We once received the following email:
I had someone ask me an interesting question the other day and I was very curious to see how you may respond to it. The question was “When were the Disciples born again?” If the answer is before the resurrection, then we can easily understand how Jesus could command the Disciples to “Preach the Gospel, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead and cast out demons.” If the answer is after the resurrection, then I’m hard pressed to understand how Jesus would even ask them to “Preach the Gospel”, or command or even expect them to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead and cast out demons”. Can the lost “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead and cast out demons?” Please share your thoughts as you have time.
After some thought, we gave the following reply…
John 3:3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
From this I conclude that being “born again” means being born of the Spirit. But according to Jesus below, at that time the Spirit was only with the disciples and not in them—until of course Pentecost.
John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
John 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 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.
Yet even before Pentecost, Peter (and others on other occasions) said to Jesus in Matthew 16: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (v. 16)
To me that means that Peter was already “saved”—just like the thief on the cross who just before passing away declared that Jesus was the coming King, the Messiah. Later he would be with Jesus in paradise.
In order to make a logical conclusion in light of all this, I would be forced to make a temporary distinction between being “saved” and “born again.” After accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior thereby getting “saved,” we then immediately receive the Holy Spirit and are “born again.” But for the disciples of course there was some delay between the two stages.
However, there’s another argument we can use to differentiate the ministry of the disciples pre- and post-Pentecost. We can say that in the gospels Jesus delegated his supernatural power and authority to the disciples, as in authorizing someone else to use your credit card. But after Pentecost when Jesus came to live in them through the Holy Spirit, that power and authority came to be in them and was in a sense theirs to use as they saw fit especially when proclaiming the kingdom of God.