The triune God has been active in the life of humanity since creation. Throughout the Holy Bible, we see God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit carrying out various roles.
In the opening chapters of Genesis, we see all three coeternal beings taking part in the creation of humankind. After creating all the other animals, the Creator said in Genesis 1:26, “…Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”.
Chapter two provides further details about the creation of humans. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7
It was God who went searching for Adam after the fall. He not only reached out but was merciful. Death is the penalty for sin but God made provision for salvation in a beautiful promise.
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3 verse 15)
Christ’s earthly ministry was to fulfill the promise of salvation and redemption that God made to Adam and Eve. When Christ died on the cross of Calvary Satan barely bruised His heel. This is because through His resurrection the Savior conquered death, gave humans access to eternal life, and bruised the serpent’s head.
At the end of His earthly ministry, the risen Christ had to return to heaven to continue His role in the plan of redemption. Before leaving earth, He promised His followers the companionship of the third triune being.
“And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2 verse 29)
Through the prophet Joel the Lord promised Israel that He will pour out His Spirit. Jesus also mentioned the coming of the Holy Spirit and the role that He would play when He came. John chapters fourteen and fifteen mentioned these roles. In John chapter twenty He admonished His disciples to receive the Holy Ghost.
This article is a deep dive Bible commentary to explore the real meaning of John 20:22. Keep reading to find out what this verse means and how to apply it to your life.
Who wrote John and when was it written?
Similar to the other three gospels, the author of the fourth gospel was not identified in the book itself. This has led to many discussions as to who did or didn’t write John. Despite the controversy, the book itself provides strong evidence that it was written by the apostle John, with the help of the statement, ‘the disciple Jesus loved’.
It is believed by many that the gospel according to John was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
What is the context of John 20?
John chapter twenty highlights the events that took place immediately after Christ’s crucifixion. The chapter opens up by stating that on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus very early in the morning. When she got there the sepulcher was open and Jesus was nowhere to be found.
“Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved… ⁸Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.” (John 20 verses 2 and 8)
Verses two to eight gives an account of what Mary did when she realized the body of Jesus was missing. These verses also cover how Simon Peter and the beloved disciple responded to the news of the empty tomb.
Verses ten to eighteen noted that the two disciples left but Mary remained at the tomb. It was during this time that two angels asked, “Woman, why weepest thou?” Immediately Jesus asked the same question but she didn’t discern that it was Him until He addressed her by name.
In verse seventeen, Jesus told Mary to tell the disciples that, “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God”.
Verses nineteen to twenty-three covers the details of how Jesus revealed himself to His disciples. The disciples were assembled together with the door shut for fear of the Jews then Jesus appeared in their midst.
He greeted them with peace, then showed them His hands and His side. The fear that the disciples were feeling was replaced with joy when they saw the Lord.
In verses twenty-four to twenty-eight the writer of John recounts the experience of Thomas with Jesus. Thomas was absent when Jesus revealed Himself to the other disciples. Because of this He spent the next eight days being doubtful about the resurrection of Jesus.
When Jesus appeared again to the disciples, He was careful to clear up Thomas’ doubts by allowing him to touch the wounds in His hands and on His side. It was only after this that Thomas declared, “My Lord and my God” acknowledging that it was really Jesus.
“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20 verse 29)
The closing verses of the chapter looked at the importance of believing in the Lord Jesus. Thomas believed the reports of his friends only after he had tangible evidence of Jesus being alive. Many followers of Jesus Christ will have to believe in Him, not because they see Him but based on the reports of others.
“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20 verse 31)
Verse thirty-one confirmed the importance of believing and further noted that the accounts given were to lead others to have faith in the resurrection of Jesus and claim access to eternal life.
What is the message of John 20:22?
The message of this chapter is one that includes encouragement, support, comfort, and preparation. Christ could have remained in heaven after ascending and presenting Himself to the Father but He didn’t.
He returned to earth and revealed Himself to His followers. He provided encouragement in a dark hour and gave support by being physically there with them. He comforted the disciples and He prepared them for the work ahead by telling them to accept the Holy Spirit.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14 verse 1)
It was very discouraging to know that a close companion and dear friend was wrongly accused and then hung on a shameful cross. In breathing on the disciples and telling them to receive the Holy Spirit, the risen Jesus was simply saying don’t worry just believe in me and things will be okay.
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40 verses 31)
Mary told the disciples that Jesus had risen and will return after ascending to His Father. All they needed to do in the meantime was to wait and depend on Him for strength.
Christ provided the support and strength that His followers needed when He appeared in their midst. They were fearful, mourning, and hiding but after seeing Him they were glad. They received renewed strength and faith from the encounter with Him.
“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14 verses 18)
Both the Old and New Testaments have promises that remind each of us we are never alone. Our compassionate Father will always come to our aid when we are in distress and this is exactly what Jesus did when He visited His disciples as they fearfully hid behind closed doors.
Now He drew close enough to each of them that they could feel His breath. He breathed on them:
Jesus: “Welcome the Holy Spirit of the living God.” VOICE
This translation of the text uses narration and dialogue formatting to help readers get a better understanding of what was happening. In drawing close to the disciples, the risen Savior demonstrated an act of comfort.
He was missing when Mary of Magdala went to His tomb but now He is close enough for them to feel His breath. The disciples could be comforted in knowing that the same Jesus who said ‘it is finished’ a few days ago now lives and breathes.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1 verse 7)
When Christ told the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, He was in fact saying, embrace power, love, and a sound mind and put aside all fear.
“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61 verse 3)
This Old Testament scripture captures the meaning of John 20:22 in a profound way. Christ’s actions and the words He spoke brought beauty, joy, and the garment of praise to a situation that was filled with mourning and a spirit of heaviness.
“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” (John 20 verse 21)
The same way John the Baptist preached repentance and prepared the way for Christ is the same way He was preparing His disciples to receive the Holy Spirit as they were about to go and complete the work He started. Telling them to receive the Holy Spirit was in essence saying receive peace as you go and do my work.
After he had said this, he breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” GW
The God’s Word translation uses the word receive to highlight the fact that Jesus was offering something and the disciples were encouraged to accept it. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, they would not be fully equipped to meet the challenges of discipleship and function effectively.
And when he had said this meaning
In order to fully grasp the meaning of this phrase it’s very important to look at the previous text then break it down into smaller phrases.
‘And when’ is an indication that pulls the reader’s attention to timing. This phrase comes right after Jesus offered His disciples peace and acts as a conjunction to what Jesus did afterwards. ‘He’ in this phrase is referring to Jesus. ‘Had said this’ is alluding to the previous statement that Jesus made in verse twenty-one of the chapter.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14 verse 27)
‘And when He had said this’ is speaking about the peace that Jesus offered His followers. This peace is not a superficial feeling but a lasting and meaningful experience. In the midst of adversity and suffering it gives hope and comfort to the believer.
The peace that Christ offers is unlike that of the world. God is the true source of peace and this is the peace that all followers of Christ have access to when they embrace Jesus and receive the Comforter.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,” (Galatians 5 verse 22)
The peace that Jesus offered His disciples is the fruit of the Spirit. It comes from living a spiritual life, believing in the Savior, and embracing the Holy Ghost.
he breathed on them meaning
This statement seems simple but it carries a very profound meaning. It points to the breath as proof of life. It demonstrates the Savior’s power over death and proves that He is indeed the resurrection and the life.
It wasn’t until God breathed into Adam’s nostril that he became a living soul. In breathing on the disciples Christ was providing proof of life while renewing hope for what the apostles would have considered to be a dead mission.
When Christ was captured and crucified their hope of Him ‘restoring the kingdom’ was shattered. They thought He would be the king of an earthly kingdom but He was back to give them renewed hope to continue the mission for the heavenly kingdom.
“Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” (John 20 verse 19)
If someone appears in a room without using any of the doors then others may be led to the conclusion that they are seeing a Spirit. The act of breathing was simply saying to the disciples, it’s me not a ghost.
Circulation, airway, and breathing (ABC or CAB) are three indicators used in first aid to assess an injured individual. Jesus was not only injured but died on the cross and going close enough to the disciples for them to feel His own breath gave assurance that He was alive and well.
“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:” (John 11 verse 25)
Jesus showed that He was the resurrection and the life when He called Lazarus to come from the tomb. He has the power to raise others from the dead and He is more than able to lay His life down and then take it up. Allowing the disciples to feel His breath was a demonstration that He has power over death and the grave.
John 10:17-18 also shows that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that He has victory over the grave. It states, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. ¹⁸No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father”.
“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” (John 15 verse 15)
‘He breathed on them’ is a statement that not only speaks to proximity but also a close relationship. The role of a disciple is to serve the Lord and spread the good news of salvation; however, Jesus considered His disciples to be more than servants. They worked for Him but they were His friends and that’s why He shared the knowledge of God’s kingdom with them.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. ¹⁴Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15 verses 13 to 14)
During Jesus’ earthly ministry He mingled with the common people by teaching, feeding, comforting, and healing. He looked beyond faults and shortcomings and directly addressed the needs of the people the way a genuine friend would.
“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you…” (James 4 verse 8)
Jesus loves us with an everlasting love and His death was a significant act that demonstrated His compassion. He wants nothing more than for us to be in close communion with Him.
and saith unto them meaning
To grasp the full meaning of the phrase ‘and saith unto them’ it makes sense to identify who was speaking and who were being spoken to. The Risen Savior was addressing His disciples on resurrection day.
Christ could have sat in silent communion after He appeared in the room but He didn’t. He had something very important to say and to share with His followers. After standing close enough for His breath to be felt He had a special command to give.
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” (John 16 verse 7)
Jesus shared a lot of things about God’s kingdom to His disciples. Sometimes He spoke in parables other times He decided only to disclose things to those in His inner circle. When He spoke, He edified, gave instructions, or shared an important lesson.
The lesson here is for the disciples to realize that after Christ fulfilled His role on earth He had to return to heaven. However, He will never leave or forsake us so the Comforter was sent in His place.
Receive ye the Holy Ghost meaning
Receiving the Holy Spirit was very critical to the continuation of the disciples’ work especially after Christ’s ascension. In receiving the Holy Ghost, the disciples were embracing a heavenly gift, comfort, truth, and empowerment.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1 verses 17)
When the disciples were told to receive the Holy Ghost, they were being admonished by the risen Savior to accept a gift from above the same way they accepted Him and His ministry. Accepting this gift from the Lord meant Christ followers were accepting the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14 verse 26)
The Lord knows what is best for us and He can see the entire trajectory of our life based on the choices that we make. He knows the good and perfect plans that He has for us and how making the right decisions and accepting His will may affect those plans.
The work of the disciples was very critical in the spreading of the gospel and bringing others to the kingdom of God. If the disciples rejected the Holy Spirit, they would have been turning their backs on the Comforter.
‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost’ means being open to the operations of the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to comfort in times of need and bring the lessons of Jesus to remembrance.
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; ¹⁷Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14 verses 16 to 17)
It is important to know the Lord and have a close relationship with Him. The reception of the Holy Spirit is limited to those who know God and understand the things of God. Each follower of Christ needs to embrace and be guided by the Spirit of truth.
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” (John 16 verse 13)
Christ knew that He will not always be on earth to continue His ministry. He was not going to be around to answer tough questions, to preach about the kingdom to come, or use parables to teach important lessons.
That is why it was important for the Spirit of truth to enter the world and guide humankind into all truth. The message translation of John 16:8 describes the work of the Spirit of truth in very plain terms. It states, “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment”.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. ²And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. ³And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. ⁴And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2 verses 1 to 4)
In accepting the Spirit of truth, the disciples allowed themselves to be empowered. This empowerment was very evident on the day of Pentecost when the apostles received the gift of tongues. There is no limit to what God can accomplish in and through His followers if they allow themselves to be led by Him and open up themselves to His power.
What is the difference in biblical translations John 20:22 (NKJV, KJV, NIV & ESV)?
And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. NKJV
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: KJV
And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. NIV
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. ESV
There is very little difference in the biblical translation of John 20:22 when comparing the New King James Version, King James Version, New International Version, and the English Standard Version.
The NKJV and KJV are almost identical in wording. The NKJV uses the word said while the KJV uses the word saith. The NKJV uses the phrase Holy Spirit while the KJV uses the term Holy Ghost to refer to the third member of the Godhead.
Instead of using the phrase ‘and when he had said this’ the NIV uses ‘and with that’. This translation is not as wordy as the other three but captures the essence of what is being said in the text.
Thanks to the strong similarity in wording, the interpretation and meaning of John 20:22 is the same for these translations of this text.
How do I apply John 20:22 to my life?
Applying this text to your life will be much easier if you consider yourself to be a disciple of Christ. This text will provide you with the encouragement, support, comfort, and preparation you need as you travel the Christian pathway and share the good news of salvation with others.
Find comfort in the thought that the Redeemer speaks peace over your life. Be encouraged by the fact that He sees you as a disciple and friend. Find confidence in knowing that you are fully prepared for His service because He has given you the Holy Spirit as a guide to lead you into all truth.
What is a John 20:22 prayer?
Eternal Father of humankind,
We thank You for sharing such a keen interest in the welfare of our lives. We thank You for the plan of redemption and the gifts of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Thank You for the breath of life and the opportunity to be experiencing another day.
Lord, we ask You to breathe love, peace, comfort, and hope into each aspect of our lives. Equip us with Your Holy Spirit, empower us to fulfill our calling, and guide us into all truth. As you pour Your Pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit on us, we pray that we will minister to others and they will be closer drawn to You.
We commit our plans to You and embrace the will that You have for our lives. Forgive us of our sins, grant us Your richest blessings, and save us in Your kingdom we humbly ask in the name of Christ. Amen
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit takes a keen interest in humanity. In the opening chapters of the Bible, God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostril. After the fall in Eden, He put the plan of Salvation in motion.
Christ became the sacrificial lamb and died on Calvary’s cross to pay the price for sin and remove the curse of death. Before His ascension He told His followers to receive the Comforter who will guide them into all truth.
The time between His death on the cross and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost was a critical period for His disciples. This is why on resurrection day He appeared to His disciples, breathed on them, and told them to receive the Holy Ghost.
This simple encounter behind closed doors was an act that proved to the entire world that He has victory over the grave, that He sees His followers as close companions, and that He will never leave them alone or comfortless.