There is a fascinating biblical-theological development from creation to new creation having to do with “the breath of life.” Moving from Creation to Redemption, the teaching of Scripture on the “breath of life” is meant to teach us that physical and spiritual life are found exclusively in the Creator and Redeemer–Jesus Christ. So how does this unfold in redemptive-history?
One of the first things that we learn about man at creation is that “God…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). It was singularly by this supernatural act of God that man was made alive. Elihu summed this up when he said, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).
At the flood God uses this language of both men and animal when he says, “I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life” (Gen. 6:17). Of the animals, it was said that “they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life” (Gen. 7:15). The Psalmist reflects on this principle with regard to the animals when he wrote: “You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth.” (Ps. 104: 29). Fittingly, the Psalter ends with the words, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord” (Ps. 150:6). Here we see that the Spirit of Christ is the life-giving agent in physical life, and that it is by the breath than He gives we praise the God who gave that breath.
Among the plethora of names given to the Redeemer in the Scriptures, one of the least well-known is that which Jeremiah speaks of in Lamentations. There, Jesus is called “The breath of our nostrils, the Anointed of the LORD” (Lam. 4:20). As Jeremiah unfolds the sufferings of Israel and prospectively looks forward to the substitutional atonement of the suffering Savior, he calls the coming Redeemer, “The breath of our nostrils.” This title moves us forward in redemptive-history to see that there is no life except as it comes through Christ. The Holy Spirit is also called the breath in Ezekiel 37. In the vision of the valley of dried bones, God told Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live'” (Ezekiel 37:8).
When the Redeemer came, one of the most powerful of all the things we are told about Him in the work of redemption is that He “breathed his last” (Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46). He gave up His own breath so that we might be given the breath of life. He died that we might live. In the words of John Bunyan, “He has given me rest by His sorrow and life by His death.” Propaganda captured this so well in his spoken word, “G.O.S.P.E.L.” He explained:
Please don’t get it twisted. It’s what makes our faith unique. Here’s what God says is Part A of the gospel. You can’t fix yourself. Quit trying it’s impossible. Sin brings death. Give God his breath back. You owe him. Eternally separated and the only way to fix it is someone die in your place and that someone gotta be perfect. Or the payment ain’t permanent. So if and when you find the perfect person, get him or her to willing trade their perfection for your sin and death in. Clearly since the only one that can meet God’s criteria is God. God sent himself as Jesus to pay the cost for us. His righteousness, his death, functions as payment. Yes. Payment. Wrote a check with his life but at the resurrection we all cheered cause that means the check cleared. Pierced feet, pierced hands, blood stained son of man. Fullness forgiveness free passage into the promise land, that same breath God breathed into us God gave it up to redeem us.
Or as the words of the beloved hymn, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, summarize it:
Behold the Man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders; ashamed I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers. It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished; His dying breath has brought me life; I know that it is finished.
After He had risen from the dead and showed Himself to His disciples, one of the last things that Jesus did during His earthly ministry ties the whole of the biblical-theological progression of creation to new creation together. John tells us that when the disciples were gathered together in the upper room, Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ When He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (John 20:21-22). In Hebrews the word for the Spirit is one and the same as that used of wind and breath. It is fitting, therefore, that Jesus likens the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell His people with breath. The Spirit of Christ is, in the truest and fullest sense, the breath of life. When Jesus breaths His Spirit into His people He gives them new life.
It is only in Jesus that “we live and move and have our being.” He “gives to all men life and breath and all things” in the physical realm as well as in the spiritual. It is only as we recognize our need for the life-giving, spiritual-breath providing Jesus that we will experience the life-giving, spiritual-breath providing work of the Spirit in our hearts. Whether it was the physical life-giving breath that He breathed into man at creation–without which we would physically die–or the spiritual life-giving breath than He breaths into us in redemption–without which we would eternally perish–Jesus Christ is the source of all life. He is, in the words of Jeremiah, “THE BREATH OF OUR NOSTRILS, THE ANOINTED OF THE LORD!”