When did the Disciples receive the Holy Spirit?

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“When did the Disciples receive the Holy Spirit, on Resurrection Evening within a locked room (John 20:19-23) or on Pentecost when ‘they were all together in one place’ (Acts 2:1-4)?”

I was one of three ministers eating lunch together when this question surfaced and we were face to face with a seeming contradiction. John records in 14:6, 25-26 and 15:26 that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, would come upon the disciples. He adds in 16:7 the words of Jesus: “I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you.”

Meanwhile, Luke writes how “after” Jesus reiterates His promise to send the Holy Spirit (“… You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you …”, Acts 1:8) and “after” His ascension (“… He was taken up …”, Acts 1:9,10) “then” we have the actual coming of the Holy Spirit (“… they were filled with the Holy Spirit …”, 2:1-4). Why, then, do we read in John 20:21-22: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ After saying this, He breathed on them (ten of the disciples) and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”?

What He said and did here was “before” He left and almost 50 days before Pentecost! Is there a conflict between what John and Luke report?

Professor Craig L. Blomberg asks and answers this question in The Apologetics Study Bible’s notes by Holman Bible Publishers (p. 1616): “Is this John’s massively reworked counterpart to Pentecost (Acts 2)? No. Only ten of the disciples were present and nothing ‘spiritual’ happened afterward. They simply went fishing (21:3)”.

Dr. Blomberg goes on to share his explanation and/or reconciliation of John’s account with that of Luke: “More likely, this was a dramatic object lesson or initial bestowal of the Spirit to prepare them for the more dramatic filling that would happen seven weeks later in Jerusalem.”

I am more inclined to agree with Craig Blomberg than Leon Morris, who in his commentary on John writes: “The relation of this gift (of the Holy Spirit, John 20:22) to that made on the day of Pentecost is obscure. Some scholars hold that the two are incompatible.” He then seeks to reconcile the “incompatibility” by referring to the “diversities of gifts but the same Spirit (I Corinthians 12:4)” and ends up proposing that “John tells us of one gift and Luke of another.”

Where do we stand? There is no doubt that John recorded the promises of Jesus about the coming Holy Spirit. And he includes what Jesus said about “leaving” before bestowing the Holy Spirit: “… if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you” (16:7). Obviously, he saw no conflict or contradiction in what he later wrote in 20:22: “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”! Therefore, I believe we may conclude that Jesus was preparing the disciples for Pentecost when He breathed on them.

Certainly, this was reminiscent of Genesis 2:7, when God breathed the breath of life into man. Here the Resurrected Christ is breathing God’s Spirit into them as an appetizer or foretaste of what was to come when they would be “filled” with His Spirit on Pentecost!

We Christians can take heart in the fact that Christ came not just to live among us (as Jesus lived with the Disciples), suffer with us (as Jesus empathized with the sick and suffering), and die for us (as Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross), but to live in us through the presence and power of His Holy Spirit! May we sing with our heart, soul, and mind the words of this song Fill Me Now:

Fill Me Now, fill me now, Jesus, come and fill me now;
Fill me with They hallowed presence – Come, O come and fill me now.

May our daily prayer be that we will be filled with His Spirit, inspiring our thoughts and feelings, empowering our words and actions, and transforming us to being truly Christ-like Christians! May we strive to be able to say with Paul: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). May each of us experience the answer to Paul’s prayer for believers like us: “to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).

That fullness did not happen for the Disciples in their Resurrection Evening meeting or their Pentecost Gathering. There is more to God’s “coming into our lives” than one event can encompass. Amen!

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