Joseph D. McPherson

In John 7:38-39 we read these words of Jesus: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”

It then becomes a matter of special interest to us to know just when Christ was glorified, for we see from this passage that the Holy Ghost was not to be given until He was glorified. There is a sense in which Christ was glorified when ministering, healing and raising the dead. While on the Mount of Transfiguration three of the disciples were given something of a preview of Christ’s glorification as He would appear after His ascension. That scene is beautifully described to us in the Gospels. There is a sense in which He was glorified when crucified and again when He arose from the dead. A most unspeakable description of Christ’s glorified state as he was seen in heaven is shared in chapter one of Revelation. The Apostle John, who had formerly known the Lord, possibly better than any other man, now fell as one dead when given a revelation of Christ’s glorified appearance. We find that the splendor of Christ’s glorification as revealed to the Apostle there on the Isle of Patmos was too much for flesh and blood to behold without a supernatural touch.

So it is that when the Apostle John informs us that “the Holy Ghost was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified,” he undoubtedly was referring to that glorification which would take place after His ascension and after His being seated at the Father’s right hand. In his message on the Day of Pentecost Peter seems to confirm this view when he spoke the following words: “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

Adam Clarke’s comments on John 7:39 are helpful:
Certain measures of the Holy Ghost had been vouchsafed from the beginning of the world to believers and unbelievers: but that abundant effusion of his grace spoken of by Joel, chap. 2:28, which peculiarly characterized the Gospel times, was not granted till after the ascension of Christ: 1. Because this Spirit in its plentitude [or in its abundant outpouring] was to come in consequence of his atonement; and therefore could not come till after his crucifixion. 2. {This descent of the Holy Spirit] was to supply the place of Christ to his disciples and to all true believers; and therefore it was not necessary till after the removal of his bodily presence from among them.

One other reference directly identifying Christ’s glorification after His ascension is found in John 12:16. “These things understood not his disciples at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.”

Adam Clarke, in his comments on this verse, understands this to mean that “After the ascension of Christ [and His glorification in heaven], the disciples saw the meaning of many prophecies which referred to Christ, and applied them to him, which they had not fully comprehended before.” In other words, after Christ’s ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost these disciples were given understanding that they had not had before concerning many prophecies which referred to Christ.

Near the end of Christ’s earthly ministry He had assured His disciples that “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). We are to understand by this that the communication of the Holy Ghost was, in the words of David Brown, “dependent upon [Christ’s] own departure to the Father. Now as Christ was not yet gone, so the Holy Ghost was not yet given.” The word “glorified,” as used in John 7:39, is “used advisedly,” says Brown, “to teach the reader . . . that the departure of Christ to the Father was indispensable to the giving of the Spirit” [Jamieson, Fausset and Brown].

Nowhere in the Gospels are we informed that the disciples were inwardly possessed of the Holy Spirit while their Master was yet with them. Rather we find Jesus assuring them that the Spirit “dwelleth [now] with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:17). This is significant because after Pentecost we are assured in various New Testament epistles that all justified believers, even while not yet entirely sanctified, were possessed of the indwelling Spirit of God (Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; Gal 3:2-3; 1 Thess 1:6).

In Matthew 11:11 we read a statement made by Jesus which is truly astounding. He says, “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Mr. Wesley explains these words of Jesus by quoting an ancient writer, “John,” says he, “was greater than all who had been then born of women; but he was cut off before the kingdom of heaven was given.” “He seems to mean,” added Mr. Wesley, “that righteousness, peace, and joy which constitutes the present, inward kingdom of heaven.” This ancient writer continued to describe John the Baptist. “He was blameless as to that righteousness which is by the law; but he fell short of those who are perfected by the spirit of life which is in Christ. Whosoever, therefore, is least in the kingdom of heaven, by Christian regeneration, is greater than any who has attained only the righteousness of the law, because the law maketh nothing perfect.” Thus, it is clear that one regenerated in this Holy Ghost dispensation is greater than any who had attained to righteousness in a former and inferior dispensation.

One passage found in John 20:22 has been a puzzle to many Bible students. On the evening of the resurrection Jesus unexpectedly appears in the presence of His disciples in a room whose doors are closed. We are told that during that appearance Jesus “breathed on them and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”

David Brown believed that “this was a symbolic conveyance of the Spirit.” However, he is also convinced that it amounted to more than mere symbolism, for he goes on to speak of it as “an earnest and first-fruits of the more copious Pentecostal effusion.” In like manner, Mr. Wesley spoke of Christ’s breathing on His disciples at this time as “an earnest of the Spirit.” In a general sense an earnest is a token of something to come or of that which is promised. Since Christ told the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until Pentecost (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 8), the promise was fulfilled on that day. If these disciples did indeed receive an “earnest of the Spirit” and “first-fruits of a more copious Pentecostal effusion,” to what purpose and benefit did they receive it? John Fletcher wrote that Christ “imparted [a measure of the Holy Ghost] to them as a ‘Spirit of grace and supplication,’ to help them to wait in faith and unceasing prayer, ‘till they were endued with power from on high’” [Works, 1:590].

Donald Winter has observed that the occasion in which Christ “breathed” on His disciples and commanded them to “receive the Holy Ghost” took place on the evening of His resurrection. The parallel account in Luke 24 gives additional details of that Easter evening. After suddenly appearing in the presence of His terrified followers He reminded them of the words He had formerly spoken to them concerning all that “must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning [Himself].”

Verse 45 follows with these amazing words: “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.” By weaving together the recorded accounts of that evening, Winter concluded that a token of the Spirit was imparted to these disciples to the end that their understanding might be opened. In other words an unusual enabling of the Spirit was given by Christ whereby His disciples could now understand as never before those Old Testament Scriptures that spoke of Him.
Luke also recorded that the disciples “worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Such joy, Winter explained, was the effect, not only of the reality of their Lord’s resurrection and ascension, but the result of the Spirit’s influence received on that Easter evening. Such influence quickened their anticipation of that “promise of the Father” pledged to them by their Lord before He was parted from them. Often times the expectant seeker also experiences such joy and influence of the Spirit through prevenient grace.

In contrast to these views, there are those who believe that on this occasion in John 20:22 the disciples, without the full 120, received the Holy Ghost in regenerating power. Such a view, however, is not sufficiently supported by the Scriptures. For instance, one need only take a close look at the very next chapter, John 21. Here we read that some days after their Lord’s resurrection, Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, and John were found to have gone back to their fishing. On this particular occasion they had been fishing all night without success. But by casting the net on the right side of the ship in obedience to Jesus’ instruction, they not only caught a multitude of fish, but were invited to a breakfast of fish and bread that the Master had personally prepared for them.

On this occasion Jesus asked Peter three times, “Lovest thou me?” Christ was asking Peter whether he loved Him with that supreme quality of agape love. “Peter, do you love me ardently, supremely, perfectly?” Peter, by his reply, confessed that his love was inferior to that which the Master had in mind. His answer was, “Lord; thou knowest that I love thee,” using the Greek verb phileo.

Though Peter had been one of those present during the appearance of Jesus on that resurrection evening and had been a recipient of that which the Master had imparted to them when breathing upon them and saying, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” he nevertheless testifies some days later to an affection and esteem for the Master, but not the kind of divine love one finds in the hearts of regenerated believers after Pentecost. Those who are now justified by faith experience this agape love shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto them (Rom 5:1-5). The Thessalonians were not yet entirely sanctified when Paul wrote his first letter to them, yet they possessed this agape love (1 Thess 1:3; 3:6; 4:9). According to 1 John 4:7-8, everyone who possesses this agape love is born of God and those who do not possess it do not know God.
We find no evidence suggesting that the rest of the disciples prior to Pentecost had any more love than did Peter. They had all left Christ in the hour of trial. Whatever they received after His resurrection, when He breathed on them, there is no evidence that it brought a transformation of their hearts such as regeneration brings. It is true that Jesus spoke of the disciples as being clean. They did indeed belong to Him. They were not of the world. However, if Peter’s triple response to Jesus in John 21:15-17 is any indication of the disciples’ spiritual state, they did not yet enjoy that agape love that believers after Pentecost uniformly received.

Were they saved? Of course they were. We believe they were saved as pious Jews even before they first met Jesus. They were saved while following Jesus, while believing and obeying His teachings. Was their saving experience such as can be equated with those who were regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost? No, it does not appear so.
After Pentecost, the New Testament Church lived in the Holy Ghost dispensation, just as we do today. Not only entire sanctification, but regeneration is the work of a powerful effusion of the Holy Ghost. Bringing a dead soul to life in the new birth takes the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. It is then that one is made a new creature in Christ Jesus. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” This is the transformation accomplished in regenerated souls.
The Jews annually celebrated the giving of the Mosaic law at the feast of Pentecost. God in His sovereignty chose that day when many from various parts of the ancient world would not only be present, but see and experience the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Before that great day was over, three thousand, in addition to the 120, had received the Spirit by meeting the conditions of repentance and baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. God in his sovereignty chose that day for the grand entrance of this glorious dispensation of the Holy Ghost. As one scholar assures us, “Pentecost was a unique and unrepeatable event in salvation history. It marked the beginning of a new era of divine grace. Luke calls it the ‘beginning’ in Acts 11:15. . . . Pentecost marked the giving of the Holy Spirit, the beginning of the new covenant, and the coming of the kingdom of God.”

The dispensation of the Father, or the Jewish dispensation, afforded its blessings. The dispensation of the Son, enjoyed by the disciples while in the presence of Jesus, provided greater blessings. But the dispensation of the Holy Ghost outshines all former dispensations, showering even the new believer with blessings and privileges unavailable to those living in all former dispensations.

In Mark 9:1 we read that Jesus had previously made a promise to His disciples in the following words: “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” “This,” wrote Adam Clarke, “was the glorious Mediatorial kingdom which Jesus Christ was now about to set up . . . and the diffusion of his Gospel throughout the world . . . the establishment of the Christian Church.” Some of those who then stood with Jesus when He made this promise did live to see the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom on the Day of Pentecost and even witnessed a mighty extension of that kingdom.

So it was that after His ascension Jesus was glorified in the ultimate and superlative sense. It was then that He sent the Comforter as He had promised. The Holy Spirit with power was poured out on the day of Pentecost and Christ’s kingdom was inaugurated. In fact, on that very day, His kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost began to be set up in the hearts of men. Since then, His kingdom is established in the hearts of all true believers.