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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Why Did the Holy Spirit Work Differently with Four Particular Groups in Acts?

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Why Did the Holy Spirit Work Differently with Four Particular Groups in Acts?

Baptism with the Holy Spirit – Question 23

The Book of Acts represents a transitional time during which the Old Testament age was ending and the New Testament church age was beginning. It describes certain events that happened but does not explain their significance. This is important for us to understand.

The Holy Spirit Indwells All Believers

Throughout the New Testament, however, we learn certain things about the Holy Spirit. For example, He indwells every believer at the moment of salvation. Paul wrote the following to the church at Ephesus.

And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)–when you believed in Christ–you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13, 14 NET).

By definition, a believer is one who has been indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Indeed, anyone who does not have the Holy Spirit cannot be considered a Christian.

What about These Instances?

Yet, in the Book of Acts, there are four instances of believers who received the Holy Spirit in a unique way. These were the disciples of Jesus, the Samaritans, the Gentiles, and the disciples of John the Baptist. These groups, received the Holy Spirit in varying ways because of the transitional nature of the church and because the four groups represented all of humanity.

This Was a Transitional Period

The people living at the time of Christ were in a transitional period. The Old Testament age of adherence to the law of Moses was ending, and the New Testament age of grace was beginning. God was now dealing in a different way with those who believed in Him. Although in every age people have been saved by the grace of God through faith in His promises, there were different methods God used in testifying to Himself.

These four groups in the Book of Acts represent all of humanity. They were moving from the age of law to the age of grace.

The Disciples of Jesus

The disciples of Jesus were one such group. They may have received the Holy Spirit in the upper room on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. We read the following in John’s gospel.

And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22 NET).

However, is not at all clear that they received the Holy Spirit at that time. Yet, even if they had received the Holy Spirit then, it was not what Jesus called, “the promise of the Father.” They were still living in the Old Testament age.

At Pentecost, the disciples received the promise of the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. These disciples represented those people who believed in Jesus Christ while He was here upon the earth.

The Samaritans

The Samaritans were half-Jewish, half-Gentile. They had their own religion, which was in conflict with Judaism. The reason they experienced the reception of the Holy Spirit apart from their initial salvation was to identify them with the Jews. Indeed, it was important that both Jews and Samaritans be united in the new faith, Christianity. When they received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the hands of Peter and John, it demonstrated to everyone that Jews and Samaritans were now united in Jesus Christ.

The Gentiles

A third class of humanity was the Gentiles (non-Jews). There was much racial prejudice between the Jews and Gentiles. By receiving the Holy Spirit with the disciples of Jesus present, including Simon Peter, it showed the unity between the two groups. The Apostle Paul would later write about the unity we all have in Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 NKJV).

There is now no distinction between Jews and Greeks “in Christ.” Indeed, we are now all part of the same body of believers.

The Old Testament Believers

The last group was the believers who lived during the Old Testament period, waiting for the coming Messiah. They were represented by those who were disciples of John the Baptist. These people also received the Holy Spirit when they believed in Jesus as their Messiah.

This Fulfilled Jesus’ Promise

The record of these four groups receiving salvation through Jesus Christ fulfills the prophecy made by Jesus shortly before He ascended into heaven. The Book of Acts records Him giving the following promise.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8 NET).

Throughout Scripture we see that the New Testament pattern is for every believer to receive the Holy Spirit immediately upon conversion. But because of the transitional nature of the time, these four groups of humanity each received the Holy Spirit in a unique way. They were once–and–for–all happenings which cannot be repeated.

Thus, these four groups set no pattern for believers today. Indeed, each of us receives the Spirit of God into our lives the moment we trust Christ as Savior.

Summary – Question 23
Why Did the Holy Spirit Work Differently with Four Particular Groups in Acts?

The Book of Acts records that there were four distinct groups of people that received the Holy Spirit in a unique way – the disciples of Jesus, Samaritans, Gentiles, and Old Testament believers. They are representative of the gospel reaching all of the humanity.

The disciples of Jesus represent those who believed in Him while He was here upon the earth. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down to them in a unique way. The Samaritans, who were half-Jews and half-Gentiles, also received the Spirit of God in an extraordinary way. This was necessary because of the historical situation. They had their own temple and their own system of worship. It was necessary for the apostles Peter and John to identify with them when they received the Holy Spirit. This left no doubt that the Samaritans and Jews were now one in Jesus Christ.

The Gentiles received the Holy Spirit when the message of Jesus’ Apostle, Simon Peter, preached to them. The fact that they spoke in tongues, languages which they had not previously learned, convinced Peter that they too had received the Holy Spirit. Gentiles were now welcomed into the church, the body of Christ. The last group represented those people in the Old Testament era who were waiting for the coming of the Messiah. They had heard the promises of God but they had not heard about Jesus. When the message of Christ was preached to them they responded with belief in Him.

Since, these examples represent four different groups who lived during this transitional period we should not assume that our experience with the Holy Spirit should be the same as theirs. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is received immediately upon belief in Jesus Christ with no outward sign necessary.

Why Did the Apostle Paul Ask Certain Disciples If They Received the Holy Spirit upon Believing? ← Prior Section
Does the Book of Acts Provide Any Pattern for Believers to Receive the Holy Spirit? Next Section →
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