The Promised Holy Spirit – arrived!

This post is not meant to be a New Testament overview of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it’s a follow-up to my recent The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.

When the Holy Spirit returned after 400 years of silence, He did not come quietly. He bursts onto the scene. The Spirit overshadows Mary so she conceives a child (Luke 1:35). John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), his mother (1:41) and father (1:67) were all filled with the Holy Spirit and both parents prophesied as a result. The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon in the temple (2:25). When John began his ministry, he did so speaking of the one who would baptise with the Holy Spirit (3:16), and testifying of the one on whom the Spirit descended (John 1:32f).

The Holy Spirit’s activity in the early chapters of the gospels was remarkable. For the first time the Holy Spirit was described as having filled a person. For the first time we are told explicitly that He visited women. But it was after all only two women, and only half a dozen people in all – and all of them Jews. Remarkable and unexpected as it was, this was not a pouring out on all people. The promises in Isaiah, Ezekiel and Joel were not yet fulfilled.

But that does not mean the Spirit stopped working – His work can be clearly seen in the life of Christ. When Jesus began his ministry, He did so full of the Spirit (Luke 4:1, 4:14. 10:21), given ‘without limit’ (John 3:34). Jesus cites Isaiah’s prophecy that ‘the Spirit of the Lord is on me’ (Luke 4:18). He explained that all must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8), who gives life (6:63). He claimed to drive out demons by the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:28).

Yet the experience of Jesus’ disciples was somewhat different. Under the guidance and presence of Christ the disciples grow into a band of useful, confident servants. But there were many times when the disciples’ usefulness and confidence left them. When Christ was asleep, they thought they would drown (Matt. 8:23-27). In His absence they feared ghosts (14:25-6), lacked the strength to pray (26:40, 43), and even denied Him (26:69-74). Without Christ, they could not understand even the simplest parable (15:15-16, 16:12), nor believe in His resurrection (Luke 24:11, John 20:29).

In other words, Scripture shows us that rather than being consciously dependent on the Spirit of God, the disciples relied on Christ Himself. They could not imagine life without Him (John 6:68), and when they were apart from Him, things quickly fell to pieces. Given that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, that was hardly surprising.

It’s better if Jesus goes

More surprising is that Jesus tells them that they would be better off without Him: ‘It is for your good that I am going away’ (John 16:6). It is a remarkable thought for a group of men who have spent the best part of three years living with God Himself. What can be better than the physical presence of Jesus Christ? Jesus answers that question clearly and unequivocally. It is better for us to have the Spirit with us than to have Christ present: ‘Unless I go away the Counsellor will not come to you’.

But isn’t Christ pre-eminent? Are the Scriptures teaching that the Holy Spirit is more important, more valuable than Christ Himself? Certainly not. Scripture makes it clear to us that when the Spirit is present Christ is present. That is why Jesus can say, ‘Surely I am with you always’ at just the point when He leaves our planet (Matthew 28:20), and why He can promise His disciples that, ‘I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.’ (John 14:18). It is why Paul and Peter can speak of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:19, 1 Peter 1:11).

The presence of the Spirit is better than the physical presence of Christ because it is only by the Spirit that Christ can promise ‘I am with you always’. During His time on earth, when Christ was with His disciples in Jerusalem, that meant He wasn’t with Lazarus in Bethany, nor with John in prison.

That is no longer true. We are experiencing the totality of the promises and blessings of the Holy Spirit. Whilst we wait for Christ’s personal return and long for His appearing, we lack nothing of the Spirit’s presence in our day.

How can I be so sure? Simply because the Scriptures are.

Peter took the clearest and boldest Old Testament promise (Joel 2:28f) and declared confidently that it was fulfilled at Pentecost. And he was right! In those few hours it is likely that the Spirit came to more people than had experienced Him in the whole of human history until that point. Men and women, young and old, to them the Spirit came just as Joel had predicted. The pattern is repeated throughout Acts and into the present day. Every time we see a man or woman converted we are seeing the Spirit being poured out.

In contrast to Old Testament days, since Pentecost we know of no-one on whom the Spirit came again. Why? Because to come back, the Spirit would have to go, and He does not. He comes at conversion and He dwells in the believer.

In the Old Testament the vast majority of references to the Spirit were in the past tense – what the Spirit once did, or the future tense – what He will do. But there is not a single promise of the future work of the Spirit anywhere in the New Testament. There are a few references back to the initial work of the Spirit in a believer, but otherwise all the verbs are present continuous – the Spirit will continue to do what He is doing, He will not do anything new because we have received what was promised.

Does this mean that there is nothing to strive for in this life? Far from it. We have received the Spirit that has set us free from law and death. Because Christ has won salvation, and because the Spirit has been given, we cannot fail to be confident in our God and energetic in our evangelism. We must pray that the Spirit who is being poured out would fill each of us that we might declare Christ boldly.

What a glorious privelege to be a New Testament believer! Thank God that He is pouring out His Spirit!

Articles in this series:

  1. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
  2. The Promised Holy Spirit – arrived! <-- This article

Comments

  1. You contend that the Holy Spirit did not indwell the Old Covenant saints. There have been many good men of God who have faltered in their understanding of the role of the HS in regeneration, due mostly to their dispensational views of redemption. For example, Lewis Sperry Chafer was the founder of the college in 1924 that was to become Dallas Theological Seminary and was president of DTS until his death in 1952. On page 74 of the 6th Vol. of his systematic theology, Pneumatology, says the following: The conception of an abiding indwelling of the HS… belongs only to the age of the NT Church and has no place in the OT. I completely disagree with Dr. Chafer.

    I suggest the following passages be studied: Numbers 27:18; Micah 3:8; 1 Peter 1:10-11; and Luke 1:15. You will find that the HS did indeed abidingly indwell OT saints. Then study the Old Covenant evangelism of Jesus himself in John 3:5-8 and notice what He says of the Holy Spirits necessary involvement in Old Covenant salvation. Abraham Kuyper rightly notes: “Believing Gentiles and Israelites were saved. Hence they must have received saving grace. And since saving grace is out of the question without an inward working of the Holy Spirit, it follows that the Holy Spirit was the Worker of faith in Abraham as well as in ourselves.” I agree that no matter whether you lived before Christ or after, the Holy Spirit regenerated and indwelt believers.

    I noticed in your sidebar that you like A.W.Pink. So do I. And Pink was right when he said, “A verse which has been grossly perverted by many of our moderns is John 7:39, ‘The Holy Spirit was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.’ It seems passing strange that with the Old Testament in their hands, some men should place the construction which they do upon those words. The words ‘was not yet given’ can no more be understood absolutely than ‘Enoch was not’ (Gen. 5:24); they simply mean that the Spirit had not yet been given in His full administrative authority. He was not yet publicly manifested here on earth. All believers, in every age, had been sanctified and comforted by Him, but the ‘ministration of the Spirit’ (2 Cor. 3:8) was not at that time fully introduced; the outpouring of the Spirit, in the plentitude of His miraculous gifts, had not then taken place.”(Pink, The Holy Spirit, 22)

    I do thank you for you comments at FIDE-O and look forward to further discussion on this important matter.

  2. Jason,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you.

    Just to be clear about my theological presuppositions. I am just about as far away from dispensationalism as it is possible to get, and am convinced of reformed covenant theology (ie amillenialism).

    But to be clear too about the position you are arguing. The discussion is not whether the Holy Spirit at times indwelt some Old Testament believers. You are arguing that the Holy Spirit indwelt all Old Testament believers at all times (at least from the time of the belief/repentance onwards). That is quite a claim.

    The verses you cite prove: (a) The Spirit was in Joshua just before his commissioning as Israel’s leader. (b) Micah was filled with the Spirit as he prophesied to Israel. (c) All the Old Testament prophets were filled with the Spirit as they prophesied about Christ. (4) John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from birth.

    In other words, these verses tell us the Spirit worked in some Old Testament leaders and prophets as they carried out their very special roles. It’s a very big leap from these few verses to say that all Old Testament believers were indwelt with the Spirit at all times. What evidence do you have for that?

    I was interested to note that neither the quotes from Kuyper or from Pink actually go as far as saying that all Old Testament believers were indwelt with the Spirit at all times. Perhaps they do say that elsewhere, but those quotes are not as strong as you seem to be suggesting.

    Let me finish with a quote of my own. This is from Don Carson (Showing the Spirit, pg 155, fn 29):

    Conservatives from both the Reformed and the charismatic camps have frequently argued that there is no difference between the experience of Old Testament and New Testament believers, but only between their respective understandings of God’s salvific purposes. To put it another way, Old Testament and New Testament believers are equally regenerate (a decidedly New Testament term)… But the evidence adduced inevitably pertains to special leaders, such as David or one of the prophets or priests. It ignores not only the Old Testament passages, already cited, that anticipate a new and more
    widely distributed experience of the Spirit, but also the pulsating New Testament stance, especially strong in Paul, that sees the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian and the church as the decisive evidence that the new age has dawned and the messianic reign has begun. The structure of New Testament eschatology is jeopardized by the failure to discern such distinctions.

    These Old Testament prophecies regarding the new work of the Spirit in the New Testament are the key here. I can give more thoughts about this if necessary. In other words, a proper understanding of reformed covenant theology pushes you towards accepting a difference in the Holy Spirit’s operation in the Old and New Covenants.

    Thanks again for your input. I’d be glad to discuss things further if you’d like.

  3. indwelling and filling of the holy spirit is different. indwell means that the holy spirit is in you and will not leave but being filled is that the holy spirit will control you.

  4. Hi,
    I like to think of it as participation with the Spirit (more than a filling up – although this terminology can be useful I’m sure). Life with the spirit is demonstrated in spiritual fruit – as we choose to listen and respond to the voice of righteousness within, we display the love of God to those around us (as in Gal 5:22-23). Note that we are free in displaying such love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to other people. When living by the spirit, we are not under law, we are ‘free’ to show this fruit, which ever way prompted (by the Spirit in participation with him). This freedom is commanded I believe because we are captive to demonstrate his love in this way. Ie. ‘Freedom’ just means not captive to the sin and flesh like we once were. We are now committed to the Spirit – keep in step! (Gal 5:25)

    PS. Great Article

  5. I would like to thank you for the wonderful work of stating the truth about God’s word. This is really needed out there as there are lots teachings about the Holy Spirit especialy now about the Spirit in the Old testamnet. This has been very insightful much appreciated
    Thanks

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  7. Having read the responses about the Holy Spirit it seems that no one has really read Joel 2 for he states that it is only to the whole house of Israel and in the New Testament only Hebrews of the house of Israel and the house of Judah received the Holy Spirit. No gentiles have ever been saved out of the gentiles and therefore none can receive the Holy Spirit. The book of Hebrew says that he will make a new Covenant with the house of Judah and the house of Israel, No gentiles listed as being able to receive the New Covenant or the Holy Spirit. The New Testament is only Written to the ethnee in the interliner as being the righteous people of God for the heathen gentiles were rejected from the foundation of the earth.
    Since the gentiles created the church to deceive the gentiles by destroying the invitation of the ethnee out of the heathen rejected gentiles. For 6oo years we have had a church of the gentiles who have no understanding of the things of God. 80 times the word church appears in the English text it is the word with the meaning of the ones invited out. God has never had a church for his people the ethnee. They were saved out of the ethnoon and out of the Jews.
    See my web site at http://www.myprivatelibray.org
    For more details on the ethnee and the ethnoon

    Jerry Collins

  8. The Holy Spirit was not to believers in the Old Testamet or the New Testament. The Holy Spirit was only to the Hebrews both in the OT and the NT. Jesus was the redeemer of Israel only which is why he had the title in the OT. He came to buy back the wife who was owned by another. He had to die to annul the first marriage vows See Isaiah 50-54. In Isaiah 54 Jesus talks of the divorced wife, she has more children than the married wife. Jesus had to die to be remarried to his divorced wife of Jeremiah 3 according to the law of Moses in Deut 24. In Ephesians 5:27 from the interlinear. That he was going to present her glorious to himsellf being the ones invited out. The English text is total incorrect. Jesus came only for the lost sheep of the House of Israel they being Hebrews. No Gentiles have ever been saved out of the heathen rejected children of the wicked one, the devil.

    For a fuller explanation go to my wib sites which are link to study the ethnee being the ones ones saved out of the ethnoon and out of the Jews.
    www,myprivatelibrary.org

    Jerry Collins

  9. Jerry, it sounds as though you have never read Acts 10:44-48.
    “44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.
    Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
    Acts 10:44-48

    Clearly the gift of the Holy Spirit is for Gentiles and Jews alike – for there is no difference – The Holy Spirit is the GIFT – And Jerry, you have no say in the power of God.