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John 20:19-22 says, “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, RECEIVE YE THE HOLY GHOST.” Let’s compare that with Acts 2:1-4, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And THEY WERE ALL FILLED WITH THE HOLY GHOST, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Before we get into the explanation of the above verses, we would do well to also include the words of the Lord in John 16:7, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; 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.” To be perfectly clear about who the Comforter is, let’s read John 14:26, “But THE COMFORTER, WHICH IS THE HOLY GHOST, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
The Lord Jesus was lovingly and patiently preparing His disciples for the time He would no longer physically be with them on the earth. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to abide in them.
In John 14:16-17 we read, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and SHALL BE IN YOU.” Yet, as we saw in John 16:7, the Lord Jesus had to go away for the Comforter (Holy Spirit) to come indwell them.
Yet, in John 20:22 we read, “he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” This was AFTER the Lord’s death, burial, resurrection, but BEFORE His return to Heaven. He had told them that the Holy Spirit could not come until He departed from the earth. That event occurred in Acts 1:9, “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.”
Now let’s look at Acts 1:3-5, “To whom also he (Christ) shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but YE SHALL BE BAPTIZED WITH THE HOLY GHOST NOT MANY DAYS HENCE.” Here, we can see that even after the Lord’s death and resurrection, the disciples were told to wait for the Holy Spirit.
So, when did the Lord’s disciples receive the Holy Spirit? It must have been on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. The Lord’s words in John 20:22 seem to be ‘preparatory’ words. The Lord was preparing His disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Such an important event like this calls for an act of the Lord. The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost marked the beginning of the Church. The Lord Jesus ‘breathed’ on His disciples and spoke to prepare them for what would occur in a short while. (321.2)