In the New Testament, the Spirit plays a big role in the life of Jesus, in his resurrection, and in the lives of his people. This is true in all four gospel accounts, and especially in the book of Luke. What God’s Spirit does in the New Testament corresponds with the things the Holy Spirit is said to do in the Old Testament.
Jesus’s Birth Is Attributed to the Holy Spirit
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.Matthew 1:18
Mary’s pregnancy was from the Holy Spirit. As surprising as the virgin birth is, it is not surprising to see God’s Spirit connected with the gift and creation of life in a place where there was previously no life. This is the same sort of thing that the Spirit is described as doing in the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 1-2).
Luke starts the story even earlier with the story of the birth of John the Baptist. First, Luke records how Elizabeth was told that John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb.
He will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.Luke 1:15
A few verses later, Luke records that John’s father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit when he prophesied about Jesus’s birth. Again, it is no surprise to see that the Holy Spirit is connected with speaking words from God, as this is the same thing the Spirit is described as doing in the Old Testament.
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying…Luke 1:67
Similarly, Simeon is described as having the Holy Spirit when he prophesied.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents of the child brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up on his arms and blessed God and said…Luke 2:25-28
Again, just as in the Old Testament, we see the Holy Spirit described as revealing special knowledge to a prophet. Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit in that he was able to know things that came from God’s own mind.
All these events surrounding the birth of Jesus were attributed to the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit’s Role in Jesus’s Baptism
In Luke 3, Luke describes how John was leading a repentance movement and baptizing people in the Jordan River. Some people began to question whether or not John might be the Christ. Luke records John’s answer (which will be examined in more detail in a future part of this study).
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.Luke 3:16-17
Luke then records that Jesus himself was baptized by John.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”Luke 3:21-22
- Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan
- The heavens were opened
- The Holy Spirit descends in bodily form, like a dove
- God’s voice is heard speaking
Having studied the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, we can see that this event seems to echo another time when God’s Spirit is said to hover (a word used to describe what birds do) over the waters in connection with God’s voice speaking words.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.Genesis 1:2-3
From the account of Jesus’s baptism, we can also notice the close connection between God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus. The Holy Spirit/Pnuma/Breath is described as descending on Jesus at the same moment that God speaks words. Again, given our understanding of the Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit, it makes sense that we would see a close connection between God’s Holy Spirit and God’s Word’s. We can also note that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the person of Jesus, but is also very active in the life of Jesus.
The word “trinity” is never used by Luke (or any other New Testament author) to describe the close relationship between God and the Spirit and Jesus. (The word “trinity” wasn’t even invented until after the close of the New Testament when early Christians tried to describe God’s nature.) But there is certainly a very close relationship between God and the Spirit and Jesus, just as in the Old Testament there was a close relationship between God and the Spirit and the prophesied Messiah.
The Spirit in the Life of Jesus
Luke highlights the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus more than any other author.
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days.Luke 4:1
Jesus’s day to day work was attributed to God’s Spirit.
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.Luke 4:14-15
If Jesus was in the power of the Spirit when he taught, who’s words was he speaking? God’s words! Jesus was giving voice to words from God’s own Holy Spirit. Jesus made this clear when he applied Isaiah 61:1-2 to himself.
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”Luke 4:17-21
In Luke 10, when Jesus saw what was happening, he gave credit to, and rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”Luke 10:21
In Luke 11, Jesus described the Holy Spirit as a gift that could be given by God to his children.
If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!Luke 11:13
In the Old Testament, when on special occasions, God’s Spirit is filled unique individual’s, the words and actions and wisdom of those individuals could then be attributed to God himself. When Luke and the other gospel writers attribute the life and ministry of Jesus to the Holy Spirit, it means that the things Jesus said and did can rightly be attributed to God himself. When we see Jesus’s ministry and teachings, we see the words and actions of God Himself.