According to Barclay, it is possibly unfortunate that people so often talk of the events at the day of Pentecost as the coming of the Holy Spirit; they may think that the Holy Spirit came about at that time1. However, this is not actually the case because it is indicated that God is internally the Father, the Son aand the Holy Spirit.
This is made clear in the book of Acts. In Acts chapter one and verse sixteen, it is pointed out that the Holy Spirit was speaking in David. It is also pointed out that the Spirit spoke in prophet Isaiah (Acts 28: 25). Moreover, Stephen makes accusations against the Jewish of having worked against the Spirit through their history (Acts 7:51).Basing on these, the Holy Spirit is God in “every age revealing His truth”2.
In considering Pentecost, it may never be clearly known about what actually took place on that day or at that time. However, what is known is that the day of Pentecost was one of the supremely great days to the Christian Church because, on that day, the Holy Spirit came down to the Christian Church in a manner that was very special.
According to Barclay, the book of Acts has been referred to as the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit”3. This paper is going to look at the Holy Spirit and the main focus will be on the “Holy Spirit in Acts”.
Jesus and the Holy Spirit
There are several important statements which indicate a link between the Holy Spirit and Jesus, and mostly in the course of the early part of the Gospel.
For instance, angel Gabriel made an explanation to Mary on how the fulfilment of his words would be realized: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore that which will be born will be called holy, Son of God” (Luke 1:35)4. This implies that there was the involvement of the Holy Spirit in bringing about incarnation.
Before Jesus commencing on his public ministry, John the Baptist made a contrast of his work with that of Jesus (the Great One) who was coming by stating that, whereas he was baptizing people with water, on the other hand, the coming one, Jesus, would be baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16)5.
However, the meaning of baptizing with fire is not a direct one and there have been several suggestions6. There is a tendency of it pointing to cleansing; the fitting match of baptism with the Holy Spirit.
There is no mention of this in the book of Luke but it is recorded in the book of Acts that Christ said to his disciples that they should wait “for the promise of the Father” and thereafter, he mentioned that it is true that John baptized with water but his disciples will be baptized with the Holy Spirit shortly thereafter7. In this statement, Jesus was making reference to the experience that would be realized on the day of Pentecost.
A confirmation of this is made by Peter in using a similar prediction in defending his action in engaging in baptizing Cornelius and those who were with him.
He points out that the Holy Spirit came upon them in the same way as it was at the beginning and then, he in turn remembered what Jesus had pointed out: “John indeed baptised with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Luke: 11: 15 – 16)8. The meaning of baptism in the Holy Spirit is receiving the Holy Spirit as it was on the day of Pentecost.
During Jesus’ baptism, he received the Holy Spirit from heaven. It can be clearly seen that the baptizing of Jesus Christ jointly with the coming down of the Holy Spirit and the voice that was heard from heaven, marked the starting of the ministry of Jesus Christ, and it is important that the Holy Spirit is linked with the beginning.
Morris points out that “we may fairly deduce that the human Jesus needed the equipment of the Spirit for the work that he would now begin…it was not a work taken in hand in purely human strength and wisdom”9
The place of the Holy Spirit is emphasized by Luke in the narrative of the temptation of Jesus Christ. It is pointed out that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and he was “led in the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1)10.
Jesus Christ had been called by God the Father and given the Holy Spirit. The question that comes is; what kind of messiah would he be? In some sense, Satan was aiming at making him to become the wrong messiah; one who converted stones in food in order to sustain himself, one who could engage in performing stunning but useless miracles, and one who would engage in setting up a powerful worldly kingdom.
However, the Holy Spirit was also in it. The Holy Spirit directed him and moved with him all through the time he was experiencing the temptations. It is indicated that, at the time the temptation period was over, Jesus went back to Galilee “in the power of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:14)11.
Luke does not talk much about the teaching of Jesus in the Synagogues, and then he starts the account of the visit Jesus makes to Nazareth by pointing out the sermon in the synagogue. After Jesus engaging in reading a passage from Isaiah which started with “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”, he began his speech with these inspiring words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled…” (Luke 4:18,21)12.
The passage taken from Isaiah is of significance, “as it is the way Jesus fulfilled it”13. However, the main concern here is about noticing that it was not a thing whose fulfilment could be realized without the aid that was divine. The Spirit was upon Jesus Christ and it was not possible to engage in the confining of Luke’s meaning to the length of the sermon at Nazareth.
Throughout his ministry, the Holy Spirit was upon Jesus even if Luke does not make reference to this often. Luke, in the book of Acts, gives an account of Peter’s summary of what Jesus Christ did: “God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10: 38)14.
The Holy Spirit was upon Jesus and his entire ministry was the product of the Holy Spirit’s presence. It is true that at the end of Jesus’ ministry while physically on earth, just before he went up to heaven, he gave the commandments to the apostles “through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2)15.
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit was promised by God ahead of time through the prophets (Acts 2: 16 – 21) and therefore he is referred to as “the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4)16. The Holy Spirit was later promised afresh by Jesus in His resurrection.
He was received (The Holy Spirit) by the ascended Jesus Christ to “pour out” on those who believed in him, who consequently received him at the initial Christian Pentecost, “as also their converts did when they responded to their witness in repentance, faith and baptism” (Acts 2:38)17.
The Spirit was not only passed on to the Jewish believers, but to the Gentile believers as well, in due course, purifying both of these groups inwardly by faith18.
The receiving of the Holy Spirit might be seen in speaking in tongues and inspired words that are used in praising God19. The Holy Spirit is the witnessing Spirit, “bearing his witness with and through the witness of the apostles”20.
The peaking of the Spirit in the Christian Church is done through the prophets, for instance, prophesying of the great famine in order for the Christians in Antioch to take steps in time so that they can provide for their brothers and sisters living in Jerusalem (Acts 11: 28 – 30)21.
It also pointed out that the Holy Spirit gives direction to the course of the missionary activity, making selection of Saul and Barnabas to serve a special purpose and giving prescription of the path to be taken. “So completely is the church the organ of his vitality that an attempt to deceive the church is an attempt to deceive the Spirit – in other words, to deceive God himself”22.
According to Buswell, if the concern of the Gospel is on the ‘time of Christ’, the concern of Acts is not so much on the ‘time of the church’ “as with the age of the Spirit”23. Jesus, who got anointment in the earlier period, with power and the Holy Spirit, has now resurrected from the dead and lifted to the right hand of God the Father, where he has given out the spirit to those who follow Him.
In the book of Acts chapter one verse four, this giving out or pouring out of the Spirit is referred to as “the promise of the father”, since the Father is the final provider of the Holy Spirit and the author of the promise24.
In the expression ‘the promise of the Spirit’, an example is seen of the objective genitive or possibility of genitive of definition: “It is the Spirit that is promised, indeed, the spirit is the promised”25.
Other than the promise being given in the utterances of John the Baptist about the coming of the mightier one whose duty will be to baptize with the Holy Spirit, earlier on, this was given in Joel’s oracle, in the book of Joel, chapter two and verses twenty eight to thirty two.
In the Pentecost narrative, it is the oracle of Joel that Peter quotes in partially explaining the phenomenon. Peter states “this is what was spoken of by Joel” (Acts 2: 16). Jesus’ vindication and enthronement have released the new era of the Spirit of which the oracle pointed out; “and it is the vindicated and enthroned Christ who is God’s agent in the fulfilling of the promise, the outpouring of the Spirit”26.
The Pentecost narrative presentation is carried out in such a manner as to remember past biblical themes and to give a suggestion that the Spirit’s coming is “their fulfilment”27.
According to Bruce, what was referred to in Acts 2:2 as the ‘tongues as of fire’ and ‘mighty wind’ which went together with Jesus’ coming, is a reminder of the fire and the wind that were to be the “instruments of the Coming One’s purifying work”, according to the teaching of John the Baptist28.
Initially, the Pentecost event marked the time of presenting the wheat harvest “first-fruits”. However, by the starting of the Christian age, the cerebration of it had come to serve as an anniversary of the “giving of the law from mount Sinai”29.
As on that day, God’s voice “went in to seventy tongues so that every nation heard the law in its own language”30 so now visitors “from very nation under heaven heard the praises of God from the apostle’s lips, each in his own native language”31. Perhaps, even if we might not have direct proof for this, “the reversal of the curse of Babel was in the mind of the narrator”32.
Who to receive the Holy Spirit
As on one hand the other religions viewed a divine spirit as descending only on a few chosen important people, on the other hand, the Christians had a realization that God’s Spirit falls upon all believers33.
Moreover, as on one hand pagans had thoughts that the presence of the divine spirit was to be known by a variety of blissful conduct, Christians had knowledge about his presence by his ‘fruit’ in ethical behaviour34. It is pointed out that Luke, the author of the Books; Luke and Acts of the Apostle, does not articulate these points in a similar manner as Paul does, “but they are just as important to him”35.
In the Gospel of Luke, this author starts this theme quite early, by presenting the message of the angel to Zachariah that he will be given a son and this son will be filled with the Holy Spirit right from the time this child will be in the womb of his mother (Luke 1:15).
No section of the life of John the Baptist would be lived apart from the presence of the Hoy Spirit. Both the mother and father of John is said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit.
The presence of the Holy Spirit is also seen when we read of Simeon where it is pointed out that “the Spirit of the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25)36. He was informed by the Holy Spirit that he would not encounter death until he could see the Christ with his eyes.. He was guided by the Spirit to be there in the Church when the baby Jesus was brought there by his parents
Bruce points out that it did not take much time before it was clear that the gift of the Holy Spirit was not to be restricted to the apostles and those who were associated with them37.
Everyone who listened to Peter’s sermon got assurance that they could also obtain this gift as well. Peter pointed out in Acts chapter two and verse thirty eight to people that they need to engage in repenting their sins and to be baptized in the mighty name of Jesus Christ in order for them to have their sins forgiven and in turn to receive the Holy Spirit”38.
The “Coming One” had carried out the inauguration of his baptism with the Holy Spirit. The external form of baptism that involved being baptized in water did not change but still remained, but its importance was now greatly enhanced.
The work of the Holy Spirit of inner cleansing is assumed instead of being expressed here, but is clearly stated later in the narration when Peter makes a comparison of the acceptance of God of the Gentile believers “with what he himself and his colleagues had experienced of the divine grace on the day of Pentecost”39.
Peter gives a description of God in Acts 15:8 as “giving them the Holy Spirit as he did to us; and had made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith” 40.
It is quite clear in the last paragraph of the second chapter of the book of Acts that all the people who engaged in sharing the Pentecostal experience were brought in to unity and by this means, into a new community in which they ate, witnessed, worshipped and shared everything else together.
The Work of the Holy Spirit in Acts
Beginning from the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit turned out to be the paramount reality in the early Church’s life. All the guidance came from the Holy Spirit. For instance, as we see in the book of Acts, the Spirit compels Philip to come in to contact with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29).
Moreover, the Holy Spirit serves to prepare Peter for the coming of the messengers from Cornelius (Acts 10: 19), and gives orders to him to move without delay with these messengers. The Holy Spirit also makes it possible for Agabus to prophesize the coming of the food crisis (Acts 11:28), gives guidance to Paul past Asia, Mysia and Bithynia, in to Troas and then to Europe, and tells him what is ahead of him in Jerusalem.
In short, the early Church was a community that worked under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, all the Church leaders were “men of the spirit”41. It is pointed out in the book of Acts that Barnabas and Stephen are full of the Spirit. Another case can be cited in Acts (7:55) where Paul informs the elders that it was the Holy Spirit that made them to be the overseers over the God’s Church.
The Holy Spirit was the source of the daily courage and strength. It is pointed out in Acts Chapter one and verse eight that, the disciples are to receive power when the Holy Spirit comes. More so, the courage and eloquence that Peter has before the Sanhedrin are a product of the work of the Spirit (Acts 4:31).
The work of the Spirit can also be seen in Paul’s conquest of Elymas (Acts 13:9). The courage that Christians have to face the most dangerous situations, their power to put up with life more than sufficiently, the Christian eloquence where there is need to have it, and the Christian joy that does not depend on the prevailing circumstances, are all attributed to the Holy Spirit’s activity.
Lastly, the book of Acts chapter five and verse 32 talks of the Spirit “whom God has given to those who obey him”42. This statement carries in it the big truth that the level to which “we can possess the spirit is conditioned by the kind of people we are”43. This implies that any person, who is making an attempt with honesty to carry out God’s will, will increasingly experience the wonder of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has been there right from the beginning of time. The prophets in the Old Testament were able to foretell what could come in the future through the power of the Holy Spirit. Some people tend to think that the Holy Spit came during Pentecost. However, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came in a very special way. Jesus Christ, while in the human form, was guided by the Holy Spirit given unto him by God the Father.
He received the Spirit after baptism and this marked the start of his ministry in the world. He ascended to heaven with the promise of sending the helper, the Holy Spirit, to his disciples. However, the Spirit is not received only by the apostles and those people who are close to them, it can be received by anybody who is a follower of Jesus Christ and who believes in him. The Holy Spirit enables people to perform great works.
When the apostles received the Holy Spirit, as seen in the book of the Acts of the Apostle, they were able to perform miracles and were able to convert many people into Christianity. People came to believe in Jesus Christ and became his followers. Even to this day, those people who are filled with the Holy Spirit through their honest commitment to carry out the will of God, are able to increasingly experience its wonders and power.
Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostles. London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.
Bruce, Frederick. The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Bruce, Frederick. “Luke’s Presentation of the Spirit in Acts”. Criswell Theological Review 5.1 (1990): 15-29
Bruce, Frederick. The Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostle. New York: Sage, 1973.
Buswell, Geoffrey. The Theology of Saint Luke. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1961.
Loyd, Philip. The Holy Spirit in Acts: A devotional study. New York: A.R Mowbray, 1952.
Morris, Leon. New Testament Theology. New York: Zondervan, 1990.
1 William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 20.
4 Leon Morris, New Testament Theology (New York: Zondervan, 1990), 191
14 Leon, 1990, 192.
16 Frederick Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 61.
22 Philip Loyd, The Holy Spirit in Acts: A devotional study (New York: A.R Mowbray, 1952), 11
23 Geoffrey Buswell, The Theology of Saint Luke (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1961), 13
24 Frederick Bruce, “Luke’s Presentation of the Spirit in Acts”, Criswell Theological Review 5.1 (1990), 15
25 Frederick Bruce, The Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostle (New York: Sage, 1973), 171.
33 Leon, 1990, 191.
37 Frederick Bruce, “Luke’s Presentation of the Spirit in Acts”, Criswell Theological Review 5.1 (1990): 16
38 Frederick, 1973, 192
41 William, 2003, 21.