The Gift of the Holy Spirit

This is part 10 on an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit. For previous parts of this study, click here.

The Promise of the Father

Luke introduces the book of Acts by reminding how Jesus had given commands to his apostles “through the Holy Spirit” (1:2), and by recalling what Jesus had said to his apostles prior to his ascension.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:4-8

Observe:

  • Luke connects the “promise of the Father” (Lk. 24:49) with the statement about how Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Lk. 3:16, See Part 9)
  • When asked about the restoration of the kingdom, Jesus answered by telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit would soon come upon them and empower them as his witnesses. The connection between the question about the kingdom, and Jesus’s response about the Spirit makes sense when we recall that the prophets had frequently spoken of the new kingdom as the work of the Spirit (see Part 5).
  • Jesus promised that the apostles would somehow be empowered when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Again, the idea the Holy Spirit giving someone special “power” or “strength” makes sense when we recall those times in the Old Testament when the Spirit did the same sort of thing (cf. Judges 14:5;14:19; 15:14. See Part 3).

With the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” and the “promise of the Father” in the front his mind, Luke then tells his reader about the events of Pentecost.

The Spirit on Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4

Observe:

  • The close connection between the mighty rushing “wind” and the “Spirit.” Recall that the words “wind” and “Spirit” are the same (see Part 1). This passage could be translated that the apostles heard a sound of a mighty rushing “Breath” or “Spirit”, they were filled with the Holy “Breath”, and began to speak in tongues as the “Breath” gave them utterance.
  • It was the “Spirit”/”Wind”/”Breath” that gave them their words. This makes sense when we recall how God filled various people in the Old Testament, giving them the ability to speak words from God (Part 3). The apostles, filled with the Spirit, were speaking words that originated with God’s Spirit.
  • Given the context of Acts 1, we can observe that Luke sees this event as closely connected to the baptism with the Spirit and the promise of the Father.

Next, notice how Peter explains these events by referring to the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 (Part 5).

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

Acts 2:14-18

Just like the other prophets, Joel had spoken of a future day when the world would change. This day would be brought about by God’s Spirit, which would be poured out on “all flesh”. This prophecy included men and women of all ages who would be given the ability to prophesy. According to Peter, this was being fulfilled in the events of Pentecost.

This raises a question. Up to this point, the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Jesus’ apostles. But Joel prophesied that the Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh”. When would the Spirit be given to everyone else?

Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit

This brings us to Peter’s words at the conclusion of the Pentecost sermon:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Acts 2:38-39

Peter says that those who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins will receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit”, as had been promised to them. Grammatically speaking, the gift of the Holy Spirit could be understood in one of two ways. We could read the phrase as referring to a gift which is given by the Holy Spirit (as in, this new shirt is ‘the gift of my wife.”) Or the phrase could be understood as referring to the Holy Spirit himself as the gift which is given (as in, my wife gave me “the gift of my new shirt”).

The key to understanding this phrase is to pay attention to the immediate context, where Jesus referred to the Spirit as “the promise of the Father” (1:4-5) and where Peter had just spoken of the outpouring of the Spirit as “the promise of the Holy Spirit” (2:33). Having just mentioned “the gift of the Holy Spirit”, Peter immediately adds “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off.” What promise was Peter referring to in verse 39? The context would suggest the same promise already mentioned and just offered as a gift. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the promised Holy Spirit who had just been poured out, and is now available to all those who repent and are baptized.

Looking ahead in the book of Acts, we will see that the Holy Spirit himself is given to all those who obey him (5:32).  The phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit” appears again in Acts 10:44-47, where it clearly refers to the Holy Spirit himself as the gift.

From Acts 2:38-39 we can thus observe

  • The Holy Spirit himself is promised as a gift to all those who repent and are baptized.
  • This serves to fulfill Joel’s promise that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, because through baptism, the Holy Spirit is now available to everyone.
  • The gift of the Holy Spirit is connected with the command to be baptized. This, of course, fits perfectly with what John the Baptist had spoken about Jesus, that he would “baptize” with the Holy Spirit.

Reading the book of Acts closely to this point answers some important questions, but it raises others. If the Holy Spirit was poured out in a miraculous way upon the apostles, and if the Holy Spirit is promised to those who would repent and be baptized, in what sense would the Holy Spirit be given to those who were baptized? Would they also be given the ability to speak in tongues? This question will be the subject of the next part of this study.