The Promise of the Holy Spirit – Part 3

The Outpouring of the Spirit upon the Disciples

We come now to our third installment on the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit which was necessitated by asking when the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 was to be fulfilled, noting specifically Peter’s citation of this prophecy in Acts 2:17-21. In our study thus far, we have seen that the Spirit was first promised to be poured out on Christ, which was His anointing for ministry as Prophet, Priest, and King. Then, by noting the prophecy of Joel as well as such notable prophecies as Isaiah as well as Ezekiel, we saw that once the Spirit was given to Christ (recall the three grades), He was to proceed from Christ to believers. Christ serves as the conduit for the procession of the Holy Spirit to believers. We left off by asking when Christ’s ministerial promise/prophecy to send the Paraclete to His disciples would occur and briefly concluded it was to occur after His ascension. In this post we want to draw out that conclusion more and see the development of this promised being fulfilled.

As we’ve seen, John’s Gospel provides central teaching on the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit, principally in chapters 14-16. After Jesus’ High Priestly prayer (John 17), subsequent arrest, and culminating death and resurrection, we again find the theme of the promised Spirit, though now beginning it’s fulfillment. In John 20 we find recorded for us Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to His disciples:
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

John 20:21-23
Just as we’ve seen with the prophecies of Joel, Ezekiel, and others there is a certain prophetic perspective that allows us to understand their layered fulfillment. What is often expected to be fulfilled at one time occurs over time with multiple levels or layers of fulfillment often culminating in a pinnacle event. This is precisely what we find with Jesus’ actions above in breathing on His disciples and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” By breathing on them, we once again find the connection between wind/breath (Hebrew: ruach; Greek: pnuema) and the Spirit. By doing so, Christ symbolizes the transference or progression of the Spirit from Himself to His disciples. As John (under divine inspiration of the Spirit no less) has previously done in drawing on Genesis (John 1:1), he does so again here by drawing comparison with Genesis 2:7 and God breathing into Adam the breath of life (see also Ezekiel 37:9; for more see Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John). This new breath from our Lord is new life. It is the inauguration of the prophetic fulfillment empowering them for their commission, just as our Lord was empowered by the outpoured Spirit for His own mission, but there is more to come.

Just prior to His ascension, Jesus commands His disciples not to leave Jerusalem, rather they are to wait there for the promise from the Father, which we find out to be the Spirit. In Luke’s first correspondence to Theophilus under divine inspiration of the Spirit, he writes, “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power on high.” Picking back up on this in his second correspondence, Luke provides overlap by writing
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.” Acts 1:4-5
Again forming a relationship between water (baptism) and the Spirit, though in contrasting terms, Jesus’ words are drawn from the prophecy of John the Baptist from Matthew 3:11-12
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12
As we have seen with promise (prophecy)/fulfillment previously, not only is there often prophetic perspective (remember multiple mountain peaks), but often these peaks are separated chronologically. Meaning that they do not all have to be fulfilled at once. If we compare John’s prophecy with Jesus’ recitation of it, we notice the peculiar absence of (baptizing) with fire as well as the additional language of judgment. This indicates that the first part, baptism of the Spirit, is what the disciples are to remain in Jerusalem for while the second part remains to be fulfilled.

Returning to the book of Acts and the expected fulfillment of the promised coming Spirit, the disciples began to inquire about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. This isn’t an unrelated or ignorant question as we sometimes think. As we’ve seen restoration was indeed part of the prophecies and promises from old, particularly in Joel and Ezekiel as noted. It is possible that their question is actually intuitive, given Jesus’ mention of the coming Spirit. In other words, because Jesus had mentioned the coming Spirit, the disciples associated the fulfillment of that promise to coincide with the restoration of Israel. With this line of reasoning, the apostle’s expectation would be for the restoration implying that Israel’s golden age would be revived with the risen Messiah as King. On the surface, Jesus’ response appears to avoid their question as He redirects back to the Father’s promise of the Spirit.
He said to them, “It is not for you to know 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 end of the earth.” Acts 1:7-8
Typically when this passage is read, we write off the apostles question as another in a long line of those where they miss the point. But again, that may not exactly be the case. Jesus’ rebuke isn’t so much about the subject as it is the timing. At this, Jesus again promises the apostles will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes and that as a result of this Spirit empowerment, they will be his witnesses, literally martyrs, beginning in Jerusalem and moving out to the ends of the earth. Our Lord’s promise that they would receive power from on high is likely a reference to Isaiah 32:15. When held together with the prophecies of Ezekiel 39:29 and Joel 2:28-29, Jesus actually is answering their question, if even indirectly. The promise of the Spirit was, as we have seen, to coincide with the coming of Messiah and was to signal the arrival of His kingdom as well as inaugurate a new era/age. So a question regarding the restoration of the kingdom of Israel is not as misplaced as it seems.

After our Lord’s ascension and the disciple’s efforts to process the whirlwind of events, we know that the outpouring of the Spirit happened as the prophets had said and as Jesus had confirmed. In Acts 2 we find the disciples gathered together on the occasion of 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
Here we may once again observe the connection between the Spirit and wind, but also now the connection with the Spirit and fire. In addition to these physical manifestations of the Spirit’s presence (recall also our Lord’s baptism), we find that the disciples were filled with the Spirit and were given an utterance of tongues by the Spirit. The collective sounds, from the rushing Spirit to the utterance of tongues, resulted in a crowd coming together to see what was going on. They find men from a number of countries speaking their native languages, whom they perceive to be drunk. At this, Peter stands up to respond with our citation from Joel 2:28-32 that we have been studying (Acts 2:16-21). Within his impromptu sermon, he begins with the application of Joel 2, leading into a declaration of the sovereign plan of God to deliver up Christ to death on the cross but subsequently raising Him from the dead. This then leads into an exposition and application of David’s prophecy from Psalm 16:8-11 which Peter interprets Christologically as referring to our Lords death, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 2:25-28). After commenting on this passage and affirming the Lordship of Christ, seated now at the right hand of the Father (Psalm 110:1), Peter affirms again that what they are witnessing is nothing less than the outpouring of the promised Spirit
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. Acts 2:33
Noting once again the relationship of Christ’s ascension with the outpouring of the Spirit, as well as the fulfillment of the promised Spirit at this Pentecostal episode, Peter’s sermon demands a response, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37) With boldness and the authority of Christ, Peter commands them to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and that subsequently they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

This event at Pentecost, where the Spirit was outpoured and manifested in sights and sounds to the people was what Joel had prophesied 900 hundred years earlier and what our Lord had promised would occur after His ascension. In doing so, Christ stands firm in His role as prophet; as Mediator of the promised Spirit He affirms His role as Priest to all those united to Him by faith; and it is by the authority of His name as King that the disciples (and us) declare the gospel with boldness, “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.'” Acts 2:38 

In the next post from our series we will look at how the promise of the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father to the Son to the disciples, is given to all believers as a gift of the New Covenant in the controversial Acts 2:39.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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