The Promised Outpouring to the End of the Earth
In our study of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we have been looking at the fulfillment of the promise from Joel 2:28-32 and it has opened up a significant introduction to the doctrine of the third person of the Trinity. As we have seen so far, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was first upon the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, at His incarnation, baptism, and ascension subsequent to His death and resurrection. We then saw how our Lord in effect took the promise of the Holy Spirit, now poured out upon Himself, and reissued that promise to His disciples encouraging them that they would not be left alone upon His ascension, rather another Paraclete (Helper) would come.
Next, we drew our attention to Pentecost as the fulfillment of the promised outpouring came upon the disciples (now apostles), manifested visibly with flaming tongues and audibly with sounds of rushing wind and speaking in tongues. At this, crowds gathered wondering what had happened, to which Peter responded with a citation of Joel’s prophecy stating that…was this. With this unique, pivotal event indicating that something new had now been inaugurated, we looked in our last post at how this promise was to be extended from the audience of Peter’s Pentecostal sermon, manifested in repentance and baptism, to their, “children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself”. This section of the passage necessitated a small excursus on the nature of baptism and then what was meant by the children, drawing us back to the words of Joel.
In this post, we return our focus to this passage from Acts 2:39 in order to see how the phrase, “those who are far off,” is fulfilled as the promise of the outpoured Holy Spirit extends to the end of the earth.
In Acts 1, a passage that we have already seen connecting the outpouring of the Spirit from Christ to His disciples, Jesus outlines what the disciples will do with the promised Spirit
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 1:8
The disciples, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, were to be Jesus’ witnesses beginning in Jerusalem (as fulfilled here at Pentecost), extending to all Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth (those who are far off). This geographic spread is probably best thought of as concentric circles expanding out from Jerusalem until it had covered the globe. As the fulfillment of the promised Spirit continues throughout the book of Acts, this is precisely what we see.
In Acts, which some have accurately titled the Acts of the Risen Lord or perhaps even the Acts of the Holy Spirit, as we have seen, there are at least four primary movements of the outpoured Spirit beginning with Pentecost. At that point, the work of the Spirit in the lives of the apostles as they boldly proclaim the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons is quite evident as the Lord continually increases the number of believers in Jerusalem. Continuing this movement in Acts 4 Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and again bears witness to the risen and ascended Christ as he proclaims Him to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Upon their preaching, Peter and John were detained and ordered to cease preaching Christ, which of course they refused to do. After their release, they return to the home of their friends to give testimony. Collectively, the gathered acknowledge the sovereignty of God in His plan of salvation through Christ, request continued boldness to proclaim the word of God, and petition Him for continued healings, signs, and wonders. At this, the people were “all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness”. This second example of the outpoured Holy Spirit in Jerusalem is similar to the first, but there are definite differences which highlight the uniqueness of Pentecost and the role of the Holy Spirit going forward. This second outpouring was an equipping with boldness for the proclamation of the gospel as the apostles continued their witness in Jerusalem.
The transition from the first movement of the Spirit throughout Jerusalem to the second movement progressing out of the city begins in chapter 6 of Acts with the increase of believers and the responsibilities to care for them, most notably those among the Hellenists who thought they were being neglected. As a reminder, the Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews who maintained their traditional religious practices but had embraced the Greek Culture. In a very real way, they mark the beginning of the Gospel spread from the Jews to the ends of the earth. It is at this juncture the apostles deem it necessary to have the believers appoint them help, at least short-term, to tend to the needs of the Hellenist widows. As we know, seven were chosen who were filled with the Spirit, each of whom had a Greek name, including Stephen and Philip, central figures in the upcoming second movement of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 7, Stephen full of the Holy Spirit gives a convicting sermon on God’s plan of redemption throughout Jewish history culminating in their murder of His Son. Subsequently, the Jews stone Stephen which inaugurates widespread persecution throughout the City of Jerusalem. This is significant as the persecution forms the catalyst for the gospel’s spread. The approval of Stephen’s execution is given by new character named Saul, who likewise leads the persecution efforts of believers from house to house. This is recorded for us in Acts 8:1-3, but also the interesting note, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” The persecution of believers actually leads to fulfillment of the Lord’s promise/command for the gospel to spread from Jerusalem to Judea and to Samaria. This sets the stage for the Holy Spirit’s second primary movement in Acts.
The central figure for the second movement is Philip, previously introduced alongside Stephen as one of the seven chosen to meet the needs of the Hellenist widows. In Acts 8:4ff we find that among those who were scattered, who went about preaching the word, was Philip who went down to Samaria to preach Christ (Of note: the apostles remained in Jerusalem). Samaria, as we may recall, was a people of mixed Jewish and Gentile heritage who had a history of being much maligned by Israel. Here we find Philip preaching the gospel, the Samaritans receiving it by faith, and following in baptism. However, something unique happens. When the apostles hear of the gospel reception by the Samaritans, they journey to see for themselves and validate what had happened. Upon arrival, they find genuine profession, but only baptism in the name of Jesus and not the Spirit. Here, the Spirit is not outpoured upon the Samaritans at repentance, nor does it follow baptism. Rather the Spirit comes through the laying on of hands by the Apostles thereby signaling a procession of the Spirit from themselves to the new converts.
Chapters 9-11 of Acts prepare us for the third movement of the Holy Spirit. First, we note the conversion of Saul (Paul), who from a negative perspective was instrumental in the second movement of the Spirit through his approval of Stephen’s death and his instrumentality in the persecution of believers from house to house. His conversion signals not only a movement of the Spirit, but also that even in the midst of persecution God is not only saving those who are being persecuted but also the persecutors. After Saul’s conversion, he attempts to join the other disciples, but there is some natural hesitation on their part. We then read of a summary statement, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” This interlude on the conversion of Saul leads us back to Peter, who becomes the central figure in our third movement, just as he was in the first. It is through a vision to Peter that the Lord commends the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles.
In this vision the Lord tells Peter to rise, kill, and eat. Embedded in this directive is the implication that doing so would be unclean, given Peter’s response, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” (Recall Ezekiel 4:12-15) To this, the Lord sets Peter straight and opens up the door to Gentile inclusion, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” While the vision was concerning food, specifically the lifting of restrictions which God had placed on the Jewish diet, Peter’s rumination on the vision rightly leads him to conclude that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. In practice, this immediately becomes evident through a Gentile man named Cornealius to whom the Lord had also appeared in a vision telling him to find Peter (Acts 10:1-8). This divine and providential encounter is orchestrated completely by God in Acts 10:24-33. Upon each hearing the reason given them by God for their meeting, Peter subsequently proclaims the gospel to this group of Gentiles. While he is still speaking, we find our third major movement of the Holy Spirit as He falls on all who hear the preached word. This is marked once again by the visibly manifested signs of speaking in tongues, as with Pentecost. We ought to note that the Spirit and the manifestation of tongues occurs prior to their baptism. When Peter recounts the story of this event to the other disciples he assures them that what has happened with the outpouring of the Spirit was just like what happened to them at Pentecost (Acts 11:15).
Our fourth and final primary movement of the Holy Spirit in Acts occurs towards the beginning of the third missionary journey of Saul, now Paul. At this point, as should be obvious, Paul has completed his first missionary journey with Barnabas (and John Mark), having been sent out by the Holy Spirit from Antioch and his second trip with Silas (sans John Mark), encountering Timothy, Priscilla, and Aquilla along the way. His third trip begins in Acts 18:23 after a brief return to Antioch and another missionary associate is introduced – Apollos. While Apollos is in Corinth, along with Aquilla and Priscilla, Paul makes his way to Ephesus. It is here that he finds a group of disciples, that is genuine believers in Christ.
Ephesus was home to the great temple of Artemis (Diana), which at one time was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Her citizens were not only engaged in idolatrous worship, but the production of all cult worship related items. It’s not a stretch to say that the city’s economy revolved around this idolatrous worship. It is here that Paul finds a group of disciples. The following dialogue is recorded in Acts 19:2-4
And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”Acts 19:2-4
There is some debate over whether or not this group of 12 were genuine believers, especially among discussions on the Holy Spirit in Acts. However, the term of disciples, or learners, used to describe them in this passage is only used in reference to genuine believers in Acts. Additionally, the same group of disciples is referred to again in Acts 19:9. Are we to believe that in the same context the term disciple is applied in two different meanings that shifts with their reception of the Holy Spirit cited above? Hardly.
As seen in our passage, this 12, no doubt a gentile parallel to the original Twelve, had come to faith and repentance through the ministry of John the Baptist and as some have pointed out, possibly by way of Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). Paul gives a clear indication that John’s message was a gospel message that resulted in faith. But much like Aquilla and Priscilla needed to do with Apollos (Acts 18:26), Paul clarifies the message of Christ more clearly. Upon hearing this, the disciples were baptized in the name of Jesus signifying a difference between the pre-resurrection baptism of John and that ordained by Christ (Matt. 28:18). Subsequent to their baptism, Paul laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. As with Pentecost and our third outpouring of the Spirit above, they began prophesying and speaking in tongues.
In our survey of the outpoured Spirit that followed the commanded pattern of our Lord from Jerusalem and Judea, to Samaria, and the ends of the earth, we have simply observed how this was fulfilled in the Book of Acts. The procession of the Spirit from the Father to the Son and from the Son to His disciples now extends to all those who are far off, especially gentiles at the end of the earth, which continues down to this very day. The promise of the Spirit was not limited to those of Jewish descent, rather what we have seen is that through faith both Jew and Gentile can be saved and receive the gift of the Spirit. We ought to be reminded that we did not observe a formulaic pattern of Spirit procession, meaning a repeatable action alone, such as belief, baptism, laying on of hands, etc. indicating that the Spirit is not confined to a box. We also did not find people attempting to manipulate, manufacture, or otherwise seek out this outpouring of the Spirit, apart from Simon the Sorcerer. In other words, the outpouring of the Spirit is entirely a work of God’s sovereignty and good pleasure to extend the gift and promise to whom He pleases.
17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”Acts 11:17-18