“Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:23).
In this verse, Jesus speaks to the disciples as representatives of His church on earth acting in its corporate capacity. To them, He has entrusted the responsibility of caring for the spiritual interests and needs of its individual members. Jesus in Matthew 18:1-15, 21-35 had already explained to them how to deal with erring members, first personally, and then with the authority of the church (verses 16-20). Now He reiterates the counsel given upon that former occasion.
The church leaders are to minister patiently for the restoration of its erring members, encouraging them to repent and turn from their evil ways. When there is evidence that things have been made right with God and man, the leaders are to accept the repentance of sinners as genuine, and release the erring one from the charges brought against him (to “remit” his “sins”), and to receive him back into full fellowship. Such a remitting of sins is ratified in heaven because the Lord has already accepted and forgiven the repentant one (Luke 15:1-7).
However, the Bible clearly teaches that confession of sin should be made directly to the throne of grace in heaven and to God (Acts 20:21; 1 John 1:9), and that the release of the soul from sin comes only through the merits of Christ and His personal mediation (1 John 2:1). This prerogative God has never given to any sinful humans who are themselves so often in need of divine mercy, forgiveness and grace, even though they be the appointed leaders of the church.
No priest has the right to forgive men their sins. Only Christ who is God in the flesh can because of His sacrifice and redemption. And because of His perfect life (Heb. 2:18; 4:15; 7:26), Christ is fitted to be our only High Priest and Advocate.
In His service,
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