“And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22).
According to John, there is a baton-passing between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In John 14-17, Jesus repeatedly states that he is leaving and the Holy Spirit is coming. And here’s the crossover point. Jesus has risen from the dead and now appears to his disciples. It’s as if the resurrection has released the Holy Spirit. Now clearly, the Spirit has been at work in creation, in prophecy and acts of power throughout the long history of man, but this is something specific and new. The Holy Spirit is being released to enable these people to become witnesses of the resurrection. Jesus commissions them to a task, but then also gives them the means and the power to do it.
The words are important. He “breathed on them.” The Greek word used here is the aorist of emphusao. It is used only here in the New Testament, but it is also used in the Greek Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, in Genesis 2:7 where God was creating the first man. “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being,” (Genesis 2:7). God blew into Adam to bring life and now Jesus blows his Spirit into those dead in their sins.
The word recurs in Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones. “Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man…So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceeding great army,” (Ezekiel 37:9-10).
It’s the army of the resurrection!
“The resurrection completes the inauguration of God’s kingdom. . . . It is the decisive event demonstrating that God’s kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven.”
“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.”
― N.T. Wright