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Let’s listen to the words of the Lord to His disciples after His resurrection from the dead.  John 20:21-23 says, “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”  The Father had sent His Son into the world to be the savior of the world.  The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:14, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”  Now that the Lord had completed His work to bring salvation, He now sends His disciples to the world to tell others of the salvation that is found through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Lord knew what His disciples would have to endure: persecution, hatred, even death.  So, He gives them His peace to sustain them in the world.  Indeed, the Lord has given us that same peace so that we can faithfully serve Him in the world today.

The Lord then breathed on His disciples and told them to receive the Holy Ghost.  This, of course, was in preparation of the Holy Ghost coming down to fill all believers on the day of Pentecost.  Acts 2:1-4 tells us, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost…”

Now we have those difficult words of the Lord to His disciples.  In John 20:23 the Lord says, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”  I say that these words are difficult because there are several conflicting views as to the meaning of His words.  Let’s be clear about one thing…only God can forgive sin!  When the Lord Jesus had healed a paralytic man and forgiven him of his sins, the Pharisees and scribes reacted as we read in Luke 5:21, where we read, “And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”  They were absolutely correct; only God can forgive sin.  They just didn’t realize that the Lord Jesus is God in the flesh.

How is it that the disciples and even the Lord’s followers today can remit, or forgive, the sins of others? Without looking at the different viewpoints about this verse, let’s look at the explanation that most closely follows the teachings of the scriptures.  Let’s read the words of the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  Again, speaking of the Lord Jesus, Peter says in Acts 10:42-43, “And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”  Notice that in both places, remission of sins is offered through the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Lord has undoubtedly given us the ability, in preaching the Gospel, to declare whose sins have been forgiven and whose sins have not been forgiven.  Forgiveness is only found in owning the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Speaking of Christ, Peter declared in Acts 13:38, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.”  Paul declared in Ephesians 1:7, “…we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”  Paul made it very clear to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31 where he told him, “…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…”  Paul was emphatic in telling this man that through believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, he would, without a doubt, be saved.  We also, can safely assure others that if they have truly trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as their savior, their sins are forgiven.  (110.5)