The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Prophecies

Michelangelo’s portrayals of (L-R) Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

This is the latest in a series of essays on baptism. You will find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

In the previous essay, I began examining how the Spirit worked prior to Christ’s death and resurrection in order to help determine what is meant by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We saw that the Spirit was always at work in the Old Testament, but that He was only “placed” on a specific set of people: those entrusted with spiritual leadership of the nation of Israel in one form or another. This Spirit could be given or taken away at any time, according to the will of the Lord. When the covenant relationship between God and His people broke down and the covenant curses were enacted, God promised to restore a righteous remnant to Himself. How would that occur? Let’s take a look.

THE ANOINTED ONE

The people of Israel did not all have the Spirit of God placed upon them individually, but they certainly benefited from the Spirit at work in their midst.[1] We have already seen how God sent them prophets and leaders empowered by the Spirit. Nehemiah also spoke of the Spirit leading the Israelites in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land.

You, in Your great compassion,

Did not forsake them in the wilderness;

The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day,

To guide them on their way,

Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go.

You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,

Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth,

And You gave them water for their thirst.

Nehemiah 9:19-20

He also described what happened when the people turned their back on the Lord.

However, You bore with them for many years,

And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets,

Yet they would not give ear.

Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.

Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them,

For You are a gracious and compassionate God.

Nehemiah 9:30-31

Illustration of the Israelites gathering manna and receiving water from the rock in the wilderness, from the Bible boskovická, circa 1420

We see here how the Spirit of God served as a teacher for the people of Israel, leading them toward the truth even as the fiery pillar led them toward Canaan. But despite the fact that God “bore with them for many years”, the people were disobedient. He “admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, / Yet they would not give ear”. The result was that they reaped the curses of the covenant and were sent into exile. Much as the divine favor was removed from Saul and other kings who disobeyed the Lord, it was removed from the entire community. Had the Lord completely abandoned Israel? No, not in the slightest! Nehemiah assures us that the Lord is “gracious and compassionate” and would not forsake them. However, something was going to have to change in order for there to be restoration.

Even as the prophets spoke of the breaking of the Mosaic Covenant and the divine wrath that must come, they also spoke of a coming age when the remnant would return to the land and things would be much different. The restoration of the nation was linked with two things in particular: the coming of a perfect ruler who would be filled with the Spirit, and a general outpouring of the Spirit upon all people. Let us first consider the Messianic figure. Isaiah prophesied,

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,

And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,

The spirit of wisdom and understanding,

The spirit of counsel and strength,

The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,

And He will not judge by what His eyes see,

Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;

But with righteousness He will judge the poor,

And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;

And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,

And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.

Isaiah 11:1-4

We see that this person will be a descendant of the royal Davidic line – a shoot from “the stem of Jesse”. His reign will be characterized by perfect justice, the work of the Spirit, the wolf dwelling with the lamb (11:5), all the nations being drawn to Him (11:10), and the earth being full of the knowledge of the Lord “as the waters cover the sea” (11:9). Compare that with Isaiah chapter 42.

Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold;

My chosen one in whom My soul delights.

I have put My Spirit upon Him;

He will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry out or raise His voice,

Nor make His voice heard in the street.

A bruised reed He will not break

And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;

He will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not be disheartened or crushed

Until He has established justice in the earth;

And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.

Isaiah 42:1-4

Again we see that this servant will be filled with the Spirit and He will bring justice to all the nations. Even the coastlands, or the lands far away, “will wait expectantly for His law”. Here is one more good passage regarding this Messianic figure.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

Because the Lord has anointed me

To bring good news to the afflicted;

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to captives

And freedom to prisoners;

To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord

And the day of vengeance of our God;

To comfort all who mourn,

To grant those who mourn in Zion,

Giving them a garland instead of ashes,

The oil of gladness instead of mourning,

The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.

So they will be called oaks of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.

Isaiah 61:1-3

Crucifix decoration in the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome (Author photo)

Again I must draw your attention to the fact that this individual will have the Spirit of God placed upon him, he will act with justice and righteousness, and he will bring gladness to many people. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read this portion of Isaiah. He then sat down and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21) He was clearly associating Himself with the servant mentioned by Isaiah: the one who would be anointed with the Spirit.

Here it is useful to remember the account of Jesus’ baptism. “Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’” (Luke 3:21-22) This event was meant not only to declare that Jesus was God’s Son, but also that He was the one on whom the Spirit rested. He was the promised Messiah.

The Hebrew word from which we derive the term Messiah is mashiyach. It literally means “anointed” or “anointed one”. The same word was used to refer to kings like Saul who were anointed (1 Samuel 24:6), to the entire nation of Israel (Habakkuk 3:13), and a coming princely figure (Daniel 9:25-26). The related verb, mashach, is used in that passage in Isaiah where it states, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, / Because the LORD has anointed me…” (61:1a) Thus, the Jews of Jesus’s day would have understood that anointing set someone apart as God’s chosen one and that it involved the Spirit of God. They were expecting that the Messiah figure, whoever he might be, would have the Spirit placed upon him. That is why the declaration at Jesus’s baptism was so significant, and it also helps to explain this passage.

Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, ‘This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?’ But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.’ And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, ‘Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.’

Matthew 12:22-32

This portion of Scripture has puzzled more than a few people over the years. I can hear it now: “Is there really an unforgivable sin? What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Did I accidentally do it just now? If I mistake something the Spirit has done for something else, am I in trouble too? Am I going to Hell?!” Settle down, people – settle down. On the day of Pentecost, when the crowd thought that the apostles were drunk because they were speaking in tongues, they were nevertheless added to the number of the Church when they realized their mistake and repented. Such an error of judgment is not what was happening in this conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees.

The crowd saw that Jesus was healing miraculously, connected this with what they knew about the Messiah from the Old Testament, and concluded that He might just be the Son of David, i.e. the promised anointed one. The Pharisees charged that Jesus did not have the Spirit of God, but an evil spirit. What this really meant is that they were rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. They refused to accept that He was the one on whom the Spirit rested. Jesus told them “if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (v. 28). He knew that they were rejecting both His kingdom and His rule. “He who is not with Me is against Me…” (v. 30) This was an ultimate rejection and hardness of heart on the part of the Pharisees. That is why Jesus concludes that they will not be forgiven: they were rejecting not only a human being, but the promised Messiah, and not only one person of the Trinity, but all three. They were refusing to acknowledge God’s sovereign will. Indeed, they were refusing to acknowledge God.

THE ANOINTED PEOPLE

I noted that the Old Testament also speaks of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all of God’s people. In the book of Isaiah, there is one point where we seem to see the Servant – that is, Christ – speaking to the people. “Come near to Me, listen to this: / From the first I have not spoken in secret, / From the time it took place, I was there. / And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit.” (48:16) We have seen the prophecies that Spirit would rest on the Messiah Himself and that He was also given to many people under the Mosaic Covenant. So what exactly is being described here, and how is it different? I would submit that the difference is both in the identity of the people receiving the Spirit and the fact that it will not be taken away.

The nation of Israel was placed under judgment for disobeying the Law. The prophets spoke of a time when they would return to obedience through true knowledge of the Lord and the granting of the Spirit. In this particular passage, we see the people longing for an outpouring of the Spirit even as Moses did so many years earlier.

Because the palace has been abandoned, the populated city forsaken.

Hill and watch-tower have become caves forever,

A delight for wild donkeys, a pasture for flocks;

Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high,

And the wilderness becomes a fertile field,

And the fertile field is considered as a forest.

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness

And righteousness will abide in the fertile field.

Isaiah 32:14-16

The people, or the prophet speaking on behalf of the people, conclude here that their nation will be restored to righteousness and blessing when they receive the Spirit. That is their true source of hope. They are entirely correct, and the Lord promises that He will indeed grant the Spirit not only to the leaders of the nation or the prophets, but to everyone.

Thus says the Lord who made you

And formed you from the womb, who will help you,

‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant;

And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

For I will pour out water on the thirsty land

And streams on the dry ground;

I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring

And My blessing on your descendants;

And they will spring up among the grass

Like poplars by streams of water.’

Isaiah 44:2-3

The Lord says that He has chosen Israel. He will pour forth water on their land. He will pour forth His Spirit on them and their descendants. Notice who is taking all the initiative here. Israel did not deserve anything good. They broke the covenant. God is making a sovereign choice to act: to pour forth His Spirit on those He chooses.

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:24-28

“The Rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, circa 1847

Here God links the pouring forth of His Spirit with the return of the people to the Promised Land. He says that He Himself will make them clean, putting a new heart and a new spirit in them. The result is that they will be obedient to the Lord’s commands and walk in His ways. They will be His people. He will be their God.

‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ the Lord: ‘My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,’ says the Lord, ‘from now and forever.’

Isaiah 59:21

Here once again we see it is the Lord who places His Spirit upon the people and His words in their mouths. Not only that, but He places this on their offspring and their offspring’s offspring. Most importantly of all, this is not some kind of temporal grant. It will be “from now and forever”. Forever is a mighty long time! Was God speaking metaphorically here? Actually, I’m inclined to think He really meant forever.

The prophet Joel spoke a great deal about a plague of locusts that would ravage the nation. He then went on to talk about a time of restoration when the things that had been destroyed would be restored. Finally, he mentioned something else.

It will come about after this

That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;

And your sons and daughters will prophesy,

Your old men will dream dreams,

Your young men will see visions.

Even on the male and female servants

I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

Joel 2:28-29

You may recognize this as the passage that the Apostle Peter quoted in his first sermon. It predicted an outpouring of the Spirit on a level that had never before been experienced. It would not be restricted to the nation of Israel; it would be “on all mankind”. It would not be restricted to men; both “sons and daughters” would receive it. It would not be restricted by age. It would not be restricted by social status or occupation. Joel also makes the classic Old Testament link between the reception of the Spirit and prophetic acts, whether that be words of prophecy, dreams, or visions. We are not told when exactly this will occur, but it clearly represents a state of affairs that did not exist at any point in the Old Testament. What is being described here is the indwelling of the Spirit on a wide scale. It will be the norm rather than the exception. Moses’s passionate desire for all the Lord’s people to have the Spirit placed upon them would come true.

BUT WHICH PEOPLE?

Perhaps at this point you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait…did all the people of Israel really receive the Holy Spirit? Was life really a bundle of roses when they returned to the land?” No and no. It is clear enough that the utopian vision Isaiah gave of the wolf lying down with the lamb has not come to pass on planet earth. It is looking forward to something in the future. Neither did all the Jewish people receive the Holy Spirit. Remember back to our discussion of John’s baptism and the righteous remnant. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to both John and Jesus, they were declared to be unrepentant sinners. John said they were physical children of Abraham but not spiritual children. A confrontation Christ had over the same issue almost got Him killed prematurely.

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.’ They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.’ They said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.’ The Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?’ Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. But I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death’ The Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, “If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.” Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, “He is our God”; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’ Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.

John 8:39-54

This discussion is interesting for several reasons. First, the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking once again appealed to their physical descent from Abraham as proof that they were not slaves, but free people chosen by God and presumably on the path to salvation. Jesus points out that though they are physically descended from Abraham, they are not performing his deeds. It seems clear that this would have included accepting the Word of God (v. 37). The Jews try to counter Jesus’s words by appealing to God as their Father. Perhaps they were thinking of verses such as Isaiah 64:8 – “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, / We are the clay, and You our potter; / And all of us are the work of Your hand.” – and concluded that to be a member of the Jewish nation and a part of the Mosaic Covenant automatically meant that God was your Father. In a general sense, this might have been true, but Jesus contradicts them. If God were your Father, he says, you would accept Me (v. 42). He concludes that they were actually children of the devil (v. 44).

Next, the Jews fall back into the same heinous error committed by the Pharisees: they claim that Jesus is working by the power of demons rather than the Spirit. When they press Jesus for how He can claim to have been seen by Abraham, He makes a bold claim: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” (v. 58) The crowd understood exactly what He meant. He was claiming to be God. They attempted to stone Him, but He was able to depart unharmed. I conclude that these people who attacked Jesus were not Abraham’s spiritual children, nor did they have the Spirit, for they denied the work of the Spirit.

You may think it a bit premature for me to make a connection between Abraham’s spiritual children and the work of the Spirit, but consider what the Apostle Paul said. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) Therefore, being confronted with the clear work of the Spirit of God and the Anointed One who was promised and then choosing to reject all of that and credit it to the devil does not seem like something that a person who has the Spirit would do. Those people to whom Jesus was speaking were part of the Jewish nation and members of those covenants, yet they were not true children of Abraham, nor did they have the Spirit. They were not among the righteous remnant, even if they were among the physical remnant that had returned to Palestine from Babylon.

Jesus also called them slaves, which the crowd found to be very offensive. “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone,” they objected (v. 33). As part of God’s chosen people of Israel, they believed themselves to be free. (Note the irony that even physically, they were under Roman occupation.) Jesus presents them with a very different conception of what it means to be a slave or free person. Everyone who sins is a slave to sin; therefore, everyone is a slave. No one can become free of their own accord or on the basis of their birth. “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (v. 35-36) In order to become a free person, you need the Son. In order to be a member of the family and live in the house, you need the Son. In order for God to truly be your Father, you need the Son. Here we must turn again to the writings of Paul.

“The Banishment of Hagar and Ishmael” by Adriaen van der Werff, circa 1696-97

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written,

‘Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear;

Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor;

For more numerous are the children of the desolate

Than of the one who has a husband.’

And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say?

‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son,

For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.’

So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.

Galatians 4:22-31

We have seen clear evidence that when Jesus began His ministry, the people He encountered believed that their physical descent from Abraham, participation in the covenant of circumcision, and inclusion in the Mosaic Covenant made them spiritually alive, children of God, and heirs to all the promises of the covenants. Here Paul teaches, along with Christ, that there are two forms of descent from Abraham. All Jews were physically descended from him (along with the descendants of Ishmael), but only some – the righteous remnant – were his spiritual descendants.

Please note that the book of Galatians was written not to Jews in general, but to a mixture of Jews and Gentiles who were professing to follow Jesus Christ. That is why Paul refers to them as descendants of the free woman and others as descendants of the bondwoman. Now, the descendants of the bondwoman were those who were attempting to gain their salvation through strict observance of the Mosaic Law and who felt that their mere inclusion in this covenant was good enough. The descendants of the free woman were those were looking to the Jerusalem above and the promises of God for their salvation.

But this is not only about the person’s state of mind: it is about their fundamental spiritual status. Paul talks about those born according to the flesh and those born according to the Spirit. The former persecute the latter. We can link this in with what Jesus said to those who denied the works of the Spirit. They were not born of the Spirit. They did not have the Spirit. Therefore, the fundamental distinction among the Jewish people was between those who were born of the Spirit and those were not, or those were children of the promise and those who were not.

One final note about how things worked in the Old Testament. Although the Spirit was certainly at work in the hearts of all who belonged to the righteous remnant or the children of the promise, there still seems to be a clear difference between those on whom the Spirit descended and those on whom He did not. Remember, the Old Testament almost always linked the descent of the Spirit on a person with the act of prophesy. It was not something that happened to the many, but rather the few.

We might say that the actions of the Spirit in that former era were very external. We see literal fire and clouds, hear new prophesies being spoken, and observe signs and wonders being performed when the Spirit is around. To put myself even more at risk of placing the horse before the cart, I am going to hint right now that after Pentecost, the work of the Spirit became much more internal. This is something to look for as we continue. I hope to see you back next time, when I take an in-depth look at some of the things Christ said about the coming of the Spirit and what actually happened when it started descending en masse. Thank you for persevering thus far. This is a complicated subject, and I want to do it justice.

All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright the Lockman Foundation.

[1] I believe that a person must be made regenerate by the Spirit in order to have saving faith. Therefore, I believe that any person who had saving faith in the Old Testament was regenerated by the Spirit, even as people are today. There is no difference in the method of salvation in either Testament: by grace, through faith, as a result of union with Christ and the double imputation. If you don’t know what that means, do a Google search. This is a long enough article already. I do still see a difference in how the Spirit worked then and how He works now, but not in terms of the saving effect.

Previous articles in this series:

#1 – New Series of Essays on Baptism

#2 – The Baptism of John: Purpose, Participants, and Differences from New Covenant Baptism

#3 – Why was Jesus Baptized?

#4 – The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Beginnings

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