And with that he breathed on them and said,—Jesus is making a metaphor here because the word for Spirit is the same word for breath. His breathing is not the imparting of the Spirit, as we know this wasn’t done until Pentecost. Jesus is using symbolism to make an impact. The paring of breath and spirit is ancient. The Old Testament talks about the “breath of life” when referring to the force that animates animals. More than simply a collection of cells, humans have something immaterial in them bringing them to life. We can see this when people are dying or when they are on life support; their bodies are hanging on but their spirit is waning. The breath is often thought of as the force which brings life into a person. The Spirit of God is a life bringer. He brings life to people who are spiritually dead. He brings people a relationship with God who previously had none. He brings the power to overcome to those who are controlled by their desires. He brings a connection with truth and light which is impossible to obtain in his absence. Jesus breathes on the apostles demonstrating that the life which they heretofore have been leading, a spiritually breathless life, was about to come alive.
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”—Receive is in the imperative here, which means it is a command, not a request or a suggestion. The spirits of the apostles are ordered to come to life by the Spirit of God. To be a follower of Jesus is to receive the very same Spirit as Jesus. He gives this to all followers. It is not possible to follow Jesus without Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus said it was necessary for him to go. This is why Jesus said his followers would accomplish more than he (in this world); because his Spirit literally lives in each of us who proclaim him to the world. As a result God is not located in one place, but he is located throughout the world in those who have dedicated their lives to serving him. He has brought my Spirit to life and is regenerating my very soul by sanctifying me on this side of heaven for the sake of the Kingdom. God is doing his work in this world and he is doing it through me. I cannot ignore Holy Spirit for it is the key to what God is doing in me as well as what he is doing in this world. Receive Holy Spirit, my friends, and live life anew!