Today’s Reading: Proverbs 16, John 19-21
John 20:19-22 (NKJV)
19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
This is one of those passages of Scripture that, on the surface, always bothered me. It just didn’t seem to line up with other portions of the Word about receiving the Holy Spirit. Why did Jesus tell them here, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and then later tell them to wait in Jerusalem until they were baptized in the Holy Spirit or received the Holy Spirit in power (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:4-5)? Did they receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus spoke to them to receive Him or not? And if they did then, why tell them later to wait before going out in ministry until they received the Holy Spirit?
The answer is there are two primary and distinct works of the Spirit in the life of a believer. The first one is the work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. That is what is taking place that John records in this passage. They were to receive the Spirit as the Spirit of life that brought them the new birth on this resurrection day evening. Until now, no one was born again. Those who believed on Jesus before His death, burial, and resurrection were saved on credit. Salvation was placed on their account until Jesus paid the price for their sins at the cross.
Romans 10:9 tells us the prerequisite to receiving the new birth. If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we are saved. It was not possible for someone to be truly born again until Jesus was raised from the dead. Having just been raised from the dead, Jesus imparts the new birth to them by telling them to receive the Holy Spirit. What they received at that time was the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work in them.
Notice Jn. 20:22 says that Jesus breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Compare this to the breath of the Father on Adam in the first creation (Gen. 2:7). When Jesus breathed on them, the new creation was manifest in them. Receiving the second work of the Spirit is necessary to receive the Spirit of power and might to enable Jesus’ disciples – you and me – to fulfill our mission to the world.
The truth is we need both. We need the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit the disciples received on the day of Pentecost. They are not the same. Each has its place and neither is optional if we plan to follow His life and ministry.