Question: According to John 20:23, were the apostles given some special power in regard to remission of sins?
Answer: John 20:23 says, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”
This text seems to say something that it does not teach and must be used with other scriptures in the same category to see just what it does teach. But first let us look at some texts on the other side of the ledger. John 5:22 says, “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” Note, all judgment is committed unto the Son; not to any other person. Romans 8:34 says, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” It is the same Christ who died for us, rose again, ascended to the right hand of God and who makes intercession for us who will condemn or acquit us in the last day; no one else. Acts 10:42 says, “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.” Romans 14:10-13 says, “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more:…” In I Corinthians 4:3, Paul said that it was a very small thing to him to be judged of man’s judgment. Verse 4 says, “…He that judgeth me is the Lord.” Verse 5 says, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” Scriptures could be multiplied to show God to be the Judge of all through His Son Jesus and to show that man’s judgment can be faulty because man looks on the outward appearance and does not and cannot always discern the motives, thoughts and intents of the hearts of other men.
Now to proceed with the other part of the question, there is what is called the “unanimity of faith.” This means that any scripture on any given subject must be interpreted to conform and harmonize with every other scripture on that subject before we can be sure we have the correct interpretation of a scripture. So let us link John 5:23 with other scriptures pertaining to the same thing.
In Matthew 16:19 Jesus said, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” But what are the keys to the kingdom of heaven? With all certainty they would be the Word of God and the Spirit of God which unlock to us the kingdom of heaven and through which is revealed to our souls the unsearchable riches of the treasures of truth that are there. And within this framework of the WORD and SPIRIT of God, anything that is done down here by Holy Spirit filled people following closely the outline of procedure given in the Word of God will be recognized in heaven.
We would all surely recognize that Jesus would not build a Church and leave it here in the earth and make no provisions for its orderly operation. Certainly He has not done that. He has set within the Church a certain group or body of Spirit filled people with special endowments and charged them with the special responsibility of overseeing and maintaining the orderly operation of the Church locally and generally. They are called ministers or overseers in the scriptures and are endowed with certain gifts and qualifications.
We have a very clear example of this outline in Matthew 18:15-20. This is in regard to dealing with the case of an offending brother who has failed to submit himself in the preliminary steps outlined here to resolve the matter. It has run its course now and is to be taken to the Church. (Verse 17.) Then in verse 18 is given the same thing Jesus pronounced in Matthew 16:19, namely, “…Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven:…” In other words, if Holy Spirit filled people who have been designated by God to attend to such matters follow closely the outline in the Word of God for dealing with such infractions and irregularities, their judgment and decision will be recognized in heaven. The crux of the whole matter is in Matthew 18:20 where Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” In other words, when Spirit filled people follow closely the step by step procedure set forth for handling a given case or controversy, Jesus is right with them supervising the whole operation so that it cannot be classed as human government or man-rule, but that is just the way Jesus has it set up to maintain the orderly operation of His Church.
Neither was this just something special for the apostles; but it is an on-going thing running down through the annals of this Christian era, even unto us in our day; and it is to operate just as long as the Church continues in the earth.