The Heart of It All: The Holy Spirit

By Peter Amsterdam

May 28, 2013

The Holy Spirit and the Primitive Church

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

In the first two articles in this series, we looked at how the Holy Spirit came upon certain individuals for specific purposes within the Old Testament and during the life of Jesus.

In the Old Testament accounts, the Spirit of God generally didn’t dwell permanently with individuals. With Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, this dramatically changed. On the day of Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit entered into the lives of individual believers, empowered them, and remained within them.


The Gospel of Luke explains that Jesus had told His disciples He was going to send the promise of the Father to them. In the book of Acts, Luke states that this promise was the coming of the Holy Spirit, and that they would receive power when the Spirit came upon them.

Behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.[1]

While staying with them He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” …“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 end of the earth.[2]

This astounding event happened ten days later on the Jewish Festival of Weeks, known to the Hebraic Jews as Shavu’ot and to the Hellenistic (or Greek) Jews as Pentecost. It’s called Pentecost because it falls on the 50th day after Passover. Shavu’ot celebrates the time of year when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, and also commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Jesus’ crucifixion took place right before the Passover, and the Holy Spirit was poured out 50 days later on the day of Pentecost. Because this was one of the major Jewish festivals, Jews and converts to Judaism from all over the known world were gathered in Jerusalem.

The book of Acts relates what happened at this momentous event:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they [the disciples] were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.[3]

As promised, God’s Spirit was poured out upon the disciples, which immediately resulted in their receiving power which ignited their mission of reaching the world with the Gospel.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”[4]

People from much of the Roman Empire heard the message on that day. In today’s geography, the list of countries given tells us that people from Libya, Egypt, Arabia, a number of cities in Turkey, Italy, Iran, Iraq, and the island of Crete, came together—due to either the sound of the mighty rushing of the wind or hearing the disciples speaking the various languages—and heard Peter preach about what had happened and proclaim salvation through Jesus.

Accounts of Holy Spirit Infilling

There are five other accounts of the Holy Spirit filling believers in the book of Acts. Some of these accounts are of an initial infilling and others are of a subsequent filling of those who had already received the Holy Spirit.

When Peter and John were going to the temple and they healed the lame man, a large crowd gathered and Peter preached, resulting in 5,000 converts. Peter and John were arrested, questioned, and threatened by the high priest and his father-in-law and others. Afterwards they met with other believers and told them what happened, and these believers rejoiced in prayer with them. When praying together, they were filled with the Spirit.[5]

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.[6]

Here you see believers who are saved, and who have previously received the Holy Spirit, being filled with the Spirit again, giving them additional power to continue witnessing with boldness.

Another account of the Spirit being given to believers took place after Stephen had been martyred. The believers in Jerusalem faced strong persecution at that time, including from Saul the Pharisee, who later became Paul the apostle. Philip, one of those who was chosen to be a deacon earlier,[7] left Jerusalem at this time and went to Samaria. He preached the Gospel, cast out unclean spirits, and healed people who were paralyzed and lame. This resulted in much joy and men and women being baptized.[8]

The Jews did not consider the Samaritans to be Jewish, as they were descendants of the ten tribes of Israel who had been defeated and forcibly relocated to other lands by the Assyrians 700 years earlier. The Assyrians brought other people to populate the land, who intermarried with the remnant of Jews left in Samaria. As such, Samaritans were not considered to be pure Jews. Up until this time, the disciples had only ministered to other Jews. So when the apostles heard that Samaritans were becoming believers, they sent Peter and John to check out the situation. During that visitation, the newly saved Samaritans received the Holy Spirit.

[Peter and John] prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for He had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.[9]

In this instance, non-Jews who were saved had not yet received the Holy Spirit, but did so when the apostles laid hands on them.

The next example of the Holy Spirit being given was after Saul, the persecutor of the early church, was confronted by light from heaven. Jesus spoke to Saul, asking why he was persecuting Him. Saul lost his sight, and following Jesus’ instructions spent three days in Damascus.[10]

The Lord spoke to a disciple named Ananias, telling him to go to the house of Judas on the street called Straight, where he would find Saul. Ananias expressed concern, as he knew that Saul was persecuting Christians, but was told that Saul was a chosen instrument who would carry the name of Jesus to the Gentiles (Gentiles refers to any non-Jewish people), kings, and the children of Israel. Ananias did as he was instructed.[11]

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”[12]

In this instance, an enemy of the Christians is converted and then filled with the Holy Spirit when a disciple lays hands upon him and prays for him.

Acts chapter 10, verses 1–16, tells of Peter having the same vision three times, in which he sees animals, reptiles, and birds, which according to the Laws of Moses are unclean and shouldn’t be eaten. He hears a voice instructing him to “kill and eat” the creatures. Peter objects, but the voice says, “What God has made clean, do not call common (unclean or unholy).”

Immediately following these visions, some men—sent by Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman centurion—arrived and asked Peter to come to Cornelius’ home. If a Jew entered the home of a non-Jew, he became ritually unclean, so it would be unlawful for Peter to go into Cornelius’ home. However, due to the vision, Peter understood that God had revealed to him that he should go, that the “unclean” were to be looked upon as clean. So he went, entered Cornelius’ home, and shared the good news that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were available to all within the household, who received the message.

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.[13]

Cornelius and the others—all Gentiles—believed the message Peter shared with them and consequently they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this situation, Gentiles received the Spirit at the moment they believed in Jesus.

The fifth recorded instance of people receiving the Holy Spirit involves twelve disciples of John in Ephesus.

When the apostle Paul came to Ephesus, he found some disciples of John the Baptist. Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit, to which they replied that they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul told them about Jesus and they believed.

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.[14]

The Holy Spirit for All Believers

These accounts in the book of Acts portray the Spirit arriving in a variety of situations upon different people, both Jews and Gentiles, old and young, male and female, masters and servants. Certainly within the household of Cornelius, within the group of believers Peter and John prayed with, within the 120 in the upper room, there were men and women, servants, and people of all ages, just as was predicted by the prophet Joel.

It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit.[15]

The outpouring of God’s Spirit upon ordinary people wasn’t something that was limited to the early church. Since that time, God’s Spirit has dwelt in countless believers over the centuries. In contrast with the Spirit’s presence within only a few persons in the Old Testament, since the day of Pentecost the Spirit has been, and continues to be, poured out upon all believers, as we receive the beautiful “promise of the Father.”


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] Luke 24:49.

[2] Acts 1:4–5, 8.

[3] Acts 2:1–4.

[4] Act 2:5–11.

[5] Acts 4:1–31.

[6] Acts 4:31.

[7] Acts 6:5.

[8] Acts 8:5, 6, 12.

[9] Acts 8:15–17.

[10] Acts 9:1–9.

[11] Acts 9:10–16.

[12] Acts 9:17–20.

[13] Acts 10:44–48.

[14] Acts 19:1–7.

[15] Joel 2:28–29.


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