The Early Church
Following the outpouring of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost (Acts 2), the early church continued to experience the baptism in the Holy Ghost
. Four incidences in particular are recorded in the book of Acts.
- New Christians in Samaria — "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (for as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost" (Acts 8:14-17).
- Saul of Tarsus (Apostle Paul) — "And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.' And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized" (Acts 9:17-18).
- Cornelius and his household — "To him [Jesus] give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision [Jews] which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God" (Acts 10:44-46).
- Disciples at Ephesus — "Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, 'Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?' And they said unto him, 'We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.' And he said unto them, 'Unto what then were ye baptized?' And they said, 'Unto John's baptism.' Then said Paul, 'John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.' When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied"
Notice from these experiences that the gift of the Holy Ghost was available to both Jews and Gentiles and was only given to those who had previously repented and believed on Jesus. It is also interesting to note that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was usually accompanied by the supernatural sign of tongues. We will study more on this later.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts was a fulfillment (or partial fulfillment) of several prophecies in Scripture. First, the cry of the heart of Moses
began to see fruition: "Would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his Spirit upon them!"
Second, the prophet Isaiah
anticipated the outpouring: "Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city ... until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest"
Third, the words of the prophet Ezekiel
started to come to pass: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you ... and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them"
Fourth, the word of the prophet Joel
was fulfilled: "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke"
(Joel 2:28-30; also see Acts 2:16-19). Joel's prophecy, however, was only partially fulfilled. The terrifying signs in the heavens and earth (blood, fire, and pillars of smoke) did not take place at Pentecost; those signs are still yet to come. According to Joel's prophecy, the "last days" would contain both a former rain
of the Spirit and a latter rain
of the Spirit (see Joel 2:23). The Holy Spirit's
outpouring at Pentecost
was the former rain, ushering in the "last days," and the Spirit's outpouring prior to the end of this age is the latter rain.
A fifth prophetic word concerning the outpouring of the Holy Ghost was spoken of by John the Baptist
. John preached the baptism of repentance
, yet he knew that something (or rather, Someone) greater than he was to come. John said, "I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable"
The baptism John foretold was certainly not water baptism
, for Jesus did not baptize anyone in water according to John 4:2. Instead, it was a baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire which was first poured
out at Pentecost. From the context of Luke 3:17, we see that a baptism of fire will either destroy or empower. This is because the same fire that purifies gold also consumes chaff.
The Bible tells us, "But who may abide the day of his coming and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver"
(Malachi 3:2-3; also see II Corinthians 2:14-15).
The fire of God brings wrath upon those who do not know God or obey Him. The Bible says, "For our God is a consuming fire"
(Hebrews 12:29), and "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ"
(II Thessalonians 1:8). On the other hand, fiery trials purify and refine the children of God in order that "the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ"
(I Peter 1:7). In the same chapter we read, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently"
(I Peter 1:22). Thus, the Holy Spirit within the heart of a believer is a purging fire within.
Old Testament Prophets
Some readers might be wondering if the Old Testament prophets had God's Spirit in them. Yes, they did! "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost"
(II Peter 1:21). The prophet Micah stated that he was full of God's power: "But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the LORD, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob [Judah of the Southern Kingdom] his transgression, and to Israel [the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom] his sin"
Even King David experienced the stirring of God's Spirit: "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue"
(Psalm 39:3). Under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost all the prophets gave witness to the Messiah (Acts 10:43) and "prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow"
(I Peter 1:10-11).
Yet, even while these ancient men prophesied to the nation of Israel about God's coming salvation, they longed for the day when God's Spirit would be poured out freely upon all His people, not just on prophets. For unto the prophets "it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into"
(I Peter 1:12). Truly, just as the prophets of old so eagerly anticipated, the power of God is now available to all
God's people ever since the outpouring at Pentecost.