The Baptism of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament

This is another one of those theological subjects. It’s a long one so hang on.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is first mentioned by John the Baptist in Matt 3:11 and also recorded in the other three gospels.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
(Also Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:33)

The question is, exactly what was Jesus referring to? What would the baptism of the Holy Spirit look like? Who and how would it be experienced? There are endless beliefs and countless theological explanations as to exactly what this prophecy means.

When it comes to prophecy, the way to understand the meaning of a prophecy is found in its fulfillment. How is a particular prophecy fulfilled in history? How did this prophecy play itself out in history? That is always the best way to discern what a particular prediction means rather than trying to guess or predetermine what God might be saying.

The next time this particular prophecy is mentioned is just before Jesus ascends back to heaven and is giving his followers His final instructions

Acts 1:4-5 “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Which his followers did, and God acted just as he had promised. A few days later the baptism of the Holy Spirit was experienced for the very first time.

Acts 2:1-4 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Why did this happen? What was the meaning of it all? Why would God pour out His Spirit in this way?

The purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit can be summarized by Peter’s reference to Joel’s prophecy when he explains in Verse 17.  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”

A deeper examination of the wording reveals that all people means all people groups of the world. The kingdom of God is no longer for just the chosen nation of Israel. It is for everyone and this miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a demonstration of God’s power to validate that message, that truth and that expansion of God’s Kingdom plan.

Meanwhile, the result of Peter’s message that followed was that 3000 accepted this first gospel message and were baptized into the family of God. All 3000 of these first converts, thought, were of Jewish heritage that had assembled in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost.

For the next few years, with a few exceptions, the work of the apostles and church leaders was confined to those of Jewish heritage. Even though the kingdom had been open to “all people” the church and church leadership was slow to get the message. It was still focusing on the house of Israel.

Then comes the household of Cornelius (Acts 10). Cornelius was a Gentile who was an extremely good and God fearing man but not a Christ follower. He didn’t even know there was a Christ. So, in a miraculous way, by means of a sheet, God revealed to Peter that Gentiles were also to be included in the evangelistic plans of the church and the Kingdom. As a result of his dream from God, Peter surrenders to the message of the sheet and travels to the house of Cornelius. Upon arriving he reveals that he finally gets what God is saying.

Acts 10:34-35 “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

Then it happened again. Acts 10:44-46 “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

The “circumcised believers” i.e. Jewish believers, still had a difficult time accepting the outpouring of God on the Gentiles but who were they to argue with God. They also relented and baptized them in the name a Jesus and welcomed them into the church also.

When word spread throughout Judea that Gentiles had also been accepted into the kingdom, Peter headed to Jerusalem to explain what had happened, to the church leaders there.

He summed up the experience by saying, Acts 11:15-17 “As I began to speak, (Referring to the Cornelius incident.) The Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

His explanation reveals;

1. That what happened here is the same thing that happened at “the beginning.” The beginning of what? The beginning of the church. (Acts 2)
2. What happened here is also the fulfillment of the original prophecy relating to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (Joel’s prophecy)
3. God has declared unmistakable that the kingdom of God is open to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

From the baptism of the Holy Spirit event at the household of Cornelius we have about eighty more years of biblical writings in the New Testament. In none of the New Testament writings, from this time forward, do we find the baptism of the Holy Spirit ever mentioned again. Why not, if it were to be something every single individual was to experience? Or is that really its purpose in God’s plan?

Going back to the original thought, the way to understand the meaning of prophecy is through its fulfillment. In God’s plan, as revealed in the New Testament, the baptism of the Holy Spirit seems to have had a temporary purpose and once it fulfilled its purpose, faded from the scene. That purpose being, to clearly declare that the kingdom is open to “all people” (Jews and Gentiles) revealed through both Jews and Gentiles experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the baptism of the Holy Spirit fell on both people groups.

Then it vanished from Biblical history. Mission accomplished!


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