This reading tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, shortly after the ascension of Jesus. Pentecost (from the Greek meaning ‘fiftieth day’) came 50 days after Passover, and is also called the ‘Feast of Weeks’ – an agricultural festival that came between Passover and Tabernacles (see Exodus 34.22; Deuteronomy 16.10). There is nothing new about receiving God’s Spirit, as we can see from the psalm: ‘When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground’ (Psalm 104.31), and Peter’s quotation from Joel: ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy’ (v.17). In Psalm 104, this outpouring includes both people and the earth, as also in Paul’s letter (Romans 8.22-23). It is not entirely clear who is included in the disciples’ shared experience, nor where it happens. It simply says that ‘they’ are together in a house. Luke’s imagery should not be taken too literally as there is a play on the word pneuma – it means breath and wind and spirit. Breathing is the sign of life, and receiving God’s Spirit makes us alive. So, a gust of wind (breath) is an appropriate image for the Holy Spirit. Fire represents the presence of God, just as it did for Moses at the burning bush (see Exodus 3).
John 15.26-27; 16.4b-15
How should we translate John’s paraklētos (v.26)? In the NRSV it is ‘Advocate.’ In other translations it can be Counsellor, Comforter, various longer expressions, or simply transliterated as ‘paraclete’. It is John’s word for the Holy Spirit, and literally it means someone who will plead your case in a law court – hence Advocate. For John, the ‘paraclete’ is the one who will speak up for us when we appear before God the Father. This Advocate is characterised as the Spirit of truth. It testifies about Jesus. It will prove the world (of unbelief) wrong about sin, and righteousness, and judgement. It will guide the disciples into truth. It will declare the things that are to come. And it will glorify Jesus. The biblical scholar Raymond Brown has shown that these functions of the Advocate are (almost entirely) the functions Jesus had in his own lifetime. As the Advocate cannot come until Jesus has gone away (v.7), it means that the Holy Spirit is to be understood as the continuation of Jesus’ presence on earth and in the church after Jesus has gone away. Here we have the beginning of the idea of the one God as a Trinity of persons.
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