Pastor's Pen

Upon Mary Magdalene's realization of Jesus' resurrection, she hurried to inform the other disciples, who, except for John, were unaware of the significance of the empty tomb (John 20:1–18). However, it appeared that her message didn't initially resonate with them. At best, they failed to comprehend its importance. According to John, the disciples, on the day of Christ's resurrection, found refuge in a secured room due to fear of the Jewish authorities (v. 19). This reaction is understandable from a human perspective; given the authorities' role in Jesus' crucifixion, the disciples felt threatened. Nonetheless, they had no reason to fear, for Jesus had triumphed over death. Though they would eventually become bold proclaimers of the gospel, it required the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to embolden them (Acts 2).

Regarding Pentecost, the passage today highlights a significant moment before the actual outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples in Jerusalem, fifty days after Jesus' resurrection. Here, our Lord breathes on them, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (v. 22). This incident is sometimes termed the Johannine Pentecost, suggesting a secondary bestowal of the Spirit. However, upon closer examination, this interpretation appears incorrect. What we witness is an "acted parable," a tangible gesture by Jesus foreshadowing a forthcoming event, similar to many Old Testament prophecies (Jer. 19; Ezek. 4). In Greek, the term "pneuma" denotes both "spirit" and "breath," hence, our Lord's action and words signify the imminent pouring out of His Spirit upon His disciples. Importantly, Christians have seen this action as evidence that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Augustine of Hippo explains, "By breathing on them, [the Son] signified that the Holy Spirit was the Spirit, not of the Father alone, but likewise His own."

Before this symbolic gesture, Jesus provided evidence of His resurrection to the disciples by revealing His hands and side, confirming His identity as the Crucified One (John 20:20; see 19:31–37). Furthermore, He entrusted them with a mission to venture into the world, declaring that He was sending them just as the Father had sent Him. Jesus, being transcendent to the world, entered it to offer salvation (John 1:1–18). The disciples, and by extension all Christians, were once part of the world, but through God's grace, they are removed from its influence and then sent back to spread the message of salvation, directing people towards Christ (John 17:14–21).

John Calvin observes that Jesus promises the Spirit to His disciples to prepare them for pastoral ministry, he wrote, "Those whom Christ calls to the pastoral office he likewise adorns with the necessary gifts, that they may be qualified for discharging the office." While this pertains to the pastoral role, it's also evident that Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit upon all Christians to empower them for ministry. Indeed, God always equips those whom He calls (1 Cor. 12).