In John’s Gospel the resurrection and the kingdom of God are linked when the glorified Jesus appears to his disciples as they huddle behind locked doors (John 20:19). After pronouncing “peace” and showing them his wounds, Jesus charges, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (vv. 20-21). This is John’s version of the Great Commission. Next John recounts, “He [Jesus] breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (v. 22). The mention of “breathing” in juxtaposition to the “Spirit” brings to mind Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37:1-14, passages that speak of God breathing life into dead and inanimate bodies, one an individual and the other a nation.
The former text deals with Adam, created from the dust of the earth, who remains inert until God breathes life into him. Once alive, he is empowered and given authority to carry out his God-given mission of ruling over God’s earthly kingdom.
The latter text contains Ezekiel’s famous vision of the valley of dry bones. The lifeless bones represent Israel, living in a state of exile under foreign domination. God instructs Ezekiel in his vision to breathe on the dead bones. When Ezekiel complies, the bones come to life and stand “upon their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:10). This corporate resurrection encompasses “the whole house of Israel” (v. 11). God then speaks directly to his people, “I will put my Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it” (v. 14). He adds that the nation will no longer be divided (North and South), but reunited as a single kingdom (vv. 15-23). Yahweh promises them a new king and shepherd whose rule will last forever (vv. 24-25). “Moreover,” he adds, “I will make a covenant of peace with them” (v. 27), after which the nations will come to know the Lord (v.28).
When Jesus breathes on the Apostles he is acting out the prophecy of Ezekiel 37. As he breathes on them the resurrection of Israel begins. The OT Scriptures are being fulfilled in their sight. Alluding to Ezekiel 37: 27, Jesus declares “Peace to you!” He then commissions them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21). The Apostles and their Jewish converts will constitute the “great army” who represent the kingdom and make God known to the nations.
[For more conversation on the Kingdom of God, read "Heaven on Earth" now available in paperback and Kindle].