The power of the Holy Spirit - for everyone?
Outstanding leaders are filled with God’s Spirit in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, we’re told that only a small number of outstanding and specially gifted Jewish leaders were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
After interpreting Pharoah’s dream of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, Joseph suggested the appointment of a royal official to supervise the storage of grain for the lean years. The king asked his officers, “Can we find a better man than Joseph to take this job? God’s Spirit is truly in him!” (Genesis 41:37)
After leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was commanded to appoint 70 elders to lead the people. God said, “I will take some of the Spirit that is in you, and I will give it to them.” (Numbers 11:17) Later, with his death drawing near, Moses was told to appoint a new leader for the people of Israel: “Take Joshua son of Nun, because my Spirit is in him.” Numbers 27:18).
The Sphinx and Pyramid of Khafre at Giza in Egypt
Prophets and kings were among the chosen few empowered by God’s Spirit. When Saul was anointed as the first King of Israel, “the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied with the prophets.” (1 Samuel 10:10)
Both the prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha were filled with the Spirit of God. Before Elijah was taken up to heaven, he asked Elisha, “What can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha said, “Leave me a double share of your spirit.” (2 Kings 2:9)
The prophet Ezekiel was given a message through the power of God’s Spirit: “The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the captives who had been taken from Judah to Babylonia. This happened in a vision given by the Spirit of God.” (Ezekiel 11:24)
A few less well-known Old Testament figures empowered by the Spirit of God included the skilled craftsman Bezalel who designed gold, silver and bronze objects to beautify the Tent of the Lord’s Presence (see Exodus 31:3) and Azariah, son of Obed, whom God called to prophesy to King Asa of Judah (see 2 Chronicles 15:1).
Is God’s Holy Spirit just for a select few or for everyone?
Throughout the Old Testament, God’s Holy Spirit rested on just a few of the important leaders of Israel. But the prophet Joel looked forward to a time when all sorts of people would be filled with the Spirit of God:
“After this, I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. At that time I will pour out my Spirit also on male slaves and female slaves. I will show miracles in the sky and on the earth… Then anyone who calls on the LORD will be saved.” (Joel 2:28-32)
"I will show miracles in the sky and on the earth...” (Joel 2:28)
In the New Testament, this prophesy of Joel began to come true. During his ministry on earth, Jesus promised that ALL believers would receive the Holy Spirit after his death and resurrection:
“On the last and most important day of the feast Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. If anyone believes in me, rivers of living water will flow out from that person’s heart, as the Scripture says.’ Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been raised to glory. But later, those who believed in Jesus would receive the Spirit.” (John 7:37-39)
On the night before his death, Jesus once again promised that his disciples would be given a ‘comforter’, the Holy Spirit: “If you love me, you will obey my commands. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:15-17) “I have told you all these things while I am with you. But the Helper will teach you everything and will cause you to remember all that I told you. This Helper is the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name.” (John 14:25-26)
After his death and resurrection, Jesus told his followers to stay in Jerusalem until they were filled with the Holy Spirit: “Wait here to receive the promise from the Father which I told you about. John baptised people with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)
Jerusalem - HaYehudim St. Jewish Quarter, Old City (Sweden)
Jesus’s followers are filled with the Holy Spirit in the New Testament
On the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’s death, Jesus’s close followers were meeting together behind closed doors. “Suddenly a noise like a strong, blowing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw something like flames of fire that were separated and stood over each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak different languages by the power the Holy Spirit was giving them.” (Acts 2:2-4)
Going out onto the street to address the crowds who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, Peter explained what was happening: “My fellow Jews, and all of you who are in Jerusalem, listen to me… These people are not drunk, as you think; it is only nine o’clock in the morning! But Joel the prophet wrote about what is happening here today: ‘God says: In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people’… The Father has given the Holy Spirit to Jesus as he promised. So Jesus has poured out that Spirit, and this is what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:14-33)
Peter then encouraged his listeners to receive the Holy Spirit themselves: “Change your hearts and lives and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, for your children and for all who are far away. It is for everyone the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39) And as a result, about three thousand people became believers that day.
Filled with the Holy Spirit – the stamp of God’s ownership
In the early New Testament church, the presence of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life quickly became the tell-tale sign of a believer’s faith in Jesus. Paul explained to the Christians at Ephesus, “In Christ we were chosen to be God’s people… And in Christ, God put his special mark of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit that he had promised.” (Ephesians 1:11-13)
After Peter and John were arrested and appeared before the Jewish Council in Jerusalem, they prayed with their friends for strength to witness among their fellow Jews. “And after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke God’s word without fear.” (Acts 4:31)
Ephesus - where Gentiles were filled with the Holy Spirit
Soon, Gentile (non-Jewish) believers also began to be filled with the Holy Spirit: “When the apostles who were still in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When Peter and John arrived, they prayed that the Samaritan believers might receive the Holy Spirit… Then, when the two apostles began laying their hands on the people, they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)
While staying at Joppa, Peter received an invitation to stay with a Roman army officer in Caesarea. Peter explained to Cornelius and his family the good news about Jesus and how “all who believe in Jesus will be forgiven their sins through Jesus’ name. While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who were listening. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been given even to those who were not Jews.” (Acts 10:43-45)
Being filled with the Holy Spirit soon became the usual and expected sign whenever someone turned to Christ. When Paul arrived in Ephesus on his third missionary journey, he was surprised to find believers who hadn’t been filled with the Holy Spirit! Discovering the problem, Paul soon rectified the situation: “When they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Paul laid his hands on them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. They began speaking different languages and prophesying.” (Acts 19:5-6)
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