And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples in a room where they were huddled together “for fear of the Jews.” He spoke to them with a common Jewish greeting, “Peace be with you!” His presence filled their hearts with joy. He repeated his greeting and then commissioned them with these words, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And then he did something truly amazing. He breathed on them.
Theologians are somewhat divided on exactly what this means. Was this the moment the disciples actually received the Holy Spirit, and if so, what happened on the day of Pentecost? Or, is Jesus speaking prophetically and preparing them for what would happen days later?
I tend to embrace the later view, but in either case we know this is true: the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, is closer than the air we breathe. A popular praise song says it this way, “You are the air I breathe, Your holy presence in me.”
The first time we hear about the Holy Spirit is in the creation story. Genesis 1:1 says, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach which means “air in motion.” It’s the same word for “breath.”
The Spirit or Breath of God also played a role in the creation of mankind. Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our image.” The plural pronouns give us the first hint in the Bible of the tri-fold nature of the Godhead. Father, Son and Holy Spirit each played a role in creation.
More details about mankind are given later in the creation story. Genesis 2:7 says, “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
Yes, God literally breathed life into Adam’s dusty body. Job picks up on this idea and makes a connection to the Holy Spirit when he says, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty God gives me life” (Job 33:4).