Did the Disciples Receive the Spirit BEFORE Pentecost? (T)

In preparation for Sunday morning’s message (on Acts 2 – the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost) I was reminded of these words from Jesus found in John 20:21-22 – “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”


I thought the Spirit came on the disciples at Pentecost AFTER His ascension….not before His ascension and prior to Pentecost. What’s up with that???????

Did the disciples get a special dose prior to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost? Were the disciples ‘saved’ in John 20, but baptized in the Spirit at Pentecost?

Or, is something else going on?

Something else has to be going on. If the disciples were ‘saved’ in John 20 and then later baptized in the Spirit in Acts 2…we have alot of problems we need to deal with in other places in the NT (see 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 4:4-6; AND Acts 6:5 vs. 7:55; Acts 9:17 vs. 13:9). It seems as if John (who wrote his Gospel AFTER the events at Pentecost took place) is writing of something his readers would have known had already happened and, therefore, writes that what Jesus said to His disciples He said in anticipation of them receiving the Holy Spirit.

D.A. Carson (a brilliant scholar I refer to often) notes (after presenting many different interpretations and suggestions):

“John 20:22 is not mere symbolism anticipating an edowment of the Spirit that is nowhere mentioned, it is symbolism anticipating the endowment of the Spirit that the church at the time of writing has already experienced, and of which outsiders are inevitably aware. . .

Thus it appears that John has preserved the theological unity of the death/exaltation of Jesus, and of the eschatological Spirit-blessings Jesus secured, not by sacrificing historical authenticity, but by drawing attention through this episode to what was already known amongst his readers. Jesus’ ‘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 John’s readers). A suitable Johannine analogy might be the washing of the disciples’ feet: ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’ (13:8). That can be read at a simplistic level as exhausted in the footwashing. Readers with more insight understand that hte footwashing itself points forward to the spiritual washing achieved by the Lamb of God whose death takes away the sin of the world. John has repeatedly developed these anticipating steps in his narrative; it is not surprising if he uses one more to show that the story does not end with his book.” [The Gospel According to John in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series (pages 654-655).]

In other words, Carson makes the case (see Carson’s entire argument for his conclusion in pages 649-655) that John recorded Jesus saying these words to His disciples as a means of their anticipating receiving the Holy Spirit. Carson points out that John has done this in other places in his Gospel, giving the example of the foot washing incident. Carson also notes that in the original language, John did not write that Jesus breathed ON them the Holy Spirit (what seems to be implied in most English translations), but rather Jesus breathed (or exhaled) and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In other words, according to the original Greek language in which John wrote, Jesus did not breathe on them the Holy Spirit, but rather breathed, then stated, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Why is this so important? Simply because if the argument is made that John 20:22 refers to the salvation of the disciples and Acts 2 refers to them being baptized in the Holy Spirit, then a false understanding of salvation can quickly follow. In addition, one might argue that several baptisms in the Holy Spirit can follow after salvation. This is not at all congruent with Scripture. Believers are never commanded to be baptized in the Spirit. Rather, if John 20:22 refers to an anticipation of them receiving the Spirit, then when Acts 2 happens, the disciples are baptized in the Spirit (ONE TIME!!!!) and then filled with the Spirit multiple times later. This line of thought is much more congruent with the rest of the New Testament.


About pastormpearson

Follower of Jesus. Husband to Katie. Father to Luke, Seth, and Birtukan. Pastor of the First Baptist Church in El Dorado, Arkansas.

Posted on September 15, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You toil with the component of time. But remember, time is an illusion. Jesus was and is. There is nothing more to the timing of events – before and after – that’s it. We are His body, but take care not to spit the hairs on His head. It is madness to decipher the times of a timeless God.

  2. 🙂 “split” NOT “spit.” hairs. lol

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