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He Breathed On Them? John 20:19-23

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He Breathed On Them?
John 20:19-23
When it was evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because they feared the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
20 Having said this, he showed them his hands and his side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” 22 After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Why Did Jesus Breath On Them?

Why did Jesus breath on them? When is the last time someone just breathed on you? What is that supposed to mean?
This passage echoes God’s creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7 when God “breathed into him the breath of life.” That same phrase is used in Gn 7:22; Jb 33:4; Is 2:22 to describe the act of God giving life to his creatures. Elihu, for example, said, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” The “breathing of life” into creation implies that the creature will fulfill the purposes which their Creator had given to them.
So, when Jesus breathed on his disciples, it seems that it looked back to when God breathe life into Adam. Therefore, what it meant for Adam sheds new light on what it means for the disciples.

What Did It Mean for Adam?

When God breathed the breath of life into Adam, “he became a living being.” So, what came next? The Lord planted the Garden of Eden and placed Adam in the Garden (2:15).
Then “the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” God gave man, the living being, a moral responsibility to stand before God. In verse 18, God said, “it is not good for man to be alone” and planned to create a helper fit for him.” There was to be a social and relational responsibility. God also gave mankind dominion over all the animals which is demonstrated by his naming of the creatures in Genesis 2:19-20.
Now that Adam and Eve were in the Garden, they were able to continue God’s purposes of ‘being fruitful and multiplying.” Adam and Eve struggled with their responsibilities. They submitted to the creature rather than rule them. They did that which forbidden.
Still, we can see that God created Adam and Eve so that they could glorify him in the garden through subduing the creation for God’s glory and reproducing other image bearers who would continue God’s purposes.

So, What did It Mean for the Disciples?

The scene begins on the first day of the week. This is likely the first Sunday after the resurrection. “The disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because they feared the Jews” (Jn. 20:19). They were scared and hiding. They were locked away. It was dark. In the midst of all that fear, “Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (Jn. 20:19). Jesus was there and everything was about to change.
Jesus “showed them his hands and his side” (Jn. 20:20) so that they would have confidence that Jesus really was there and that Jesus really had been raised. If Jesus could defeat death and find his scared people, then nothing could come between them and the promises of God.
The physical evidence wasn’t enough. Jesus continued to empower his disciples. “He breathed on them and said, ‘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” (Jn. 20:22).
Just as Adam was expected to go forward with God’s mission, now the disciples have had the breath of life breathed on them as they are about to go forward with Jesus’s mission. Just before he “breathed on them,” Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” This has been described as John’s “Great Commission Passage.” It fits. Just as Adam was made a living being and commissioned when God breathed into him the breath of life, now the disciples have been breathed on so that they will go forward with God’s mission.
Ezekiel 37 records a similar event. There, God told Ezekiel to prophecy to the breath (wind or Spirit). When Ezekiel prophesied to the “breath,” the Spirit came on the dead bodies (which represented the spiritually dead house of Israel). Verse 9 reads, “Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”
This mission that God has given his disciples is salvation work—it focused on the forgiveness of sins. If the disciples taught someone the Gospel, the student’s sins would be forgiven if they accepted the message. If the disciples did not teach someone the Gospel, the would-be students would remain in their sins because they didn’t hear the Gospel and have the opportunity to obey. This is the greatest responsibility and privilege in the world. The disciples had the opportunity to be a part of someone’s salvation. Of course, they also had the opportunity to be a part of someone’s condemnation if they chose to withhold the Gospel.


God has established a pattern for us in our passage. God breathed life into Adam, God breathed life onto the disciples, and God has given us the work of the Holy Spirit. This work of the Spirit is mediated through the Scriptures which are “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). God have has a mission for us (Eph. 2:10). God has told us about that mission and how to complete that mission (granted to us all things that pertain to life and Godliness) through the Scriptures. God has given the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:2).
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