“And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ” John 20:22
We are learning from Jesus’ appearance to His ten disciples the evening of His resurrection day how to overcome our fears. We have discovered we must…
– Rely on Jesus to calm our fear with His peace-giving presence (John 20:19).
– Redirect our focus to the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection to convince our doubting hearts (John 20:20).
– Renew our sense of purpose (John 20:21).
The ten disciples of Jesus had been calmed, convinced, and commissioned, but they were still paralyzed by fear. They were still sitting in the locked room for fear of the Jews. They lacked power to overcome their fear, so Jesus prepares them physically and visibly for what would come to them spiritually at Pentecost, fifty days later (Acts 2:1-21). 1 “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ” (John 20:22).
Some see this verse as a temporary filling of the Holy Spirit to give the disciples the knowledge, understanding, and enablement they would need to continue Christ’s work until Pentecost when they would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.2 But the weaknesses of this interpretation include the following:
“Two bestowals of the Spirit seem unusual, in view of Jesus’ earlier promises to send (not impart) the Spirit (7:39; chs. 14—16), and the importance in Acts of the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:4; 11:15). Also, opponents of this view claim that there is no indication that this temporary infusion with the ‘Spirit’ had any effect on the disciples.” 3 “The disciples do not go out and share their faith. Rather, they hide, and on occasion go fishing (21:1-11).” 4 “Furthermore, there is no evidence that when Thomas returned to the scene, Jesus gave him the Spirit—as one would expect if the Spirit’s presence was essential for the disciples then (v. 26-29).” 5
It is better to see John 20:22 as a physical and visual preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days later on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-21; 11:15-16). This “was a demonstration of what Jesus would do after He returned to the Father, and which He did do on Pentecost. He was not imparting the Spirit to them in any sense here. This interpretation accounts for Thomas not receiving the Spirit before Pentecost. It also explains why this event may have had no permanently changing effect on the disciples comparable to that of Pentecost. Evidently there was only one coming of the Spirit on these disciples, and that happened on Pentecost.” 6
Also in favor of this view is that an aorist imperative, which is used in John 20:22 (Labete – “Receive”), is used by Jesus in this way elsewhere. For example in John 2:19, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). It was three years before that imperative was fulfilled. 7 Likewise, the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell Jesus’ disciples would take place fifty days later. Keep in mind that the time of Acts 1:5 is forty days after John 20:22, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit was still future. In Acts 11:15-16, the apostle Peter explains that the Gentiles in Acts 10 had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit “as upon us at the beginning.” That means that the beginning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. Therefore, John 20:22 is not referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but to the preparation for it.
The word “breathed” (emphusáō) in John 20:22 is also used in the Greek Old Testament in Genesis 2:7 where God “breathed” into Adam the breath of life. John seems to be connecting the disciples’ experience with Adam’s to show that Jesus is the Giver of both physical and spiritual life. 8
After the early stages in Acts when some received the Spirit after being born again by believing in Jesus (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:14-17; 19:6), reception of the Holy Spirit always occurred at the very moment a person believed in Christ for everlasting life 9 (e.g., Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:2; cf. Mark 1:8; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14).
Overcoming our fear, especially in carrying on the work of Jesus Christ, is not something we do in our own strength. The Holy Spirit must empower us. So the fourth way to overcome our fears is to RELATE TO THE PERSON OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (John 20:22). The power for overcoming our fear is not found in our personality or our performance. It is found in the Person of God the Holy Spirit. Get to know the Holy Spirit.
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is God, since lying to the Holy Spirit is equal to lying to God (Acts 5:3-4). But the Holy Spirit is not only God, He is a Person. He is not an impersonal force or influence. Like God the Father and God the Son, He possesses the same characteristics of a Person that they have:
1. He has knowledge or intellect. The Bible tells us, “10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” (I Corinthians 2:10-11). The Holy Spirit “searches” (ereunaō) all things which means He has the ability “to examine or investigate.” 10 This implies He has personality. He searches “the deep things of God” and reveals them to believers in Jesus. He “knows” (eídō) the things of God. This means he has the capacity “to grasp the meaning of something or to understand.” 11 The Holy Spirit has the ability to think and know things which are attributes of personality.
2. He has emotions or the ability to feel. The Holy Spirit not only thinks like a person, He feels like a person.The Bible says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30). Christians can “grieve” (lupéō) or cause severe emotional distress 12 to the Holy Spirit with our hurtful communication to one another (Ephesians 4:29). The fact that He can be “grieved” or offended reveals personality since one cannot hurt an influence or an impersonal force. The Bible also instructs us that the Holy Spirit has the ability to give and receive love (Romans 5:5; 15:30). The fact that the Holy Spirit responds emotionally the way that a person responds, demonstrates that He is a Person.
3. The Holy Spirit possesses a will or the ability to choose. After referring to various spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul says, “ But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” (I Corinthians 12:11). The Holy Spirit not only empowers these gifts, He also distributes them “to each one individually as He wills.” The Holy Spirit has the ability to choose which is also a mark of personhood. Just as God the Father and God the Son have a will, so does the Holy Spirit.
We also see in the Bible that the Holy Spirit acts like a Person. He teaches (John 14:26; 15:26-27; I Corinthians 2:13), gives guidance (Romans 8:14; Acts 16:6-7; 20:22-23), helps or comforts (John 16:7), convicts (John 16:8-11), gives commands (Acts 8:29; 10:19-20), He appoints believers to leadership (Acts 20:28), gives understanding (John 16:13), speaks (Acts 13:2), He intercedes or speaks on behalf of people (Romans 8:26), performs miracles (Acts 2:4; Romans 15:19), gives spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12:8-11), raises the dead (Romans 8:11), creates (Genesis 1:2), provides companionship (John 14:16-18), testifies and bears witness to Jesus (John 15:26-27), and glorifies Jesus (John 16:14). All of these actions demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is a Person. He does things that only a Person can do. But keep in mind that He is Spirit, which means He does not have a physical body like we do. He is a Person without a physical body which enables Him to indwell believers in Jesus (John 14:16-17; Romans 8:11; I Corinthians 6:19).
In conclusion, I want to share an illustration our pastor shared with us at church a few weeks ago. 13 It involves a woman who just graduated from Harvard University. She went to the Amazon River area of South America and was given a choice. She could either have a perfect map to navigate this area unknown to her or she could choose a guide to enable her to reach her destination. She said, “I just graduated and I’m pretty smart, so I will choose the map.”
The map was perfect and she was smart. So the first couple of days went fairly well using the map to navigate the area. But after three days or so, things got rough. It began to rain extremely hard. She tried using the map, but she didn’t know what to do. She was extremely confused about which way to go. Suddenly, she hears the voice of the guide. He says, “Hey, come this way. Follow me.” So he helps her navigate her way through that mess and confusion. He asks her, “Do you want me to stay with you?” She says, “No, I’ve got my perfect map.”
Using only a map to guide her, she starts going again. Three days later, she ends up in another confusing situation in a bog and gets lost. Finally the guide comes again and asks her, “Do you need help?” Ashamed, she says, “Yes, I need help.” As they are walking, the guide asks her, “Do you want me to help you?” She says, “Yeah, that’s fine. You can help me and guide me.” Then she says, “Do you need the map?” He replies, “No, I don’t need the map. I wrote the map.”
The Holy Spirit wrote our map, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). He enabled holy men to record God’s Word without error in all of the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20), so that every word in the Bible is from the mouth of God. As “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), the Holy Spirit guides us with the Bible. We must have the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible (I Corinthians 2:10-16).
The way we receive the Holy Spirit, is to believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life (John 7:37-39; Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:2; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). Every believer in Jesus has God the Holy Spirit indwelling him or her (John 14:16-17; Romans 8:11; I Corinthians 6:19) to guide them into all truth (John 16:13; Romans 8:14; Acts 16:6-7; 20:22-23) and empower them to live a life that glorifies Jesus Christ (John 16:13-14; Galatians 5:22-23). Learn to listen to the Spirit’s guidance through the Scriptures. Rely on His powerful presence to overcome your fears and become more like Jesus Christ (Romans 8:26-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for sending Your Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us to become more like You. We could never overcome our fears in our own strength. But You have given us the Person of the Holy Spirit to enable us to not only overcome our fears, but to replace our fears with Your courage and boldness. Holy Spirit, teach me to hear Your voice through the holy Bible so I can know You more intimately and experience the joy that You, the Father, and Jesus created me to have. Forgive me for neglecting my relationship with You. Please renew my love relationship with You so I can not only overcome my fears, but become more like my Savior, Jesus Christ. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.
1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1829.
2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 699; J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 366; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John: Revised Edition (New International Commentary on the New Testament series. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), pp. 747-48.
3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 379.
4. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 565.
5. Constable, pg. 379.
7. Wilkin, pg. 565.
10. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 389.
11. Ibid., pg. 694.
12. Ibid., pg. 604.
13. Adapted from Pastor Tim Agrimson’s April 25, 2021 sermon entitled, “The Spirit of Peace” at https://www.newlifedsm.com/episode/the-spirit-the-spirit-of-peace/ .