Mark Zaveson sent me an e-mail this week that centered on a discussion concerning the Bible and the accuracy of the scriptures. The authorâ€™s intent was to review and promote a book whose author attacked the common historical revisionism that is around concerning Jesus specifically and the Bible in general.
There is nothing in the record of Acts 2 to indicate that the signs were the important part of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Nor is there anything to indicate that there were to be perpetual signs and miracles to all ages and that all Christians would partake identically (or non-identically, for that matter) in the second portioning of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
As I had noted previously, the pouring out upon all flesh (which did certainly include all who would be and would become Christians) was performed to allow that all humanity, whether of the House of Israel or of the nations, was to have access to the gospel plan of salvation and hence to the Kingdom of Heaven. The pouring out upon the servants of God was affected to delineate them from the rest and for particular and identified purposes, with signs performed in each case “that you might believe.” One part was the working of the Holy Spirit the other the verification of the work.
Let us see then who the recipients were of these second promises, the working of signs. Who were they then, who had a part in these things and where and how this was manifested. Much of what follows here has been captured in several previous essays on this site. You would not endanger yourself by reading the text that is mentioned following this from the gospel of John and the book of Acts.
In John chapters 14 through 16 the Lord prepared his twelve apostles for the coming of the Holy Spirit to them. In this passage the Spirit is called the Comforter, the Helper, and also the Spirit of Truth. At this point the Christ stated the world could not receive the Spirit of Truth as it had not received Him (Christ) because they “neither saw nor knew Him” (John 14: 16, 17). The prophesy concerning the coming possession of the Spirit listed here is not general in nature, but specific to Christ’s twelve chosen apostles, as they are the only persons present by context.
In verse 26 of this chapter Jesus stated that the Helper/Spirit would be sent in His (Jesus’) name and would teach them “all things” and cause them (the apostles) to remember “all things” that Jesus had taught them. In the 15th chapter He states (also in verse 26) that the Spirit would testify of Christ and that they (the apostles) would bear witness of Christ upon the coming of the Spirit. And in the 16th chapter He said that the spirit in its coming would convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment “…of sin, because they do not believe in me…” I understand that to mean that the Spirit’s business would be to offer a further proof of Christ. “…of righteousness, because I go to my Father and you see me no more…” This I take to mean that the Spirit would be the continuing provider of the path of righteousness until this duty had been fully performed as the Lord outlined to the apostles here, as long as they should live. And “…of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged,” is self-explanatory.
He then concluded this talk in chapter 16 verse 13, by noting once again that the Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth, and that He (the Spirit) would glorify Christ, and would declare to them what Christ would have them both to do and to say. Once more, the context is clear in that the Christ was not addressing any general Christian population or any wider group of disciples when he spoke of this coming of the Holy Spirit. The audience is the twelve apostles here as it was with all other cases where the Lord describes this outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Now note again the difference between the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh and the giving of the Spirit to the apostles and the dispensation of spiritual gifts through the hands of the apostles.
After his resurrection, Jesus told his apostles that they would be “baptized” with the Holy Spirit in but a few days (Acts 1:5). Probably a better word than baptized would be the word “overwhelmed” or simply “whelmed” — “to overcome in thought or feeling” as this is what the intent was in the remark.
In answer then to their question on when the kingdom of Israel would again be established, as part of His answer, He told them to remain in Jerusalem where they, as He said “…shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and (as He had promised) you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” So, in his reply he is implying that the answer to their question would be revealed “soon” and with power. I have no doubt that they missed the import of this non-answer.
Please note again that it was to the twelve apostles that this promise of coming power was made by God, and it was not told to some general assembly or some wider population. It was a promise to a very limited few, not to all, and certainly not to all of every age.
From this understanding it is easily established and follows that only the apostles were recipients of this granting of the Spirit as is noted through this passage and on in the narrative as it stretches through the second chapter of Acts.
There is something else that also is established in these passages: in consequence of this baptism of the Holy Spirit, that initially the only persons with the power of the Holy Spirit, the power to perform signs and wonders, were the same twelve apostles. On this the text is also quite clear, even though this is most often overlooked by teachers and learners.
To start, note that when Peter stood up to identify the cause and explanation of the commotion on that morning as recorded in Acts chapter two, that the record states that he stood up with the eleven. The one’s speaking and prophesying, that were then being heard in different languages and dialects, were the twelve apostles.
Note further that Peter declared to the crowd that through the consent of the leaders, and by the consent of the multitudes that had been present (undoubtedly including some of these very persons) that they had participated in the death of the innocent Christ. He concludes by noting, “this Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.”
He was not referring in this remark to all of those present as having been witness to the events of the resurrection, as that had not been the case. He was specifically addressing the resurrection of Christ about which the members of the multitude would have known nothing at all. The resurrected Christ had been only witnessed by a number of disciples which Paul later listed as over 500 men and women. Peter was informing the crowd that he and his eleven companions were the initial and primary witnesses to that event, just exactly as Christ had told them that they would be.
Notice that after those things were presented and the apostles and Peter were finished addressing the crowd, that many of the hearers became Christians, so that the scripture states: “and they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.” The only ones with this teaching at this time — this doctrine, were the apostles, and that is why this is stated this way. The emphasis is on the apostles and on the “apostle’s doctrine.”
To continue, in the third chapter following the healing of the man that had been born lame from his mother’s womb, the record states that Peter once again noted (verse 14) that those in the multitude had “… denied the Holy One and the Just and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of Life whom God has raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.” Once again, Peter states the witness of the apostles to the resurrection of Christ. And once again, as is mistaken by many, he is not referring to the whole of Jerusalem as having been witness to that stellar event, for that had not been and could not have been true. To accept such a theory is incorrect as it certainly is not the intent of the text, nor is it what was stated. Peter is identifying to the crowd the witness of the twelve, and presenting the power behind the events and of their eyewitness account.
Upon concluding the message, the two apostles that had performed the healing on the lame man were taken and placed in custody until the next day. And after being sent to the council of the Jews (who then let them go), the following was recorded in chapter 4. The Sanhedrin noted, “…they were uneducated and untrained men … and they realized that they had been with Jesus” (v 13). Peter in his and John’s defense later said, “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard (v 20).” This again refers to the witness of the apostles to the events.
In chapter 4 and verse 23 the scripture states that Peter and John were released and went to “their own companions.” I understand that to mean that they went back to that house adjacent to the Temple where everything had started in the first place and where the record previously stated the twelve had been living. The writer here could just as easily have suggested that they went to a convening of general disciples as many suppose. The record states that they prayed and (v 31) then continues with “…and when they had prayed, the whole place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” The only “they” identified by the pronouns in the text here is still the “apostles.” This does not suggest or lend support to the notion that other disciples were present and also recipient to yet another pouring out of the Spirit. No such thing is taught here or anywhere else in the New Testament.
To this point in the text there has not been any evidence for, or any mention of anyone else as having received any portion of the Holy Spirit except the twelve apostles. This fact is again enforced in verse 31 where it again states: “…and with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” These are not accidental phrases, not just mere words to fill up the page.
In the next chapter the conclusion is inescapable. At the end to the terrible business surrounding Ananias and Sapphira and in reaction to those events, the following statement was recorded in chapter 5 and verse 11 and 12. “So great fear came on all the church and upon all who heard these things. And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people and they (meaning the apostles, not as some suppose — the multitude) were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.”
The others would not join to them because these twelve men had power over life and death and there had never in all of history been anything like it.
No group of men in one place and with a single purpose had ever been so filled by God with power over Satan to work signs and wonders. They had a doctrine like no other and it was backed up with power like no other. NO ONE at this point had any power aside from these apostles. NO ONE but the twelve possessed an indwelling of the Holy Spirit at this time, and no one but these twelve could put any power behind the doctrine that was then being taught. The scriptures are quite clear.
That is why others were afraid to try to join up with them — because they were not part and party to this outpouring of the Spirit and its attendant power. The rest of the disciples were awed by them, reverencing them, and they knew they were indeed different and were acutely aware of the power that had been exhibited by them alone.
The point is that there were no applications being offered, taken or filled to be apostles. There were no casting calls for assistants. No one tried to join them or tried to broaden their ranks and to increase the number above twelve. Neither the sincere, nor the unscrupulous tried it, as they all were smart enough to see what was going on following the death of the two deceivers. And in the reading to this point there is absolutely no evidence that anyone else had an indwelling of the Holy Spirit with these gifts and powers, or had been granted these powers through these apostles or by any other means. So states the text.
In this same chapter the apostles again noted that they had been witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, but this time Peter added something more. He said, “and we are his witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (5:32). The “those who would obey him” refers to the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh, and is a slight directed toward the rulers and the council. It has nothing at all to do with a miraculous indwelling or any individual access or general baptism of the Holy Spirit being granted to all. You simply cannot get there from here.
Notice now the Spirit is also stated to be a witness along with the apostles just as Christ said it would be. And I must be emphatic (and repetitious) — that up to this point, no one but the apostles had been “baptized” with the Holy Spirit in this fashion. No one else had any dispensation of the Holy Spirit with such power at this point. As I have stated repeatedly, on that point the text is very, very clear. Read and understand; understand and believe.
In chapter 5 and verse 42 is this familiar passage: “And daily in the temple and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Although this statement is thought by many to have been said of all the disciples, that is not its intent. It is specific in noting the pursuits of the apostles and of they alone. The “they” here is clearly the twelve now as before, as the modifiers are found in verses 40 and 41. It is the apostles’ doctrine delivered with the power of God through their hands and through their deeds alone guided by the Holy Spirit.
“None dared to join them.”