All Scripture quotes are from TNIV unless otherwise noted.
I’m preaching on the Sunday after Easter in the traditional services at my church and am trying to get ahead a little. The text, John 20:19-31, is one of my favorites and is here.
Here are some thoughts about what’s going on here literarily:
- 19-23 – Jesus sends disciples with gift of the Spirit
- 24-29 – Thomas’ doubt countered by seeing Jesus
- 30-31 – John’s purpose in recording these signs by Jesus
- Structure: The overarching structure seems to be a parallelism in the two appearance stories seen in the repetition of the following.
- Of Jesus’ appearance twice to the gathered disciples (vv19-23, 24-29)
- Of Jesus’ appearance among the disciples despite a locked door (vv 19, 26)
- Of the phrase, “peace be with you” (vv19, 21, 26)
- Of the a reversal in the disciples’ dispositions:
- In 19-23, the movement is within the group of disciples from fear (of the Jewish leaders) to joy (at seeing the Lord)
- In 24-29, the movement is within the disciple Thomas from doubt (having missed seeing the Lord, an only having heard testimony) to belief (now seeing for himself)
- In both cases, the catalyst for change is first-hand witness of Jesus’ wounded hands and side. The physicality of this experience is noteworthy.
- Of an exhortation with a purpose
- In 19-23, Jesus breaths on the disciples and exhorts them to receive the Holy Spirit, with the purpose of the ministry of forgiveness (explicit)
- In 24-29, having shown Thomas his hands and side, Jesus commands Thomas to “stop doubting and believe,” with the purpose of bolstering belief in those who have not seen first-hand and who must rely on the ministry of testimony/witness (implicit)
- Interpretive key: John seems focused on not being misinterpreted. He makes explanatory comments throughout his gospel and this looks like an example of that. These verses have been taken by many interpreters as John’s purpose statement for writing his gospel. While I’m not ready to disagree with that, it does seem to fit the present passage rather tightly for the reasons following.
- In v30, John refers to “signs in the presence of his disciples.” This could certainly refer to the gospel as a whole. But in the immediate context, it seems to refer specifically to post-Resurrection signs, beginning with those recorded here in 20:19-29.
- In v31, John points to the motivation of producing belief in his readers. These would be folks who, unlike Thomas, have not seen Jesus physically, but are invited to believe just the same. This follows very closely on the heels of v29, which invites the readers to hear very clearly what Jesus says to Thomas: “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
- The themes of Jesus’ performing signs and of belief run throughout the whole of John’s Gospel, but due to the tightness of these verses with the preceding verses, 19-29, it is probably best to read vv30-31 as applying to both the immediate context and the gospel as a whole. The point here is to avoid skipping from the meaning in the immediate context to its meaning in the larger context of the gospel as a whole.