The Miraculous and Non-Miraculous Work of the Spirit

This is part 11 of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit. For previous parts click here.

What Happened After Baptism

In the previous part of this study it was observed that the “mighty rushing wind”, “tongues as of fire” and the miraculous ability to speak in tongues from Acts 2:1-4, was recognized by Peter as the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit, and the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. Then in Acts 2:38-39, Peter promised that the gift of the Holy Spirit himself would be given to all those who would repent and be baptized for remission of sins.

What then would Peter’s audience have expected to happen for those who were baptized? It seems they would expect to receive the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 2, what does it look like when a person receives the Holy Spirit? Up to this point, it has looked like the things they were seeing and hearing on Pentecost (cf. 2:33), namely the mighty rushing wind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking in tongue.

What then would Peter’s audience have expected to happen for those who were baptized? It seems that they would expect to receive the Holy Spirit in the same way the apostles did.

That expectation makes what happens next even more interesting and noteworthy. Notice carefully what the result is (and what it is not) when those who received Peter’s words were baptized.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:41-47

Did you catch that? About three thousand people received his word and were baptized, but there is not one word about a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire, or speaking in tongues. In fact, Luke specifically mentions that they were in awe at the “sign and wonders being done through the apostles.” That makes it clear that signs and wonders were not being performed by everyone. Instead of describing a recurrence of the events of Acts 2:1-4, Luke gives us a picture of unity, fellowship, self-sacrificial giving, with glad and generous hearts.

What should we make of this? There are only two possible explanations.

  1. Peter was wrong. Despite Peter’s promise, those who were baptized failed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Peter was right. The gift of the Holy Spirit was given in baptism, but the three thousand who were baptized did not receive the Holy Spirit in the same way the apostles did, nor did they experience the same kind of results as the apostles did.

Again, since the gift of the Holy Spirit was promised to all who would repent and be baptized (2:38-39), and since “signs and wonders” were only being done by the apostles after the three thousand were baptized (2:43), this means that the three thousand who were baptized did not receive the ability to work signs and wonders as the apostles had when they received the Holy Spirit.

So which is it? If Peter was wrong, and the gift of the Holy Spirit was not given to the three thousand in baptism, what would we expect to read next? We would probably read a description of disappointment, as their expectations to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit were not realized.

But what we see next is anything but disappointment. Instead we see gladness and joy. We see God’s people, who were once scattered (2:9-11), enjoy unity and fellowship with one another. We see where Christians self-sacrificially gave up their possessions for one another. We see that no one was left in need.

Luke makes it clear that something incredible happened when the three thousand were baptized. Something had changed. What is it that Luke trying to communicate to his readers?

Prophecy Fulfilled

Here it may be helpful to revisit the prophesies referred to in Peter’s sermon. If we go back and read Joel’s prophesy about the Spirit in context, we can see that the coming age, the age that would be characterized by the Spirit’s presence, would be an age when God’s people would have their needs satisfied.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Joel 2:26

When Jesus was raised from the dead (which was understood to be an act of the Holy Spirit, see Part 8), the result would be joy and gladness.

I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.

Acts 2:25-28 (cf. Ps. 16:8-11)

Doesn’t that sound remarkably similar to what Luke describes at the end of Acts 2? When Luke describes the unity of God’s people, with no one lacking what they need, who experience joy and gladness, he is describing the new age; the age that the prophets had said would be brought by the Spirit.

It seems that Luke is showing his readers that, yes, the early Christians did in fact receive the promised Holy Spirit in baptism, albeit not in the same manner, nor with the same miraculous results experienced by the apostles in Acts 2:1-4. As we continue to carefully read the book of Acts, it will be seen that Luke continually describes the miraculous reception of the Holy Spirit as something separate from the way the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit in non-miraculous ways.

A Parallel Passage to Acts 2

After Acts 2:38, the Spirit is not mentioned again until Acts 4:8. To set the context, In Acts 3:1-10, Peter miraculously healed a lame beggar. Peter then stood at the temple and preached a sermon about the risen Jesus (3:11-28) which resulted in the arrest of Peter and John. The following day, Peter and John were called before the Jewish authorities. It is here that we read:

And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders…

Acts 4:7-8

You may notice that Luke mentioned the Holy Spirit filling Peter as Peter was opening his mouth to give a defense. The idea of the Holy Spirit giving someone words to speak shouldn’t surprise us. This has always been an activity of the Spirit (see Parts 3 and 4). This is the same things that happened on Pentecost in Acts 2 (See Part 10). This also reminds us of what Jesus had told his disciples previously about the Spirit giving them words to speak.

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you should say.

Luke 12:11-12

After Peter and John gave their defense we read:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:13

How did they know that Peter and John had been with Jesus? It wasn’t Peter’s miracle itself (although they certainly recognized this as an undeniable sign). It was the boldness of their speech.

The following day, after Peter and John had been released, we read:

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31

Once again, we see that being “filled with the Holy Spirit” is connected with the disciple’s boldness as they continued to speak the word of God. Here once again, Luke shows us the result of the Holy Spirit filling the disciples.

Now the number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Acts 4:32-35

Did you notice the parallels to Acts 2:42-47? After the Holy Spirit filled the disciples with boldness, the result was unity, fellowship, and self-sacrificial giving. Once again, Luke specifically mentions that the apostles continued to with great power (4:33), but they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (4:31), and they were all living like a transformed community of people.

Once again, just as in Acts 2, Luke describes work of the Holy Spirit, not only in miraculous signs and wonders done by the apostles, but also in the transformation, boldness, and generosity of all those who follow the way of Christ.

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.