“If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”

Right after Jesus “breathed” on his disciples in John 20:22 and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he immediately launched into verse 23, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” So are the giving of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness connected?

Well, we know from Acts 1:8 that the purpose of the Holy Spirit was to give the disciples power to be Jesus’ witnesses. Jesus had already defined what that witness was too, in John 3:16, that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” and verse 18, that “Whoever believes in him is not condemned.” But he also said in verse 18, “but whoever does not believe stands condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

To tell people they “stand condemned already” is also part of the witness that the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples for. And the reason people stand condemned already is verse 36, that “whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” God’s wrath remains on a person, therefore, until he, or she, “believes in the Son.” Or, as Jesus told his disciples in John 20:23, go tell these people that until they believe in him “they are not forgiven.”

We see Jesus himself saying this to people in Matthew 23:33, when he yells at the Pharisees, “You snakes and brood of vipers; how will you escape being condemned to hell?” He then predicts nasty things happening to the Pharisees because they were “not willing” to listen to those whom God sent to them, including, of course, Jesus himself. So Jesus tells them in verses 38-39, that “your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

In other words, Pharisees, you can go through hell first, and you stand condemned already to stay in hell too, with God’s wrath remaining on you and no forgiveness “UNTIL” you’re ready to listen to and believe those whom God sent to you – or as Jesus phrased it in John 3, until you believe “in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Those were tough words, and they led to Jesus being killed too. No wonder, then, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples, because they’d be called upon to say the same words and face the wrath of people’s response just as Jesus had to.


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