“The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.'”
– Luke 1:35, NIV
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to the virgin Mary in Nazareth to tell her that she would bear a son (Luke 1:31-35) and that she was to name him Jesus. Mary asked (verse 34), “‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?'” (NASU) Gabriel’s answer is recorded in verse 35. Later, an angel (Mathew 1:20) advised Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because “that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (NASU)
The Miraculous Conception
What the angel said in Luke 1:35 is filled with significance concerning Mary, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The angel declares “The Holy Spirit will come upon you [Mary], and the power of the Most high will overshadow you.” As a result of the powerful presence of the Spirit, Mary would become pregnant. The preexistent Son of God would take upon Himself the form of a man and a new humanity would be created. That new humanity would then undergo the normal gestation processes. Jesus was the divine-human Son of God.
Along with many others, Marshall (p. 70) holds that the “Holy Spirit” in Luke 1:35 is “equated in poetic parallelism with the power of God.” In other words, the clauses “the Holy Spirit will come upon you” and “the power of the Most High will overshadow you” are equivalent. Thus, the creative work in the conception of Jesus is ascribed to the Holy Spirit and to the “power of the Most High.”
Menzies (p. 112), however, maintains that “Luke does not attribute the birth of Jesus exclusively to the activity of the Spirit.” He believes that the second clause about the “power of the Most High” adds something. According to Menzies (p. 113), the Spirit in Luke is primarily the Spirit of prophecy (inspired speech and revelation), but is not directly connected to the miraculous. On the other hand, power (dunamis) is connected with both prophecy and the miraculous. Thus, Menzies believes that Luke purposefully relates the miraculous conception of Christ to the “power of the Most High.” He does acknowledge (p. 115) that the Spirit is the source of the power.
In any case the Holy Spirit is involved in the miraculous conception of Christ. The Spirit is the source of the “power of the Most High.” The “power of the Most High” is the Holy Spirit manifesting Himself in power. We will trace the emphases of Luke as we move through his gospel and the book of Acts.
We turn now to the last clause of Luke 1:35. As Hawthorne (p. 73) points out, the last clause 1:35 can be “translated in two very different ways: (1) ‘Therefore also that holy thing [i.e. that holy child] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’ (KJV, cf. NAB, NEB, NIV, and (2) ‘Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’ (RSV, cf. Moffatt, Phillips.). Thus, either Jesus is to be called “holy” or the holy Child is to be called “the Son of God.”
As we examine this clause, a couple of points will help. One, the phrase “for that reason” refers back to the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High in the miraculous conception of Christ. This is the reason why the holy child (Jesus) is to be called the Son of God or that Jesus is to be called holy. Second, we note that the verb is “shall be called” and not “shall become.” Obviously, what Jesus is called is based on the reality of what he is or has become, but the emphasis of the clause is on what He is called.
On the one hand let us assume that the angel meant that Jesus “shall be called the Son of God.” The eternal Son did not become the Son of God His incarnation. As Lenski (p. 66) points out, “The sense is that he shall be called what he really is.” As the Son of God, He became man while losing none of His divinity. The Son of God is now both divine and human. Thus, it is entirely in order to call this divine-human person the Son of God.
On the other hand, it may be the angel meant that Jesus should be called “holy.” He would be called holy because He was holy. The preexistent Son of God already was holy. When He became man, He lived (Hebrews 4:15) “without sin.” Because Jesus was holy, it would be in order to call Him holy. Given this, we might still ask, “To what extent did the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High contribute to the holiness of His human nature?” From the phrase “for that reason” it appears that the holiness of His human nature was due, at least in part, to the miraculous conception. This does not preclude the impact of the preexistent divine nature on Christ’s human nature.
Jesus and the Spirit
The conception of the Son of God by the power of the Spirit is the beginning of the relationship between the incarnate Jesus and the Holy Spirit. As the Son of God, Jesus in His divine nature was a member of the Trinity. Thus, on this ground alone, we can say that a close relationship existed between Jesus and the Spirit.
Was Jesus filled with the Spirit at His conception? Dunn (p. 24), writes: “It is quite probable, though not certain, that Luke means us to understand that Jesus was every bit as full of the Holy Spirit as John was (1.15).” Whatever Luke intended to say, we have no doubt that Jesus was powerfully endued with the Spirit from the beginning. Although a close relationship between the Spirit and Jesus before, the Spirit descended upon Jesus (Luke 3:22) at His baptism.
Dunn, James D. G. Baptism in the Spirit. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1970.
Hawthorne, Gerald F. The Presence and the Power. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel. Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1946.
Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke. Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1978.
Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Pink, Arthur. The Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970.
Turner, Max. Power from on High. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
Walvoord, John F. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago: Moody Press, 1969.
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