GOD’S SPIRIT AT WORK
Probably no subject of the Scriptures is more misunderstood than that of the Spirit of God, often known as the Holy Spirit.
The idea of a spirit or unseen power has been part of most religions since primitive times. Pagans, Orientals and Christians alike have recognized a power that they were not always able to explain. Primitive peoples believed in various kinds of spirits, both good and bad. A good spirit was believed to make seed corn sprout and grow; a bad spirit was believed to cause thunder and lightning. Ancient mythology reflected man’s belief in the reality of the spirit world. If the spirit was helpful, it was worshiped; if it was harmful, it was feared. The pagan religions which grew out of such beliefs influenced the thinking of apostatizing Hebrews as the people intermingled.
In this lesson we will discuss the means God used in working with His human family in all ages, beginning with the time when “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,” when God first revealed Himself to man on this earth.
The Spirit of God was a power by which men were made capable of performing tasks they could not have done of themselves alone. Joseph interpreted dreams, as did Daniel centuries later. David was strengthened to perform valiant deeds and to preserve his life when he was threatened by an angry king. Elijah, after thwarting the prophets of Baal, was given strength to run ahead of the chariot of Ahab into the city. Kings were directed by this same Spirit of God, and prophets of God were endowed with knowledge to forecast future events and to record them for our learning.
In New Testament times, God’s Spirit or power protected the child Jesus by directing Joseph to “take the young child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,” out of the reach of the wrathful Herod. In later years, this same power enabled Him to escape the angry mob that would have “cast him down headlong” over a cliff when they disapproved of His teachings. By the same power Jesus was able to perform many miracles, from the feeding of five thousand with five loaves and a few fishes to the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus was able to impart a certain measure of this power to others. When He sent out the Twelve, He instructed them to “preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.” Healing would have been impossible without the power of God. At the same time He told them it would not be necessary for them to prepare in advance what they would say, “For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak: for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matt. 10:19-20). He was able also to bestow this power upon the seventy whom He appointed to carry the good news of the gospel into other cities.
After the outpouring of this power at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was the means of the rapid growth of the Christian Church. The Spirit played an important part in the success of the early Church, as we learn from the accounts in the book of Acts.
Today we find a multiplicity of faiths all claiming to be guided by the Spirit of God. Can it be possible that God’s Spirit is leading them in so many varying directions but all toward the same city, as claimed by the popular religions of the day?
What Is the Spirit of God?
The Spirit of God in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament have played an extremely important role in God’s plan. We might define the Spirit of God as God in action; God thinking, planning, teaching, directing, acting. It is God-directed power carrying out His will.
Since God first spoke to Adam and Eve. people of God in all ages have had some form of contact with the Almighty, visible or invisible. To some He sent angels to deliver His message. Some were informed through visions; others in dreams. God was said to have spoken His Word to Moses out of a cloud, and Moses wrote it “for a memorial in a book.” Through His Spirit all the writers of the Bible received the words which they wrote. This fact is well-stated by Peter: “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21).
The patriarchs and prophets themselves confirm how they received the Word, that these words were not theirs but God’s. We read that “Moses wrote all the words of the Lord” (Ex. 24:4). The “two tablets of the Testimony” that he received on the mount were “written with the finger of God”—that is, they bore God’s direct authority (Ex. 31:18). “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue.” said King David. “Hear the word of the Lord,…give ear to the law of our God,” wrote Isaiah at the beginning of his prophecy. Jeremiah also received his message direct from God: “and the Lord said to me: Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9). God spoke to men through the prophets, and the Bible is not the work of the minds of men but the work of God through the influence of His spirit.
Many churches today invoke the power of the Holy Spirit in their prayers and sing praises to it in their hymns. But it is our conviction that the Bible teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the end of the Apostolic Age. For one to claim the power of the Holy Spirit today is to overstretch the promise of the Scriptures. Paul, an apostle chosen by Jesus Christ Himself, stated definitely that the gifts of the Spirit-tongues, superhuman knowledge, prophecy would end and that only “faith, hope, love, these three” would remain. The command of this same Great Apostle to us in his letter to Timothy was: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). If we possessed the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of knowledge, our study would not be necessary. We, like the Twelve, would be told what we should say and what we should teach. But lacking the gifts and possessing only
“faith,hope, love, these three,” we are obliged to study to ascertain the true teaching of the Word of God.
• Original Words Translated “Spirit” in Scripture
The term “Spirit” as used in the Scriptures covers a wide range of ideas. In the Old Testament it most often appears as “the Spirit of God” or “the Spirit of the Lord.” In the New Testament, “the Holy Spirit” predominates, while “the Spirit of God,” or “the Spirit of the Lord” is used less frequently.
The Bible speaks of different “spirits.” We read of a “spirit of knowledge” (Isa. 11:2), a “spirit of judgment” (Isa. 4:4), a “spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1), a “spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10), and a “spirit of truth,” among others. There is also the “humble spirit,” a “spirit of jealousy,” and a “spirit of bondage.” Use of the term in Scripture is not limited to that which is holy or of God. We will confine our study to the “Spirit of God, or of the Lord” in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit as distinguished from the Spirit of truth in the New Testament; also the “spirit” or “breath” that animates man.
Hebrew Word: ruah, or ruach
The Hebrew word translated “spirit” in the Old Testament is ruach. Literally rendered it is, according to Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon, spirit, breath; “‘breath of His mouth,’ as spoken of the creative word of God in Ps. 33:6.… Breath of the nostrils, breath of air, air in motion.” Then the Lexicon comments as follows: “Metaphorically used of any one stupified with astonishment and admiration. 1 Kings 10:6. It is more often the wind, a storm…. It is clear that all these passages alike speak of the Spirit of God himself, and not of any wind supposed to be moved by the breath of God.”
Ruach is used of human breath of a living being as God-given and life-animating. One such use occurs in Gen. 7:22, where we read of those “in whose nostrils was the breath [ruach] of life”; again in Eccl. 3:19, speaking of the human and animal creation, “Surely, they all have one breath.” Ruach is also used directly of God’s power, as that which is out-breathed from God and as much a part of Him as breath is part of our being. As in Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made; And all the host of them by the breath [ruach] of His mouth”; or in Isaiah 11:4, again speaking of His power, “He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath [ruach] of His lips He shall slay the wicked.” Again ruach is translated “spirit” and is used of a life-imparting essence from God, as in Job 27:3, “As long as my breath is in me, And the breath of God [ruach] in my nostrils” (Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon).
The Greek word for “spirit” corresponds with the Hebrew as well as the Latin in the Septuagint. (Greek definitions are from The Greek-English Lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich.)
Greek Word: pneuma
The Greek word translated “spirit” and used to refer to the Spirit of God is pneuma. As with many Greek words, this word has many shades of meaning. Some of its definitions are: “wind, the breathing out of air; breath, blowing, spirit; the spirit as a part of the human personality; the source and seat of insight, feeling and will, . . . spirit as compared to flesh, . . . It can mean self, a person’s very self, or ego; also, spiritual state, state of mind, disposition; a spirit as an independent being.”
The same word is also used of “evil spirits, or spirit-beings which were thought to cause illness; demonic powers, especially as in the accounts of Jesus’ healings in the Gospels” (cf. Matt. 12:43; Mark 1:23, 26; Luke 8:29; 11:24, and many others). We will discuss this “spirit” later in our study.
Often in the New Testament the Greek word for spirit (pneuma) is used with the Greek word hagios, meaning “holy.” This differentiates it from other uses of pneuma, such as “breath,” or “wind.” The number of times that pneuma is used to refer to the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of God is comparatively few in relation to the total number of times the word appears in the New Testament.
Another Spirit: the Spirit of Truth
Not to be confused with the “Holy Spirit” or power of God is the “Spirit of Truth.” In His last message to His disciples before His crucifixion, Jesus said: “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you for ever; the Spirit of truth…” (John 14:16-17). What is this “Spirit of Truth”?
Jesus, possessing all knowledge and able to foresee the future, knew that His disciples would need help to carry on after He ascended to heaven. At the time He spoke these words (John 14) they were not yet able to comprehend the meaning of His death and resurrection; but He had been given advance knowledge from the Father, hence He was preparing them for the separation that was inevitable. The promise of the Spirit and of “another Comforter” are important parts of His after-supper discourse.
The words “another Comforter,” commonly rendered in the newer translations as “Advocate,” means a “supporter,” or “helper.” This helper, or Comforter which will abide for ever is the “Spirit of Truth”-not supernatural power to perform miracles but the revealed or written knowledge of God contained in His Word, a vital part of God’s overall plan on this earth. We must remember that Jesus was speaking not only to the eleven disciples on this occasion but also to all those who would believe, even in our time, and for us the written Word is vital. Without it, we could have no part in God’s plan.
Jesus defined the Spirit of Truth to His apostles in John 6:63: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”
The “Spirit of Truth” is also spoken of as the “paraclete,” meaning “one who aids another, a helper,” from the Greek word parakletos, meaning “call to one.” According to one writer, this word has two senses, one of calling to someone by way of encouraging or exhorting him, and the other to call on someone to summon him to one’s aid. The Scriptures might be said to fulfill both senses of the Word. Through His Word, God not only encourages and exhorts us but also aids us to the end that we may gain eternal life.
The Holy Spirit: A Power, Not a Person
In much popular religion today, the Holy Spirit is usually identified as a person rather than a power. Most major denominations claim the Holy Spirit to be the third person of the Trinity. However, there is nothing in the account of the Pentecost experience to indicate that the Spirit which descended was a person.
Neither do the Scriptures support the view that the Holy Spirit is a person. This belief came about by a misunderstanding of the Greek word pneuma which was frequently translated “ghost” in the King James Version. The error in translation has been recognized in more recent years and the rendering in most other versions of the Bible is “spirit.” The King James Version of the Bible was translated when superstition was rampant and ghosts were very “real” in the minds of the average person. Because the Holy Spirit was something that could not be seen, it was thought to be of a mysterious nature, hence the rendering “ghost.”
The Holy Spirit bestowed on the day of Pentecost was an increased measure of the same Spirit of God which the prophets had possessed in Old Testament times and which the disciples themselves had in a lesser degree during Jesus’ ministry. The power was given to “confirm the word,” which it did effectively, adding as many as three thousand to the church in a single day. Miracles such as the healing of the man at the gate Beautiful brought many into the church. Following Peter’s sermon, we read that “many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). Without the power of the Holy Spirit, such a miracle and such wholesale conversion would not have been possible.
How God Administers His Spirit
The Spirit of God in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament are simply God working by means of His power entrusted to specially appointed and chosen men. Always the power makes the recipient capable of doing something that would otherwise be beyond that person’s capabilities. In some instances the power was used to perform miracles of healing and on some occasions to restore the dead to life.
Visible Work of the Spirit
Throughout the Scriptures the Spirit of God was manifest in exceptional actions, always towards the fulfillment of God’s purposes. At times ordinary men were made capable of supernatural actions, while at other times unrighteous and even unscrupulous men were used in fulfilling God’s purposes.
Power Manifested through Angels
The angel Gabriel was caused to “fly swiftly” to Daniel by means of the spirit of God.
Some denominations describe angels as spirit beings, a phantom that comes and goes as the wind, unheard and unseen. Angels can be invisible, but angels are real beings. The angels that were sent from the courts of heaven to deliver God’s message or to perform His will in Bible times were real beings, men in a glorified state.
These angels were sometimes described as men, and apparently resembled the men of the particular period of time in which they appeared. Abraham looked up as he sat in his tent door and saw three “men” standing by. Lot saw two angels approach the gate of Sodom, two of the three that had just visited Abraham. The “men” were “angels.”
When “he insisted strongly;…they turned in to him, and entered his house. Then he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate” (Gen. 18:1-2; 19:1, 3). They washed their feet, and they ate as other men-but they were angels bringing a message of doom to that city.
The Bible pictures angels as real beings with material bodies but with divine power. The power of the angels is the power of God, God’s Spirit, or the Holy Spirit as it was known in New Testament times.
Power Manifested through Men
God’s will was not always made known through angels. Sometimes mortal men were the instruments. But when men were used, they were working under an influence beyond their control. using a power that was not their own.
Obedience to a command of God was often a significant part of manifestations. At the Red Sea crossing, Moses was told to “Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it” (Ex. 14:16). Moses did as he was commanded; but it was the Lord, working through His power that caused the sea to go back (14:21). Again, when the people murmured for lack of water, Moses was told to “strike the rock, and water will come out of it” (Ex. 17:6). Moses did as commanded and the people had water. As before, it was the power of God, His Spirit, that caused the water to flow from the rock. Moses was God’s instrument through which the power was manifested. The rod which he held in his hand in each case was but a symbol of that power.
The times where God’s Spirit was visibly working through men were many and varied. The plagues that came upon the Egyptians because Pharaoh would not hearken to the Lord were all visible manifestations of God’s power. At the command of God the plagues came and at His command they ceased. Other signs were visible in times of battle. With God on their side, a small army might rout a host; a shepherd boy with a sling could slay a giant. Without God, defeat was sure.
The Holy Spirit dispensed at Pentecost was power placed in the hands of men for a specific purpose: to confirm the spoken word of the Lord (Mark 16:20). It was a “partitive” arrangement and consisted of various powers. Some had the power to prophecy, others to teach, others to speak in tongues, others to perform miracles (see 1 Cor. 12:4-12).
Power Manifested through Visions and Dreams
Visions and dreams, as they came to many in old times, were another facet of God’s Spirit, His means of communicating with men.
Dreams and visions served a very useful purpose when God was working openly with men. Through a dream Joseph was warned of a famine and was able to save the people of Egypt by planning in advance. As a youth Joseph had been nicknamed “the dreamer” by his jealous brothers because of his many dreams concerning the future. There can be no doubt God was revealing His will for Joseph through these dreams since all were fulfilled to the letter in later years.
The Old Testament Scriptures indicate little difference between a dream and a vision. Abraham received information through visions many times during his lifetime, including the knowledge that he was to have an heir, a vital link in God’s promise to him.
This means of revealing God’s will to His people was used frequently throughout the period covered by the Scriptures, but this open means was not to continue uninterrupted. “Whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge [by divine revelation], it will vanish away” (1 Cor. 13:8). As we shall see later in this study, the power of the Holy Spirit was dispensed for a limited time only, until “that which is perfect has come,” the completed Word of God, at which time “that which is in part will be done away” (1 Cor. 13:10). The power was withdrawn, just as prophesied, and since that time God has been silent. There has been no visible manifestation of God’s power since the end of the Apostolic Age.
Invisible Work of the Spirit
God does not do all His work openly or with sounding trumpets. He has other means of communicating with His people. These we will call invisible means of ministration.
During a large part of the 6,000 year period, God worked openly among men. Visits from angels, visions, dreams and other supernatural phenomena were common. Such open communication was necessary to make known His plan and His will for mankind. God might simply have spoken quietly to Moses on the backside of the desert, but the burning bush attracted his attention more quickly. Likewise, the Law might have been given in an obscure valley of the wilderness, but the clouds, the thunder and lightning, the earthquake and the trumpets that preceded the giving of the Law left a lasting impression on all who witnessed it. They knew it was the voice of God; such a scene was not possible with man.
However, there were periods of relative silence. During part of the time when the prophet Samuel was a child, “there was no widespread revelation” (1 Sam. 3:1). God was silent temporarily, and we read that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days.” We live in a comparable time. We see no visions, hear no voices, perform no miracles-and the Word of the Lord, which is now written, is precious to us.
God’s Spirit at Pentecost
When we think of the Holy Spirit, we think immediately of Pentecost, the first time that God’s power was bestowed on a broad scale, openly, and for an extended period of time.
The picture of the Day of Pentecost is one of a group of expectant disciples gathered in Jerusalem. Of the occasion we read:
“And when the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4). Jesus’ promise was fulfilled; the Holy Spirit had been given, they were now “endued with power from on high.” Jesus had been to the Father’s right hand, had been rewarded and glorified and had now bestowed upon His followers the same power, the power of the Spirit of God, by which He as a human being upon earth conducted His ministry and worked miracles.
They were now equipped to carry out the mandate Jesus had given them shortly before His ascension: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature….And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:15-18).
Only a few weeks before, the Eleven had scattered, cowering in fear as their Master was crucified; now their fear was turned to courage and they went forth boldly to proclaim the message of the Gospel. They were witnesses in the true sense of the word to all that had happened. They had seen their Lord crucified and buried and had been with Him forty days after He was raised triumphantly from the grave. They had witnessed His ascension, and according to His instructions had waited ten anxious days in Jerusalem for that which had just come to pass.
The Spirit During the Apostolic Age
* Power in Miracles
In his Pentecost sermon, Peter called attention to the “miracles and wonders and signs” which Jesus had done in their midst. Now possessing the same power of the Spirit that Jesus had before them, the apostles themselves proceeded to do many “wonders and signs.”
Miracles were an effective means of convincing the people of the genuineness of their mission. To see the sick made well and the lame walk was positive evidence of a power that was not their own, and being in possession of that power, they lost no opportunity to use it.
* A Lame Man Healed
The first miracle recorded was the healing of a man “above forty years old” who was known by all to have been lame from his birth. Seeing him by the Temple gate, Peter took the man by the hand, saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk…and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength” (Acts 3:6-7). Notice that Peter does not claim any power for himself; he is simply acting as he knows his Lord would have under similar circumstances. The power is that of the Spirit of God, the same power Jesus had possessed in His ministry. The incident can be explained in no other way than as a miracle.
* Sudden Death
A part of the arrangement of the Apostolic Church concerned the possessions of the believers. We learn that they were together and “had all things in common,” and they “sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45). This plan was workable under Holy Spirit power because those possessing the power could know the needs and could divide the property equitably. One facet of the Power made this possible: the power to know what was in men’s minds.
Ananias sought to thwart the plan and conspired with his wife Sapphira to keep back part of the proceeds of their property (something to fall back on in case they were not satisfied with the Church). Their decision led to their demise; first Ananias, then three hours later his wife.
It is obvious from the Scriptures that having all things common was not mandatory. Their sin was not that they kept back part of the money, but that they lied to God. With the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter could read their minds and knew that they lied; and it was the same power of the Holy Spirit that caused their death. The incident caused “great fear [to come] upon all the church.” You can read the entire narrative in Acts 5:1-11.
* Life Restored
A certain disciple named Dorcas, a sister in the faith, “full of good works and charitable deeds which she did,” was taken sick and died. Immediately the brethren sent for Peter, and while they mourned in another room, Peter “knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up….Then he…presented her alive” (Acts 9:36-42). As a result of the miracle, many believed. Again it was the power of the Spirit of God, the same wonder-working power that had restored the life of a widow’s son for Elijah.
* Power in Prayer
One cannot study the Book of Acts without realizing how truly great was the power possessed by the apostles after Pentecost. The power was shown not only in miracles of healing, but also through answered prayer.
– The Church Prays
After being threatened by the council, Peter and John returned to the brethren and reported the incident. They had informed the men of the council that they must continue to speak, and with the brethren they prayed for the power to do so. “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). It appears to have been a “second” Pentecost, a renewal of the Holy Spirit power, an affirmation by God that He was behind the movement and that their prayers were heard.
– Cornelius’ Prayer Heard
In Acts 10 we read of the prayers of a Gentile convert being heard. In connection with the same incident, Peter’s prayers resulted in a vision that brought him an important message from God: God is no respecter of persons, it matters not whether Jew or Gentile; God judges men according to their works. All visions are the work of the Spirit, a means of communicating important messages from God to man.
– The Church Prays for Peter
Peter was in prison, and “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church “ (Acts 12:5). God heard through His Spirit and answered their prayer. He sent His angel and released Peter and he returned to the assembled brethren while they were still praying. The angel of God wrought the miracle of his release.
* Power in “Tongues”
When the Holy Spirit power came upon those assembled at Pentecost, we read that they “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” With this event speaking in “different kinds of tongues” became a part of the Apostolic Church; it was one of the gifts of the Spirit. By speaking in tongues we do not mean some unintelligible gibberish, but the ability to speak and to understand other languages or dialects. The miracle of tongues-speaking included both the speaker and the hearer (1 Cor. 12:9-11).
The power of languages was necessary to the spreading of the Gospel throughout the then-known world, a task they had been commissioned to perform. We note that Philip was able to converse freely with the Ethiopian eunuch, to the end that he was converted to the new faith. Peter also experienced no difficulty in making his mission known to Cornelius who was of “the Italian band,” a mission directed by the Spirit of God.
How Was the Holy Spirit Delegated to Others?
A study of the work of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts indicates that not only did the original group of believers receive the Holy Spirit, but the apostles received the power to delegate that Power to another by the laying on of hands.
The power of the Spirit was not automatically given to all who joined the church. There is nothing to indicate that the large numbers who were converted soon after Pentecost received the power of the Holy Spirit or performed any miracles. In his summation of the work of the early converts, Luke says: “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:42-43). Nothing is said to suggest that all who joined the church had power to perform miracles. “Many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. “
In Acts we read of the power of the Holy Spirit being transmitted to others by the laying-on of the apostles’ hands. Philip had been preaching in the city of Samaria, and when the apostles at Jerusalem heard of his success, they sent Peter and John. After they prayed and “they laid hands on them…they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:5-17).
A similar instance is recorded in Acts 19 concerning the missionary efforts of Apollos. Paul arrived in Ephesus where Apollos had been preaching and learning that they knew nothing of the Holy Spirit, he instructed them and when he [Paul] “had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them.”
What Was the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?
When the power of the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost with the sound “of a rushing mighty wind” and with the appearance of “cloven tongues like as of fire,” it needed no advance announcement. Both wind and fire are self-announcing: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
We need not think of the “cloven tongues like as of fire” as being either literal tongues or literal fire. They were said to be “like as of fire.” To the spiritually discerning disciples, the tongues of fire brought to mind such incidents as Moses at the burning bush, the mountain that appeared to be on fire when the law was given on Sinai, and the fire that was upon the tabernacle by night throughout the wilderness wanderings. The use of brightness or the appearance of fire is common in the Scriptures to mark the presence of God or of His angels. The “fire” was an external sign used to call attention to the advent of the Holy Spirit.
The faithful followers gathered in the upper room. It being the time of the Pentecost festival, devout worshipers from all parts of the then-known world would have been assembled at Jerusalem, gathering for the celebration of the Feast. The “rushing mighty wind” may have caught the ear of some of those assembled for the Feast, for it is obvious that a crowd quickly assembled “and were confounded [perplexed], because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, … how hear we every man in our own tongue … the wonderful works of God?,
As usual, there were the doubters on the outskirts of the crowd, saying, “They are full of new wine.” To these, the speaking was unintelligible and appeared as the babbling of a drunkard. Obviously there was both a miracle of speaking and a miracle of hearing, both the work of the Spirit of God, because not everyone that heard understood what was being said.
Peter, the apostle who had “followed afar off” when his Lord was being maltreated and crucified only fifty days before, now rose to the occasion. It is evident that he had “received power” from above. The Peter of the day of Pentecost was not the Peter of the day of the Passover. Prompted by the newly-acquired Power, he accepted the challenge boldly, pouring forth an inspiring sermon, beginning with the words, “These are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh…” (Acts 2:15-17).
It is on this point that the majority of theologians stumble, connecting verse 16 with verse 17, and seeing in the Pentecost descent of the Holy Spirit the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in its entirety. We cannot accept this view, since it is not in accord with the context of either Joel’s prophecy or Peter’s sermon.
Two Outpourings, Two Rains …
Let us look at Joel’s prophecy: “Fear not, O land; Be glad and rejoice, For the Lord has done marvelous things! Be glad then, you children of Zion, And rejoice in the Lord your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, And He will cause the rain to come down for you—The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month.…You shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, And praise the name of the Lord your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you;…Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel; I am the Lord your God And there is no other.…And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;…And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:21, 23, 26-29).
Joel’s prophecy covers two distinct outpourings, and Peter, recapping Joel’s words, is likewise speaking of two separate events. “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel,” began Peter. This event which they had just witnessed was “the former rain” of Joel 2:23. “And,” continued Peter, “it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh.” This prophecy is yet future, to be fulfilled at the end of man’s rule, just before the Kingdom is established.
Joel, as is common in prophetic language, spoke as though the “former rain” were already an accomplished fact, but the beginning of the above quotation shows that it is prophecy: “The Lord will do great things.” The “former rain,” translated from the Hebrew moreh, is defined as “a sprinkling rain.” It was to be given moderately, as was the Spirit at Pentecost. It was given to comparatively few of the population.
A marginal reference on “the former rain” in the King James Bible is enlightening. The “former rain” is here defined as “a teacher of righteous-ness.” God is this “teacher of righteousness.” By means of His Spirit He sent His knowledge to men through various instruments of His choosing. Here He was bestowing it upon a group of individuals who had been commissioned by Jesus to go out and preach the Gospel to the then-known world. The power of the Spirit not only brought to their minds the necessary words, but it also served to convince many through miracles.
… and a Time of No Rain
A “former rain” and a “latter rain” indicates two separate events with a time between when there would be no “rain,” no Holy Spirit power. This is the time in which we live. We have never seen an angel or heard a voice from heaven. We have never seen a man crippled from birth leap to his feet; we have never seen a blind man made to see or anyone raised from the dead. The power by which such miracles were performed, the Holy Spirit, was withdrawn at the end of the Apostolic Age and has not yet been restored.
When the power of the Holy Spirit is restored at the coming of Elijah, the remainder of Joel’s prophecy will be fulfilled. Jesus foretold: “Elijah is coming first and will restore all things” (Matt. 17:11). The restoration of the power of the Spirit will be “the latter rain.”
The original Hebrew word translated “latter rain” is malqosh and has for its definition “a great rain before the harvest.” This aptly describes the out-pouring of the Spirit that will accompany the coming of Elijah when “greater works than these,” greater works than were done by the apostles will be done. This will include raising to life all covenant-makers who have died during the six thousand years of man’s rule, a prerequisite to meeting the Lord in the air at His coming. Then will not everyone know that the Lord or His power is in their midst and that He is all-powerful?
The Abundant Rain
Continuing with Joel’s prophecy, we read that “it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out of My spirit on all flesh . . .” Afterward denotes a later time, a time following the fulfillment of the preceding prophecies. This prophecy is yet future and will not meet its fulfillment until Christ comes and takes control of the world government.
Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy as, “It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.” This will be a more abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit than was witnessed at Pentecost. It will be given to young and old alike, to servants and handmaidens (subjects of the Kingdom), “and they shall prophesy”-not necessarily speak prophetically; prophesy also suggests teaching, or speaking for a cause.
Verses 19 and 20 of Acts 2 pinpoint the time of the fulfillment: “I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood, and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome [glorious, Knox] day of the Lord.” This forecast, though couched in figurative language, could describe nothing other than the Battle of Armageddon, a time of worldwide destruction of all evil and evildoers, a thorough cleansing of the earth. This is necessary before the glorious thousand-year-day of the Lord can begin.
Acts 2:21 is another verse often misunderstood: “And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.” The verse is often taken out of context and used to support the false doctrine of last-minute repentance. Certainly Peter, preaching with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, did not mean to convey such a thought.
Taken with the two previous verses, it contains a consoling promise to all who are living on the earth at the time of the Battle of Armageddon. In the course of the great battle, all who will not submit to the new rule will be cut off, but “whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.” They may or may not be saved eternally; that is decided by their life after they submit, but they will be saved from the destruction at that time.
The closing verses of Peter’s Pentecost sermon present the challenge. When they asked, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God will call” ( Acts 2:38-39).
Peter was conveying a meaning deeper than simply saving they were sorry for their sin and being baptized after which they would receive Holy Spirit power. Peter was preaching a gospel of “repentance,” a thorough changing of the heart and life. a complete change from sin to righteousness, as the Greek verb metanoeo means. And in return for this change Peter assured them of the divine promise of the “gift of the Holy Spirit,” the greater power, life eternal with all its blessings. His promise to those who repent extends beyond his hearers and reaches even to us. The promise is that of eternal life: and this promise still holds because “God…will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality:” (Rom. 2:5-7). “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).
The commission of the Holy Spirit under which they were speaking at the time was never so far-reaching as this.
Paul and the Spirit
Paul’s work as the greatest Christian missionary this world has ever known began with the miraculous appearance of Jesus. This experience of Saul on the Damascus Road is one of the best known events in the Bible (Acts 9). It marked a turning point not only in the life of Saul but also in history. The Christian religion was to gain a foothold in the world that (in its apostate form) would last until the Founder of that faith would return to take charge of the whole world.
For Saul, it was the beginning of a new life with a new name, Paul. The life of Paul exemplified his own words: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Of Paul it could be truly said, “old things have passed away;…all things have become new.” For him it meant an entirely new beginning, a complete reversal of his course. It meant supporting the new faith with the same zeal with which he had previously persecuted those who followed Christ.
The Gifts of the Spirit – A Special Arrangement
We are indebted to Paul for a further explanation of the power of the Holy Spirit. While God’s power is unlimited, the power bestowed upon various individuals at different times was limited.
Paul gave a clear and concise explanation of these gifts in his letter to the Corinthians: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:4-11).
All power to do the abnormal or super-normal came from God, but not to all alike. Whatever power was necessary in a given situation was granted. whether the need was for a means of escape from an enemy or the courage to stand before heathen rulers. What were some of these powers granted?
The Ability to Speak and to Write
Paul was abundantly blessed with both these gifts. His letters to the various churches contain some of the most comprehensive teaching of the Scriptures. When he defended himself before magistrates or kings, he was never at a loss for words.
Paul’s teachings never contradicted the teachings of Jesus and the other apostles. He let it be known from whence he received his authority: “The things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord”; “I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was 1 taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 14:37; Gal. 1:11-12). It was through the power of the Holy Spirit that Paul was able to receive instruction from Jesus.
Paul is better known as a missionary and a writer, but he also worked miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit. Early in his career, when confronted by the wicked Elymas, he rebuked him sternly and caused him to become blind. At Lystra he healed a man who had been crippled from birth and at Troas he restored to life a man who had fallen to his death while listening to him preach. These miracles, and all others done by Paul, were through the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of God.
Directions from the Holy Spirit
A study of the Acts reveals that the Spirit of God was the power behind the entire missionary effort. When Paul set out on his first missionary journey, it is recorded that they were “sent out by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:4). His second journey also was influenced by the power of the Spirit, this time in a vision commonly known as the “Macedonian Call,” which resulted in the Gospel being carried into Greece.
Through the same power of the Spirit, Paul was told where he should not go as much as where he should go. In the course of his second missionary journey “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia,” and again, when they tried to go to Bithynia, “the Spirit did not permit them” (Acts 16:6-7).
While Paul was at Corinth (Acts 18:9-10), the Lord spoke “to Paul in the night by a vision,” saying, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” Heeding the instructions, Paul taught there a year and a half. Again, on his way to Jerusalem, Paul testified that the Holy Spirit had informed him that hardships and imprisonment awaited him in every city (Acts 20:23-24). And on board the doomed ship on a boisterous sea, God saw fit to send His angel to Paul with a cheering message: The ship would be lost, but there would be no loss of life; Paul would be brought before Caesar.
All these instances were the work of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. God Himself, through His Spirit, was directing the missionary work of the Great Apostle and his companions.
The Holy Spirit for a Limited Time Only
The gifts of the Spirit played a major role in fulfilling the command of the Lord in Mark 16:15: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” The signs and wonders that followed were the work of the Holy Spirit and gave convincing evidence that God was behind the movement. As explained by Paul in a long dissertation in 1 Corinthians, the gifts were many but they were not possessed by all. And in due time, all were to end: “Whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease: whether there is knowledge [super-human knowledge], it will vanish away” (1 Cor. 13:8-9).
Paul, through the gift of prophecy given him by the power of God’s Spirit, was foretelling that the Holy Spirit power would be withdrawn and miraculous powers would cease. They would no longer be able to speak in an unknown tongue; they would no longer be able to heal the sick or raise the dead. Such miracles would not be done again on earth until the power was restored. History confirms the fulfillment of Paul’s prophecy; there is no evidence of any supernatural knowledge or of any miracles such as those done by Jesus or His apostles during the years following the end of the Apostolic Age. Jesus’ own words were fulfilled. He had promised to be with them “unto the end of the world,” as translated in the King James Version. The Greek word aion is here translated “world,” but among the meanings of the word are “generation,” “Space of Time clearly marked out,” “age.” Many of the newer versions of the Bible translate aion using the word “age.”
The Holy Spirit in Our Day?
Most major denominations today claim to have the Holy Spirit. To the majority the Holy Spirit is “He,” the third person of the Trinity, God in the person of the Spirit, a “spirit being” that enters into and guides all Christian believers. But believing the words of Paul, that the power was to cease (1 Cor. 13:8), and observing the dearth of spirituality and miracles in our modern world, we take the position that it did end and there have been no miracles, visions, tongues or prophecies since the end of the Apostolic Age.
The Holy Spirit, as generally understood, cannot be found in the Scriptures. That is the Holy Spirit of theology, not the Holy Spirit of the Bible. The idea of an inward witness that assures the believer that he is in possession of the truth and that he has entered into fellowship with Christ, is wanting in the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit of the Scriptures was a wonder-working power that bore witness to the Gospel in the New Testament just as the Spirit of the Old Testament bore witness to God by angelic visits, subduing of enemies and other miraculous works.
The More Excellent Way
In his long dissertation on the gifts of the Spirit, Paul made the brief statement, “And yet I show you a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). These few words, rendered in the New English Bible as “the best way of all,” point out the way for us today. Continuing in his discourse, Paul explained that the gifts of the Spirit would end: “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away…And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”. (1 Cor. 13:8-10, 13).
At that time they had the power to do miracles, to prophesy, to speak in tongues; they had superhuman knowledge when it was required, yet it was not the complete knowledge of God. But it was to end, to “vanish away,” when “wholeness comes,” or as rendered in our Common Version, “when that which is perfect is come.” That which is perfect or whole is the Holy Bible. When the Bible was completed, when John had completed his record of the vision he received from Jesus, and the Bible was complete, it was the end of the Apostolic Age. Since that time there has been no Holy Spirit power as the apostles knew it.
But we have no need of it-we have the written word. “We have the…more excellent way,” the way of faith, for “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). The more excellent way that was to abide was as stated above: “Faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of them all is love.” Love is the greatest because “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). And according to John, who was also an apostle, “this is” the “love,” of God “that we walk according to his commandments,” or again, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments” (2 John 6).
The “more excellent way” is that we learn His commandments from the Bible, His Word which He has given us, and that we keep, or obey those commandments, and “grow up in all things,…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:15, 13).
God at Work Today
God has been working on this earth for nearly six thousand years. For some four thousand of those years, God worked openly among men. He sent His angels with special messages; He caused men to see visions and to prophesy of things to come; He sent His Son to be a living example among men. When the Son had finished His work and joined His Father in heaven, He sent back His Spirit upon those who would continue His work in that Age.
But now for nearly two thousand years God has been silent. Since the power of the Holy Spirit was withdrawn at the close of the Apostolic Age, He has not spoken to men on earth except through His Word, the Holy Bible. But because He is silent in our day does not mean that He has cut Himself off from the world. He is still at work, silently. Our time is comparable to the time when Samuel was a child: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation” (1 Sam. 3:1). We walk by faith alone, faith based on His Word; there are no open miracles to confirm the Word to us.
How God Works Today
Let us emphasize one point: we do not believe there are any active, open manifestations through Holy Spirit Power; however, we do believe God is working in various ways to assist those who shall be heirs of salvation. How is He doing this?
* Through the Written Word
God, through His Spirit or power, by means beyond the understanding of mortal men, infused the minds of various prophets, apostles and others, that they might recall and accurately record His complete Word (John 15:26; 16:13). Though this was an open manifestation, the written Word that remains still inspires us today to learn and obey the law of God.
God preserved His Word through difficult times. There was a time when men sought to destroy the Bible either in whole or in part, but because of His protecting care, it survived intact and we have it today just as it was compiled many centuries ago. Its very survival is evidence that it is the Word of God. Prophecies written on its pages that have been fulfilled through the centuries are a further weight of evidence.
* Through Impressions
This phase of God’s Spirit is not limited in time; it is just as available in our day as it was forty centuries ago. Paul’s words to the Philippians give this assurance: “If in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.” (3:15). If we are among those who are seriously attempting to do His will, we will be impressed with whatever is necessary to the successful completion of our work for God.
* Through Human Instruments
Most often when God used human instruments in His plan, those instruments were very aware of it. But people have been used who neither knew God nor His plan. One such unwitting instrument was Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire. He is mentioned by name in the prophecy of Isaiah and is spoken of as “anointed” (Isa. 45:1). As used here, the word simply means “chosen.” Cyrus was chosen by the Lord to overthrow the wicked King Belshazzar. He later authorized the captive Jews to return to their homeland and to rebuild the temple, as we learn from 2Chron. 36:22. In both tasks he was unwittingly serving as God’s instrument.
* Through Circumstances
Although unseen and unheard, God arranges circumstances so that anyone who will follow His way will learn of Him by some means. We have this promise direct from the Master: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). These words, coupled with the words of the Great Apostle, that we have the “promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come,” assure us of sufficient time to complete our work if we are among those who will do.
* Through the Arrangement of World Affairs
Through the prophet Daniel God informed us that from that time on there would be but four universal kingdoms, followed by the fifth, Christ’s Kingdom. The prophecy of the four has been fulfilled. World rulers have risen from time to time and aspired to dominate the whole earth, but God has not allowed it. Those who would usurp too much power have been cut off before they could attain their desired end. And we are confident that in our time there will not arise a world ruler from among men that will rule the whole earth. It is not in God’s plan. Nor will He allow any man or nation to trigger an atomic or hydrogen bomb that would destroy mankind and the earth. It is part of His long-range plan that there will be men and women living on the earth to meet Christ at His return, and we are sure that He will protect His people until the fulfillment of His plan.
Peter was inspired to write that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise,…but is longsuffering,…not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
* Through Prayer
The avenue of prayer has never been closed to God’s people. We read that “the prayer of the upright is His delight,…He hears the prayer of the righteous,” but “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, Even his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 15:8. 29; 28:9). And from James we learn that “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (5:16). Notice that in each instance it is conditional: God hears the prayer of all who are striving to be righteous. And whom God hears, He answers-not openly or audibly, but through silent, natural means.
How can we have our prayers heard and answered? We read in 1 John 3:22: “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
* Through Angels
The angels are a definite part of God’s plan of working with worthy earthborns in all ages, our present age not excluded. He promises: “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them” (Ps. 34:7). But note that this promise also is conditional. The angels watch over those who “fear” God. And of them the writer to the Hebrews says, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14).
Though invisible to human eyes, the angels are as much a part of God’s work today as ever. Because we have the written Word, we do not need an angel to tell us what we should do, however we do need their protection.