Hero Image

The Spirit After Pentecost

Three Facets of His New-Covenant Glory

Article by

Pastor, Hinckley, Minnesota

ABSTRACT: In John 7:39, the apostle John writes, “As yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” The Spirit, though active in the lives of old-covenant saints, was given to God’s people in a radically new way following Jesus’s ascension and the event of Pentecost. Experientially, the Spirit illuminates the glory of the crucified Christ and reveals the Father’s love. Ecclesially, the Spirit transforms all of God’s people — men and women, young and old — into the temple of God. And eschatologically, the Spirit drafts Christians as witnesses in God’s end-time lawsuit against Israel and the nations. In these three ways and more, to have the Spirit of the risen King is to have the very treasure of the kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, says our Saviour. . . . The treasure itself, is the Holy Ghost himself, and joy in him.

—John Donne1

Our task is to deepen understanding of the kingdom treasure that is ours in Christ as a result of the Father’s love — namely, the presence and power of the Person of the Holy Spirit. We have, in a first installment, considered some necessary Christological cues toward a proper understanding of the church’s great Pentecostal privilege. We can depict with a picture what we will attempt to do in this second installment. Let us think of the kingdom treasure that is the Holy Spirit as a brilliant and priceless diamond. Part 1 sought to showcase the diamond best by attention to its proper setting, taking care to balance it properly in the Light. We are thus prepared now in part 2 to propose and appreciate three facets of the newness and glory of the Spirit’s work after Pentecost.

Already in part 1 we began touching upon the difference that Christ’s ascension and the event of Pentecost make for the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people. It is, we might say, the difference between having the inaugurated kingdom, and having only the promise (given by the Spirit) of its inauguration. It is the difference between resting in the accomplishment of the King’s victory, and hoping in the prophetic word (inspired by the Spirit) about the King’s victory. Toward a fuller appreciation of the kingdom treasure we have been given, the diamond which is enjoyment of the Spirit after Pentecost, we must further consider specific facets. In what follows, I offer three such considerations, in particularly Johannine and Lukan hues.2

Experiential Facet

John 7:37–39 is an important text in thinking about the gift of the Spirit, but it poses a challenge:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

This text asserts that the Spirit was not given before Christ was “glorified.” As we’ve labored to show in part 1, this cannot mean the Spirit was absolutely “not yet given” before Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension. What, then, can John mean?

Poured Out from the Cross

There are, in fact, several interpretive cruxes in the text,3 but for our purposes, we can somewhat steer clear of the debates and simply point to something all sides acknowledge: the Spirit is given when Jesus is glorified.4 Of course, this raises the question of what Jesus’s glorification is, but there is again mostly agreement that, for John, Jesus’s glorification, or his “lifting up” (see John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32–33), includes his crucifixion. The giving of the Spirit is tightly bound to the cross. Indeed, at the climax of John, when Jesus dies upon the cross, the soldiers seek to verify that he died by piercing his side, from which flows blood and water (John 19:34). The death of Jesus provides the cleansing and life-giving blood of the covenant, and the cleansing and life-giving water of the Spirit, into which Christ’s people are baptized.5 John 7:39 at least (if not also 7:38; see footnote 3) looks directly to the cross: from the belly of the crucified Christ, the people of God receive the Spirit.6

That is to say, the King wins his victory on the cross, securing there the kingdom (the Spirit) for his people. In this connection, we can observe the striking word John uses to describe Jesus’s moment of death. John alone among the Gospel writers uses a strong, active verb: Jesus handed over (paredōken) his Spirit (John 19:30).7 From the cross, the conquering King of glory actively hands over his own Spirit for the life and joy of his people.8

Convicted of Sin

The Spirit, then, has the closest of connections to the cross. But this is so not only because the cross secures the Spirit. In addition, the Spirit’s peculiar ministry now is especially to help us see the cross for what it is. John hints at this in his narrative aside following the crucifixion.9 In particular, in John 19:37 he quotes the latter half of Zechariah 12:10: “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” In their original Old Testament context, the words John quotes follow on the heels of God’s promise to “pour out”10 on the house of David his “Spirit of grace and of supplication” (Zechariah 12:10a).11 The full promise in Zechariah can be understood thus: the Spirit will enable those who look upon the pierced one to mourn as they ought over the wonder that has occurred. The good news of Jesus Christ, as John narrates it, is that the crucifixion of the Son of God wins for us the Spirit of God, who leads us back to the cross with humility and supplication.

To put it another way, as Jesus says earlier in John’s gospel, the Spirit “convicts” us of our sin and need for a crucified Savior (John 16:8).12 In the shadow of the cross, the Holy Spirit exposes the true depth of our sin to us,13 convinces us of our wickedness and of our great need of salvation, and woos us to repentance with the word of grace. The cross is where the Spirit was won for us, and at the same time the cross is what the Spirit helps us to understand and, in our sin, to be humbled and convicted before.

Loved by the Father

We can make another observation about the connection between the cross and the Spirit. Later in John 16, Jesus makes a strange comment, perhaps first striking us as a non sequitur:

In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23–24)

Jesus says that a day is coming when we will ask nothing of him (verse 23a). Then in the next breath he says that whatever we ask of the Father in his name will be granted to us that our joy may be full (verses 23b–24). The logical connection between these assertions is hardly clear. Why encourage us to ask, right after asserting that we will never ask again? It may be that Jesus refers, first, to our asking of him and, second, to our asking of the Father. But it also may be that Jesus refers to two different kinds of asking.14 In verse 23, he refers to inquiry (erōtēsete), asking questions because of a lack of knowledge, asking for explanations to matters that confuse. That is what the disciples do in John’s Gospel. They are confused; they misunderstand; they ask questions from ignorance. Jesus promises that they will move from misunderstanding to understanding. How will they get this understanding? The Spirit, whom Jesus sends, will teach them, leading them into “all the truth” (John 16:13). In contrast to the first half of verse 23, we can interpret the rest of verses 23b–24 as referring not to inquiry but to supplication (aiteō, 3x), asking for good gifts in Jesus’s name from the Father. Jesus speaks of a coming day when inquiry will cease (for new understanding will come) as an encouragement unto supplication.

The same movement occurs in verses 25–26. What now seems mysterious and “figurative” will soon become “plain” (verse 25), indicating a deepened level of understanding. As a result, asking in Jesus’s name will become possible (verse 26). These verses reproduce exactly the development found verses 23–24: a new Spirit-wrought understanding (verses 23a and 25) leads to freedom to ask the Father for good gifts in Jesus’s name (verses 23b–24 and 26).

Can we discern in this context any specific lesson the Spirit will teach us that might embolden supplication? The key clue comes to light when pressing on the connection between verses 26 and 27. In verse 26, Jesus says again that we can supplicate to the Father in Jesus’s name, and then he immediately clarifies what he does and does not mean. By saying we can appeal to the Father in his name, Jesus does not intend to suggest that the Father will deal with us only at arm’s length, as it were, as though he welcomes Jesus but can’t stand us. We might paraphrase, highlighting with italics the glorious significance of the second person form of aitēsesthe: “You yourselves will make requests to the Father in my name, not only I on your behalf.” For the Father is not disgusted with us, but the very opposite: “for [gar] the Father himself loves you” (verse 27). This is what Jesus’s “name,” and especially his coming departure, his death, prove once and for all. The holy Father loves us, so much so that he gave his Son to perish in our place, that our sins might be forgiven and the pathway opened to his throne. With boldness we can come before the Father with our supplications, knowing that he loves us in Christ.

“The Spirit reveals the cross to us as the answer to all our doubts: the Father loves us in Christ.”

This is the sum of the “all truth” (verse 13) that the Spirit teaches us. The Spirit reveals the cross to us as the answer to all our doubts: the Father loves us in Christ.15 The Spirit persuades us of this truth, so that we cry from our depths, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). The work of the Spirit among God’s people is, indeed, radically different now than before the cross/resurrection/ascension, so different that we can speak as though the Spirit was “not given” until now. While the Spirit was already present and active in the life of the pre-ascended Jesus (and in the lives of Old Testament saints long before Christ), nevertheless until now God’s people did not know the Spirit as the gift of the crucified, conquering King. They did not know how the King conquered — namely, through being crucified. They did not know the full depth of their plight, which required nothing less than the King’s life in their place. They did not know with assurance why they, unworthy sinners, could expect lavish goodness from the holy God. They had promises to bank on, and merciful tokens of God’s grace to them in the sacrificial system, but they did not have the full demonstration of the holy God’s loving welcome of them, and of the work that secures it, until the cross. And the Spirit had no objective reality to illumine and persuade and assure them by. So truly not until the cross, where the gift of the kingdom poured forth from the side of the King, was the Spirit fully handed over.

Ecclesial Facet

There are many important observations to make about the event of Pentecost, but of particular note for us is that, in Acts 2:2–3, the Spirit’s arrival was marked by thunderous noise (rushing wind) that “filled the whole house,” and tongues of fire coming down from heaven and alighting on the disciples. God’s coming down in fire and sound to “fill a house” is exactly what occurred at the completion of the tabernacle, as the glory-cloud that came down in thundering fire at Sinai proceeded to come down still farther to the ground to “fill” the completed tent (Exodus 19:16–20; 40:34–48). It is also what occurred later at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, as fire came down from heaven to “fill the house” (2 Chronicles 7:1–3; cf. 1 Kings 8:10–11). In like manner, as G.K. Beale trenchantly argues, the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost is to be understood as the dedication of God’s new eschatological temple.16

Acts 2 narrates no mere illustration of a universal individual experience but a salvation-historical event. When the fiery Spirit comes down not on the tabernacle/temple but on disciples, a transition is effected from an architectural building to an anthropological building as the dwelling place of the Lord. Other New Testament writers assert that the church is God’s new temple.17 Acts 2 shows when its function as God’s temple was inaugurated. At Pentecost, the church became the place whereby the power of the Spirit the covenantal presence of God is encountered on the ground (see, e.g., Acts 4:31; 5:3, 9; 13:2). If we may rightly speak of the tabernacle/temple as the palatial residence of the cosmic King (see hêkāl in, e.g., 1 Samuel 3:3; Isaiah 6:1; Psalm 11:4), the place where the “footstool” under his exalted throne is located (Psalm 99:5; 132:7), then we can state it in this manner: Pentecost marks out the gathered church as the new royal dwelling from which the ascended King’s presence and rule is now exercised on earth, the new place where the King’s “feet” rest, for here is where people gladly submit to his authority (note Acts 7:46–53).

It is important to clarify who is included in the “people” of the preceding sentence. At Pentecost, representatives “from every nation under heaven” were gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5).18 It is a signal of where the narrative (the mission) is headed: to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). For Luke, the incorporation of Gentiles into the covenant people is part of the difference the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost makes. Whereas before the glory-cloud covenantal presence of God by his Spirit was limited to the temple located in one place on the globe (Jerusalem), now it is present, and in fact spreading missionally, all over the globe (Acts 8:14–17; 10:44–45). Whereas beforehand God reigned publicly as King over one nation, the nation of Israel, now he is present to rule over and for Gentile nations. Whereas beforehand entrance into the dwelling place of God was restricted to Israelites, now the dwelling place of God is not only open to all peoples, but by the Spirit all peoples are incorporated into it as building materials.

A related point is that before Pentecost, the Spirit’s work seemed mostly limited to key representative figures — prophets, priests, and kings; and these were almost exclusively men. There were some exceptions (e.g., Deborah the prophetess), but locating the Spirit’s presence in their lives is mostly a matter of theological inference and implication: if Deborah was a prophetess, and if other Scriptures indicate that prophetic activity is empowered by the Spirit (e.g., Isaiah 61:1; Ezekiel 2:1–7), then we can conclude that Deborah enjoyed the Spirit. But the text of Judges doesn’t make this explicit claim. In the old covenant, we are explicitly told that the Spirit filled and empowered Moses, for example, and then the seventy elders who were raised up to help govern the people. But Moses longs for the Spirit to fill still more, indeed the whole people of God, leaders and non-leaders alike, public figures and everyday folks out of the limelight (Numbers 11:24–30). The point is that in the old covenant there was not a readily apparent enjoyment of the Spirit on all the people; it was something Moses longed for and looked forward to. But now that Christ has sealed a new covenant in his blood, now that a new creational humanity is beginning in his resurrected body, now that he has ascended as King of a world-transforming kingdom, now that he has poured out his Spirit on “all flesh” (Acts 2:17a), the Spirit is the expectation and certain privilege of all the people of God, young and old, men and women (Acts 2:17b–18).19

With the coming of Christ, all nations can be reconciled to experience unity in their diversity under one true King. In Christ’s kingdom all the dividing lines of other kingdoms of the world are broken down (divisions of tongues, skin colors, blood, and birthplaces; divisions of temporal political allegiance; divisions of age, sex, and economic status). In Christ’s kingdom, diverse and seemingly irreconcilable peoples are made one. And the Spirit is the power uniting them. Where diverse and seemingly incompatible peoples join as one under King Jesus, there we can expect to find the Spirit present and at work.

Eschatological Facet

In considering the experiential facet of the diamond that is the gift of the Spirit after Christ’s ascension, our cues were Johannine. For the ecclesial facet, they were Lukan. Our exploration of the eschatological facet will involve something of a fusion of the testimonies of John and Acts, for they together indicate that receiving the gift of the Spirit from the crucified and risen Christ answers, at the same time, the questions “What time is it?” and “What are we here for?”

John: Drafted as Witnesses

In the Farewell Discourse in John 14–16, Jesus seeks to comfort his disciples with the promise of the Helper’s (the Paraclete’s) ministry among them and in them. Among other things, Jesus assures them that “when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26–27). The Spirit’s special mission, sent from the throne of the ascended King, is one of witness. And since Jesus immediately pairs the Spirit’s witness with the disciples also bearing witness, we can safely say that the disciples by the empowerment of the Spirit will be swept into this same mission.

“The Spirit’s special mission, sent from the throne of the ascended King, is one of witness.”

“Witness” is one of the central motifs in the Gospel according to John. From the otherwise awkward twofold inclusion of John the Baptist’s mundane testimony to the Light in the exalted “Prologue” about the cosmic, eternal Logos (John 1:6–8, 15),20 to the preponderance of “witness” terminology in the Fourth Gospel (especially in comparison to the Synoptics),21 to the parade of witnesses (in heaven above, on earth below, and from the Scriptures of the past) appearing in the Book of Signs (John 1:19–12:50),22 to Jesus’s assertion that he came into the world for the purpose of witness (John 18:37), to the climactic and singular witness given at the crucifixion (John 19:35), the Gospel according to John is all about witness. But two points must be clarified about the motif of witness in John.

First, “witness” is not, for John, simply a contextless “sharing of Jesus to unbelievers,” however common that assumption might be in today’s popular Christian imagination. For John, witness is a decidedly legal activity.23 One bears testimony in court. Witnesses are needed in a trial. John’s interest in witness, and the Spirit’s activity of and empowering for witness, is owing to the reality of an ongoing trial.

Second, John arguably thinks in terms of a very particular trial that began in Jesus’s life and that is carried on through the Spirit’s post-resurrection ministry in the world. According to the prophetic expectations of Isaiah, in the last days God will put the gods of the nations on trial, exposing them to be false and empty, revealing to all that he is God and no other (Isaiah 41:21–24 is a representative passage).24 Whereas the false gods (or the nations trusting in them) are called to put forth witnesses to prove their case but are unable to do so, God raises up Israel as his witness:

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
     “and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
     and understand that I am he.” (Isaiah 43:10)

Sadly, as the larger context of Isaiah indicates, Israel is hardened in unbelief, frozen in fear before the nations, blind to the light. So, far from serving faithfully as God’s witness, they actually find themselves embroiled in their own ongoing legal dispute with God (for disputation between God and Israel, see Isaiah 42:18–25; 43:22–28; 50:1–3). According to Isaiah, God’s promised work of eschatological salvation will involve him taking up the roles of witness, prosecutor, and judge in trials both with Israel and with all the nations to prove to all that “I am he.” But he promises further that despite servant Israel’s disputations with him, nevertheless he will pour out his Spirit on his people as upon dry ground (Isaiah 44:3–5), and they shall spring up with words of faithful witness to the Lord’s mighty works and glorious identity (Isaiah 59:21).

What does this (far too hasty) consideration of the eschatological trials foreseen by Isaiah have to do with the end-time work of the Holy Spirit? As Andrew Lincoln especially has argued, Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s eschatological lawsuit against Israel and the nations funds John’s portrait of a two-level drama about the trial between Jesus and the world.25 In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is ostensibly on trial first before Israel and then before the world represented by Pilate,26 while at the same time, ironically and in truth, it is Israel and the world being put on trial by the true Judge, Jesus, who comes to reveal the one true God. Jesus is witness (e.g., John 3:11, 32–33; 8:14, 18), attorney (he is the “first Paraclete” alluded to in 14:1627), and judge (John 5:22, 26–27; 9:39), who convicts both Israel and the world of sin by manifesting that “I am” (note Jesus’s seven absolute [i.e., without predicate] “I am” statements in John: 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8). For John, this amounts to the promised eschatological trial and work of salvation foretold by Isaiah, in which God will demonstrate to Israel and the nations that “I am he” (Isaiah 41:4; 43:10, 13; 46:4; 48:12; 52:6).28 And the giving of the Holy Spirit by the glorified Jesus is the guarantee that the trial will continue after Jesus’s departure through the empowerment of witnesses.

The Holy Spirit’s witness, and his empowering of disciples for witness, is proper to the stage of the biblical drama that has been launched with the coming and glorification of Christ. To have the Spirit is not just to be privy to an inner experience. It is less to have access to power that was not previously available. It is rather and especially a sign that we are rooted in a particular act of the drama with new opportunities and vocations fitted to that act. To receive the Spirit is to be enlisted in the eschatological trial of the whole world, in which God demonstrates the wind and emptiness of all idols and the truth of his identity made known in Christ.

Acts: World on Trial

While several have recognized something of the Isaianic background and eschatological significance of the trial motif in John’s Gospel, outside of a suggestive 1990 article by Dennis Johnson,29 few have commented on how a similar point comes to the fore in the book of Acts.30 In Acts, as in John, a preponderance of trial material appears, especially in the final third of the book (but note also Acts 4:1–22; 5:17–42; 6:8–7:60). In Acts 21–28, the Apostle Paul repeatedly appears before judges and magistrates (the Sanhedrin in ch. 23; Felix and Festus in chapters 24–25; Agrippa in chapters 25–26; and the book concludes with Paul awaiting a hearing before Caesar31). The bulk of these chapters is given over to (1) accusations made against Paul, and especially (2) Paul’s repeated defense speeches. More generally, technical or semi-technical legal terminology abounds in the narrative.32 Trial and defense is front and center and belabored in the final chapters of Acts. In this light, Luke Timothy Johnson asks exactly the right question:

Something more than the desire for historical or biographical plentitude is at work. Luke, after all, has shown himself elsewhere to be perfectly capable of passing over years of busy activity with a one-line summary (18:11; 19:10). He could easily have passed over the embarrassment of Paul’s captivity with an equally brief allusion, and moved on to the excitement of the sea voyage to Rome. Why does he linger here?33

In terms of the narrative plotline of the book, this focus on trial and defense is perhaps not surprising since what is arguably the theme verse of the book, Acts 1:8, informs us that this is a story about Spirit-empowered witness (again, witness is at home in a legal context).34

Additionally, it seems certain that Luke would have us identify Paul’s life as, in a manner, a recapitulation of Jesus’s life and mission: as in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’s public ministry gives way to extended trial scenes before a parade of authorities (first the Sanhedrin, then Herod, then Pilate), so also in Acts Paul’s missionary journeys give way to extended trial scenes before a parade of authorities (the Sanhedrin, Felix and Festus, and Agrippa). In Paul’s life, Christ is, we might say, continuing by his Spirit the work and experience he began in his earthly ministry (see Acts 1:1). So Paul’s experience on trial mirrors that of Jesus.

But there is one glaring difference between Jesus’s trials reported in the Gospel and Paul’s trials in Acts. Whereas Paul repeatedly offers long and pointed defense speeches, Jesus appears unwilling to defend himself. He offers little-to-no defense or testimony, but either simply confirms (or ambiguously restates) the accusations brought against him (“You have said so”) or remains altogether silent (see Luke 22:67–70; 23:3, 9). In David Peterson’s words, “At the time of his trial, Jesus was clearly more restrained than Paul in dealing with his accusers (cf. Lk. 22:63–71; Jn. 18:19–23).”35 Might we look for something to account for this difference?

“To have the Spirit is to find ourselves in the last hour, drafted as witnesses to the resurrection.”

Peterson’s following comment points toward an answer: “He [Jesus] submitted to injustice without complaint to accomplish the redemptive work prescribed for the Servant of the Lord (cf. Is. 53:7–8, cited in Acts 8:32–33).” Isaiah prophesied that God’s work of eschatological salvation would center on a Servant who was silent for the sake of sinners. But as we have seen, Isaiah’s prophetic hope also included a day when those sinners would no longer be silent regarding God. Because of the work of the silent Servant, God’s people would have the Spirit of God fill their mouths, emboldening them to speak (Isaiah 59:2136). There are many reasons for thinking that Isaiah’s prophecy played a major shaping role on the narrative of Acts.37 I suggest that, though little commented upon, the detailed and extended trial scenes in Acts are such a reason. In Acts, Paul (and Peter, and Stephen, and the whole church) is repeatedly on trial, for it is the time of the Isaianic end-time lawsuit against Israel (Jerusalem) and the nations (the ends of the earth), exposing the world’s idols to be impotent and deceptive, proving that the identity of the one true God is revealed in the risen and ascended Christ. Paul may be ostensibly awaiting a hearing before Caesar at the end of Acts, but there is a kingdom (Acts 28:23) over which Caesar does not have authority and whose King holds Caesar and the world accountable. In truth, it is the time when Caesar and all the world must stand before the Judge, must respond to the witnesses the Judge is raising up. And it is the time when the Spirit, as was promised long ago, has finally been poured out to empower such faithful witnesses for mission “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).38

This, too, is part of the difference Christ’s ascension and the event of Pentecost makes. To have the Spirit is to find ourselves in the last hour, drafted as witnesses to the resurrection in God’s final legal actions against the world. It is a dangerous mission, a way marked with suffering and persecution, as the church in Acts quickly discovers. But it has a saving aim (Acts 2:21). And our kind Father and victorious King has well equipped us for it, handing over nothing less than the treasure of the kingdom: “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11–12).

  1. John Donne, Sermon CXXXVI, in vol. 5 of The Works of John Donne, D.D., Dean of Saint Paul’s, 1621–1631, ed. H. Alford (London: John W. Parker, 1839), 435–51, at 450. 

  2. There is, of course, much Pauline testimony that needs to be considered toward the filling out of a full New Testament portrait. I do not take up that task here but leave it to Gordon Fee’s towering work God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994). 

  3. For example: (1) About whom does the Scripture cited speak? Does it speak about the believer with his/her subjective benefit of having the Spirit (so ESV cited above), or about Jesus as the objective source of living water? (2) How should Jesus’s words be punctuated? As in the ESV above? Or might we, instead, place a break after the prepositional phrase pros me in verse 37, while taking the rest of verse 37 and the beginning of verse 38 as a (chiastic) parallel statement of invitation: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me; and let him drink, whoever believes in me”? This question is tied to the preceding one. The latter rendering takes the phrase “whoever believes in me” not as a left-dislocation introducing the subject of the Scripture quotation, but as a right dislocation serving to clarify that the “drinking” in view is believing. Jesus may then be understood to cite Scripture, explaining why the thirsty do well to come to him and why believing in him is a matter of drinking: from him (Jesus) flows living water. (3) What is the best translation of koilias in verse 38? “Heart,” as in the ESV? “Innermost being,” as in the NASB (cf. NIV’s “from within”)? “Belly,” as in the KJV? On the one hand, the term’s only other use in John refers to a (woman’s) visceral midsection (John 3:4; cf. Revelation 10:9–10), which accords with the dominant use of the term in other Greek literature (“belly” or “womb”). But the term can be used to refer to one’s inner life, as it were. (4) What specific scripture does Jesus cite? His precise wording appears nowhere in the OT. 

  4. D.A. Carson rightly emphasizes the commonality in substance between the two main interpretive takes on John 7:37–39 (the so-called “traditional” and “Christological” interpretations). Specifically, however one translates and interprets Jesus’s words, all must agree that in some way Jesus (not just the evangelist in verse 39) refers to himself as the source of water (Carson, The Gospel According to John, PiNTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991], 323). 

  5. With C.H. Dodd, I am inclined to see the “blood and water” of John 19:34 as gathering together the many significations that have been developing through the pages of the Fourth Gospel (The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953], 438–39). Yet the point here is that the “water” cannot be less than a sign of the gift of the Spirit. 

  6. It should be clear from my phrasing that I lean toward the so-called “Christological interpretation” of John 7:37–39, but it does not seem essential to the basic argument above. 

  7. The other gospel writers speak of Jesus “giving up” (aphēken in Matthew 27:50) his spirit, or ex-spirating (exepneusen in Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46, though in the latter this follows Jesus verbally “committing” his spirit into the Father’s hands). 

  8. This point need not contradict the resurrection narrative in chapter 20, in which Jesus breathes the Spirit onto the disciples (C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to John, 2nd ed. [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978], 554; Carson, Gospel, 621). Rather, John’s crucifixion narrative identifies, in a characteristically “symbol-laden” and underdetermined way, the theological source of that later event (see Edward W. Klink III, John, ZECNT [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016], 812). 

  9. Compare the following paragraph with Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, 2 vols., AB 29–29A (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966–1970), 2:955. 

  10. Note also that Zechariah 13:1 speaks of a “fountain” being opened for the house of David. 

  11. Though the promise is often asserted (with little argumentation) to be one of a transformed human “spirit”/subjective disposition, there are good reasons for identifying the promise to be about the objective gift of the divine Spirit to effect subjective transformation. See Rex Mason, The Use of Earlier Biblical Material in Zechariah 9–14: A Study in Inner Biblical Exegesis, in Bringing Out the Treasure: Inner Biblical Allusion in Zechariah 9–14, ed. M.J. Boda and M.H. Floyd (London: T&T Clark, 2003), 158–60. 

  12. For a compelling interpretation of this difficult text, see D.A. Carson, “The Function of the Paraclete in John 16:7–11,” JBL 98 (1979): 547–66. 

  13. The same verb appears in both John 16:8 (elenxei = “he will convict,” NASB) and 3:20 (elenchthē = “will be exposed,” NASB). Light “exposes” sin for what it is (3:20), and it is this “exposing” work that the Spirit’s ministry of conviction (16:8) involves. Another important, and indeed closer, parallel occurs in 8:46, where the sense of elenchei peri hamartias must be “convicts of sin,” which underlines that the “exposing” work of the Light (and the Paraclete) is no mere uncovering/making aware or known, but is an exposing of guilt unto convicting. 

  14. It is true that in Koine Greek, and in John’s Gospel in particular, the verbs erotāo (16:23a) and aitēo (16:23b–24) can be used more or less synonymously to refer to supplication/request (in contrast to Classical Greek, where the former is generally used to refer to inquiry). However, as Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 494, points out, “John always uses [aitein] with the meaning ‘to ask for something’ (see 4.9f.; 11.22; 14.13f.; 15.7,16; 16.23f.,26) and does upon occasion use [erōtan] with the meaning ‘to ask a question’ (see 1.19, 21, 25; 9.2, 19, 21; 16.5, 19, 30).” More importantly, Barrett notes that this distinction marks “the prevailing usage in this chapter [i.e., ch. 16]” (ibid.). Additionally, while it is well known that John is in the practice of using rough synonyms more-or-less interchangeably for variety (21:15–17 being the parade example; see also 13:10), nevertheless, as Klink has pointed out, “when they are used in close proximity (especially in the same verse) there is usually a carefully nuanced distinction or comparison intended between them” (John, 689). 

  15. As Klink suggests, the eclipse of inquiry is not absolute in this context. It is not to suggest “that there are no further questions to be asked (certainly the disciples did not stop asking Christ questions) or that life in the new covenant is without questions. The transition from the old to the new dispensation is not about the removal of questions but about rightly framing the questions by its ultimate subject matter, Jesus Christ” (John, 693). 

  16. G.K. Beale, “The Descent of the Eschatological Temple in the Form of the Spirit at Pentecost: Part 1: The Clearest Evidence,” TynBul 56.1 (2005): 73–102; idem, “The Descent of the Eschatological Temple in the Form of the Spirit at Pentecost: Part 2: Corroborating Evidence,” TynBul 56.2 (2005): 63–90. 

  17. E.g., 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19–22; 1 Peter 2:4–5; cf. Revelation 21:3. John Levison argues that, against the historical and theological background of the centrality of the temple to the Feast of Tabernacles, John 7:37–39 can be read as the promise of a new temple. See John R. Levison, Filled with the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 372–78. If Levison is correct, then, while making use of differing conceptual resources, John and Luke render in substance the same judgments concerning the significance of the gift of the Holy Spirit (or similar and theologically related judgments, if John’s focus in on Jesus as the new and true temple). 

  18. The representative universality of the event is further indicated by the selection of peoples/places touching the four compass directions from the standpoint of Jerusalem at the center (see Beverly Roberts Gaventa, The Acts of the Apostles, ANTC [Nashville: Abingdon, 2003], 75). 

  19. It is possible that the Spirit’s work in fulfillment of the Joel prophecy cited in Acts 2:17–18 is behind the pains that Luke takes throughout Acts to identify “both men and women” as partaking of the effects of the Spirit’s growth of the word/church. These include both what we could call its “positive” effects and its “negative” (persecution) effects. See Acts 5:14; 8:3, 12; 9:2; 17:12; 22:4; and note also that the fates of both the man Ananias and the woman Sapphira in relation to the Spirit are detailed in Acts 5:1–11. 

  20. Andrew T. Lincoln, Truth on Trial: The Lawsuit Motif in the Fourth Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000), 21–22. 

  21. The words martyria and martyreō appear in John more times (47) than any form (verbal, nominal, compound or non-compound) of the stem martyr- in all the Synoptics combined (32). 

  22. See further Daniel J. Brendsel, “Isaiah Saw His Glory”: The Use of Isaiah 52–53 in John 12, BZNW 208 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014), 115. Lincoln speaks of a “chain of witnesses” (Truth on Trial, 243). 

  23. Cf. Allison A. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness, SNTSMS 31 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John, trans. G. R. Beasley-Murray (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971), 50–51n5. 

  24. On the trial motif in Isaiah 40–55, see Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness, 35–48; cf. Brendsel, Isaiah Saw His Glory, 41–64. 

  25. Lincoln, Truth on Trial, 36–56, and throughout; cf. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness, 78–124. 

  26. The whole of Jesus’s public ministry in John 1–12 (esp. after ch. 5) can be understood as an extended trial before Israel’s authorities, which perhaps accounts for the lack of any formal trial before the Sanhedrin in John’s Passion narrative (see Brendsel, Isaiah Saw His Glory, 12–14). 

  27. The sense and significance of the term paraklētos is hotly debated. I side with those who think its legal associations rise to the fore in John. But (1) with Lincoln I am persuaded neither that this need be the exclusive significance of the title nor that John limits the work of the Paracletes (Jesus and the Spirit) to only “one clear-cut forensic role” (Truth on Trial, 111). Furthermore, (2) with Klink I believe that the “background is not best suited to determine the meaning of a word,” in this instance paraklētos, but the “foreground” — namely, the literary and theological context and function of the term in John (John, 632). 

  28. Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 55–56. See also Catrin Williams, I Am He: The Interpretation of ʾAnî Hûʾ in Jewish and Early Christian Literature, WUNT 2/113 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 255–303; David Mark Ball, ‘I Am’ in John’s Gospel: Literary Function, Background and Theological Implications, JSNTSup 124 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996). 

  29. Dennis E. Johnson, “Jesus against the Idols: The Use of Isaianic Servant Songs in the Missiology of Acts,” WTJ 52 (1990): 343–53, esp. at 346–50. More generally, Rebecca I. Denova, The Things Accomplished Among Us: Prophetic Tradition in the Structural Pattern of Luke-Acts, JSNTSup 141 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 25–29, has suggested that Luke relies on Isaiah’s “prophetic plot structure,” or what we might call an Isaianic theo-structural paradigm, to fund his two-part narrative. But she does not include the eschatological lawsuit motif in Isaiah 40–55 among the Isaianic themes that played a shaping role on the narrative in Luke-Acts. 

  30. Trites rightly stresses that the portrait of the Spirit’s role in a lawcourt setting in the book of Acts “deserves to be compared with the Fourth Gospel, where the Spirit also has a juridical role in times of persecution” (The New Testament Concept of Witness, 133). 

  31. See further Paul Schubert, “The Final Cycle of Speeches in the Book of Acts,” JBL 87 (1968): 1–16, at 10, who thinks 28:7–20 is functionally one final trial speech in that it “summarizes the content of chs. 22–26 very aptly, but it adds nothing of significance.” Cf. R.C. Tannehill, The Acts of the Apostles, vol. 2 of The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 344. 

  32. See, e.g., aitia (23:28; 25:18, 27; 28:18); aitiōma (25:7); anakrinō (24:8; 28:18); anakrisis (25:26); anapempō (25:21); bēma (25:6, 10, 17); diaginōskō (23:15; 24:22); diagnosis (25:21); diakouō (23:35); enkaleō (23:28–29; 26:2, 7); enklēma (23:29; 25:16); emphanizō (24:1; 25:2, 15); epikaleō (25:11–12, 21, 25; 26:32; 28:19); zētēsis (25:20); katadikē (25:15); katēgoreō (22:30; 24:2, 8, 13, 19; 25:5, 11, 16; 28:19); katēgoros (23:30, 35; 25:16, 18); krinō (23:3, 6; 24:21; 25:9–10, 20; 26:6); kritēs (24:10); rhetor (24:1). While some of these are not exclusively legal terms (e.g., emphanizō), they are all nevertheless well suited for a legal context, and in combination especially underline the dominant lawcourt setting of these chapters in Acts. Note also the formal declarations of innocence at Acts 23:29; 25:25; 26:31–32; cf. 25:10–11; 28:18. 

  33. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, SP 5 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 415. 

  34. Cf. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness, 128–33. On apologia (e.g., in Acts 22:1; 25:16), see David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, PiNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 595–96. 

  35. Peterson, Acts, 614. See also Johnson, Acts, 400. 

  36. It is crucial to recognize that those enjoying the Spirit “upon” them so that God’s “words” can be found “in their mouths” in Isaiah 59:21 receive this blessing only because of the saving work of Yahweh’s “arm” for them (see Isaiah 59:16). They are, we might say, beneficiaries of the silent Servant’s work preceding them (note Isaiah 53:1, linking the “arm” of Yahweh with the work of the silent Servant). See further Brendsel, Isaiah Saw His Glory, 58–59. 

  37. See esp. David W. Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, WUNT 2/130 (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 2000); cf. Mark L. Strauss, The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and Its Fulfillment in Lukan Christology, JSNTSup 110 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995). 

  38. Most interpreters are agreed that Luke alludes in Acts 1:8 directly to Isaiah 49:6, a verse that Paul will later in Acts 13:47 quote explicitly to explain his missionary labor. At the outset of the narrative, the theme verse of Acts sets the mission of witness within an Isaianic context. 

(PhD, Wheaton College Graduate School) is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hinckley, Minnesota. He and his wife, Jen, have four children.