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Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20;    Listen Podcast
Luke 24:35-53; John 20:19-21:25

In this passage, we see the following in Jesus' ministry:

Jesus appears to the apostles (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:35-43; John 20:19-24)

Mark 16
Luke 24
John 20
14 ¶ Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.
36 ¶ Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.”
37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.
38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
40 ¶ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.
41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?”
42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.
43 And He took it and ate in their presence.
19 ¶ Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
21 ¶ So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “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.”
24 ¶ Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

It's still Sunday, resurrection day, and the disciples get a visit from those guys who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-34 (see notes). While they're speaking to the disciples, Jesus himself appears before them. Both John and Luke identify this appearance as having taken place on the evening of the resurrection, but they each cover different aspects of the meeting. Mark himself just dedicates one verse to this appearance in Mark 16:14. He points out that they were rebuked by Jesus because of their lack of belief regarding his resurrection prior to this personal appearance before them. Luke records the skepticism of the disciples and the fact that Jesus used the visuals of his pierced (and healed) hands and feet as evidence that he was, indeed, Jesus himself.

Mark reports in verse 14 that Jesus "rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart" because of their failure to immediately believe that he had been resurrected. We saw in Mark 16:10 (see notes) that the two women were told to instruct the disciples to go meet Jesus in Galilee. They did not go; they remained in the Jerusalem area.

Yeah, but is this really Jesus bodily resurrected, or is it just a Jesus spirit? Luke wants to make certain this question is answered in Luke 24:41-43. Jesus ate with them; spirits don't eat, but the bodily-resurrected Jesus does.

Incidentally, "the twelve" had been the designation used in the Gospel accounts to differentiate between the appointed apostles of Jesus and the other disciples of Jesus, a much larger number. It is interesting that the Gospel accounts only refer to this group as "apostles" eight times (Matthew 10:2; Mark 6:30; Luke 6:13; 9:10; 11:49; 17:5; 22:14; 24:10), and six of those times are by Luke. We see "the twelve" clearly identified as "apostles" in Luke 6:13 (see notes), "And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles:" However, the apostles are most frequently referred to as "the twelve," as is the case here in John 20:24. Likewise, after the departure of Judas, they were known as "the eleven" as seen in Matthew 28:16, Mark 16:14 and Luke 24:9,33. While this body of men were now known as "the eleven," we see in John's account that Thomas was not actually present as a member of "the eleven" in John 20:24. As a matter of fact, it would be another week (John 20:26) before Thomas would actually see Jesus. Therefore, while it is reported by Mark that Jesus appeared on resurrection day to "the eleven," that term is used to describe this particular body of disciples. Thomas missed this meeting of "the eleven."

Two verses in John's passage particularly stand out, John 20:22-23. In these verses, Jesus seems to give something special to his apostles. Bible scholars have debated through the years exactly what it means. I try not to read too much into these verses. First of all, it would appear that Jesus is blessing his disciples with a dose of the Holy Spirit's guidance to hold them over until the Day of Pentecost seven weeks (to the day) away. After the day of Pentecost, it is obvious that the Holy Spirit indwells every Believer at salvation. Click here to see the summary on Acts 2. Secondly, Jesus says this in verse 23, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Keep in mind, these are specific instructions to the apostles. The same Greek word for "remit" there is usually translated "forgive" ("aphiemi" pronounced "af-ee´-ay-mee"). The Greek verb for "retain" there is "krateo." It means to "continue in the same state." Obviously he is charging them with spreading the salvation message here in this passage, having witnessed the resurrected Jesus in person. It is impossible to conclusively read anymore into these words of Jesus than that. By the time the Feast of Pentecost is complete, it will be quite clear to the apostles what is to be their mission.

Why did John write his gospel? (John 20:25-31)

John 20
25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” ¶ So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
26 ¶ And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”
27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 ¶ And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 ¶ Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 ¶ And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book;
31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Since Thomas apparently had left early on the resurrection day when Jesus appeared (John 20:24), after being told about it, he expressed doubt about Jesus' appearance. Mark and Luke clearly indicate that the apostles were present when the two Emmaus witnesses showed up, though we see that Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared on that resurrection day. Having missed the visible proof of Jesus' identity which the other disciples viewed, his pierced and scarred hands and feet, Thomas wants to go one better. He remembers the piercing of the side of Jesus with the spear; he wants to see that wound also.

Well we are. Eight days have passed since the resurrection, and the disciples are gathered again. Jesus appears and affords Thomas the opportunity to confirm Jesus' identity. Jesus then declares in John 20:29, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Understand, salvation is by faith. Jesus blesses those who will come to him by faith, which by the way, is how all of us come to a saving knowledge of Jesus as our savior.

Then John declares his purpose for writing this gospel in John 20:31, "but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."

A big-time lesson for Peter (John 21:1-19)

John 21
1 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself:
2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.
3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” ¶ They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.
4 But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” ¶ They answered Him, “No.”
6 ¶ And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.
7 ¶ Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.
8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.
9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”
11 ¶ Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.
12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord.
13 Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.
14 ¶ This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
15 ¶ So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” ¶ He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” ¶ He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
16 ¶ He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” ¶ He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” ¶ He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
17 ¶ He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” ¶ And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” ¶ Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.
18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”
19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

Jesus appears to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias after an indefinite lapse of time. This is another name for the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. Interestingly enough, Peter decides to go fishing. This is not sport or hobby fishing, but rather big-time fishing for profit with nets, etc. How could the disciples (who went with Peter) fish at a time like this? Obviously they did it for livelihood. There was no church or group to support them otherwise as would be the case later.

Special attention is given to Peter on this day by Jesus. I am reminded of Matthew 16:13-20 (see notes) when Jesus gave special authority to Peter. Jesus seems to build on that authority here. This occasion starts out with their return from the fishing expedition, having only caught the fish made possible by the appearance of Jesus.

When they arrive to shore, Jesus has already prepared a meal for them (fish, of course). Then begins the object lesson. Jesus asks Peter in verse 15, " you love Me more than these?" That is a reference to Peter's declaration before the crucifixion in Mark 14:31 (see notes), "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" Ultimately, all the disciples fled at the crucifixion. However, Peter had verbally set himself apart that day from the other disciples with his adamant declaration, and Jesus is now coming to deal with that declaration and subsequent denial.

Keep in mind, John was present on this occasion. The Greek words used in this passage offer some precision regarding this dialogue between Jesus and Peter. The Greek word Jesus uses for "love" means "sacrifice" in verses 15 and 16 (Greek: "agapao"). Those two questions strike at the essence of Peter's pre-crucifixion declaration. However, in both instances in verses 15 and 16, Peter's response to Jesus' questions is characterized with a different Greek word for "love" which means "natural affection" (Greek: "phileo") rather than "sacrifice." It would appear that Peter completely understands the point - that when he said prior to the crucifixion that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice (die with Jesus) and failed to do so, it would seem empty to make a similar declaration now. Actions speak louder than words. When Jesus asks the question the third time in verse 17, he also is quoted by John as referring to "natural affection" (Greek: "phileo") rather than "sacrifice" ("agapao"). Peter again answers the question declaring his love ("phileo") for Jesus.

My opinion about this verbal exchange is that Peter did not want to be guilty of once again overstating his love for Jesus in the face of his previous denial. I think that's why Peter makes the statement in verse 17, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love [phileo] You." It was Jesus who correctly prophesied what Peter would do prior to the crucifixion, and Peter realizes that Jesus knows exactly what he will do in future circumstances. Jesus commands Peter to "Feed my sheep." It would appear that Jesus is restating the authority he gave to Peter in Matthew 16:13-20 (see notes). Incidentally, Peter's boldness from the Day of Pentecost to the end of his life demonstrates that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of Christ. Jesus prophesies the death of Peter in verses 18-19. This serves as a confirmation to Peter that Jesus believes Peter will serve him to the death this time.

What about the Apostle John? (John 21:20-25)

John 21
20 ¶ Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?”
21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”
22 ¶ Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
23 ¶ Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”
24 ¶ This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.
25 ¶ And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.

These are curious verses. John (the apostle and author) comments on an exchange between Peter and Jesus, and the subsequent misunderstanding that occurred. John refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (verses 20, 24). John is careful to make clear that the subsequent belief among followers of Jesus that John would not suffer death was a misunderstanding of this conversation between Peter and Jesus.

And finally...the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-20; Luke 24:44-53)

Matthew 28
Mark 16
Luke 24
16 ¶ Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them.
17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
18 ¶ And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;
18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
19 ¶ So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.
20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
44 ¶ Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”
45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.
46 ¶ Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,
47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
48 And you are witnesses of these things.
49 Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
50 ¶ And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.
51 Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.
52 And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,
53 and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.

It takes reading all three passages to get a full picture of this commission from Jesus along with Acts 1:8 (see notes), spoken at the same time. Matthew sticks with the essence of the commission - command and authority to preach the gospel to the world. Mark chooses to include some empowerment comments. Luke wants to add perspective to the comments. As a matter of fact, pay particular attention to Luke 24:44, "Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses (per Deuteronomy 18:15-22 see notes), and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." Luke wants to remove any doubt from the minds of his readers regarding the Messianic fulfillment of Jesus. Peter latches onto this in his message of Acts 3 when he refers to Moses' prophecy regarding the Messiah in Acts 3:22-23 (see notes). Moreover, it is Luke who quotes Jesus as giving to the disciples their immediate task at hand of waiting in Jerusalem "until you are endued with power from on high." As it happens, this turns out to take place on the Day of Pentecost with the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 (see notes).

While Mark and Luke give a brief account of Jesus' ascension into Heaven in these verses, Luke records considerably more detail of this day in Acts 1 (see notes). Acts 1 overlaps the events of these verses.

Mark's account here merits some additional explanation. I recognize that it is popular, even among conservative commentators, to explain away Mark 16:15-20 based upon issues of textual criticism. I, myself, am not comfortable with the notion that this portion of scripture can be discounted based upon its omission from two Alexandrian manuscripts while a host of extant manuscripts support the passage's inclusion. I accept this passage as written. Mark's specifications are very similar to those reported back in Luke 10:1-24 (see notes) when the seventy were sent out on their missionary trip. It should not be troubling to us that Jesus included similar instructions here as he was issuing what has become known as the great commission. As a matter of fact, we do see this level of protection against harm on behalf of the eleven Apostles throughout their efforts in the Book of Acts, along with the great authority given to them.

Some have used Mark's statement regarding baptizing in verse 16 to formulate an entire doctrine regarding Believer's baptism, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." They insist, based upon this verse, that one is saved only after water baptism is complete. This ill-founded doctrine is often referred to as "baptismal regeneration." It is unwise to draw a single verse out of the scripture upon which to build a doctrine, especially in light of the fact that baptism is dealt with in so many other passages of scripture. We see in Romans 6:1-14 (see notes) that water baptism is a picture of what has taken place in a person's life at salvation. The actual baptism at salvation is that of being baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ as seen in I Corinthians 12:13 (see notes). Another verse often cited by those who teach the unscriptural doctrine of "baptismal regeneration" is Acts 2:38 (see notes). In reading that passage and Peter's invitation on the Day of Pentecost, it is obvious that immediate baptism that day was the only logistically acceptable means whereby the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of thousands could step out and be counted for Christ.

In reality, salvation is a heart condition. At salvation, one becomes a Believer by being baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ. This transaction is completely supernatural and instantaneous. Any outward physical attempt (like water baptism) to complete this transaction adds a component of works to the salvation process, and that is scripturally unacceptable. Paul states it concisely in Romans 11:5-6 (see notes), " Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work." To insist that something other than supernatural saving faith is required to complete the salvation transaction invalidates the work of the Holy Spirit. It's clear; salvation is completely a spiritual transaction between man and God; no outward act can possibly be necessary to validate it.