10 Things You Should Know about the Relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit1
When I say the “relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit” I’m not talking about the internal dynamics that exist eternally among the three persons of the Trinity. What I have in mind is the relationship that Jesus sustained to the Holy Spirit during the time of his earthly ministry. Here are ten things to keep in mind as you reflect on this question.
(1) It was not primarily by virtue of his divine nature that Jesus lived the kind of life he did and ministered in power to the sick and demonized, but rather through his constant and ever-increasing reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. We read in John 3:34-35, “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he [i.e., the Father] gives the Spirit [to the Son] without measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.”
(2) We also need to give full weight to the reality of our Lord’s human nature. Indeed, the confession that Jesus was Christ come “in the flesh” became the touchstone of orthodoxy (see 1 John 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:16; Luke 24:39,43; Jn. 20:17,20,27). Jesus experienced hunger (Mt. 4:2), he thirsted (Jn. 19:28), grew weary (Jn. 4:6), wept and cried aloud (Jn. 11:35; Lk. 19:41), sighed (Mk. 7:34), groaned (Mk. 8:12), glared angrily (Mk. 3:5), and felt annoyance (Mk. 10:14).
He also had a true immaterial soul. “My soul,” he declared, “is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mt. 26:38). It was to the divine purpose that he subjected his will (Lk. 22:42). It was into the Father’s hands that he committed his spirit (Lk. 23:46). And we read often of a genuinely human emotional life: he felt compassion (Mt. 9:36; 20:34; Mk. 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; Lk. 7:13; love (Jn. 11:3; 15:8-12; Mk. 10:21); anger (Mk. 3:5; Jn. 2:13-17); and joy (Lk. 7:34; 10:21; Jn. 15:11; 17:13). The point is that Jesus was fully human, and lived his life and fulfilled his ministry through constant dependence on the Holy Spirit.
(3) We most also remember the implications of his incarnation and humiliation. In Philippians 2, Paul says that “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (vv. 6-8). Paul is not saying that the eternal Son of God gave up or surrendered any attributes of deity. Jesus “made himself nothing” or “emptied” himself by becoming a man, not by ceasing to be God. Thus, in becoming a man “the Son of God willed to renounce the exercise of his divine powers, attributes, prerogatives, so that he might live fully within those limitations which inhere in being truly human” (Gerald Hawthorne, The Presence & the Power, 208). That which he had (namely, all the divine attributes), by virtue of what he was (Deity), he willingly chose not to use. Thus we see a human being doing super-human things and ask “How?” The answer is: Not from the power of his own divine nature, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
(4) Thus, the Son chose to experience the world through the limitations imposed by human consciousness and an authentic human nature. The attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience were not lost or laid aside, but became latent and potential within the confines of his human nature. They are “present in Jesus in all their fulness, but no longer in exercise” (ibid.). The incarnation thus means that Jesus “actually thought and acted, viewed the world, and experienced time and space events strictly within the confines of a normally developing human person” (ibid., 210).
(5) Gerald Hawthorne articulates the implications of this for his original disciples and for us today:
“Not only is Jesus their Savior because of who he was and because of his own complete obedience to the Father’s will (cf. Heb. 10:5-7), but he is the supreme example for them of what is possible in a human life because of his own total dependence upon the Spirit of God. Jesus is living proof of how those who are his followers may exceed the limitations of their humanness in order that they, like him, might carry to completion against all odds their God-given mission in life -- by the Holy Spirit. Jesus demonstrated clearly that God’s intended way for human beings to live, the ideal way to live, the supremely successful way to live, is in conjunction with God, in harmony with God, in touch with the power of God, and not apart from God, not independent of God, not without God. The Spirit was the presence and power of God in Jesus, and fully so” (234).
What this means is that Jesus is our model for how God wants us to live in humble, reliant trust on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we can reasonably expect to “be like” Jesus, to “live like” Jesus only to the degree that we draw from the same divine power on which he faithfully relied: the Holy Spirit.
(6) The Holy Spirit’s presence in the earthly existence and experience of Jesus began with the conception of Jesus in the womb (Matt. 1:18, 20). The source or cause of this miracle is the Holy Spirit. Mary is pregnant from or of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, not Joseph or any other man (thus putting to rest Joseph’s natural fears), provided the generative force by which Mary’s pregnancy came to pass and the humanity of Jesus was initiated. See also Luke 1:35 where the Spirit is said to “come upon” Mary in order to account for the conception of Jesus in her womb.
(7) The same principle continues into the childhood and youth of Jesus. Luke tells us that “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). “Being filled” is in the present tense, likely pointing to a steady, continuous experience (“by being ever more and more filled with wisdom”). Also, he was “being” filled (passive voice) by someone other than himself (no doubt, the Holy Spirit; cf. 1:35). That with which Jesus was being filled was “wisdom” (most likely an allusion to Isa. 11:1-2). And “the favor (or grace) of God was upon him”, a reference not only to divine favor but also to exceptional and enabling gifts. Luke may have meant by these words that “God was even then in the process of graciously fitting Jesus out with those special powers requisite for the unique role he was to play in redemptive history, bestowing upon him the gifts he would need to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world” (Hawthorne, 101). In this regard, we should especially note Acts 4:33 where “power” and “grace” are probably synonymous, together referring to the Holy Spirit.
(8) According to John 1:32, the Spirit not only came down upon Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit “remained” or “abided” on him, an indication of his continuing, ongoing, abiding presence. Unlike those of the OT on whom the Spirit came but for a time (1 Sam. 16:14; 2 Kg. 3:15) to equip them for a task, only then to depart, in the case of Jesus, the Spirit remained permanently, perpetually equipping and enabling him for ministry. In Mark’s account (1:10), the Holy Spirit did not simply come “upon” Jesus but came “into” (eis, not epi) him. Perhaps this is Mark’s way of indicating that the Holy Spirit entered into Jesus, an indication that the relationship is not one of mere external enablement but internal intimacy. Jesus was now the permanent bearer of the Spirit. Even if “filled” with the Spirit from Mary’s womb, he now sustains a relationship to the Spirit unlike anything that has preceded.
We know that this descent of the Spirit upon/into Jesus constituted his “anointing” or empowering for public ministry (see Luke 4:18-21, fulfilling Isaiah 61:1-2). Peter says the same thing in his sermon to Cornelius: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). Here we see that to be anointed with the Holy Spirit is to receive that power which accounts for the “good” works of Jesus’ ministry, his healings, his delivering of those oppressed of Satan, etc. Thus, what he did, he did primarily because “God was with him” in, through and by means of the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
(9) There are numerous texts that explicitly tell us that the Holy Spirit provided the power for all that Jesus said and did. For example, it was not by accident or even his own initiative that Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Mark (1:12) says the Holy Spirit “drove” or “thrust forth” Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus was not only led into the wilderness by the Spirit (Mt. 4:1) but was also being led by the Spirit in the wilderness during the entire course of the forty days (Luke 4:1; it was, no doubt, the Spirit who led Jesus to fast). “It is impossible to escape the conclusion that these Gospel writers want their readers to understand that Jesus met and conquered the usurping enemy of God not by his own power alone but was aided in his victory by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Hawthorne, 139). He was fortified and energized by the continual infusion of divine power from the Spirit of God.
The coming of the Spirit upon and into Jesus led Luke to describe him as being “full of the Holy Spirit” (4:1). The stunning thing is that these are the same terms used to describe the experience of Christians after Pentecost! Stephen, for example, was selected for the diaconate precisely because he was, among other things, “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).
Following his victory over the temptations of the enemy, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee . . . . And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all” (Luke 4:14-15). In what “power” and by virtue of what resource did Jesus begin to teach, preach and perform miracles? It was not through his own initiative or by virtue of his own inherent skills alone or even because he was God incarnate. Rather, “Luke precisely identifies Jesus’ power as the power of the Holy Spirit, and thus attributes those things Jesus did, which caused people to spread his fame far and wide (4:14b), to the dynamis, ‘the power,’ of the Spirit” (ibid., 148). We then read in Luke 4:16-21 (cf. Isa. 61:1-3; 11:1-5) that Jesus himself was conscious of the fact that he had been anointed with the Holy Spirit and in this way was empowered to “proclaim good news to the poor” and “to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind” and “to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
In Matthew 12:22-32 Jesus delivers a demonized man and heals him of his blindness and his inability to speak. He then declares that “it is by the Spirit of God” that he casts out demons and by this they can know that “the kingdom of God has come upon” them (v. 28).
Often the word “power” is used to refer to Jesus’ works and words. The significance of this is that in Luke’s writings “power” is synonymous with the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:17,35). We see this again in Luke 5:17 where “the power of the Lord [i.e., the Holy Spirit] was with him to heal.” This is why people were desperate to touch Jesus, “for power came out from him and healed them all” (Lk. 6:19; see Lk. 8:46). Indeed, often the miracles of Jesus are simply called “powers” (Mt. 11:20; 13:54). The miracles of Jesus were expressions of the Spirit’s power (see 1 Cor. 12:10a).
In Luke 10:21 Jesus is said to have “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” In some sense, even the emotions and passions of Jesus were evoked or stirred or aroused and sustained by the Holy Spirit. His teaching ministry was carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit, as clearly stated in Acts 1:2.
Even the death (Heb. 9:14) and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14-18; 1 Pet. 1:21) of Jesus were accomplished through the power of the Spirit that indwelt Jesus. In fact, 17 times in Acts and the Epistles it is said that God raised Jesus (see especially Acts 17:31), most likely, through the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 1:1-4; 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:14; 1 Tim. 3:16)! 1 Timothy 3:16 declares that Jesus “was manifested in the flesh, [and] vindicated by the Spirit,” Hawthorne writes: “Jesus was put to death as a criminal, crucified for his supposed crimes, but vindicated in the end, declared to be innocent, proclaimed far and wide to be righteous, by the Holy Spirit who raised him from the dead” (194).
(10) Finally, let us never forget that the Holy Spirit in Jesus is also the Holy Spirit in us! We see this in numerous places, not least important of which is John 20:22 where Jesus “breathed on” his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Hawthorne is spot on in his analysis of the significance of this event:
“The very first thing Jesus did immediately after he was resurrected from among the dead and reunited with his followers was to pass on to them, as a gift from his Father (cf. Acts 2:23), that same power by which he lived, triumphed, and broke the bands of his own human limitations. On the very day of his resurrection, he came to them locked in by their fears, ‘breathed’ on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22)” (235).
John’s point, and that of Hawthorne as well, is that the mission of Jesus is not over. It merely passes into a new phase. Jesus continues the mission given him by his Father by sending forth his disciples in the same power with and by which the Father sent him forth, i.e., the power of the Holy Spirit (see also 2 Cor. 1:21; 1 John 2:18-22, 27-28).