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Don Stewart :: What Happened in the Upper Room When Jesus Told His Disciples to Receive the Holy Spirit?

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Don Stewart

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We know that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus' disciples on the Day of Pentecost. If this is the case, then how do we explain the following episode?

Then Jesus said to them again, Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you. And when He had said this, He breathed out and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21,22).

Does this indicate that there is a gap of time between receiving the Holy Spirit and experiencing His fullness?

Disciples Regenerated

Some feel the disciples were saved or regenerated at this time. The baptism with the Holy Spirit, which occurred on the Day of Pentecost, is viewed as a second work of the Spirit. But we have seen that the Bible does not teach that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is an experience subsequent to salvation.


Others take this statement of Jesus as a prophecy. When He said, Receive the Holy Spirit, He was promising the disciples the Holy Spirit, which they received on the Day of Pentecost. There is no indication that the disciples received the Holy Spirit at that moment. Scholar Wayne Grudem writes.

When Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), it probably was an acted out prophecy of what would happen at Pentecost. In this same context - in fact, in the verse immediately preceding - Jesus had told them something that would not happen until Pentecost: As the Father has sent me, even so I send you (John 20:21). But even though he said this before he had ascended into heaven, he did not really send them out to preach the gospel until the Day of Pentecost had come. Therefore his words were looking forward to what would happen at Pentecost. It is best to understand the words in the next sentence, Receive the Holy Spirit, in the same way - he was speaking in advance of something that would happen on the Day of Pentecost. On that day they would receive the new covenant fullness and power of the Holy Spirit, a much greater empowering of the Holy Spirit than what they had experienced before (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994, p. 769).

Temporary Giving

A third viewpoint is to understand this as a temporary giving of the Spirit. The disciples were given this temporary infusion to last until the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the believer permanently.

This experience, therefore, was unique to Jesus' disciples and their particular historical situation and does not serve as a pattern for the lives of present-day believers.

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