19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Mary had seen the Lord, and had told them, “I have seen the Lord!” but they had not really believed her. They had gone back to the place where they had been staying, and had locked all the doors – they were still fearful that they would be next to be taken before the council and crucified for treason! Suddenly, Jesus himself came and stood among them. He came into the house, although the doors were locked, but his body was physical – they could see the nail-holes in his hands, the place where the spear pierced his side.
And Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” Or “Shalom”, as the Jewish greeting would have been. Jesus had promised, in Chapter 14, to give them his peace. He fulfills his promise here. After they have seen for themselves, the disciples believe, and they rejoice! No longer hiding away in fear, they are filled with joy!
Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples – here John has combined into one event what Luke divides into two: a visit by Jesus to the disciples and the events of Pentecost. In Luke the second is a work of the Holy Spirit, and a gift of God; in John, the bestowal of the Spirit is something Jesus does directly, “breathing” the Spirit, life, into them. And after giving them the Spirit, Jesus commissions them to continue his work – “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” As a part of this commission he empowers them for the forgiveness of sin. Remember that in John, “sin” is not recognizing and accepting God’s revelation of Jesus – thus, this is about the mission to continue Jesus’ work to bring people to recognize and respond to Jesus, and to God.