The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Part 4)
The Promise of the Gift of the Holy Spirit
There is another strong piece of evidence in Acts 2 as to the meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter states that the respondents to his sermon would receive the gift because, as verse 39 says, “[T]he promise is for you . . .” We know then that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a matter of biblical promise. That means that somewhere in the Bible’s text prior to Acts 2, God promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who obeyed the gospel.
There is only one Old Testament passage that could fulfill that demand: Joel 2:28-32.
- Peter establishes that the events of Acts 2 are the direct fulfillment of the promise of Joel 2 (Acts 2:16-21).
- It is the only Old Testament passage directly quoted and applied to Holy Spirit’s work in the church.
- And Acts 2 is the last time any Bible prophet ever referred to the Old Testament to explain the Holy Spirit’s work.
Joel 2 is the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Further, there is another point that needs to be emphasized in this context. Those who believe the gift of the Holy Spirit is a non-prophetic blessing are caught in a bind regarding finding a promise of gift of the Spirit before Acts 2.
As discussed in earlier articles on this topic, Peter does not explain the nature of the gift. The most reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from that fact is that he expected his audience to understand the effect of a man’s receiving the Holy Spirit.
What Acts 2:39 necessitates is that the promise and understanding of the gift of the Spirit comes from a pre-existing biblical statement about the work of the Holy Spirit. So then, if the gift is “non-prophetic,” Peter’s argument demands that a non-prophetic experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit was known before Acts 2:38. The problem that truth creates for this view of the gift is:
If this non-prophetic indwelling existed among the Jews prior to Acts 2, how then could it be used as the identifying “seal” of the true people of God after Acts 2?
Many current proponents of an “ordinary” or non-prophetic indwelling claim that the indwelling produces no visible or demonstrable effects. But if it is true that the effect of indwelling from the gift of the Holy Spirit is only internal, then it cannot be evidentiary. That is especially true, if the Old Testament Jews also had this same indwelling. As the Judaistic teaching began to impact the church, how could the gift of the Spirit be used to identify the people of God? Both doctrines could simply claim to have experienced this non-demonstrable indwelling.
- If the Jews had experienced and understood the Spirit’s non-prophetic indwelling to the degree that it did not need to be explained by Peter, would they not simply claim the continued possession of this indwelling after Acts 2?
- If they could successfully make that claim, they would have nullified the apostles’ appeal to the seal of the Spirit among the early Christians.
Acts 2:39’s statement that the gift is a fulfillment of a promise of God demands that the gift of the Holy Spirit be of Old Testament origin. If the gift is of a non-prophetic nature its inclusion in the Old Testament ruins its ability to be used as evidence of a true Christian. Yet, if it is of a prophetic nature, the fact that the gift is demonstrable means its ability to be used as evidence continues. If after Acts 2:38-39, there were no “Jewish” prophets to counter the “Christian” prophets, the evidentiary impact of the gift would still have efficacy.
The fact that the gift is a part of Old Testament prophecy means that it must be prophetic.
While it is impossible to anticipate every possible objection to this position, there are two objections that need a brief comment.
First, many would argue that Peter’s promise is universal in its nature and so if the gift is prophetic then all Christians must be prophets. In answer to that, we would simply agree. Yes, all the saints who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit are prophets. The New Testament is quite emphatic in its affirmation that the distribution of prophetic powers among the early saints was universal. Other of this author’s articles have examined the extent of the prophetic/miraculous powers in the early church. That material shows that the apostles aggressively spread the powers of the Spirit among the first-century Christians (see Acts 8, 19). Once that fact is seen, this particular objection has no merit.
Second, many would then argue that because Peter’s statement that the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit applies to “all who are far off” that it is an enduring promise. Further, as the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were temporary in nature, the gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be prophetic.
That objection arises from a misunderstanding of the phrase “far off.” This objection view the phrase “far off” as a statement of time. However, the Jews had a different use for this phrase. The Jews viewed the Gentile nations as being “far off” from God. Paul uses this language in Ephesians when he states that the Gentiles that were “far off” have now been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13). The promise of Acts 2:39 is described as being for all nations, even the ones “far off.” Other than the fact that two generations are mentioned, “you and your children,” Acts 2:39 makes no specific mention of time.
The gift of the Holy Spirit was for all of God’s people for as long as the promise was active. Joel 2 was for all flesh, but it was not for all-time.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is simply the expression of the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. God promised that “all flesh” who followed the Messiah would have the Holy Spirit poured out to them. Peter is stating that if one would respond to the gospel he would receive the Holy Spirit as God had promised. Understanding the nature of the gift is simple so long as one remembers that whenever the Holy Spirit comes upon, falls upon, fills, or is received by man in any way, the effect is prophetic in its nature. That is why after Acts 2, the references to “gift” and “Spirit” are always in prophetic contexts. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit and possession of Him as a gift made prophets of “all flesh” in the early church.