them; rather, He declared in a visible figure what would happen to them at Pentecost.
Ten of the original Twelve were present. Judas was already dead by his own treacherous hand (Matt. 27:5). Thomas was the only other member of the original Twelve not present here. These disciples, of course, were already regenerate men (John 15:3). So the fact that they still were waiting to receive the Holy Spirit indicates that the Spirit’s relationship to individual believers in the new covenant era is profoundly different from His Old Testament ministry. Under the new covenant, every believer is permanently indwelt (1 Cor. 6:19), empowered (Acts 1:8), and gifted (1 Cor. 12:4–11) by the Holy Spirit. Under the old covenant, the Holy Spirit’s ministry to individual saints was not so universally personal and prominent. Jesus’ actions here indicated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was about to occur, completing the transition between the two covenants.
The Gospels are clear that heretofore “the Spirit was not yet given” (cf. John 7:39)—meaning that the new era had not yet been inaugurated. It is likewise clear that the Holy Spirit’s new covenant work did not actually commence until Pentecost. All of Scripture affirms the chronology. Jesus Himself expressly said the Spirit would not be given until after His ascension (John 16:17). But “when He ascended on high … He gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8; cf. Ps. 68:18). The Spirit was “poured out upon us from on high” (Isa. 32:15). In fact, on the very day of His ascension, Jesus told the apostles to wait for the Spirit to come upon them (Acts 1:8). When they finally did receive the Holy Spirit, the result was an immediate, public, and dramatic outpouring of miraculous power (Acts 2:33).
When Jesus breathed on them at this point, however, it was a powerful illustration, rich with meaning—because the Holy Spirit is pictured in Ezekiel 37:9–14 as God’s breath. So the gesture was an emphatic affirmation of Christ’s deity, making His own breath emblematic of the breath of God. It was also reminiscent of the way God first “breathed into [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7)—thus picturing the impartation of new life through regeneration (the second birth), which under the new covenant is always accompanied by the impartation of the Spirit (Ezek. 36:26–27). The simple act of breathing on the disciples was thus a meaningful emblem on multiple levels. Since then, every Christian has received the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (Rom. 8:9).
As part of their witness to Him, the disciples would have His authority delegated to them. “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them,” Jesus told them, but “if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” This verse has been misinterpreted by Roman Catholics to mean that the Roman Catholic Church has had the apostles’ authority to forgive sins passed down to it. But Scripture teaches that God alone can forgive sins (Mark 2:7; cf. Dan. 9:9). Nor does the New Testament record any instances of the apostles (or anyone else) absolving people of their sins. Further, this promise was not made to the apostles alone, since others were also present (Luke 24:33). What Christ was actually saying is that any Christian can declare that those who genuinely repent and believe the gospel will have their sins forgiven by God. On the other hand, they can warn that those who reject Jesus Christ will die in their sins (8:24; Heb. 10:26–27).
This was not new information to the disciples, since the Lord had spoken very similar words long before in Caesarea Philippi: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).
Here Jesus spoke of the delegated authority of believers. He told Peter, the Twelve, and by extension all believers, that they had the authority to declare who is bound in sin and who is loosed from sin. He said believers have the “keys of the kingdom,” the realm of salvation, because they have the gospel truth that saves (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18–25). Christians can declare that a sinner is forgiven or unforgiven based on how that sinner responds to the gospel of salvation.
The church’s authority to tell someone that he is forgiven or that he is still in sin comes directly from the Word of God. In Matthew 18:15–20, the Lord taught His disciples (and by extension all believers) that if a professing believer refuses to turn from his or her sin, even after being privately confronted (vv. 15–16) and publicly rebuked (v. 17), then the church is commanded to treat that individual as an unbeliever. Those within the church have both the authority and the obligation to call the sinning brother back to repentance (vv. 18–20), and to let him know that because of his blatant disregard for the Word of God, he has subsequently forfeited fellowship with the people of God. The reality is that he may not be a child of God at all (John 8:42; 14:15; 2 Cor. 13:5; 1 John 2:3–6).
Believers have the authority to do this because God has given them His Word as the supreme standard by which to judge. Their authority does not come from anything within them; it is not founded on their own personal righteousness, spiritual giftedness, or ecclesiastical position. Instead it comes from the authoritative Word of God.
That which the Scriptures affirm, Christians can dogmatically and unhesitatingly affirm; that which the Scriptures denounce, Christians can authoritatively and unapologetically denounce. Believers do not decide what is right or wrong, but they are to declare with boldness that which God has clearly revealed in His Word. Because the Scriptures present sin as an affront to God, His people must be faithful to confront it. Insofar as their judgment corresponds to the Scriptures, they can be certain that it harmonizes with God’s judgment in heaven.
When people reject the saving message of the gospel, denying the person and work of Jesus Christ, the church has divine authority, based on the revealed Word of God, to tell them that they will perish in hell unless they repent (Luke 13:1–5; cf. John 3:18; 1 Cor. 16:22). Conversely, when people profess faith in Christ as their Savior and Lord, the church can affirm that profession, if it is genuine, with equal confidence—based on passages like Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The church’s authority comes from the Scriptures. Because Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23), the Word of Christ (Col. 3:16) is the supreme authority within the church. When believers act and speak in accord with His Word, they can do so knowing that He stands in agreement with them.
21. Jesus saith to them again, Peace be to you. This second salutation appears to me to have no other object than that the Lord should receive such a degree of attention as was due to the greatness and importance of the subjects on which he was about to speak.
As the Father hath sent me. By these words, Christ, as it were, instals them in the office to which he had previously appointed them. True, they had been already sent throughout Judea, but only as heralds, to issue a command that the supreme Teacher should be heard, and not as Apostles, to execute a perpetual office of teaching. But now the Lord ordains them to be his ambassadors, to establish his kingdom in the world. Let it therefore be held by us as an ascertained truth, that the Apostles were now, for the first time, appointed to be ordinary ministers of the Gospel.
His words amount to a declaration, that hitherto he has discharged the office of a Teacher, and that, having finished his course, he now confers on them the same office; for he means that the Father appointed him to be a Teacher on this condition, that he should be employed, for a time, in pointing out the way to others, and should, afterwards, put those persons in his room to supply his absence. For this reason Paul says that he gave some, apostles; some, evangelists; some, pastors, to govern the Church till the end of the world, (Eph. 4:11.) Christ therefore testifies, first, that, though he held a temporary office of teaching, still the preaching of the Gospel is not for a short time, but will be perpetual. Again, that his doctrine may not have less authority in the mouth of the Apostles, he bids them succeed to that office which he has received from his Father, places them in his room, and bestows on them the same authority; and it was proper that their ministry should be ratified in this manner, for they were unknown persons and of mean condition. Moreover, though they had the highest splendour and dignity, yet we know that all that belongs to men does not approach to the excellence of faith.
It is not without reason, therefore, that Christ communicates to his Apostles the authority which he received from the Father, that thus he may declare that the preaching of the Gospel was committed to him, not by human authority, but by the command of God. But he does not substitute them in his room, in such a manner as to resign to them the highest authority as a teacher, which the Father intended to be vested in him alone. He therefore continues, and will eternally continue to be, the only Teacher of the Church; but there is only this difference, that he spoke with his mouth so long as he dwelt on earth, but now speaks by the Apostles. The succession or substitution, therefore, is of such a nature that it takes nothing from Christ, but his authority remains full and entire, and his honour unimpaired; for that decree by which we are enjoined to hear him, and not others, cannot be set aside: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him, (Matth. 17:5.) In short, Christ intended here to adorn the doctrine of the Gospel and not men.
It ought likewise to be observed, that the only subject which is handled in this passage is the preaching of the Gospel; for Christ does not send his Apostles to atone for sins, and to procure justification, as he was sent by the Father. Accordingly, he makes no allusion in this passage to anything which is peculiar to himself, but only appoints ministers and pastors to govern the Church; and on this condition, that he alone keeps possession of the whole power, while they claim nothing for themselves but the ministry.
21 The disciples are “overjoyed” when they grasp that the one standing before them is, in reality, the Lord. Morris, 845 n. 49, notes that the aorist (echarēsan, GK 5897) may point to the sudden joy that came over them when they realized it was Jesus. Jesus repeats his greeting (cf. v. 19) and adds, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (cf. 17:18). The mission of the church grows out of the mission of Christ. It is a continuation of what God purposed when he sent his Son on the mission of redemption. As he went, so also do we go. His mission determines the mission of the church and provides it with direction and motivation.
21 Now comes Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples. He repeats the greeting, “Peace be with you,” the repetition giving it emphasis. It may not be fanciful to think of this peace thus emphasized as the peace that comes as the result of his death and resurrection (cf. 14:27). After all, he has just shown them his hands and side with their marks of his passion. The thought that the Father has sent the Son is one of the master thoughts of this Gospel; it is repeated over and over. Thus it is not surprising that it comes out once more in this solemn moment. Now, as Jesus has brought to its consummation the task that he came to accomplish, the task that the Father laid upon him, he sends his followers into the world. The charge is given added solemnity from being linked thus to the mission of the Son: their mission proceeds from his. It is only because he has thus accomplished his mission, and indeed precisely because he has accomplished it, that they are sent into the world. The link between his mission and theirs is emphasized. The thought is very similar to that in the prayer of 17:18, though characteristically there are slight changes in the wording.
21 Jesus repeats the greeting of peace: “Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you. Just as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ ” The added words are something he has not said to them explicitly before, yet they come as no surprise to the reader, who has heard him acknowledge to the Father in prayer, “Just as you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world” (17:18). Nor can the disciples themselves be surprised, for their mission was everywhere presupposed in Jesus’ last discourses. For example, “a slave is not greater than his lord, nor is a messenger greater than the person who sent him” (13:16), and “the person who receives whomever I send receives me, and the person who receives me receives the One who sent me” (13:20, both prefaced by “Amen, amen, I say to you”); also “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you might go and bear fruit, and that your fruit might last” (15:16), and the section that follows on how they will be treated in the world (15:18–25). The salutation, “Peace to you,” is all the more necessary in the face of what they will encounter in the course of their mission (see 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you so that in me you might have peace”).
Ver. 21.—Therefore [Jesus] said unto them again, Peace be unto you. With added emphasis, and in obvious reference to his valedictory discourse, he gave to them the essence of his own sublime repose, the blending of an infinite joy with a measureless sorrow; the equilibrium that springs from the spirit mastering the flesh. Not an ecstatic rapture, nor a joy that would make their life on earth insupportable by its contrast with their abiding frame of mind; but peace—“the peace of God, which passeth understanding.” The first “peace” gave to all who were assembled a new revelation; the second “peace,” a summons to service. The Lord added the memorable words, As the Father hath sent me (ἀπέσταλκε, hath sent me on a special commission), I also send you (πέμπω, charge you to go forth and accomplish this commission of mine); see Westcott’s excursus on the New Testament usage of the two verbs, which does much to justify these shades of meaning. Both verbs are used of both the mission of the Son and the mission of believers, but in the two senses, (1) that sometimes the special service on which be or they are sent is emphasized by the use of ἀποστέλλω; and (2) that at other times the simple mission or sending forth is the dominant idea when πέμπω is employed. Thus in ch. 4:38 the Lord says, “I sent (ἀπέστειλα) you to reap that on which ye bestowed no labour;” and ch. 17:18 (see note) the same word is appropriately used twice—for the Lord’s own commission, and also for the commission of the disciples. Then, it seems to point back to an event in their history and the work done already and before Christ’s death for the world. Now the disciples have a new conception of Christ and of his work, and they must go forth to fulfil it. This usage of ἀποστέλλω is more or less conspicuous in ch. 1:6; 3:28; 5:33; 18:24. πέμπω is used often to describe the Father’s mission of the Son, the mission of the Comforter, and the mission of the disciples (ch. 13:20; 14:26; 16:7). Mouton says, “Ἀποστέλλω means ‘commission’ and πέμπω ‘mission.’ With the first word our thoughts turn to the ‘special embassy;’ with the second, to the authority of the ‘ambassador’ and the obedience of the sent” Another peculiarity of this passage is that the Lord uses the perfect tense, ἀπέσταλκε rather than the aorist used elsewhere, suggesting a complete commission on his own side, whose meaning and effects are still in operation. Those who have received this revelation are to become at once witnesses to the fact of his resurrection, agents and organs of his Spirit. Moulton suggests that πέμπω is used in order to enforce the physical separation between the Lord and his disciples; and that we cannot overlook in the similarity of the ideas the difference in the manner of the sending, by the Saviour of the disciples, from the manner in which the Son had been sent by the Father. Christ came forth from the eternal companionship of the Father, in the fact of his incarnation, taking humanity up into his eternal substance. The disciples were sent forth by the risen Lord, who had called them by grace into fellowship with himself, and who equipped them for his service. The difference in these two methods of sending is as conspicuous as the resemblance.
21 Each Gospel ends with a commission of the risen Lord. The forms of these commissions are given by the Evangelists, who convey their content with emphases that accord with their own insights and situations. This manifestly applies to the compressed version of the commission made known by our Evangelist, not least by reason of its echo of 17:18. It is introduced by the repeated greeting, “Peace to you”; the Lord had already bequeathed his peace to his disciples in prospect of his impending death (14:27), and now he communicates it as he sends them to proclaim its accomplishment for all and gift to all. The special contribution made by the Evangelist in this form of the commission is indicated in two words, “As … so.…” “As the Father … so the Son.” The sending of the Son into the world by the Father is a constant theme of this Gospel. It reflects in measure the principle of Jewish authorization “One who is sent is as he who sends him.” In the person of the Son, in his words and deeds, the Father himself is present, his words declared and his actions performed. The time has now come for the disciples to go forth into the world as the representatives of the Lord; thereby the declaration of 13:20 will become operative as men and women receive the Christ in the mission of the disciples and the God and Father who sent him. This concept, however, is deepened in two respects. The mission of the Son has not finished with his “lifting up” to heaven. “As the Father has sent me” implies a sending in the past that continues to hold good in the present. Such is the force of the Greek perfect tense, and Westcott perceived this long ago: “The mission of Christ is here regarded not in the point of its historical fulfilment (sent), but in the permanence of its effects (hath sent). The form of the fulfilment of Christ’s mission was now to be changed, but the mission. Itself was still continued and still effective. The apostles were commissioned to carry on Christ’s work, and not to begin a new one” (2:349–50). That insight has been freshly appreciated by recent scholars. The risen Lord does not hand over his mission to his disciples and leave them to it; “he only gives the disciples a share in it … with the assistance of the Paraclete” (Schnackenburg, 3:324). It is this setting that is presupposed in the striking words of 14:12–14: the disciples go forth to their mission and seek the Lord’s aid therein, and in response to their prayers he will do through them “greater things” than in the days of his flesh, “that the Father may be glorified in the Son”—in the powerful mission that he continues! The second point of added depth is the link established in the juxtaposition of the declaration of mission and the bestowal of the Spirit. The Paraclete-Spirit was promised earlier to the disciples, assuring them that they would thereby be enabled to carry out their task of witness in a hostile world (see especially 15:25–26; 16:8–11). The risen Lord, in associating his disciples with his continuing mission in the world, bestows the Spirit, through whom his own ministry in the flesh was carried out in the power of God.
This interpretation, shared by most exegetes, is severely modified by P. Seidensticker, who understands v 21 in the light of v 23. Admitting that “this sending of Jesus by the Father is all-encompassing,” he adds, “the pericope, however, views it mainly as conveying special authority to forgive sins.” In his conviction the motif of forgiveness is not to be linked with the picture of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels, for love of sinners is not the characteristic of the Fourth Gospel but rather the exaltation of the Revealer; the saying of Jesus (in v 21) is spoken within the fellowship of the disciples and does not extend beyond the area of the Church: “It answers to a pastoral concern of the Johannine churches.” “While Matt 28:16 f., ff. has understood the universal spread of the Church as the decisive content of the sending of Jesus, the Johannine church concentrates on its own spiritual life in the fellowship with Christ and God” (Die Auferstehung Jesu in der Botschaft der Evangelisten, 132). The rooting of the commission of the disciples in the mission of Jesus to the world alone suffices to put this view out of court, for the Son was sent with a revelation and for a redemption to be accomplished for the whole world, as cardinal utterances like 1:29; 3:16; and 12:31–32 show. Moreover, the Spirit who is given with the commission is the Spirit who is to testify with and through the disciples to the world that is not only beyond the Church, but hostile to it, and at times actively opposed to it. Seidensticker has interpreted v 21 in the light of v 23; it would appear methodologically more correct to interpret v 23 in the light of vv 21–22.
21. Then Jesus said to them again, Peace to you. Just as the Father commissioned me, so I am sending you.
To all those present (the ten, the men from Emmaus, and others) Jesus repeats, “Peace to you.” For the meaning see on 20:19. It is not strange that he repeated this word. His sudden appearance had caused instant alarm. Even though that fear had been largely allayed, and rejoicing had taken its place, the gracious words, bestowing peace on those present, could stand repetition.
By adding, “Just as the Father,” etc., Jesus says in substance what he had said before. Hence, see on 17:18 for the explanation. There is, however, one important difference. In the former passage these words were addressed to the Father (“Just as thou didst send me into the world, so have I also sent them into the world”); now they are addressed to the disciples themselves (with a change of verb, which is, however, not very important): “Just as the Father commissioned (one might also translate sent) me, so I am sending you.”
From the fact that there were others in the room besides the ten (Luke 24:33)—the ten had some welcome visitors who were with them (Luke 24:33)—some have concluded that there is nothing official about this sending. But though the words were meant for the entire Church, is it not true that the task of proclaiming the Gospel to the world is, nevertheless, carried out chiefly by means of those who were specially chosen? Through them the entire Church brings God’s message to the world. Needless to say, every believer also has an important duty, namely, the duty of bearing witness joyfully and incessantly.
That Jesus has the ten (and in a sense also the absent apostle, Thomas; hence, the eleven) in mind follows also from the very similar or parallel passage in 17:18, 20. Note: “Just as thou didst send me into the world, so have I also sent them into the world … Neither concerning these only do I make request, but concerning those also who believe in me through their word.” One might paraphrase this: “Just as thou didst send me into the world, so have I also sent these eleven men into the world … Neither concerning these eleven men only do I make request, but concerning those also who believe in me through their word.”
The analogy between the sending of the Son as Mediator and the sending of the apostles has been explained in connection with 17:18. The commissioning authority is the same; the message is the same (nevertheless, there is this difference: Jesus through his atonement makes the message possible; the apostles simply proclaim it!); and the men to whom it is proclaimed are the same. Hence, “just as … so.”
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