PENTECOST: A POWER OR A PERSON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-20-65 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. The title of the sermon is Pentecost: A Power or a Person.
Last Sunday morning, one of our sweet and discerning members came up to me and said, “Pastor, after I listened to you preach, I want to point out to you what I think about the coming of the Holy Spirit. I think the Holy Spirit came in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, and that Pentecost was but an outpouring of the power. And this blessed student of the Word of God and fellow member of the church then turned to the twentieth chapter of John and read to me:
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.
And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit:
Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.
And this dear prayer partner said, “This is the coming of the Holy Spirit: ‘And when Jesus had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit’ [John 20:22]. And Pentecost was but the outpouring of power.”
Now that persuasion is one that you will find presented by some of the greatest scholars and students of the Word of God who have ever lived. For example, Arthur Pink, who wrote his exposition of the Gospel of John in three marvelous volumes, and one of the finest expositors of the Bible to be found in all the past generations of men, in volume 3, page 287, Arthur Pink writes, and I quote, “What happened at Pentecost was the baptism of power, not the coming of the Spirit to indwell them.” Then as typical, I have chosen one other.
In the Bible Commentary on the New Testament part, volume 2, page 295, these marvelous scholars of the Anglican Church in England write, and I quote, “The Spirit which the Lord imparted to them was the Holy Spirit, as dwelling in Him. To regard the words and act as a promise only and a symbol of the future gift is wholly arbitrary and unnatural.” These are two great representatives, scholarly representatives, who would say also that the Holy Spirit was given in John 20:22, “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” Then what happened at Pentecost was but the coming of the power upon the witnessing disciples.
Now what shall we say about that? And what would be our answer, the best that human mind could respond in studying God’s Word? Now this is just one of those many, many, many, almost endless things that you face as you seek to find the truth about the Holy Spirit of Jesus.
Well, as I study and as I turn these things over in my soul, I come to very definite persuasions, conclusions, concerning them. I’m not infallible, and I don’t stand in this pulpit as being one who knows all of the truth and have all of the wisdom, and these others are grossly mistaken. I don’t come in that kind of a spirit, and I don’t have that persuasion concerning my own judgment. But I do say this; that after I have studied the best I know how, and after I have prayed the best I know how, I do have, almost always, a deep and abiding conviction that what I say here in the pulpit is the truth of God. And that’s the way I feel about the message to be presented this morning.
Now this thing that happened when the Lord was raised from the dead [John 20:1-9] and the disciples were gathered on the inside of a room, for fear of the Jews [John 20:19]. And on the first day of the week, evening, at night––I love to come to church at night; the Lord met with His disciples at night––and on the first day of the week, at evening, He met with them, just suddenly appeared, and said, “Shalom, peace: as the Father hath sent Me, so send I you [John 20:19, 21]. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [John 20:22].
Now if the Spirit came at that time, there are two things that I want to point out to you. First, then I do not know what the Lord was speaking about when on Mount Olivet, just before His ascension into heaven, as He lifted out His hands on the disciples and blessed them, He said, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but you tarry in the city of Jerusalem until He comes, until ye be endued with power from on high. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you” [Luke 24:49].
Now I know what that Promise of the Father is, for the Lord had mentioned it again and again. “I will pray the Father, He shall give you another paraklete, that He may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit” [John 14:16-17]. Then again, “But the Comforter, whom the Father will send in My name, which is the Holy Spirit” [John 14:26], and so on. The Promise of the Father is the coming of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus will send when He is glorified, when He enters into heaven. And at the ascension, that was still future. “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in Jerusalem” [Luke 24:49].
Now that is the same thing also that our Lord said in other words, in the first chapter of the Book of Acts,
And being assembled together with them, He commanded the disciples that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me.
For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.
It is still future, it is something that is yet to happen in the near day to come. “And you wait for it, says the Lord, and you stay in Jerusalem until He comes” [Acts 1:4].
All right, that’s one thing that bothers me. When I turn to the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, and I am told that when the Lord breathed on them [John 20:22], that is the time the Holy Spirit came, but not at Pentecost; I am troubled by the words of our Lord just before He is ascended. He said, “You wait, for the Promise is yet to come, and will come in the near future, not many days hence” [Acts 1:5].
Then I am troubled by a philosophical thing, a metaphysical thing, a psychological thing; I am troubled by a psychological thing, let’s call it. Not that a psychological consideration would be determinative in what the Scriptures would say, but along with what I have just read I’m also troubled by a psychological thing, and that is this. It is very easy, in fact so easy that we almost unconsciously fall into the error, it is psychologically easy for us to refer to the Holy Spirit of God as an “it.”
It is easy, psychologically, for us to separate the personality of God, the deity of God, from the power of God. And it is psychologically easy for us to identify the power of God with the Holy Spirit of God, and of course, when you refer to the power you refer to an “it.” Like electricity: electricity is an “it.” Gravity, a power, is an “it.” The great hurricane, the mighty wind, is an “it.” And the consuming fire that burns is an “it.” And it is easy for us psychologically to separate the personality of God, the presence of God, from the power of God; and to refer to the power of God, meaning the Holy Spirit of God, as an “it.”
That also is encouraged from a mistake that the translators made in the King James Version of the Bible. For example, in the eighth chapter of Romans and the sixteenth verse, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” [Romans 8:16]. You have a very definite “it” there. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” [Romans 8:16]. But the trouble arises in language. In the English language we gender everything, we sex everything. And we cannot speak without it.
In the English language, everything is genderized. It is either “he,” “she,” or “it,” a male, female, or neuter, neither male nor female. Now that’s our English language. But other languages are not like that. Other languages have what they call grammatical gender. For example, German is one of them.
The word for “girl” in German is neuter. Isn’t that the strangest thing, to us, you ever saw? A “girl” in the German language is neuter. The masculine article is der. The feminine article is de. The neuter article is das. And the word for “girl” is mädchen. So it is das mädchen, neuter, girl.
Well, that same thing is in the Greek grammar. Greek also has a grammatical gender, and the word for spirit, pneuma, like a pneumatic tire, the word pneuma originally was “breath” or “wind” or “air,” pneuma. For example, in John 3:8:
The pneuma bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof,
but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whtiher it goeth:
so is every one that is born of the pneuma.
Now there you have a very fine instance of how the symbol is taken for the thing itself: “The wind, the pneuma, the breath, the air, bloweth where it listeth…so is every one that is born of the pneuma, Spirit” [John 3:8]. Now, pneuma is not he pneuma, which would be feminine, or ha pneuma, which is masculine, but it is ta pneuma, which is neuter.
And these translators in 1611, following the grammatical construction of the Greek language, translated it here, “The Spirit itself, ta pneuma outo, the Spirit itself”; which is a grammatical construction exactly according to the Greek. But it is not the thought of the language or of the intent. It is merely writing correct Greek language. But there is no such thing in the Bible as referring to the Holy Spirit as an “it.”
Just for example, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things” [John 14:26]. Or again:
Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He will not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come.
I’m trying to get you to see that in the translation of this Bible, in the eighth chapter of Romans, when it refers to the Holy Spirit as an “itself,” it was following a grammatical construction, but in nowise, and in no place, and in no instance does the Holy Word of God ever present the Holy Spirit as an “it.” Always it is “He,” “He,” “He,” the personality of the presence of God.
Well, those are two things, I say, that bother me in the interpretation of this passage, that in John 20:22 the Holy Spirit came. First, I said it bothers me because on the mount of ascension, the Lord referred to the Holy Spirit as still future [Luke 24:49, Acts 1:5]. And the second thing that bothers me is that psychological weakness that we have of separating the power of God, which some say came at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], from the personality of God, which some say came, the Holy Spirit, came here in John 20:22.
All right, if you hesitate before that, then what is your persuasion of what happened here when Jesus said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” as He breathed upon them? [John 20:22]. What happened there in that upper room? Well, this is what it is to me. First of all, let us look at that context. “Then said Jesus to them again, Shalom, shalom,” that’s the greeting still in the whole Levant, “Shalom, peace to you: as and so” [John 20:21].
Now look at that. “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you…as, so. And when He had said this, As the Father sends Me, so send I you, and when He had said this, He breathed on them, emphusaō, He breathed on them” [John 20:21-22]. When the Lord began His ministry, when the Lord began His ministry, He began it in the power of the Holy Spirit [John 1:29-33, Matthew 3:16-17].
When He was baptized at the initial introduction of His messianic ministry, the Spirit of God came upon Him in the form of a dove [Matthew 3:16]. And in the power of the Spirit He was driven into the wilderness to be tried by the devil [Luke 4:1], and in the power of the Spirit He returned to Galilee to preach the gospel [Luke 4:14], and in the power of the Spirit He did all of His mighty works [Matthew 3:16, 12:28], and in the power of the Spirit He was raised from the dead [Romans 1:4].
Now “As My Father sent Me, even so send I you” [John 20:21]; it’s an aoristic verb, enephusesen an aoristic form of the word emphusaō, “to breath upon.” It happened one time, one time. The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus [Matthew 3:16-17], and He began His great messianic ministry. So the Lord says, “As the Father sent Me, even so send I you” [John 20:21]. And the Holy Spirit is to be given this one time [John 20:22], the coming of the Holy Spirit this one time, an aoristic verb, one time, not repeated, one time.
And the Holy Spirit from God, the Promise of the Father, is to be given to them as they begin their ministry, as they begin their ministry [Acts 1:8]: even as the Lord in His power came upon Jesus as He began His ministry [Matthew 4:1], so the Holy Spirit of God is to come upon these disciples as they begin their ministry [Acts 1:8]. “As My Father sent Me, so send I you. And He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [John 20:21-22]. And this is a symbolic act. “And He breathed on them” [John 20:22], that is the only time this word is used in the New Testament, emphusaō; only time it’s used.
But in the Septuagint translation, which was the Bible that the disciples used, the Greek translation of the Bible, in the Septuagint translation it is used over here in Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and emphusaō, and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The only time that word is used, “And He breathed into His nostrils the breath of life” [Genesis 2:7]. The only time that verb is used in the whole New Testament, is in this instance right here when the Lord breathed on them [John 20:22].
At the beginning of the original creation, the Lord God breathed into Adam that breath of life [Genesis 2:7], the life principle that separates him from an animal; that made him in the image of God [Genesis 1:27]; that made his soul like the soul of God. As the Lord breathed into Adam at the original creation [Genesis 2:7], so the Lord Jesus breathes into these disciples, breathed upon these disciples at the beginning of the new creation [John 20:22]. It quickened them. It gathered them together in faith, and in hope, and in expectancy. But it was a symbolic act. First the breath, then the power; first that quiet stillness, then the tremendous visitation from God.
And as I look through the Word of God, the whole Book is constructed like that; that quietness, that stillness, then the mighty storm, the whirlwind, the outpouring, the visible result. In the life of Elijah, the still, small voice, when he covered himself in the presence of God, first the still, small voice, the breath [1 Kings 19:12]; and then the glorious chariot and the whirlwind that carried him up to glory [2 Kings 2:11].
First the speaking of the Lord God on the back side of the desert to Moses in a bush unconsumed by the flame [Exodus 3:1-2], alone and in the quiet; and then the mighty confrontation with Pharaoh in the power and the miracles of the Lord [Exodus 7:10-12:30]; Gideon, first the quietness of the dew, distilling on the fleece [Judges 6:36-38], and then the blowing of the trumpet and the breaking of the pitchers [Judges 7:16-23]; David, first the green pastures and the still waters [Psalm 23:2]; and then the challenge to Goliath the champion of the Philistines [1 Samuel 17:32-51].
First Daniel on his knees, with his face toward the Holy City, praying to God [Daniel 6:10]; and then the stopping of the mouths of the lions [Daniel 6:16-22]; first Nehemiah, weeping before the Lord alone [Nehemiah 1:4], and then the building up of the walls of Jerusalem [Nehemiah 6:15]; first Paul in Arabia for three years [Galatians 1:17-18], alone and in silence before God and then the mighty ministry in Damascus [Acts 9:19-21], and Cilicia [Acts 15;41], and around the Roman world [Acts 13:1-14:28]; first the exile of the apostle John, alone in a cave left to die on the lonely isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], and then the opening of the heavens and the apocalyptic visions that crossed the sky in the presence of the eyes of God’s seer [Revelation 4:1-22:21]; and the same thing here. First the breathing, the stillness [John 20:22] and then the mighty coming at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], I think that’s what it is.
All right, let us go ahead, “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, emphusaō,” aorist, one time, “and said,” now you have an unusual verb here, “and said unto them, “labete the Holy Spirit” [John 20:22]. There are two meanings of that verb labete; it also is an aorist—one time—an aorist of lambanō. Now I want to show you how it is translated here. In John 10:18, the Lord says concerning His life:
I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again,
labete—take it again—
This commandment have I received—labete—of My Father.
Now you have the same word there that you have here in the twentieth, “And when He had breathed on them, He saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [John 20:22]. That word labete, translated here “receive” means two things. First, it means “take”; and the other, “to receive.” And you have it translated, “I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father” [John 10:18].
And in both instances you can’t translate it except “take” in the first instance and “receive” in the second instance. And I think the verb means just what it means. First, it means take. “And He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Take ye the Holy Spirit, take it” [John 20:22], by that the verb carries with it something of the initiative on the part of the apostles and the disciples of Jesus; they were not just passive. We can quench the Spirit [1 Thessalonians 5:19]. We can deny the Spirit [Matthew 12:31]. We can strangle the Spirit [1 Thessalonians 5:19]. We can grieve the Spirit [Ephesians 4:30]. The disciples were not passive.
“Take, said the Lord Jesus, Take” [John 20:22]. And the disciples prayed, and gathered together in one, and poured out their souls before God [Acts 1:14, 24, 2:1], and when the day of Pentecost came, they were ready to take [Acts 2:1-4]. “Take ye the Holy Spirit” [Acts 20:22]. And then that second meaning of that word labete, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [Acts 20:22]. The Lord Jesus in heaven and the disciples in earth—and if there’s any coming, of course, it is from His gracious hands—and they received from God, proceeding from the Father and the Son [John 15:26]. And I believe in that doctrine, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son [John 15:26]. And they received at Pentecost this promise of Jesus and of the Father, they received it [Acts 2:1-4]. They were ready to take, they were ready to receive. And at Pentecost they received from God’s hands this mighty presence of the Spirit of Jesus; to receive.
Like a mother heart receives its gentleness of love,
just something God does.
Like the olive tree receives its infusion of oil,
something God does.
Like the green grass receives its freshness
from the distillation of the dew,
something God does.
Like a furnace receives its fury of power in the burning of the fire, like a ship receives its great sweep of the mighty wind when the sails are unfurled, like a storm receives its fullness of rain, like a marsh is filled full in the incoming tide, so they received the presence of God, the Holy Spirit of Jesus at Pentecost with its fury, and its fire, and its power [Acts 2:1-4].
When I was a boy, I went to a conference and I heard an old time preacher tell a story that illustrates that exactly. There was a ship that had sunk in the bay. And they advertised for bids to raise it from the bottom of the mud. And one bid was astronomical, and another bid was astronomical, and another bid was astronomical, and one bid was practically nothing. And they brought in the man and said, “We can’t conceive of the astronomical bids and yours so small.”
“Ah, but,” he said, “I am leaning on the strong arm of God.” And what he did, he took wooden barges, and when the tide was out he tied those wooden barges with cables of iron to the hulk of the ship that lay on the bottom of the bay. Then when the tide of God came in, those great cables strengthened, and tightened; and those wooden barges lifted up by the power of God, surged and raised that sunken hulk to the top of the sea. Let the tide come in; let the cleansing billows wash away our sin, Oh! Let the mighty tide come in.
And that happens at Pentecost, and the preparation for it was the stillness of that quiet evening, when the Lord breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” [John 20:22]. Now I repeat, that’s an interpretation, but this is the way I feel that it happened, and happens to us today.
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you, coming into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; a family you, a couple of you, one somebody you, whatever the Spirit of the Lord shall lead, shall speak, make it today. “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” On the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up, stand up coming. “Here I am, preacher, here I am” [Romans 10:8-13], while all of us stand and sing.
OR A PERSON
A. Some theologians say
Holy Spirit given here in verse 22
some things trouble me about this interpretation (Luke
24:, John 14:16-26)
a. The Promise of the
Father (Acts 1:4-5)
2. The separation of
the Person and the power
a. Easy for us to
categorize Him as an “it”, or a power
Difficulty furthered by grammatical gender (Romans
8:16, John 3:8, 14:16, 16:13)
II. The meaning of John 20:22
“to breathe upon” – described as one act, not repeated (John 20:21)
nowhere else in the New Testament; but throughout the Old Testament
the original creation (Genesis 2:7)
the new creation, a significant, symbolic act
C. First the breath,
then the Pentecost
a. Pattern seen all
through the Word of God
III. Our calling, assignment
“take” (John 10:18, 20:22)
“receive” (John 20:22)