The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts: Study Guide

The following study guide will be the handout for the final lesson I will teach on the Holy Spirit during the month of July. I’m teaching these lessons at The Sanctuary UPC in Hazelwood, Missouri, where Mitchell Bland is pastor.

This study guide is very much abbreviated from the material I have written on the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts for my upcoming book tentatively titled “The Holy Spirit: An Apostolic Perspective on Pneumatology.” Current plans call for the book to be published this fall, but not in time for the general conference of the United Pentecostal Church International.

The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts

July 28, 2019

Daniel L. Segraves, Teacher

[1] Just before His ascension, Jesus gathered His apostles and commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5). After they asked, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom of Israel,” Jesus answered, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).

[2] By connecting what they were about to experience with John’s forerunning ministry, Jesus gathered and brought forward everything about the Spirit found in the four gospels from John the Baptist to this moment. All anticipation about the Spirit pointed to the moment when the Holy Spirit would come upon the waiting believers in a new and profound way.

[3] After His ascension, about 120 of Jesus’ disciples gathered prayerfully to await the Promise of the Father. The fulfillment came on the Day of Pentecost, a Jewish feast day, when a multitude of devout Jews “from every nation under heaven” and many language groups were in Jerusalem to celebrate. Suddenly, a sound like a rushing, mighty wind filled the house where the believers were waiting. This was followed by an appearance of something like divided tongues of fire, sitting on each of them.

[4] These were awesome events, in the finest sense of the word. But the greatest was yet to come. It may have been that the roaring sound continued and the flames still flickered when “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). It was nothing less than a miracle when the 120 men and women began to speak fluently in languages they had never learned, using complete, grammatically correct sentences filled with all the relevant parts of speech. We can say this, because the multitude gathered to celebrate the feast marveled in amazement to hear these Galileans speak in their own languages “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:6-11). Had this been anything less than a fluent display of these languages, these visitors to Jerusalem would certainly have noted that and assumed what they were hearing was, at best, merely a crude effort to impress them with elementary language skills.

[5] So astonished were those who heard this phenomenon that they asked one another, “Whatever could this mean?” Mocking, some said, “They’re drunk!” (See Acts 2:12-13.) At first, it may escape us how anyone speaking in a language never learned could be thought drunk. But that’s how mockers think.

[6] It is at this point Peter stood to answer the questions raised by miraculous events of the day. In a straightforward response to those who suggested intoxication, Peter said, “It’s only nine o’clock in the morning!” Then began his message, which fulfilled previous predictions about what the Spirit would do through him and others in this new day of the Spirit. (See John 16:12-15.)

[7] Peter’s message gathered up biblical prophecies about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. (See Acts 2:16-35.) To summarize, he said, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Those who had not yet been filled with the Spirit “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let everyone one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call’ ” (Acts 2:36-39).

[8] For the first time, people were baptized with the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the promise of Joel 2:28-29. This would not be the last (Acts 10:44-48; 19:1-6). If people could receive the Spirit short of the Pentecostal model, how could those in Samaria know they had not received the Spirit? (See Acts 8:19) It is doubtful Simon would have been interested in paying money for the ability to lay his hands on people, only to see nothing happen.

[9] In addition to the initial Pentecostal event with the Spirit, the Book of Acts tells us of those who were present on the Day of Pentecost who were baptized with the Spirit on that day who were later “filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). This includes Peter and John, who participated in a prayer meeting with other believers, a prayer meeting that included corporate prayer from Psalm 2, interpretation of that Psalm, and shaking of the place where they were gathered. Even though it does not mention speaking with tongues on this occasion – and it need not, since those present had already had this initial experience – it is recorded that “they spoke the word of God with boldness.” This fits perfectly with what almost become a common expectation. When the Spirit comes upon people, it is not unusual for them to speak under the Spirit’s influence, even if not in tongues. (See Acts 4:19-31.) Indeed, before this prayer meeting, when Peter and John were questioned about power and the name by which a lame man had been healed, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit” delivered such a powerful message about the name of Jesus Christ that the high priest and his family marveled. (See Acts 4:1-13.)

[10] As the number of disciples multiplied, a complaint was made by the Greek-speaking Jewish widows, who had apparently migrated to Jerusalem, against the local Jewish widows who did not speak their language. The complaint was that the widows who spoke Greek were being neglected when the food was being distributed daily. To solve this problem, it was necessary to chose “seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” to appoint over this business (Acts 6:1-7). A good decision was made, resulting in great growth in the church in Jerusalem.

[11]      It is significant that it was necessary to choose men who not only had a good reputation, but who were also “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” This brings to mind that the Spirit of the Lord that would rest upon the Messiah was first described a “the Spirit of wisdom” (Isaiah 11:2). There are other aspects of the Spirit, but this event in the life of the first century church underscores the necessity of wisdom on the part of those involved in any facet of church leadership, and this kind of wisdom comes only from the fullness of the Spirit. Those who are not filled with the Spirit may have good reputations and some level of wisdom, but spiritual leadership requires spiritual direction.

[12]      Stephen, one of the seven, was not only full of faith but also of power, doing “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Those of the Synagogue of the Freedmen disputed with him, but “were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6:10). This continues to illustrate the role of the Spirit in empowering Spirit-filled people to speak, a function of the Spirit of which we saw glimmers in the Old Testament.

[13]      After Philip’s ministry in Samaria, an angel of the Lord gave him specific directions as to where to go. When he obeyed, Philip met a man from Ethiopia, “a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27). Traveling homeward, this eunuch was reading from Isaiah 53:7-8. Then the Spirit gave Philip further direction: “Go near and overtake this chariot” (Acts 8:29). At the conclusion of this encounter, after Philip had explained the Scriptures to the Ethiopian and baptized him, “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip way, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus” (Acts 8:39-40).

[14]      The radical turning point in Saul’s life was not complete until Ananias, sent by the Lord, entered the house where Saul was staying, laid his hands on Saul, and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). Immediately Saul received his sight and was baptized. It is not said here that Saul uttered what we have called “Spirit-empowered speech,” but he affirmed this experience when he wrote to the Corinthian church, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all” (I Corinthians 14:18). Paul’s experience with the Holy Spirit included praying and singing in tongues (I Corinthians 14:14-15). He also alluded to this in I Corinthians 13:1: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” This does not diminish the significance of speaking with tongues; it emphasizes the importance of love in the practice of the gifts of the Spirit. Paul’s description of his practice of speaking with tongues indicates he was not referring to the gift of different kinds of tongues, one of the nine spiritual gifts mentioned in I Corinthians 12:8-10. This gift serves a specific purpose in conjunction with the gift of interpretation of tongues, and it is not given to all believers (I Corinthians 12:30). Paul’s praying and singing with the Spirit (i.e., in tongues) is distinct from the purpose of the gift of different kinds of tongues (i.e., various tongues or languages).

[15]      While Peter spoke about Jesus Christ to Cornelius and his relatives and close friends, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God” (Acts 10:44-46). This event essentially duplicates the Day of Pentecost. Although there is no mention of a sound “as of a rushing mighty wind” or of “divided tongues, as of fire,” the work of the Spirit here is identified as “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” a term Peter used on Pentecost (Acts 2:38), the Spirit is described as having been “poured out,” another term from Acts 2:33, and the astonished Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter heard them speak with tongues and magnify God (i.e., those upon whom Spirit had come were magnifying God in languages they had never learned), just as amazed onlookers on Pentecost heard the Spirit baptized believers speaking in their own languages “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).

[16]      As if to confirm the duplication of this event with the Day of Pentecost, Peter said, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47-48). The phrase “just as we have” cements the identical nature of this event with Pentecost. The Day of Pentecost was primarily a Jewish event, and this was a Gentile event, confirming the normativity of baptism with the Holy Spirit for all people and, also, water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ as an essential experience for those who believe on Jesus.

[17]      When Peter returned to Jerusalem, the Jewish believers there contended with him because of his visit to Cornelius’s home, where he also ate with the gathered Gentiles. In his response, Peter explained that the Spirit had told him to go with those who represented to Cornelius (Acts 10:19; 11:12). An angel had told Cornelius to call for Peter, who would tell Cornelius words by which he and his household would “be saved” (Acts 11:13-14). The Holy Spirit had fallen upon Cornelius and those gathered in his house as it had upon the Jewish believers “at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). This reminded Peter of the words of Jesus, who said, “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:16). Peter concluded that God had given the Gentiles at Cornelius’s house “the same gift as he gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 11:17). These final words of Peter confirm that baptism with the Holy Spirit is for those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no indication here that Spirit baptism is an optional experience for those who believe on Jesus.

[18]      Barnabas is characterized as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). Together with Saul, he taught many people in Antioch over the period of a year. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).

[19]      Agabus, a prophet, “stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world” (Acts 11:27-28). This enabled the disciples to send relief for those who would be affected. It was also Agabus who later warned Paul of his upcoming imprisonment in Jerusalem. Agabus did this by taking Paul’s belt, binding his own hands and feet, and saying, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles’ ” (Acts 21:11). It is to be expected, of course, that prophets would exercise the gift of prophecy. (See Ephesians 4:11; I Corinthians 12:10, 28.)

[20]      When Paul reached Ephesus, he found some disciples of John the Baptist, and asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2). This does not mean they had never heard of the Holy Spirit, for John taught of the coming baptism of the Holy Spirit connected with Jesus’ ministry. Rather, these disciples of John had not yet heard that the Holy Spirit had been given as foretold by John.

Paul asked, “Into what then were you baptized?” It is evident that Paul expected Spirit baptism to follow water baptism.

They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”

“John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance,” said Paul, “saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When John’s disciples heard this, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” They had done the right thing to follow John’s teaching, but John’s message was superseded by Jesus’ message. Their willingness to believe on Jesus shows the genuineness of their faith.

After their baptism, Paul laid his hands on them, “the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).[archive]