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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Identity of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: What Symbols Does the Bible Use to Describe the Holy Spirit?

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What Symbols Does the Bible Use to Describe the Holy Spirit?

The Identity of the Holy Spirit – Question 22

Scripture often uses material symbols to represent and better explain spiritual truths. In fact, the Bible uses a number of symbols to describe the nature, person and work of God the Holy Spirit. It is important that we know what they are because we can learn much from an examination of them. They include the following.

1. Dove

The dove is an important symbol of the Holy Spirit. We find that the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove upon Jesus at His baptism. Luke records what took place.

And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 NRSV).

The Holy Spirit is not a dove but He came down like a dove. Thus, a dove is a symbol of the Spirit of God.

2. Water

The Holy Spirit is also symbolized by water. We find Jesus employing this symbolism when He was at a certain feast in the city of Jerusalem. The Bible explains it in this manner.

On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” He said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been received, because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39 HCSB).

Water is a main source of life. Jesus Christ is our source of spiritual life. Indeed, He claimed that whoever believed in Him would receive the Spirit. In this instance, the spirit is likened to streams of living water which flow.

3. Fire

The Holy Spirit is likened to fire. We read the following words from the prophet Isaiah who compares the Spirit of the Lord to fire.

The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire (Isaiah 4:4 NIV).

Fire purifies as does the work of the Spirit. This is why we find that Holy Spirit compared to fire. He does the purifying or refining work of the Lord.

4. Wind or Breath

The wind also symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down and indwelt believers in a special way, we find the wind playing a role in what took place. We read.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting (Acts 2:2 NKJV).

The mighty wind symbolizes the mighty work of God’s spirit.

5. Clothing

The Holy Spirit is also symbolized by divine clothing. Jesus promised His disciples that they would be “clothed” from power on high.

And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49 NRSV).

Those who believe in Jesus Christ are clothed with God’s Spirit.

6. Pledge or Guarantee

The pledge was the down payment, a promise of more to come. The Holy Spirit pledges that our salvation will be completed when we are glorified with Christ. The Apostle Paul emphasized this when He wrote to the Ephesians. He said.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us everything he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. This is just one more reason for us to praise our glorious God (Ephesians 1:14 NLT).

The pledge or guarantee of the Spirit is evidence that the Lord will fulfill His promises to us. This is certainly an assuring truth!

7. Oil

Oil is used symbolically of the work of God the Holy Spirit. The kings of Israel were anointed with oil which symbolized the Spirit of the Lord coming upon them. The Bible says.

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came on David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah (1 Samuel 16:13 TNIV).

The anointing with oil symbolized the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Oil had a number of functions in the ancient world. In like manner, the Holy Spirit functions in a number of important ways in the lives of believers.

8. Seal

The seal, or guarantee, is also used as a symbol of the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote the following to the Ephesians.

And now you also have heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago (Ephesians 1:13 NLT).

The Holy Spirit is the guarantee that God’s promises will come to pass.

9. A Still Small Voice

The Holy spirit can be that voice of God which speaks to our innermost being. We find this in the biblical account of Elijah.

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV).

The Lord often speaks to believers in that small voice by His Spirit.

10. The Number Seven

Seven speaks of completion. When used of the Holy Spirit it symbolizes the Spirit’s fullness and perfection. In the Book of Revelation we read of the “seven spirits.”

To the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace to you from the One who is, who was, and who is coming; from the seven spirits before His throne (Revelation 1:4 HCSB).

The Holy Spirit is complete in Himself and His work is always completed. In other words, He always finishes what He sets out to do.

11. The Finger of God

Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the “finger of God.” In a parallel passage, Jesus said that He casts out demons by the Holy Spirit, or by “the finger of God.” Luke records it this way.

But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20 NKJV).

The Holy Spirit is the one who does the work of God.

12. Firstfruits

The firstfruits were a symbol of the coming harvest. The initial work of the Holy Spirit symbolizes the final salvation and glorification of each believer. Paul gave this analogy in his letter to the Romans.

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23 NRSV).

This is another indication that each believer will receive their glorification. Indeed, they will be like Jesus Christ someday.

Each of these symbols gives us further insight into the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. It is thus important that we have some type of understanding of them.

Summary – Question 22
What Symbols Does the Bible Use to Describe the Holy Spirit?

At times, God teaches His truth through symbols. In fact, there are a number of different symbols that the Bible uses to describe the person and work of God the Holy Spirit. These include such things as water, a dove, wind or breath, fire, divine clothing, a pledge or guarantee, the number seven, the finger of God, and firstfruits.

A study of these symbols will begin to give us an idea of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. This being the case, it is important that study each of them. This will result in a better understanding as to how the Spirit of God is working with each of us. Indeed, everything recorded in Scripture is for a reason and these symbols teach us numerous biblical truths.

Is There a Counterfeit Holy Spirit? ← Prior Section
Why Is the Holy Spirit Compared to a Dove? Next Section →
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