“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
Jesus bows his head, perhaps in mortal weakness, perhaps in silent submission, or perhaps as a nod of approval. Then, John tells us, Jesus ‘gave up his spirit.’
The phrase “gave up his Spirit” is common in many ancient texts as a reference to breathing a final breath. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if John had something more significant in mind. Mark records Jesus “breathing his last,” Luke says Jesus “commits” his “Spirit” before breathing his last breath, but John speaks of them together as Jesus “giving up his Spirit.” It could be that John is simply using a different turn of phrase for the same event, or it could be something more. At Jesus’ death, John connects glorification, breath, and spirit. At the point of Jesus’ glorification, he gives up his spirit. Craig Keener points to a connection earlier in the gospel:
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (John 7:37-39)
Already in Chapter 7, Jesus’ glorification (crucifixion) is connected with the giving of the Spirit. John is not denying the reality of Pentecost, but, I believe, attempting to fix our eyes more closely on Jesus’ crucifixion. In his glorification, Jesus gives up his Spirit, so that it may be multiplied in his followers. The Holy Spirit is still distinct from Jesus, but through double-entendre John is drawing our attention to the relationship between the cross and the pouring out of the Spirit.
Keener notes another echo later in the gospel of John:
“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-22)
The deep connection between breath, spirit, and the glorification of Jesus Christ on the cross is abundant in the gospel of John. Even at Jesus’ crucifixion, John chooses words to highlight that through Jesus death, the spirit of God, who is the spirit of resurrection and regeneration is now poured out upon all flesh. What is separated in time by 50 days (pentecost), John draws together that we might see that the gift of the Spirit results from Jesus giving up his spirit for us.