A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
I’ve gotten a raft of comments on my comparison of John 20:22 with Acts 2:1-4 in my answer to a recent question. Some were more diplomatic than others in suggesting my understanding of these verses leaves something to be desired. So let’s take another look and see how these two passages are alike and how they’re different. We’ll take John 20:22 first, in the context of the passage.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)
Some have suggested that Jesus was only pretending here, his breath meant to imitate the sound the Holy Spirit would make when He really came 50 days later, and not investing the disciples with the Holy Spirit. But Acts 2:2 says the sound of the Holy Spirit was much different. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” It’s like comparing the sound of blowing out birthday candles to the sound of a hurricane.
And the Greek word for receive in John 20:22 is lambano and means to take or lay hold of something in order to use it, or carry it away. It denotes permanence and possession. The same word is used in Acts 8:17 referring to the believers in Samaria when they finally realized they had received the Holy Spirit after Peter and John arrived. I don’t believe Jesus was pretending, any more than Peter and John were. I think the disciples who were present were receiving the Holy Spirit just like it says.
Jesus met with the disciples several times after that night, speaking with them about the Kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)
The Greek word for baptize literally means to be temporarily immersed, usually in water. Jesus explained that while that was the case with John’s baptism, soon the disciples would be temporarily immersed in the Holy Spirit, giving them miraculous power.
So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
This gift was not the receipt of the Holy Spirit, which had already happened, but the power to do miraculous works. Remember, He had previously told them the Holy Spirit had been with them and would be in them (John 14:17). This had been accomplished. Now He was saying the Holy Spirit would come upon them.
This is seen in the use of the Greek word eperchomai which is translated to come upon or come on. It means to overpower someone, or take them over. The same Greek word described the two instances recorded in Acts of Gentiles speaking in tongues. In Acts 10:44 the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles listening to Peter at Cornelius’ house. In Acts 19:6 the Holy Spirit came upon a group of Gentiles when Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus. I believe both of these events were temporary situations intended to show the Jewish leadership that the Holy Spirit could come upon Gentiles as well as Jews.
The Holy Spirit had also come upon men in Old Testament times, as with Balaam (Numbers 24:2), Saul (1 Sam. 11:6), Amasai (1 Chron. 12:18), Azariah (2 Chron. 15:1) and Zechariah (2 Chron 24:20).
Understanding the difference between receiving the Holy Spirit (lambano) and having Him come upon you (eperchomai) helps clear up some of the confusion surrounding these verses.
And Now For Acts 2
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)
The word for filled also means to be temporarily taken over. And men had been filled with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as well. Examples are Joseph (Genesis 41:38) when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, and Bezalel of the tribe of Judah who was given supernatural skill in designing and working the gold, silver, and bronze ornamentation for the tabernacle (Exodus 31:2-4).
Both Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, were filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41, 1:67) over 30 years before Pentecost. In addition, people are also said to be filled with wrath (Luke 4:28), fear (Luke 5:26), wonder (Acts 3:10), etc. In every case, the same Greek word is used. And in every case, it describes a temporary condition.
So being filled with the Holy Spirit did not originate with Pentecost, nor did having Him come upon us. But don’t get the idea that temporary means it only happens once for a little while and then it’s gone for good. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. But then he was filled again in Acts 4:8 and once more in Acts 4:31. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 9:17 and again Acts 13:9. It can happen every time there’s a need.
Here’s the point I made in my answer. When we first come to faith, the Holy Spirit is sealed within us as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (Ephes. 1:13-14) and will remain there as long as we live on this Earth. The disciples experienced this on the evening of the Lord’s resurrection, and ever since then, every believer has had the same experience. But from time to time the Holy Spirit will come upon us and we will be temporarily filled with His power to perform a miracle on His behalf. Every believer can also experience this. It doesn’t require a special ceremony, and it doesn’t only happen in some churches. It can happen at any time to any believer who makes himself or herself available in faith. It has happened to me and it can happen to you.