It was resurrection Sunday night. The disciples were meeting in Jerusalem in a room with the doors shut when Jesus appeared among them. This dramatic scene provides the content for John's last reference to the Spirit in his gospel. Jesus bestows the Holy Spirit who will help the disciples in many ways. Jesus and the Spirit restore their faith, empower the disciples, and help them proclaim a powerful message.
One, Jesus gives the Helper to the disciples.
Jesus breathed on the disciples and said (verse 22), "'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" During the days leading up to Christ's death and resurrection, he promised to send the Spirit as Helper to the disciples. Although some believe that this was a symbolic act, my view is that Jesus actually bestowed the Spirit. The Spirit would help the disciples in many ways. This passage is a very natural fulfillment of that promise.
The Holy Spirit is your Helper today. The Helper (John 14:16) will abide with you forever. The Helper (John 14:26) will teach you all things. The Holy Spirit is the great teacher who illuminates the message of Christ to our hearts. The Helper (John 15:26) will testify about Jesus. In other words, He will support the life and ministry of Christ.
Two, the Helper restores the faith of the disciples.
When Jesus appeared among the disciples, they were (Luke 24:37) "startled and frightened and thought they were seeing a spirit." Jesus immediately began to put their minds at ease. John (verse 19) tells us that He said, "'Peace be with you.'" This was a common greeting, but here it has a deeper meaning. Jesus was restoring and strengthening their faith.
With this in mind, Jesus bestowed the Spirit upon the disciples. The disciples had experienced the Spirit before, but Jesus now had come through His death, burial, and resurrection. He had to go away (John 16:7) before He could send the Spirit. Now, he could bestow the Spirit to minister in all His New Testament fullness. Immediately, the Spirit has a role in strengthening their faith.
Many times we face circumstances in life that test our faith. The disciples had just gone through a severe test. The Spirit would help them. He will help you as well. No matter where you are today in your spiritual experience, let the Spirit draw you closer to Christ.
Three, the Helper enables the disciples to witness.
Now, Jesus states (verse 21), "'Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.'" Once again, Jesus uses the common Peace greeting. Again, He uses it with deeper meaning. This time, Jesus is preparing the disciples for their work. The disciples would be witnesses.
"I also send you."
The parallel passage is Luke 24: where Jesus says, "'And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." NAU Even on resurrection Sunday night the disciples received a measure of power, but they would experience a greater outpouring on the day of Pentecost.
As we witness for Christ, the Spirit will empower us. Jesus will pour out the Spirit upon us to do great exploits for Him. We always must remember that Jesus is the One who has commissioned us and sent us forth. We will not be helpless as we minister.
Four, the message proclaimed has a powerful impact.
Jesus said (verse 23, "'If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.'" NAU The meaning of this verse is much discussed. As many believe, the disciples will forgive and retain sins by means of the proclamation of the gospel. In other words people will be judged by their acceptance or rejection of the message.
All this means that all who proclaim the gospel have an awesome responsibility. People will be judged on the basis of what they do about Christ. We could not accept this responsibility without knowing that the Helper will be with us each step of the way.
This was the only time that Jesus said "'Receive the Spirit.'" In some ways this was a unique occasion. It took place between the resurrection and the Day of Pentecost. Nevertheless there is much that we learn from it. Certainly, the word "receive" cannot be limited to this occasion.
Even though we received the Spirit when we came to Christ, we must keep on believing and receiving. We already have experienced much, but there is always more. Through the Spirit, Jesus always will strengthen our faith, enable us to witness, and help us proclaim a powerful gospel.