The New Testament offers profound witness to central elements in the great metanarrative it reflects.
John K. McVay
Some time ago, a challenging event occurred in our family. The problem was this: It was an invisible event. We needed to know what had happened and what to do about it. However, we had no way to access that information since it was hidden from sight.
The incident occurred as my daughter was playing in the park. Not being adept at soccer, she stumbled over a ball and fell on her right arm, which became immediately painful. A significant event had just occurred. Hidden behind skin, tendon, and muscle, though, that event was not open to view. But in a local emergency room, a physician ordered an X‑ray.
That which had been invisible now became visible. Her mother and I arrived in time to see the picture. And what a picture it was! My daughter’s arm had experienced a classic, extreme dislocation at the elbow. With the help of the X‑ray, what had occurred was now plainly observable. The ulna was distinctly separate from the humerus and its socket. Now that the problem could be observed, the physician knew what to do about it. In short order—and with the help of anesthetic—he “reduced” the dislocation. Though the elbow remained tender for a time, our daughter progressed rapidly toward healing.
Important passages in the New Testament tell us that the Holy Spirit serves as the X‑ray for a most important event in salvation history—the exaltation-coronation of Jesus. The event occurs well outside human observation. Yet it is crucial for us to know of this central, cosmos-shifting event. It is the Holy Spirit who offers access to the distant celebration of the Lordship of Jesus. Human eyewitnesses could offer their reports of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, their encounters with Jesus after His resurrection, even accounts of the departure of Jesus to heaven, His ascension. What they could not do was share the narrative of what happened next. That had to await the witness of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The story of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early Christian community at the time of the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–42) is a singular narrative in the New Testament. It would be unwise to separate the Pentecost narrative about the descent of the Spirit from the rest of the New Testament.
What fired the imaginations of those early believers was their belief that Jesus, who had walked the dusty trails of Judea with them, was now resurrected, ascended, and exalted at the right hand of God. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, they had heard echoes of Jesus’ coronation that ignited the zeal of their witness. The New Testament bears evidence of this central, compelling conviction of Christian faith.
The Holy Spirit and the Exaltation‑Coronation of Jesus
A review of the New Testament about the Holy Spirit suggests passages in which the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus is paired with the outpouring of the Spirit. The obvious place to begin is Acts 2, followed by John 6, 7, 14 to 16; Revelation 4 and 5; and Ephesians 4:1 to 16. From the standpoint of the narrative time of John’s Gospel, the exaltation of Christ is a future event. In the narrative time of Revelation 4 and 5, the exaltation of Jesus occurs in present time. In Ephesians, Paul looks back to the exaltation of Christ as a past event.
The Spirit as witness to Christ’s exaltation‑coronation (Acts 2). On that Pentecost not long after Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, the early followers of Jesus “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:4).1 This presents a conundrum for the “devout Jews from every nation under heaven” who are in Jerusalem (vs. 5)—they hear those followers of Jesus in their own languages. Peter provides a preliminary answer to their riddle. The phenomenon represents the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy’” (vss. 17, 18).
Before Peter offers a more definitive answer to what is troubling his hearers, he continues by reviewing Jesus’ life and death—and His resurrection: “‘But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power’” (vs. 24). Offering quotations from David as psalmist in support of this point, he again asserts, “‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses’” (vs. 32).
Only then does Peter answer his hearers’ questions: “‘How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’” (vs. 8); and “‘What does this mean?’” (vs. 12): “‘Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified’” (vss. 33–36).
The phenomenon they have experienced, says Peter, is the result of a set of most significant salvation-history events that have occurred at the throne of God, out of sight of humankind: (1) the exaltation of Jesus at the right hand of God; (2) God’s giving to His newly exalted Son “the promise of the Holy Spirit”; and (3) Jesus, from His newly exalted position of power, pouring out the Holy Spirit (vs. 33).
The New Testament often refers to a complex of related events in the life of Jesus, mentioning various events and differentiating them or melding them to different degrees. For example, in the introduction to Romans (1:1–7), Paul refers to two events: the incarnation, “descended from David according to the flesh” (vs. 3); and the resurrection, “resurrection from the dead” (vs. 4).
In Luke’s report of Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14–42), Peter refers to Jesus’ healing ministry, “‘a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you’” (vs. 22); betrayal “‘handed over to you’” (vs. 23); crucifixion (vs. 23), death (vs. 23), burial, mentioned obliquely through the parallel with David (vs. 29), resurrection (vss. 24, 31, 32); and exaltation‑coronation, “‘being therefore exalted at the right hand of God’” (vs. 36). As part of this series of unfolding salvation‑history events prophesied in the Scriptures, Peter includes Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit from the Father, “‘having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit’” (vs. 33); and Jesus pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (vs. 33).
In experiencing the Spirit‑inspired, multilingual communication at Pentecost, Peter’s hearers have had access to this final salvation‑history event: “‘he has poured out this that you both see and hear’” (vs. 33). This visible and observable event, the outpouring of the Spirit, signals an event that is invisible and unobservable: “‘Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified’” (vs. 36). Peter’s sermon underlines the link between what the crowd has seen—the manifestations of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost—and what has occurred in heaven—the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus at the right hand of God. The descent of the Spirit “‘upon all flesh’” (vs. 17), as prophesied by Joel, is the signal that Jesus is “both Lord and Messiah” (vs. 36).
When the listeners react to the sermon, “‘Brothers, what should we do?’” (vs. 37), Peter responds along the same lines: “‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him’” (vss. 38, 39).
To be baptized “‘in the name of Jesus Christ’” means to be baptized in the knowledge that Jesus is exalted at the right hand of God and is the Messiah and Lord. Peter asserts that Pentecost, as a moment when the exalted Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit upon believers, is a repeatable experience. Returning to the themes of Joel 2, he argues that whoever is baptized in the knowledge that the exalted Jesus is the Messiah “‘will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (vs. 38). The “‘promise of the Holy Spirit’” (vs. 33) is for “‘everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him’” (vs. 39).
The link between the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and beyond seems incontestable within the context of Acts 2. Should it, though, be exported as a framework to understand the wider teaching about the Holy Spirit in the rest of the New Testament?
Summaries of the teaching about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament tend to be arranged either canonically, topically, or some combination of both. Such summaries often produce a list of functions or roles of the Holy Spirit such as Keith Warrington’s list for “The Holy Spirit in the Epistles”:
The Holy Spirit opposes the flesh and affirms believers (Rom. 8:1–13, 14–23, 26, 27);
The Holy Spirit provides gifts (1 Cor. 12:4–31; Rom. 12:6–8);
The Holy Spirit transforms (Gal. 5:16–6:2);
The Holy Spirit seals and guarantees believers (Eph. 1:3–14);
The Holy Spirit provides access to God (Eph. 2:11–22);
The Holy Spirit unifies (Eph. 4:1–16, 25–32);
The Holy Spirit fills (Eph. 5:18–6:18).2
Though such lists are informative, they tend to make each theme equally important. But some ideas about the Holy Spirit hold priority over others. Not every idea about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is of equal importance. There is, rather, a heart or center of New Testament teaching about the Holy Spirit. Acts 2, with its linking of the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, identifies that center.
In seeking to establish clearly the link that Luke makes in the Acts 2 narrative between the exaltation‑ coronation of Jesus and the descent or outpouring of the Holy Spirit, two things should be noted. The first is an aspect of the sign event, the descent of the Holy Spirit. As highlighted in Joel’s prophecy, the Holy Spirit is poured out “‘upon all flesh’” (vs. 17). The Spirit is no respecter of the boundaries of gender, “‘your sons and your daughters shall prophesy’” (vs. 17), “‘both men and women’” (vs. 18); age, “‘your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’” (vs. 17); or social class, “‘Even upon my slaves, . . . in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy’” (vs. 18).
This Christian perspective contrasts with that of the ancient world. It was understood that a divine spirit could take possession of worshipers, but the general belief was that “the divine spirit would come on only a few outstanding people. It would be a most unusual experience, reserved for those who were especially close to the deity.”3 From the standpoint of the New Testament, though, “It is nonsense to talk about a Christian who does not have the Spirit.”4 Luke has taken care in his Gospel to establish the credentials of Jesus as Savior of all, especially of the usually forgotten and marginalized. So, it is apropos that the outpouring of the Spirit upon all is an essential element of the sign nature of the event. It reflects the extent of both Christ’s salvation, which is offered to all: “‘Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (vs. 21), as well as His dominion, which is over all. The Spirit falls upon all because Jesus is “‘Lord of all’” (10:36). The descent of the Holy Spirit, then, mirrors the prior, heavenly event of Christ’s exaltation.
A second aspect of Luke’s presentation has to do with the titles accorded to Jesus in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost: “‘Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified’” (2:36). The use here of the word translated as “Lord” designates Jesus as “one who is in a position of authority, lord, master,” a use that “raises Jesus above the human level.”5 It is a distilled affirmation of the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus, as is the case when the term is used as part of the early Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3).
Christos may serve as “the personal name ascribed to Jesus, Christ” and thus may not always carry the sense of “fulfiller of Israelite expectation of a deliverer, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ.”6 Here Acts 2:36 clearly carries the full connotation. This raises questions: In this context, when and how does Jesus become the Anointed One? In Matthew and Mark, John the Baptist describes the role of the “more powerful” one: “‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’” (Matt. 3:11). The story of Jesus’ baptism follows in which the Spirit of God “like a dove” descends upon Jesus (vs. 16). One way, then, to answer these questions is to say that Jesus becomes the Anointed One at His baptism when He is anointed by the Holy Spirit.
However, the occurrence of the term in contexts of exaltation‑coronation of Jesus suggests additional answers, especially since Christos brings to view “the ancient (biblical) practice of anointing with oil as part of ritual installation to office.”7 In Hebrews 1, the context is the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus: “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (vss. 3, 4); “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom’” (vs. 8); “But to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?’” (vs. 13). So, when the apostle cites Psalm 45:7, “‘your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions’” (Heb. 1:9), an anointing at Jesus’ exaltation‑coronation seems in view.
Recalling the three salvation‑history events mentioned in the verse, something similar seems active in Acts 2:33. Exalted at the right hand of God, Jesus “‘received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit,’” which He then poured out upon believers. It is justifiable, then, to view God’s giving of “‘the promise of the Holy Spirit’” (vs. 33) to His Son as an anointing of the Spirit.
With this evidence in view, Jesus’ identity as “the Anointed One” may be seen as unfolding through His incarnation, ministry, and resurrection (along the lines of Roman 1:4), while culminating in His ascension and exaltation‑coronation (Hebrews 1; Acts 2). The anointing of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and His outpouring of the Spirit upon believers mark Jesus as “‘both Lord and Messiah’” (Acts 2:36).
As he develops his story in Acts, Luke reminds his readers of the centrality of the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus to Christian faith and of the Holy Spirit’s witness to that great, salvation‑history event. When, following the healing of the crippled beggar at the temple, Peter and John appear before the council, it is the Holy Spirit who inspires Peter’s fresh testimony to the exaltation‑ coronation of Jesus under the figure of Jesus becoming the cornerstone (Acts 4:8–12). After the apostles are arrested and imprisoned by the high priest, they are freed by an angel and continue teaching in the temple (5:17–21). Appearing before the council, they bear witness to the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as witness to it: “‘God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior. . . . And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him’” (vss. 31, 32). At the end of his own speech to the council, Stephen accused his hearers of “‘opposing the Holy Spirit’” (7:51). He then experienced a Spirit‑inspired vision: “But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (vss. 55, 56). At the very heart of the Christian message is the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus. And it is the Holy Spirit who everywhere bears witness to that great event.
The Spirit as witness to the glorified Jesus (John 6:60–71; 7:32–39; 14–16). John’s Gospel exhibits thoroughgoing interest in the Holy Spirit from John the Baptist’s testimony to the Spirit’s descent upon Jesus (1:32–34) to Jesus’ post‑resurrection giving of the Spirit to His disciples (20:19–23). The farewell discourse (John 14–16) accents the role of the Holy Spirit as the “‘Advocate’” or “Comforter” who extends the presence of Jesus in the experience of His disciples (14:15–31; 15:26, 27; 16:7, 8). To what extent is this wealth of material about the Holy Spirit informed by the meta-narrative so central to the Pentecost story in Acts, with Jesus ascending to heaven and bequeathing the Holy Spirit to His followers as signal and Messenger of His exaltation?
Two narratives in John offer important framing for the discussions of the Holy Spirit in the farewell discourse (John 14–16). The first of these is John 6:60 to 71. In the knowledge that His disciples were “‘grumbling’” (vs. 61, ESV) about His statements concerning eating His flesh and drinking His blood (vss. 52–58), Jesus asks, “‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life’” (vss. 61–63, ESV).
If the idea of Jesus as the Bread of life who descends from heaven confuses His disciples, how will they make any sense of the more challenging concept of His ascent to heaven (especially since it comes through the Cross)? Left to themselves, they will never grasp such a profound truth since “‘the flesh is useless’” (vs. 63). It is only the Spirit who can help them understand it: “‘It is the spirit that gives life’” (vs. 63), vivifying the words Jesus has already spoken to them. The Spirit is the One who dis-closes the meaning of His ascent‑exaltation. The Spirit is the Revealer of the exalted Jesus.
The second narrative that helps to frame later discussions of the Holy Spirit is John 7:32 to 39. In John 7, Jesus attends the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. With officers from the Pharisees standing by, Jesus announces, “‘I am going to him who sent me’” (7:33), specifying that His destination is inaccessible to his hearers. The notice of His departure sets up the next scene of the story, which occurs “on the last day of the festival, the great day” (vs. 37). In this scene, Jesus stands up and cries out: “‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water”’” (vss. 37, 38). The evangelist then comments, underlining the role of Jesus as the Supplier of the Spirit and linking the two scenes (vss. 32–38) by asserting that the departure of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit are inextricably connected: “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (vs. 39).
In the narrative time of the story, the “glorification” of Jesus has not yet occurred. The “glorification” of Jesus refers to the sequence of coming events, the death‑ resurrection‑ascension‑exaltation of Jesus, with emphasis on the culmination of the sequence in the exaltation of Jesus. While John 6:60 to 71 has already suggested an answer, the story in 7:32–39 leaves obvious questions: In what way are the coming of the Spirit and the departure and “glorification” of Jesus linked? Why must the coming of the Spirit await the glorification of Jesus?
The answer comes in the farewell discourse (chapters 14–16), after a long silence concerning the Holy Spirit. The discourse begins in the worrying context of an announcement by Jesus of His departure: “‘Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come”’” (13:33). Jesus reassures His disciples that the purpose of His departure is so that He may “‘prepare a place’” for them and return to take them to that place (14:1–3). In the context of a re-statement of His departure (vs. 12), Jesus again offers a rationale: He, from His position with the Father, will enable them to do “‘greater works’” than He Himself has done and will respond to their every request (vss. 12, 13). Jesus then offers extended comment on the coming and work of “‘the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name’” (vs. 26). Jesus will come to them in the Spirit as Comforter‑Helper‑Advocate (vss. 16–18). While His departure will mean “‘the world will no longer see me,’” His disciples “‘will see me,’” presumably through the ministry of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who gives them access to Him as the exalted One (vss. 19, 20).
The definitive answer to why the coming of the Holy Spirit is so closely linked to the glorification of Jesus comes in His final statements about the Holy Spirit in the farewell discourse. In the context of the guilt of the world for rejecting Him (15:18–24), Jesus offers a summary of the work of the Holy Spirit: “‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning’” (15:26, 27). Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will come to “‘testify’” to Him, bearing witness to events to which the disciples have had no access—the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus. They will then extend that testimony to others as ones who now know the story from start to finish (15:27).
On the heels of predictions about future persecution and a fresh announcement of His departure (16:1–6), Jesus argues that His absence will be of benefit to His followers because it will trigger the presence of the Advocate, who will not come until Jesus departs and sends Him (16:7). It is just here that Jesus offers a classic statement about the work of the Spirit: “‘And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment’” (16:8). On the surface, the statement might be understood to describe the broad, general work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, though, offers three explanatory phrases, commenting on each of the three terms He has just employed, “‘sin and righteousness and judgment’” (16:8). This description of the Spirit’s work highlights the relationship of that work to Jesus Himself. The work of the Holy Spirit is more about Christology than ethics.
In the context of the guilt of the world (John 15:18, 22–25), Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit’s work (16:8–11) is set in a juridical context, reversing the situation of persecuted followers before earthbound tribunals (15:18–21; 16:1–4). “The picture is clearly one of a trial, in which the Paraclete has the role of prosecuting attorney and the world is the defendant, standing before the believing community.”8 The Spirit will “‘prove the world wrong . . . because they do not believe in me’” (16:8, 9). The focus is on the future, post‑exaltation work of the Spirit. Not only have they incurred guilt by rejecting the person and work of Jesus during His earthly ministry (8:24; 15:22–24), they will also add to that guilt by rejecting the future testimony of both the Spirit and the disciples to the exalted Jesus (15:26, 27).
The Spirit will also “‘prove the world wrong . . . about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer’” (John 16:8, 10). How is it that “righteousness” is connected to the departure of Jesus and to the Spirit’s witness to the exalted Jesus? In this juridical context, the term should be understood as “vindication” and refers to the great reversal of human judgments concerning Jesus represented by His resurrection‑ascension‑exaltation. This reversal becomes the subject of John 16:16 to 24, in which Jesus’ absence “is offered as corroboration of his departure and hence the seal of his vindication.”9 Because “the world” remains convinced of human judgments against Jesus rather than His vindication by God, the Spirit proves them wrong in their failure to acknowledge the vindication‑exaltation of Jesus.
In the third explanatory phrase, the Spirit will “‘prove the world wrong . . . about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned’” (16:8, 11), a condemnation rooted in Christ’s death on the cross, when the “‘ruler of this world’” is to be judged and to be “‘driven out’” (12:31, 32). In the context of the Spirit’s post‑ exaltation witness, the ongoing failure of the world “to acknowledge Jesus as the rightful Lord of the world, in-stalled by God, implicates it in the judgment that took place in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Like the prince of this world, its cause is lost; it has been judged.”10 “The very fact that Jesus stands justified be-fore the Father means that Satan has been condemned and has lost his power over the world.”11
Jesus comments further on the role of the Spirit in John 16:12 to 15. At the heart of the passage, verse 14 defines the Spirit’s work as “glorifying” Jesus. C. K. Bar-rett points to the use of “glorify” in John 7:39 as referring “to a simple fact, the exaltation of Christ before the coming of the Spirit, . . . in this verse [16:14] to the Spirit’s work in bringing home the glory of Christ to the world.”12 Verses 14 and 15 elaborate the role of the Spirit as announcing the exalted Jesus. Jesus explains His further statement that the Spirit “‘will take what is mine and declare it to you’” by adding: “‘All that the Father has is mine’” (vss. 14, 15). The Spirit “‘takes’” or “‘receives’” the news of the return of Jesus to His former glory with the Father (17:5) and His exaltation, as Coregent of the Father, to unbounded sovereignty.
In reviewing John 16:12 to 15, it is important to recall that, as with the definitions of sin, righteousness, and judgment (vss. 8–11), truth is not defined as a broad, ethical concept but a Christological one. Jesus has already noted the inability of the disciples to grasp His future ascension (6:61–63), which becomes an important referent of Jesus’ statement that there are “‘many things’” the disciples “‘cannot bear’” in that moment of time (16:12). The “‘Spirit of truth’” will “‘guide you into all the truth’” (vs. 13), the full truth about the exalted Jesus. That the Spirit “‘will declare to you the things that are to come’” (vs. 13) refers to the important salvation history events that, from within the narrative time of the story, are about to occur—Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. Verses 12 to 15 are an expansion on the central role of the Spirit: “‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf’” (15:26).
The connection between the Spirit’s testimony to Jesus and His exaltation is far more important than mere chronology. It is the divine vindication represented by the resurrection‑ascension‑exaltation that is the particular focus of the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment in His role as Witness to the exalted Jesus (John 15:26). The coming of the Spirit must await the glorification of Jesus because it is the glorified‑exalted Jesus who bequeaths the Spirit (15:26), His vindication‑exaltation is the subject and focus of the Spirit’s testimony to Him (16:8–11), and it is the exalted Jesus who both personifies and defines the content of the Spirit’s witness (vss. 3, 14). The rich revelations concerning the Holy Spirit, disclosed in the Gospel of John, are structured and framed by important features that also appear in the Pentecost story.
The Spirit as worldwide witness to Christ’s exaltation‑coronation (Revelation 4 and 5). Revelation 4 and 5 contain the transcript of a profound worship event occurring at the throne of God. John, following the invitation to “‘Come up here’” (4:1), sees God’s throne and experiences a sound and light display—“flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder”—glistening and echoing off a crystalline sea of glass (vss. 5, 6). Four “living creatures” praise in song the holiness of “‘the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come’” (4:8). This prompts worship by the 24 elders, singing their own hymn of praise, which celebrates the worthiness of God as Creator of all things (vss. 9–11).
At the opening of the next scene in the worship service, the focus remains on the One seated on the throne, now accompanied by a scroll at His right hand (Rev. 5:1). A most dramatic moment is introduced by the question, “‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’” (vs. 2). After an apparently futile search, a candidate is introduced as “‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,’” who “‘has conquered’” (vs. 5). When this victorious Hero appears, He does so as “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (vs. 6). In a moment of high ceremony, He takes the scroll.
This triggers expanding, hymnic worship. First, the four living creatures and 24 elders sing a hymn praising the worthiness of the Lamb (Rev. 5:9, 10). Then, a crowd of angels add their praise (vss. 11, 12). Finally, all creatures everywhere bless “‘the one seated upon the throne’” and “‘the Lamb’” (vs. 13). The worship event concludes with a resonant “‘Amen!’” (vs. 14).
What does this worship service and its central act of the Lamb taking the scroll signify in this “pivotal section of the whole book”?13 This “special occasion,” it may be argued, is “the exaltation of the glorified Christ, following His ascension to heaven, on the heavenly throne at the right hand of the Father,”14 an event that “took place at a specific point in time.”15 The identification of “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” evokes both the Old Testament promises of a “future messianic king of the Davidic lineage”16 and Old Testament traditions for inaugurating a king. The requirement that a new king possess a copy of the law scroll of Deuteronomy to “‘remain with him’” (Deut. 17:19) led quite naturally to the presentation of the scroll as a significant element in the coronation of a new monarch. So it is that in Revelation 5, “the climactic moment of the scene” comes when “the covenant book, which had been sealed and stored for ages, was handed to the triumphant Christ—the long‑awaited King from the Davidic lineage and the Lion from the tribe of Judah.”17
What role does the Holy Spirit play in the worship event in Revelation 4 and 5? First, it is notable that the chapters follow the exhortation of the risen Christ repeated to each of the seven churches, “‘Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches’” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22), identifying the letters (2:1–3:22) as joint communiques of Christ and the Spirit.
Second, immediately prior to Revelation 4 and 5, the final communique from the risen Christ and the Spirit offers direct announcement of Christ’s ascension‑ coronation: “‘To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches’” (Rev. 3:21, 22). Following a repeated literary feature of the Apocalypse, this announcement, concluding the letters to the seven churches, telegraphs the content of the next scene—the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus.
Third, John’s access to this “special occasion” comes through the Spirit: “At once I was in the Spirit” (Rev. 4:2, ESV; see also 1:10; 17:3; 21:10) with each instance of being “in the Spirit” introducing a vision of Jesus. John sees and shares with his readers that which the Holy Spirit deems important. The scene of Christ’s exaltation‑ coronation in Revelation 5 is the testimony of the Spirit to the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus. It should come as no surprise that a Spirit‑inspired vision focuses on the exalted Jesus.
Fourth, within the framework of the heavenly throne room vision itself, the Holy Spirit is represented with riveting symbolism. John has already twice highlighted “the seven spirits of God,” employing the symbolism of Zechariah 4:1 to 6: (1) as part of the Trinitarian formula of 1:4 and 5; and (2) in introducing the message in which the risen Christ describes Himself as having “‘the seven spirits of God and the seven stars’” (3:1). Now the phrase returns: “in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God” (4:5). The description refers “to the work and activity of the Holy Spirit in its fullness.”18
As the dramatic heavenly scene unfolds, there is another presentation of the Holy Spirit. When the Lamb appears (“‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David’” who “‘has conquered’” [Rev. 5:5]), the Spirit is symbolized with the Lamb Himself: “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (vs. 6). Again, the symbolism is drawn from Zechariah 4: “‘These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth’” (vs. 10). With “seven eyes” representing omniscience, Stefanovic elucidates the symbolism further: “this is a symbolic reference to the sending of the Holy Spirit by Christ throughout the world. The Greek word [translated as] ‘to send forth,’ ‘to send out’ was a tech-nical term among the Jews for sending out an official representative with a special task. . . . The term here refers to the worldwide mission of the Holy Spirit in the full authority of Christ.”19
Whereas the symbolism of the seven torches before the throne may be viewed as suggesting the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Father, this instance “pictures the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit.”20 In the context of describing the coming of the Holy Spirit as Comforter, Jesus can say, “‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you’” (John 14:18). It is this type of collaboration and intimacy that seems symbolized here.
If the Spirit is “sent out into all the earth” with “a special task,” what would that task be? Informed by study of Acts and the Gospel of John and by the context of Revelation 4 and 5, it seems clear that the “special task” of the Holy Spirit is to testify to the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus, to bear witness that it is Jesus Christ who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
To think of the Holy Spirit as Witness to the exalted Jesus as the truth presented in the figurative account of Revelation 4 and 5 should not be surprising. “‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf’” (John 15:26).
The Spirit and the exalted Christ as Giver of gifts (Ephesians 4:1–16). That manifestations of the Holy Spirit bear witness to the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus, is worked out in further detail in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Early in the letter, Paul connects the glorified Jesus with the “the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (1:13) in the lives of believers and offers one of the most important New Testament witnesses to the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus in 1:20 to 23. Paul prays for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in the lives of his addressees (vss. 17, 18). He imagines that believers, having experienced such an infusion of the Spirit, will know “the immeasurable greatness” of God’s power for them (vs. 19). He continues by elaborating the source of that grand power: “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (vss. 20, 21). Paul retells this story of the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus as he applies it to believers: “even when we were dead through our trespasses,” God “made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:5, 6). “These verbs (‘made alive,’ ‘raised,’ and ‘made to sit’) refer to three successive historical events in the saving career of Jesus, the resurrection, the ascension and the session.”21 (Session is an archaic synonym for the coronation or exaltation of Jesus.)
Having connected poignantly and repeatedly the exaltation of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit among believers, Paul brings together the themes of Christ’s ascension‑exaltation‑coronation, the Spirit, and spiritual gifts later, in Ephesians 4:1 to 16. One can see on display a “virtual interchange” between the roles of Christ and the Spirit. In 4:1 to 16 the exalted Christ becomes the Giver of “spiritual gifts” in the form of gifted individuals (apostles; prophets, evangelists, pastor‑teachers). Paul offers a list of seven unifying elements, beginning the list with “There is one body and one Spirit” (vs. 4). As he develops the body metaphor in the passage, the gifted individuals themselves are the tendons, ligaments, or joints, each binding the body together and bringing “unity” (vss. 11–13, 16). These gifted individuals, in their role of bringing unity to the body of Christ, actualize the unifying role of the Spirit.
Paul introduces the exalted Christ as Giver of the gifts (which here refer to gifted individuals rather than spiritual gifts given to individuals) with a quotation from Psalm 68:18: “‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people’” (Eph. 4:8). In the Old Testament passage, it is the Lord who receives “gifts from people.” But Paul has Christ giving gifts. Christ is portrayed “as the triumphant Divine Warrior who, after he has ascended his throne, blesses his people with gifts.”22 The psalm concludes, “Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!” (Ps. 68:35). God, as Giver of gifts to His people, is an important thought for this psalm. Paul, then, is not misquoting it but “rather appropriating the narrative movement of the entire psalm.”23
Modern translations are correct in setting Ephesians 4:9 and 10 apart as a parenthetical statement, which comments on the citation just given (Ps. 68:18). In verse 9, Paul asks a question. That question should be translated as in the NIV: “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?”
Paul is interested in two actions that he sees attributed to Yahweh in Psalm 68:18: (1) Yahweh’s ascent; and (2) Yahweh’s descent to the earth. In the psalm, the context is the familiar Old Testament one of Yahweh portrayed as a conquering general. Having won a great victory, He “ascends” to His capital city to celebrate. But what is the “descent,” which does not seem to be discussed there?
The interpretive comment on Psalm 68:18 that Paul now offers helps with this question. The comment is focused on identifying the One who descends with the One who ascends: “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10, ESV). The hearers will now know that it is Jesus who is under discussion, since Paul has earlier used such language of Him (1:20–23).
To understand the order of ascent and descent is to take full account of Paul’s citation of Psalm 68:18. In his comment on the passage, is not adjusting but reflecting its narrative order. In the passage, the “ascent on high” or “far above all the heavens” takes place first, followed by the “descent,” an event to be equated with the “giving of gifts to men” in Psalm 68:18 (Eph. 4:8) and the “filling of all things” (vs. 9). The “descent” that Paul is discussing is then the descent of Christ‑in‑the‑Spirit following His exaltation, to provision His church with gifted people. The “movement in thought from Christ’s ascent to his gifts in the Church requires a descent in the Spirit . . . The one who by his Spirit is active in giving gifts to the Church and equipping it for its role is the same one who by virtue of his ascent became cosmic Lord.”24
While the genre, context, and imagery differ significantly from the presentation in Acts 2, noteworthy elements of the Pentecost narrative appear in Ephesians. Christ, following His resurrection (1:20; 2:5), from His newly exalted position on high (4:8–10), pours out (noting the use of the liquid metaphor, “fill,” in 4:10) Spirit‑inspired gifts (as gifted people who, among other gifts, exercise the gift of prophesy, 4:11) upon His church (4:8, 10–13). The presence of the Spirit among God’s people signals the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit’s Witness to the Exaltation-Coronation of Jesus as Organizing Theme
The detailed development of the idea of the Holy Spirit as Witness to the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus in Acts, John, Revelation, and Ephesians suggests that this is the central, defining role of the Holy Spirit. This theme may summarize and integrate the complex, multifaceted testimony to the Spirit in the New Testament. There are four broad New Testament themes about the Holy Spirit: (1) the Spirit and the life of Jesus; (2) the Spirit and the disciples of Jesus; (3) the Spirit and the church of Jesus; (4) the Spirit and the return of Jesus.
The Spirit and the life of Jesus. Caught up in the theme of the Spirit’s witness to Christ’s exaltation‑ coronation, we may forget that the New Testament portrays the Holy Spirit as deeply involved in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus from the beginning. In fact, reminding ourselves that the Holy Spirit collaborates with Jesus through His life and ministry on earth casts in high relief the culminating nature of the Spirit’s witness to Jesus’ exaltation.
Matthew directly credits the conception of Jesus as a human being to the creative work of the Holy Spirit. He reports that Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18) and an angel, appearing to Joseph in a dream, says to him, “‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’” (vs. 20). In Luke’s birth narrative, an angel responds to Mary’s request for an explanation by saying, “‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’” (1:35). Moreover, a few days after Jesus’ birth, when He is presented in the temple, Simeon bears Spirit‑inspired testimony to His identity (2:25–35).
Judging by the New Testament record, the Holy Spirit attends Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. After His baptism, Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Spirit (Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:1), where He overcomes temptations from the devil. His Galilean ministry is empowered by the Spirit (Luke 4:14). Still early in His ministry, Jesus Himself uses the words of Isaiah 61:1 and 2 to announce His anointing by the Holy Spirit: “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor’” (Luke 4:18). His preaching and teaching ministry is inspired by the Holy Spirit since Jesus, the One God has sent, “speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). The Holy Spirit is also involved in the concluding events of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In a reference to the Cross, it is “through the Spirit” that Christ “offered himself without blemish to God” (Heb. 9:14). And Paul associates the Spirit with the resurrection of Christ (Rom. 8:9–11).
It is important to note that the Gospels portray Jesus as the Giver of the Holy Spirit. Among Jews at the time of Jesus, God was thought of as increasingly distant and transcendent. In line with this thinking, the Spirit, who had been active in the past through inspiring prophets and would be poured out afresh in the age to come, was regarded as dormant. So, John the Baptist, widely recognized as a prophet, became the focus of great excitement. He announced that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was imminent and that One was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, a point made in all four of the Gospels. It is helpful to review that fourfold witness:
● “‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’” (Matt. 3:11, 12, italics supplied).
● He proclaimed, “‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1:7, 8, italics supplied).
● “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’” (Luke 3:15–17, italics supplied).
● “And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:32–34).
In company with the other Gospel writers, Luke designates Jesus as the One who will “‘baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Luke 3:16). In addition, he echoes that idea in Acts 2:33 to 36 where the exalted Jesus “pours out” the Holy Spirit. In addition, in his introduction to Acts (1:1–5), Luke reports that Jesus, during the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension, orders “the apostles” to stay in Jerusalem and “wait there for the promise of the Father” (vs. 4). He completes his introduction with these words from Jesus: “‘This . . . is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (vss. 4, 5). The repetition of the theme of Jesus as the One who gives the Holy Spirit and its prominence at the beginning of Acts offers evidence of its importance for Luke.
It is also of interest that both contexts, Acts 2 and the four Gospels, use Old Testament liquid metaphors to describe Jesus’ role as Giver of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 32:15; Eze. 39:29; Joel 2:28). In the Gospels, Jesus will “baptize” with or in the Holy Spirit. The term offers an inspiring portrait of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the lives of believers since it means here “to cause someone to have an extraordinary experience akin to an initiatory water‑rite, to plunge, baptize.”25 In the context of the fourfold Gospel witness to the story of John baptizing at the Jordan, it becomes a moving image of intimate and thorough immersion in the Holy Spirit by the coming Messiah. The terminology of Acts 2, “pour out,” is often associated with “what comes from above” and so is appropriate to the context of Jesus as the exalted‑ crowned One granting the Holy Spirit. It also suggests the abundance of the gift, since “to pour out” means “to cause to be emitted in quantity” and the context of Joel’s prophecy uses the terminology in relationship to a prophecy about rain (2:23).
Early Christians came to understand that Jesus Christ had been exalted at the throne of God and that the presence of the Holy Spirit signaled that event. This conviction was in line with important affirmations of the New Testament documents—that the Holy Spirit was powerfully and consistently present throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry and that central to His identity was His role of “baptizing” with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is portrayed as the “receiver, bearer, and giver” of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit and the disciples of Jesus. Paul often alludes to the dramatic moment when the Holy Spirit invades the human heart and the unbeliever is transformed into a believer. Having reviewed a list of wrongdoers, he says to the Corinthian believers, “This is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). The Spirit’s presence at their conversion transformed them “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” actualizing the unseen but effective lordship of the exalted Jesus. At conversion, believers, through the witness of the Spirit (Col. 1:18), ac-knowledge that Jesus is Lord and in so doing are “rescued . . . from the power of darkness” and “transferred . . . into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (1:13). With eyes now focused on the exalted Christ, their newly identified Lord who is “seated at the right hand of God” (3:1), their citizenship is in heaven and they await His return from heaven as their “Savior, the Lord Jesus” (Phil. 3:20).
At the end of a lengthy discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers (Rom. 8:1–30), Paul proclaims that it is God’s purpose, through the Spirit, for believers “to be conformed to the image of his son” (vs. 29). The vision of Jesus Christ seated in power at the right hand of God becomes a controlling one for the believer, and life and behavior are transformed. When that does not occur as it should, Paul will remind his converts of the role of the Holy Spirit in their conversion and transformation. Paul writes: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). The person who is “led by the Spirit” will not serve “the desires of the flesh,” but will give expression to “the fruit of the Spirit” exhibited through “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23).
If an outward transformation of behavior indicates the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life, there is also an inner dimension. A “battle royal rages in the lives of believers; a far greater battle than before their union with Christ. This is because the Spirit is opposed to the fallen nature I am born with (and do not lose after my incorporation into Christ).”26 The motivation for participating in this interior work of discipleship and character formation is, again, a vision of the exalted Jesus. The apostle exhorts: “let us . . . lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1, 2).
Paul writes that this same Spirit who superintended the great events of salvation history, including the resurrection of Jesus, “dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11) and brings important assets to bear on the inner struggle. “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (vs. 23). But the Spirit “helps us in our weakness” (vs. 26), reminding us that we are “children of God” (vs. 14), who may cry out “‘Abba! Father!’” (vs. 15) in our moment of need. When we acknowledge God as Father, the Spirit bears “witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (vs. 16). And when we pray, the Spirit “intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (vs. 26).
The Spirit demonstrates a remarkable commitment to the believer. The Spirit does not just “visit” but “abides” or “dwells” with the disciple (John 14:16, 17). And the Holy Spirit does not depart when the disciple misbehaves. Rather, the Spirit remains and is “grieved” (Eph. 4:30). Through the Holy Spirit, we have “access” to the grace offered by “our Lord Jesus Christ” and undertake the hard work of Christian growth motivated by “God’s love” that “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom. 5:1–5).
The Spirit and the church of Jesus. Beyond inspiring individuals, the Holy Spirit creates and fashions Christian community, the church. The Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2) is sometimes thought of as the birth of the church. The Holy Spirit, as announcer of the exaltation‑ coronation of Jesus, calls and shapes an anointed community to extend the ministry of Jesus. Like the experience at Pentecost, the experience of the Holy Spirit within that community was very real. In those early days, the presence of the Holy Spirit “made a difference to their lives, outwardly and emphatically. It had powerful and palpable effects. The love of God burned in their hearts, people spoke God’s word with boldness, they prophesied and saw visions, they healed the sick. The Spirit was not a theory but altered real‑life situations.”27 Jesus, raised to life and exalted at the right hand of His Father, identified Himself with His followers (Acts 9:5), and baptized His disciples with the Holy Spirit, just as it had been prophesied about Him (Luke 3:15, 16; John 1:33). The Holy Spirit, by whom believers were “baptized” into “one body” (1 Cor. 12:13), and who fostered unity, fellowship, and reconciliation among them (Eph. 2:14–16; 4:1–6), bore witness to the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus.
As was true at Pentecost, the Spirit continued to signal the Lordship of Jesus by blessing the believing community with spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12:1–31). In a reflection of the boundless extent of Christ’s rule, these gifts are shared with all believers, while the spiritual health of the community depends on their activation and use (1 Cor. 12:4–7; Eph. 4:7, 15, 16). In the distribution and use of these gifts, the sovereignty of the Spirit over the church is expressed. “The Spirit is called the Spirit of Jesus, not the Spirit of the church. Any church that denies the Spirit freedom stands in danger of becoming a lifeless and self‑glorifying church.”28 If, for example, the Spirit wishes to anoint a teenage woman with the gift of prophesy as a witness to Christ for a global church, and to give her witness validity until the return of Jesus, the Spirit may do so. The tests of the validity of any gift include the affirmation of Jesus’ exaltation (1 Cor. 12:3; 1 John 2:18–25) and whether or not the church is built up through the ministry of the gift (1 Cor. 12:7).
Similarly, just as the Word of God played such an important role in Peter’s preaching at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit affirms the inspiration of the Old Testament (Mark 12:36; Acts 1:16, 4:25; 2 Peter 1:19–21) and inspires the writers of the New Testament (1 Cor. 2:13, 16; 14:38; 2 Peter 3:15, 16), all in the interest of affirming Jesus as Savior and Lord. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3, “the classic chapter for the role of the Spirit as illuminator of the Scriptures,”29 argues that the Spirit inspires appropriate understanding of the Old Testament. The believer, who allows “the Spirit of the Lord” to make the Word of God clear, beholds “the glory of the Lord” (vss. 17, 18). Unbelievers who, in reading the Scriptures, resist the enlightening work of the Spirit miss “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” the truth of “Jesus Christ as Lord,” and “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:4–6).
In these ways and more, the Holy Spirit is present within the church to bear witness to the church’s exalted Savior and Lord. These Spirit‑inspired assets are not intended to create a selfish community, disinterested in the needs of a lost and dying world. Rather, the Spirit’s purpose is to ignite bold witness by the church to the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus and to His return. The Spirit impels believers to go out, energized by the news that though we may not be able to see Him on His throne, “Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all” (10:36). The church succeeds in its Spirit‑initiated mission when the world understands that they proclaim “that there is another king named Jesus” (17:7).
The Spirit and the return of Jesus. The church, fashioned and inspired by the Spirit, looks toward the return of Jesus. What will be the role of the Spirit in preparing for that great event? In Revelation 19:11 to 16, the Revelator portrays Christ astride a white horse and trailed by the armies of heaven, on His way to take vengeance on His enemies. He comes to actualize fully on earth that which has long been true elsewhere in the cosmos, the name inscribed on His thigh, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (vs. 16). Refracting the Old Testament tradition of a gathering of the nations to Israel (Isa. 56:6, 7; Zech. 2:11; 8:21–23), worldwide messages of invitation and warning are issued prior to this event (Rev. 14:6–12; 18:1–8).
Given that God used the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost as a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2, it may be assumed that He will again use a special outpouring of the Spirit at the end of time to complete the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Matt. 24:14; 28:18–20). Like the outpouring at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit will again announce Jesus as “King of kings and Lord of Lords” in preparing for His return.
It should come as no surprise that the Holy Spirit is powerfully active at the end of human history. The Spirit has been engaged, with Jesus, at each new salvation-history event. It is entirely consistent that the Spirit would be involved in preparing for the Second Coming. By the time of the New Testament, the Spirit was thought of “in eschatological terms, as the power of the End, the hallmark of the new age.”30 This is reflected repeatedly in the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit is the “first installment” of what is to come (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5). To share in the Holy Spirit is to taste “the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5). As such, the Spirit is part of both the “now” of Christian experience and the “not yet” of the Christian hope, pointing in a special way toward the re-turn of Christ and fullness of the kingdom of God initiated by that event. The access to the new era represented by the “first fruits” of the Spirit, causes us to “groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). Believers are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit,” which is “the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people” (Eph. 1:14).
During this final era of human history, distinguished by great trauma as well as by the unprecedented proclamation of the gospel, believers have access to the Holy Spirit, reminding them of the sovereign reign of their Lord. As the great battle of the ages intensifies, Jesus promises to be present with His church “‘to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:20) and strengthens us “to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8). To be able “to withstand on that evil day, . . . to stand firm” (Eph. 6:13), believers are pro-visioned as the peace‑waging army of Christ with “the whole armor of God” (vs. 13) and, specifically, with the final provision of “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (vs. 17). Equipped in the finest armor, the community of the faithful is exhorted to “pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication” (vs. 18). So it is that we await the “revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7) that day when the now invisible but actual reign of Jesus over all things will become visible to every eye (Rev. 1:7).
The narrative of Acts 2, with its scene of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as direct result and signal of the exaltation of Jesus, is a unique story. The rest of the New Testament, though, offers profound witness to central elements in the great meta-narrative it reflects. John, in his Gospel, places the testimony of the Paraclete to the risen and exalted Jesus at the heart of His expansive teaching about the Spirit. In the worship tableau of Revelation 4 and 5, the Apocalypse provides figurative testimony to the worldwide witness of the Spirit to the coronation of Christ. Paul, in Ephesians, offers in his exposition of Psalm 68:18 a view of the conquering, ascended Jesus as the Giver of Spirit‑inspired gifts to His church.
When the testimony of Acts 2, confirmed and detailed in the genres of gospel, apocalypse, and letter, is used as a lens through which to view the many New Testament references to the Holy Spirit and His work, it offers fresh focus and coherence to broad themes of the Spirit’s work in the life of Jesus, in shaping the discipleship of believers, in creating and nourishing the church, and in relationship to Christ’s return. What comes into view is the considerable extent of New Testament testimony to the link between the Holy Spirit and the exaltation of Jesus, suggesting that His work as Witness to the exalted Jesus is His central, integrating role.
It is understandable when, in the hustle and bustle of life, we lose sight of that which is invisible—the exaltation‑coronation of Jesus Christ—and fail to take advantage of the X‑ray vision of the Holy Spirit. The everyday realities we confront pummel us with the reality of worldly traumas and earthbound powers. We need the Holy Spirit’s witness still, this One who invites us to join in His testimony that Jesus Christ, already exalted Lord, is returning to claim His own.
John K. McVay, PhD, is President and Professor of Religion at Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington, U.S.A.
NOTES AND REFERENCES