Great Themes From Acts: The Holy Spirit

By Tom Roberts

“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; And also on my menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29).

“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16).

Any consideration of the themes contained in the Book of Acts must surely include the administration of the Holy Spirit. As Joel prophesied, the “last days” would see the pouring out of the Spirit of God. Peter, one of the twelve who received this pouring out in Acts 2 confirmed that God had kept his word, the last days had arrived and the Spirit was thereby being given. It is notable that the apostles were never confused about the Spirit, its mission nor its medium; but confusion reigns today as every charlatan and huckster seeks to make merchandise of the Spirit of God. How fearful it is to consider the fate of those who do despite to the Spirit.

The Spirit Was Promised

Luke confided to us that Jesus told the apostles “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: for John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence” (Acts 1:4-5).

We find these promises (which were made only to the apostles) recorded in John 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” Also, John 16:13: “However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak; and he will tell you things to come.”

It is a mistake of major proportions, both textually and contextually, to assign these promises to all disciples. Read carefully and you will see that only the apostles were addressed. And it was only the apostles who received the fulfillment of the promise.

The Spirit Was Given

True to their Lord’s command, the apostles were waiting in Jerusalem. Just prior to the time when the Spirit was given, a number of brethren gathered to witness the selection of Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26). But it is a superficial reading that would appoint the 120 disciples or the multitudes at the place where the Spirit was given. Please note that the last verse of chapter 1 states that Matthias was numbered “with the eleven apostles.” Then chapter 2 begins the statement, “And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place.” Who were the “they” of verse one? Was it not the “apostles” who are the antecedents of the pronoun in verse one? Further, we can pinpoint who received the Holy Spirit, because the ones who received the Spirit spoke in tongues, but verse 7 informed us that those who spoke in tongues 49were all Galileans,” an obvious reference to the apostles. Again, verse 14 clearly stated that “Peter, standing up with the eleven” began to speak and the crowd recognized that only the apostles were speaking (v. 11), “as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v. 4). But the multitude did not come together until after the Spirit was given, so they could not have been recipients any more than the 120 were.

The Purpose of Holy Spirit Baptism

Please note that every time there was an evidence of the Spirit doing something it did not mean that a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” was taking place. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was not a common event. Peter later recalled, at the time when the Spirit was poured out on the household of Cornelius, that it reminded him of what was given to the apostles “at the beginning” (11:15). Between Acts 2 and Acts 10, there is much evidence of spiritual activity, but not of Holy Spirit baptism. All the saved of 2:41 received the Spirit (2:28), but it was not Holy Spirit baptism. Likewise, God gave the Spirit to all who obeyed him (5:32). The Spirit shook the place where the brethren had gathered to rejoice at the release of Peter and John (4:41), but it was not Holy Spirit baptism. (Were the apostles baptized in the Spirit more than once?) The seven men who served the church in Acts 6 were “full of the Spirit” (6:3), but we know that they were not baptized in the Holy Spirit. How do we know? Because Philip was one of these who had the Spirit and could work miracles, yet when he preached to the Samaritans in Acts 8:5-24, he could not lay hands on the converts and give them the Holy Spirit. This was not a problem for the apostles Peter and John who came to Samaria later and imparted the Spirit to the Christians. Simon, being observant, wanted to buy the power which the apostles had, for “when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit” (8:18-19). Simon did not try to buy the gift from Philip, who, though “full of the Spirit” could not lay hands on others and impart the Spirit. He saw that the apostles had what others did not have.

It is clear that God gave the apostles the baptism of the Holy Spirit to empower them for their work as ambassadors of Christ and as those who would be able to unfold the “mystery” (Eph. 3:1-5) of the gospel. The apostles occupied a unique role in this work and were enabled by the Spirit to complete the task. But by the time the epistle to the Ephesians was written, Paul stated that there was only “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5) and it was water baptism, not Holy Spirit baptism. Holy Spirit baptism was not for all men and not for all time.


But didn’t Cornelius also receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? First of all, it is not stated that he was baptized in the Spirit; but that the Spirit “fell on them” (10:44; 11:15). But I have little doubt that it was similar to what the apostles received, butfor a different purpose. Cornelius was not called to be an apostle (Acts 1:21-22). But he was a Gentile and this presented special problems to the church which was completely Jewish until this time. God used Cornelius in a special manner to prove in unmistakable fashion (by giving the Holy Spirit to Gentiles) that to “Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life” (11:18). Peter understood this, for as a Jew and reluctant to associate with Gentiles, he concluded “who was I that I could withstand God?” (11:17) What happened to Cornelius reminded Peter of what had happened to the apostles “at the beginning” (11:15). It also reminded him of the promise of Jesus to baptize the apostles in the Spirit (v. 16). Cornelius was a special case; he was not called to be an apostle; God used him as proof that Gentiles could enter the kingdom along with Jews. We should not make more of Cornelius and the Holy Spirit than the Scriptures do.

Confirmation of the Word

Jesus had promised the apostles that “signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them, they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover” (Mk. 16:17-18). This is equal to what the Hebrew writer stated: “For if the word . . . which having at the first began to be spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will” (2:2-4).

All these things happened, as God bore witness to early disciples so that the word of God was confirmed. There were nine gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-11) and many disciples had them by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8). But we should be reminded that such gifts were “according to his own will” (Heb. 2:4) and not according to what men want. God’s will was that during the time of the oral revelation, as well as during the writing of that oral message, confirmation of truth was clear so that false doctrine could be discerned. However, once the full message was delivered (Jn. 16:13; Jude 3; 2 Tim. 3:16,17; Gal. 1:6-9, et al), the spiritual gifts were no longer needed and were removed by God (1 Cor. 13:8-12). During the infancy of the church, special gifts were needed to supply truth; once full truth was delivered, the church “grew up” (13:11) and put away childish things. The age of miracles, of spiritual gifts, is over.

Just one example should show the work of the Spirit during the formative period of the church. Acts 15 recorded the great debate over admission of Gentiles into fellowship. When the apostles and elders at Jerusalem gathered, Barnabas and Paul “rehearsed what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them” (15:12). The letter that was sent to the churches testifying of the events at Jerusalem included that “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit” (v. 28). The Holy Spirit was at work in the world, bringing in the full gospel message and confirming it (cf. Acts 19:1-7).

The Themes of Luke

We are indebted to Luke, as a companion of Paul, as a faithful proclaimer of the word, and as a writer and historian for both the gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts. This series of eight articles has sought to impress on our minds some of the major themes Luke set before us. This list is not exhaustive; more things are worthy of consideration. But being aware of these themes surely raises Acts above a simple historical narrative and provides us with a valuable insight to the harmony to be found between every part of inspired scripture. The next time you study Acts, whether in class or privately, see what themes you can discover and each will deepen his appreciation of the rich legacy given to us by inspiration.

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 16, pp. 492-493
August 20, 1992