Matthew 5:17 Ministries

Forgiveness Comes Through Yeshua

John 20:20–23 (CJB)
“20 Having greeted them, he showed them his hands and his side. The talmidim were overjoyed to see the Lord. 21 “Shalom aleikhem!” Yeshua repeated. “Just as the Father sent me, I myself am also sending you.” 22 Having said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Ruach HaKodesh! 23 If you forgive someone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you hold them, they are held.”

What does this passage really mean?

The Catholic Church and even some protestant churches take this to validate the priest’s or pastor’s confessional and forgiveness of sins. There are many sermons preached just on this particular. Still, it alone is often misinterpreted and misapplied due to a lack of proper context and understanding of the original language. Let us explore the appropriate context and application.

One of the complaints the Jewish leadership lodged against Yeshua is that he was claiming to be G-d by forgiving the sins of others. Mark 2:1-12 shows a person with paralysis, which he demonstrated his authority to heal and forgive sins. He also said that his miraculous work was done through the power of the Holy Spirit and that his disciples would have the same kind of power (John 14:12).

In John 20:22-23, Yeshua first invested the disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit and immediately conveyed the ability to either forgive sins or not. This simply means they were empowered to bring people into the messianic fellowship. Any time we “help lead someone to the L-rd,” we exercise the same power through the Holy Spirit.

This is in no way inferring or establishing confession to a priest and doing whatever penance he determines to receive forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says we can confess our sins directly to the L-rd and are immediately forgiven without prejudice. No third party is necessary to accomplish this.

How do we understand this?

Does Yeshua promise a heavenly underwriting of any and every act of forgiveness? Can the Messiah’s followers run out into the street and address passers-by: “Forgiven… forgiven… UNFORGIVEN… forgiven”?

No. Verse 21 interprets verse 23: the disciples will forgive just as Yeshua has forgiven. How has Yeshua forgiven? Based on his death and resurrection, which is to be received through faith. How should the disciples forgive? Based on Yeshua’s death and resurrection, which is to be obtained through faith. As disciples declare the Messiah and his forgiveness through the power of the Spirit, the world’s response to their message will be its response to Yeshua (which, in turn, is its response to the Father).

Yeshua has already taught them this in John 14. When asked why he will only appear to the disciples, he essentially answers: “I don’t need to appear to the world. I don’t need to go on a resurrection roadshow to the nations. You need to go on the roadshow and take my teaching with you. The world’s response to my teaching will be its response to me. So go in the power of the Spirit and take my words with you…”

John 14:23–26 (CJB)
“23 Yeshua answered him, “If someone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Someone who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words—and the word you are hearing is not my own but that of the Father who sent me.
25 “I have told you these things while I am still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Ruach HaKodesh, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything; that is, he will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Proper Application

As stated, Yeshua had already taught his disciples how it would unfold. So in John 20, when he comes and breathes his Spirit on them, He’s saying: “Now’s the time. Go and testify. And as you go with my message, my forgiveness goes with you.” So does this verse endorse the willy-nilly preaching of abstract forgiveness, divorced from the Forgiver? No. But it does give us great confidence as we share the words of Jesus. We offer divine mercy as we offer the gospel in the Spirit of the Messiah.

This verse should not be used to produce false confessionals or be used to push incorrect requirements. But those confessors of Messiah (which I hope is all of us) ought to know the power and privilege of offering Yeshua. To confessing believers and seeking non-believers, we hold out the Messiah in whom is all forgiveness (Col 1:13). We don’t just speak about forgiveness; we speak forgiveness itself because, by the Spirit, the Forgiver himself is given through the gospel.