By Edwin Palmer
The Holy Spirit Is a Person
One of the distinguishing marks of a Christian is his belief in the Holy Spirit as a Person. From the early days of the church to present-day Modernism, there have been those who have denied the personality of the Spirit in one form or another. Many so-called Christian preachers and theologians refer to the Spirit as an “it,” and not as a “he.” They consider him to be an impersonal influence or power or energy, and not the third Person of the Trinity. Such a view would rob us of some of the great blessings of our salvation. Furthermore, it is not Biblical.
In several ways the Bible reveals to us that the Spirit is a Person. First of all, it attributes to him a mind, will, and emotions, which are exclusively characteristics of a person. Impersonal objects do not have these qualities, but the Spirit of God does. Paul presupposes that the Spirit has a mind when he writes that “the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 2:10, 11). Here Paul ascribes to the Holy Spirit knowledge, which an influence or a power does not have, but a person does. The Bible also pictures the Spirit as possessing the personal quality of a will. We read that when Paul, Silas, and Timothy wanted to go to Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (Acts 16:7). And in I Corinthians 12:11 Paul tells us that the Spirit gives many gifts to Christians, “just as he determines.” As far as emotions are concerned, Ephesians 4:30 assumes that the Spirit can have grief, for it commands us, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”
A second way in which the Bible reveals that the Spirit is a Person is by placing him in juxtaposition with other persons. For instance, we know that the Father and Son are Persons, and so when Jesus speaks of baptizing disciples “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), he indicates thereby that the Holy Spirit is a Person, too, just as the Father and the Son are. James, in authorizing certain instructions to the early church, wrote, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements” (Acts 15:28). He very clearly considers the Holy Spirit a Person capable of the same thoughts and ideas as he and the apostles had.
Furthermore, it would be a meaningless redundancy to say that Jesus returned from the wilderness “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) if the Spirit were simply an impersonal power. Read the phrase again, substituting the word power for Spirit.
How thankful we must be that the Spirit is a Person! For it is just because he is a Person that he can convict us of sin and thereby lead us to God, dwell within us and give us power over sin, inspire the Bible and illuminate our minds so that we can understand it, guide us so that we know what the will of God is for us, lead us in prayer, and call ministers, elders, and deacons as office-bearers of the church.
Just because the Holy Spirit is a Person we may also react unfavorably toward him. We may resist, grieve, despise, and blaspheme him. This is displeasing to him, and it will surely work harm for ourselves. May we never deny the personality of the Spirit, but believe in him and experience the blessings that can come to us because of this fact.
The Holy Spirit Is a Divine Person
Some have believed that the Holy Spirit is a Person, but they have considered him to be a created personality, and not God himself. They have realized that the Spirit is not an impersonal “it,” but they have considered him to be inferior to the Father. The Bible, however, attributes to the Holy Spirit not only personal characteristics, but also divine qualities. These divine attributes mark the Holy Spirit as being God.
According to the Scriptures, the Spirit of God is omnipotent, for he has his role in creation (Gen. 1:2), in providence (Ps. 104:30), in the supernatural conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35), in regeneration, and in the equipping of each Christian with spiritual gifts.
He is also omniscient, as Isaiah intimates when he asks: “Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counselor has taught him? With whom did he take counsel, and who instructed him and taught him in the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (40:13, 14). Paul would have us believe the same thing when he writes that “the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:10).
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit may be characterized as being omnipresent. The psalmist eloquently asks: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Ps. 139:7). He says that he can never escape the Spirit’s presence, not even if he ascends to heaven, or descends to Sheol, or flees to the seas, or hides in the blackness of the night. The Spirit is everywhere. In the New Testament we read that the Spirit dwells in believers, and the great number of Christians does not hinder him from being present in each one.
Hebrews 9:14 tells us that Christ “through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God” thus ascribing to the Holy Spirit the divine quality of eternity.
Another proof of the deity of the Spirit is to be found, in the fact that both the Old and New Testaments at times interchange the phrase “the Spirit said” and the phrase “the LORD said.”
Lastly, the mere coupling of the name of the Holy Spirit with the names of the Father and the Son, as in the great commission (Matt. 28:19) or in the apostolic benediction (II Cor. 13:14), shows that the Spirit is put on the same level as, the other two Persons and, therefore, is considered to be divine. It would be most incongruous to couple the name of a created being with that of the Godhead in such tightly knit expressions.
The fact of the deity of the Holy Spirit is important for us. If he were not God, he could not perform his beautiful work in creation, nor his authoritative work in inspiration, nor his illuminating work in men’s minds. Neither could he have overcome our depravity to regenerate, indwell, and sanctify us. We may well be grateful that he is not a finite being but a divine Person.
The Holy Spirit Is a Divine Person Distinct from the Father and the Son
In the history of the church there have been those who have believed in the personality of the Holy Spirit and in his deity, but who have so stressed the unity of the Trinity that they have denied that there were three distinct Persons in the Godhead. There were those in the third’ century who pictured God as appearing in creation as the Father, later on in history as the Son, and finally making his appearance as the Holy Spirit. According to their views there were not simultaneously three Persons in the Godhead. But the one Godhead was called the Father at one time, the Son at another, and the Spirit at a third time. Or the Father first changed into the Son, and later into the Holy Spirit.
These theories, too, are a departure from the revelation of Scripture. Certain Biblical texts are clear in pointing out that there are three distinct Persons and not merely different manifestations of the same God. When Jesus was baptized, for example, the voice of the Father sounded from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased.” At the same time, the Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. The simultaneous appearance of these three Persons makes it impossible to interpret the Godhead simply as a unity. The same may be said of Jesus’ statement, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor” (John 14:16). Similarly, Acts 2:33 draws a clear distinction among three Persons of the Godhead: “Exalted to the right hand of God, he [i.e., Christ] has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit.”
It is a definite blessing to have a God that is not just one Person but three. It makes a rich Trinity. For not only is there a Father who loves us and cares for us, but also a Christ who obtained our salvation and intercedes for us and a Holy Spirit who dwells within us and applies salvation to our lives.
The Holy Spirit Proceeds from the Father and the Son
There is among the three Persons of the Trinity a definite relationship and order. Because the three Persons are equally God, it must not be thought that they are all the same. Each one has distinctive properties and relationships to the others. Between the first and the second Persons, for example, there is the relationship of Father and Son. From all eternity the Father begat the Son. The Holy Spirit did not beget the Son, only the Father did.
In a similar fashion, there is an unchangeable relationship between the Holy Spirit and the other Persons of the Godhead: the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. It is difficult to describe what is meant by the procession of the Spirit of God; we can do little more than repeat the words of Scripture, since the Scriptures do not explain this term. But it is remarkable that the Bible does not say that the Holy Spirit was begotten by the Father, as was Christ, nor that he was begotten by Christ. If that were true, then, as the Church Fathers intimated, the Spirit would have been either a brother to Christ or a grandson to the Father. But the Bible carefully avoids the term begotten in relation to the Holy Spirit. As the Athanasian Creed correctly puts it, he was “neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.” This word proceed is used by Jesus in John 15:26, where he says, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me.”
The name of the Spirit also gives another hint as to this intra-trinitarian relationship. For as the name Father shows his relationship to the Son, and the name Son describes his relationship to the Father, so also the name Spirit points to the relationship of the Spirit to the other two Persons: it is one in which he is spirated or breathed, for that is the very meaning of the name Spirit.
It must be remembered, however, that although the Spirit proceeds from or is spirated by the Father and the Son, he is still full God. His procession does not mean that he is inferior to the Father or the Son, any more than the generation of the Son means that he is not on an equality with the Father. The secret lies in the fact that the Spirit was eternally spirated, just as the Son was eternally begotten. There never was a time when the Spirit was not being spirated. He was eternally coexistent with the Father and the Son. To say that he proceeded from or was breathed out by the Father and the Son does not imply that he is less God, but it only indicates the relation that he eternally sustains to the other two Persons of the Trinity.
It should also be noted that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, and not only from the Father. That he proceeds from the Father is obvious from John 15:26, but it is not so clear that he also proceeds from the Son. Yet this may be deduced from those passages that tell us that Jesus sends out the Spirit into the world and breathes him onto the disciples (John 15:16; 16:7; 20:22). For the temporal spiration implies an eternal spiration. It reflects a certain authority that the Son has even in the intra-trinitarian relationships. Moreover, the Spirit is not only called the “Spirit of the Father,” but also the “Spirit of the Son” (Gal. 4:6), the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9), and the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19).
This relationship of the Spirit to the other two Persons explains why the Holy Spirit is considered the third Person of the Trinity and not the first or second. The Father is first because he begets the Son. The Son is the second Person because he is begotten. The Holy Spirit is third because he proceeds from both the Father and the Son.
It is remarkable that this same order of the Trinity is revealed in history, so that it is not until after the first two Persons have appeared in the foreground in succession that the Holy Spirit comes into prominence. From the time of creation to the time of Christ, it was the Father who was more prominent in the world. He was the one who received the chief glory in creation and with whom Israel in the Old Testament dealt chiefly. When Christ came, the Father did not appear as conspicuously, the Holy Spirit had not yet appeared in his fullness, and Christ played a more prominent role. After the incarnation, however, Christ ascended into heaven, and the third Person of the Trinity appeared on the scene more than the others. Thus, because the three Persons have a definite order in the Trinity, that order reveals itself in history, so that each Person appears in history in the same order as he is found in the Trinity itself.
It may also be observed that it was exactly because the Holy Spirit is breathed out by the Father and the Son in the Trinity that it was the Holy Spirit, and not the Father or the Son, who was breathed out on the church at Pentecost. This corresponds to the fact that because the second Person of the Trinity is a Son in the Trinity, he should be the incarnate Son on earth. Similarly, because the first Person of the Trinity is the Father in the Trinity, he is also the Father of believers.
These then are some of the aspects of the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other two Persons of the Trinity. Although we do not understand very much about this relationship, we should not ignore what the Spirit has revealed but, on the contrary, should rejoice that he has guided his church into a definition of himself and his relationship to the other two Persons, however limited the definition may be. For all of his revelation has a purpose and is not to be disregarded.
As far as the practical results of the doctrine of the spiration of the Spirit of God are concerned, they have been far-reaching. In the year 1054 Christendom was split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Although there were many underlying factors, a stone of stumbling was that the Eastern Christians believed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, whereas the Western churches confessed with the Council of Toledo (589) that the Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son” (filioque; that is, and from the son, the term that symbolized the difference). As a result of these differences, the East separated from the West and today the Eastern church has a membership of over 160 million. Thus this doctrine does have enormous practical effects, and if it had not been formulated by the Church Fathers fifteen hundred years ago, it could be a burning issue today, affecting our church lives. Therefore, we must be grateful for the knowledge that the Holy Spirit has given us on this matter.
Moreover, as Abraham Kuyper has incisively pointed out, a denial of the filioque leads to an unhealthy mysticism. It tends to isolate the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives from the work of Jesus. Redemption by Christ is put in the background, while the sanctifying work of the Spirit is brought to the fore. The emphasis is more and more on the work of the Spirit in our lives, which tends to lead to an independence from Christ, the church, and the Bible. Sanctification can loom larger than justification, the subjective communion with the Spirit larger than the objective church life, and illumination by the Spirit larger than the Word. Kuyper believes that this has actually been the case to some extent in the Eastern church, as a result of the denial that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father.
Thus, we see that the lengthy theological deliberations that take place at church councils and synods do at times have a great influence. Their decisions seep down from the top to the rank and file, even though the debates do run the risk of being charged with quibbling. We must be grateful for the precious revelation that the Holy Spirit has given of his place in the Trinity, but we should not be satisfied with mere intellectual knowledge. Rather, building upon that, we must strive to know experientially the Spirit and his workings.
Edwin H. Palmer is an astute theologian and scholar as well as a master teacher and pastor. Since 1968 he had been directly involved in the preparation of the New International Version of the Holy Bible, serving as Executive Secretary, which was completed in 1979. Mr. Palmer was called home to be with His Savior and God in 1980. We are indebted for his service to the church and God’s glory.
Article from monergism.com and thehighway.com
The Holy Spirit as Seal and Pledge
The figure of a roaring lion stretches across the little jasper seal. In ancient Hebrew letters it bears the inscription, “Belonging to Shema, servant of Jeroboam.” Recovered from the biblical site of Megiddo, the stamp seal was once the property of an official of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, 785–743 B.C. (2 Kings 14:23– 29). Shema may have been proud of his lion-seal, but for him it was not a decorative gemstone. Rather, he put it to daily use. Pressed on clay or wax it marked his ownership and authority. Wine jars, stoppered with fresh clay, would bear the stamp of his seal. He could seal a deed of purchase or a marriage contract; his stamp could serve as his signature.
Seals and sealing are often spoken of in the Old Testament: Queen Jezebel used Ahab’s seal to order a conspiracy against the life of Naboth (1 Kings 21:8); Queen Esther delivered the Jews when she was permitted to prepare a royal decree and seal it with the king’s ring—“for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked” (Esther 8:8).
The apostle Paul grasped this image to describe the sealing of the Lord: “Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13b–14).
God’s seal is not, like the great seal of the United States, an emblem to be impressed on paper. God’s seal is His Holy Spirit, who is God Himself present with His people. To be sure, God has given us also outward signs and seals of His ownership. In baptism God seals us by giving us His name; in the Lord’s Supper we have the spiritual seal of His presence in the sacrament. Even these seals have a power beyond the outward sign: the reality of God’s presence provides the blessing. But God gives a seal that is even more than these gifts of blessing. His final seal is the gift of Himself.
By sealing us in person, God both claims us and gives us claim on Him. The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost to possess the new people of God; at the same time, He gave Himself to be their possession, their inheritance.
The Spirit Is God’s Seal
We belong to God because He created us: “It is He who made us, and we are His” (Psalm 100:3). The coin stamped with Caesar’s image could be claimed by Caesar; stamped with God’s image, we belong to Him. But there is more, much more. As rebels we exploited the very glory of the image God stamped on us. Through Adam’s sin, God’s image-bearers became His enemies. Had God, then, lost His possession? No, for God has bought back His people for Himself through Christ: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7).
Here is the incredible mystery that Paul celebrates in Ephesians. God not only defeats our rebellion to claim us again as His; He draws us even closer to Himself than His creation could make us. We are brought closer than Adam, for we are united to Jesus Christ, God’s own Son. We who were far off in sin are brought near, nearer than the cherubim beside the throne, as near as God’s Son, our Savior.
God had planned it that way from the beginning. He chose us in Christ before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). God’s people are God’s treasure (Exodus 19:5). God gave Israel an inheritance, but He took Israel as His inheritance: “The Lord’s portion is His people” (Deuteronomy 4:20; 32:9). How does the Lord mark us as His possession in Christ? By the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. We dare not underrate the meaning of the coming of the Spirit, as though after the Ascension the church had lost Jesus. Jesus said that He would not leave us orphans, but would come to us (John 14:18). He breathed His Spirit on the disciples after the Resurrection; He came in His Spirit from the throne of glory at Pentecost. Yes, Jesus will come again, when every eye will see Him, but we are not now bereft of our Lord. He told us that it was better that He should go away so that the Spirit might come (John 16:7), not because the Spirit is better than He, but because by the Spirit both the Son and the Father are also present in our hearts. In Ephesians, Paul speaks of the filling of the Spirit, the filling of Christ, and the filling of God (Ephesians 5:18; 1:23; 4:13; 3:19). These are not distinct acts of filling. To be full of the Spirit is to be full of Jesus, to be filled with all the fullness of God.
When we think of seals, we may picture the seal on a bottle of Tylenol. The elaborate sealing developed for that and similar products came after the deadly results of criminal tampering with the contents. God’s sealing also protects against tampering. The Spirit is our shield and guardian. The Lord knows and keeps those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19; John 10:27–28). God’s people are sealed with the living God (Revelation 7:2, 4; 9:4). The Spirit as our seal keeps us personally, not mechanically. He keeps us for our inheritance by keeping us believing (1 Peter 1:5–7). We may grieve the Spirit of God by whom we are kept till the day of redemption, and the Spirit may chastise us; He will certainly prove our faith through fiery trials, but always with the purpose of presenting us at last to God.
The Spirit Is Our Seal
By being present in the Spirit, God not only claims us for Himself, He also gives us claim on Him. The Spirit certifies His promise, His pledge to us. Indeed, the Spirit is God’s keeping of His promise. God’s deed of purchase is sealed to the day of redemption, not merely by an outward sign (as circumcision was a seal of Abraham’s faith [Romans 4:11]) but by the keeping of the “promise of the Father” as Jesus said (Acts 2:22, 33). The coming of the Spirit is the blessing promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:14). Paul therefore speaks of the Spirit as God’s “down payment” on full and final salvation.
If your credit is good, a car salesman may be happy to arrange a loan to fund your purchase. But you may be sure that he will also demand a down payment. The down payment is in the currency of the final payment; some of that final payout is made up front. That is the picture Paul gives. Heaven itself offers no blessing greater than that of personal fellowship with the Lord. That is precisely the blessing now brought to the church, to you, by the presence of the Lord, the Spirit. In our union with Christ we are “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The Old Testament tabernacle was filled with the cloud of God’s glory; the New Testament tabernacle is first the physical body of Jesus Christ, who was filled with the Spirit, and now is also the body of Christ, His church, which the Spirit fills with Jesus. God’s down payment is the glory of the Lord begun here below.
Because God gives us the seal of His presence in the Spirit of His Son, we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6). We use the very word our Savior used, for we have received the claim of Christ’s Sonship. In death we are given the Spirit of life; in error, the Spirit of truth; in corruption, the Spirit of glory.
In giving us the deposit of Himself, God gives us the assurance of His love. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5). The love that God has for us is the love that He showed when we were His enemies and Christ died for us. Who, then, shall separate us from the love of Christ? The seal of love is on His heart of grace and His arm of power, love that is stronger than death (Song of Songs 8:6).
The above article from Ligonier.org
The Holy Spirit, Jesus and the Day of Pentecost
By Peter Coker
After Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead, He presented Himself to His disciples for a period of forty days. During this period, He spoke to the disciples about things pertaining to the kingdom of God. At the end of the forty days, on the day He ascended into heaven, He assembled with the apostles and commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father. When the Promise of the Father came, they were going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and given supernatural power to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem and to the whole world. This was the coming of the Day of Pentecost, the day that Christ sent the Holy Spirit (a.k.a., Helper, Comforter, Spirit of Truth) to His people.
Pentecost is derived from the Greek and means fifty. The Day of Pentecost in the Old Testament was fifty days from the end of Passover to the Feast of Pentecost. In the New Testament [Book of Acts] this meant that the Promise (gift of the Holy Spirit) was to come fifty days after the resurrection of Christ. Since He appeared and fellowshipped with the disciples for forty days after His resurrection, the day of Pentecost was ten days (not many days) after His ascension.
The New Testament Day of Pentecost also coincides with the Hebrew Feast of Pentecost in the Old Testament and is also called: the Feast of Weeks, Feast of Harvest, and the Day of the First Fruits. The Feast of Pentecost (Sivan, June) was a one day event that occurred seven weeks after the Passover (Nisan, April) and is also known as one of three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacle). The Feast of Pentecost signified the introduction of the harvest season.
With the Passover, unleavened bread was eaten, but with the Day of Pentecost the bread was to be leavened, acknowledging God’s blessings and goodness. The New Testament Pentecost was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and a reminder that the joy of the harvest season (God’s blessings to man) not only celebrated God’s blessings but also included the responsibility of charity towards the poor (Man’s blessings to his fellow man). The Feast of Pentecost was celebrated on the first day of the week, confirming the Christian Sabbath, and serving as a memorial for the resurrection of Christ and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Invisible Return?
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
Prior to His crucifixion, Christ taught the disciples about how the unified interaction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would relate to believers. Jesus also explained how He would return to them, through the Holy Spirit. In speaking to Philip (see John Chap. 14: 8-21) Jesus said that the world would no longer see Him, but, the disciples would see Him:
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever (v.16), even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you (v.17)…A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me (v.19)…”
Then Judas (not Iscariot, but the son of James) said to Jesus, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” And Jesus replied:
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love Him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him (v.23). He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me (v. 24)…These things I have spoken to you while being present with you (v.25). 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 things that I said to you (v.26)…You have heard Me say to you,’ I am going away and coming back to you.’(v.28a)…And now I have told you before it comes, that when it comes to pass, you may believe (v. 29).
Again, in John chapter 16, Jesus told His disciples that in “a little while” He would come again and manifest Himself to them by sending the Holy Spirit:
“Nevertheless, I will tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (Jn. 16: 7)… “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore, I said that He takes of Mine, and will declare it to you” (Jn. 16: 14-15).
Jesus taught these things to the disciples prior to going to the cross. He told them these things before His death and resurrection so that when these things happened, they would remember and truly believe what He was telling them.
After Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, he appeared to the disciples for forty days speaking about the kingdom of God. He told them they were going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit: “For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Jesus; Acts: 1: 5) The disciples then asked Jesus if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel at this time. Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1: 7). Then Jesus spoke His last words before ascending into the clouds:
“All power and authority in heaven and earth has been delegated to me (Matt: 28: 18). And listen, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you, but you remain in the city of Jerusalem until you be clothed and imbued with the power from on high (Luke 24:49). But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). “You shall go therefore teaching and making disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28: 19-20). He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; and he who disbelieves shall be condemned. And these things shall follow after those who believe: in My name they shall cast out demons; they shall speak in new languages; and in their hands they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover” (Mark: 16: 16-18). Amen.
After Jesus had spoken these words He led the apostles out as far as Bethany. And after lifting His hands He blessed them. As He was blessing them, while the disciples were still looking on, He ascended to heaven from Mt. Olivet and was received into a cloud. After worshipping Jesus, the disciples returned to Jerusalem as Christ had instructed them to do (Luke 24: 52). And everywhere they went, they preached and the Lord was working with them, confirming the word with signs and miracles following them. They returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.
When they returned to Jerusalem, they gathered together and proposed to replace the office previously held by Judas Iscariot. The disciples determined that the office held by Judas Iscariot was to be given to another from among them, in accordance with Psalm 109: 8. The disciples proposed two candidates: Joseph (a.k.a., Barsabas, surnamed Justus) and Matthias. The disciples then prayed and asked for God’s guidance. The disciples cast their lots and the lot fell on Matthias. Matthias was then numbered with the other eleven apostles and appointed to the office previously held by Judas Iscariot.
The Day of Pentecost
On the Day of Pentecost the disciples, the women, the brothers of Jesus, and Mary (Jesus’ mother) were all gathered together in a house in Jerusalem. Then, suddenly, the sound of a mighty rushing wind filled the house and there appeared to them divided ‘tongues as of fire,’ distributed and resting on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues (note: all, indicates Jesus mother Mary spoke in tongues as well). When the disciples began speaking in tongues, others in the city heard them speaking of the wonderful works of God in their native languages. Not understanding what was going on, the people were both amazed and perplexed. Some even thought they might be drunk. But, the Apostle Peter stood-up and proclaimed; “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Peter quoting Joel 2: 28-32, said this:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams,
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out my Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy.
I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood,
before the coming of the great and notable Day of the Lord.
And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2: 17- 21; Joel 2: 28-32)
Joel’s prophecy describes how God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh, Jews and Gentiles alike. The Apostle Peter also quoted Psalm 16: 8-11, where David spoke of God, saying: “…my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad…my flesh will also rest in hope…” Peter told the multitude that David as a prophet understood that God would raise-up the Christ and that he foresaw the resurrection, as he said; “the Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” (Ps. 68: 18, 110: 1)
Peter then called on the multitude to repent and be baptized in Jesus name and they too would receive the Promise, the gift of the Holy Spirit. That day, three-thousand (3,000) repented and were baptized.
John the Baptist had previously proclaimed: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt. 3: 11). The pouring out of God’s Spirit by Christ Jesus was in accordance with Old Testament scripture prophecies; Isaiah 32: 15, 44: 3, and Joel 2: 28.
The Sign of Tongues
“For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12: 37)
Joel’s prophecy shows that the sign of tongues demonstrates the spreading of the gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike. This was reconfirmed later through the vision of the “great sheet” with the Apostle Peter while he was praying in the city of Joppa (Acts Chap. 10 & 11). In his vision, the Lord showed Peter a “great sheet” coming down and descending to earth. The sheet was full of unclean and common animals. The Lord instructed Peter to kill and eat the animals. Peter initially said no, as they were unclean and common animals. God repeated this vision to Peter three times before the “great sheet” rose to heaven. Peter was perplexed and wondered about the meaning of what he had seen. God then showed Peter that he was not to call any man common or unclean; Jesus was Lord of all, Jew and Gentile alike. This was a revelation of the New Covenant, the revelation of the mystery of the church; that Gentiles are fellow heirs of the same spiritual body; that is, partakers of Christ’s body.
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also being built for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2: 19-22)
“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of existence; and it is set on fire by Gehenna (Hell)… But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison…Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3: 6, 8, 9, 10)
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver who is able to save and destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4: 11, 12)
The scriptures in the Book of James (above) also teach that the tongue’s natural use defiles men (Ps. 31: 20; 34: 13; 39: 1). The Holy Spirit changes this natural course by changing the heart of man and changing his speech. Those endowed with the Holy Spirit begin to have a new Spirit influenced language, a language which does not defile a man, but instead unifies fellow believers to one another. This means that believers, of the one body, filled with the Holy Spirit, walk in a spirit of brotherhood and unity with one another by honoring the commandments of God; and not the traditions or commandments of men. Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites for teaching false doctrines that transgress the commandments of God:
“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”…, Then Jesus said, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matt. 15: 7-11)
When the disciples informed Jesus that the Pharisees were offended at what He said to them, Christ said, “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind.”
The Last Days
Joel’s prophecy also describes “the last days,” and the “great and terrible day of the Lord,” in which Jerusalem would endure “great tribulation.” The Day of Pentecost and the destruction of Jerusalem, thus signaled: the birth of the New Covenant Age in Christ, the Age of the Gentiles; and the death of the Old Covenant system with the destruction of the Jewish Temple.
The Jewish Temple was destroyed when Jerusalem fell to the Roman armies in A.D. 70. The destruction of the Jewish Temple completed the break between the Old Covenant Temple and the New Covenant Church, the body of Christ. Jesus spoke of the temple of His body, which He raised after three days. In Christ, the individual believer and the Church (the one and the many) are considered a spiritual temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit; members of the mystical body of Christ.
The Spirit’s Influence
In Old Covenant Israel, the sanctuary was God’s throne room. When the civil government was established, God communicated through the seventy elders of the people and poured out His Spirit upon them. Initially, the first Pentecost was a civil Pentecost with the ordination of the civil authorities (Num. 11: 16-17; 24-30). Moses, as a model or representative of the future Christ, was the mediator of the gift of the Spirit.
Likewise, the anointing of Saul in First Samuel was also a civil Pentecost. The offices of civil magistrates are [biblically] considered to be prophetic offices, in that civil officers are to speak for God, insofar as [they] observe, study, obey, and enforce the law of God. According to the law of God, for civil authorities or the State to operate as an autonomous entity, independent of God, is to operate as a false prophet and to be profane. Since the Spirit of God is a sovereign free spirit, He is not restricted to operating in any particular sphere of life, religious or civil.
Union in Christ is a living relationship with divine power within believers. By faith believers are made alive in Christ through a divine relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit comes upon all who put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and life. Christians are thus identified with Christ as members of His mystical body. Union with Christ also manifests the unity of Christ’s body; Jews and Gentiles alike are unified through the Holy Spirit, in Christ. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” There is no partiality in Christ, no racial partiality, and no partiality between rich and poor, all are of one unified body.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a universal experience for all believers and not a special experience for a select few. A ‘body of believers’ who claims a special experience, a special knowledge, or a special spirituality are by definition a sect in the manner of the [Gnostics]. All who put their faith in Christ are grafted into God’s family and divinely “sealed” by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). Faithful believers are united in Christ in salvation, and filled with the Holy Spirit as the experience of God’s grace.
“For He is like a refiners fire and like launderers soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver;” (Mal. 3: 2-3)
“I came to send fire on the earth, and now I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” (Jesus; from Luke 12: 49-51)
The gospel message and the outpouring of the Spirit are memorialized in fire, just as the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai was given in fire. The baptism of fire by the Spirit, in its function, signifies a refining quality, as with purifying silver or gold. Fire represents the breaking down and separating of any impurities as with the purifying process.
The Apostle Paul said in 1Corinthians chapter 3; “…each one’s work will be manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”
In addition, the sign of fire also describes the divisive nature of the gospel message. Faith in Christ creates a divisive spirit; the supernatural against the natural world (the unbelieving world). Christ Himself taught this when He proclaimed in Luke 12: 51 that He came to bring division, not peace. As Christ also stated in John 15: 18, 19: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” In spite of the division with the unbelieving world, God’s gospel message is designed to spread, grow and conquer the natural world.
…As the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff…Because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 5:24)
The anger of the Lord was kindled against those who would not walk in God’s ways. Was it not the Lord whose ways they would not walk? Is it not the Lord whose laws they would not obey? So, according to Isaiah in chapter five the stubble represents those who reject the law of God and despise the word of Christ Jesus. Isaiah chapter forty-two says as a result, God, poured out the heat of His anger…it set Him on fire…it burned Him up! The purpose here is the destruction of unbelief through the propagation and spread of the gospel message.
To believers, those in Christ, God says: “…when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43: 26)
Describing the wicked, God says: …the light of the wicked is put out, and the flame of his fire does not shine. (Job 18: 5) [The wicked] are the rebellious ones, those unwilling to hear God’s instructions, who do not want their eyes opened, who do not want to hear what is right, who speak smooth and convincingly about false prophecy, who turn aside from the truth, who do not want to hear of Jesus, who advocate and trust in oppression (oppression of God’s people) and perverseness. (Is. 30: 9-12)
Deuteronomy says that God is as a consuming fire who desires to purge evil from the midst of His people.
In Jeremiah chapter 23 it says, “…is not My word like fire,” declares the Lord. So, the sign of tongues indicates the essence of the gospel message and speaking that message is likened to fire, and its results are indeed, analogous.
Regarding the preaching of the gospel, Rousas John Rushdoony summed it up nicely:
“The essence of true preaching is this; that we proclaim the Spirit-given word to men in the confidence that He who gave the word will give the hearing; so, to preach means that we have no confidence in our power, and all confidence in the Holy Ghost.”
The “cloven” or divided tongues of fire that sat upon each of them are likely representative of the various gifts of the Spirit that God distributes to each believer for the building and strengthening of the church. The constant burning flame reflects the constant indwelling of the Holy Spirit to individual believers and to the church as a whole. In general, the purpose of the Holy Spirit in believers as described by Jesus in the Apostle Luke’s account (in Acts 1: 8) is that:
“… You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in all Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Jesus as mediator of the New Covenant sent the Holy Spirit as the universal blessing to all who call upon his name and place their faith in Him. Water baptism proclaims and signifies the inner experience of Spirit-baptism and believers are commanded to take part in submitting to water baptism as an outward expression of the inner grace experience of Spirit-baptism.
The Spirit’s influence is not limited to a specific sphere of life, but is inclusive of all of life; the spiritual affecting the material, the religious influencing the civil.
Christ aims to conquer the world with His gospel message, through the divine-power of the Holy Spirit. He has chosen and empowered the faithful to carry out His conquering gospel throughout the world, from generation to generation. The Book of Acts describes the beginnings of the church under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It demonstrates the new boldness of the disciples to proclaim the good news of the gospel message. It also describes the church confronted by opposition and ultimately overcoming and converting many. The Book of Acts says the believers in the New Covenant church adhered to the Apostles doctrine and fellowship, “…continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house…and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
The essence of the Day of Pentecost is that Christ comes to believers through the Holy Spirit in order to empower believers to proclaim the gospel to the world, and to walk in God’s ways. As stated in the Great Commission, to disciple people and nations to walk in the ways of Christ Jesus; “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.”
The defeat of Satan’s dominion was proclaimed at the cross. The will of God is that believers love and honor God by submitting to God’s ways and by proceeding with the gospel message to disciple the world with the commandments of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit sent by Jesus on the Day of Pentecost transformed a small group of faithful believers into a thriving, Spirit empowered church, progressively moving forward towards fulfilling the Great Commission. The power of the gospel and Holy Spirit has transformed civilizations throughout the history of Christ’s church and continues to do so today.
Christ’s death and resurrection broke the ancient, politico-magical worldview and philosophy and began turning it towards a Christ inspired worldview philosophy. The Christian worldview, since its beginnings, has transformed the way mankind thinks about the totality of his environment — both spiritual and material — and how mankind lives out a transformed life. The transformation continues. The mystical church has grown and continues to grow phenomenally throughout the world as the Holy Spirit changes the hearts and lives of converts. Although the church struggles within itself and contends with the unbelieving world, the Spirit of God is daily transforming His church, incrementally subduing the world through the gospel to the cause of Christ.
Note: I have left out of this discussion, the practice of “tongues” as it relates to the church assembly. The practice of “tongues” as it relates to the church assembly, is, as I see it, a separate discussion from its designation as a “sign” in the Day of Pentecost narrative.