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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: What Is Meant by the Statement, "the Spirit Is Not Yet Given?"

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What Is Meant by the Statement, “The Spirit Is Not Yet Given?” (John 7:37-39)

Baptism with the Holy Spirit – Question 27

According to the Gospel of John, when Jesus spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit, He made the following statement.

On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:37-39 NET).

The statement, “the Spirit had not yet been given,” needs further explanation. There are a number of issues involved. They include the following.

There Are Problems with the Translation, “the Spirit Was Not Yet?”

Some translations read, “The Spirit was not yet.” This is what the text literally says. However, this can give the wrong impression that the Holy Spirit either did not exist, or had not previously worked in the world. This is contrary to what Scripture teaches on the subject of the Holy Spirit. There are numerous examples in the Old Testament of the Spirit working.

For example, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel, one of the judges.

The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him (Judges 3:10 NIV).

Here we have a specific example of the Spirit of the Lord being “upon someone” in the Old Testament period. The Spirit of the Lord was certainly working at that time.

People Were Filled with the Holy Spirit before the Day of Pentecost

In the New Testament, we are told that people not only had received the Holy Spirit before the Day of Pentecost, they were actually filled with the Holy Spirit.

For example, the Bible says that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit before his birth. The angel Gabriel told his father the following.

For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15 ESV).

The Holy Spirit was working in John the Baptist during his entire life.

Elizabeth, the mother of John was also filled with the Holy Spirit. We also read about this in Luke’s gospel. It says.

And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41 NKJV).

Here we see the Holy Spirit working in her life.

Zechariah, the father of John was also filled with the Spirit. Luke also writes.

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, (Luke 1:67 ESV).

The Spirit of God was indeed working in the lives of believers before Jesus made this statement recorded in John’s gospel.

This being the case, then the statement about Jesus “giving the Holy Spirit” must mean something other than the initial reception of the Holy Spirit since He was already working with God’s people long before this time.

Therefore we need to ask the question, “In what sense was the Holy Spirit not given before Jesus’ ascension?” How should we understand this?

Option 1: Some Believe This Refers to the Permanent Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

There is the position that Jesus was speaking of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He was saying that this could not happen until He was glorified. Those who lived in the Old Testament age were not promised a permanent indwelling of the Spirit. At best, the Spirit of God only temporarily resided in them.

The problem with this viewpoint is the assumption that those who believed God’s promises during the Old Testament period were not spiritually regenerated, or given new life by the Spirit. We must assume that the Spirit did not guide them, nor were they empowered by the Spirit. The question then needs to be asked as to how they could please God without the indwelling and guiding of the Holy Spirit. Are we to assume they obeyed the Lord in their own strength apart from the work of the Spirit of God? This is difficult to maintain.

Option 2: It Refers to a Greater Power of the Spirit: A Second Blessing

There is also the view that this refers to a greater power of the Holy Spirit. While all believers have the Holy Spirit, not all believers possess the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore this passage refers to a second blessing, or a baptism with the Holy Spirit.

The problem with this view is that the New Testament never distinguishes between receiving the Holy Spirit and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is received, it is with all of His power. Indeed, there is nothing lacking in the lives of believers.

Option 3: The Holy Spirit Could Not Be Given in a Unique Way before Jesus’ Ascension

This position assumes that the Holy Spirit indwelt believers from the beginning. What Jesus, is promising is not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but rather a unique giving of the Spirit.

We must understand that the Holy Spirit could not descend upon believers in a unique way until Jesus Christ was glorified, or had ascended into heaven. The mission of the Holy Spirit could not begin until the mission of God the Son ended. The Holy Spirit continued the mission of Jesus. While Jesus was still on the earth, the Spirit could not come and testify of Jesus because Jesus’ work was not complete.

However, once Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit could do His work. Consequently, the Holy Spirit could only reveal Christ when He completed His ministry. It was impossible for Him to reveal Christ when Christ was still upon the earth.

Jesus Had to Ascend into Heaven

Jesus made the statement that the Spirit was not yet, or not yet given, before the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit worked differently after Pentecost – He glorified Jesus Christ as the risen Savior. Before this could happen, Jesus had to first ascend to heaven. When He was here on the earth, Jesus spoke of going back to His previous position.

Then what will you think if you see me the Son of Man ascending to heaven again? (John 6:62 NLT).

Jesus was informing His disciples that He was going to return to heaven instead of setting up His kingdom at that time.

In addition, Jesus made it clear that it was necessary that He had to go away. We read about this in the Gospel of John where Jesus says the following.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7 NRSV).

The Advocate, the Spirit of God, could not come unless Jesus ascended into heaven.

After His resurrection from the dead, we find Jesus saying the following.

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (John 20:17 NKJV).

There could not be this unique presence of the Holy Spirit until the presence of Jesus in the flesh was withdrawn and until Jesus Christ was exalted. This did not occur until His ascension.

Jesus Is Now with the Father

Jesus is now the Advocate with God the Father. We read the following in First John about His present ministry of “advocacy.”

My dear children, I’m writing this to you so that you will not sin. Yet, if anyone does sin, we have Jesus Christ, who has God’s full approval. He speaks on our behalf when we come into the presence of the Father (1 John 2:1 God’s Word).

He is pleading the case for the believer before God the Father.

Therefore the Holy Spirit Was Given in a Unique Sense

While the Holy Spirit was working with believers from the beginning, He was not given in a unique sense until after the Day of Pentecost. He could not represent Jesus Christ until Christ had completed His mission on the earth.

The Holy Spirit then took over the ministry that Jesus had while He was here on the earth. Until the work of Christ was finished on the earth, this unique work of the Holy Spirit could not begin. This seems to be the best way of understanding Jesus’ statement that the Spirit had not yet been given.

Summary – Question 27
What Is Meant by the Statement, “the Spirit Is Not Yet Given?” (John 7:37–39)

When Jesus was at the Feast of Tabernacles He spoke of the Holy Spirit filling people with rivers of living water. Yet the passage is clear that this could not happen until after Jesus was glorified because the Holy Spirit had not yet been given. What, therefore, did Jesus mean when He said that the Spirit was “not yet given” or “had not yet been given?”

We know that it cannot refer to existence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Indeed, we read about a number of Old Testament saints were filled with the Holy Spirit. They knew of the existence of the Spirit of God as well as the fact that He had worked in the lives of a number of people.

Furthermore, in the four gospels, we find John the Baptist, Elizabeth, and Zechariah were all filled with the Holy Spirit before Jesus ascended into heaven. Consequently, it cannot be speaking of the Holy Spirit filling or controlling someone. That had already taken place.

The question then is, “In what sense would the Holy Spirit be given?” What was going to happen that had not previously occurred?

There is the view that this refers to the permanent indwelling of the Spirit. This would not occur until the Day of Pentecost. Jesus was promising the believers that the Holy Spirit would permanently live in all believers once He had ascended. However, before this time, the Holy Spirit did not indwell believers in a permanent manner.

The problem with this position is an assumption that it must make; people obeyed the Lord without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This seems to be contrary to everything we know about our own human nature as well as the way the Spirit of God works in the lives of believers. Indeed, it is only by the supernatural working of the Spirit of God that we can accomplish anything. Thus, it seems that we need a better explanation.

Some feel it is referring to a greater power of the Holy Spirit rather than the initial receiving. This power comes sometime after conversion. Thus, Jesus is referring to the “baptism with the Spirit” or a “second blessing” for believers.

Yet this does not fit with what the Scripture has to say about this topic. Believers are granted everything “in Christ” upon belief in Him. We lack nothing. Consequently, there is no need for a second experience where Christians receive the “power of the Spirit.” We already have that power.

The best answer seems to be the unique sense in which the Holy Spirit would be given. His ministry, to represent Jesus Christ, could not occur until Jesus was glorified. The important point to understand is that the Holy Spirit could not begin His unique ministry of glorifying Jesus until Jesus had ascended into heaven. Jesus had to finish His work upon the earth before He could send the Holy Spirit to testify to that work. This includes His death, resurrection, and ascension.

Thus, once Jesus completed His mission and ascended into heaven the Holy Spirit could testify of Him. This seems to be what Jesus meant when He said “the Spirit was not yet given.” Indeed, it could only be given in a unique sense when Jesus returned to God the Father.

Is There a Difference between the Holy Spirit Being "in" a Person and Being "upon" a Person? ← Prior Section
Was the Holy Spirit Only with Believers, and Not in Them, before the Day of Pentecost? Next Section →
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