John 20:8-9 can seem confusing, but it’s actually fairly straightforward. John saw the evidence at the tomb and believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but neither disciple really understood the Scriptural evidence that pointed to the resurrection:
Psalm 16:10 “You will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit.”
Isaiah 53:8-11 “He was led away after an unjust trial— but who even cared? Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded. They intended to bury him with criminals, but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb, because he had committed no violent deeds, nor had he spoken deceitfully. Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made, he will see descendants and enjoy long life, and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him. Having suffered, he will reflect on his work, he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. ‘My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins.'”
Jesus’ resurrection body foreshadows our resurrection bodies:
1 Corinthians 15:35-44 “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ Fool! What you sow will not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare seed—perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body just as he planned, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same: People have one flesh, animals have another, birds and fish another. And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly body is one sort and the earthly another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon and another glory of the stars, for star differs from star in glory. It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
Rather than try and find something mystical in 20:16, perhaps Jesus is simply saying: “Stop holding on to me. I haven’t ascended yet. I’m not going to disappear on you!” Isn’t it special that, even though He is not physically here now, He is present with us through His Spirit?!?!
John 14:16-17 “Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.”
Jesus repeatedly requests His disciples to be at peace. Life here is hard, but we can take Jesus as His word and trust that He is in us and with us!
Not to get too technical, but Jesus’ words in 20:23 are in the perfect passive tense: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they have already been forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they have already been retained.” It states what has already happened. When we present the gospel and people accept or reject it, they are completing a transaction that was settled when Jesus died on the cross. If they believe, their sins have already been forgiven; if they reject then their sins are retained. All we do is present the way, and people respond!
Acts 13:38 “Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you,”
All who do believe have a special joy that comes from knowing Jesus (20:29):
1 Peter 1:8 “You have not seen him, but you love him. You do not see him now but you believe in him, and so you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,”
And that’s the whole purpose of the gospel of John: to bring people to belief!
John 20:31 “But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”