Ps. 148 (v. 13); Acts 5:12-32; Revelation 1:4-18; John 20:19-31
Written, These [signs] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (v. 31).
This is John’s Gospel “purpose statement”. He was aware of crafting Holy Writ. The Lord commissioned John at the beginning of his Apocalypse, “send … to the seven churches ...” (Rev. 1:11), and “write what you see, what is said and what is to take place hereafter” (v. 19).
The charge to John suggests interesting speculation, that his Apocalypse may have predated his Gospel account; that as it may, John is cognizant of only two bodies of Scripture; the OT canon, and his own NT writings.
The gist of John’s “purpose” is that Jesus is the full revelation of God’s word and will for his church, the same God revealed in the OT. John’s target audience was not just the NT congregations; but the synagogues dominated by the Jerusalem rulers.
Jerusalem’s ruling Jews had murdered God’s enfleshed Torah and source of Life. On the cross Jesus declared the mission for which he was sent, “finished” (Jn. 19:30). In the resurrection, God’s NT reign is through Jesus’ ongoing presence with his church. In today’s Gospel we encounter Jesus’ Easter presence and persistence.
Fresh from the grave, Jesus delivered proof of Life to Mary Magdalene, at which she grasped the Lord. He admonished her not to behold him in the old way; that first he must ascend to the Father for their benefit (20:17).
That Sunday after ascending, Jesus entered among his gathered church. The disciples were stunned, the Lord is alive! At first his resurrection presence was incomprehensible, until Jesus displayed his death wounds, eternally part and parcel of his risen flesh. Then Jesus baptized the gathered with the moisture of his Breath, even the HS (v. 22).
God’s OT purposes for Israel having been accomplished by Jesus’ victory over death and grave, how are we to understand the OT; according to the rabbis (9:40, 41), or a God-forsaken temple cultus destined for destruction? Hardly!
God’s new household, founded on Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection and apostolic teaching, the church possesses en-Spirited teachers informed by the Light of Christ of Moses, the Writings, and the Prophets. We comprehend all Scripture testifies to Jesus, “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) who is “Lord and God” (Jn. 20:28).
How then to understand St. John, and the NT canon of Scripture? Is having life in Jesus’ name (v. 31) a simple matter of employing a terminating prayer shibboleth, “in the name of Jesus”; or does belief in that Name signify knowledge of the Man present with his worshipping congregation? Surely, the latter, and if so; how is he made known to the people?
Jesus’ identity is all significant, especially in our post-Reformation era; we look about and see “fifty shades of Jesus” that decimate doctrinal unity. St. Paul would have us discern, “in which Jesus, by what Spirit, and gospel” is belief proffered among us (2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6); but woe, how in the miasma of “fifty shades of error”, can we know the only Jesus in whom alone there is eternal Life?
Thus, in context we return to John’s purpose statement. Thomas had been absent from the body on Easter Day heard reportage from his brothers of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, the same Jesus, who three days before instituted his Holy Supper for faith in his body and blood, been crucified, died, and buried to molder in the grave.
Thomas rejected the report, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (Jn. 20:25b). Certainly, the distinctive between belief and unbelief speaks to Spirit imparted faith; we shall see!
What accounts for the Ten believing Apostles over Thomas’ singular unbelief? Was it simply that Thomas was deprived of a visual epiphany? Perhaps, after all the male disciples on first hearing the women’s witness, dismissed the Resurrection, an “idle tale”. Still, the contrast here of belief and unbelief is more profound.
The purpose John’s Gospel is to create and sustain faith in Jesus. Faith is not an abstraction, it “sees” God’s work through the designated things of creation: preeminently the incarnated Word and transformed tactile Water, Bread, and Wine.
The point of signs is that no one comes to “belief” in the new creation absent the Father’s baptismal begetting (Jn. 6:44; cf. 12:21). Yes, God predestines, nevertheless, he desires that all not turn away, but receive his mercy through the merits of Christ’s unlimited atonement (Jn. 1:29, 36).
Where St. Luke writes of the Father’s promise of the HS to the church on Pentecost; St. John, has Jesus bestow the Spirit on his Apostles on the day of Resurrection.
Eight days later, Thomas continued his rejection of brotherly witness having received their new begetting (3:5 ff.) from Word and Breath. Like Nicodemus, Thomas remained in darkness; apart from the HS there is no new begetting for faith’s participation in God’s gracious atonement for sin.
Thomas’ emphatic denial of Jesus’ bodily resurrection was signaling his spiritual death! Thomas may have believed “another [i.e., a spiritualized or apparitional] Jesus”; but by denying Jesus’ prophesied resurrected human flesh, Thomas deprecated the value God attaches to Jesus’ self-gift for his church.
Jesus, incarnate Son of God, is God’s revelation of his merciful character and love for the Life of the church and his saints. Jesus possesses the same Name as his Father and the Spirit, self-identifying, “I AM the First and the Last, and the Living One” (Rev. 1:17, 18a) by which Name he relates with church as Spouse and Life giver.
According to John’s Gospel prologue, Jesus may be understood to possess another divine Name (perhaps with the Father), “The Full Gift of the Truth”, who bestows the HS (Concordia Commentary, John, p. 113, text note #14).
Jesus is “Lord” and Revelator of God’s love through his atoning flesh. OT identities of God were subsumed in the name, “Yhwh”. In the NT that name is comprehended by the church’s confession that the Father is “Lord” Jesus is “Lord” and the HS is “Lord” (Athanasian Creed).
On this 2nd Sunday of Easter Jesus appeared to the Ten and to Thomas, inviting him into the Baptism delivered to his brothers. Thomas’ begetting, however was dramatic; commanded to place his hands into Jesus’ hands and side; he pierced the fleshly veil of God’s new Temple, as did the Roman nails and spear dipped into the Blood.
Thomas’ penetration of Jesus, participated in God’s atoning sprinkle from sacrificial wounds. Thus baptized, Thomas, by the HS, confessed Jesus’ Name, “My Lord and my God”.
The church began her apostolic Life, delivering Jesus’ true identity into the world. We who are baptized by water and word in the Spirit, discern from Jesus’ invitation to, “take, eat, drink” an ever-deeper union with God in his household; our sinful flesh into Christ’s innocence; his flesh into our sinful flesh for atoning by the “Full Gift of the Truth”. Amen.