The Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John: Barnett & Jensen

© Anzea Publishers 1973
This article is an excerpt that was first published in The Quest for Power | Neo-Pentecostalism and the New Testament by Paul Barnett and Peter Jensen (Sydney: Anzea Publishes, 1973, p. 17-28). It is reproduced here with permission.

The work of the Holy Spirit is a major theme in this Gospel. The first reference serves as a viewing point for John’s teachings about the Holy Spirit:

And John bore witness, ‘I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’ (John 1:32-34).
In this text we have: (i) a testimony by the Baptist: ‘I saw the Spirit descend… and it remained on him’; and (ii) a prophecy by the Baptist: ‘This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

The Baptist’s Testimony

The evangelist John does not describe what happened to Jesus in the Jordan, except through the eyes of John the Baptist. His version coincides in essence with the account in the synoptic Gospels. John the Baptist alone supplies the testimony that Jesus is the one on whom the Spirit ‘remained’. John the Baptist’s reason for this conviction can perhaps be seen in a further testimony about Jesus:

He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all… For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit (John 3:31-34).
God hasn’t ‘rationed’ his Spirit to the Son of God from heaven. The Spirit of God, who remained on Jesus, enabled him to speak the words of God. The idea is extended by Jesus when he taught that his words are the source of the Spirit in men’s lives (6:63).

Did Jesus receive the ‘baptism of the Spirit for power’? Many neo-pentecostal writers state that Jesus was already (before Jordan) fully Son of God. At Jordan he experienced the ‘baptism with/in the Holy Spirit’ and this enabled him to commence his powerful public ministry of teaching and miracle signs. Thus, it is argued, if he needed such a baptism for power, how much more do we need such a baptism for power.1

This is a plausible suggestion. But let us ask two questions:

1. Do the Gospels tell us that the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus baptized him with power which he did not previously possess? True, Jesus’ public ministry of announcement and signs began after Jordan, but have we any evidence that Jesus was powerless beforehand? We suggest that the Jordan experience reassured Jesus that he was the Father’s beloved Son in whom he was well pleased. We can hardly say more than this without importing our own interpretation into the text.

2. In any case, does the experience of Jesus automatically represent a pattern for us to follow? Are we at liberty to suggest that an IS of his experience has any claim to be an OUGHT in our experience? The scriptures have examples where his pattern is bound on us.2 If the scripture is silent we are not at liberty to invent our own typology with its consequent exhortations.

The Baptist’s Prophecy

John prophesied that the one on whom the Spirit descended and remained would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the baptizer with the Holy Spirit. What does this mean?

John’s prophecy about Jesus undoubtedly refers to Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel, for example, foreshadowed the resurrection of the dry bones of Israel by the breath (Spirit) of the Lord (Ezek. 37:1-14). While this passage appears to refer ultimately to the great resurrection at the Lord’s coming, it is quite valid to apply it to the ‘spiritual’ resurrection of Israel which Jesus achieved by his words and word and by the sending of his Spirit.

Joel also predicted a coming of the Spirit of the Lord. In words made famous by Peter’s remarks on the day of Pentecost he wrote:

It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28-32).
This occasion was to be no less than the great Day of the Lord which would be accompanied by cosmic portents. Only those called by the Lord, who called upon his name, would be delivered in that Day.

John was convinced that his baptism with water was to be superseded by the baptism with the Spirit through the expected Coming One. The writings of Ezekiel, Joel and others undoubtedly influenced John’s understanding. What did Jesus understand about John’s prophecy?

It may assist the reader to have before him the major references by Jesus to the work of the Holy Spirit, as recorded by John.

4:14        Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman.
7:37-39   Jesus’ bold proclamation at the feast.
14:15-20 Jesus will not abandon them. Another Paraclete is promised (cf. 14:27).
14:26-27 The Paraclete will teach the disciples about Jesus.
15:26-27 The Paraclete will witness to the disciples about Jesus.
16:7-13   The Paraclete will convict the world and lead the disciples into the truth.

We ask three questions about the Holy Spirit in these passages: Who? When? What?

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is the life-giver (6:63; see also 3:6-8). The Nicene Creed calls the Spirit ‘the Lord, and giver of life’. He imparts spiritual life and light to us.

The Holy Spirit is called water. He is a spring of water and rivers of living water (4:14; 7:37-39). John baptized men with water; Jesus baptizes men with living water. Paul wrote, ‘by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… were all made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:13).

The Holy Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of truth’ (14:17; 16:13). Jesus is the truth (14:6); Jesus speaks the truth (16:7). The Holy Spirit will guide the disciples into the truth about Jesus (16:13-15). Our knowledge about Jesus rests upon the activity of the Spirit of truth in the first disciples because the scriptures of the New Testament have come from their hands.

The Holy Spirit is called ‘Paraclete’. The original Greek is translated variously as ‘comforter’ (AV), ‘counsellor’ (RSV), ‘advocate’ (NEB, JB), ‘helper’ (TEV). The primary meaning appears to be ‘legal assistant, advocate’. The usage of the word in John and elsewhere suggests the idea of ‘persuader’. The Paraclete persuades the mind and will of the believer with respect to peace. He persuades or convicts the world. The meaning must be controlled by the fact that the Holy Spirit is ‘another’ Paraclete. His work resembles Jesus’ work.

The Holy Spirit is said to come as an independent person and yet to be sent by Jesus from the Father (15:26). Nevertheless the Holy Spirit is Jesus spiritually present with us, Spirit to spirit.

‘I will not abandon you. I will come to you’ (14:18, own translation). It is to our advantage that Jesus goes to the Father. Then the Spirit of Jesus will come and indwell us (see 16:7-8). The Paraclete is Jesus in us, since Pentecost.

When does the Holy Spirit come?

The Lord taught, ‘If I do not go away, the Counsellor [Paraclete] will not come to you’ (16:7).

On almost every occasion when Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit he used a future verb: ‘I shall give’ (4:14); ‘the Father will give’ (14:16); ‘I will send’ (15:26); ‘the Father will send’ (14:26); he will convince (16:8), lead (16:13), declare (16:13), teach (14:26).

Does the gospel tell us precisely when the Holy Spirit will come? Quite clearly the Holy Spirit cannot come until Jesus departs (16:7). This is more closely defined by the ‘coming hour’ when men will worship God in spirit and in truth (4:23). What is this coming hour which is referred to in John (2:4)? It is the hour when Jesus is glorified and that is the hour of Jesus death (16:23-28). On another occasion his ‘glorification’ appears to refer to the ascended Jesus (17:4, 5). Another time-note, ‘on that day’, refers to the resurrection and beyond (14:20; 16:22-23).

When was Jesus glorified? We cannot say with absolute precision. It seems that the hour of Jesus’ glorification is applied to the complex of events—his death, resurrection and ascension. These events together can be regarded as his departure to the Father: the Holy Spirit did not begin to come until then.3

John puts the matter succinctly:

Now this he said about the Holy Spirit which those who believe in him were to receive; For the Spirit was not yet because Jesus was not yet glorified (7:39, own translation).4
Many neo-pentecostals believe that the disciples possessed the Spirit throughout the period of Jesus’ ministry and that the Spirit came in power at Pentecost to enable them to witness to Jesus. Further, they believe that this pattern is normative for believers today.

Did the disciples have the Spirit before Jesus was glorified? The first century witnessed the end of the old epoch and the inauguration of the new. The disciples and godly Jews of that time enjoyed a relationship with the God of Israel through his Spirit. This was true not only for the godly people we meet in the Gospels but also those whom we encounter in the Acts. The Pentecost pilgrims, the eunuch from Ethiopia, Saul, Cornelius, the twelve Ephesians, even the Samaritans possessed a knowledge of the Lord through his Spirit. Yet their knowledge of the Lord was limited by his own self-revelation. The disciples were further advanced than others through the ministry of the Spirit. They proclaimed the kingdom and performed the signs which signalled its coming. At least one of their number discerned Jesus to be the Christ, yet without penetrating beyond understanding him as a quasi-political leader (Mark 8:29-33).

Did the disciples already have the Spirit? Were they regenerate before Jesus was glorified? If this question is asked with respect to knowing God through the Spirit under the old covenant the answer is undoubtedly yes. If the question relates to Christian regeneration, to submitting to Jesus as Lord through the Spirit, the answer is no!5

The disciples are a difficult case. They have flashes of insight, yet they betray spiritual blindness for much of the time.6 We conclude that their comprehension of the master was limited by the measure of the Spirit which was apportioned to men under the old covenant. John’s text appears to us definitive:

The Spirit was not yet because Jesus was not yet glorified…
This position is confirmed by Peter’s remarks three years or so after the resurrection:

…the Holy Spirit fell on… us… when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 11:15-18).
Peter dates his belief in the Lord Jesus from the time of Pentecost. Further, it was faith in the Lord Jesus which occasioned the coming of the Spirit.

Finally, what are we to say about this famous passage?

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven’ if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ (John 20:19-23).
Some neo-pentecostals believe this to be the first coming of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, which was to be completed by the coming of the Spirit in power at Pentecost. This position is difficult to support for the following reasons:

1. Only the eleven selected for apostleship were present. The gift of the Spirit was specifically related to ‘being sent’ and ‘remitting sins’. This passage is really a great commission not unlike Matthew 28:16-20 which concludes with ‘Lo, I [Jesus] am with you always’, a reference to the Holy Spirit as in John 20:22.

2. The coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:4 occurs in the second volume of Luke’s writings in response to Jesus’ promise about the Spirit at the end of Luke’s first volume (24:49). In his two volumes Luke is able to record the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit and describe historically his arrival at the time of Pentecost. Matthew and John, each writing in only one volume, incorporate the theological truth of Pentecost into their accounts of the great commission. We suggest that John 20:19-23 is, in effect, Jesus’ sign of Pentecost. But since John has no second volume in his account the sign actually serves also to describe the reality foreshadowed by the sign.7

3. The best understanding of the situation is that the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost marked the point at which followers of Jesus became regenerated believers in the Jesus whom God had made Lord and Christ. This was the first occasion when Jesus baptized men with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). It was, further, in the case of the twelve, the beginning of the ministry for which they were especially empowered.

What will the Holy Spirit do?

If we do not know the promises of scripture it is scarcely possible to claim them as our own, by faith in them. Do we know the promises Jesus made with respect to the work of the Holy Spirit?

First, Jesus promised to satisfy spiritual thirst in our inner lives. He promises to any man who thirsts an inner spring whose supply of water is inexhaustible. Gone are the days of ‘bucket brigade’. He connects us up to the ‘main water supply’ which never fails.

Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst’ the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).
Second, Jesus promises to bless others through our lives. Jesus does not intend us to enjoy the inner satisfaction of the Spirit selfishly. The thirsty person who comes to Jesus and drinks will have rivers of living water flowing out of him. The Spirit will flow out from Jesus into the life of the believer from whom living water will also flow out. Three of the prophets wrote of waters flowing out from the temple on Mount Zion as part of the blessings of the new age. The new temple, not made with hands, is Jesus’ body glorified by death and resurrection. From that new temple the living waters of the Holy Spirit flow out to men who come to him and drink. More, the coming of the Spirit makes our bodies temples from which rivers of living water flow out in blessing others.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water”.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).
Third, although the age before Jesus returns will be extremely trying, Jesus promises not to leave us desolate. The Father will give us another Paraclete who will dwell within us. Our hearts are uplifted beyond words when we discover that the other Paraclete who comes to us is none other than the Lord himself. And he promises peace:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you; not as the world gives… Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (14:27).
*           *          *            *

There is another group of promises about the Holy Spirit which occurs within chapters 14-16. These promises were made to the disciples who were present with Jesus, who were to become the great apostles in the early church. The Holy Spirit was to exercise a special ministry to them.

First the Holy Spirit would teach them and remind them what Jesus taught.

But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26).
Second, the Holy Spirit would witness to them about Jesus. These, who had been with Jesus from the beginning, would in turn witness about him.

And you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:27).
Third, the Holy Spirit would convict those who heard the apostolic testimony.

And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:8-11).
Fourth, the Holy Spirit would revealed new things to them and guide them into the truth about Jesus. He would declare to them the things to come.

I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:12-15).
The great prayer of Jesus for these disciples, that they would be kept in the truth of the words of Jesus and be enabled to transmit that message, was to be fulfilled by the special work of the Holy Spirit within them. It was the apostles who were empowered to witness to the resurrection. It was the apostles who were empowered to perform the signs and wonders following the gospel. It was the apostles who were inspired to write the documents we have come to know as the New Testament.8

It is a matter of great rejoicing that Jesus imparted to certain men the gift of apostleship through the Holy Spirit. The New Testament, upon which we depend for our knowledge of the Lord, was made possible by this work of the Holy Spirit.

We may ask, is there nothing at all in these special promises for us who are not apostles? We may be confident that the same Spirit will minister to us as we seek to understand and communicate these truths which the Spirit initially enabled the apostles to write. But we may not identify ourselves with the apostles in their unique ministry.


1.E.g. J. Baker, Baptized in One Spirit (Fountain Trust, London, 1967), p. 11.

2.Mark 8:27 ff., where Jesus requires his disciples to take up a cross.

3.John 19:30 may contain a reference to the coming of the Spirit. It was the occasion of Jesus’ glorification: he cried ‘it is finished’. Jesus handed on the Spirit (of breath?). The verb ‘handed on’ is cognate with the verb used by Jesus with respect to ‘giving’ the Spirit (4:14). Against this we must observe that the word translated ‘Spirit’ can equally be translated ‘breath’. It is possible that we have here an example of Johannine ‘double intention’.

4.The RSV supplies the verb ‘given’ which is not found in the Greek text.

5.Even John the Baptist despite his greatness was not a member of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 11:11). This is not to say he was not saved. Rather, it indicates that in God’s timetable the kingdom was not yet inaugurated, merely announced, though the signs of its coming were manifest in Jesus who was the king.

6.In Mark they:

don't understand the parable of the soils (4:10-13);
have no faith during the storm (4:40);
fail to comprehend about the loaves (6:52);
display blindness and are rebuked by Jesus (8:14-21);
fail to comprehend the resurrection (9:10) or the death (9:32)
argue about the leadership (9:34; 10:35 ff.);
exclude other disciples (9:38) and children 10:13)

7.John’s approach is thoroughly theological. Whilst he takes history very seriously, there are occasions when historical narratives are infused with an overriding theological concern. For example, John locates the cleansing of the temple in chapter 2. This ought to warn us that his text demands a theological approach to exegesis rather than a too simplistic historical approach. This being so, we feel justified in explaining Jesus’ sign of Pentecost as being John’s account of Pentecost. If this is not the case we have the problem that many promises about the Holy Spirit in John remain unfulfilled, ‘up in the air’. Given the theological comprehensiveness of John this seems unlikely.

8.It is true that there was some overflowing of these activities (witness to the resurrection, and inspired writings) to others beyond the apostolic group. However, it was to the apostles alone that Jesus promised the gifts which made them the unique guarantors of the truth. The writings of others find their way into the New Testament on the grounds of their links with the significant figures of the apostolic age and their conformity to apostolic doctrine.
Christian discussion on the Spirit & Evangelical, Pentecostal, Reformed & Charismatic Belief, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of Pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit | by Joe Towns

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