The Spirit's Role: The Life of Jesus

Most of the time when we think of the earthly life of Jesus, we think of how he demonstrated his power and manifest that he was the Son of God. On occasion, we think about how he demonstrated his humility in the weakness of his incarnation particularly at Gethsemane and Golgotha. One area we often overlook is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ.

First, in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is promised to be upon the Messiah. The Messiah will be a representative of God’s people and thus empowered with the Holy Spirit to lead them. The Messiah is given the Holy Spirit so he can execute God’s kingly rule. Consider some of the Messianic promises in Isaiah:

Is. 11:1-2 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

Is. 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Is. 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.

Second, at the very beginning of Jesus’ active ministry we see the Holy Spirit come upon him as testimony to his Sonship. While Christ certainly possessed divine power by virtue of being the Son of God, the Holy Spirit was his power and equipping for ministry. We read in Matthew’s gospel what happens as Jesus comes up out of the water:

Matt. 3:16-17 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Immediately after Jesus’ baptism he is led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit for temptation. The relationship between the Holy Spirit and the temptation is important in that Jesus shows himself to be the true man succeeding against temptation where Adam, and later Israel in the wilderness, failed. In fact, Jesus’ use of Scripture to resist the devil is a demonstration of his full humanity. He does not vanquish Satan in his divine power, although he could have, but rather he resists temptation as the true representative of humanity, equipped with the same Holy Spirit who has always empowered God’s people. Part of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus is so that Jesus can fulfill the destiny of humanity as their true representative—as one from among them with the same equipping promised to all the redeemed humanity.

This important role of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus is again demonstrated in Luke 4. After the temptation, Jesus returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk. 4:14). He goes into the synagogue in Luke 4:16, and reads from the scroll that is opened to Isaiah 61:1-2. He then says “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21).

Third, Jesus is portrayed in the gospel as doing his miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit. The miracles certainly testify to his divinity, particularly as Jesus demonstrates that he has the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2), something that only God does. Yet, we should also recognize that as the Messiah in his humanity the Spirit empowers Jesus to do miracles. In fact, Jesus himself makes the presence of the Spirit doing miracles through him as the sign of the kingdom of God.

In Matthew 12, the crowds are asking “Can this be the Son of David [i.e. the Messiah]?” The Pharisees answer that is it not and that Jesus is casting out demons by Beelzebul. Jesus’ response is not to point to own authority but the empowering of the Holy Spirit:

Matt. 12:25-28 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

The presence of the Spirit in Jesus indicates the presence of the “last days” where, according to the Old Testament, God’s kingly reign would dawn. It would be a time of new creation, and especially the presence of the Holy Spirit, as the New Covenant would begin. Thus, it is vital that as the Messiah in his humanity Christ has the full power of the Holy Spirit upon him and is exercising these miracles through the Holy Spirit. He is the head of the new people of God and will usher them into the glorious blessings as he fulfills them through his own self-sacrifice.

Fourth, in his resurrected state Jesus is fully glorified in the Holy Spirit and gives the Holy Spirit to his people. This continues his role as the Second Adam. In Jesus resurrected state, he continues as the incarnate one who is both truly God and truly man. At his resurrection, the Son is installed as Messianic king “in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). In his resurrection, the Son is vindicated by the Holy Spirit (1 Tim. 3:16). With a resurrected body that cannot die, he has taken human flesh to its glorious destiny and will bring the same to those who belong to him. Thus, we have in the statement in 1 Cor. 15:45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being” the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” In his resurrection, Christ receives a body that is fully imbibed with the Holy Spirit and from his session at God’s right hand he is sending out the Holy Spirit unto God’s people.

It is important as believers that we pay attention to the unfolding story of redemption that we see in Scripture. In the Bible, Jesus comes not only to undo the effects of the fall but to take humanity to the glorious destiny that was laid out for it in Genesis 1-2. To this end, Jesus is not only the redeemer but also the representative head of God’s people. He is the Second Adam. Thus, Holy Spirit is not a tag-along character in the life of Christ. The role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus is to empower Jesus in his humanity to bring about the promised glory of God. Jesus Christ is given the Holy Spirit so that he might fulfill the destiny of humanity for us and for our salvation.

Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary.  He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.

Tim Bertolet