Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. John 20:23
Although two readers sent in this text, no question accompanied it. I have assumed that the readers would simply like an explanation of the passage.
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One who is acquainted with the gospel narratives will recall, upon reading the above text, that Jesus spoke similar words to His apostles in Caesarea Philippi when Peter made that wonderful confession: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God (See Mt. 16:19). And these same words are repeated in Mt. 18:18.
In the context of these words in John 20, the Lord had appeared to His disciples in the upper room on the evening of the day of His resurrection. Thomas was not there at the time, but the other disciples, with, of course, the exception of Judas, were present.
The preceding vss. are important. Jesus said to His disciples: "Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." After He spoke these momentous words, really giving to the disciples their commission, He breathed on them and said to them: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." Then the words of the text are spoken.
In other words, the disciples could not fulfill their commission without the Holy Spirit Whom Christ now gave them.
We all know the arrogant claim of the Romish Church concerning the passage in Matthew.
Rome claims that Christ gave to Peter and to him alone the power on earth to forgive sins. Peter, the first pope, gave that same power to his successors, the bishops of Rome. So all the bishops of Rome have the power here on earth to forgive sins.
This is an arrogant and preposterous claim. And the claim itself does not even stand up under the statement of this text, for here Christ is speaking to all his disciples, and not to Peter alone.
But we have heard Rome's boastful and blasphemous claims long enough and we will not trouble ourselves with them here.
When Christ, the Head of the church, establishes his church as a church institute in the world, He gives the church her work and calling. That work is: the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, the exercise of Christian discipline, and the care of the poor.
It is interesting to note that, with the exception of the latter, the work which Christ gives the church to do is composed of three tasks which are also the marks of the true church by means of which the church of Christ may be known in the world.
The reference to remission of sins in John 20:23 is a reference to the exercise of discipline.
This exercise of discipline is called in Mt. 16 the use of the keys of the kingdom. This is a striking metaphor which our Lord uses.
The picture is of the church as a city in the world attacked by many enemies. The city is surrounded by high walls with iron gates which can be locked. As with any city, the gates can be the most vulnerable part of the walls; yet they are crucial and no city can be without them.
The gates of the city which is the church are for four purposes, all of which require the gates to be opened and shut. The gates must be shut to keep wicked people out of the city; and they must be shut to keep the people of God in the city, for, sad to say, they sometimes try to get out. The gates must be opened to let into the city those people of God who are born outside, but have to be brought in. And the gates must be opened to put out those who are born inside the city but are really wicked and allied with the enemy.
While the preaching of the Word and the exercise of discipline are both the key power, in this vs. in John, Christian discipline is especially emphasized.
Hence, the power to remit sins is the power to open and close the gates. It is the power of discipline.
The elders in the church are given these keys; the keys, so to speak, hang on a nail in the meeting room of the elders. They turn the keys and open and close the gates when they preach the gospel and exercise Christian discipline.
But we will continue our discussion of this in our next article.
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- Volume: 5
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Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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