There has been no shortage of books and articles on the Holy Spirit by scholars in recent decades. It is surprising to discover, however, that this scholarship has yet to trickle down to the rank and file within the churches. I have been teaching theology for the last twenty years to students from largely evangelical backgrounds and, with the exception of those from Pentecostal or charismatic traditions, most students report that they were taught little or nothing about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is treated like the weird uncle in the family whom we have to invite to family gatherings, but we are afraid of what he might say or do.
The neglect of the Holy Spirit within the churches is problematic for a number of reasons. The chief reason, of course, is that our understanding of the Triune God is distorted. However, it also effects our understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Spirit is closely associated with the Messiah or Christ, that is, the “Anointed One.” The Messiah will be anointed by the Spirit of God. The Messiah will be endowed with the Spirit of Prophecy and a Spirit of Power. Isaiah, in particular, links the Spirit’s activity to Yahweh’s coming Messiah. In Isa 11:2, the Spirit of the Lord will “rest upon” the Branch from Jesse (a descendant of King David), giving him the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. He will gather the scattered people of Israel from among the nations. Matthew 12:18–21 quotes Isa 42:1–4, applying it to Jesus, saying that Yahweh will “put my Spirit” on his chosen servant and that servant will “bring justice to the nations.” Isaiah 42:5–9 goes on to say that Yahweh’s Spirit-Servant will make Israel “a light to the nations,” “open the eyes of the blind,” “free captives from prison,” and “release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” Matthew 8:14–17 links the Suffering Servant of Isa 53 to the healing ministry of Jesus. More directly, Luke makes a strong connection between Jesus and the Spirit of Yahweh by conflating Isa 61:1–2 and Isa 58:6 in the pericope of Jesus’s Sabbath reading in Nazareth (4:16–30). Jesus intentionally selects the Isaiah passage and identifies himself as the one on whom “the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord” rests, as the one “anointed” for preaching, healing, and delivering ministry.
When we turn to the Gospels, Luke in particular, we find that Jesus and the Spirit are closely associated with
- many events surrounding the birth of Jesus and Jesus’s birth itself (Matt 1; Luke 1–2)
- the testimony of John the Baptist (Mark 1:10–11; Matt 3:16–17; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:32–34)
- Jesus’s baptism (Matt 3:13; Mark 1:9–13; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:32)
- the temptation narratives (Matt 4; Mark 1; Luke 4)
- Jesus’s ministry of preaching, healing, and exorcism, where Jesus’s power for ministry is said to come from the indwelling Holy Spirit (Matt 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–23; 4:1-14, 18–19; John 1:29–34; Acts 10:38)
- Jesus’s commissioning of the twelve apostles and the seventy-two disciples (Matt 10; Mark 3:13–15; 7:7–13; Luke 9, 10)
- many of the teachings of Jesus regarding the Holy Spirit (especially John 14–17)
In addition, according to the writer of Hebrews, Jesus did not face his sufferings and death on the cross in his own strength and will power; it was the Holy Spirit who assisted Jesus during his passion (Heb 9:13–14). Moreover, Paul indicates that Jesus did not rise from the dead by his own strength and will power; it was the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 1:1–4; 8:11; 1 Cor 6:14; 1 Tim 3:16; see Ezek 37:13–14).
The relationship between Jesus and the Spirit becomes crucial to understanding Jesus’s identity. The Holy Spirit attended and effected every phase of Jesus’ life, from his birth to his resurrection. The Holy Spirit is key to understanding how Jesus lived his spiritual life and how Jesus did ministry. Jesus lived his life, resisted temptation, taught, and did signs, wonders, and miracles out of his human nature empowered by the Spirit – not out of his divinity. Moreover, the life and ministry of Jesus is a model for Christians and the church today. If Jesus lived and ministered in the power of the Spirit, how can we neglect to teach that the Spirit is crucial to the Christian life and ministry today? The Holy Spirit is central to the teaching of the churches in the Majority World, where the Christian faith has experienced exponential growth in the last few decades. Perhaps it is time for a revival of the Holy Spirit not just among scholars in the academy but among the people in the churches in the West.