The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

(By Len Wright)


     The first mention of baptism with the Holy Spirit is by John the Baptist as recorded in Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, and Luke 3:16 ("Holy Spirit" is the translation of most versions. The phrase "Holy Spirit" will appear in this article as synonymous with "Holy Ghost.")  John came to prepare the way of the Lord (Mark 1:1-3). He denied that he was the Christ and told the people to believe in the one who would come after him. That one was Jesus. He testified that Jesus was greater than he. To illustrate this he said "I indeed baptize you in water... but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, ... he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire" (Matthew 3:11).

     The fire of this passage is identified in the context as "unquenchable fire" and is the fire of everlasting punishment. This fire burns up the chaff and the unfruitful tree (Matthew 3:10, 12; Luke 3:9, 17). Unquenchable everlasting fire is the destination of the disobedient and unbelieving in final judgement (See II Thessalonians 1: 7-10; Matthew 25: 41, 46; Acts 17: 31; Revelation 20: 12-15; 21: 8 ). This baptism is yet future..

     The baptism with the Holy Spirit is passed. It was fulfilled in the days of the New Testament. Jesus said to his apostles, "For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:5). Approximately ten days later on the day of Pentecost, the apostles "were all filled with the Holy Ghost and spake with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). Later in Acts 10:44, the Spirit also fell upon the household of Cornelius. Peter understood the falling of the Holy Spirit on the household of Cornelius and that of the apostles' reception of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to be cases of baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44; 11:15-17). These are the only examples of baptism with the Holy Spirit found in the Bible.

     It should be noted that in the case of Cornelius' household, Peter could not refer to any example of what had taken place except that which had occurred on Pentecost "at the beginning," Acts 11:15. This beginning was the beginning of the preaching of "repentance and the remission of sins" in the name of Christ at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38). Baptism with the Holy Spirit was not a common occurrence even in New Testament times.

     One fact is often overlooked concerning the baptism with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. In Acts 2 only the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit. This can be observed by reading Acts 1:26 and Acts 2:1 consecutively. "And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." "They" in Acts 2:1 logically refers back to "apostles" in Acts 1:26. But continue to note when Peter speaks in Acts 2:14, the text says he stood "up with the eleven," referring to the remaining eleven apostles. Also after Peter's sermon the multitude addressed "Peter and the rest of the apostles" (Acts 2:37). The apostles were the ones who stood before this mixed multitude from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5). The apostles were the ones they heard speaking in each man's own tongue (language) the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:4, 6, 8, 11).

     Jesus told the apostles they would receive power after that the Holy Spirit had come upon them, Acts 1:8. This power was manifest only in the apostles up until Acts 6:8. A disciple, Stephen, not an apostle, did "great wonders and miracles among the people." This reception by Stephen of the power after the Holy Spirit came upon him was not baptism with the Holy Spirit, for this reception was administered by the apostles through "the laying on of hands" (See also Acts 8:18). Remember Jesus was the only one who is said to baptize with the Holy Spirit (See John 1:33).

     After the falling of the Spirit on Cornelius' household, there were no other occurrences of baptism with the Holy Spirit. This is evidenced by the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:4-5, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism." Therefore, at the time of the writing of the epistle to the Ephesians there was only one baptism. That baptism is water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18- 20; Acts 10:47-48).

     Consider the example of men baptized in the city of Ephesus recorded by Luke in Acts 19:1-7. About twelve men were baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus." This could not have been with the Holy Spirit. This was a baptism administered by men and obeyed by men. Again, baptism with the Holy Spirit is administered only by Jesus and is not obeyed. The Holy Spirit did "come upon" these same men, but in the same way that it had come upon Stephen, by the laying on of the hands of an apostle (Acts 19:6). Therefore, this was not baptism with the Holy Spirit.

     Baptism with the Holy Spirit was the means by which the Holy Spirit initially came in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28. That prophecy began to be fulfilled on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus, Acts 2:14-21. The Spirit came on that day on the apostles, directly from heaven with the manifestation of sound, "like as of a rushing mighty wind" and sight, "cloven tongues like as of fire" (Acts 2:2-3). Jesus in accordance with his own words and in agreement with John's had baptized with the Holy Spirit. This baptism was again repeated at Cornelius' house in Acts 10:44-45. Jesus , not the apostles or any man, baptized these with the Holy Spirit. All other receptions of the Holy Spirit recorded were not direct from heaven by Jesus, but through the mediation of the apostles.

     The baptism with the Holy Spirit served the purpose of empowering the apostles to give inerrant witness of the Christ, while confirming the testimony with "signs following" (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:46-49; John 14:26; 15:26; 16:10-13; Mark 16:15-20 and Hebrews 2:3-4). Even in the case of Cornelius' household, Peter later explains the purpose of Jesus baptizing them with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 15:8 he says it was God's bearing the Gentiles witness that they were also to be recipients of the blessing in Christ. Today there is one baptism, water baptism in the name of the Lord. Holy Spirit baptism has already come and been fulfilled. Baptism with fire will be in the day of judgement when water baptism will no longer be enforce. The baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is "even until the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). It is a baptism commanded by Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:33, 48). Dear reader, have you obeyed that command?   (To read more, click on "The Gifts of the Holy Spirit.")