Thursday, May 03, 2007

Theological Question (Help!)

  • In John 16:7, Jesus tells His disciples, "If I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you."

  • After His resurrection, in John 20:17, Jesus tells Mary Magdelene, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'" (Seemingly saying He hadn't yet "gone", as required for giving the Spirit.)

  • But then in John 20:22, before His ascension in Acts 1:9, Jesus breathes on His disciples saying "Receive the Holy Spirit."

  • Later, in Acts 2, the disciples are waiting in Jerusalem per Jesus' instructions when the Holy Spirit fills them in power (often referred to as the baptism of the Spirit / beginning of the Church) and they speak a miraculous word that leads to some thousands receiving Christ.
So here are my questions-in-earnest:
  1. Did the disciples really receive the Holy Spirit in John 20:22? That Jesus "breathed" on them (biblical word study on "breath" shows it indicates the giving of life) seems to indicate more than a mere promise; but I'm confused

  2. If the disciples did receive the Spirit in John 20:22, how? Was it their spiritual rebirth? And if so, I thought Jesus said He had to "go" before the Spirit would come.

  3. If John 20:22 was rebirth, then what the heck is Acts 2?

  4. How does this all translate into our expectations and experience as Christ followers today?
Help!!! (And thanks.)


David said...

Hey John,
Great question!
Being as I'm at work, I can't delve into great detail here, but it's been my understanding that when Jesus breathed on the disciples and they received the Holy Spirit, it was for power and annointing to do the works of God to expand His Kingdom, but that the "indwelling" of the Holy Spirit didn't happen until Acts 2 after Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as the presence of Christ, through the church, on the earth.

So, I'm speculating, that the disciples received more of an Old Testament annointing of the Holy Spirit falling on them, whereas, in Acts the Holy Spirit begins to indwell in them.

Thoughts? Am I missing something?
I'll have to read through the scriptures when I get home.

John Lynch said...

Thanks David! I'm really eager to hear more of your thoughts. This one's got me stumped!!!

John Lynch said...

My other friend Dave (from Arizona) emailed the following in response:

The question is, Why did Jesus say that the Holy Spirit couldn’t come until He Himself went away yet he breathes into the disciples on the day of resurrection and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit? (John 20:22).

Let’s look at the verse where Jesus says He first has to go away. “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless 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 depart, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:5-7)

These verses show us that the “going away” was to the Father (“the one who sent Him”). It appears that He indeed had ascended to the Father between the time He met Mary at the tomb and the appearance to His disciples later on that resurrection day when He breathed into them. The reason we can say that is because He told Mary not to cling to Him because He had not yet ascended to the Father. He then told her to tell the disciples that He was ascending to His God and their God (v17-18).

Then he suddenly appears to the disciples gathered in the locked room where they were meeting and shows them his hands and feet so that they would be clear that it was truly Him. Thomas was not present at that time and later expressed his doubt that Jesus had really risen from the dead—he said he wouldn’t believe until he could touch the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side. Then when Jesus saw him about eight days later, He encouraged Thomas to touch him—a different response than what He had made to Mary.

So between the two events, it is safe to assume that He had indeed gone to present Himself to the Father right after He appeared to Mary (Imagine—He took the time to reassure her as He saw her weeping before going to see His Father). He then returned to the disciples and was with them on and off for another 40 days. After that, He ascended to the Father and remained there, seated at the Father’s right hand.

So He had “gone away” on the day of resurrection to the Father, to offer Himself as the First-Fruit of His resurrection, and then returned to help the disciples through a difficult transition, before returning “permanently” to the Father. Thus, the Spirit was given to them after Jesus had gone away to the Father. That is my understanding of these verses.

BAB said...

OK, this may be too late, especially for such a poor answer.

First, although it is good and helpful to try and reconcile these things, we must remember that the Gospels (and Acts) each have their distinct purposes and different ways of telling the story. All that to say, sometimes chronology, emphasis, details are different in these books based upon the purpose.

That is not a cop-out. It's simply to note that John and Luke are telling the same story differently. John is ending his Gospel implying the same reality that Luke is without the luxury of a sequel.

So what do I think? Acts is demonstrating the the pouring out of the Holy Spirit as an eschatalogical fulfillment of the Day of the Lord. In other words, the day is here (of which Joel spoke) when God would pour out his Spirit on all his people. He then shows how it spreads beyond Israel to the Gentiles.

It seems John is emphasizing a time when he is transferring authority to his disciples. In other words, he is giving them the authority to extend and withhold forgiveness.

So, I do think that Luke and John are probably writing of two different events in which Jesus and the Holy Spirit are involved. Read Luke 24 and John 20. Both speak of a time when Jesus appeared in their presence with a "Peace by with you!" (Oh my Gosh! Jesus you have got to stop sneaking up on us like that.) In Luke it says, "He opened up their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." In John "receive the Holy Spirit." Could it be possible that is two ways of telling the same story? I don't know. I, however, don't think either one is necessarily trying to make a point about when exactly the disciples were regenerated or justified.

Did I even answer said questions? I don't know.

John Lynch said...

That is VERY helpful, Brett. Thanks brother!

... Wish I could be there for the "See-ya & Bless-ya" party in June. We're there in spirit and will be praying you through the journey.

Thanks again, man.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

As requested, I read the comment by Brett regarding your question on the coming of the Holy Spirit that we discussed earlier. He ends by saying, “Did I answer the questions?” I’m not sure that he did, at least it seems to me his answer wasn’t exactly what we were talking about. Yes, the different books of the Bible certainly do have their own emphasis, which is particularly evident in the gospels; Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ kingship, Mark His servant-hood, Luke His humanity, and John His divinity. But they also work together and help interpret one another at important points. The revelation is still a united whole. However, I guess I have a little different understanding regarding Jesus’ breathing into His disciples. Brett believes this symbolized Jesus’ passing on to them His authority. Although that might be a secondary sense, I would think the primary imagery would be that of the conveyance of new life. After all, breath is related to life and Jesus is said to have become (presumably after His resurrection) the “life giving Spirit” (1Cor. 15:45). Thus breathing into them and saying “receive the Holy Spirit” seems to be a matter of life impartation as opposed to the giving of authority. Authority associated with the Holy Spirit, it seems to me, was symbolized by the mighty wind and the tongues of fire that came on Pentecost. Of course, there is no authority without life and true authority comes out of life, but I think life is the point. The parallel imagery from the Old Testament of God breathing into Adam and his becoming a living soul is also undeniably a matter of life. Authority came as well, but that was because man firstly had life. But this is in essence an aside because I don’t think it really addressed the question. And finally, I didn’t quite follow where Brett was going at the end as it pertained to the question.

Let me add here something that happened as I read these comments. I found myself stepping back and looking at us believers, including me, as a lot. Yes, I think asking questions is very important because it often opens new vistas to us. But sometimes I think we miss the reality of those new revelations, being overly caught up in the intellectual pursuit itself. I’m becoming increasingly tired of living that way. I hunger more and more for the reality of the things that God wants us to live in.

For instance, just before Jesus’ bodily ascension into heaven, the disciples asked Him when the restoration of the kingdom to Israel would come—they even wondered if the time had already come. Jesus didn’t rebuke them for asking the question but He answered them by unveiling a much more important truth. Firstly, it wasn’t for them to know the timing of such events. That was wholly in the Father’s hands and it wasn’t their place to know when the kingdom would come. But then Jesus said that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and that they would become Jesus’ witnesses to the whole earth (Acts 1:6-8). Thus, what was important was not knowing the time the kingdom would come but that they were doing their part to cause it to come. When I think of the many books that have been written on the Lord's second coming, I think in most cases the real point is being missed. Jesus told us that we can’t know the day or hour of His coming. But instead, He emphasizes that we need to be ready for His coming. What good does it do us if we know the time but aren’t ready? One might argue that if we knew the time we might be more inclined to get ready. Perhaps, but wouldn’t that then mean that if we figured out that the Lord won’t be coming for another 53 years (Sir Isaac Newton believed Jesus would return in 2060) we would take it easy knowing that we have plenty of time? And if we cleaned up our life just because we thought He was coming soon and He then delayed His coming; what would we do than—become disillusioned and start living in our flesh? But even if the Lord's coming will be many years out, I might die tomorrow. I need to be living as if He’s coming could be any day. In 2 Peter 3:12, Peter makes it clear that if we live right we can shorten the time of His coming. So the important thing is not having the answer of when He is coming but living our lives today in light of His coming. Now having said all this, I realize that being able to articulate the importance of application over knowledge can of itself become self-gratifying and often ends there; it is all vanity if it doesn’t result in true action. “Oh wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death!”

And that brings me back to your question regarding a proper understanding of what Jesus meant in His needing to go away so that the Holy Spirit could come. I don’t think there is any problem in trying to be clear about this; in fact I think it is a good question. But sometimes I think I miss the forest for the trees. The fact now for me is that Jesus has left and has sent the Holy Spirit and I need to ask this more important question; am I in the good of the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent? There is nothing wrong with asking the questions as long as the answers lead me to the more important outcomes. I fear I miss this too much.

As you have probably figured out by now, this has become a reoccurring theme for me. I hunger for the reality of what I see, not just an ability to make sense of it all with my mind. Often I think of very simple saints who never asked these kinds of questions because the questions weren’t important to them. They just loved the Lord and believed what was clearly revealed in his Word and, in turn, lived wonderfully exciting lives—much better than my own. Even if they find something that seems contradictory, they aren’t too concerned about it because they understand the limitations of their ability to understand divine things. They just assume both are true or there is something they have missed along the way and happily continue on. In the end, the most important thing is that we know Him. I think what is happening to me is that the Lord is more and more calling me to have Him as my reality and not be overly intellectual about things. It’s better to eat than it is to be so caught up with understanding food and how it works in our body that we don’t take the time to eat! A simple person just eats and lives and never needs to understand how it all works. Of course, understanding how the food we eat is processed in our body is a very good thing—just as long as we also do the eating!

John, don’t mind too much my venting. My concern is not with anyone in particular (and certainly not Dave or Brett) but with the church in general and with myself specifically. We must have proper theology; otherwise we can get ourselves into trouble. But too often, theology replaces faith and trust and simplicity and that is, I think for some of us, our greater danger. We are already well founded in most aspects of good theology. Now we need more experience. Unfortunately, some of us have inherited some bad theology that virtually excludes the role of experience. But we need both truth and experience. I think I have a somewhat good grasp on truth; I just desire greater experience.

Thanks for letting me rant beyond what you asked. And thanks for being a good friend. Talk to you soon.

John Lynch said...

Amen, brother. Thanks so much for your honesty, insight, and vulnerability. Eager to see you in person real soon!