John the Baptizer came on the scene in Judea with a powerful message. He claimed to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-5. He told the inquiring crowds, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah” (Jn. 1:23). He was the forerunner and herald of the Messiah. His message was a call to repentance for the nation of Israel in preparation for the Messiah and His kingdom. His method was a baptism with water, familiar to the Jews, to signify a genuine repentance and symbolize a turning from sin.
But John made clear that his ministry was only temporary and that it must give way to the coming Messiah. He said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). Although John was born six months before Christ, he declared that the coming One existed before him (Jn. 1:30) and that he was not worthy to unstrap His sandals (Jn. 1:27).
Further, John declared that if the people thought that his ministry was rugged and his baptism was severe, they had only to experience the coming ministry of the Christ. For while John’s baptism was with water, in keeping with the external dispensation of the Jews, the baptism of the Messiah would be an internal and spiritual baptism that would go to the very heart of the human problem of sin. John said, “I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh…., he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”
As Jesus moved toward the end of his earthly ministry, he increasingly emphasized the spiritual nature of the kingdom. For, while the Jews were looking for a literal kingdom, and rightly so, they misunderstood their need for a spiritual preparation. Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom at his first coming. Instead, he came to provide a spiritual salvation from sin through the atoning sacrifice of Himself. This salvation would be primarily the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. Therefore, Jesus’ increasing emphasis was on the coming of the Holy Spirit and the need of the disciples to be filled with him.
Jesus’ desire and purpose to give forth the Holy Spirit was first seen in his early statement in Luke 11:13: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” This opening statement of Jesus regarding the coming of the Spirit shows that the Spirit is not someone to be dreaded, but that he is someone to be readily given by a gracious heavenly Father.
During Jesus’ last week He cried out in the temple: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly (inner being) shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn. 7:37-38). John, the Gospel writer, explained: “But this spoke he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn. 7:39).
Jesus’ statement emphasized that the Spirit’s indwelling in the heart of the believer would be the continual source of rivers of living waters of holy influence in a needy world.
After this, in the Upper Room before His crucifixion Jesus talked extensively with his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. His increasing emphasis on the Spirit signified that Jesus’ earthly ministry was coming to a close. Jesus would soon be leaving to go back to the Father, but He would send the Spirit to the disciples to continue a “divine companionship” with them. However, the Holy Spirit could not come and do his work until Jesus finished the work that the Father had given him to do (Jn. 16:7). The coming of the Spirit was the great purpose for which Jesus had come and the disciples desperately needed him. Jesus would need to finish the groundwork of redemption, return to the Father, and then shed forth the Spirit on those who believed in him. The Holy Spirit would be taking charge of the practical work of effecting the full redemptive benefit of Calvary in the hearts and lives of believers.
In the upper room Jesus emphasized several important truths about the Spirit to His disciples. Whereas Jesus would need to bodily leave them, He would return to them spiritually in the Person of His Spirit (Jn. 14:18), and would never leave them again (Jn. 14:16). While Jesus was with them, the Spirit was with them as well; but when Jesus went away, the Spirit would come to dwell in them (Jn. 14:17). The Spirit would be to them a Comforter and Consoler, as well as an Advocate and Intercessor (Jn. 14:16).
Jesus called him the Spirit of truth (Jn. 14:17), meaning that the Spirit would bear witness to the truth, especially the truth concerning Christ (Jn. 15:26). Whatever further truths they would need, the Spirit would guide them (Jn. 16:13). The Spirit would be their indwelling Teacher, instructing them doctrinally and practically and reminding them of truths already known (Jn. 14:26). The Spirit would also reveal to them things concerning the future (Jn. 16:13). However, the great and central work of the Spirit would be to glorify Christ (Jn. 16:14).
Before Jesus completed His work at Calvary, He prayed his great high priestly prayer (Jn. 17). Speaking of His disciples, Jesus said they were full believers in His deity (Jn. 17:6-8). He said they were “not of the world” (Jn. 17:14, 16). He said they had “received,” “believed,” and “kept” the “word” (Jn. 17:6, 8). Further, Jesus prayed for them to be “kept” by the Father (Jn. 17:11, 15). These were all marks of men who are “born again” and have a genuine relationship with God.
However, the central focus of Jesus’ prayer was that His disciples might be sanctified. He said, Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Even though they were believers, they had need of something more. According to the meaning of the word, sanctification would bring them inward purity and make them holy, setting them apart from all sin and unto all godliness and service for the Lord.
Shortly before the resurrected Jesus returned to the Father, he had a conversation with his disciples. He told them to wait in Jerusalem that they might receive the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). The promise of the Father refers to the various prophecies in the Old Testament in which God had foretold an inward work that He would one day perform in the hearts of his people. In Isa. 44:3, the Father said, “I will pour water on him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed…” In Jer. 31:31, 33, the Father said, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…this shall be the covenant that I will make…; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts….” In Jer. 32:39, the Father promised, “I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever….” In Ezek. 11:19, 20, the Father promised, “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances…” In Ezek. 36:25-27, the Father promised: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean…. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes….” In Joel 2:28, 29, the Father promised: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.”
After telling his disciples to wait for the Father’s promise, Jesus made sure they understood that what he was about to do for them was to give them the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Jesus compared this with John the Baptizer’s baptism with water. He was soon to give them the superior baptism with the Holy Spirit that John had foretold.
But a further question occupied the disciples’ minds. They knew from Jesus’ statements and from Old Testament prophecies that it would be the ultimate purpose of the Messiah set up an earthly kingdom with the Jews being a free and independent people. They therefore asked him about his plans regarding the kingdom (Acts 1:6). There was no question in their minds about whether he would set up a kingdom, but rather, whether he would do it at that time. Jesus understood the question and did not deny its validity. Instead, he indicated that the setting up of the kingdom would happen in the Father’s own time, which was not for them to know (Acts 1:7). Besides, they needed to keep their focus on receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Their greatest need was not to know how Bible prophecy would unfold, but rather, to be filled with the Spirit that they might accomplish the will of God in their lives.
Further, the primary emphasis of Jesus regarding the coming of the Spirit was on the disciples’ need of power for the purpose of being witnesses to him (Acts 1:8). If the work that Jesus had begun was to continue, it would depend on the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it was necessary that those who were chosen to carry on that work would be filled with the Spirit, energized by his power, and guided by him to its accomplishment. Jesus had said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). This means that the building of the church is the continued work of Christ through the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit in the hearts of believers. Significantly, the Greek word “build” can have the thought of emboldening as well as constructing. Here again, the idea is on the empowering of disciples to share the gospel message concerning Christ.
But there is another emphasis of the Scriptures regarding Pentecost, and that is on the purifying of the heart. John the Baptizer’s emphasis was on the coming work of the Spirit to purge and purify the heart by fire (Matt. 3:11, 12). Jesus indicated that the coming work of Pentecost would be to fulfill John’s prediction (Acts 1:5). Later, Peter reflected on the experience of Pentecost and said that an integral part of that experience was the purifying of their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9). Anyone who reads the story of the disciples’ lives before Pentecost becomes aware that they were in great need of receiving pure hearts and of being filled with the Spirit.
The great work of Pentecost was not merely a one-time event of history, but is to be the ongoing experience of the church. Every believer is to seek to be filled with the Spirit as a distinct experience. Without it, the believer will discover elements of carnality that will hinder their walk with God as well as their witness. It is the initial work of the Spirit to counteract these elements and aid the born again Christian to live a life that is pleasing to God. But there is another, further step to take, and that is to go on to what the Hebrew writer calls perfection and sanctification (Heb. 10:14; 13:12). This is a distinct work of the Spirit in the heart of the believer that purifies the heart from all sin and empowers the believer to live free from inward sin and to be a consistent witness for Christ. This work in the believer results in a distinct confirming witness of the Spirit that the heart is purified from sin and that the Spirit resides in his fulness.
Pentecost is therefore both purity and power. While the aspect of purity is a one-time event of cleansing the heart of those elements that prevent the Spirit from fully abiding and guiding, it remains that the heart and life must be kept pure by cooperating continually with the indwelling Spirit in holy and careful living. Without this there can be no power. Someone has said that “purity is power.”
On the other hand, purity is not a “stopping place.” Pentecost is more than personal holiness and separation; it is penetration. It is “light” and “salt.” It is an empowered witness of consistent private and public living, as well as the giving of ourselves in service to see the cause of Christ advanced within the God-given sphere of our individual influence. It is significant to note that in Jesus’ great prayer for his disciples in John 17 he speaks of both “sanctification” and “sending” in a connected thought. In v. 17 he says “sanctify them” and in v. 18 he says, “so have I also sent them.” God’s great work in the world is not only to call people out of the world and make them purified and holy by the baptism with the Holy Spirit, but also to empower them and send them back into the world to be witnesses of Christ.