And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22 (NKJ)
I remember as a child being cramped in the back seat of my parent’s car with my siblings and cousins. We would spend a large percentage of the journey pushing and elbowing each other in retaliation for being in such close quarters. As part of our protest, one or more of the children would tattle on the other, crying out, “He (or she) breathed on me!” The hidden message in that shriek was that someone’s personal space had been violated. Imagine the risen Christ breathing on you. What would your reaction be? Why would Jesus do such a thing? It would be in the “breathing” that the power to witness would be commissioned.
Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection are recorded in all the Gospel writings, however, our study text of Jesus breathing on the Disciples is found only in John. This passage (John 20:19-23) has been debated by many theologians as to its meaning in the formation of the Early Church and its relevance to the Church today. Was this breathing the promised Holy Spirit Jesus had spoken of earlier? (John 14:16-17; 16:17-18)
After much analysis and examination, theologians generally agree that “the breathing” is best understood as a pledge by Jesus that the Holy Spirit would be given later in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Luke 24:49). One expositor describes this event as a “prophetic breathing” that revealed to the Disciples “the secret power” that would enable them to continue the work of Christ.
Christ’s resurrection and the promised coming of the Holy Spirit emboldened Jesus’ disciples to continue the work Jesus had begun: “That he that believed shall be saved” (Mark 16:15, 16). This same group that hid themselves in a room for fear of the Jews (John 20:19), would later stand with Peter at Pentecost as he proclaimed, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). It would be the Holy Spirit that would provide the power and boldness needed to share that witness with the world.
What is the relevance of “the breathing” for believers in the 21st century? That same Holy Spirit that enabled the disciples now resides within every believer today and has empowered us to faithfully witness for Jesus Christ. Our Resurrection witness is as critical today as it was in the formation of the Early Church. Sinful behavior has become commonplace as it goes unchallenged. Adoption of worldview lifestyles continues to lead to spiritual deception, wanton depravity, and dismissal of holy living. The world is in desperate need of witnesses. Let us walk in the power which now resides within us. Receive the breathe of the Savior and witness boldly through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Good to the Last Byte…
Biblical scholar, G. Campbell Morgan, adds insight to the Disciples’ future commissioning by noting the use of two different verbs, “sent and send” in John 20:21. Jesus states, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Sent (apostello) stands for delegated authority; one set apart and therefore sent. Send (pempo) means to be dispatched under authority. God sent Jesus with His delegated authority—Jesus was sending the Disciples under the authority of the Holy Spirit. The clause, “And when He had said this” (John 20:22) ties the “sending commission” with the ability to do it—the future giving of the Holy Spirit.