Why did God wait fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection before giving the disciples the Holy Spirit?
That was the question posed to me by a friend who works in children’s ministry. She teaches a fifth grade Sunday school class, and as she prepared her Easter lesson, she was anticipating questions the children might ask. We wrestled with how best to answer that question in a way children would understand.
The day after Easter seems so anticlimactic. The big celebration is over and we shift back into the routines of family, school, and work. Did the disciples feel the same way after the resurrection two thousand years ago?
Why did God wait? Why didn’t He give the Holy Spirit to the disciples sooner?
Instead, Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of forty days, and told them not to leave Jerusalem until they were “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:3-5). Today, we know those early believers received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. In ancient Israel, this was known as the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest. It was calculated forty-nine days after Passover, and celebrated God’s provision of the wheat harvest.
The celebration of the wheat harvest seven weeks after Christ’s resurrection reminds us of the analogy Jesus made when preparing His disciples for His death. “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
Just as the Israelites celebrated the wheat harvest, Jesus’ disciples were able to celebrate a harvest of new life when they received the provision of the Holy Spirit. This new life was brought about by Jesus’ substitutionary death – the “kernel of wheat” that died, but produced a great harvest.
My friend and I also realized that the period of waiting experienced by the disciples until they received the Holy Spirit served another purpose. It reminded them that they did not have the ability to be witnesses for Jesus Christ in their own strength.
Despite the many appearances of Jesus during those first forty days, the disciples and other early believers often huddled together in secret. They were fearful for their lives at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders and the Romans.
Those early Christians experienced the reality of their own limitations. They quickly learned that if they were to be powerful witnesses, they needed something – no, Someone – to provide what they lacked. Without this realization, they might have later wondered as to the necessity of receiving the indwelling Holy Spirit.
What a lesson for us today. All too often I attempt to do great things for God in my own strength…and fail miserably. But those failures remind me of the importance of depending on God’s Holy Spirit day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute.
Yes, the disciples had to wait. They waited forty days until Jesus ascended into heaven. Then they waited a week more until they received the Holy Spirit. But in the process of waiting, they learned a lesson that would remain with them for the rest of their lives: they could not do it on their own.
Will you and I remember this same lesson today?