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Doctrine of the Holy Spirit - The Work of the Spirit in Acts 1-2 Print E-mail
Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

I.  Introduction:

The work of the Spirit at Pentecost is obviously central to understanding the New Testament teaching on the work of the third Person of the Trinity. So much of what a person believes about the Spirit’s work hinges on their understanding of Pentecost. We will be discussing several interpretive issues tonight that will hopefully help us to better understand the opening chapters of Acts. Yet, before we look at some verses, let me begin by reminding us of possibly the most critical (and difficult) interpretive issue in the book of Acts. The question we must ask of every passage in Acts is this: should we expect what is being described here to be normal throughout the history of the Church? In other words, is the passage simply descriptive (describing what took place at this certain time) or normative (describing a repeated event in the history of the Church)? As we work through these passages over the next couple of weeks, we must keep these questions in mind. Our understanding of the present work of the Spirit in the Church is greatly impacted by how we answer this question in a number of passages. After we look at some verses from these first two chapters, we will come back to this question.

II. Passages:

A. Acts 1:4-8 Before His ascension, Jesus gives some final instructions to the disciples. He tells them to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the promise of the Father and are baptized with the Holy Spirit. He points us back to the words of John the Baptist who had said that One is coming after me who will baptize with the Spirit. Thus, we can say that Pentecost is a fulfillment of John’s prophecy about Jesus baptizing with the Spirit. Peter says as much in Acts 2:33. Jesus goes on to say that they will receive power when the Spirit comes upon them, seemingly for the purpose of being His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. These verses help us to better know what to expect when we get to Acts 2. Pentecost will be the fulfillment of Jesus baptizing with the Spirit, which will empower the disciples for their mission of taking the gospel to the world.

B. Acts 2:1-13 Let us begin here by looking at the first four verses. The Apostles along with the other followers of Christ were together in one place. Luke tells us that a sound came from heaven that was like a mighty rushing wind. At this point, they saw these divided tongues as of fire which came and rested on all of them. Luke describes them as being filled with the Spirit and they begin to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. We should pause even here and note that something unique is taking place. Loud sounds from heaven, visible tongues as of fire, and other tongues being spoken, all add up to a pretty unique event. 1

We must ask an important interpretive question at this point: what were these other tongues that they were speaking? To answer, let’s read on. Look at 5- 11. These verses seem to indicate that the languages being spoken were actual real human languages. Although some point to verse 6 and view this as a miracle of hearing, it seems that the Spirit’s work was simply focused on those who were already believers, thus, the speakers themselves and not the hearers. These believers then were speaking in languages that all those gathered in Jerusalem could understand. This obviously got the crowds attention and prepared them for Peter’s sermon.

C. Acts 2:14-21 Peter begins his sermon by explaining what the people have been witnessing. He quotes from Joel 2 to show that what they have seen is a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy that pointed to a day when the Spirit would be poured out upon all of God’s people. This is Peter’s explanation of what has taken place in 2:1-13. The Old Testament pointed to a Spirit-anointed Messiah which was fulfilled in Jesus. It also pointed to a pouring out of the Spirit onto all of God’s people. The fulfillment of this second prophecy begins at Pentecost. Peter makes this clear though his comments and quotation of Joel 2.

D. Acts 2:22-41 Look at 22-32. Peter is here preaching Christ to the crowd. He explains that Jesus was killed by the hands of lawless men and this was done according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. Yet, the story does not end with His death, for God raised him up. He goes on to explain that David foresaw the resurrection of the Christ and wrote about it in Psalm 16. He teaches that Jesus is the One who would sit upon David’s throne forever since He was raised from the dead. Look at verses 33-36. In verse 33, Peter once again connects what has taken place to the promise of Jesus (Acts 1:4). They have witnessed the promised pouring out of the Spirit, which was prophesied in the Old Testament by Joel (and others) and in the New by John the Baptist and Jesus. Then, Peter draws his conclusion about Jesus: He is both Lord and Christ.

Look at 37-41. The men present are convicted and Peter tells them to repent and be baptized. Notice what he says about the promise of the Spirit in verses 38-39. This promise of the Spirit being poured out, which they have just witnessed the beginning of, is for all who will repent and believe. I take this to mean that anyone who repents and believes in Christ will receive the promised Spirit. Thus, even today, if we repent of our sins and place our faith in Christ, then we will receive the promised Spirit or as Jesus and John said: we will be baptized with the Spirit (Acts 1:4). Pentecost marks the beginning of the Spirit being given to the followers of Christ, which continues even today.

III. Implications:

A. Pentecost is a unique event in the history of salvation. As we have seen over and over again, it is to be seen as the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit. This ‘beginning event’ was spectacular and unique. Even though we see other similar events in the book of Acts (which we will consider in depth next week), the events of Pentecost are not normative or paradigmatic for the Church. In this sense, I take this passage to be descriptive, describing for us the unique event of the initial pouring out of the Spirit. Therefore, I think it is an error for people to long for and expect a ‘personal Pentecost.’ Likewise, it has been argued from the events in Acts 2, and particularly the lives of the disciples, that receiving the Spirit is a two-stage process. The argument goes: we ‘receive’ the Spirit at conversion and are later ‘baptized in/with/by the Spirit’ (which many teach is always accompanied by tongues). Yet, I think such an interpretation fails to take into account a few things.

First, as we have just argued, Pentecost is not presented as normative for the Church. It is a unique event in the history of salvation. Second, the disciples experience with the Spirit is also unique because they lived through the transition from Old Covenant to New. Third, Peter, who himself experienced the ‘two-stage’ receiving of the Spirit, taught the people that they would receive the Spirit by simply repenting of their sins and being baptized. All of this to say that I view Pentecost as a unique event. Yet, we must ask: ‘Does Pentecost, then, have anything to do with us?’ Let me answer with my second implication…

B. We receive the promise of the Spirit at conversion. The event of the initial pouring out of the Spirit is unique, but the promise of the Spirit is given to all who repent and believe, or everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself (v. 39). What Peter teaches in verses 38-39 is normative, an interpretation we see validated by the rest of the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament. The glorious gift of the Spirit, that Moses longed for and Jesus told the disciples would be to their advantage, is given to all who repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ. It should be noted at this point that I am not saying that a believer cannot have subsequent fillings of the Spirit (as seen in the book of Acts). Rather, I am simply denying the teaching of a distinct ‘two-stage’ receiving of the Spirit. As I will go on to argue, I believe that Acts teaches that we receive the Spirit at conversion and can experience multiple fillings of the Spirit throughout our Christian life. Likewise, I reserve the term ‘baptism of the Spirit’ for the initial receiving of the Spirit at conversion. Although I understand that the phrase could be used to refer to the multiple fillings of a believer, at this point, that just seems unnecessary and confusing to me.

IV. Conclusion:

Needless to say, we still have some questions to answer. Namely, what about the other passages in Acts that seem to describe something similar to Pentecost? Or, what about the gift of tongues and its relation to Pentecost? Let me just assure you tonight: we will get there. But before we get swallowed up by all the questions that surround what took place in Acts 2, let’s just pause to be amazed at the promise fulfilled. Just as Joel and Isaiah and John the Baptist and Jesus said: the Father has poured out His Spirit on all His people. The Father and the Son freely give the Spirit to any who will repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ. What a glorious Gift? No matter where we come down on all the gifts and all the remaining passages, may we always be a people who are thankful for the Gift of the Spirit and who long to live faithfully in light of that Gift. Amen.

1 D. A. Carson notes: “It is Peter’s preaching, presumably in Aramaic, that brings about the thousands of conversions; the tongues themselves, I suppose, constitute what modern jargon would call preevangelism.”  Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987), p. 143.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )

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