Acts 2:38, Peter told the Jews who murdered their Messiah that they needed to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. This would be great news for those who had committed such a great crime – God provided a way that they could be forgiven! There was even more good news – those who obeyed God would also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!
The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit has been a point of controversy among brethren. What is this promised gift? Is it the gift of the Holy Spirit coming to dwell in believers to work in their lives or is it a gift given by the Spirit, usually understood to be salvation?
Whenever disciples view a passage differently, we are all faced with two challenges. One is to develop an interpretation that can consistently incorporate all related passages in the Bible and the other is to maintain a proper attitude with one another as we all strive to grow in our understanding of the Scriptures.
One key to accurate Bible interpretation is to attempt to determine how the original hearers would understand the passage. We must remember the historical context because Peter was speaking to 1st century Jews, not 21st century Americans. What would the early Jews think about Peter’s promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit?
Peter had just said the miraculous sign of tongues was evidence of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy made over 800 years earlier (
Acts 2:5-16). The sound of a mighty wind, tongues of fire, and speaking in tongues were not what God promised, but were signs to prove the promise was being fulfilled.
The promise began by God saying; “I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh” (
Acts). Everyone understands this promise is limited in some sense. It does not include pig flesh, bird flesh, fish flesh, etc., nor does it include the flesh of the wicked. Those who understand “the gift of the Spirit” to mean a gift from the Spirit often limit “all flesh” to the initial Jews and Gentiles converted in Acts 2and Acts 10. Those who understand “the gift of the Holy Spirit” to refer to the Spirit Himself usually understand “all flesh” to be limited to all believers who call upon the name of the Lord.
Which interpretation is most consistent with the rest of the Scripture? In the KJV and NKJV, the phrase “all flesh” is used 43 times. The phrase is often used in an unlimited sense, but even when it is used in a limited sense, there is not another example anywhere in the Bible where it could refer to only a small group of people. It is a broad term indicating large numbers are involved. The interpretation that “all flesh” includes all believers is supported by
Romans 8:9where Paul wrote, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Also, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul asked, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” Both of these passages clearly teach that the Holy Spirit is given to all believers, not just a chosen few.
If all Christians have the Spirit, and if all Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit, when did they first receive the Spirit? A consistent interpretation would be that we received the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism, in fulfillment of God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on all flesh.
The Jews who heard Peter on the day of Pentecost would also be familiar with other prophecies of the Spirit. During the 700’s BC, Isaiah foretold that the Spirit would be poured out on the Messiah (
Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, 61:1). Not only was the Spirit to be poured out on the coming Messiah, the Spirit would also be poured out on His people.
Isaiah 32:14-15, devastation would continue in the land, “until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high.” In Isaiah 44:1-3, God promised , “I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring.” Israel
During the 500s B.C., Ezekiel also prophesied of the Spirit being given to God’s people. In
Ezekiel 11:19-20, God promised Israel, “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” In Ezekiel 36:26-27, God promised, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” In Ezekiel 39:29, God promised that after He brought them back from captivity, “I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel .” Israel
Around 525 B.C., God spoke through Zechariah, saying, “I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of
the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced.” ( Jerusalem Zechariah 12:10).
The Jews in
Acts 2would be familiar with these prophecies. As a people, they had been waiting centuries for the Spirit to be poured out on them during the time of the Messiah. After hearing the words of Peter, they realized their Messiah had come and they were guilty of murdering Him. When Peter told them if they were baptized for the remission of sins they would “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” what would they think? Would it not be natural for them to understand that God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on them was now being fulfilled?
Jesus also prophesied of the coming Spirit. He told the woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (
John -14). What kind of water causes one to never thirst? Jesus explained it further while in when He said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John explained what Jesus meant by adding, “But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” ( Jerusalem John 7:37-39).
The Spirit had been active throughout history since He first moved over the face of the waters (
Genesis 1:2). The promise of the Spirit in John 7:37-39was different from what had ever been given before. This gift was dependent on Jesus being glorified. After the glorification of Jesus, the new work of the Spirit is called the “indwelling of the Spirit.” There is no record of any Old Testament saint ever receiving this gift.
The new gift of the Spirit was promised to “anyone” who believes in Jesus after He was glorified. The glorification of Jesus occurred when He ascended to the Father. Less than two weeks after His ascension, Peter said Joel’s promise of the Spirit being poured out on “all flesh” was being fulfilled. He then said that those who are baptized in the name of Jesus will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. What would the Jews in
think? Would it not be natural for them to believe that “anyone” who believes in Jesus would receive the gift of the Spirit as He was being poured out on “all flesh” just as the prophets and Jesus promised? Jerusalem
A short time after Pentecost, the apostles were arrested because they refused to stop teaching about Jesus. Peter told the chief priests, “we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (
Acts). Although some attempt to limit Peter’s statement to include only the apostles, it is consistent with what he said earlier on Pentecost, that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all who obey God by repenting and being baptized for the remission of sins.
The fact that we receive the Spirit at baptism is further supported by Paul’s statement in
1 Corinthians, where Paul wrote, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” The phrases, “we were all” and “all have been” indicate this passage refers to all Christians instead of a select group. What did Paul mean when he wrote we “have all been made to drink into one Spirit” when we are baptized? This is consistent with the promise of Jesus when He said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” ( John 7:37-38). The invitation to come to Jesus and drink the living water refers to “drinking” the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive ( John 7:39). Paul said that all Christians “have all been made to drink into one Spirit” when they are baptized. When these passages are included with Acts 2:38, they reveal a consistent teaching. We receive the Holy Spirit when we are baptized and “drink into one Spirit,” and at that time experience the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus and drink of the living water.
This is consistent with the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. In
Acts 9:17-18, Ananias told him, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ananias was sent so two things could happen. By his coming, Saul would receive his sight and be filled with the Spirit. What happened? Verse 18 says, “Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” There is an obvious connection in these two statements. Verse 17 says Saul would receive his sight and be filled with the Spirit. Verse 18 says he received his sight and was baptized. The terms “be filled with the Spirit” and “was baptized” can be interchanged with each other when speaking of the two events that happened to Saul. This is consistent with Peter’s promise that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we are baptized.
What could be more natural than for Christians to follow the pattern established by their Lord when He was baptized?
Matthew 3:16says, “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.” Our experiences are not exactly like our Lord’s, yet the pattern is clear. Jesus was baptized and received the Spirit to help Him during His remaining time on earth. Now His followers are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to help them during their remaining time on earth.
Acts 2is a pivotal passage. Before Acts 2, the church is coming. After Acts 2, the church has been established. Before Acts 2, the kingdom is coming. After Acts 2, the kingdom has arrived. Before Acts 2, the Spirit is coming. After Acts 2, Christians have the indwelling of the Spirit.
Acts 2, we serve in the newness of the Spirit ( ), walk according to the Spirit ( 7:6 Rom. ), live according to the Spirit ( 8:1 Rom. ), and the Spirit dwells in us ( 8:5 Rom. ). We are led by the Spirit ( 8:9 Rom. Rom. 8:14), have the firstfruits of the Spirit ( Rom. 8:23), have joy in the Spirit ( Rom. 14:17), have the power of the Spirit in our lives ( Rom. 15:13), have the guarantee of the Spirit ( 1 Cor. 5:5), have communion of the Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14), have the Spirit sent into our hearts ( Gal. 4:6), wait for our hope through the Spirit ( Gal.5:5), have fruit of the Spirit ( Gal. 5:22), and are sealed with the Spirit ( Eph. 1:13). We have access to the Father through the Spirit ( Eph. 2:18), are a dwelling place of God in the Spirit ( Eph. 2:22), are strengthened through the Spirit ( Eph. 3:16), have unity of the Spirit ( Eph. 4:3), are to be filled with the Spirit ( Eph. 5:18), have the supply of the Spirit ( Phil. 1:19), have fellowship of the Spirit ( Phil. 2:1), worship in the Spirit ( Phil. 3:3), love in the Spirit ( Col. 1:8), and have joy of the Spirit ( 1 Thess. 1:6). God gives us the Spirit ( 1 Thess. 4:8), we are renewed by the Spirit ( Titus 3:5), have sanctification in the Spirit ( 1 Pet. 1:2), are made alive by the Spirit ( 1 Pet.), pray in the Spirit ( Jude 20), and those who cause divisions do not have the Spirit ( Jude 19).
When did all of this begin? There are many passages that reveal the activity of the Spirit, but only a few speak on when we initially receive the Holy Spirit.
Actstells us, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” When the passages before and after Acts 2:38are considered, the meaning becomes simple. When we are baptized, we receive the gift of the Spirit, not a gift from the Spirit. God keeps His promise to give the Spirit to those who obey Him ( Acts 5:32).
(Wayne Wells preaches in Texarkana, TX. He is the webmaster for http://godofmercy.com and can be contacted at email@example.com.)