Jesus Gives an Explanation


What the gift of the Holy Spirit meant for the disciples Jesus explained immediately for them. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

To have the gift of the Spirit is to experience of God’s power, which is to forgive or withhold the forgiveness of sins. What does this mean? The perfect tense should be rendered “have been forgiven” instead of “are forgiven,” and “have been retained” instead of “are retained.”

This tense signifies action which is past at the time of speaking, yet with abiding results. Any declaration of forgiveness should be done on the basis that God has forgiven. Under the leadership of the Spirit, the church proclaims salvation and the accompanying forgiveness; in that sense, the church performs by gospel proclamation the import of this verse.

Luke records Christ’s teaching given on the same occasion of which John speaks. And it is here that Luke records that after Jesus had opened the disciple’s understanding to know that the Bible had to say about His death for sins, He said to them: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are all witnesses to these things” (Luke 24:46-48). In neither of these texts is anyone authorized to remit sins; rather all are commissioned to preach it on condition of repentance and faith.

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