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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
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@Josell: can you give us the reference for that prophecy, please? –  Steve Jul 20 '13 at 13:03
    
Are you asking for a trinitarian answer? Because the non-trinitarian answer is pretty simple. –  ShemSeger Jan 22 at 16:02

6 Answers 6

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

Thomas Aquinas gives four reasons:

  1. When "he was still living among them ... they were not prepared, for carnal love is contrary to the Holy Spirit, since the Spirit is spiritual love." He connects this with 2 Corinthians 5: "And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised. So then from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view. ... So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!"

  2. It was not necessary to send the Spirit while he was living because he was their helper. They didn't need the Spirit until he was gone.

  3. "Christ as human does not have the power to give the Holy Spirit, but he does as God. ... So that it would not seem that it was a mere human being who was giving the Holy Spirit, Christ did not give the Spirit before his ascension." (He cites paragraph 19 of On the Trinity book 1 for this idea, but I don't see it there.)

  4. "The Spirit was not given at that time to preserve unity in the Church. We saw that 'John did no sign' (10:41), and this was so in order not to divert the people from Christ, and to make the superiority of Christ over John more evident. But the disciples were to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that they could do even greater works than Christ had done: 'And greater works than these will he do' (14:12). If the Holy Spirit had been given to them before the passion, the people might have become confused as to who really was the Christ, and they would be divided: 'You have ascended to the heights, and have given gifts to men' [Ps 68:18]."

There are a couple other concepts that are necessary to understand here. When Jesus speaks of "going away" in John 16, he chiefly has his death in mind, rather than his ascension, though there does seem to be some deliberate conflation. So the main idea here is not that Jesus has to ascend after his resurrection, but that he needs to die, in order to send the Spirit. As John Gill says:

If Christ had not gone away or died, there would have been nothing for the Spirit to have done; no blood to sprinkle; no righteousness to reveal and bring near; no salvation to apply; or any of the things of Christ, and blessings of grace, to have taken and shown; all which are owing to the death of Christ, and which show the expediency of it: the expediency of Christ's death for the mission of the Spirit to his disciples, is very conspicuous; for hereby they were comforted and supported under a variety of troubles; were led into all truth, and so furnished for their ministerial work; and were made abundantly successful in it, that being attended with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

There are also a few other verses worthy of consideration. Aquinas references John 14:12. I also believe Romans 10 is illustrative. I will discuss these verses below, though John 7:39 (referenced by Gill and Aquinas both) and the entire Farewell Discourse are worthy of study, as well as a word-study of "glorification" in John, and of John 12:32: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

John 14:

I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father.

Some take this to mean Christ's disciples would do things greater in kind than Christ, but I'm inclined to agree with Gill that it has to do with greater number:

The apostles, in a long series of time, and course of years, went about preaching the Gospel, not in Judea only, but in all the world; "God also bearing them witness with signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost", Hebrews 2:4, wherever they went: though perhaps by these greater works may be meant the many instances of conversion, which the apostles were instrumental in, and which were more in number than those which were under our Lord's personal ministry: besides, the conversion of a sinner is a greater work than any of the miracles of raising the dead, &c. for this includes in it all miracles: here we may see a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, quickened; one born blind made to see; one who was deaf to the threatenings of the law, and to the charming voice of the Gospel, made to hear, so as to live; and one that had the spreading leprosy of sin all over him, cleansed from it by the blood of the Lamb yea, though a miracle in nature is an instance and proof of divine power, yet the conversion of a sinner, which is a miracle in grace, is not only an instance of the power of God, and of the greatness of it, but of the exceeding greatness of it.

Furthermore, a lot of things we take for granted now only exist because of the church. In the western world at least, hospitals became widespread as a direct result of the Christianization of Rome. The first orphanages were built by Christians. There are whole books (such as The Victory of Reason) showing that everywhere it went, the Gospel brought with it charity and social reform. This largely owes itself, as Athanasius spills much ink on in On the Incarnation, to the awe-inspiring spectacle of Christians not fearing death whatsoever, and boldly carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth. To wrap things up, let's look at Romans 10:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We don't need to travel for miles to hear Jesus preach or have him heal us. With the Holy Spirit, all believers have God within them. God reveals himself through his church and not through one man alone. If Jesus still walked among us, who would trust his messengers? People would say, "You're not holy until you've actually met and talked to Jesus himself." But we can meet him through the word he left us and the (imperfect) fellow believers, in whom he has made himself at home. (John 14:23)


No, the Holy Spirit was definitely not absent before Jesus went away. Bob Deffinbaugh did a study on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. It is well worth reading in full, but I will summarize aspects of it here.

The Holy Spirit was a giver of life (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30), a teacher and guide (Nehemiah 9:20; Job 32:8; Psalm 143:10), and the manifestation of God's presence (Psalm 51:11; Psalm 139:7; Haggai 2:4-5). The Spirit filled and empowered men in the Old Testament and was responsible for the gift of prophecy.

The Old Testament also prophesied that the Spirit would be active in the life of the Messiah. In the gospels, we see the fulfillment of these prophecies: Jesus was begotten by the power of the Spirit and did miracles by the Spirit's power. The sending of the Spirit at Pentecost is viewed by Peter as a fulfillment of prophecy as well.

So the question naturally arises, in what way did the working of the Holy Spirit differ between the time before Jesus left and after? Or at least, why did Jesus say he was sending the Spirit?

There's an article on the same website answering that:

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was given selectively and temporarily to indwell certainly individuals for special ministries. It was not universal nor was it permanent. ... Christ explained the difference in the ministry of the Holy Spirit in John 14:17 when He told the disciples, “but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” The change in prepositions (“with” and “in”) and tense (present versus future) suggests a difference in the ministry of the Spirit in Old Testament times (Pentecost had not yet occurred and the church had not yet begun when the Lord spoke these words) and New Testament times when the Spirit came to indwell all believers permanently. If you note, in John 14:16, Christ said, in relation to the Spirit, “that He may be with you forever.”

So the gift of the Holy Spirit went from "selective and temporary" to "universal and permanent." In the Old Testament, only a few were given the Spirit and it wasn't always permanent. In the New, the promise is of permanence, and that all of God's people will be filled with the Spirit.

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An interesting question! I would like to add the following points too:

There was a need for the Holy Spirit:

  1. Jesus had a work to do in the Heavenly Sanctuary:

    Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. Hebrews 7:25-27

  2. Jesus asserted that He was not a spirit even after resurrection - Then implication being He could not be present at 2 places at the same time - We do not ever see an example of Jesus being at two places in the same time at any point before or after resurrection. Jesus was spatially limited in His Divine-Human nature. This is not the case with the Holy Spirit. As the comforter was needed to be present with everyone at the same time Jesus says, "It is expedient that I go away".

    But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. Luke 24:37-40

Now on to the point Why Jesus Had to go before the Spirit can come. It has been nicely established in the previous posts that the Holy Spirit was there among humans even before the time of Jesus. So I am explaining Why Holy Spirit was poured abundantly after the ascention of Jesus

  1. The Spirit could not be given in profusion till the captivity was led captive - By this I mean, till Satan was conquered (which happened at the cross) God could not claim the world as His (though God was the owner the vicegerency passed from Adam to Satan - prince of this world) and so could not pour Holy Spirit in fulness

Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them. Psalms 68:18

  1. From the same verse we can see that the promise of the Holy Spirit is refered as gifts - This refers to the Gifts that the Spirit of God gave to the Apostles

  2. Jesus had to receive it from the Father - So the gifts could only be given after Jesus ascended to Heaven

It is beautifully explained in Psalm 133:

Psalm 133

1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;

3 As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.

  • Dwell together - The Disciples were unitedly gathered together in the upper room
  • Ointment that ran down Aaron's beard: This happened when Moses anointed Aaron - signifies the anointing of Jesus for the heavenly priesthood

    And Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was therein, and sanctified them. And he sprinkled thereof upon the altar seven times, and anointed the altar and all his vessels, both the laver and his foot, to sanctify them. And he poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head, and anointed him, to sanctify him. Leviticus 8:10-12

    For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec... (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)... For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore. Hebrews 7:17, 21, 28

  • The oil signifies the Holy Spirit - the parable of the wise and foolish virgins & Zechariah 4 - So The anointing of Christ was needed before Holy Spirit was poured. It is traditionally believed among the Jews that the High Priest Aaron was anointed on The festival of Penticost - 50 days after passover - The same day Holy Spirit was poured

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Why did Jesus have to leave for the Holy Spirit to come?

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.

Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will not come unless after he departs, Jesus sends him.

Jesus has to send the Holy Spirit and he has to send him from another place.

It may be that the authority to send or the ability to send was among those things that were set aside when Jesus was born and he needs to ascend back to heaven to regain them;

Philippians 2:7 But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. - Amplified

It may be that that the authority or ability to send the Holy Spirit was contingent upon his completion of his work on the cross;

Colossians 2:12-14 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

It may be that his departure was in fulfillment of prophecy as was the reception of the Holy Spirit.

Daniel 9:26a And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off...

Acts 2:16-17 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

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The Holy Spirit is God. He is not an "it." He is not a divine influence. He is not a fleecy white cloud. He is not a ghost or a concept. He is a person possessing a will, intellect and emotions. He is God -- with all the attributes of deity. He is the third person of the Trinity -- co-equal with God the Father and God the Son. There is only one God, but He manifests Himself in three persons, whom we call the Trinity.

Dr. Bill Bright says, The Holy Spirit came to glorify Christ and to lead believers into all truth. On the eve of His crucifixion while still in the Upper Room, the Lord Jesus said to the disciples, "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."

The Holy Spirit inspired men to write the Scriptures. As you read the Bible, He reveals its truth to you. I read passages of Scripture that I have read many times before, and suddenly, at the moment I need a particular truth, a certain passage comes alive to me. Why? Because the Holy Spirit makes the Word of God relevant and meaningful when I need it. It is a living Book inspired by the Spirit, and only Christians who are filled with the Spirit can understand the true meaning of God's Word.

I pray and -- except for the prayer of confession -- I cannot expect God to answer my prayer unless I am walking in the Spirit. I witness, and no one responds unless I am controlled and empowered by the Spirit.

And to answer your second question

  1. Jesus Christ was begotten of the Holy Spirit. - Luke 1:35
  2. Jesus Christ led a holy and spotless life and offered Himself without spot to God through the working of the Holy Spirit. - Hebrews 9:14
  3. Jesus Christ was anointed and fitted for service by the Holy Spirit.- Acts 10:38
  4. Jesus Christ was led by the Holy Spirit in His movements here upon earth. - Luke 4:1
  5. Jesus Christ was taught by the Spirit who rested upon Him. The Spirit of God was the source of His wisdom in the days of His flesh. - Isaiah 11:2
  6. The Holy Spirit abode upon Jesus in all His fullness and the words He spoke in consequence were the very words of God. - John 3:34
  7. After His resurrection, Jesus Christ gave commandment unto His Apostles whom He had chosen through the Holy Spirit.- Acts 1:2
  8. Jesus Christ wrought His miracles here on earth in the power of the Holy Spirit. - Matthew 12:28
  9. It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. - Romans 8:11
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I don't see how this answers the question, "Why did Jesus have to go in order for the Holy Spirit to come?" –  Mr. Bultitude Jan 26 at 18:54
    
So that Holy Spirit may come to glorify Christ and to lead people to the truth. –  Bernard R Jan 26 at 19:25
    
Why did Jesus have to go (i.e. leave) in order for that to occur? I don't see this answer addressing that. –  Mr. Bultitude Jan 26 at 19:25
    
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. My perspective is for the work that Jesus came for had been fullfilled in earth, but there are more to be done through the Holy Spirit –  Bernard R Jan 26 at 19:27
    
Yup, that's the verse that prompted the question to begin with. The OP read the verse and asked why. Your answer is to point back to that same verse? –  Mr. Bultitude Jan 26 at 19:30

Catholic Perspective

Also does this mean the Holy Spirit was not present before Jesus went away?

CCC 690 says that Jesus is Christ, "anointed," because the Spirit is his anointing The notion of anointing suggests . . . that there is no distance between the Son and the Spirit.

Therefore the Holy Spirit was present with Jesus but not with the Church.

Why did Jesus have to go in order for the Holy Spirit to come?

There isn't an answer beyond that the promise of the coming Holy Spirit would be fulfilled following Jesus' Death and Resurrection and his prayer to the Father

CCC 729 Only when the hour has arrived for his glorification does Jesus promise the coming of the Holy Spirit, since his Death and Resurrection will fulfill the promise made to the fathers. The Spirit of truth, the other Paraclete, will be given by the Father in answer to Jesus' prayer; he will be sent by the Father in Jesus' name; and Jesus will send him from the Father's side, since he comes from the Father. The Holy Spirit will come and we shall know him; he will be with us for ever; he will remain with us. The Spirit will teach us everything, remind us of all that Christ said to us and bear witness to him. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth and will glorify Christ. He will prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment.

and the joint mission of the Son and the Spirit [cf. CCC 689-690] becoming the mission of the Church [cf. CCC 730] who are to be clothed with power from on high before thy can witness to the things they have seen.

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