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Building up believers and the New Testament church

The Gospel of Jesus Christ: From With to In

The Disciples Before Pentecost

All this being true, one of the questions that may come to our hearts is this: what was the spiritual condition of the disciples before Pentecost? If the Holy Spirit did not dwell in them, what was their relationship with God? I think the proper answer to this question can help us to answer other questions that pertain more directly to us.

First of all we have this statement by Jesus: "Jesus said to him, 'He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.' For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, 'You are not all clean'" (John 13:10-11). "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:3). What do we understand from "You are clean"? Were their sins forgiven? I would say yes. Did they have a clear relationship with Jesus? I would also say yes. Had Jesus forgiven the sins of others besides the twelve disciples? "Then He said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?' Then He said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you. Go in peace'" (Luke 7:48-50). I believe we can say without a doubt that the sins of many were forgiven because of the word that Jesus spoke to them. In addition to the twelve disciples, many followed Him and were even sent out in pairs to proclaim the good news.

Were the disciples able to comprehend to some degree who Jesus was? "When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, 'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?' So they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven'" (Matt. 16:13-17). Peter did not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, but God was able to reveal things to him and Peter was able to declare them confidently. From other accounts we see that these men were limited in their ability to comprehend the things of God, but they were not without some understanding, and it was God who gave them that understanding.

Were these disciples able to hear God? "Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live" (John 5:25). The appeal of Jesus to those who heard Him was to recognize the word of God that was coming to them. Some heard, and most did not. This tells us that it is possible for a "dead man" to "hear God." That takes a miracle that we cannot understand with the natural mind. But a man must begin somewhere, and that "somewhere" is hearing God speak to his heart. That word (the living word of God) creates faith within a receptive heart, and as a man takes hold of the word and believes it, it becomes his lifeline to God. So men without the indwelling Spirit of God can hear God speak to them.

Were these men (particularly the twelve disciples) consistent and stable? Right after Peter made his confident statement of who Jesus was (which was commended by Jesus) we read this account: "From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!' But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men'" (Matthew 16:21-23). In a short period of time Peter went from being commended by Jesus to being told "Get behind Me, Satan!"

"And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, 'Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?' But He turned and rebuked them, and said, 'You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them.' And they went to another village" (Luke 9:54-56). It appears from this account that the ability of the disciples to have proper discernment in a situation was very limited indeed. They were reasoning with their natural minds, using their own knowledge of scripture, and applying their understanding to the situation at hand, but according to Jesus they certainly missed the mark, even with the best intentions.

Did the disciples have power? We are all familiar with the account of Peter's failure. "Peter answered and said to Him, 'Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.' Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.' Peter said to Him, 'Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!' And so said all the disciples" (Matt. 26:33-35). "And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, 'Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.' Then he began to curse and swear, saying, 'I do not know the Man!' Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, 'Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.' So he went out and wept bitterly" (Matt. 26:73-75). Although Peter had a firm intention to stand with Jesus in the hour of trial, he found himself totally without power to do it.

We could look at other accounts, but I think from these few we can begin to draw some conclusions. These men who had the Holy Spirit with them but not yet in them were clear in their relationship with God and could hear God, but they lacked stability, discernment, and power. They could operate with Jesus to some degree, and were even sent out to heal the sick and proclaim the message of that hour, but they were limited in many ways. A new day was coming, and it was better that Jesus go away so the Holy Spirit could come. When we see Peter on the day of Pentecost, we see a new Peter. Before, he ran from a slave girl, but now we see him standing before all Jerusalem to tell the leaders that they had just murdered their Messiah! Can we comprehend that? What had happened? The Holy Spirit had come from "with" to "in." That was the difference.