I don’t understand verse 22 of John 20. I thought the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost.

This is one of the most puzzling passages in the Gospels and even in the whole Bible. We will know the correct answer to this question when we get to Glory. For now we can at least look at the possible meanings to this passage. Verses 21 and 22 read,

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.

This occasion, of course, was Jesus’ meeting with His disciples following His resurrection and before His ascension. It was a recommissioning of His disciples as His apostles. Jesus sent them as His representatives, just as the Father had sent Him. He sent them with His divine authority to do His work of preaching, teaching, and performing miraculous signs and wonders. A little later Jesus would say to them,

All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:18–20).

You have stated the difficulty in your question. Here are some possible explanations:

1. Jesus’ statement, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” prophesied or promised what was going to happen on the Day of Pentecost. To paraphrase, Jesus might have been saying, “You will soon receive the Holy Spirit.” Or perhaps He was saying, “When the Holy Spirit comes on the upcoming Day of Pentecost, be receptive to Him.”

2. The statement by Christ indicated a partial enduement short of the full indwelling beginning with Pentecost. Varying opinions exist among those holding this view. But basically the view is that a partial gift of knowledge, understanding, and/or empowerment existed during that transitional time between verse 22 and Pentecost. It was a special ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives and perhaps a guarantee or foretaste of what the Holy Spirit was about to do. Some have felt that such an enduement would help the apostles better see what would be happening on the Day of Pentecost.

3. Others maintain this was a full outpouring upon the disciples. However, this view seems to contradict several other passages of Scripture. John 7:39 says, “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” In other words, Jesus’ glorification in Heaven after His death, resurrection, and ascension had to come before the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost.

Also, Luke 24:49 states, “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” So these words of Jesus, after He said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” and before Pentecost, indicate that the disciples had not received “power from on high” (the Holy Spirit) as yet, at least not in the full way of indwelling that all believers experienced beginning at Pentecost.

Acts 1:4, 5, and 8 also seem to bear out this argument: “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

It would seem that the Spirit could not come in His fulness until Christ was glorified—gone back to Heaven.

4. Some believe that John 20:22 indicates the disciples were truly saved or regenerated in this encounter. Thus they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And then on the Day of Pentecost they were filled, or controlled, by the Holy Spirit.

The first two possibilities seem the most likely options in this passage. What we do know from this study is that, first, the Holy Spirit was necessary for the apostles to function. And today in this dispensation He is necessary for all believers. Second, God gave the Holy Spirit. Too much that is attributed to the Holy Spirit is actually worked up by people. Third, this occurred during a time of transition. They weren’t quite in the Church Age yet. Therefore, we must exercise care not to draw conclusions for our present-day situation. We are in the Church Age—the period beginning on the Day of Pentecost, not before.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (September 1991).
© 1991 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.