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John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

Why did Jesus have to go in order for the Holy Spirit to come? Also does this mean the Holy Spirit was not present before Jesus went away?

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Can you clarify whether you want a [cited] answer from a particular tradition? Or something from the Church Fathers? –  svidgen Jul 19 '13 at 20:55
@svidgen I would welcome both –  Rick Jul 19 '13 at 21:40
That's a good question. It seems it was part of the prophecy: The Spirit of God would be here after the Messiah, until his return. –  Josell Jul 19 '13 at 23:06
@Josell: can you give us the reference for that prophecy, please? –  Steve Jul 20 '13 at 13:03

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Understanding the second part of your question is the key to answering the first part.

Part One: (How the Spirit was with them before and after Jesus "going away")

In John 3:34, it is said of Christ that He had the Spirit of God "without measure". So as He was living on Earth as a perfect sinless man, Jesus had unlimited access to the Holy Spirit, who descended on Him to empower Him for ministry at His baptism. So the Holy Spirit was here, empowering Jesus Christ without measure.

In John 14:16-18, Jesus told the disciples, "you know him, for he dwells with you and shall be in you." So the Spirit of God was with the disciples, but He (the Spirit) was going to be with them and in them in a new way.

Now in the context of John 16:7, Jesus talks about "going away" through the crucifixion (John 16:19-22). But He speaks of the Comforter in ways that also refer to the Spirit's ministry after the ascension (John 16:13). If you think about it, Jesus actually went away from the disciples twice: once for 3 days and nights from death to resurrection, and once at the ascension. There are two "going aways", and there are two events involving the Holy Spirit that are mentioned after each of those "going aways".

First event:

After the crucifixion and resurrection, in the upper room, Jesus breathes on them and says "receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22). We breathe air in order to live, so this speaks to the aspect of the Spirit's ministry when He regenerates the believer and gives them new life.

Second event:

After the ascension, the disciples waited in Jerusalem to receive power from on high (Acts 1:4-5). This speaks to the Spirit's ministry of empowering believers for service. This is like a mighty rushing wind that can be harnessed to help us do work. Natural air is breathed for life; and as wind, is harnessed for power: so the Spirit gives us life and empowers us for service.

Part 2: Why Jesus had to "go away" in both cases

For Regeneration to occur, the disciples had to have their sins atoned for. This could not occur until after His death and resurrection. So He had to leave them to atone for their sins. Once that was done, He could return and they could "receive the Holy Ghost" when He breathed on them.

For Empowering to occur, it's a little more complicated. The disciples were going to be empowered to help them go and tell others about Jesus. Those people would have to believe their words (John 17:20) to be justified by faith. If Jesus had NOT gone away, it would be simple for everyone to just "go check Him out", see the risen Lord, and prove it. There would be nothing to believe or not believe, there would only be proof that everyone would go check out, so there would be no justification by faith. And there would be no sense empowering the disciples with a measure of faith (Romans 12:3) to do anything because Jesus would be here and would have the Spirit of God without measure. The woman at the well in Samaria ran into something similar (John 4:39-42). At first people believed in Christ because of her words. But then others believed because they went and listened to Him directly, so until His ascension she was out of a job, so to speak.

Part 3: Why Jesus remains away during this Gospel Age

Notice that after the resurrection, Jesus only spends time with those who believed in Him before His death. Had He showed up publicly risen from the dead, there would be proof and no opportunity to believe God's words by faith. (Mankind fell through believing the lies of the Serpent; therefore mankind is justified through believing the words of God). The disciples already believed in Him, so He appeared to them confirming the faith they already had. Now, because He is not on Earth in a bodily form, mankind has the opportunity to respond in faith believing God's words and the freedom to disbelieve if they so choose.

Also, the church has the opportunity to preach God's words and work together with the Comforter who comes beside us to give us a measure of the Holy Spirit and work together with us to reach the unbeliever. We have a measure of empowering so we have to work together; there are no lone rangers who have it all on their own. When Christ returns to Earth, the time for faith will no longer be here because proof will arrive.

It might be said that Christ "proved it" to Paul and therefore He had no opportunity to believe by faith. But Paul is the one who wrote that we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1) so that perhaps he had the opportunity to reject the vision of Christ He received on the road to Damascus but instead responded by calling Jesus "Lord" (Acts 9:6).

So to sum it up: Jesus had to depart by dying to make regeneration available; and He had to ascend so that empowering for service would be needed to spread God's word. If the risen Christ were here on Earth there would be proof and no opportunity to believe by faith; and there would be no need for empowering to spread God's word because people wouldn't have to hear it and believe, they could just go check it out. Because He left Earth in bodily form, everyone has the opportunity to experience both aspects of the Spirit's ministry in their lives.

And no, the Spirit was present the entire time; but He "came to them" in a different way each time Jesus "departed" from them.

Hope that helps! :)

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If what you are saying is true, then the unique characteristic of Christianity is the Holy Spirit's position within the heart. Is this then what allows Christ to be born out in the Christian's life? –  Rick Jul 22 '13 at 12:44
Exactly! Col 1:26-29 Christ in you the hope of glory. This is why the person who is least in the kingdom of God has a better opportunity than the greatest OT prophets (Matthew 11:11) because they can be regenerated and empowered by the Holy Spirit in a way that was not available before the atonement and the ascension. Wow! :) Read John 7:32-39 and then read Acts 2:16-47 it will get you fired up! –  rguy Jul 22 '13 at 14:22

You are probably referring to John 16:7:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

Through most of the chapter, Jesus discourses the mission of the Holy Ghost. See verse 13:

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

And in the previous chapter, verse 26:

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

Some of the missions of the Holy Ghost are to testify, to teach truth, to show things to come, and to lead to light. Perhaps this extra Messenger is not necessary when the Lord is already present.

The scriptures are not entirely clear on the reason for the vacancy of the Holy Ghost during Christ's ministry. The most concise explanation I could find of this is in the LDS Bible Dictionary (some citations are LDS-specific, but in general, the explanation is true across most of Christianity):

For some reason not fully explained in the scriptures, the Holy Ghost did not operate in the fulness among the Jews during the years of Jesus’ mortal sojourn (John 7:39; 16:7). Statements to the effect that the Holy Ghost did not come until after Jesus was resurrected must of necessity refer to that particular dispensation only, for it is abundantly clear that the Holy Ghost was operative in earlier dispensations. Furthermore, it has reference only to the gift of the Holy Ghost not being present, since the power of the Holy Ghost was operative during the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus; otherwise no one would have received a testimony of the truths that these men taught (Matt. 16:16–17; see also 1 Cor. 12:3). When a person speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost that same power carries a conviction of the truth unto the heart of the hearer (2 Ne. 33:1). The Holy Ghost knows all things (D&C 35:19) and can lead one to know of future events (2 Pet. 1:21).

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How does the LDS Bible Dictionary provide a "concise explanation"? –  Rick Mar 31 at 11:58
@Rick What do you mean? One paragraph is pretty concise, and the source is authoritative (it was compiled by credentialed scholars). –  Matt Mar 31 at 13:26
What I mean is that this does not answer the question, "Why did Jesus have to go in order for the Holy Spirit to come?" –  Rick Mar 31 at 14:23
Okay, so it doesn't use the word go, but it certainly discusses why the Holy Ghost wasn't present until Jesus was resurrected, or went. –  Matt Mar 31 at 14:26

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