Q. How should we interpret John 20:23? Since salvation depends on remission of all sins, it looks as though Jesus is empowering the disciples to either grant or withhold salvation. I know that this can’t be the case, as it contradicts other scripture. What is really being said here?
A. John 20:23 says: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus had just invested the disciples with the Holy Spirit, which would empower them with discernment. Now He was delegating to them the authority to issue an “assurance of pardon” upon hearing someone state his or her belief that Jesus died for our sins and rose again (Romans 10:9-10). When they heard such a confession the disciples could confirm that a person’s sins were forgiven, but if they heard anything other than that they could withhold confirmation.