Living with Pentecost

In the theology I was raised with, the Spirit had two major relationships to human beings. In the Old Testament, He came upon people to empower them for service, and in the New Testament, starting at Pentecost, He indwells believers. Indwelling was just as empowering for service as the “upon” relationship of the Old Covenant, but better somehow, rendering the “upon” relationship obsolete.

Lately, I’ve been moved to study what the New Testament teaches about the Spirit, and I’m finding something a bit different. First of all, Jesus promised the indwelling Spirit to the disciples in the upper room discourse (John 14:17), and delivered on this promise well before Pentecost (John 20:22). There is much scholarly hand-wringing about the latter passage, but let’s not monkey about trying to keep our systematic theology neat. Jesus said “Receive the Holy Spirit” and breathed on them. Do we imagine that it didn’t work? That His breath hit their faces, but the Spirit only made it halfway, and then hung in limbo for days until Pentecost? Let’s just take it straight up the middle: He did it, and it worked.

So they had the indwelling Spirit, but they did not yet have the promise of Acts 1:8, the Spirit empowering them for service. By the way, the language of Acts 1:8 is all about the Spirit coming upon them for service — very Old Covenant language. Interesting, huh? The promise of Acts 1:8 is fulfilled at Pentecost, and men who had been huddling in an upper room are transformed into bold witnesses. The Pentecost event is then repeated (with the same supposedly Old Covenant language, by the way) in Acts 10:44//11:15 with Cornelius’ household, and in Acts 19:6 with the disciples of John.

In a very real sense, Pentecost is an obvious case of a “second blessing.” There’s no biblically responsible way to say that there’s no such thing as a second blessing. Peter — to take an obvious example — certainly did receive a second blessing at Pentecost. The question is whether our experience today follows the pattern of Peter’s. So let’s follow Peter’s experience a little ways and see what happens with him.

What happened to Peter at Pentecost, exactly? Acts describes it this way:

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.

What did the Spirit do to them? He filled them, and this fulfilled the promise Jesus gave that they would receive power from on high when the Spirit came upon them. This is all Old Covenant language. The Spirit filled the Hebrew artisans (Exodus 28:3), particularly Bezalel the son of Uri (Exodus 31:3, 35:31). The Spirit filled Elizabeth and Zacharias to empower them for prophesy (Luke 1:41, 67), and John the Baptist even from the womb (Luke 1:15). The Spirit filled Jesus upon His baptism (Luke 4:1). And now, the Spirit fills Peter (and everybody else present).

But filling is not a one-time event. Pentecost wasn’t some unrepeatable phenomenon; it was just the beginning. The same thing happens again with Peter when he’s before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8). That’s his third blessing, if we’re still counting. After he’s released and returns to the nascent Jerusalem church to report, they pray, and ” 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.” For Peter, that’s the fourth blessing.

Is this something all believers should partake in? The seven deacons of Acts 6 are described as “full of the Holy Spirit,” and Stephen in particular is “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” And it is this same thing that we are commanded to do: “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,” says Paul to the Ephesians.

So when someone asks me today if I believe in the second blessing, I say, “Sure, but who’s counting?” I need way more than a second blessing. I’ve got lots to do yet.

The filling of the Spirit is an iterative, ongoing need, if we would minister in the way that God would have us to do. This is nothing new — the Spirit has always come upon God’s people for supernatural ministry, as He continues to do today. Whatever we are facing, we need to be filled with the Spirit in order to handle it as God would have us to do. What’s new is that it is available not just to the occasional craftsman, judge, king, or prophet, but to every believer, all the time.

The indwelling of the Spirit is a separate issue, having to do with our invitation into the Triune fellowship, as Jesus explained in the upper room discourse. The disciples received that in John 20, as we receive it today at the point of salvation. But He had not yet fallen upon them to empower them for ministry. When He did — wow. That same filling is what we are called to today — repeatedly.

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