John 7:39 - Pentecost as the Outpouring of Christ's Spirit
For the Spirit was not yet.John 7:39; author's translation
The event of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is poured out on the church, occasions a notorious question: what exactly is new about the Spirit's activity post-Pentecost? In response to this query theologians often rightly indicate that the Spirit now works, in the first place, on a wider terrain than he did before, no longer restricting himself largely to the land of Israel but moving also throughout Gentile realms; and secondly, he works with greater power. The music produced by the Spirit remains the same in the new covenant, one pastor explained, but now the volume is cranked. Perhaps you're like me and you find that answer correct, but insufficient.
What John says about the Spirit in chapter 7, though initially perplexing, is instructive for this inquiry.
Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, John writes, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
The Greek text is even more striking: "For the Spirit was not yet, since Jesus had not been glorified."
In what sense was the Spirit "not yet"? He was already active in the life of Jesus as the one by whom Jesus was conceived, who descended on him like a dove at his baptism and then drove him – like the scapegoat in Leviticus, now dirtied by the sin-polluted waters of the Jordan – into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and later gave him unction to preach in the synagogue in Nazareth.
Even earlier in redemptive history, in time of the old covenant, the Spirit was active: enabling the craftsmen of the tabernacle, empowering the judges, equipping Israel's leaders, inspiring the prophets, converting sinners, and resurrecting the spiritually dead. We find him busy already in the first chapter of the Bible, hovering over the face of the waters.
In what sense does John mean "the Spirit was not yet"? The context in John 7 is highly illuminating:
On the last and the greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up that time the Spirit had not yet been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.John 7:37-39
Jesus introduces himself as the source of living water, the fulfilment both of the wilderness rock smitten by Moses, from which living water flowed, and of the new temple of God envisaged in Ezekiel 47, from which waters emerged. Jesus will dispense the waters of the Spirit, but not before his glorification: "For the Spirit was not yet, since Jesus had not been glorified."
The glorification of Jesus occurs, especially for John, at the cross, even prior to his resurrection and ascension. The hour for the Son of Man to be glorified is the hour of his death, the hour of his cross (12:23). When Jesus dies, blood and water flow from his side: the blood of forgiveness (as the sacrifice for sins), and the water of new life (in the Spirit).
"The Spirit was not yet" means for John that "the Spirit of the crucified Jesus was not yet given." At the ascension the Spirit becomes the possession, the personal property, of the crucified and now risen Saviour. The Spirit is placed at Christ's disposal as the reward for his ministry, to be deployed for the purposes of his kingdom (Acts 2:33). The Holy Spirit therefore assumes a new identity in the new covenant and becomes, by the blessing of the Father, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Jesus. In this sense, Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:45, Christ has become "a life-giving Spirit."
What is new about the Spirit's activity post-Pentecost? The Spirit poured out at Pentecost is specifically the Spirit of Christ. The very same Spirit – who was present and active at Christ's conception, by whom he was anointed at baptism, who guided him throughout his temptations, empowered him in his miracles, energized him in his sacrifice, and vindicated him in his resurrection – now indwells believers. To have the Spirit, in other words, is to have the incarnate, obedient, crucified, resurrected, and exalted Christ indwelling you.
The Holy Spirit, through his union with the incarnate Son of God, accumulated resources which he now brings to bear upon the lives of believers, reproducing in them the holiness of Christ. As Jesus himself says of the Spirit in John 16:14,
He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.