And when He had said this, He breathed on them,
and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
Various Views Held Throughout the
is a direct reference to Pentecost. John, more concerned with theology
than chronology, inserts the coming of the Holy Spirit in close temporal
connection with Christ’s death and exaltation.
is not a direct reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit, but rather
the impersonal breath of God that both enables and empowers for ministry.
refers to the actual impartation of the Holy Spirit in a lesser degree
("sprinkled") later fulfilled completely at Pentecost ("saturated").
This fulfills John 17:17-19, but the grand Holy Spirit promises mentioned
in John 14-16 are fulfilled in Acts 2.
was the actual outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Therefore Pentecost
(Acts 2) refers to a "second baptism" of the Holy Spirit. Thus all
Christians should ask God for the second baptism of the Holy Spirit
(often accompanied by tongues) after they are born-again.
Various rebuttals to
these positions are listed in the "exegetical support" below
5. This was only symbolism
(an "acted parable," a pledge) that pointed to the actual gift of
the Holy Spirit soon to be received by all believers at Pentecost.
Jesus used symbolism
earlier in Johns gospel (specifically of the Holy Spirit in 3:8).
For instance, in 13:8b He told Peter, "If I do not wash you, you have
no part with Me." Though Jesus in this case was directly referring
to the foot washing, the event found its ultimate fulfillment later as it
pointed to His work on the cross, which had yet to be accomplished. Peters
physical foot washing was intended to symbolize his spiritual cleansing
through Christs blood.
Unless we believe that
the Holy Spirit was in Christs breath, any interpretation must take
this event as symbolic in some sense.
If 20:22 was an exclusive
distribution of the Holy Spirit for the Apostles, why did Jesus exclude
Thomas (see Jn. 20:24)?
Just as Jesus spoke
of receiving the Holy Spirit in John 20:22 as a completed event, He did
the same elsewhere in this Gospel regarding His "hour" (12:23)
and His glorification (Jn. 13:31; 17:5) even though both events were still
The words "on
them" should probably not be carried into our English translation.
We would be more accurate to simply say, "He breathed" or "He
exhaled." The omission of these two words gives the verse a different
If the Holy Spirit was
fully given in 20:22 as some believe, the results are disappointing. Little
spiritual change appears to occur as the disciples are still meeting behind
locked doors in fear (20:26; cf. 20:19), they are found in their old employment
(21:1-3) playing their old comparison games (21:20-22). Furthermore, Jesus
still needs to restore Peter from his sin of denial (21:15-19) and Thomas
faith is predicated on his sight, not the internal witness of the Spirit
(20:29). This is a far cry from the events recorded in Acts after the arrival
of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which includes, by contrast, suffering for
Christ (5:41), great boldness (4:13, 31) and unceasing proclamation of the
Many believe the preceding
verse (20:21) is also looking forward to Pentecost. In the same way that
the Holy Spirit was promised in 20:22 but really came at Pentecost did Christs
sending out His disciples to preach the Gospel get promised in 20:21, but
actually fulfilled at Pentecost as well (see Ac. 1:4, 8).
By the time of Johns
writing, Acts 2 would have been well known to his readers. Thus the symbolism
in 20:22 is fulfilled in a crucial event that the people were well aware.
The arrival of the Holy
Spirit was predicated upon Christs return to the Father. "But
I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do
not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send
Him to you" (Jn. 16:7). At this point in His ministry, Jesus had yet
to "go away," return to the Father by way of the Ascension.
The arrival of the Holy
Spirit was predicated upon Christs glorification. "But this He
spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for
the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified"
(Jn. 7:39). The completion of Christs earthly work, the Ascension
(which had yet to occur) was on Jesus mind when He prayed in John
17 (verses 1-5, 24) to regain the glory He had with the Father before the
In Acts 1:4-5 Jesus
told His disciples to wait for the promised Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 14:6).
If the promise was fulfilled in John 20:22, there would be nothing for them
to wait for. Furthermore, there is no evidence (anywhere in the Bible) of
the disciples asking for or seeking the Holy Spirit (contrary to many today).
There was nothing they could do to cause this event to occur. They simply
were passive awaiting the sovereign fulfillment of Gods promise.
The context of verse
22 is evangelism. Verse 21 clearly states the commission. "As the Father
has sent Me, I also send you." Verse 23 refers to the authority the
evangelist possesses in regard to those who accept or reject the Gospel
of Jesus Christ. "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been
forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."
Following is Johns purpose for writing, also evangelistic. "These
have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (Jn. 20:31).
When this theme of evangelism is considered, the symbolic promise of the
Holy Spirit in John 20:22 ties in well with Christs own promise in
Acts 1:8 in reference to Pentecost. "But you shall receive power when
the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in
Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of
the earth." In other words, 20:22 speaks of the "equipment"
necessary to fulfill the Great Commission.
There is a good probability
that John uses the symbolism in chapter 20 to show his reader that the story
does not end with his book.
exhalation and command Receive the Holy Spirit
are best understood as a kind of acted parable pointing forward to the
full enduement still to come (though in the past for Johns readers)"
(D.A. Carson, John, p. 655).
"When Jesus breathed
on His disciples and said to them Receive the Holy Spirit,
it probably was an acted-out prophecy of what would happen to them at
Pentecost" (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 769).
"What shall we say about the phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit?"
happened at Pentecost for the disciples, but it happened at conversion
for the Corinthians (1 Cor. 12:13) and for us. It is not a phrase the
New Testament authors would use to speak of any post-conversion experience
of empowering by the Holy Spirit" (ibid. p. 773). "It seems
therefore that there are no New Testament texts that encourage us to seek
for a second experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit that
comes after conversion" (ibid. p. 775).
The normal pattern
since the time of the Apostles has been that Christians receive the Holy
Spirit along with regeneration. It is not necessary for believers to seek
a specific second work of Spirit baptism following conversion" (R.C.
Sproul. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, p. 118).
"What Jesus said
in John 20:22 was simply a promise of the Holy Spirit; the disciples did
not receive the Holy Spirit at that moment
The statement was a pledge
would be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost" (John MacArthur,
Charismatic Chaos, p. 215, 214).
Based on the exegetical
evidence, I believe the reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit in John
20:22 is symbolic and finds its fulfillment in Acts 2 at Pentecost.
Both John 20:22 and
Acts 2 are unique events in church history and are not repeated.
Believers now receive
the Holy Spirit (a one-time event) the moment they repent of
their sins and trust Jesus Christ for salvation.
All believers have and
are equally indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:13). However,
when they yield to Christ and walk in the Spirit, they do experience a greater
fullness of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).