Questions From Readers
● What is meant, at John 7:39, when it says, “for as yet there was no spirit” ?—A. A., U.S.A.
Essentially it means that none of Christ’s disciples had yet been anointed with holy spirit and called to heavenly life.
About a half year before his death Jesus said: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He that puts faith in me, just as the Scripture has said, ‘Out from his inmost part streams of living water will flow.’” Then the inspired account goes on to say: “However, he said this concerning the spirit which those who put faith in him were about to receive; for as yet there was no spirit, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.”—John 7:37-39.
Clearly Jesus did not mean that God’s active force or holy spirit had not been in existence up till then, the time of the festival of tabernacles in 32 C.E. He and his hearers knew that God had long used his holy spirit. (Gen. 1:2; 2 Sam. 23:2; Acts 28:25) God’s spirit rested upon faithful servants such as Othniel, Jephthah and Samson. (Judg. 3:9, 10; 11:29; 15:14) But there was a way in which the spirit had not yet been used in connection with imperfect humans. None of those faithful servants had, by means of the spirit, been called to heavenly life.
During the festival of tabernacles a Jewish priest would go down to the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem and bring a golden vessel of water up to the temple. Likely drawing on this practice, Jesus said that something more refreshing and important was to come. And that future “living water” would somehow be linked with his followers’ receiving God’s spirit.
On the night before he died Jesus told his apostles that he would send to them the holy spirit of truth, which would bring back to their minds all the things he had told them. (John 14:16, 17, 26) Does that mean that they did not have any of the spirit then? No, for by means of the spirit they had been able to perform miraculous cures in connection with their teaching. (Matt. 10:5-8) And because of that spirit they understood many spiritual things Jesus taught. But because they had not yet received the anointing with spirit that Jesus spoke of in John 7:39, a whole segment of his teachings was still beyond their grasp. For instance, they did not discern that Christ would be raised from the dead to spirit life on the third day, or that his kingdom was to be in heaven. (John 20:9; Acts 1:6) This is understandable, since the idea of humans becoming spirit creatures and living in heaven was foreign to them. Once they themselves were anointed with spirit and given the heavenly hope, they could grasp the meaning of what Christ had said on such things.
Even when Jesus was appearing to his apostles after his resurrection “there was no spirit” in the sense that he meant at John 7:39. The resurrected Christ promised them: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me.” (Acts 1:8) They had already been witnesses about Jesus as the Messiah, but they had not borne witness about his ruling in heaven as a spirit creature together with spirit associates who had formerly been humans.
Finally, on Pentecost 33 C.E. Jesus poured out upon his followers the holy spirit that he, as a glorified spirit, had received from Jehovah. (Acts 2:4, 33) This was the first time that imperfect humans had been given the hope of spirit life in heaven. Having this anointing, the Christians were able to understand the meaning of the many things that Jesus had told them. Also, they had a work to do.
Those anointed Christians were to be “witnesses” about Jesus in a new sense. They now had the ‘holy spirit, which was a token in advance of their inheritance’ in heaven. (Eph. 1:13, 14) With their preaching about the heavenly kingdom, they had flowing ‘out from their inmost parts streams of living water,’ for the life-giving waters of truth they were sharing could lead to eternal life. And the assurance of that was not far off; the calling to heavenly life was available right then. On that very day three thousand souls took advantage of that “living water,” were baptized and received the “free gift of the holy spirit.”—Acts 2:38-42.
And Jehovah has continued to use such anointed Christians. Through them he has provided understanding of his purposes, including the prospect for humans of this generation who exercise faith in Christ to survive the end of this wicked system and live forever on a paradise earth. How true have been Jesus’ words at John 7:38, 39 regarding the anointing with holy spirit and the “living water” flowing through Christians called to life in heaven!