Humiliation & Exaltation: The Procession of the Holy Spirit

After rising from the dead, ascending into heaven, and being enthroned at God’s right hand, Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on the church. The significance of this event cannot be exaggerated. It is the culmination of Christ’s exaltation short of his second coming. It is here that every benefit obtained in his suffering and subsequent glory is transferred to us. In his sermon at Pentecost, the Apostle Peter describes the Holy Spirit as “the promise”, referring to the promise to Abraham of a blessing for all nations (Acts 2:33,39; Gal 3:14). He is also “the gift” (Acts 2:38) through which the gifts of God are communicated to believers (1 Cor. 12:7-13). In his ascension march as conquering king, Christ “gave gifts to men” (Eph 4:8; Psa 68:18). Those gifts are works of the Holy Spirit.

The climactic event of the Spirit’s outpouring is anticipated by the Old Testament and by Jesus’ own preaching. In his Pentecost sermon, Peter quotes the prophecy of Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18)[1]

The language of outpouring fits the depiction of the Spirit as the “early and later rains” refreshing God’s people. The Spirit’s influence on God’s people would be similar to the essential influence of the rains on the growth of their crops.

Jesus begins his own ministry by citing Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me …” (Luke 4:18-19). The same Spirit at work in his ministry, as witnessed by his disciples, would come to dwell in them and work in their lives (John 14:16-17,26; 15:26; 16:13-15). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit does not mean that he was not present previously. His influence appears throughout the pages of the Old Testament in prophets, priestly artisans, and godly kings, and we see him in the Gospels strengthening Jesus in his humanity. Instead, the Spirit’s outpouring means that the third person of the Trinity comes to work with a new pervasiveness and potency among believers.

In particular, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit brings enlightenment, relationship, and empowerment. The enlightenment, or illumination aspect is clear from Joel’s allusion to a prevalence of dreams and visions in the days of Messiah. It is present in the thrice “to proclaim” of Luke 4:18-19. It is one of the emphases of Jesus’ teaching in John 14–16. For example, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13). Enlightenment is also language connected to baptism (Heb 6:4), with which the work of the Holy Spirit is so strongly associated (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5; 1 Cor 12:13). And it extends to inward perception.

It is not a merely factual knowledge that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit brings. It is a relational knowledge of the Father through the Son. Jesus says, “[The Spirit of truth] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine.” (16:14–15). By the agency of the Holy Spirit, believers encounter the mysterious, relational dynamics between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and are ushered into a mystical bond with other believers (Gal 4:6; 1 Cor. 12:13). The Spirit who searches the deep things of God sheds light in our hearts (1 Cor. 2:10). The eternal bond of love between Father and Son is extended to us.

Finally, the outpouring of the Spirit means empowerment. Sinners are weak and enslaved. The Spirit sets them free. He is like a grand conductor of life from God the Father though the humanity of Christ and into us. It is Jesus’ Resurrection life that the Spirit infuses into us both as it is an indestructible quality of life and also a way of life oriented toward God’s desires (Rom 8:9-16). The Spirit empowers the various ministries of believers (1 Cor 12:7) even as he empowered Jesus’ proclamation. And so, the Spirit, poured out, makes the Father known to us through Christ, and in turn empowers us to relate lovingly to him and to one another in him.

Steven McCarthy is the rector of Christ Church Anglican (South Bend, IN). He earned an M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Pittsburgh, PA), and is a Th.M. student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, MI). He and his wife are native Michiganders. They have three young children.

[1] Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).


Steven McCarthy