The Acts of the Apostles began a new epoch in the encounter of the Holy Spirit with man. In Volume I of Luke’s works the author “dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:1, 2). In Volume II he introduced the new age, the continued ministry of the glorified Lord, administered by the Holy Spirit through the followers of Christ.Luke’s opening words suggest that this second volume deals with the initial acts of the reigning Messiah. The first of these was the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:33). Jesus who had been baptized with the Spirit now baptized His followers with the Spirit. They should therefore go forth in the power of the Spirit in the same manner as Jesus had in His earthly ministry.
The initial stage was marked by action and transition. Luke first tells of Jesus’ preparation of the disciples for the coming of the Spirit. Then he shows how the glorified Anointed One certified the baptism with the Holy Spirit of Jews, Samaritans, Paul, Gentiles, and a company of disciples who knew only the baptism of John. Luke further traces the acts of the Spirit among believers. In continuing the account beyond the work of Peter and his fellow workers to that of Paul, Luke vindicates the significance of the church’s expansion under Paul. He also traces the steps in the Holy Spirit’s liberation of the church from Judaism, which was closely related to its expansion.
Thus Luke’s second volume is historical in character. As such this book stands in sharp contrast with the Epistles. The Epistles are prophetic in nature, giving the apostles’ interpretation and guidance in situations, experiences, and problems in the life of the church. It is the Epistles that we look to for the “doctrine” of the Spirit. In them the apostles give the norm, or the pattern, of the Spirit’s work in the believer. Luke, on the other hand, shows authoritatively how the Spirit, in fulfillment of predictions, came upon Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile alike. If he had had the prophetic concern of the apostles, he would have explained the apparent disparities in the sequence of believing, water baptism, and Holy Spirit baptism. He would have accounted for the lapse of time in the sequence. Luke was giving the story of the Holy Spirit’s operation during the time of transition from the old covenant to the new; he did not depict or explain the Holy Spirit’s operations after these opening stages.
It seems advantageous to examine at this point the Old Testament prophets’ foreview of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Messianic Age. This should give us a sense of direction when we proceed to study the Acts.
THE OUTPOURING OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD ACCORDING TO THE PROPHETS
Living in critical times when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were beyond salvaging, the writing prophets began to depict a new age in which God Himself would rule. He would usher in this era by setting His Anointed One, His Son, on the throne of David. It was the special burden of these prophets to depict in every way the splendor and glory of this kingdom. Next to the coming of the Son of God the manifestation of the Spirit of God would be most characteristic of the Messianic Age.
Joel, one of the first writing prophets, saw in the last days the time when God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28, 29).. This would be marked by several characteristics. First, the manner of the Spirit’s coming would be that of a pouring out of the Spirit. This metaphor becomes clear when we note that the psalmist pours out his soul (Psalm 42:4) and pours out his complaint (Psalm 142:2). God pours out His wrath (Ezek. 7:8), His indignation (Ezek. 22:31), and His fury (Ezek. 36:18). God’s pouring out His Spirit suggests the full gift of the Spirit (R. C. H. Lensli, Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Columbus: Wartburg, 1944), p. 74. See other uses of this verb in I Sam. 1:15; 7:6; Job 16:13; Psalm 42:4 (5); 142:2 (3); Ekek. 22:31; Hos. 5:10; etc.). Second, God’s Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. The all flesh stands in contrast with the few of Israel who had possessed the Spirit, such as kings, priests, prophets, and other devout individuals. The promise saw all of God’s people experiencing this gift. Third, as Peter later observed, there was in Joel 2:32 the latent idea of the Spirit’s coming upon all believers regardless of race (Acts 2:21, 36; 10:44, 45; 11:15-18). Fourth, the pouring out of the Spirit would manifest itself in prophecy, dreams, and visions. Fifth, the operation of the Spirit would lead men to call upon the name of the Lord for deliverance. Into their lives would flow all the blessings of Spirit possession. Isaiah made a similar prediction. He saw the pouring out of the Spirit from on high as taking place when “a king will reign in righteousness” (Isa. 32:1, 15). In beautiful poetic parallelism (44:3) this pouring out of His Spirit was made synonymous with the pouring out of God’s blessings. Another gracious promise centered in Him who “will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” It spoke of the coming Spirit of God as abiding with God’s people. In the solemnity of covenant promise the Lord said, “my spirit which is upon you [who had turned from transgression], and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth . . . from this time forth and for ever more” (Isa. 59:20, 21). Thus Isaiah saw the Holy Spirit’s work as the very center of the great blessings of God. These blessings would come from the Messiah. They constituted the glad tidings, the Gospel. The Spirit would constantly abide with those who would repent at the coming of the Redeemer. Finally, the pouring out of the Spirit accounted for the divine energizing during Messiah’s reign in righteousness.
While Jeremiah gave no prediction of the Spirit’s future operation, his description of the inner working of God’s new covenant presupposed a spiritual encounter of God with His people. God said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts” (Jer. 31:33).
It remained for Ezekiel to intertwine the work of the coming Spirit with the cleansing of God’s people. God would vindicate the holiness of His great name which Israel had profaned among the nations. He said, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezek. 36:25-27). This message is fundamental to this entire study. Ezekiel saw a spiritual change to be wrought in Israel. Borrowing ceremonial terminology, Ezekiel said that God would sprinkle clean water upon Israel and they would be clean from all their uncleannesses. He would effect a change of heart, graphically described as a change from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. God would put His Spirit within them. The language implied that through His Spirit God would cause Israel to walk in His statutes and observe His ordinances. In the vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:11-14). Ezekiel showed how God would cause His breath to enter the dry bones and they would live. In language of bodily resurrection, he said that God would raise Israel from their graves and bring them home into the land of Israel. “I will put my Spirit within you,” God said, “and you shall live” (Ezek. 37:14; cf/ 39:29). Of chief interest in this prophecy is spiritual revival energized by God’s Spirit. It anticipated Jesus’ words, “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). It foreshadowed Paul’s words also, “And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).
It was fitting that on the eve of His ascension Jesus should announce, “Before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). He said further, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). This was in accord with the Baptist’s prediction made at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16). That the coming upon them of the Holy Spirit should be called a baptism deserves notice. Perhaps we should gain the idea that, as literal wind coming upon one completely envelops one, so the Spirit coming upon one takes hold of his entire being. Water baptism was instituted to serve as a symbol of Holy Spirit baptism.
Coming then to the Pentecost outpouring of the Spirit, we should note the following. Foremost is the fact that all those present were filled with the Holy Spirit. Since the coming of the Spirit was described as a pouring, the receiving of the Spirit was a being filled with the Spirit. Their experience was quite identical with Christ’s. This fact furnishes a tremendous incentive for the study of the manner in which the Spirit empowered Christ for performing His prophetic, priestly, and kingly work. As He went forth in the “power of the Spirit,” so we may in like manner go forth. This experience, coming to those who were already Christ’s disciples, marks the transition from the Old Testament saints’ spiritual privileges to those under the new covenant. These disciples were saved before Pentecost and had experienced Holy Spirit blessings in the same manner as other old covenant saints. What is more, they had enjoyed the Anointed-with-the-Holy-Spirit Jesus. In accordance with Joel’s prediction they now received the larger blessing of baptism with the Holy Spirit. This being the time of transition from the old privileges to the new excludes the idea that this experience is the norm or pattern of Christian experience. That is, Pentecost did not establish an order of sequence in the respective experiences of conversion and of receiving the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Peter’s words in Acts 2:37-42 come nearer to furnishing this order of sequence. The unbelieving Jews who heard Peter’s sermon “were cut to the heart.” Peter commanded them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:38, 39). Here we see preaching which brought conviction of sin. The remedy was repentance and baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” When these conditions were fulfilled, Peter said, “You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In view of the setting of these words, this receiving of the Holy Spirit could be none other than baptism with the Holy Spirit, identical in nature with what the apostles and the company with them had just experienced. The sequence: repentance, faith, baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is the norm of Christian experience. The second fact deserving notice is that of the supernatural manifestations attending Pentecost. The physical aspects such as the sound “from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind,” the appearance to them of “tongues as of fire,” and the speaking “in other tongues,” were all sensory evidences which confirmed the miracle of their being filled with the Holy Spirit. As Dr. Machen used to say with particular reference to the virgin birth of Jesus and His resurrection, the historical record of these events is one thing and their meaning quite another. By this he meant that we establish the historicity of events by scientific historical research. When through this means an event is proved to have taken place, we are ready to interpret the event. In the case of Pentecost all the historical evidences which prove Luke to have been an accurate and trustworthy historian support the historicity of Pentecost. We are free to interpret the event accordingly. Peter’s interpretation is presumably the most accurate because he was there and experienced it.
According to Peter the manifestation of the supernatural was to give adequate outward attestation to the internal experience of being baptized with the Holy Spirit. God provided physical phenomena as outward evidence for believing in the internal spiritual experience which lay beyond sense perception.
Third, we should study Peter’s interpretation of this event. He testified that the things which happened on that day fulfilled Joel’s prophecy. The last days had come. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit was proof of this. The gift of prophecy was no longer limited, as in the Old Testament times, to certain prophets, priests, or kings. Through the outpouring of the Spirit, prophecy was found among young men and women, as well as among the old. It reached beyond official servants to all God’s people. More wonderful still, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). All-irrespective of age, rank, and race-should be baptized with the Spirit. This coming of the Spirit was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Christ and was the first work of the reigning Lord. The baptism with the Spirit is positive proof that Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:33-36).
“AFTER THE ORDER” OF PENTECOST
Four later incidents bear a close relation to Pentecost. They are the conversion experiences of the Samaritans, (Acts 8:4-17) of Paul (Acts 9:17-19); 22:13-16), of Cornelius and his companions (Acts 10:44-49; 15:15-18), and of the disciples who had been baptized with John’s baptism (Acts 19:1-7). Each of these accounts has fundamental likenesses to that of Pentecost, so much so as to indicate that they were “after the order” of Pentecost. We may therefore safely conclude that they teach the same general lesson as Pentecost. In the first incident Philip had gone to Samaria where “he preached good news about the kingdom 0� God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). Those who believed were baptized. On learning that Samaria had received the Word of God, the apostles sent Peter and John to complete the work. According to the account, these apostles “came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-17). Luke did not describe the full experience of the Samaritans. He did say that the Samaritans believed Philip, were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them. The receiving of the Spirit took place after the Samaritans had believed and were baptized. How shall we understand this incident? There would be no problem if the receiving of the Spirit had been associated with their believing.
This was the first incident of evangelism reaching beyond Jerusalem. The Gospel had leaped over national bounds to a people who in the judgment of the Jews were not the recipients of God’s covenant blessings. The following questions may have arisen: Should not the new faith in Jesus Christ be kept within national bounds? On what grounds could non-Jews be sharers in the Jerusalem-centered Pentecost? The Jewish Christians had no blueprint for church extension beyond Jewry. Their viewpoint had not arisen above the common Jewish idea of proselyting.
For the enlightenment of the Christian community in Jerusalem, including the apostles, it was necessary to certify that these Samaritans had received the Spirit just as had the Jews at Pentecost. The Christians at Jerusalem needed to learn that new groups of believers outside of the Jewish nation would also receive the Spirit. The receiving of the Spirit did not need to be conditioned by their coming to Jerusalem and establishing themselves as Jews, then as believers, and after these steps, finally becoming sharers of the Holy Spirit. The Samaritans also needed to learn that they could become sharers in the Christian Jews’ blessings without becoming Jews. On the basis of repentance and faith in Jesus they would receive ?he Spirit directly from Him who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. One link of connection with Jerusalem was essential. The apostles because of their special commission from the Lord should go to Samaria, witness the saving grace of God among the Samaritans, and be personal participants in the momentous experience of their being baptized with the Holy Spirit. In this way our Lord certified both to Christian Jews and to the new body of believers in Samaria the latter’s participation in the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit. The supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit falling upon them when the apostles laid hands on them identified their experience with that of Pentecost.
In the conversion experience of Paul the significant element for our present interest lies in the supernatural aspect of Paul’s being filled with the Holy Spirit. Ananias’ words, according to Paul’s report, were, “Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). When Ananias laid his hands on Paul, Paul received his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit. This extraordinary experience, coupled with the revelation of Jesus to Paul, served as attestation of Paul’s call to apostleship. Until then Paul had completely rejected Pentecost, but the nature of this experience served to convince him of Pentecost’s reality. It is splitting hairs to make a difference between Paul’s conversion on the way to Damascus and his experience of receiving the Spirit three days later. There was need for adequate certification both tQ Paul and the disciples that Paul had experienced the like blessing of Pentecost. Paul’s own rehearsal of his conversion in Acts 26 blended the two, and neither of the accounts in Acts 22 or 26 even mentioned the Holy Spirit filling. Neither Paul nor Luke gave any evidence of a “second blessing.”
The conversion experience of Cornelius bore great similarity in nature and meaning to that of the Samaritans. One point Peter made clear to Cornelius was “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.” (Acts 10:38). The supernaturalism of the incident lay in the Holy Spirit falling upon those who heard the Word, and speaking with tongues was evidence of the inner miracle. The Gospel had now leaped over racial as well as national bounds. Confirmation was needed for Peter, for the Jerusalem church, and for Cornelius himself that he and his company, all Gentiles, had experienced baptism with the Holy Spirit in identically the same way as the apostles and their company had at Pentecost.
Peter soon had to face the “circumcision party” in Jerusalem. In utter simplicity Peter told his story and concluded, “‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?’ When they heard this’ they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life'” (Acts 11:15-18). It was now made clear to all that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was for Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. The coming of the Spirit upon Cornelius is described with five forms of expression. They are: “the Holy Spirit fell on all,” “the Holy Spirit had been poured out,” “people who have received the Holy Spirit,” “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and “gave the same gift to them.” (Acts 10:44, 45, 47; 11:15-17). We may conclude from this that these expressions are synonymous. The record of the whole incident closes with a note of joy in view of the universal intent of Pentecost, “They glorified God” (Acts 11:16).
The fourth incident has to do with the experience of the disciples who had been baptized with John’s baptism. The disciples were evidently Jews. As such they were living under the Old Testament privileges of God’s people. They had repented at John’s preaching and believed in Jesus whose coming John had announced. They belonged to this period of transition from Old Testament religious experience to New Testament Christian experience. On hearing Paul’s explanation of the meaning of John’s baptism, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:5, 6). The speaking with tongues and prophesying served to confirm to these disciples that their experience of being baptized with the Holy Spirit was identical with that of the other believers at Pentecost.
In these four incidents our Lord gave adequate vindication to the growing church that “By [with] one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (I Cor. 12:15). Paul also wrote, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). At every strategic point in apostolic history our Lord gave miraculous attestation to this one grand unity. The speaking of tongues was limited to these incidents unless we regard the gift of tongues at Corinth (I Cor. 14) as identical with these manifestations. Whatever the tongues gift at Corinth may mean, the purpose of the speaking with tongues in these incidents was not changed.
SOME ACTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The limitations of this study prohibit our giving notice to the numerous acts of the Holy Spirit recorded by Luke. Coming nearest within range of the subject are about a dozen references to Spirit filling (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:3, 5, 8; 7:55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9, 52). This expression was commonly used of those who had been baptized with the Spirit and were being empowered by a special filling of the Spirit for some special task or responsibility. Thus when Peter was questioned “By what power or by what name” he had healed the crippled man, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” to enable him to give a fitting reply. An outstanding qualification of men, such as the seven, chosen for special service was that they should be full of the Spirit. No case of repeated baptisms with the Holy Spirit is recorded.
The graces or virtues of those who were full of the Holy Spirit are worthy of observation. They were men of good report, full of wisdom, full of faith, and full of grace and power. Of Barnabas, it is said that he was a good man. These expressions give simple witness to the inner lives of the men who were full of the Holy Spirit.
Antagonism to the work of the Holy Spirit showed itself in grievous sinful acts. Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). He had contrived the deed in his heart, and by his act tempted the Spirit of the Lord. Jews who did not believe Stephen’s testimony found themselves unable to “withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke” (Acts 6:10). Their antagonism showed them to be a “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51). They were always resisting the Holy Spirit. Stephen’s boldness enraged them so that they ground their teeth against him.