Chapter 6: The Holy Spirit in the Life of Christ
by James M. Flanigan, N. Ireland
In that earliest account of the Meat or Meal Offering in the second chapter of Leviticus, it is agreed by all devotional expositors that the fine flour of the Offering is a typical foreshadowing of the lovely life of the Lord Jesus, a life in which was blended every moral virtue in perfect balance. There is no blood-shedding in this Offering and no question of sins or atonement. There are suggestions of suffering however, and the Offering is a beautiful picture of a fragrant life of service, and of devotion in suffering; a devotedness which brought so much pleasure to God.
Three times in that chapter it is directed that oil should be applied to the Offering in its various forms, and three different words are employed for these applications of the oil.
At times the oil must be mingled with the fine flour, vv. 4,5. Sometimes the oil should be poured upon the Offering, vv.1,6 and yet again, the Offering might be anointed with oil, v.4. The words are distinct and typically significant. The Offering may be mingled, anointed, or saturated with oil.
Again there is general agreement that oil is a consistent symbol in Scripture of the Holy Spirit, and in His Divine association with the Son of God the typical fulfilment of these interesting and important words can be clearly seen; mingled, anointed, saturated. In the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ the flour and the oil are mingled. At the Saviour’s baptism in Jordan it is as if the Offering is anointed with oil and in His subsequent miraculous ministry there may be observed a ministry essentially saturated with the Spirit’s power. But these considerations need to be approached reverently in some detail.
Many men, perhaps well-intentioned, have sought to explain the human physiology in the miraculous conception of the Son of God in the womb of the virgin. These explanations have all been in vain and some have been irreverent, if not blasphemous. Nowhere is the believer asked to understand, explain, or expound the mystery. "Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh" 1 Tim.3.16. Perhaps the old ‘Apostles’ Creed’ says all that can or need be said about the sacred matter. He was "conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary". The holy details of what happened in Mary’s womb are among the secret things which "belong unto the LORD our God" Deut.29.29, and in true devotion the believer must bow in wonder and worship at the Incarnation of God’s Son.
Apart from a brief comment by Matthew who says simply that "she was found with child of the Holy Ghost" Matt.1.18, the words of Gabriel to Mary are perhaps the sole Scriptural commentary on that Divine conception. To the troubled maiden the angel said, "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest." When Mary, a virgin, asked, "How shall this be?", then "the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" Lk.1.30-35.
In the virgin’s womb the operation of the Holy Spirit brought about the conception of the Saviour. When Mary the virgin was "found with child of the Holy Ghost" the ancient prophetic word had been fulfilled; "The Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" Isa.7.14. It was as if the flour and the oil were mingled in a miracle in the womb of that pious and lowly maid from Nazareth who was to be the virgin mother of the long-promised Messiah. It is all beyond the comprehension of the creature. It is greater than human intellect and bigger than the understanding of earth’s wisest philosophers, but this causes no problem for those who love God’s Word and God’s Son. It is enough for them to know that He was indeed "conceived of the Holy Ghost". As H. C. Hewlett writes, "Ours is to believe, not to explain, and to worship, not to explore".1 John, the beloved apostle, says, so very briefly, "And the Word became flesh" Jn.1.14, J.N.D. The eternal Son would be found in fashion as a Man, Phil.2.8.
1 Hewlett, H. C. "Glories of Our Lord", John Ritchie Ltd, 1994.
- Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
- Hail! Incarnate Deity!
So began, in the virgin’s womb, in a holy communion between two Divine Persons, the story of a unique Manhood which in impeccable holiness would delight the heart of God and bring to Him a fragrance far exceeding the fragrance of the Meat Offering of old where the fine flour was mingled with the oil.
In due time, after that angelic visitation to Mary, her holy Child had been born. With pleasure they watched Him grow, "increasing in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man" Lk.2.52. But in the early days of His infancy the godly Simeon had been brought by the Spirit into the Temple just when Joseph and Mary brought the Child there. He was forty days old and they had come to the Temple to fulfil an ancient law. "They brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord … and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons" Lk.2.22-24; Lev.12.2,6,8. Three times the Holy Spirit is mentioned in connection with Simeon and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Simeon was "just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him" Lk.2.25. Simeon was an essentially spiritual man, and this very moment had been predicted to him earlier by the same Holy Spirit, Who had revealed to him "that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ" Lk.2.26. Now, led by the Spirit, Simeon took the Infant in his arms and blessed God, v.28, and blessed them, v.34, and prophesied great things for Mary’s Son. Through Childhood, and Boyhood, and into Manhood Jesus then grew with a grace that must have brought much joy to Mary and Joseph. He was indeed a tender plant in a dry ground, Isa.53.2. In the spiritual barrenness of the nation, and indeed in the defilement of Nazareth, He grew fragrantly bringing constant pleasure to His Father, and was known locally as the Carpenter and the Carpenter’s Son, Matt.13.55; Mk.6.3.
Now, after those relatively silent years in Nazareth, Jesus was a mature Man, about thirty years of age, Lk.3.23, and He came from His hometown to the river Jordan to a place where John was baptising. Every Gospel writer records something of the fact that Jesus Himself was then baptised by John in the Jordan, Matt.3.13-17; Mk.1.9-11; Lk.3.21-22; Jn.1.32. John, though not recording the actual baptism of the Lord, nevertheless records also with the others, that the Spirit descended at that time from the opened heaven and abode upon Him.
John’s baptism was a baptism unto repentance, Matt.3.11, but, as every believer knows, the Saviour, in His sinlessness, had nothing of which to repent. Why then did He ask to be baptised of John? Matt.3.13-15. In great grace He desired to associate Himself with those who were responding to John’s preaching. It was an acknowledgement of the Baptist’s message, and, as has been said, "He saw His sheep struggling in the dark waters of death and He would fain be with them". Was it a preview of Calvary when He would in awful reality enter death on their behalf?
It was now, at His baptism in Jordan, that the heavens opened upon Him. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon Him. In the context of John’s account this is very beautiful. John who writes the fourth Gospel, records that it was John the Baptiser who pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God. In meekness and gentleness He had lived for thirty years in His Galilean home and in keeping with the typical Scriptures He was a Lamb without blemish, with neither spot nor stain on His holy character. He would eventually be "led as a Lamb to the slaughter", Isa.53.7, J.N.D, but now upon that gentle Lamb the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove. And what more gentle, easily frightened, bird than the dove? But in such a form the Spirit abides upon the Lamb. There is nothing in the tender Lamb to grieve or frighten the dove. As the Spirit abides upon Him it is as if the Offering is being anointed with the oil. Is this what Peter had in mind when he preached saying, "That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached, How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power" Acts.10.37-38.
It must be remembered and understood, even though it may be a mystery, that this anointing by the Spirit does not at all suggest that there was something lacking in the Person of the Lord Jesus beforehand. There was no power or ability conferred upon Him by this anointing which He did not already possess in Himself. Other servants of God may indeed need that special anointing to equip them for service but God’s Son had personal inherent power as a Divine Person and needed no such endowment. This anointing of the Saviour was doubtless to show, in a very public manner, heaven’s approval of Jesus at this early moment in His ministry.
In this connection it has often been remarked that here is delightful evidence of the great Tri-unity, three Divine Persons in holy harmony. The Incarnate Son stands in the water. The Spirit abides upon Him, while the voice of the Father declares from the opened heaven His delight in His Son. Father, Son, and gracious Spirit are together alike involved in the great plan of redemption which is about to unfold.
The synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, all record that it was by the Holy Spirit that Jesus was now, after His baptism, led into the wilderness to a confrontation with the devil.
It is never said that our Lord was filled with the Spirit in the way in which His saints might be, but He was "full of the Holy Ghost" and was now "led by the Spirit" Lk.4.1, into the desert for almost six lonely weeks of trial. Note that Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, were both "filled with the Holy Ghost", as was John himself, Lk.1.15,41,67. The same is said of Peter and Paul in Acts 4.8 and 13.9. If the expression "full of the Holy Ghost" is used of others, as Stephen and Barnabas, Acts 7.55; 11.24, this fullness with them was the result of having been filled with the Spirit, but it was not so with Jesus. He was ever and always "full of the Holy Spirit". And is the gentle submissiveness of the Lamb again in evidence as He yields unresistingly to the leading of the Spirit, knowing what temptations are about to be brought to Him by Satan himself in that barren Judean wilderness?
It must be pointed out again and again that the Lord Jesus was impeccable: incapable of sinning. Not only did He not sin but He could not sin. There was nothing in Him to respond to sinful temptations and as we speak therefore of the temptation in the wilderness the word "temptation" must be rightly understood. With fallen men temptation means an enticement to sin, a solicitation to evil. This could never be true of the Saviour for He could never be enticed to evil. The other meaning of the word implies testing, proving, or trying. "Temptation" is the Greek word peirazo (Strong’s Concordance 3985) defined by Strong as meaning "to examine, to assay, to scrutinise, to prove, to try, as well as tempt". (See Jn.6.6; Acts 16.7; 2 Cor.13.5; Heb.11.17; Rev.2.2; Rev.3.10 where these several alternatives to "tempt" are used in the A.V. translation).
Our Lord Jesus was tried or tested by Satan, not to see if He would, or could sin, but rather, in the plan of God, to demonstrate at this early point in His public life and ministry that He was indeed impeccable. With Him sinning was impossible. He could not sin though tried in His body, soul and spirit. Satan tested Him as to His dependence, His obedience, and His patience, but He did not, could not, depart from the path of the Father’s will for Him.
After forty days in that wilderness Jesus returned, still in the power of the Spirit, into Galilee, Lk.4.14. He had been tested, as pure gold might be tested, but there was no dross, and in communion with the Holy Spirit He now came back to His native Galilee to commence a busy public ministry which was to last for three full years, bringing much glory to God, much blessing to men, and much sorrow to Him. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and He returned from the wilderness in the power of that same ungrieved Spirit.
In Isa.42.1 where Christ is introduced as the perfect Servant, Jehovah says, "I have put My Spirit upon Him". This is what is termed "the prophetic past tense" speaking in anticipation of something that is yet future as though it had indeed already happened. Here it anticipates that unbroken communion which would always be enjoyed between the Divine Servant and the Spirit of God. Since there are certain moral features known as "the fruit of the Spirit" Gal.5.22-23, it is then but to be expected that this fruit should be manifested in the lovely life of Him Who lived in holy fellowship with the Spirit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" and it is interesting to follow the pathway of Jesus through the Gospels and see every aspect of this fruit in evidence in all the varied circumstances of His life.
Love is first mentioned and there were of course, in so many ways, demonstrations of His love. He loved the unlovable. He loved the outcast. He loved publicans and sinners, so that men called Him "a friend of publicans and sinners" Matt.11.19; Lk.7.34. He loved the widow and the orphan and He loved those who had no love for Him. His love knew no frontiers for it reached out to the leprous and the deformed, the deaf and dumb, and the blind, but His disciples were the special objects of His love. "Having loved His own which were in the world He loved them unto the end" Jn.13.1. They may often have grieved Him but He never stopped loving them
Then there was joy. In a beautiful paradox the Saviour was a Man of Sorrows and yet was "anointed with the oil of gladness" above others, Ps.45.7; Heb.1.9. He carried a burden of sorrow. Grief was His constant acquaintance, Isa.53.3, but still He manifested the joy of a Man Who delighted to do the will of His Father, and on His last evening with His disciples He spoke of "My joy", desiring that they should know it too, Jn.15.11. In so many ways and instances He was able to rejoice. His was the joy of a beloved Son rejoicing in holy communion with the Father, "Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth" Lk.10.21. His was the joy too, of a Shepherd finding a sheep that had been lost. "And when He hath found it, He layeth it on His shoulders, rejoicing …saying … Rejoice with me; for I have found My sheep which was lost" Lk.15.5-6. Then there was the joy of a Redeemer Who gave His all to purchase a treasure hidden in a field, who, "for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that He hath, and buyeth that field" Matt.13.44. And yet again, there was the joy that was set before Him, which would be realised after the enduring of the cross, Heb.12.2, and then, in anticipation too, the joy of a returning Sovereign who would say to His faithful servants, "Well done … enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" Matt.25.21,23.
There was peace too. The prophet Isaiah called the Saviour "The Prince of Peace" Isa.9.6, and in a holy serenity He lived and walked in the midst of reproach and shame during all the days of His ministry and even into suffering and death. It is a Man at peace Who says in Gethsemane "Not my will, but Thine, be done" Lk.22.42. It is a Man at peace Who stands in dignity before the High Priest of Israel even when men spat on His face, Matt.26.67. It is a Man at peace Who stands before the Roman Governor and before Herod in those last hours and answers them never a word, Matt.27.14. No wonder Pilate marvelled! Had he ever before witnessed such peace in a prisoner?
How longsuffering Jesus was. It was again the fruit of the Spirit. He bore so patiently with men who did not understand Him. He expounded the truth of God to them with a longsuffering that waited for their dullness to apprehend its meaning. See this in evidence on the Emmaus Road where He led those two disciples step by step until He revealed Himself to them, Luke chapter 24. Slow of heart they were but He bore with them.
Gentleness too, was a delightful characteristic of the Lord Jesus. It was not something that featured in the character of the Scribes and Pharisees who tended to be proud and arrogant men. Would the little children have come to the arms of these austere men as they did to His? Mk.10.13-16. And yet that great forebear of these leaders of the nation, King David, attributed his greatness to the gentleness of Jehovah, saying, "Thy gentleness hath made me great" 2 Sam.22.36; Ps.18.35. The gentleness of Jehovah was seen in the character of Jesus. Many years later Paul reminds his readers of the meekness and gentleness of Christ, 2 Cor.10.1. Interesting it is that Paul who had never known Christ in the days of His flesh should so speak of His gentleness! Had others who had known Him confided in Paul, rehearsing instances of that gentle character and those tender dealings with men?
And what can be said of His goodness? It was a characteristic of God, of Whom the Psalmist could say "Thou art good, and doest good" Ps.119.68, and in Jesus the character of God is again displayed in a Man Who went about doing good, Jesus of Nazareth, anointed with the Holy Spirit, Acts 10.38. "Good Master", one addressed Him on a certain day, to whom the Saviour replied, "Why callest thou Me good? there is none good but one, that is, God" Matt.19.16,17; Mk.10.17,18; Lk.18.18,19. The Lord Jesus was not of course denying that He was good but rather showing that young man, if only he could have understood it, that He Whom he called "Good Master" was actually God, a Divine Person.
As a dependent Man our Lord ever lived in faith, another feature of the fruit of the Spirit. It is often said that the feelings of Jesus are seen in the Psalms. How true this is. Prophetically there He says, "I was cast upon Thee from the womb: Thou art My God from My mother’s belly" Ps.22.10. From Infancy through Boyhood and into Manhood He was characterised by dependence on God. Even His enemies recognised this when they said, quoting almost verbatim from the Psalms, "He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him" Matt.27.43; Ps.22.8.
As for meekness, it was He Himself Who said, "I am meek and lowly" Matt.11.29. Note that only He in His moral perfection could claim to be meek, and still remain meek. If ordinary men made such a claim to be meek it would immediately negate their meekness and would savour almost of arrogance. Not so He, and when we remember that early in His ministry He taught "Blessed are the meek" Matt.5.5, then He is Himself the ultimate blessed One, meek and lowly in heart.
The "temperance" of the A.V. rendering is perhaps better understood as "self-control", and how this was manifested in our Lord’s reaction to the unjust accusations and taunts of His enemies. Whatever they said about Him, or to Him, He retained His composure and dignity. When other men would have responded angrily to their mockeries the Saviour remained calm, perfectly self-controlled. When He could have called ten thousand angels to dispose of His accusers He desisted and bore their taunts and jeers with silent majesty.
So, for those thirty-three years of perfect Manhood the fruit of the Spirit was certainly borne in the life of the Lord Jesus. "I have put My Spirit upon Him", said Jehovah in Isa.42.1, and in Him men saw love, joy, and peace, longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control in perfect balance. This was the fine flour of the Meat Offering, an even consistency in the character of Him of Whom all the offerings were but foreshadowings.
Having ministered in the synagogues of Galilee, Jesus then came to His hometown Nazareth. He knew that synagogue well, and there they knew Him. He had consistently attended the synagogue services throughout those early years but now it was to be different. He came on the Sabbath day as was His usual custom and when the opportunity came He stood up to read the portion of Scripture for that occasion. It was the right of every adult Jewish male to so read the Scriptures publicly and the attendant duly handed the sacred Scroll to Jesus. There were no chapter or verse numbers but how calmly He found the place. He was so familiar with the Word for He was the truly blessed Man whose delight was in the law of the Lord, and in that law He meditated day and night, Ps.1.2. He unrolled the scroll to what is known today as Isaiah chapter 61 and He began to read.
This was not quite the beginning of His ministry for He had already been teaching throughout other regions of Galilee but it was an introduction to His ministry in Nazareth where He was brought up. He read, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." At this point in the reading He closed the book. He returned the Scroll to the attendant and sat down to minister to them, telling them that this Scripture was now being fulfilled in their hearing, Lk.4.14-19.
Note the allusion to the Trinity in our Lord’s opening words, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me". Just as Father, Son and Spirit had been together at His baptism so now they are in holy communion in His ministry. The Spirit … the Lord … upon Me.
"He hath anointed Me". These Jews knew all about anointing. Their prophets, priests and kings were all anointed into their various offices, and if only they had had spiritual intelligence to see it, here was One in their synagogue Whose varied ministry would be that of Prophet, Priest and King, and for these ministries He had been Divinely anointed. Peter would later remind them that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him" Acts 10.38.
In the power of His anointing Jesus announced that He had come to preach the glad tidings to the poor. Here was the ministry of the Prophet, preaching and teaching the Word of God. He had come too, to heal the brokenhearted. This was a priestly ministry and how often in the years to come He would indeed comfort the sorrowing. He had come with deliverance for those who were captives of sin and Satan and with the authoritative word of a King He would indeed deliver many. The great Physician would restore sight to the blind and bring liberty to those who had been bruised by life. Teaching! Preaching! Healing! Matthew sums it all up in a few words, "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people" Matt.4.23; 9.35. The long-promised Messiah was among them in the power of the Spirit: their Prophet, Priest and King.
It will be well-known that so much of our Lord’s subsequent ministry involved the casting out of demons and most, if not all, of the recorded cases of demon possession were, for some reason, in Galilee. Are there any instances at all of demon possession in Judea? There are two suggested reasons for the predominance of this Satanic assault on Galilee. It was of course, and Satan knew it, the Province in which Jesus the Messiah had lived for the first thirty years of His life, and it was to be also the sphere of much of His Messianic ministry. For this reason alone it is not surprising that there was so much demonic activity in that Province. Again, Galilee and the Galileans were not so sophisticated as Judea and the Judeans. Judea had the Holy City and the Temple. It was the home of the High Priest and a large priesthood, and it was in Judea too that the powerful Sanhedrin met. Perhaps with all of these privileges there was a certain protection against demonism in Judea, which was absent in Galilee.
There is sadness about the fact that perhaps the earliest instance of demon possession is that of a man in the synagogue. It is sad because a man with an unclean spirit was apparently tolerated in the synagogue and yet they had been filled with wrath at the gracious words of Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth, Mk.1.23; Lk.4.28,33. Then, of course, in another extreme there was the case of the man who lived among the tombs in Gadara, possessed with a legion of demons, Lk.8.26-36. There were too, such scenes when "At even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils … And He healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils" Mk.1.32,34. Those were momentous days indeed.
However, there was a cruel, adverse reaction from the Pharisees to this casting out of demons. These cold and callous men seemed to ignore the relief that was brought to the poor sufferers and preferred to use the occasions to vent their envious opposition to the Saviour. On one such occasion "the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel. But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils" Matt.9.33-34. Again they said, "This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils" Matt.12.24.
This was indeed a solemn accusation, that Jesus was in league with the Devil, and He would now show them that, apart from the foolishness of such a thought, it was blasphemous, for His ministry of casting out demons was in fact in the power of the Spirit of God. The idea was foolish because, as He said, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand". How could He possibly cast out demons by the prince of demons? "If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?" Matt.12.25-26. Their suggestion of collusion with Satan was ludicrous.
But there was an even more serious side to their accusation. His casting out of demons was evidence that the King and the kingdom, in power, was among them. "But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you" Matt.12.28. If they attributed His works to the devil then this was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and such blasphemy was the unpardonable sin. It was solemn in the extreme for, as He said, "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come" Matt.12.31-32.
The unpardonable sin was the ascribing to the power of the devil the works that Jesus had wrought in the power of the Spirit of God. The seriousness of insulting the Holy Spirit lay in this, that it is He alone Who reveals to men their spiritual condition and need, and then brings to darkened hearts the light of the Gospel. If He is rejected how can a man hope for or expect forgiveness? A man may speak against Christ, as many do, but the Spirit of God can deal with such a man and lead him to repentance and salvation, but if the gracious ministry of the Spirit is slandered and refused then repentance is impossible. That sin has no pardon. If the question is asked, "Can this be committed today?" men ought to remember that it is a fearful thing to reject the Spirit’s pleading, for who then, apart from Him, can awaken the conscience, bring conviction of sin, and reveal Christ to the heart? Is not rejection of the Holy Spirit a rejection of all hope or possibility of being saved.
Christians often sing in E. Denny’s hymn, "Forever on Thy burdened heart a weight of sorrow hung" and while this is true, there were sorrows at the end of our Lord’s earthly life and ministry which eclipsed all others.
While it is most certainly true that the Lord Jesus offered Himself willingly, and that He went voluntarily into the final suffering and into death, nevertheless it is said that it was through the eternal Spirit that He offered Himself without spot to God, Heb.9.14. It must be conceded that there are scholars who do not see this as a reference to the Holy Spirit of God but to the personal Spirit of the Lord Jesus, His own Spirit. In this article it is presumed that the reference is indeed to the Holy Spirit, and, as Albert Barnes remarks, this interpretation "is that which would occur to the great mass of the readers of the New Testament. It is presumed that the great body of sober, plain, and intelligent readers of the Bible, on perusing the passage, suppose that it refers to the Holy Ghost …".2 This does not necessarily prove the point but it does show that the majority of readers and students will accept that the reference is to the Holy Spirit of God.
2 Barnes, A. "Notes on the New Testament", Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1962.
Golgotha, of course, is the place of the physical sacrifice of Christ, where He "bare our sins in His own body on the tree" 1 Pet.2.24, but when and where, may this yielding of Himself begin to be seen in all its stark reality? It was on His last evening with His disciples and just after celebrating that last Passover supper with them that He crossed the Kidron to Gethsemane. The Garden must be approached with the utmost reverence. Leaving eight disciples behind a little the Saviour took the privileged Peter, James and John a little further, but He Himself went further again, into the loneliness of the Garden to pray amid the olive groves. Matthew, Mark and Luke all describe the scene. "Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me. And He went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt. And He cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done. And He came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words" Matt.26.36-44. "Not My will, but Thine, be done" was the holy language of One yielding Himself to God, to the cross, and to death.
There can be no doubt that while Heb.9.14 must bring the reader to Calvary yet the ministry of that same Holy Spirit must be in evidence in the yieldedness of the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It was in an unbroken communion with the Spirit that the Saviour lived His life and performed His varied ministries, and would the Spirit leave Him alone now as He faced death on the morrow?
They arrested Him cruelly late in the evening of that day, coming with lanterns and torches and weapons. They bound Him, led Him back across the Kidron Valley to the palace of the High Priest. In the injustice of a trial in the night hours, with no defence, Jesus endured the mockery and the spittle until, in the early morning hour they delivered Him to the Romans. There the mockery continued, and the physical pain, with a crown of thorns, a purple robe, the scourging, and finally a cross upon His bleeding back. He did not resist. He had yielded Himself in the Garden knowing that all this lay ahead. As one has written so beautifully -
- The vow was on Thee - Thou didst come
- To yield Thyself to death,
- And consecration marked Thy path
- And spoke in every breath.
Sentenced to death they led Him to Golgotha where, nailed by hands and feet upon the cross He became indeed an offering for sin. But now, "Jehovah hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all" Isa.53.6, J.N.D. "Through the eternal Spirit He offered Himself without spot to God" Heb.9.14. It was by that same Holy Spirit Who had miraculously wrought His conception in the virgin’s womb, and Who had been with Him all through the years of His life and ministry, that He was now led into the indescribable sufferings of a Sin-Bearer. But this is not the end!
That well-known and much-loved verse, 1 Pet.3.18, speaks of our Lord being "put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit", but the same problem arises in the interpretation of the Spirit as that in Heb.9.14. Is this the Holy Spirit or the personal Spirit of the Lord Jesus? Expositors are again divided and Spurgeon says rather quaintly, if abruptly, "This passage nobody understands, though some think they do". But was it not by that Spirit of Holiness, the Holy Spirit, that by the power of resurrection He was declared to be the Son of God? Rom.1.4. Paul speaks of "The Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead" Rom.8.11, and while again this may not directly link the Holy Spirit with our Lord’s personal resurrection yet surely by implication the thought is there.
On the last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles the Lord Jesus had been predicting rivers of living water for those who would believe on Him, Jn.7.37-39. V.39 is a parenthesis explaining that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit, Who had not yet been given. His coming was dependent upon the Saviour’s glorification. The Holy Spirit was another Comforter Who would come to abide with them when Jesus had gone from them, but since the Spirit would be the gift of the risen Christ His coming must wait until Christ was indeed risen from the dead, ascended and glorified.
The ancient saints and prophets of course had experienced something of the power of the Spirit coming upon them but they did not know Him as an abiding Person. That would be a new dispensation which awaited our Lord’s ascension to glory. That is why He said, "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you" Jn.16.7. Again He said, "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me" Jn.15.26. Soon it was indeed fulfilled and Peter was able to preach saying, "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 2.33. A new era had begun! But that is the subject of the "Acts of the Apostles".
Remembering that all of this that we have considered concerns a holy communion between two Divine Persons, it is hardly surprising that so much of it is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. At times it is a matter for wonderment and for adoration, when understanding is not possible. But then, does this not but demonstrate the greatness of the Eternal. Three Persons in one ineffable Godhead, all interested in the lives and well-being of puny men. Well may the Apostle write, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all" 2 Cor.13.14. Father, Son, and gracious Spirit are together involved in the blessing of those who love the Saviour.