Some friends recently asked me the question, “Why does Jesus tell His disciples that it would be better for Him to go away so that they would receive the Spirit?” They asked, “Wasn’t the Holy Spirit already sent to God’s people prior to Christ’s ascension?” This is one of my favorite questions to answer because it is one of the richest theological truths to ponder.
Clearly, the Holy Spirit was at work in the world prior to the incarnation and prior to Jesus’s ascension to glory. There are numerous examples of God’s Spirit empowering individuals for service in the Old Testament. However, Jesus spoke of something new that would take place after His ascension.
By His death on the cross, Jesus purified all those who would believe in Him. The Holy Spirit can now dwell within believers, just as God’s presence once dwelled within the temple in Jerusalem. The Spirit empowers God’s people to be fruitful witnesses to Him as the gospel is taken to all the nations. This explains why Jesus told His disciples just before His ascension to the Father’s right hand, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of the Father and is now reigning. He has been given the nations as an inheritance, and He has tasked us with helping to bring those nations home. But He goes with us—through the Holy Spirit. That is why He could say to His disciples, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus and the Spirit are one, just as Jesus and the Father are one. With the Holy Spirit inside of us, we take Christ with us, and He works through us, everywhere we go. The Spirit is a taste of the glory we will receive when Jesus returns: “The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14).
The ascension was never really goodbye. Jesus returned to the Father, so that through His Spirit we might be His witnesses. He has granted this privilege to all who believe in Him. The gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the greatest blessings of His ascension as we wait for His return.
Written by Nick Batzig