The Newness of Regeneration: The Upper Room Discourse

Hopefully it is now apparent that regeneration and circumcision of the heart are  different things; a shadow and the substance. On top of this, we have seen that the Old Testament points to the future event of regeneration in the New Covenant while the New Testament actually realizes this promise. However, we’ll now look at Jesus’s words promising the giving of His Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse. 

“You are Clean” (John 13:1-11)

Once the disciples entered the upper rom, Jesus washed their feet, including Judas. He then declared that “You are clean, but not every one of you”. The Greek word used here, καθαροί, is the plural masculine form of καθαρός, a word that can mean physically clean, but more importantly, “clear from shame or pollution, pure…clear of guilt or defilement, clean, pure, …of persons purified after pollution…clear of or from a charge.”[1] In the LXX, this is also the word that is used to translate טָהֹר, which refers to ritual purity and cleanliness as found all throughout the Pentateuch. [2]

Given that Jesus is a Jew speaking to Jews who read the LXX and were familiar with καθαρός as referring to ritual purity, there can be no other explanation but that Jesus is declaring them ritually and morally pure. In effect, Jesus is declaring the disciples as justified- made righteous and clean before God through the very declaration of Jesus Himself. In fact, Jesus says in John 15:3 “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” It was not the water, but the declaration of Christ that made the disciples clean. Yet this cleanliness did not come through a ritual sacrifice of an animal, but through the sacrifice of Christ “who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God” and purified “our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb 9:14)

This is the outward declaration of Christ upon His disciples, which, according to the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, is the precise picture of justification: “Justification is the declaring of a person to be just or righteous.”[3]  According to Romans 3:21-33, this justification comes through faith, which we see the disciples possessing, just like the men and women of the Old Testament. Yet Judas, the one who was to betray Jesus, was not declared clean. He was not justified, for he had not been given faith by God for justification.

“He Dwells with You and Will be in You” (Jn 14:16-17)

Jesus continued speaking to His disciples about what was to come after He was arrested and killed. As the disciples began to fret and become anxious, Jesus gave them this encouraging promise in John 14:16-17:

“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you”.

The implications of these verses are massive regarding the reality of regeneration in the New Testament. Here are a few important observations:

  1. The Father had not yet given the disciples the Holy Spirit (“another Helper”). Yet, as pious and obedient Jews, shouldn’t they be regenerated already if regeneration happened in the OT? Also, the word “give” here is δώσει, a future active indicative verb, indicating that this has not yet happened to the disciples.
  2. The Holy Spirit, whom the Father had yet to send, will be with the disciples forever. This speaks of regeneration, a work sustained by the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Whatever interaction the disciples have had with the Holy Spirit up to this point, it reflected the interaction of the Old Testament: temporary and intermittent.
  3. The disciples knew the Holy Spirit. The disciples are not strangers to the Holy Spirit, but this “giving” that Jesus speaks of is going to be a new kind of relationship.
  4. The Spirit had been dwelling with the disciples. Again, this is very characteristic of the Spirit’s work in the Old Testament, and since these men are devout Jews, this is the relationship we should expect them to have with the Spirit; the Spirit is with them, acting from the outside upon them.
  5. When He was given, the Spirit would then be in the disciples. There can be no argument made that the Spirit is dwelling in the disciples, since Jesus states the opposite. However, the Spirit will, when He is given, dwell in them. This is a completely new dynamic between the Holy Spirit and men. Up until this point, the Spirit has acted upon men from the outside, but when He is given, He will act upon men from the inside. This is exactly what Ezekiel 36:26-27 promises.

The Holy Spirit had not yet been given to men in the way that Jesus speaks of, since the Spirit’s coming was predicated upon the ascension of Christ. Furthermore, the nature of the Spirit’s  residency would suddenly go from outside of men to inside of men. All of this was a future event, as made plain by the future verb tenses used.

“When the Helper Comes”  (Jn 15:26-27)

Jesus added more regarding the coming Holy Spirit in John 15:26-27, once again saying that the Helper would come in the future, and that the Spirit would bear witness about Jesus. Jesus then says to the disciples (in the ESV translation) “And you also will bear witness.” One could say that this is simply a continuation of the Old Testament model of the Spirit causing men to prophecy and nothing more, that no change is indicated in the work of the Spirit by this passage. However, this would be incorrect.

In reference to the Spirit’s testimony, the future active indicative verb μαρτυρήσει is used, demonstrating that the Spirit would bear witness when He came in the future. Yet in reference to the disciple’s testimony, the present active indicative μαρτυρεῖτε is used. In effect, the ESV’s translation of Jesus’s words to the disciples “You also will bear witness” is misleading; rather “You also bear witness” is more accurate. Thus, Jesus is commanding the disciples to bear witness now, in the present, while the witness of the Spirit will come in the future. 

“If I do not Go Away, the Helper Will Not Come” (Jn 16:7-15)

As the disciples’ hearts were filled with sorrow, Jesus provided them a great encouragement. “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). This is an immensely comforting verse, as it told the disciples (and us) that the departure of our beloved Lord brought about something even better. Yet, if regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit happened prior to and up to this point in John’s gospel, why would Jesus need to utter these words?

Rather, it is precisely because the Spirit did not take up permanent residency in men prior to this point that Jesus makes this promise. Instead, this coming of the Helper is linked directly to the ascension of Christ, so we should look for a specific coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’s departure. That happens in the event we’ll examine next: Pentecost.

Conclusion

One could say that this whole discourse is directly addressed to the disciples, and that the coming of the Spirit here would only apply to them, perhaps regarding the inspired writing of the New Testament or evangelism in the book of Acts. While this is certainly a valid facet of the work of the Spirit in the disciples in the New Testament, this is not the complete picture and there are problems with that view.

For example, take the words of Christ in John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. Do we consider ourselves exempt from this qualifier because we were not in the upper room with the disciples prior to Christ’s arrest? Hardly. Or, for example, the promise of Christ in John 14:3, “I will come again and take you to myself”, or “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (15:16). Do we think these truths apply just to the disciples? Of course not. Are there verses that clearly do apply to the disciples? Yes, such as 16:2. It is hard to imagine any Christians in modern day America being put out of literal synagogues; instead, this is a specific occurrence that we see the disciples enduring. Even still, however, the principle that Christians will be hated by the world their persecutors “have not known the Father, nor me” (16:3) is completely relevant to believers of any time period.

So, while the fulfillment of these promises regarding the Holy Spirit can be fixed to a point in time (Pentecost in Acts 2), the effects and details of these promises continue to this day (save, of course, for continued direct revelation and the sign gifts from God as cancelled out by Hebrews 1:1-2).

 

  1. Liddell, H. G. (1996). A lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English lexicon (p. 388). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  2. Holladay, W. L., & Köhler, L. (2000). A concise Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (p. 122). Leiden: Brill.
  3. Morris, L. (1996). Justification. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., p. 441). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

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