The baptism with, in, or by the Holy Spirit was an event that John the Baptist foretold (Matthew 3:11
), that Jesus promised (Acts 1:4-5
), and that Peter and Paul referred to (Acts 11:15-16
; 1 Corinthians 12:13
). Historically it took place on the Day of Pentecost, when the risen and glorified Christ gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples as he had promised and, in so doing, united them all into one body, the church (Acts 2:1-4
; Acts 2:33
; 1 Corinthians 12:13
The early church
On the Day of Pentecost two separate groups of believers received the gift, or baptism, of the Spirit. The first group consisted of the one hundred and twenty mentioned in Acts 1:15
; Acts 2:1-4
. The second consisted of the three thousand mentioned in Acts 2:37-42
. There are several differences between the two groups.
The first group consisted of those who had been believers for some time and who had awaited Jesus’ departure in order to receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. The second group consisted of those who became believers only after they heard Peter preach that day and who received the gift of the Holy Spirit immediately.
When those of the first group received the Holy Spirit, the experience was dramatic. But, because of the special circumstances in their case, such an experience should not be considered the normal experience of the Christian. Those disciples had lived with Jesus and could receive the Holy Spirit only after Jesus had returned to the Father (John 7:39
; John 16:7
). The experience of those of the second group, who received the Holy Spirit when they believed, without any unusual happenings, was the normal experience of the Christian, then as well as now (Acts 2:38-41
; see also TONGUES).
Only three exceptions to this normal experience are recorded in the New Testament, and all are related to the development of the early church. At first the church was entirely Jewish (Acts 2:5
; Acts 2:22
; Acts 2:41
; Acts 4:1-4
), but when a number of Samaritans believed, a difficulty appeared. The Samaritans were a people of mixed blood and mixed religion who originated partly from Old Testament Israel, but they and the Jews hated each other. This division was not to be carried into the church. It seems, therefore, that before God gave the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans, he wanted the Jerusalem leaders to be assured that the Samaritans were true Christians, who were to be welcomed into the church on the same basis as the Jews (Acts 8:14-17
Later, the apostles were even more amazed when a group of full-blooded Gentiles believed the gospel and received the Holy Spirit without the apostles doing anything at all. It was a repetition of what happened on the Day of Pentecost, but this time among Gentiles, not Jews (Acts 10:44-46
; Acts 11:15-17
The third group who received the Holy Spirit in unusual circumstances consisted of some disciples of John the Baptist whom Paul met in an unevangelized part of Asia Minor. At first they did not fully understand how the life and work of Jesus was the true fulfilment of John’s ministry. When Paul explained this to them they believed, and showed themselves to be disciples of Jesus, not just of John, by being baptized as Christians. They then received the Holy Spirit, as the original disciples had on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 19:1-7
The timeless, universal church
Paul pointed out, through a letter he wrote to a church of new converts in southern Greece, that there is a sense in which all Christians, regardless of era or nationality, have some part in the events of the Day of Pentecost. Through the baptism of the Spirit, all Christians, the moment they believe, are brought into the church and made sharers in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13
). Jesus’ promised gift of the Spirit, though initially received at Pentecost, extends through the ages to all who repent and believe the gospel (Acts 2:38-39
; cf. Acts 1:4-5
; Acts 2:33
; see also HOLY SPIRIT).