“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Those were the last words Jesus spoke before he was taken up into heaven, a promise of power that was fulfilled ten days later at Pentecost when the Spirit baptized the church with the promised power and its Great Commission work commenced. We focus on certain words in Acts 1:8. Power. Witnesses. The Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth progression. But our focus here will be on two words in the first clause – “come on.”
This wording that Jesus uses to describe the Baptism of the Spirit that was awaiting them is plucked out of the pages of the Old Testament. It was used commonly when the Spirit would enter a servant of God to speak a message for God, perform a task for him, or serve him in some other capacity. When there was a special work that God was going to do, he would send his Spirit to fill a human servant and accomplish that task.
There are both similarities and differences between the phenomenon in the Old Testament and the New. But as we see what happened in the Old Testament we can better understand the work of the Spirit on Pentecost. Perhaps the most complete description of this took place in the life of the first king of Israel, Saul, and is recorded in 1 Samuel 10:6-7.
5 “After that you will come to Gibeah of God where there are Philistine garrisons. When you arrive at the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place prophesying. They will be preceded by harps, tambourines, flutes, and lyres. 6 The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully on you, you will prophesy with them, and you will be transformed. 7 When these signs have happened to you, do whatever your circumstances require because God is with you.”
Notice the wording in verse 6. “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully on you.” Sounds very similar to Acts 1:8, does it not? The power of God is transferred to human beings when he “comes on” us – indwelling us, filling us, and working through us. None of us can accomplish the work of God without the power of God and the power of God works in us when the Spirit comes on us.
There are three key things happen in this passage that are also true in the New Testament phenomenon of Spirit baptism.
Notice that in verse 6 Samuel tells Saul that when the Spirit comes on him he will be transformed. A person cannot remain the same when the Spirit of the Living God indwells him or her. The very idea of a person coming to Christ for salvation and remaining unchanged until the day he goes to heaven is absurd. When we are “born from above” God sends his Spirit to work in us. We are new creations and the most powerful force in the universe dwells within us. Transformation is going to happen! The Spirit transformed Saul and the Spirit will begin to transform us to conform to the image of Christ.
The second aspect of the Spirit’s work in Saul has already been mentioned. He received power. The Spirit is God’s enabler. Perhaps the dumbest thing people say is, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” In the Bible, every assignment God ever gave anyone was far beyond their ability to handle. God ALWAYS gives you are able to do. But the Spirit of the Living God gives you “dunamis” – the enabling power of God – to do all that God has called you to do. No Christian can say “but I can’t” when it comes to the commands of God. Because of the indwelling Spirit of God, we can.
Finally, and perhaps most controversially, Saul prophesied. The Spirit of God is also the voice of God. He is the means by which God speaks to the human heart. The open communication that Adam and Eve had with God in the Garden was broken by sin, but when the Spirit quickens the human soul, he is able to communicate the word of God to us.
We all agree that the word of God is the source of truth that the Spirit communicates to us. The question is whether the Spirit also communicates details, directions, and specifics to us beyond what is written in Scripture.
But to summarize, the Spirit here had three great works. He transformed God’s people, empowered them for God’s work, and he communicated God’s truth to those people.
There is one key aspect to this story that must be noted here – a difference in the Old Testament and New. We know that Saul received the Spirit, but we also know that later the Spirit left him. In the Old Testament, the Spirit came on a man for the performance of a task and then could leave when that task was finished. Or, in the case of Saul, when a man fell into sin and rebellion, the Spirit would leave.
Remember Psalm 51:11?
Do not banish me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
That was not hyperbole for David. He had seen it happen in his predecessor’s life and was terrified that God might shelve him as he had Saul. He was begging God not only for forgiveness but for the continuation of the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life and in his work as king. He prayed that because he knew it was a very real possibility that God might remove the Spirit from him.
I have never prayed that prayer, even in my most sinful moment. I have prayed verse 12. “Restore the joy of my salvation.” But I have never begged God not to remove the Spirit because we have the comfort in the New Testament era that the Baptism of the Spirit brings the Spirit at our salvation and he does not leave us or forsake us. That is a motivation to holiness, not an excuse for laziness.
The Spirit Empowered Important Tasks
What were some of the tasks God’s Spirit-empowered? There are many, but a few of them stand as examples.
In Exodus 31, God ordered Israel to build him a house, a tabernacle which would house his presence, a place of worship. Building a tent was not a big deal, but building a tabernacle to house the presence of the Living God was a huge task. So, God set aside two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, to lead the work. In Exodus 31:2-5, Bezalel is filled with the Spirit to empower him to accomplish the task.
“Look, I have appointed by name Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 I have filled him with God’s Spirit, with wisdom, understanding, and ability in every craft 4 to design artistic works in gold, silver, and bronze, 5 to cut gemstones for mounting, and to carve wood for work in every craft.”
The Spirit of God empowered them and they did everything just as God commanded, and in Exodus 40:34 it says that the, “glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” The Spirit of God empowered the people of God and the work of God succeeded.
In Numbers 11, Moses was finding the burden of leading God’s people overwhelming, so God helped him out, as recorded in verses 24-25.
Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. He brought seventy men from the elders of the people and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord descended in the cloud and spoke to him. He took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed the Spirit on the seventy elders. As the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they never did it again.
God took the Holy Spirit who had been working in Moses, empowering him to lead the people of God and placed that Spirit on the seventy elders who were working with him. They were empowered to help him lead well. Why would anyone try to lead God’s people without the fullness of the Spirit of God? It is pointless.
Micah had a tough job to do, proclaiming to the house of Israel their sin and the judgment of God. It was not well-received and did not make him popular. But in Micah 3:8, we read this.
As for me, however, I am filled with power
by the Spirit of the Lord,
with justice and courage,
to proclaim to Jacob his rebellion
and to Israel his sin.
The Spirit of God filled him for the task at hand, strengthening him to preach what needed to be preached to honor God in spite of what anyone in the crowd thought. The courage to obey God when it evokes hate and opposition is a work of the Spirit within.
The work of God is empowered by the Spirit of God. It was true in the Old Testament and it is true today. Our tendency to avoid talking about the Spirit, much worse, to resist spiritual things because of charismania and charismaphobia hamstrings us in the service of God. We need not go to unbiblical extremes but we must not forget that no work of God can be accomplished without the power of God working inside the man or woman of God.
The Spirit Spoke
Both the Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit mean “wind” or “breath” – air in motion. By his very nature, the Spirit is the breath of God, the one who speaks the word of God to us. In the New Testament, we learn that he is the one who inspires and reveals the word and illuminates it to us. But in the Old Testament and Acts, he also speaks to God’s people in a variety of ways.
The question as to whether any of those ways continue or have all passed away will await a discussion after we have looked at the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles. But the evidence cannot be denied that the Spirit spoke in a wide variety of ways throughout Scripture.
What the Spirit Said
Holy is not the Spirit’s first name, it is his job description. Even in the Old Testament, he worked to instruct God’s people in holy living and convict them of sin.
In Nehemiah 9, the Levites were recounting goodness of God in Israel’s history and in verse 20 said, “You sent your good Spirit to instruct them.” Verse 30 goes on to say, “You were patient with them for many years, and your Spirit warned them through your prophets, but they would not listen.” The Spirit of God was warning Israel of its sin, convicting them, but they hardened their hearts and didn’t listen. In Psalm 143:10, David cried out, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me on level ground.” It was the Spirit who would lead David on the level ground of obedience, honoring God every day.
While Amos 3:7 does not mention the Spirit specifically, his work is clearly implied. “Indeed, the Lord God does nothing without revealing his counsel to his servants the prophets.” We say that God works in mysterious ways, and we often cannot understand him, but he revealed himself to Israel and Judah through the prophets and made clear what he was about to do. He did that through the work of the Spirit of God speaking to and through the prophets.
When God had something to say, he used a prophet, or he spoke directly to one of his people by the Spirit. Obviously, there were anomalous moments when he sent angels, but those were the exceptions, not the rule.
How the Spirit Spoke
God spoke in many ways, but it was the work of the Spirit that was behind them.
He spoke in dreams and visions. In Genesis 41 and Daniel 4, God spoke first to Joseph and later to Daniel to reveal the interpretation of dreams. The kings to whom they shared their revelation recognized that this ability came from “the spirit of the holy gods.” Should that be a capital s and should it be translated “God?” Those are interpretational, not grammatical questions. Either is possible. The fact that pagan kings spoke the words may lead us to the small letters. But clearly, it was God’s Spirit behind this, revealing God’s truth to Joseph and Daniel. Ezekiel repeatedly credits the Spirit for his visions.
He spoke directly to the human mind. It would be nice if this were better defined, but it is not. “God said,” is a phrase used commonly in both the Old Testament and New, but we are never told how that happened, except perhaps on the mountain when God’s finger wrote on the tablet. Did they hear an audible voice? I believe it was more of an “inner voice” in which the Spirit spoke to the mind of man. But it was clear – not some kind of charlatan fortune-teller’s “impressions.” God spoke clearly, so clearly that quotes can be put around what he said! He revealed detailed plans (the Ark, the Tabernacle and Temple, battle plans) and made the details of his will very clear.
The people of God were never left to figure it out on their own. God not only told them what he was doing, but he gave them specific, details instructions about their part in the plan.
He spoke through prophecy. When God’s people or the nations around them needed a message from God, the Spirit of God spoke a prophetic word directly to those people – specific, targeted, and convicting, calling them to repent and return to God.
As Hebrews 1:1 says, there was a great variety in the ways that God spoke through his prophets, by his Spirit.
A Concluding Thought
Consider this point as we conclude this topic. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God came on believers to empower them for special and important tasks. If someone received the Spirit, God had something big in store for him! So, if God has given us the Spirit permanently, does that not mean that our Great Commission work is special and important every day? There is not a day or moment of your life that doesn’t matter. Since God has given you the Spirit for every second of your life, every second counts!
Never take for granted the constant presence of the power of God that dwells in you!