Pentecost as a One Time Event
I remember when my wife and I received notice of our first child. He had been conceived for over a month and we had no idea. We pondered the idea of pregnancy, but had no way of knowing for sure. Kathy went to the doctor and found out. We were excited – our first baby!
For several months, the reality of a new baby had rearranged our lives. We were acting and talking differently. Our conversations seem to always end up on baby topics. We were preparing and adjusting our home and budget. It was different and new. And we never lost our excitement.
Almost 9 months later, Kathy’s doctor gave us the word to come in the next day for labor. He was going to induce. We woke up way before the sunrise and headed to the hospital where we waited for hours as the nurses checked and double checked vital signs and heartbeats. We were anxious and our excitement was growing.
Then the time came. Kathy pushed our first born into the world. He spat out a soft cry and we joined in. We were both so happy that we wept beyond normal. We were soaking our clothes in tears. This was a moment in time that we would never experience. Our first born would only be born once.
Our excitement did not cease or squander. Rather, it increased. Our new baby was bringing us even more joy then he was in the womb. He was interactive and real. To this day, Justus is still doing the same.
Like this experience, the baptismal event that took place on the Day of Pentecost was a one-time and special event. It was a single moment in history. Wayne Grudem wrote that is was “the point of transition between the old covenant work and ministry of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.” [i]
The Holy Spirit interacted with Old Testament man in different degrees and ways then He does today. Like my son before he was born, the Spirit’s work was a lesser work. Of course this does not mean that the Spirit Himself had less power – God is the same always. Rather, it means that the work He was involved in was in a lesser degree then the work he is now involved in.
The Lesser Power in the Old Testament
The Old Testament records several indications of a less powerful and less extensive work of the Holy Spirit. The most evident might be the lesser amount of people whom the Spirit significantly empowered for ministry. Numbers 11:16-17 records the divine ordination of a select number of God’s people. The Lord tells Moses to provide only 70 men who will share the responsibilities of leadership, and He “will put [the Holy Spirit] upon them.” Moses later expresses that he longed for the day when the Spirit would be poured out on all of God’s people (Numbers 11:29).
Another indication is that the equipping of the Spirit for special ministries could be lost. 1 Samuel 16:14 records that “the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him.” Another record of this type is found in Psalm 51:11, where King David begs the Lord “do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”
In dimension of power, the work of the Holy Spirit was much more detached from the people of God. In the Genesis record of creation, “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2) which indicated a work of cosmic proportions that have not been duplicated since. For the remaining of the Old Testament, there are not even examples of great power over the dominion of Satan, casting out demons, or even effective evangelism.(ii)
In a broader sense, the Holy Spirit was almost completely confined to the nation of Israel. There were not multitudes indwelt by Him. And to make this point even stronger, the people of God during these times looked forward to a new age when the work of the Spirit would be more powerful and widespread (Numbers 11:29; Jeremiah 31:31-33; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Joel 2:28-29).
The power of the Spirit in the Old Testament was restricted. God clearly was holding back a greater power for the days beginning at Pentecost. Nevertheless, the lesser exemplified power does not imply a lesser capacity of power for God never has or will change.
The Greater Power in the New Testament
The New Testament provides numerous accounts that will compare to the accounts mentioned above. Instead of a few being empowered by the Spirit, all who were in Christ were empowered. On the Day of Pentecost, all the disciples of Christ received the baptism of the Holy Spirit which resulted in a miraculous utterance (Acts 2:1-4). This baptism brought much greater power to effectively evangelize (Acts 1:8; Ephesians 4:8, 11-13). It also gave them power for victory over the influence of sin (Romans 6:11-14; 8:13-14; Galatians 2:20).
In Christ, the Spirit of God was a seal of promise guaranteeing a future inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). This seal could not be removed or given away. The Holy Spirit did not leave those who believed. In fact, it was the Spirit that kept them in faith. It regenerated and sanctified the soul (John 3:3, 5).
Most of the work of the Spirit was not done outside the people of God, but through them. The New Testament records numerous examples of great power of the dominion of Satan, casting out demons, and, even more so, effective evangelism. The apostles of the first century church had such a power and strength that they committed themselves to proclaiming the gospel even under the worst circumstances. Almost all of them were martyred for Christ.
The Spirit was no longer confined to one nation, but spread to all believers throughout the world. Jews and Gentiles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They all received power and a wide unknown distribution of ministry gifts. The people of God in the days proceeding the Day of Pentecost, were fully capable of doing the work of Christ and still are today. We do not seek for a greater power to come. The Spirit of God is sufficient.
Before my son was born, there was a lesser excitement and we looked forward to the day that we would set our gaze on him. And ever since he was born, our excitement has been substantially greater. Like the point of our first born’s birth, the Day of Pentecost was a point of transition. It was where the ministry of the Holy Spirit dramatically increased both in power and spread. The remarkable event on that day was never replicated the same way. Granted, there were a couple of occasions that reminded the disciples of that day, but it stands alone as the single point of transition.
- Wayne Grudem, Baptism in and Filling with the Holy Spirit. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, InterVarsity Press and Zondervan Publishing House; 1994. 39.
- The closest record of casting out demons in the Old Testament is the story of the evil spirits troubling Saul that departed from him whenever David played his lyrie (1 Samuel 16:23). This does not compare in any capacity to the casting out of the demons in the New Testament.