'So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to 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, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained"' (John 20:21-23).
"And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42).

note: all emphases are mine. gw.


        The invitation of Jesus Christ given at the conclusion of sermons is based on what is generally referred to as the "Great Commission".    Just before Jesus ascended to Heaven He gave this commission in a series of instructions which is recorded in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, and Acts 1.    Unfortunately, the John 20 account is probably overlooked because of its brevity.     Consequently, our appreciation of the powerful role of the apostles in our salvation and service to God may suffer as a result.

       'So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to 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, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained"' (John 20:21-23).

       Two issues that is to be addressed:

       1. To whom was Jesus speaking in John 20:23?
        2. How important were the apostles to the early church?

        1. To whom was Jesus speaking?

       Was he speaking to the church? This seems to be consensus of the religious world.

        My experience is that this is the way the great commission is preached. It was given to the church, says man.

        How the Roman Catholics Look at the Commission. As a young man I studied with the Knights of Columbus, an educational arm of the Roman Catholic Church. The textbook was their Church approved "Father Smith Instructs Jackson". Hence, I give this as an example. The message of Jesus in John 20 is interpreted as instructions given to the Church. The Church is interpreted as its leaders. The Church can forgive sins or retain them. The "confessional booth" hears confessions of sins; the priest representing the Church, forgives the sins, and metes out punishment for absolution of the sins.

        Historically this interpretation is responsible for the granting of "indulgences" that paid for the cathedral built in Rome during the Middle Ages. These indulgences forgave the sins before they were committed.

        How the Protestants Look at the Commission. This interpretation also has influenced thinking among the Protestants so that the preacher Reverend or Pastor is thought to have the power to forgive sins if he prays for us.

        How Some in the church Looks at the Commission. But some in the church of Christ may also interpret John 20 to grant powers to the church to forgive sins or not to forgive them. In Alabama recently a church decided not to forgive a person for absenting the worship assembly. The Christian went forward and asked the church to forgive him (with the understanding that he had brought reproach on the church); some men in the congregation said that they would not forgive him and refused him fellowship in the congregation. To be fair, there may have been unrepentant factors involved that I didn't know about. Nevertheless, it serves to illustrate the power thought to be possessed by the members of the church.

        Now, look at whom Jesus is really talking. All four of the gospel accounts state "disciples"; indeed, but which disciples? The account in Acts 1:2 clearly states who they were.

        "...until the day in which He (Jesus) was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen," Jesus continues to tell the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit.

       The disciples are identified as "The apostles"! During the Last Supper with the apostles, just before His arrest, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, to guide the apostles into all truth, including Truth that He had not yet taught them (John 16:12,13). And now after His resurrection, He breathes on them; reminds them of their receiving the Holy Spirit, and gives a powerful statement of their subsequent role in man's salvation.

        2. How important were the apostles to the church in the beginning?

       The disciples stayed with the apostles and did not leave Jerusalem. Why?

       The apostles were the only ones with the teachings of Jesus. They were the only ones preaching, baptizing, and performing signs until the seventh chapter of Acts.

        1. The twelve were the only ones preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

        a. They alone were teaching the forgiveness of past sins (e.g., v. 38).

        2. Peter and John (two of the apostles) performed the first sign (Mk. 16:18-20) at the Temple (Acts 3 :7 "And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8 So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them--walking, leaping, and praising God. --11 Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon's, greatly amazed.").

        a. The apostle Peter preached the means of forgiveness of past sins. Acts 3:19 "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord"

        3. Peter and John were the only ones arrested (Acts 4:13). They were the only ones preaching.

        Peter and John went to their "company" (idios, their own; ESV has "friends") prayed for boldness and signs (Acts 4:23-31).

        4. It was only the apostles that continued to preach (boldly) as the result of the prayer. Who gave witness of the resurrection? 4:33 "And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus". Who performed the miracles following the prayer?

       Acts 5:12 "And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch."

        5. Peter made the declaration of the death of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit who was working with power in the apostles. 5:3-5 'But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.'

        6. Students or disciples meanwhile were being filled with the Holy Spirit through the apostles' teaching. Stephen and the seven were chosen based on this (Acts 6:3 "full of the Holy Spirit").

        7. The seven received the hand of the apostles upon them and began now to preach with power and signs 6:6 "whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.".

        8. Stephen was the first martyr because now he was preaching in addition to the apostles (Acts 7).

        9. The disciples were now scattered from Jerusalem and from the apostles' immediate teaching (Acts 8:4 "those scattered went everywhere preaching the word").

        10. Philip went to Samaria and preached with the power of signs 8:5 "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.."

        11. The apostles had to come to Samaria to give converts the same power as Philip from the apostles Acts 8 14-17 "Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit."

        12. Wherever the gospel went, people still understood that the apostles' doctrine was their authority.

        13. Later, when Paul was added to the apostles, he would have to prove his authority as the same as the original twelve (2 Cor.12 11-12"I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds."

        In conclusion, Jesus gave specifically the apostles the power to forgive sins. Now, surely that power was limited to giving Heaven's instructions to hearers. But without the apostles Pentecost's instructions of how to be saved would not have been given. How important were the apostles to the early church? Without the apostles the disciples would not have been filled with the Holy Spirit through the apostles' doctrine. Without the apostles no one would have been able to perform signs to confirm the teaching.

Next: How important are the apostles for us today?

Gaylon West

"Throw Out the Lifeline"