The Holy Spirit in the Ministry of Jesus II

The Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus (II)

In His teachings, Jesus presented the Holy Spirit as One who would accomplish a number of different tasks during the time of His physical absence from the church. The Holy Spirit would be a Helper, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Counselor), that He may be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Greek word is Paracletos and means “someone who is called in”. 3 In the Greek usage there are different functions which a Paracletos might be called on to perform: witness, advocate, exhorter. We might call Him the Counsel for the defense, standing beside us. 

All of these roles are exercised by the Holy Spirit in His relationship to the believer but in English the word comforter has been outgrown. According to one authority, the translation goes back to the 14th century Bible translator John Wycliffe. At that time the word comforter was understood very closely to its Latin origin (com / with  fortis / strong: to give strength). 4  In its original usage, a comforter was someone who communicated courage or strength to dispirited people. But now the word is associated more with consolation in sorrow and bereavement and so it limits our concept of the Holy Spirit. We might do better to use the more modern rendering of Advocate, Helper or Friend. 

In the following verse, Jesus opens up another function of the Holy Spirit: He is “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). It is significant that Jesus associates the ministry of the Holy Spirit with the communicating of His truth for He identified Himself as the truth, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He had also said that we must worship the Father “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The Holy Spirit participates with the Father and the Son in the revelation of truth. In subsequent verses, Jesus expands on the function of the Holy Spirit as the Communicator of truth:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me” (John 15:26).

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:12,13).

Jesus promises that the Spirit will guide His followers into all truth. This is not to say that we will learn everything about everything but we will be led into a deeper and deeper knowledge of the Person and work of Jesus — all the truth that is necessary for the living of our lives under His Lordship. The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the name of the Son (John 14:26) and sent by Jesus from the Father (John 15:26) will be the teacher par excellence, bearing witness of Jesus, guiding God’s people into all necessary areas of wisdom and knowledge and thereby glorifying Jesus. 

This is a primary purpose of the Spirit as Jesus said, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:14-15).

Notice that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son working in perfect harmony; indeed, as Jesus pointed out, “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (John 14:11). What is essential is not who sends the Spirit but rather, the work of the Spirit — standing with us, bearing witness to us, teaching, revealing and thereby glorifying Jesus.

An interesting point is the position of the Holy Spirit in relation to the disciples: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16,17).  At the time of this teaching the Counselor dwelt with them but at some future point would dwell in them. This was the promise of God through Ezekiel the prophet (36:25-27) and reiterated by Jesus.

In John 16:1-7 Jesus continues to tell His disciples that He will be going away — an event which the disciples had not yet been able to understand. This is not surprising; the centrality of the cross would never be fully perceived until afterwards. But Jesus says, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). Jesus’ absence will result in their blessing because then their Counselor / Helper can come. 

John had explained earlier, in John 7:39, that the Spirit had not yet been given in fulness because Jesus had not yet been glorified. The glorification of Jesus includes His atoning sacrifice, His resurrection and ascension. From the right hand of majesty on high Jesus and the Father would send the Holy Spirit.

As we have said before, the atoning work of Christ was a precondition for the outpouring of the Spirit in fulness because only as sinful humanity is cleansed of sin and reconciled to God through the sacrifice of the holy Lamb of God can we be filled with the Person of God. The Spirit of God cannot dwell in any vessel stained with sin and thereby separated from God.

Again quoting the prophecy of Ezekiel, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (36:25-27).

The condition for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is cleansing, not an outward cleansing but inward, resulting in a new heart. As a result of that cleansing the Holy Spirit will be able to dwell in people. This inner cleansing would require faith in a holy Sacrifice, a perfect, unblemished Lamb by whose atoning work we would be washed, cleansed of sin.

The Holy Spirit shared in that work of redemption along with the Father and the Son: “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebr. 9:14). Just as the Spirit was the holy agent in the incarnation of Jesus, just as the Spirit anointed and empowered Jesus for ministry, so on the cross Jesus offered Himself to the Father through the Holy Spirit. This may refer to the sustaining presence and ministry of the Spirit as Jesus endured the suffering of the cross and though this is a holy mystery to us, we see the unity of the Trinity even on the cross.

The Holy Spirit also shared in the work of resurrection, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). God the Father, working through God the Holy Spirit, raised Jesus from the dead.

Now that same Spirit dwells in us. But Jesus said that “the world cannot receive” the Holy Spirit “because it does not see Him or know Him” (John 14:17). Why does the world neither “see him or know him”? Because it has not realized nor experienced the atoning work of Christ on Calvary. As a result of indwelling sin, people are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) and spiritually blind (2 Cor. 4:4).

Therefore, in John 16:7,8 another function of the Holy Spirit is presented: “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (16:7,8).

The Holy Spirit has been described as Helper and Advocate, Counsel for the defense. He has been described as the Teacher of truth, glorifying Jesus by revealing Him to His followers. Now He is shown to be also the Prosecuting Attorney, convicting the world of “sin and righteousness and judgement”.

For example, after Peter preached his sermon on Pentecost we read that the listeners were “pierced to the heart” and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Only the Holy Spirit could take Peter’s words and transform them into surgical instruments capable of penetrating hard hearts, resulting in salvation. 

The Apostle Paul exhorts us to take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The word of God is like a scalpel, penetrating into the deepest recesses of the human being. The Holy Spirit is the surgeon, applying with perfect precision God’s eternal truth. The result is that people are convicted of sin, convinced of God’s righteous judgment, moved to repent of sin and are enabled to believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

John Newton, in one line of his superb hymn, “Amazing Grace”, provides poetic expression for this spiritual surgery: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.” It is only through the gracious and convicting work of God’s Prosecutor that we can come to the honest, fearful realization of our sin, the judgment which our sin has incurred and the brokenness of heart required for the healing of heart so desperately needed and so graciously provided by the Comforter. True repentance is a work of the Holy Spirit.

And it is only through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit that we can come to a place of faith in God’s provision for sinners, as Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). The Holy Spirit takes the word of truth, the Gospel, and convicts us of sin, bringing us to repentance. He then makes real to us the atoning work of Jesus and plants within the willing heart the gift of faith to trust Christ.  When we repent, turn to God and trust in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, we are then forgiven and cleansed of sin. This assurance of salvation is mediated to us by the Holy Spirit who then is able to dwell within the cleansed soul.

It is important to note that the Spirit “will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak” (John 16:13). First of all, this testifies to the unity of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit witnesses of the truth in perfect unity with the Father and the Son. This also testifies to the authority of the Apostolic writings. Insomuch as all Scriptures are Spirit-inspired (2 Tim. 3:16), they are the voice of our Lord and any attempt to set one Scripture in contradiction to another demonstrates a failure to recognize the common source of divine inspiration.

There has been a tendency in recent years to impugn the integrity of Scripture, degenerating even to the extreme of stripping away vast portions of the New Testament in a vain effort to find some humanly constructed image of the “historical Jesus”. This represents a failure of faith, a bankruptcy of belief. Jesus is historically present as the Spirit bears witness to Him through the canonized books of the Bible and through the present and active ministry of the Spirit of God.

In John 16:14, once again, we see that the work of the Spirit is centered on Christ. Jesus said, “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” He will not declare Himself but rather, He will declare Jesus, and those things which pertain to Jesus. As we will discuss in a later chapter, the presence and activity of the Spirit in a mature believer is marked most distinctly, not by the mere exercise of a particular gift of the Spirit, but by the way the gift points to and exalts Jesus. The mature believer should be able to render an unselfconscious exercise of gifts so that with kindness and mercy, with humility and joyful obedience to Christ, with signs and wonders, with prophecy and preaching, with personal and with supernatural testimony, Jesus is glorified.

There is one incident in the Gospel of John in relation to the Holy Spirit which has led to a variety of interpretations. It occurred on the evening of Jesus’ resurrection and is recorded in John 20:19-22: “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Some have attempted to present this as John’s version of Pentecost, but that is not credible. John was obviously present when Jesus said this and he was present when the Holy Spirit was outpoured in the Upper Room on Pentecost — he was a historical witness to both events. It is therefore absurd to suppose that there were two Pentecosts or that John would confuse the two events.

Furthermore, in John 7:37-39 Jesus spoke of the future outpouring of the Holy Spirit which, according to John's interpretation, would happen only after He was glorified. The glorification of Jesus included not only His saving death and resurrection but also His ascension to the Father. Related to His ascension, Jesus said in John 16:7 that He must go away before the age of the Spirit could begin, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” Since Jesus had not yet gone away, that is, ascended to the Father, then the Holy Spirit could not yet be poured out.

Also in Luke 24:34 Jesus said, “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” The promise was that the Spirit would be poured out but these words, “I am sending forth the promise of My Father,” means He had not sent it yet. “Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” speaks of a future event. 

Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost relates the presence of Jesus at the right hand of God with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33). This is consistent with Jesus’ witness of Himself and John's interpretation of that witness (John 7:37-39, l6:7). 

Further, on the day of His ascension, Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). This was weeks after the event in the Upper Rome when Jesus breathed on them so obviously, on the day when Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit had not yet been given. Also, the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost was followed by powerful works of ministry but John does not record any acts of ministry by the disciples immediately following the incident in John chapter 20. 

So it is not reasonable to suppose that this is John’s version of Pentecost. But something significant did happen. Our questions are centered on John 20:22: “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” 

It is interesting to note that this particular verb form which we translate “breathed” is found nowhere else in the New Testament but it is found in Genesis 2:7 where God “breathed into his

nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” 5  Some commentators believe that this may be a reenactment of that event whereby God breathed into Adam’s lifeless clay and the man became a new creation. These men and women gathered on Easter evening had believed in the risen Lord. They were new creations in Christ and Jesus now breathes upon them, signifying their new life.

This verb form is also found in Ezekiel 37:9 when God said: “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.’” 6 These Old Testament references suggesting images of new creation and life rising out of death may have been Jesus’ intent. 

A related interpretation is that this was a ceremonial or symbolic event. John MacArthur provides this interpretation, “Having formally commissioned the disciples, Christ ceremonially empowered them as a pledge of the power they were actually to receive on Pentecost.” 7 MacArthur adds that this “was a purely symbolic and prophetic act.” 8

So it is likely that this is John’s record of the commissioning of the disciples with the assurance that their spiritual empowerment for ministry would soon follow. Jesus was using a dramatic teaching method to underscore the soon-to-be fulfilled promise of Holy Spirit outpouring and indwelling. The Spirit could not actually indwell them yet because Jesus was not yet glorified but this was a promise and a symbolic representation of the supernatural life and power that would be theirs when the Holy Spirit came to indwell them.

To summarize, this was not John’s version of Pentecost — this is not the outpouring of the fulness of the Spirit. It is Jesus commissioning His disciples with the promise and assurance that they will be filled with the Spirit. It is something like a pledge of the later deposit, a symbolic representation of the coming empowerment that would enable them to fulfill their commission.

It seems fitting to consider as the final teachings of Jesus on the Holy Spirit those found in the closing verses of Luke's Gospel and in the opening verses of the Acts of the Apostles: 

“Then He opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:45-49).

Luke hastens to conclude his Gospel, already having decided to write a sequel and so he quickly summarizes the last moments between Jesus and His disciples. The Lord reviewed those things which had recently happened, reminding them that the cross and resurrection had all been a part of God's eternal plan and reminding them of the role which they would play in carrying the Good News of salvation to the world. He then brings to their remembrance the promise of the Father that they will be Spirit-empowered witnesses and He ordered them to stay in Jerusalem until the promise would be fulfilled.

Then, in Acts 1, Luke records the final words of Jesus before He ascended to the Father: “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me’; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now … but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses’” (Acts 1:4,5,8).

The anticipated outpouring of the Spirit is referred to as “the promise of My Father” for it is the Father who sends this in response to the Son's prayer, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:16) . The Spirit is sent in the name of Jesus, “whom the Father will send in My name” (John 14:26) and Jesus shares in the sending, “whom I will send to you from the Father” (John 15:26).

The disciples are reminded that they are to be witnesses but that they are not capable of bearing witness apart from the empowerment of God, therefore they are to wait. They are not waiting for a season of empowerment as in the days of the Old Testament judges, but rather, waiting for a mighty outpouring and infilling. And this will not be for a few persons for a limited season of service but for all of God's people for all the seasons and centuries of Christian service. They will be clothed with power from on high — the Spirit of the Most High will settle upon them and dwell within them and they will wear His presence, His being, like a garment. 

Jesus ties together in an unmistakeable, unbreakable connection the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and empowerment for service, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Not only will His people have the inner witness of His Spirit testifying of their inclusion in the family of God, but more than that, they will have at their worshipful request the very resources of heaven, in order that God’s will may be done on earth as in heaven. 

Now the ruler of this age was judged; the Kingdom of God was breaking into history. All that was needed was a new people who would go out and take possession of the land, a new people born of water and the Spirit, clothed and filled with the presence of God.

Endnotes (continued from Part I)

3. William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 2 (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1955), p. 194.

4. Barclay, p. 194.

5. Leon Morris, The Gospel According To John. The New International Commentary On The New Testament, F.F. Bruce, ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 846.

6. Ibid., p. 846.

7. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, John 12-21 (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishing, 2008), p. 381.

8. Ibid., p. 381.

Study Questions (continued from Part I)

2. Jesus said that He would send the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit would have particular functions in our lives. What are some of those functions?