The Baptism in the Holy Spirit
Richard Collings, Caerphilly, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
On the fourteenth day of the first month ‘at the going down of the sun’ the most momentous occurrence in history was enacted just outside the walls of Jerusalem. This unrepeatable event, the crucifixion of the Lord of glory, had been determined in the eternal past and was foreshadowed in the first of the feasts of the Lord recorded in Leviticus chapter 23.
Fifty-three days later there was another unrepeatable and extraordinary incident that had been conceived in God’s eternal counsels, which was foreshadowed in the fourth of the feasts of the Lord. This event, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, is chronicled for us by Luke in the opening verses of Acts chapter 2, but, unlike the crucifixion, it occurred within the city of Jerusalem.
There are seven passages in the New Testament that provide us with information relative to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In each of the Gospels, and in Acts chapter 1, the event is viewed as approaching; in Acts chapter 2 we have the factual account of it happening; and in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, it is referred to as having already taken place. Regrettably, there is much misunderstanding amongst Christians concerning this subject. Many godly saints have been pressurized into thinking that this is something they must aim to achieve at a point subsequent to their conversion.
To help us in our consideration of this subject, we shall examine the seven references in four parts. The Gospel records form the first part; Acts chapters 1 and 2 being parts two and three; and 1 Corinthians chapter 12 will be the final part.
The Gospel records
In the Gospels the baptism in the Holy Spirit is contrasted with John’s baptism. He is the speaker on each occasion, and states that whereas he baptized people in water one mightier than him would baptize in the Holy Spirit.1 Thus, there are two points of contrast; the persons doing the baptizing, and that into which they immersed those being baptized. Therefore, we should not refer to anyone being baptized by the Holy Spirit, for the baptizer is not the Holy Spirit but the Lord Jesus.
In Matthew and Luke, we learn that not only would the Lord Jesus baptize in the Holy Spirit, but He would also baptize with fire, and some have linked this with what happened on the day of Pentecost, ‘And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them’, Acts 2. 3. Although this verse does refer to fire, Luke was using a simile, for the cloven tongues were ‘like as of fire’. This baptism with fire has nothing to do with the events detailed in Acts chapter 2 but refers to the tribulation that shall take place after the rapture of the church, for, having referred to the Lord baptizing with fire, John continues, ‘Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’, Matt. 3. 12.
The four references in the Gospels indicate that this baptism had not happened at the time John was speaking, nor do they specify when it would take place, other than that it would happen at some future point. However, we shall now look at the information given in Acts chapter 1, for it throws further light on the timing of this unique event.
Acts chapter 1
Just prior to His ascension, the Lord Jesus gave the disciples a specific instruction; they were not to depart from Jerusalem but they were to wait there ‘for the promise of the Father’, Acts 1. 4. This promise was something the Lord had told them about on the eve of His crucifixion, but, following the commandment to remain in Jerusalem, He adds, ‘For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence’, v. 5.
What had been unspecified as to its timing in the Gospels, is now clarified, in that the disciples were informed that it would be not many days after the Lord was taken from them into heaven. In addition, Acts chapter 1 also identifies where this baptism would take place; it would be in Jerusalem.
Acts chapter 2
The first four verses of this chapter give us the only historical record of the events that occurred at the time of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. These verses tell us when it happened, where it happened, and what happened. As to when, it was ‘when the day of Pentecost was fully come’. To appreciate the significance of this statement we would need to read Leviticus chapter 23 verse 11 and verses 15 to 21. By using that information, coupled with Peter’s response to the accusation that the disciples were drunk in Acts chapter 2 verse 15, we learn that this baptism occurred just prior to 9am on a Sunday, fifty days after the Lord’s resurrection.
As to where it took place, all we can stipulate is that it was in a house somewhere in the city of Jerusalem. As to what occurred, verse 2 supplies a vital piece of information; it states, ‘there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting’. Every kind of baptism in the scripture, literal or figurative, indicates that those baptized were fully submerged, and that was what happened at this event. The house where the disciples were located was ‘filled’; thus, they must have been totally immersed in the Holy Spirit, whose descent from heaven is likened to a rushing mighty wind.
1 Corinthians chapter 12
Whereas the Gospels and Acts chapter 1 foretell the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and Acts chapter 2 supplies the historical record, the doctrinal relevance of it is given by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, ‘For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit’, 12. 12, 13.
In verse 12, Paul refers to the human body for illustrative purposes. Each body is a unity composed of many parts, yet together those parts are not merely an amalgamation of disparate members but they form one body. The apostle’s point is that just as that is the case relative to the human body, it is equally the case in respect of the church. Some translations, including Darby and Young’s Literal Translation, conclude verse 12, ‘so also is the Christ’, referring to the vital union between Christ and His people. J. Hunter, in his commentary on Corinthians, states, ‘it is the whole Church that is in view, the dispensational Church’.
Verse 13 leads on from the final clause of verse 12, and explains how this dispensational Church came into existence; it was by the baptism in the Holy Spirit. As we examine this verse, we learn that this baptism is not individual but corporate; it is not continual but once for all; and it is not conditional but inclusive. Unlike baptism in water, we do not read in any of the seven references to the baptism in the Holy Spirit about individuals being baptized, for it is not a personal event. What was formed on the day of Pentecost by this baptism was one body, and, in the purposes of God, every believer was involved.
In Leviticus chapter 23 verses 16 and 17, it states, ‘ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves’. It is one offering that is described as ‘new’, and it is made from two wave loaves. The truth being foreshadowed relates to what is presented doctrinally by Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 verse 13 and in Ephesians chapter 2 verses 11 to 15. On the day of Pentecost, by means of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, something new was produced which comprised both Jews and Gentiles without distinction, that new thing being the Church.
The fourth feast of Leviticus chapter 23 was one of five one-day feasts, all of which relate to events that would occur at a specific point and would not be protracted over a period of time. This fact is further indicated by the tense of the verb ‘baptized’ in verse 13 which refers to a completed act – not a continuing one. In this connection it is worth quoting J. Hunter again, ‘In the mind of God all Christians were seen to be baptised. It is essential to see that the Holy Spirit only came down once. His coming was unique and final. It was unique for it never happened before; it was final in that it will never again happen in that way. There was only one baptism of this kind. This was the birthday of the Church’.
Whilst there might be some who would teach that being baptized in the Spirit was an attainment to be achieved by those who had progressed in their Christian experience, this verse would contradict that teaching. Paul is writing to the most carnal of churches and has to censure the Corinthians for their spiritual immaturity, and yet he says, ‘for by one Spirit are we all baptized’, i.e., even the carnal and immature believers at Corinth.
It may puzzle some to think that in the purposes of God all believers of this age were baptized in the Spirit at the same time even though none of us were actually present when it happened. However, none of us were present when we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, nor were we present when Christ died for our sins. Our not being present does not alter the fact that both things happened, and such is also the case in respect of what happened on the day of Pentecost.
What we need to observe is that verse 13 does contain a reference to something that is individual, but it is not the baptism but that we ‘have been all made to drink into one Spirit’. At Pentecost we were all put by one Spirit into one body, but at conversion we individually received the Spirit into us.
1 See Matt. 3. 11; Mark 1. 8; Luke 3. 16; John 1. 33.