Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week…
I. THE MEMBERS of the second company. It has been almost invariably assumed from 1 Corinthians 15:5 that they were apostles only. But "the twelve" is only a collective term. Just as the Roman magistrates, called the decemviri, were so called even though there might be vacancies in the body, so this term was applied to the apostles, though Judas was not counted, and Thomas was an absentee. And there is evidence to prove that the apostles did not alone consitute the assembly. Luke speaks of "the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them"; and it is also inevitable from the circumstances. If the brave women had come, expecting a calm retreat and a cordial welcome, would it be said to them from within, "There is danger in the air; we have shut the door for fear of the Jews; besides, no one can join this company but apostles?" If James and Joses, Simon and Judas, the brothers of our Lord, had knocked at the door, would it have been said to them, "No admission for any but apostles?" If Mark or Luke had whispered the password at the gate, would the answer have been, "This is a meeting of apostles only?" Depend upon it, this company was not a row of ecclesiastical dignitaries, each with a nimbus round his head, and the embroidered symbols of his office on his shoulders; it was only a family, met at the time of a great sorrow, and in the common family room. There was no division between clerical and lay; no upper and lower apartments — one for apostles, one for ordinary disciples.
II. THE FAST-CLOSED DOORS. Most likely this was at the house of John, the beloved disciple — that to which he had conveyed Mary. And we may assume that it was built in a style common to dwellings occupied by persons in fair circumstances. There would be a court open to the sky; and in the four sides of this court there would be rooms opening on to it. In this court the company would be assembled; and as its door was fastened by a great wooden key or iron bar, what did they fear? The bursting in of constables to arrest them on the lying charge of stealing a body out of its grave? They knew that such a charge had been lodged against them only that very day Did they fear the mob? It was the way of the Jews thus to storm the house of one who was unpopular (Acts 17:5); and they could now set no limit to the possibilities of their wicked madness. Perhaps they had no distinct plan of defence, and no particular thought of saving their lives; but mainly out of half-instinctive impulse, they barred the court gates.
III. THE GREETING OF THE MASTER. His greeting to the first company had been, "Rejoice!" To the second, "Peace!" As says, "To the women He proclaims joy; because they were plunged in grief. With a suitable interchange, therefore, He gives peace to the men, on account of their strife. The first was a small detachment of the general society, and consisted of women only. The second was the general society itself, including all the men." The women had been true, and were only conscious of grief; the men had not been true, and, besides their grief, were conscious of deep agitation and burning shame. This message was meant for our one, whole family, not for apostles alone. When we are in trouble, none of us hesitate to take the comfort that breathes in the fourteenth and following chapters of this Gospel. While you read Christ's language after His resurrection, and compare it with those discourses, you say what He says now is but the continuation of what He said then. He said, "My peace I leave with you"; and now, having "made peace by the blood of the Cross," He comes in His own person to pay the legacy! When we see any one wearing the badge of the Cross, yet seeming not to know the secret of the peace that cost Christ the cross to obtain, how can this be accounted for, unless these Christians think that the peace is only figurative; or that they must be better Christians before they can presume to take it? We might say to such, "You are indeed no better Christians than the men who once cowered behind the shut gates of a certain courtyard in old Jerusalem. Let each crying, "God be merciful to me a sinner," go and take this peace from the hand of the dear Christ.
IV. THE RESURRECTION BODY OF OUR LORD.
1. It was not an ordinary body, liable to ordinary laws; still, it was a body, perhaps, like that in which the Saviour had walked with Adam in Paradise, wrestled with Jacob, or reclined under the oak at Mamre. No stone wall could shut it in: no iron bar could keep it out; no law of gravitation could detain it; but it was a body.
2. It was flesh — "All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, &c... for one star differeth from another star in glory." This glory was the glory of the celestial; visible to mortals only by the light of miracle, and by an act of Divine prerogative. As Moses, with face of celestial flame, "put a veil over his face," that the children of Israel might converse with him, so did the King of Moses veil His glories so that the disciples might speak to Him and live. To show them that it was a true body, He even condescended to take food (Luke 24:43).
3. The very body that had been crucified. "He showed them His hands and His feet." Thus did He establish that fact of His resurrection on which the entire supernaturalism of our religion is decided, and on which all the work of the Atonement depends; while doing this He most emphatically and pathetically called their attention to the Atonement itself.
V. THE COMMISSION GIVEN TO THE DISCIPLES (vers. 21-23).
1. The symbol. Both in Hebrew and Greek the word for breath is the word for spirit. The act of breathing here was an "outward and visible sign" of the Holy Spirit, now to be given for the first time; not indeed as a Divine energy in the human heart, but as an energy working through the finished facts of the Gospel, and as the gift of Christ crucified: not to be given for the first time either, in the sense of being given then and there; but to be given for the first time in the dispensation which Christ was about formally to inaugurate. For the Son of God to promise a boon is potentially the same thing as for Him to give it. When we hear Him say that He will do a thing, our souls exclaim, "It is done!"
2. The formula: "Whosoever sins ye remit," &c. What is the import of this?
(1) Not the same as that of the great utterance first addressed to Peter, afterwards to the whole body of His colleagues (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18). We are summoned to think, not of the power that can forbid or permit matters that have to do with the government of the Church, but of the question, When may sin be remitted? when retained?
(2) Dr. John Owen says, "Christ here speaks of remitting or retaining sins by declaring the doctrine of the gospel;" and this appears to be the true sense of this mysterious clause. God, by the voice of Christ, had already told the world whose sins He would remit, and whose retain. He who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is saved — that is, his sins are remitted; he who refuses to believe is condemned already — that is, his sins are retained. This arrangement of remedial grace is fixed and irrevocable, and no sentence pronounced by man, whatever his office in the Church may be, can in the slightest degree alter it, nullify it, or add to it.
(3) This declarative mission is the mission of all disciples. It was given to all Christians as such — to ministers and people alike, while as yet they were undistinguished. Surely as Christ was sent by the Father to do what He still continues to do for you, so surely are you sent by Him to do this. Have we received the Holy Ghost? It is only as sharers in the life of our risen Lord that we are sent on His embassies. We must all take in, then give out, that life; tell only what we personally and vitally know; and speak, each according to the measure of His gift. The first thing wanted in the Church is more life; after that, and as the result of it, more work. There may be work without life.
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
WEB: When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be to you."