So, What Really Happened When Jesus Breathed on the Disciples?
Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). Does this mean that they received the Holy Ghost at this time? If so, what did they receive at Pentecost?
The event of John 20:22 is a beautiful symbolism, foretaste, and promise of that which the disciples were to receive at Pentecost. Proof that they did not actually receive the filling or baptism of the Holy Ghost at that time is shown in John 7:39. The promise that they would receive the Holy Ghost was given to them, but Jesus indicated that He must first be glorified. That is, He must die, be buried, rise from he dead, ascend into heaven, and be glorified; then he could pour out the Holy Ghost (His own Spirit) upon them.
Jesus instructed them meanwhile to tarry (wait) in the city of Jerusalem until the promise of the Father, the power from on high, the Holy Ghost, was poured out on them (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5). This would certainly not have been necessary had they received the Holy Ghost at the time Jesus breathed on them in John 20:22.
That which they received at Pentecost was that which Jesus had promised them. The apostle Peter, preaching the Pentecostal sermon, declared:
“This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).
The Pentecostal experience was the fruit of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and glorification. exactly as Jesus had promised!
Undoubtedly the disciples received a blessing when Jesus breathed upon them. Probably it was a foretaste of the glorious experience of Pentecost, a “tiding-over” blessing. However, Jesus at the time had not yet ascended to receive the promise of the Father, so the disciples still lived before the benefits of Calvary were delivered to mankind. Therefore, just as our receiving the Holy Ghost is a foretaste of heaven, the earnest of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), so the experience the disciples received when Jesus breathed upon them was a foretaste of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, their inheritance under the new covenant when the benefits of Calvary would finally be theirs at Pentecost.
The breathing of Jesus upon His disciples is beautifully symbolic. It symbolized the Spirit of God. Man was created a living soul by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7). Ezekiel prophesied of the still future spiritual restoration of the nation of Israel when he spoke of the dead bones being revived and restored to life by the breath of God (Ezekiel 37:9-14).
Jesus likened the birth of the Spirit to wind, or breath (John 3:8). The Emphatic Diaglott translates it: “The Spirit breathes were it will, and shout hearest its voice…thus it is with every one who has been born of the Spirit.” This is a powerful promise that when the Holy Ghost comes in, He will speak!
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Ghost came with the sound of a “rushing mighty wind [literally ‘hard breathing’], and it filled all the house…And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2, 4). The foretaste the disciples had received in John 20:22 was now the fulness! Symbolism had been replaced by reality! The promise had become an experience!
Now comes the good news for today. Peter declared, “For the promise is unto you [the Jews of that day], and to your children [the Jewish nation]. and to all that are afar off [Gentiles, though they may be ‘afar off’ in both time and space – that’s us!], even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Since the promise of the Holy Ghost is to all of us today, the question of Acts 19:2 is equally for all today: “Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?”