“He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” John 20:22
Has someone ever breathed on you, and you could instantly tell they hadn’t brushed their teeth recently? So nasty. But we’re polite people, and we don’t say a word, do we?
Now let me ask you this.
What if Jesus breathed on you? I don’t want to speculate about our Lord’s oral hygiene habits, but I bet you would put up with it a lot more than your close-talking coworker. Your first thought about tolerating it would likely be, well, He’s God!
But what if I told you if Jesus is breathing on you, there’s a special reason for it.
The twelve disciples discovered this reason one fateful evening. One very sad but eventually fateful evening.
Jesus’ Appearance to the Disciples
The day Jesus died on the cross was an exceptionally sad and difficult day for His disciples.
It was Passover, a high holy day where families come together to celebrate the Israelites’ rescue from Egypt. But now Jesus, the disciples’ Lord and friend, was gone. And on top of that, the disciples were on the run from the Jewish authorities who considered them religious heretics.
The disciples scattered in every direction that day. But by the next day, they managed to gather again in a private room.
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene was visiting the tomb where Jesus’ body lay. According to the book of John, she initially mistook the Lord for the gardener. But when Jesus spoke her name, she instantly saw who He really was. Jesus told her, “But go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God (John 20:17).’” Mary ran to tell her fellow disciples, but not everyone believed her.
Their disbelief didn’t last long. Very soon, they would all see the truth for themselves.
The Night Jesus Breathed
The day after Jesus died, the disciples gathered in a private room behind a locked door. We might safely assume they were mourning Jesus’ death together. Then suddenly, they look up and see Jesus miraculously standing right there in front of them.
With their mouths gaped open and eyes as wide as saucers, Jesus simply says, “Peace be with you,” and He shows everyone His hands and feet. But before the welcome home party can begin, Jesus says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, I also send you (John 20:21).”
And that’s when He breathed on everyone.
Jesus didn’t breathe on the disciples to see if they liked His new mouthwash. No, He was giving them a gift. A very special gift. The gift of the Holy Spirit.
“And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (v22)
Only one disciple was not in the room when Jesus breathed on everyone—Thomas. When he finally showed up, the others told him they had seen Jesus, but he didn’t believe them.
“Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (v25)
Thomas’ refusal to believe Jesus was alive again is why many people call him “Doubting Thomas.” And why wouldn’t he doubt? God had never resurrected before except the prophet Elijah, and it certainly wasn’t talked about in the Jewish Torah. And now, as he’s desperately grieving Jesus’ death, why would he suddenly believe Jesus is alive? Many of us are like Thomas and doubt Jesus’ abilities, which you can read about here.
The good news is that Jesus did finally appear to Thomas, who excitedly declared Jesus was alive in verse twenty-eight, “My Lord and my God!” So now, everyone—all twelve disciples—knows Jesus is truly resurrected.
Did Jesus breathe on Thomas at that point? No, he didn’t. Does that mean he didn’t receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? Absolutely not.
In fact, none of them did that day.
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
Jesus personally gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to each of the disciples the night He made His first post-resurrection appearance. Well actually, no, He didn’t, but He was about to.
The disciples did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost, which wouldn’t happen for another forty days. So what did Jesus mean when He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit?”
Jesus could not give the Holy Spirit to anyone, much less the disciples, until after He ascended back to heaven. We know this is true because of what Jesus says in Acts 1:8.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
Here, Jesus is acknowledging the Holy Spirit had not yet come. He had not yet given to the disciples the power He promised them forty days earlier, but He was about to. We see this in Acts 2:1-4.
“When the Day of Pentecost had 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 the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues as of fire, and one sate upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
This was the day Jesus kept His word. With a single breath, Jesus gave the promise of the Holy Spirit to His disciples. And now the day of its fulfillment had finally come. There was no mistaking it.
Notice the Scripture says, “They were all with one accord in one place.” Unlike the night of Jesus’ first appearance when Thomas wasn’t with the group, now they were all together. No one was left out, and they all received the Holy Spirit.
What’s even better about this verse is that Thomas didn’t need to be personally breathed on by Jesus to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. All it took was Thomas believing and receiving it by faith.
Thankfully, we, too, have the same assurance.
The Other Time God Breathed
An interesting juxtaposition of Jesus breathing on the disciples is what we read in Genesis 2:7. This is the only other time in the Bible where God breathed on someone.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”
When God breathed on Adam, He gave Adam life. Physical life. Similarly, when Jesus breathed on the disciples, He also gave them life. This time it was spiritual life.
When God breathed on Adam before sin came into the world, the intent was that Adam would remain with God his Creator forever. As we know, that didn’t work out, and so Jesus came to pay the penalty of death we all owe. With that debt eternally paid, now we can be with God forever again. Jesus has reconciled us to the Father.
But until we get to heaven to redeem the reward of eternal life, God has given us the Holy Spirit who gives us new life, a spiritual life united with Him.
Let Jesus Breathe on You
I love the footnote in the MacArthur Study Bible that says in talking about Genesis 2:7 that a “man’s value is not in the physical components that form his body, but in the quality of life which forms his soul.”
With God’s breath of life in us as it’s lived out through the Holy Spirit manifesting Himself in us, I’m sure you would agree that the quality of that life is enormously better and satisfying than without it. In other words, life with God is immensely better with Him than without Him.
As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
When Jesus breathes on us, we become new creations rooted in Him with His Spirit moving in us and through us, guiding us, leading us, counseling us, helping us, and loving us in every way. That’s a concrete promise to you.
Have you received the Holy Spirit yet? Go near to Jesus. Let Him breathe on you a little. Let Him give you new spiritual life. All you need to do is believe and receive it.