When Jesus ascended, He promised that when He got to Heaven, He would prove it by baptizing His people with the Holy Spirit, making them powerful witnesses of His resurrection and the Kingdom. He did, and then they did. And that’s how we’re here.
“And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father…” (Acts 1:4-14).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
On the day of His ascension, Jesus instructed His apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, which John had promised at the beginning of His ministry (Acts 1:4-5). The apostles asked if this would be when God restored the kingdom to Israel, and Jesus said that time was not for them to know (Acts 1:6-7). But what they could know was that they would receive power soon when the Holy Spirit was given to them, to be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). After this, Jesus was taken up into Heaven, and two angels appeared promising that He would one day return in the same physical, visible manner (Acts 1:9-11). So the apostles returned to Jerusalem, and began waiting and praying together in an upper room (Acts 1:12-14).
THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
John had promised at the baptism of Jesus that One mightier than him was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3, Mk. 1, Lk. 3). In some ways, the answer to the question, ‘Why did Jesus come?’ is: ‘To give us the Holy Spirit.’ And this implies that the only way to give people the Holy Spirit was to be crucified for their sins, rise from the dead, and ascend to the right hand of the Father. This is because the Holy Spirit is the full fellowship of God with us (1 Jn. 3:24, 4:13).
Jesus was full of the Spirit throughout His ministry (Lk. 3:22, 4:1, 4:14, 4:18), culminating in His Ascension (Heb. 9:14), and so He is able to baptize with the Spirit with full authority. In fact, Jesus had told the disciples that the promised Spirit of the Father is His Spirit (Jn. 14:16-18, 14:26, 15:26-27).
The promise of the Spirit goes back to the Old Testament: The Root of Jesse, the Lord’s Servant, would be full of the Spirit (Is. 11:1-2, 42:1, 61:1). And because He was full of the Spirit, He would pour that Spirit out on Israel and on their children forever (Is. 44:3, 59:21). Ezekiel promised that God would give Israel a new heart and a new spirit, and He would put His Spirit inside them so that they would obey God’s laws (Ez. 36:26-27, cf. 37:14).
BAPTISM AND THE SPIRIT
In the history of the Church, the temptation has been to either separate water baptism and Spirit baptism or else collapse them into the same thing. But Scripture holds them together while distinguishing between the outward actions of men, and the inward actions of Jesus and His Spirit. Paul says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body… and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). But Jesus says that those branches that bear fruit “abide” in Him (Jn. 15:4). And we abide in Him by abiding in His Word (Jn. 15:3, 7).
Calvin says: For when these titles are attributed to baptism, namely that it is the laver of regeneration (Tit. 3:5), a washing away of sins (Acts 22:16), the fellowship of death and burying with Christ (Rom. 6:4), and a grafting into the body of Christ (cf. Rom. 11), it is not declared what man, being the minister of the outward sign, does, but rather what Christ does, who only gives force and efficacy unto the signs.” So outward water baptism is a true sign of the promises of God which is meant to point us directly to Christ.
THE AUTHORIZED TESTIMONY
The particular mission of the Spirit initially in the apostles is to give them the power/authority to be witnesses of Jesus from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Many have pointed out that this also serves as a rough outline of Luke’s work: Jerusalem (Acts 1-7, Judea and Samaria (Acts 8-12), and the whole known world (Acts 13-28). At the same time, this also highlights an implied assignment: the apostles needed to make sure that their testimony reached Argentina, Japan, and Idaho. How would that happen? A quick study of the Old Testament scriptures answers the question easily: they would write it down (Ex. 24:4, 25:16, 31:18, 34:29). The law of God was to be written on doorposts and city gates, and kings were to write down their own copies of the book of the law (Dt. 6:9, 17:18, Josh. 1:8).
So the Spirit was given to the apostles initially to give them the power and authority to write the New Testament. This was not an afterthought; this was their job as witnesses (cf. 2 Pet. 3:15-16). In Paul’s final letter in the mid-60s A.D., he asks Timothy to bring the “parchments” which were probably copies of all of his letters, if not other apostolic scriptures as well (2 Tim. 4:13). He also notes that Luke is with him (who had access to Matthew and Mark and wrote Luke and Acts), and Paul asks for Timothy to bring Mark with him (2 Tim. 4:11). Tradition places Peter in Rome around the same time, and assuming they all met up, this accounts for most of the New Testament and perhaps John oversaw the final compilation (Rev. 22:18-19, cf.). The New Testament was not a haphazard afterthought; it was the direct result of Jesus giving His Spirit to His eyewitnesses. We are an “apostolic” church because we obey the testimony of the apostles.
Numbers describes the war camp of Israel with the tabernacle at the center with the fire-presence of God in their midst, directing the movements of Israel (Num. 9:15-23). While the Spirit of God was with Israel and occasionally came upon various individuals (e.g. Samson), the glory of the New Covenant is that Spirit of Jesus is inside individuals, leading, guiding, teaching.
And the center of this leading, guiding, and teaching is found in the words of Jesus found in the Spirit-empowered words of the Apostles. If His Word abides in you, then He abides in you, and now you are a powerful witness of the resurrection also.