One Mediator

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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
(John 20:22-23)

Did Jesus give the apostles the authority to forgive sins? Is that the right way to interpret the above passage? I don’t believe so, because first of all, God is the only one who can forgive sins (Isaiah 43:25). We also know that there is only one Mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).

What I believe is meant here is similar to what Jesus told His apostles in other passages like Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 regarding what they bind and loose on earth. Their job as apostles was to reveal through divine inspiration (the breath of the Holy Spirit) the terms for forgiveness and to bind the will of Christ upon those to whom they preached. What they bound on earth was not of their own will and choosing, but instead were the things that were already bound in heaven. They simply declared the terms of the contract to men.

In their preaching and teaching you can see that the apostles did not forgive people’s sins, but what they did do is reveal the way to have forgiveness of sins. They taught that people had to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), and to repent and be converted (Acts 3:19-20) in order to receive forgiveness of sins. The apostles “bound” those terms upon others, because that is how those folks would be forgiven. When speaking to those who were already Christians, the apostles taught them to repent, confess to God in prayer and ask Him for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9-2:2). You don’t see the apostles going around doling out forgiveness certificates, rather, what they did was direct people to Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

All of that to say this: There is one mediator between God and us. There is one who forgives and decides who is clean before God. We must keep this in mind. We are not the arbiters of another’s forgiveness. As followers of God we can direct people’s attention to the Way to be forgiven, but to give or withhold forgiveness of their sins before God is not our task. That’s God’s end of the stick. And thankfully, that end of the stick is in good hands!

His Disciples Did Not Understand These Things At First

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.  (John 12:16)

The disciples did not understand these things…at first.

Jesus said and did a lot of things that the disciples just did not understand. There were also prophecies about the Messiah that these Jewish men were unable to connect to the events surrounding the death, burial and resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Many reasons can be found in the 4 gospels as to why they didn’t fully understand.

Part of it was poor teaching, wrong assumptions and false conclusions on the part of the Jewish leadership (Matthew 16:1-3; Luke 12:54-56). Another part was the mindset of the disciples themselves; they were at times setting their hearts on the things of the world (Matthew 16:23). Jesus, on more than one occasion corrected them for their slowness to believe and their hardness of heart (Mark 7:18; 8:17-18; 16:14; Luke 24:25). I’m so thankful in knowing that even with all of their “issues” Jesus was patient with them as they grew.

With time and events, though, and the working of the Holy Spirit, and the plain teaching from the Word, the disciples finally understood.

Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said (John 2:22).

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He (Jesus) expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).

And He (Jesus) opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).

They didn’t understand at first, but in time with God’s patient guidance, they understood. A dear friend of mine, Charles, who serves as a shepherd, showed me a passage years ago in connection to this concept.

Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you (Philippians 3:15).

We all begin our spiritual journey as immature babes and as babes our reasoning is sometimes way off base. Paul says that if we need growth, God will “reveal” that to us. I don’t believe that means God will give us some new truth that is not already revealed in the word, but with His patient guidance as we walk and grow in Him, He helps to open our eyes to see the truth that was always there in the Word in the first place.

You see, Jesus opened the disciples understanding to see what was already in the Scriptures for centuries. It wasn’t new truth, it was just that the light went on in their souls and they got it and believed. These new “revelations” were life-changing. They just had not seen it there and understood it until time and events had taken place to open their eyes.

It is the same for us today. There are things you can’t or don’t understand now that one day you will see. The same old truth has always been there, but maybe you just weren’t ready for it yet (for whatever reason). Thankfully God in His longsuffering and mercy gives us that wiggle room (as my mother-in-law calls it) to grow as Jesus did for His disciples.