|The Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ|
STUDY THREE: THE HOLY SPIRIT AND JESUS CHRIST
© Rosemary Bardsley 2009
As we have seen in the previous study the Holy Spirit is a member of the Trinity, and therefore shares the same fullness of deity as the Father and the Son.
When we come to consider the Holy Spirit particularly in relation to Jesus Christ we must keep this essential deity of the Spirit in mind: that the Spirit is equal to the Son, that in no way is the Spirit inferior to the Son: he is no less God, he is no less personal, he is no less powerful. He is of the same kind or essence or nature as the Father and the Son.
While we must insist on the unity and equality of the Spirit and the Son, we must also maintain the biblical distinction between the Spirit and the Son in terms of their respective roles.
A. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ
To help us to maintain the unity and equality between the Son and the Spirit it is helpful to remember that the Holy Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of Christ’. The Holy Spirit is just as much the Spirit of Jesus as he is the Spirit of God.
This fact that the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ brings the concept of the Spirit out of the arena of the mystical and mysterious and into the realm of practical, knowable reality: for Jesus Christ is the one who became flesh and lived among us: we know what he is like, we humans saw him, heard him, touched him. We saw his compassion, we observed his power; we saw his death and resurrection by which he secured our salvation. When we speak of the Spirit it is his Spirit of whom we are speaking, not some unknown and unknowable God, nor some mysterious almost occult power. The Spirit is the Spirit of the One who is our Brother, our Friend, our Saviour, the Spirit of the One who so loved us that he put aside his glory and made himself of no reputation for our sake and our salvation.
For this reason, when Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them he called the Spirit ‘another Counsellor’ [John ]. This word ‘another’ does not mean another of a different kind [the Greek heteros], but another of the same kind [the Greek allos]. Similarly, as we have seen in Study One, Jesus, in promising the coming of the Spirit, spoke of that coming as he, himself coming to the believer [John 14:18,23].
Because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus we cannot attribute to the Holy Spirit anything that conflicts with the truth about Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit and Jesus are neither rivals nor enemies, nor do they vie for our allegiance or offer us conflicting or differing blessings. Thus Jesus says of the Spirit:
‘he … will remind you of everything I have said to you’ [John ]
‘he … will testify about me’ [John ]
‘he will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you’ [John ,15].
And here we must confront contemporary Christianity with a serious challenge:
Is there anything in the Bible that gives us the liberty to believe that Jesus Christ ever did or ever said the kinds of things that today are claimed to be the actions or words of the Holy Spirit? Did Jesus Christ ever move his followers to act in the way the Spirit is said to move people today? If the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, then how can he be the same spirit that is energizing a large portion of contemporary Christianity to engage in actions and to express teaching that stand in stark contrast to the actions and teaching of Jesus Christ himself and the actions and teaching Jesus Christ required of his followers?
B. The Holy Spirit and the incarnate Jesus Christ
When we read in the New Testament of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the incarnate Jesus Christ we have to be very careful that we do not slip into error.
The potential errors include:
We are not dealing here with questions about the relationship between the Spirit of God and a perfect human being, but with questions about the unique relationship between the Spirit of God and the Son of God in his incarnation.
B.1 The Holy Spirit and the conception of Jesus
In thinking on the conception and birth of Jesus Christ we must do so in such a way that we do not interfere with the real and full deity of Christ and the real and full humanity of Christ. Once we interfere with either we cease to be biblical and have gone off into some heretical view of Christ.
Read: Matthew 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35
Here Mary was told:
The reader is told:
Joseph was told:
In respect to the real and full humanity of Jesus Christ:
The virgin conception of Jesus Christ is the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. This is not a divine/human conjugal mating with the resultant offspring neither God nor man, neither real spirit nor real flesh. Rather this is a special work of God in which the Spirit of God in a special and unique action caused a new human life to be conceived in Mary’s womb without the presence of the male sperm. This action of the Spirit ought not to surprise us. He is, as we have seen, involved in the original creation of the world and in its on-going sustenance. It is not at all amazing that he can create this human embryo within Mary starting with only her ovum. It would, conversely, be surprising if he could not do this.
This work of the Spirit of God in the womb of Mary achieves two important things:
Thus the child to be born of Mary is identified as a real human child:
Thus the Holy Spirit of God, in a powerful and unique action, caused the conception in Mary’s womb of a human being who is in all respects fully human, and who at the same time is not corrupted by or implicated in the sin and guilt that corrupts and implicates every other human being since Genesis 3.
Only such a person is qualified to be the Saviour of the world - one who, because he is fully and completely human can actually stand in our place as a human being before the judgment of God, and one who, because he is sinless, can actually bear the guilt and punishment of others because he has no sin of his own for which to bear the guilt and punishment.
This is what the Holy Spirit did and achieved in the conception of Jesus Christ, in respect to his full, real and perfect humanity.
In respect to the real and full deity of Christ:
It is a more difficult matter to speak of the operation and role of the Spirit of God in the incarnation of Christ in respect to his real and full deity. The human pregnancy and birth, although unique because of the Holy Spirit’s operation in the virgin conception, was in all other respects a normal human pregnancy and birth.
But in respect to the full and real deity of Christ we move far away from what is normal. God does not normally become human. Spirit does not normally become flesh. That which is by very nature eternal and infinite does not normally become mortal and finite. Yet here that is exactly what happens. That it did happen is testified throughout the New Testament. How it happened remains an unexplained mystery.
These verses clearly attest the deity of Christ from the moment of his conception, and rule out the belief of some that Jesus was adopted as the ‘Son of God’ at the time of his baptism. He is already even before his birth, and at his birth, ‘the Lord’. He is already ‘the holy one’.
And we ask ‘How is this?’ how can this human child be ‘the Lord’, how can he be ‘God with us’? The only information given in answer is the operation of the Holy Spirit recorded in the birth narratives.
We can therefore conclude, even though we cannot explain how God did it, that, it was at the point of conception, at the point of this action of the Holy Spirit, that the incarnation of God began in time and space:
As Paul says to Timothy in reference to this incarnation: ‘Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great’.
Without going beyond the truth revealed in the Scripture we can safely state that when the Holy Spirit operated in the womb of Mary to ensure both the real humanity and the perfect, guilt-free humanity of Jesus, that he also, at the same time, operated in such a way and to this end: that the human child born of Mary, was also, at the same time, fully and really God. God in human flesh.
This incarnation, this God coming to us in human flesh, was proclaimed in the Old Testament, which teaches us:
In relation to this promised One who is both God and man the Old Testament tells us in advance:
These verses teach us that the Spirit of God was present with Jesus in a way that deserved special mention. This is not the same as the way the Spirit was present with the judges or with the prophets, enabling them to lead God’s people or to proclaim God’s word, at a particular time or a particular place. Nor is it the same as the way the Spirit is present with Christian believers. These scriptures speak of a unique association between the Spirit and Jesus, which is true only of the relationship between the Spirit and the incarnate Christ, and is a continuation of the essential eternal unity between the Son and Spirit.
B.2 The Holy Spirit and the baptism of Jesus Christ
The records of the baptism of Jesus Christ report that as Jesus came up out of the water the Spirit of God descended like a dove onto Jesus [Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32]. Simultaneously, the voice of God sounded from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
In the history of the church there are those who taught that God adopted Jesus as his Son at this point – that it was only at this time that Jesus became the divine Son. In the previous section we have seen that Jesus was already ‘the Son’ and ‘the Lord’ from the time of his conception; in addition, John the Baptist already knew that the coming, but as yet unidentified, Christ was his superior, and had existed eternally, before he observed the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus [Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16; John 1:30]. We are therefore forbidden to understand what occurred at his baptism to be the beginning of his incarnation or the beginning of the divine nature of the man Jesus.
[Others see this descent of the Spirit on Jesus at his baptism as an indication that it is at the point of Christian baptism, or more specifically at the point of believers’ baptism, that the individual human being receives the Spirit of God. This concept is easily repudiated by reading Acts 10:44-48 where the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household before their water baptism.]
So we must ask: what is happening here at the baptism of Jesus?
John the Baptist gives us the official and incredibly simple explanation: that the visible descent of the Holy Spirit was God’s confirmation to John the Baptist, [and through him to the rest of us], that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He said: ‘I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.’ [John 3:33-34].
This descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism is the visible divine testimony accompanying the audible divine testimony to the divine identity of this man, Jesus.
[Note: The New Testament does not teach that Jesus was baptised with, in or by the Holy Spirit.]
B.3 Jesus Christ was fully in sync with the Holy Spirit
Throughout his ministry Jesus Christ taught and worked in sync with the Holy Spirit, not separate from the Holy Spirit.
We learn from these texts that:
Jesus repeatedly taught that his words and his works were the words and works that he received from God the Father: that what the Father said, he said, that what the Father did, he did, and that he only did and said what the Father did and said. Now from the above verses we learn of a similar intimacy and unity of will and word and work between the Son and the Spirit, and, therefore, between the Father and the Spirit. For we see clearly here, that in all that the Son does, he does with the presence, empowerment and support of the Spirit.
This is not an evidence of inferiority or dependency, but of unity of will, action and purpose. The Spirit of God was not off somewhere in inactive, uninvolved isolation during the incarnation of the Son. The Spirit of God was right there in full measure, working together with the Son to reveal the Father.
It is in this context that we understand Jesus’ teaching about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12:25-32:
When Jesus cast out demons [or did or said anything, for that matter] it was ‘by the Spirit of God’. If we do not see the words and works of Jesus as the words and works of God – if we see them as just human words and works, or worse still as the words and works of Satan – forgiveness is impossible. As long as we deny God here, as long as we blaspheme God here where the Spirit of God is impressing and challenging us with God’s final self-revelation in the words and works of his Son, there can be no salvation. Continuing rejection of God here is our final irrevocable blasphemy.
As John has recorded in John 8:31-47, the Jew’s failure to believe in Jesus as the divine Son stemmed from their fundamental alienation from God and rejection of God, and from their fundamental allegiance to Satan, in which it was impossible for them to hear the words of God.
To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, to speak against the Holy Spirit, here in his evident presence in and unity with the incarnate Christ, is to deny the deity of Christ. It is to deny that Jesus is indeed ‘Immanuel’ – God with us. To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to reject God.
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