This entry is part 34 of 45 in the series: Troublesome texts
- ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 6:1f – Who were ‘the sons of God’?
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”?
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east?’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5 – Son? Servant? Male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 25:40 – Who are ‘these brothers of mine’?
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’?
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – No room at the inn?
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’?
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’?
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – Saved through child-bearing?
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – the Saviour of all people?
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
In what sense are Jesus’ disciples sent ‘just as’ he himself was sent?
The two ‘sendings’ use different Greek words: the first, apostellō, and the second, pempō. However, as Kruse explains, nothing theological should be made of this difference, because the two words are used interchangeably throughout John’s Gospel. Carson agrees, saying, ‘this is an instance of John’s penchant for minor stylistic variations.’
To be sure, we cannot be either incarnated as the Son of God was, nor can we die, as he did, for the sins of the world.
Some seek to make Jesus’ mission a rather exact pattern and model (e.g. Keener) of our own. Appealing to scriptures such as Lk 4:18f; 7:22, they urge that just as he healed the sick, helped the needy, and preached the gospel to the poor, so must we. The church’s mission is not limited to evangelism, but extended to an imitation of all that he did.
Others object that this neglects the Johannine context (in which Jesus moves on immediately to the forgiveness of sins) and instead imports teaching from the Synoptic corpus. Jesus’ unique role was to the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and as the incarnate word his mission cannot be precisely emulated. To be sure, we are to do good to all – especially the household of faith – but the present verse will not support the weight the other ‘side’ place on it.
Carson agrees that the issue cannot be settled by an appeal to a few verses from another Gospel, while ignoring the context in John’s Gospel. We must take note of the ‘sending’ motif in John: ‘Here it is the perfect obedience of the Son that is especially emphasized (e.g. Jn 5:19–30; 8:29), an obedience that has already been made a paradigm for the relation of the believers to Jesus (Jn 15:9–10). Jesus was sent by his Father into the world (Jn 3:17) by means of the incarnation (Jn 1:14) with the end of saving the world (Jn 1:29); now that Jesus’ disciples no longer belong to the world (Jn 15:19), they must also be sent back into the world (Jn 20:21) in order to bear witness, along with the Paraclete (Jn 15:26–27)—though obviously there is no mention of incarnation along the lines of Jn 1:14, and any parallel must be entirely derivative.’
Further: ‘In so far as Jesus was entirely obedient to and dependent upon his Father, who sealed and sanctified him and poured out the Spirit upon him without limit (Jn 1:32; 3:34; 4:34; 5:19; 6:27; 10:36; 17:4), so far also does he constitute the definitive model for his disciples: they have become children of God (Jn 1:12–13; 3:3, 5; 20:17), the Spirit has been promised to them (chs. 14–16) and will soon be imparted to them, they have been sanctified by Christ and will be sanctified by God’s word (Jn 17:17) as they grow in unqualified obedience to and dependence upon their Lord.’
So the two ‘sendings’, though continuous, are not identical, is indicated by the two ‘senders’ – the Father sends the Son, and the Son sends his disciples. ‘The Son was participating in the work of the Father, and was doing what only the Son can do. In a similar way, then, the disciples are participating in what is ultimately the work of the Son, a work made possible through the Son alone. Although the church is sent “just as” (καθὼς) the Son was sent, the mission of the church is defined by the Son who sent them, from whom the nature and direction of its mission are derived.’ (Klink)
We are then in a position to take into account the commissions that are reported in the other Gospels, which are comprehensive enough (note the ‘all’ of Mt 28:20). At the same time, what was central to the Son’s mission – ‘that he came as the Father’s gift so that those who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16), experiencing new life as the children of God (Jn 1:12–13) and freedom from the slavery of sin because they have been set free by the Son of God (Jn 8:34–36)’ must never be lost from our view. Indeed, we are reminded of these emphases by the reference, in v23, to the forgiveness of sins, and, in v30f, to the purpose of the Gospel.