Understanding the Activity of the Holy Spirit

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts

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John the Baptist preached “the kingdom is at hand!” (Mat. 3:2). John told the Jewish leaders that the Messiah was coming. With the Messiah would be two events: (1) the baptism of the Holy Spirit, God’s phrase that represented the arrival of the kingdom of God, restoration of God’s covenant with Israel, and blessings to the people; (2) the baptism of fire, God’s phrase that represented judgment. In fact, as we will notice later in Acts 2, Peter preached the same message of judgment to Israel if they would not repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. Remember these points as we now look at Acts 1.

Acts 1:1-8

In the first three verses of Acts 1 we see that Jesus taught the apostles for 40 days about the kingdom of God. In verse 4, Jesus commanded the apostles to wait for “the promise of the Father.” What is the promise of the Father? The next sentence explains: “‘This,’ He said, ‘is what you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'” Jesus said the promise of the Father is the same as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus quoted the very teaching of John the Baptist that we studied in Matthew 3. Jesus simply added that this event would take place “not many days from now.” Therefore the promise of the restoration of the kingdom of God, the restoration of God’s covenant with Israel, and the restoration of God’s blessings would take place “not many days from now.” This is why the apostles ask, “At this time are You restoring the kingdom to Israel?” The apostles are not asking the wrong question, as we may have charged. Jesus had taught the apostles for 40 days about the kingdom of God. The apostles asked the appropriate question: are You restoring the kingdom, the covenant, and the blessings of God now as promised by the prophets?

To prove that the apostles asked the right question, note that Jesus accepted their inquiry. Jesus never had a problem upbraiding the apostles for their lack of spiritual insight. But Jesus does not rebuke the apostles for questioning of restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Rather, Jesus said that it was not for the apostles to know the exact day and time when the restoration would take place. However, this kingdom restoration would begin when the apostles “received the Holy Spirit with power.”

Acts 2:33-40

In the first four verses of Acts 2 we read about the Holy Spirit being poured out. In verses 17-21 Peter quoted the words of the prophet Joel to show that the Holy Spirit has been poured out, the proof of which was the apostles’ ability to speak in different languages. In verses 32-33 Peter said something very important to our study:

“This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.”

Notice carefully what Peter said. Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God and “received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit.” We need to ask the question: what did Jesus receive? The promise of the Holy Spirit has often been defined as miracles. However, it would not make any sense to say that Jesus ascended to the Father, sat down at the right hand of God, and received miraculous gifts. Jesus ascended to the Father and received the kingdom (Acts 2:34-35; 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Dan. 7:13-14; Phil. 2:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:24-28; Eph. 1:21-23; Heb. 4:14-16, 10:12-13; 1 Pet. 3:21-22; Rev. 19:16). As we have noted repeatedly, the promise of the Holy Spirit referred to the restoration of the kingdom, the restoration of the covenant, and the restoration of God’s blessings. Peter said that Christ ascended to the Father, received the kingdom, and has poured out these blessings upon Israel. Peter then argues that the miracle of Acts 2 was the proof that the kingdom had begun, the covenant had been renewed, and the blessings had returned: “He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.”

Upon the knowledge that they had crucified the Messiah and that the kingdom had been offered to them, the people asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They knew that the Savior had been crucified. Jesus and John the Baptist had preached that baptism of fire was coming against the disobedient. Peter quoted Joel to make the same point, noting that “the day of the Lord” was coming (Acts 2:20). The people needed to be saved and wanted to know how to enter the kingdom of God and receive God’s blessings.

Peter tells the crowd, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

It is difficult to think that Peter is now speaking about a completely different work of the Holy Spirit. Only three sentences earlier Peter explained that Jesus had received the promise of the Holy Spirit. Peter now tells the crowd that they can receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In fact, Peter calls this “the promise” which was offered to them, their children, and those afar off (the Gentiles). It has often been taught that the gift of the Holy Spirit is salvation. However, this explanation does not fit the context. Jesus received the promise of the Holy Spirit and poured it out on the people. Peter says that this promise is offered to them, their children, and those afar off. These are not different promises. Jesus did not ascend to heaven and receive salvation. Jesus received the kingdom. Peter told the people that when they repented and were baptized, they would receive the forgiveness of sins and the promise of the Holy Spirit, that is, entrance into Christ’s kingdom, entrance into a covenant relationship with God, and acceptance of the blessings of God. This is the promise of the Holy Spirit available to “as many as the Lord our God will call.”

Some may argue that the gift of the Holy Spirit is different than the promise of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. However, we ought to note that Acts makes these phrases synonymous. Acts 1:4 called this event “the promise of the Father.” Acts 1:5 called this event “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:33 called the same event the promise of the Holy Spirit and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (“He has poured out what you see and hear”). Acts 2:38-39 called this event the gift of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the Holy Spirit. We will now look at Acts 10 and the conversion of Cornelius to see how these terms continued to be used interchangeably. These terms are used interchangeably to help us grasp the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 10:44-48, 11:15-18

In Acts 10 we see the Holy Spirit come down upon Cornelius. Peter stated that it was the same outpouring that took place at Pentecost: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). But notice that this event is called the gift of the Holy Spirit: “All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:45). Further, in Acts 11:16, Peter ties this outpouring to the same words taught by John the Baptist in Matthew 3 and the words of Jesus in Acts 1:4-5. Finally, Peter again refers to this outpouring of the Holy Spirit as “the same gift” that was given in Acts 2 (Acts 11:17).

Peter taught that the entrance into the kingdom of God, a covenant relationship with God, and the blessings of God had been extended to the Gentiles. The Gentiles could also have forgiveness of sins and be part of God’s kingdom, just like the Jews. In Acts 2, the miracle of speaking in tongues proved the kingdom had arrived and was being offered to the people of Israel. In the same way, in Acts 10, the miracle of speaking in different languages proved the kingdom was being extended to the Gentiles. In each case, the outpouring of the Spirit was first signaled by the miraculous, after which the people were offered the blessings of the kingdom’s promise. The promise of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of the Holy Spirit were not promises to perform miracles. The miracles simply proved that the kingdom had been restored, a new covenant had been given (Jer. 31:31-34), and the blessings of God would be extended to His people, both Jews and Gentiles.

The Promise of Jesus Christ

How do we explain the miraculous gifts that we see throughout the New Testament? If the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gift of the Holy Spirit are not references to receiving miraculous gifts, why do we see disciples performing miracles? First, let us remember the purpose of the miracles in what we have analyzed thus far. The miracle at Pentecost in Acts 2 was to show the Jewish people that Christ was on the throne in heaven and the kingdom of God had been restored. In the same way, the miracle upon Cornelius’ household in Acts 10 was to show that Gentiles could also enter the kingdom of God. The miracles were proof of the arrival of the kingdom and the resurrected Christ.

But there is another work of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus while He was on the earth:

John 14:25-26. “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

John 15:26-27. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”

John 16:12-13. “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”

Not only was the work of the Holy Spirit to usher in the kingdom of God, but Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth. Paul verified this work of the Holy Spirit on the apostles:

Ephesians 3:3-5. “The mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have briefly written above. By reading this you are able to understand my insight about the mystery of the Messiah. This was not made known to people in other generations as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”

The apostles needed a way to prove that they were teaching the words of God since His word had not yet been written and widely distributed. The apostles were teaching the new covenant and the restoration of the kingdom; the miracles verified their words. But not everyone would have this ability. In Acts 8:4-13 we read about the conversion of the Samaritans. Then we are told something interesting in Acts 8:14-17:

“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Peter said in Acts 2 that anyone who repents and is baptized will have forgiveness of sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as promised by the prophets. The Samaritans were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus, but they had not received the Holy Spirit. Was Peter wrong about how the Holy Spirit was received? Not at all.

Acts 2 revealed that all classes of people would receive miraculous spiritual gifts. We can read 1 Corinthians 12-14 to know what those gifts were and how the Christians in Corinth were using them. By sending Peter and John to Samaria from Jerusalem to give these gifts, we quickly learn that only the apostles had the power to impart the gifts to others. Philip was unable to give the gifts to the Samaritans. Hence the language, “they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Luke is not denigrating baptism or what the Samaritans had done in obedience to have their sins forgiven. Rather, Luke is emphasizing the need for the apostles to bestow miraculous gifts upon the Samaritans because no other disciples could perform the task.

It should be of interest to us that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit centered on the revealing of God’s will to the world:

1 Corinthians 12:7-11. “A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial: to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another, faith by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another, the performing of miracles, to another, prophecy, to another, distinguishing between spirits, to another, different kinds of languages, to another, interpretation of languages. But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each one as He wills.”

The purpose of the miracles was to prove that the words of the speaker were truly from God. Notice the gifts of the Spirit also included “the message of wisdom,” “the message of knowledge,” “prophecy,” “distinguishing between spirits,” that is, true or false teachings (see 1 John 4:1), “speaking in different languages,” and “interpretation of languages.” These gifts center around the revelation of God’s will, which is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would guide into all truth. As we have noted, the Christians in the first century did not have the revealed will of God. The New Testament scriptures did not yet exist. The twelve apostles could not be at all of the churches at the same time. Christians in the churches needed to know the will of the Lord so they could be obedient to His laws. Therefore, the work of the apostles in conferring miraculous gifts through the laying on of their hands was necessary in the first century.

Logic would dictate that these gifts would no longer be necessary once the complete will of God had been revealed. Thus, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, “Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end.” The miraculous gifts were only necessary for revealing God’s will and validating the words of the prophets as authentic. Once the apostles died, the gifts could no longer be given. Within one generation, in the early second century, these gifts would have faded away completely. But the gifts were no longer necessary because God’s will had been completely revealed by the end of the first century. Jude tells us that the faith had been delivered to “the saints once for all” (Jude 3).

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