“And when He said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
When I was a new Christian, I attended a charismatic prayer meeting where the main speaker called me and a handful of other teens and young adults up to the stage. He then prayed over us, and then blew in my face and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.” The only thing I remember receiving that night was the thought, “Man this guy really needs a breath mint!”
Recently, after teaching John chapter 20, someone asked “Does this mean that the disciples received the Holy Spirit twice? Once here in John 20 and a second time in Acts 2?” The short answer is, “No,” and “Yes.” How’s that for making things clear as mud? To adequately answer this, you need to understand the difference between being “filled” with the Holy Spirit versus being “empowered” by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, we treat those terms as if they’re synonymous, but they are very different. John chapter 20 is dealing with being “filled” by the Holy Spirit. Whereas, in Acts chapter 2 the focus is the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples and “empowering” them.
Filled With The Holy Spirit
Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel Movement in his book Calvary Distinctives said, “We believe in a ‘three-fold’ relationship between the Holy Spirit and the believer, that are represented by three Greek prepositions; ‘para,’ ‘en,’ and ‘epi’”(Calvary Distinctives page 30). In John 14:16-17 Jesus said, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” When Jesus speaking about the Holy Spirit says, “He dwells with you,” that’s the Greek preposition “para.” It’s a preposition that means “to come alongside someone either to comfort them, encourage them, or to convict them about something they need to change.” So, we could call this the “with” relationship. Now we believe that the Holy Spirit is with both Christians and non-Christians. First of all, He’s with the Christian, as He comes alongside them to comfort them and encourage them in hard times. However, He is also with the non-Christian convicting them of their sins and convincing them that they need Jesus as their Savior to forgive them of their sins. So that is the “with” or “para” relationship.
But in this verse we also see another relationship between the Christian and the Holy Spirit, and that is the “in” relationship. In John 14:17, after Jesus says the Holy Spirit “dwells with you” He then adds, “and will be in you.” That’s the Greek preposition “en.” It speaks of coming inside or filling up. I believe that when a person accepts Jesus as their Savior and becomes a Christian, in that very moment, they are “filled” or “in-dwelt” by the Holy Spirit. 1 Cor 3:16 says,“Do you not know that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Likewise, in Romans 8:9 it says,“You however, are in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” This is what we would call being “filled” with the Holy Spirit. The moment you become a born-again Christian you are filled with the Holy Spirit who now dwells in you. The evidence that the Holy Spirit is indeed inside of you is a changed life. In Galatians chapter 5 the Apostle Paul describes what the life of a non-Christian who is not filled by the Holy Spirit looks like. He mentions lifestyles like sexual immorality, drunkenness, partying and violence. Then in contrast it says in Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” When the Holy Spirit dwells in you, He changes you.
So, there’s the “with” relationship where the Holy Spirit comes alongside you either to comfort or convict you. There’s the “in” relationship where the Holy Spirit fills you and changes you. But We believe there’s a third relationship that a believer can have with the Holy Spirit, and that is the “upon” relationship.
Empowered By The Holy The Spirit
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The word “upon” is the Greek preposition “epi” can be translated “over.” One translation renders it “overflow.” Additionally, the word “power” comes from the Greek word “dunamis.” This term simply means “ability.” Therefore, when Jesus told His disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes upon, He will give them power, they would have heard, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you an ability to do something.” The question is to do what? Well, Jesus went on to say, “to be witnesses.” Ultimately, this tells us that the act of witnessing, or leading people to Jesus is a work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot win others in our own physical abilities. We need the Holy Spirit to give us that ability, or if you would, we need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. The late Warren Wiersbe once said, “Witnessing to others without being empowered by the Holy Spirit, is just giving a sales pitch.” So, Jesus told His disciples to go to Jerusalem and “wait” for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Then fifty days later, on the Day of Pentecost, while they were in the upper room praying, the Holy Spirit did indeed come upon them (Acts 2). What was the result of the Holy Spirit coming upon them? You might say, “Well they spoke in tongues.” It’s true, they did speak in tongues, but that was not the end result, that was just an evidence that the Spirit of God came upon them. The end result was “that day about three thousand souls were added to the church”(Acts 2:41). I say that was the end result, because remember Jesus told them the Holy Spirit would empower them or give them the ability to be witnesses, to lead others to believe in Jesus.
Filled And Empowered
When we put the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts together, we see that ultimately, the disciples were first “filled” by the Spirit, and then they were “empowered” by the Holy Spirit.
Remember back in John 14:17b, Jesus speaking about the Holy Spirit told his disciples, “you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” Notice the words “will be.” This was FUTURE tense. In other words, at that point in time the disciples were NOT yet “filled” with the Spirit. Jesus was promising them that one day, the Holy Spirit would dwell in them, but at that particular moment He was not yet in them. When did they get “filled” by the Holy Spirit? The answer is in John chapter 20 verse 22 when it says, “And when He said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” I agree with Chuck Smith, Jon Courson, Warren Weirsbe, Skip Heitzig, and a host of other Bible teachers, that it was at that moment, the disciples were “born-again.” Even though they spent the last three and a half years following Jesus, they were not yet spiritually regenerated because Jesus in John chapter 14 had not died for their sins and had not been resurrected from the dead. Keep in mind, in order to become a Christian, you must believe that Jesus died for your sins, was buried in the tomb, and three days later He rose again. In John 20 after Jesus rose from the grave, He breathes on the disciples, and they receive the Holy Spirit. The language here is very reminiscent of Genesis 2:7 where God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils, and he became a living soul. At this moment they are now “filled” with the Spirit. Then, fifty days later, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came “upon” them and empowered the disciples with the ability to be His witnesses.
In conclusion, when a person believes in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins simultaneously, in that very moment they are “filled” by the Holy Spirit. Now that the Spirit of God dwells in them, He is changing them from the inside out. Additionally, the believer in Jesus is empowered to be witnesses of Jesus when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Typically, the “indwelling” of the Spirit happens at conversion. Whereas the “empowering” of the Spirit happens separately after conversion. For example, in Acts 8 the Apostles Peter and John hear that many of the Samaritans had already accepted Jesus and were baptized. So, the Apostles “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had not fallen UPON any of them” (Acts 8:15-16). However, while this experience is usually separate from salvation, it can happen during salvation as well. For example, in Acts chapter 10 Peter is sharing the gospel with a Roman Centurion named Cornelius, when suddenly it says, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell UPON all those who heard the word”(Acts 10:44). As a born-again Christian you are Spirit filled. As a result, you are not in a position of trying to change yourself, but rather the Spirit of God is inside you and transforming you. Likewise, He wants to empower you with the ability to be His witnesses. Rather than trying to transform people from death to life, in your own ability, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to come upon you, so that His power, His ability will overflow in your life and reach them. In his book about the Holy Spirit, author Francis Chan reminds us that, “Without the Holy Spirit people operate in human strength and only accomplish human-sized results.” If we want God sized results, we need the power of the Holy Spirit.