Bible Question:

When did the Holy Spirit come, after Jesus or before? The Old Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit. When reading John 16:7, it sounds as if the Holy Spirit is sent to replace the physical absence of Jesus. Why would the Holy Spirit be in the Old Testament then?

Bible Answer:

This is an extremely important question. The answer to this question unlocks the door of many mysteries about Jesus Christ.

Ministry To Old Testament Saints

The Holy Spirit was present in the Old Testament. He has always been present but in different ways. In the Old Testament, He ministered to Moses and his leadership team as well as to Othniel, Gideon, Sampson, Samuel, Jephthah, Saul, David, and Ezekiel.

ReferencePassage
Num. 11:26And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. (NASB)
Num. 11:25Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And it came about that when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again. (NASB)
Judges 3:10And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him [Othniel]. . . (NASB)
Judges 6:34So the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon . . . (NASB)
Judges 11:29Now the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah . . . (NASB)
Judges 13:25And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him . . . (NASB)
Judges 15:14And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily . . . (NASB)
1 Samuel 10:6-10Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you mightily . . .
1 Samuel 16:13-14. . . and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David . . . (NASB)
1 Samuel 19:20-23. . . the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul; and they also prophesied. (NASB)
2 Chronicles 24:20Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest . . .
Nehemiah 9:30However, Thou didst bear with them for many years, and admonished them by Thy Spirit through Thy prophets . . .
Psalms 51:11Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me. (NASB)
Ezekiel 2:2And as He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me. (NASB)

Notice that in each case the Spirit came “upon” them. He did not live inside them. He did not come “in” them and He did not always remain with them. King David understood this when he asked God to not remove the Holy Spirit from him. This is an important point. In 1 Samuel 16:13-14 we are told that the Holy Spirit came “mightily upon” King David, and then later in Psalms 51:11 David asks God to not remove the Holy Spirit from him. The Holy Spirit came “upon” people, but He did not remain with them.

Ministry To Jesus

When we come to the New Testament, we find that the Holy Spirit was also present during Jesus’ ministry, and helped Him perform miracles, and cast out demons.

ReferencePassage
Luke 3:22. . . and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.(NASB)
Luke 4:1And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led about by the Spirit in the wilderness . . . (NASB)
Luke 4:14And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit; and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. (NASB)
Luke 10:21At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit . . . (NASB)
Matt. 12:28But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (NASB)
Acts 10:38You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. (NASB)

This is an exciting truth because it reveals the fact that when Jesus became a human He lived His life as you and I would. But He was God and without sin. While He lived on this earth, He depended on the power of the Holy Spirit to do the ministry. This is a great spiritual insight. This should be the pattern of our Christian life – dependence on the Holy Spirit to work through us. Jesus is our example of human dependence on the Holy Spirit.

John 16:7

We have already seen that the Holy Spirit was active on this earth in the Old Testament and during Jesus’ ministry. Yet in John 16:7, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will come after He returns to heaven.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. (NASB) John 16:7

Jesus said the same thing earlier in John 14:26 and John 15:26.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (NASB) John 14:26

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, (NASB) John 15:26

Who is the Helper? Jesus gave the answer in John 14:16.

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; (NASB) John 14:16

The Helper is the Holy Spirit. What did Jesus mean that the Holy Spirit would be coming, if in fact He was already present? Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit coming in a new and different way. This was predicted in the Old Testament according to Acts 2:14-21 and it happened on the day of Pentecost (Acts. 2:1-13).

The Promise

With the start of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit started living inside those who believed God.

. . . In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance . . . (NASB) Ephesians 1:13-14

Do not miss the phrase “Holy Spirit of promise.” This implies the Holy Spirit is coming in a new and different way.

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. (NASB) Acts 2:33

. . . in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (NASB) Galatians 3:14

Now a promise is not something that already existed, but something that is coming – something that is future. The Holy Spirit would not only live in Jews but in Gentiles too! He lives inside of all believers, starting with Pentecost and He never leaves (Ephesians 1:13-14). The proof or guarantee that one is a Christian is that he/she is being led by the Holy Spirit.

. . . for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (NASB) Romans 8:13-14

That was not true with David. David did not have that guarantee in the Old Testament.

Conclusion:

Why would the Holy Spirit be in the Old Testament then? He ministered to men and women in the Old Testament in many ways, like He does today. Yet, He was promised to come in the future in a new and different way. He comes at Pentecost and places every believer into the body of Christ and then remains in the believer. He places Gentiles and Jews together as equals (Gal. 3:28). He is the proof that we belong to God. He lives in us!