Our text, John 7:37-39, finds Jesus speaking at the Feast of Tabernacles. On each of the seven days of the feast, the leaders, in commemoration of the 40-year miracle of water provided their foreparents in the wilderness, led the people to the pool of Siloam. There, as many as could, drank and then followed the priests back to the temple with huge vessels of water where, to the clarion sound of trumpets and the joyous singing of hosannas, they poured it out upon the altar of burnt offerings.
John observes in John 7:39 that the water poured forth represents the Holy Spirit who, at that time, had "not been given" (NIV)— indicating that though they had the parchments and the prophets and even the presence of Jesus Himself, still it was "not yet—the Holy Ghost!"
In this enlightening reflection, several critical lessons emerge.
First, we are led to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church. On the surface, "not yet—the Holy Ghost" was a curious, even contradictory thing for John to say. After all, the Holy Spirit is mentioned no less than 89 times in the Old Testament. It was He, who, in the beginning, moved upon the face of the deep, changing chaos to cosmos; it was He who gave Samson strength, who delivered special messages to Joshua, Gideon, and Saul; and it was He of whom David said, "take not thy holy spirit from me" (Ps. 51:11).
How then could John say, "not yet—the Holy Ghost"? He could do so because while he recognized the wonderful ways in which the Holy Spirit worked before Pentecost, he was eye-witness to the even more dramatic consequences of His presence after that event.
Jesus had often tried to educate His disciples regarding the special role and impact that the Holy Spirit would have upon the church after His departure. He had said, "I will [send] ... you another Comforter" (John 14:16). The Greek here is Allos Paraclete. Paraclete, meaning helper or advocate and Allos meaning Another just like Himself but who, unshackled by the human limitations that He had voluntarily assumed, would through them, do even greater works. In other words, His Successor would be Another, yet the same; subordinate, yet superior; equal, yet mightier in deeds.
It was a riddle that the disciples could not solve. They never did "get it"! It was only later when He had gone up and the Holy Ghost had come down and they had launched out bathed with power so potent that they could speak in unknown tongues and heal the sick and cast out devils and in a single day convert 3,000 people that they understood. So that now, John, writing in retrospect, is comparing pre-Pentecostal performance with post-Pentecostal power and saying of former times, "not yet—the Holy Ghost."
The impact upon the church
Second, we see in these words, not only the impact of the Holy Spirit upon the early church whose leaders mention Him 240 times in the New Testament, but His promised impact upon the remnant church as well.
And what impact is that? Joel states it forcefully: "And it shall come to pass after ward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit" (Joel 2:28, 29).
Ellen White, speaking of the latter rain and the final explosion of Holy Ghost power, states, "The outpouring of the Spirit in the apostolic days was the 'former rain,' and glorious was the result. But the 'latter rain' will be more abundant."1 And again, "The work will be similar to that of the Day of Pentecost. As the 'former rain' was given, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the opening of the gospel, to cause the upspringing of the precious seed, so the 'latter rain' will be given at its close for the ripening of the harvest."2 Contrasting this explosive promise with our ordinary performance, we are made to admit—"not yet—the Holy Ghost!"
This candid evaluation does not overlook the progress Seventh-day Adventists have made in comparison with other religious groups. It is possible to say that we have survived well and, in fact, can rightly claim many signal successes in our continued global expansion. The bottom line, however, is that we are still in the wilderness of time; still outside the borders of Canaan; still waiting for the power to complete our task.
It is with proper cause that we continuously sing, "Mercy drops 'round us are falling, but for the showers we plead"; we are, in the light of God's promised power, lukewarm Laodiceans and our record reveals the uncomfortable reality—"not yet—the Holy Ghost!"
The most relevant question, how ever, for this church is How can our situation be remedied or, in the light of this study, exactly what are the conditions for receiving a "modern day" Pentecost? Here, the Bible speaks clearly.
Conditions for receiving a modern-day Pentecost
The first condition is, "Ask ye of the Lord, rain in the time of the latter rain; so, the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give . . . showers of rain, to every one grass in the field" (Zech. 10:1).
The outpouring will not come automatically. Unlike nature's cycle where the seasons are set and the harvest rains (unless interrupted by atmospheric exceptions) follow dutifully the dictates of the calendar, the latter rain cannot be "taken for granted"—it will not come by default, or happenstance, or inevitable succession. And, the latter rain cannot be "worked up," it must be "prayed down"!
We must ardently desire and Jacoblike wrestle in entreaty or the latter rain will remain a frozen Niagara of unleashed blessing. And, if that continues, our generation, like those before us, will continue doing "business as usual" and finally lie down in death having traded translation for resurrection, doomed by the doleful declaration: "not yet—the Holy Ghost!"
The second condition is given in Luke 24:49. "And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be indued," or "clothed" (NIV) "with power from on high."
The closest translation of the Greek word for "tarry," is "sit." This was not encouragement to idleness. It was, rather, a mandate to meditation before participation, the injunction to clear heads and hearts before engaging hands and feet. It is the reminder that bodily exercise without the Spirit's presence profits little (1 Tim. 4:8), and that activity (even in God's cause) that crowds out time for devotion is deficient.
In fact, it was their acting before they fully tarried that was responsible for the choice of Mathias (who we never hear of again) to replace Judas (Acts 1). Jesus had said, in essence, "Wait. Don't do anything until after you have tarried and the Paraclete has come." Had they waited long enough, they might have selected Paul or Silas or another who would have brought stability and honor to the cause. But it appears they blew the election because while they had deciphered the sense of the house, they had not discerned the will of God.
It is not that Mathias was a bad fellow but apparently by running ahead of the Spirit, they replaced a highly competent traitor with a minimally competent loyalist. And while I'd rather have the latter in the conference office or any other place of duty, the choice should never have come to that.
By their example, we are reminded that we must have consecration before nomination; and that we must always tarry before we tally. And that if we do not, the results will inevitably declare—"not yet—the Holy Ghost."
The third condition surfaces in Acts 2:1. "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." All? How could 120 be all when, according to 1 Corinthians 15:6, over 500 had seen Him in His resurrected form a few weeks earlier?
How? Evidently the other 380 plus had been so diverted and depressed by events that in spite of "ultimate evidence" they were confused about the promise that involved them tarrying together in Jerusalem.
But nevertheless with only 120 present there in the upper room, the Holy Spirit found the consecrated nucleus of the Kingdom of Grace.
Their willingness to counter popular opinion in obedience to Christ's command was essential to their participation in Pentecost—so is ours. Only those living up to Present Truth, those who, in spite of popular trends within and without the church obeyed the dictates of the Lord, were blessed with the promise of the rain and the fire and escaped the somber sentence—"not yet—the Holy Ghost."
The fourth condition also surfaces in Acts 2:1, and emphasizes that they were "with one accord." The term accord, which Luke repeats five times in the first five chapters of Acts, suggests, not a group of monolithic personalities but people of differing characteristics working with singular purpose and attitude.
As when tuning an organ we must test and key all notes to the standard pitch, the fundamental objective of believers is not to agree with each other, but rather to key on and agree with Jesus. We can agree with each other and still be wrong. By judging ourselves by ourselves, we guarantee ourselves dissonance and discord. When we merely agree together we lower our sights to lesser standards, we restrict the inflow of Divine power and earn the valid verdict—"not yet—the Holy Ghost."
But, it can justly be asked, since our differences of culture, as well as our many levels of education within cultures make uniform understanding and application of Scripture so difficult, How can we be truly of one accord? How? By following, in present councils, the methodology that guided the first church council.
At the Jerusalem meeting in Acts 15, accord did not blossom as transnational, cross-cultural, lock-step sameness. What they did achieve was "unity in diversity" grounded upon the principle of love, framed in the willingness to see one's personal doctrinal perspectives as no more normative than that of others and hence, subject to the impacting of the whole.
The fifth condition that they met is revealed in Acts 2:2: "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting."
It is the way of nature that wind seeks entry into empty space—not that which is already occupied. "The wind bloweth where it listeth," but it listeth where vacuums exist, where voids invite, where vacancies beckon! So it is with the Holy Spirit.
The disciples had to empty them selves of all contrary tendencies before they could be filled with the surging Spirit—Peter of his presumption; Thomas of his doubt; James and John of their ambition; Phillip of his unbelief; Andrew of his naivete; Simon of his resentments.
We, too, if we would be filled, must empty the room for His coming. We must take down the "occupied," "no vacancy" signs that signal satisfaction with our present spiritual state—our prideful reluctance to take off our garments of self-righteousness that Ellen White calls "no righteousness at all." Unless we do, we are destined to spend the rest of our competition-oriented, self-willed lives laboring with less than maximum results, shackled by the restricting reality—"not yet—the Holy Ghost."
What Christ has already done
The most important lesson of these verses, however, is not what we must do but what Christ has already done to make the latter rain available.
Listen again to Acts 2:1, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come ..." Note that Pentecost was not an isolated event. It was the sec ond of the three great festivals, and was scheduled exactly 50 days after the slaying of the lamb that marked the start of Passover, the first of the festivals.
In other words, Pentecost was sequel to Passover; reaping was anchored in sacrifice. That sequence holds true for us today. We must embrace Christ's passion before we can enjoy the Spirit's power. No Calvary—no Pentecost. No suffering Savior—no empowering Paraclete. No bleeding Lamb—no falling fire! Only the sad summary of our stunted out reach: "not yet—the Holy Ghost."
The other condition that Jesus fulfills is gleaned from our original text, John 7:39, which reads in part: "For the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified."
Jesus had to be glorified before the disciples could be electrified. And so He died on Passover Friday, rested on Salvation Sabbath, returned to glory with His resurrected trophies on Wave Sheaf Sunday, following which, as the festival timetable provided, He waited 50 days to implement the outpouring.
During the initial 40 days of His wait, Jesus made six appearances to His closest followers—male and female. None more revealing than His visit with the disciples, with only Thomas absent.
At that meeting, as if He could not wait to behold their joy, He provided them a prelude to Pentecost by breathing on them and saying, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22).
The most accurate translations have Him saying not, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost," but "Receive ye—Holy Ghost." In other words, He recommended Him, not by title or by office or by function but simply by name. This is not a matter of the Savior, or the Christ introducing the Holy Ghost but rather their Friend Jesus presenting His Friend "Holy Ghost," now come to be their Leader. And then, with ten days left, He ascended, as David so graphically outlines in Psalm 24 and Ellen White describes in The Desire of Ages,3 to angelic adulation and praise.
But amidst all the celebrations above, He did not forget His followers below. So while the disciples were praying in the secret place, He was pleading in the holy place. The out pouring that came at Pentecost signaled the completion of His coro nation celebration and the beginning of His role as our heavenly Paraclete. So that now we have, not only the earthly Comforter-Paraclete but the heavenly Paraclete-Comforter work ing in tandem for our salvation.
Pentecost signaled that Jesus had been fully knighted and His disciples could be fully lighted and the house where they were gathered was "shaken" as they were infused with the Holy Spirit.
Do it again, Lord!
Our earnest prayer should be—do it again, Lord; do it again! And it is encouraging to note that we are not alone in this petition. The prayers of all the remnant believers who have died in earnest hope are banked-up for this momentous event.
Inspiration states that "the revenue of glory has been accumulating for this closing work... of the prayers that have been ascending for the fulfillment of the promise—the descent of the Holy Spirit—not one has been lost. Each prayer has been accumulating, ready to overflow and pour forth a healing flood of heavenly influence and accumulated light all over the world."4
When that happens, instead of pulling against each other, we will be pulling others out of Babylon. Instead of wrangling over theological obscurities, we will be rallying around fundamental certainties; instead of disseminating gossip, we will be spreading the gospel; and instead of politicking about who is the greatest, we will be proclaiming the doctrine that is the greatest—the righteousness of Christ.
Ellen White's further description of the fulfillment is: "Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to pro claim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given. Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers."5
But wait—I think I hear the heavenly council now being called to order. The first item on the agenda is the matter of conversion. "Is there a motion to make this process complete in My remnant people?" the Father asks. "Yes, Father," the heavenly Paraclete rises to say. "I move it—'I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one'" (John 17:23). "I second that," the Holy Ghost states. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14).
Next on the agenda is the subject of the resurrection. Again, the heavenly Paraclete speaks, saying: "I move that since I have overcome the grave, 'Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth'" (Rev. 14:3).
"Is there a second?" the Father inquires. "Yea," says the Spirit rising to bear witness, "that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them" (verse 13).
And that takes us to the item of the Second Coming, and the transformation of the church militant to the church triumphant. Once again Jesus moves with finality, declaring, "'And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work'" (Rev.22:12, NKJV).
And then a wonderful thing happens, there is not one second to this motion but there are two—for the Spirit and the Bride say, "'Come!'. . .Even so, come, Lord Jesus!'" (Rev. 22:17, 20, NKJV).
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Pub. Assn., 1940), 827.
2 ———, The Great Controversy (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Pub. Assn., 1911), 611.
3 Ibid., chapter 87.
4 Ellen G. White, Letter 96A, 1899.
5 The Great Controversy, 612.