As we have seen in our study thus far, the Holy Spirit was certainly active in the Old Testament. Before we look at His ministry in the present age after Pentecost, it might be a good idea to look at His ministry in the New Testament before Pentecost. What was His ministry like before and during the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry?
At the very beginning of the New Testament period we read that an angel appeared to Zechariah with a message while he was performing his duty in the Temple. The point of that message was to announce the coming of a son to Zechariah and Elizabeth, a son to be called John (the baptizer), and to give his parents instructions about how they were to care for him. As a part of that message, the angel said that the child would be “great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15, ESV) Six months later, the angel Gabriel was sent to tell Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. When she inquired how that could be, the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35, ESV) Then, when Mary went to visit Elizabeth, we read, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,” (Luke 1:41, ESV) After John was born we read regarding Zechariah, “And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,” (Luke 1:67, ESV) Three times in these verses we read that someone was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and once that the Holy Spirit would come upon someone. In the October installment of this series we saw instances where the Holy Spirit was said to come upon someone for a time to enable them to accomplish unusual things. In later installments we will look at instances where people are said to be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Suffice it to say at present that I believe the primary idea is control.)
Not long after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph brought Him to the Temple to offer the appropriate sacrifices. Luke tells us, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,” (Luke 2:25–27, ESV) As in similar phrases seen previously, I take these to mean that the Holy Spirit had a temporary ministry with Simeon in which God let him know that he would see the Christ/Messiah and that the Holy Spirit sovereignly got him to the Temple at just the right time to recognize Jesus and utter a prophecy regarding Him.
We hear of nothing more of the Holy Spirit until we begin to read of the adult ministry of Jesus. That account begins with the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism of Jesus by John. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21–22, ESV See also Matthew 3:16, Mark1:10 and John 1:32) The next record of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus is in His temptation by Satan. “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1–2a, ESV) Immediately after the record of His temptation, Luke tells us, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.” (Luke 4:14, ESV) With the very next event recorded, Luke writes of the beginning of Jesus’ active ministry beginning in Galilee. Early in that ministry He went to Nazareth, His home town. On the Sabbath He went to the synagogue and read from the scroll that was given to him. The scroll was Isaiah, and the passage He read was from Isaiah 61:1-2: ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”” (Luke 4:18–19, ESV) I take “the Spirit of the Lord” to refer to the Holy Spirit. “And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”” (Luke 4:20–21, ESV) Jesus is claiming that His ministry was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah including the fact that the Holy Spirit was at work in Him and was directing His ministry. At a later time in the ministry of Jesus, Matthew quotes another passage from Isaiah, saying it was fulfilled by Jesus: ““Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 12:18, ESV) When Peter began to preach the gospel to the household of Cornelius, he said, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38, ESV) When the seventy-two, whom Jesus had sent out, returned to Him we read, “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21, ESV) The Holy Spirit was certainly active throughout the life and ministry of our Lord.
Part 2 November 2023
In the October installment of the GPS we began to look at the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. This month we will continue that study. In the December issue we will conclude the Old Testament part of our study and also look at a way in which His ministry in the Old Testament differed from His ministry in the New Testament.
Another ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was His involvement, one way or another, in the process of giving revelation. In the case of Ezekiel, He changed the physical position of the prophet so he could receive revelation more efficiently, and in some cases He actually spoke to him. (Ezekiel 2:2; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1) In other instances it appears that the Holy Spirit so overcame people that He seems to have controlled the very words that came out of their mouths. Balaam is one example (Num. 24:2). Micah claims that, in contrast with the false prophets, he is controlled by the Holy Spirit. “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.” (Micah 3:8, ESV)
The New Testament confirms the ministry of the Holy Spirit in communicating revelation in Scripture in three passages (Acts 1:16; 4:25; 2 Peter. 1:21).
A few passages tell us that the Holy Spirit was with the Israelites through the Exodus and wilderness wanderings.
Isaiah looks back at that period and describing Israel’s behavior, he says, “But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.” (Isaiah 63:10–14, ESV) Regarding the same period, Nehemiah records a time when several Levites exhorted the people to praise the LORD for what He had done for them. They actually gave them the words they should use in their praise. Speaking of the days of the Exodus, the words included: “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst.” (Nehemiah 9:20, ESV) A few verses later we read, “Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.” (Nehemiah 9:30, ESV) Haggai adds his testimony to the same time as a part of his words encouraging the returnees to continue the rebuilding of the Temple. “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.” (Haggai 2:4–5, ESV) During the entire time of the Exodus, the wilderness wandering and the entrance into the land the Holy Spirit was working with the nation.
The Old Testament also has passages that prophetically relate the Holy Spirit to the ministry of the Messiah. Isaiah says the Spirit will rest upon Him. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:1–2, ESV) Later in Isaiah the Messiah prophetically claims that that prophecy has been fulfilled in Him. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1–3, ESV) In the New Testament, Jesus claims that this prophecy was fulfilled in Him. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”” (Luke 4:16–21, ESV)
Part 1 October 2023
In July’s edition of the GPS I began a series of studies on the Holy Spirit. In the July and August editions of the GPS we looked at the Biblical information about the person of the Holy Spirit, His personality and then His deity. In September we took a break to look at an unrelated topic. In this month’s edition we will begin to look at the work of the Holy Spirit, to see what He does. We will start with His work recorded in the Old Testament. [I am greatly indebted to Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology for the content of this section.]
The first two references to His work in the Old Testament are Genesis 1:2 and 6:3: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2, ESV) The Spirit had something to do with creation. “Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”” (Genesis 6:3, ESV) Rather than “abide in,” the NASB has “strive with” and the NIV has “contend with.” In either case, the Holy Spirit was actively doing something related to people, for the text says that He would discontinue doing whatever it was. In both verses the exact nature of the work of the Holy Spirit is uncertain, but the fact that He is mentioned as active in both cases is clear. We will turn now to passages in the other sections of the Old Testament in which the nature of His work is clearly stated. It should be noted that in all of these cases His ministry is to specific individuals as opposed to the entire creation or to mankind as a mass.
The Holy Spirit provided skill to people enabling them to perform various activities. Later in Genesis we read that the He provided skill in the area of administration. For example, it was obvious to Pharaoh that Joseph had great administrative ability because “the Spirit of God” was in him (Gen. 41:38). Then, during the days in the wilderness, when Moses needed help in governing the people, God took “some of the Spirit” that was on Moses and placed it on the seventy chosen to assist Moses and they prophesied as a result of that anointing (Num. 11:25). During the same period we see other aspects of His ministry. The Holy Spirit provided construction skill to Bezalel, a man who was largely responsible for work on the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:3-5; 35:31). Interestingly, about seven hundred years after the Exodus, Isaiah also mentions the Holy Spirit three times in connection with the wilderness wanderings in 63:10, 11, 14.
Many years later, the entire process of constructing the Second Temple was a result of the work of the Holy Spirit according to Zechariah 4:6. During the period of the Judges we read that the Holy Spirit equipped various people with skill to perform military exploits. This was explicitly stated of Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (6:34), Jephthah (11:29), Samson (13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). This same ability was given by the Spirit to Saul early in his life. Samuel prophesied that the Spirit of God would come upon Saul and that he would become a different person (1 Samuel 10:6). This happened as Samuel had predicted (10:6). Sometime later, when Saul heard what the Nahash the Ammonite threatened to gouge out the right eyes of all the men of Jabesh-gilead, the Holy Spirit “rushed upon Saul” and he led a victorious attack delivering the people of Jabesh from the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:6).
The action of the Holy Spirit during the transition from the reigns of Saul to David is very instructive. After Saul was rejected by the LORD from being king, Samuel was told by the LORD to anoint David to be the next king. So, Samuel went to do as he was told. “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Samuel 16:13–14, ESV) Sometime later, when Saul was trying to kill David, Saul heard that David was in Naioth. “Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.” (1 Samuel 19:20, ESV) When that did not work, Saul, himself went to try to capture David. “And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah.” (1 Samuel 19:23, ESV) In this case, the Holy Spirit sovereignly kept Saul from harming David. Later in David’s life, after he repented of his sin with Bathsheba, as a part of his prayer in Psalm 51 he said, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11, ESV) I assume that he was thinking about what had happened with Saul and did not want that to happen to him. Next month we will conclude our survey of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and look at a difference between His ministry in the Old Testament and the New.
August 2023 GPS
In July’s edition of the GPS I began a series of studies on the Holy Spirit. My goal in that issue was to show that the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force. I began there rather than with the issue of the deity of the Holy Spirit because it is with the question of His personality that most people struggle. Still, I would be remiss in my responsibility if I did not examine what the Bible says about His deity, so that is the topic for this month’s installment.
The deity of the Holy Spirit is referred to as God. “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”” (Acts 5:3–4, ESV) To lie to the Holy Spirit was to lie to God. In Acts 28:25-27, Paul reprimands some Romans, who refused to believe what he had said about Jesus, by quoting a passage from Isaiah 6:9-10. He introduces that passage by saying, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers.” However, Isaiah 6:3 & 5 clearly identify the one speaking there as the LORD (Yahweh) of hosts. The Holy Spirit is identified with Yahweh. The writer of Hebrews does the same kind of thing in Heb. 10:15-17. There he quotes Jer. 31:33-34 by introducing that quotation with, “the Holy Spirit also testifies to us.” Three times Jeremiah identifies the speaker as LORD (Yahweh) and once as God (Elohim). The Holy Spirit is identified with Yahweh and Elohim.
He is associated with the other members of the godhead in a way that only makes sense if He is deity. The Great Commission reads: ““Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19, NASB95) That instruction about baptism would be passing strange if the Holy Spirit were not God. Imagine the instruction reading, “Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Apostle Paul.” Paul was a great man but it would be heretical to identify Paul in such a way. The same thing can be said about the reference to the three members of the godhead in 2 Cor. 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14, ESV) We see this same truth in something Jesus said to His followers not long before His death. In his fine book, Foundations of the Christian Faith, James Boice wrote: “One of the clearest indications of the full divinity of the Holy Spirit is found on the lips of Jesus when he promised to send the Spirit to the disciples to be “another Counselor” (Jn. 14:16). Here the important word is another. In Greek there are two different words for another. There is allos, the word used here (meaning “another just like the first one”), and there is heteros (meaning “totally different”), from which we get our word heterodox. Since the word allos rather than heteros occurs in this text, Jesus is saying that he will send the disciples a person just like himself, that is, one who is fully divine. Who is the first Counselor? Jesus. He had been the disciples’ strength and counsel during the years of his ministry among them. Now he is going away, and in his place he will be sending a second Counselor who is just like him.” (emphasis mine)
His attributes are those of deity. He is omnipresent. David asked, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7, ESV) Then he uses terms that denote the idea of everywhere in creation. The Spirit of God is also said to be omniscient. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13, ESV) Paul elaborates a bit on this when he wrote regarding things God has prepared for us: “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10–11, ESV) He is also omnipotent. “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35, ESV) Notice that “the Holy Spirit” is parallel with “the power of the Most High” indicating that the two references are to the same being.
What is the practical value of the doctrine of the deity of the Holy Spirit? What difference does it make? (That question will be partly addressed in this article, but in future editions of the GPS, as we look at the works of the Holy Spirit, we will see a much more complete answer.) Because He is omnipresent, we need to remember that we can never get away from Him but that also means we never need to worry for fear He may be unreachable for us. He will never leave us or desert us. He will always be there for us. Because He is omniscient, He knows everything. He knows our needs, our weaknesses, our temptations, our sins, our fears, our thoughts and our motivations. He also knows our past as well as the future and what we will face. All of this knowledge perfectly equips Him to help, strengthen, guide, comfort, teach, exhort, convict and equip us for every challenge. Because He is omnipotent, there is no challenge too great for Him to enable us to meet and overcome it. Because He is deity all of the other attributes of God are His attributes. He is love. He is good. He is faithful. He is merciful. He is gracious. He is true. He is holy. How can we see more clearly how these attributes are manifested in our lives? I plan to explore that matter in the months ahead. God willing, we will gain a greater appreciation for this wonderful Person and experience a closer relationship with Him as a result of our study.
July 2023 GPS
In the past few months it has come to my attention, through various questions and comments, that there is both a general ignorance of, and a desire for more information about, the Holy Spirit, especially in comparison to similar information about the other two members of the Trinity. For that reason, I plan to devote my articles for the next six months or so to some studies on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. My hope and prayer is that these studies will not just be intellectually useful but that they would also be of genuine spiritual benefit to all of us.
I will begin our study with an examination of the Biblical evidence for the personality of the Holy Spirit. By that I mean passages that show us that the Holy Spirit is not a “thing” or an “impersonal force” but a real person with all of the qualities that we associate with a person as opposed to a thing such as intellect, emotions and a will. All of these qualities are attributed to the Holy Spirit in the Bible. His intellect can be seen in 1 Corinthians: “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:10–13, ESV) That He has emotions can be seen in Ephesians: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, ESV) His will can be seen in 1 Corinthians where Paul speaks about the provision of spiritual gifts: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:11, ESV)
Furthermore, He does things that only persons (not things) can do. He guides and speaks: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13, ESV) He convicts. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:8, ESV) He intercedes. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26, ESV)
He is said to be the recipient of actions such as we
only associate with being directed to persons. For example, He can be obeyed: “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?”” (Acts 10:19–21, ESV) He can be lied to: “But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?” (Acts 5:3, ESV) He can be resisted: ““You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51, ESV) He can be grieved: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, ESV) He can be outraged: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29, ESV) Why is the personality of the Holy Spirit important other than to provide further evidence for the Trinity? Does the doctrine of the personality of the Holy Spirit have any real spiritual value? Maybe it would help answer that question if we thought about things versus people in our lives. Our dining room table comfortably seats four or six people without the leaves being inserted. If we plan to have more than six people at that table we insert one or two of the leaves which are otherwise stored out of sight. We only think of them and use them on rare occasions when they are needed. That is not a problem because they are “things.” If we treated “persons” like that we would be the worst kind of manipulators. Because they are persons, we talk to them and listen to them, not just when we need them, but all of the time. If we have any kind of significant relationship with them, we care about how they are doing, what they are thinking, how they relate to us and how we relate to them. We are interested in their plans and hopes. We want to share our lives with them and participate in their lives as well because we probably rely upon them to some degree, depending upon the relationship we have with them. That is the kind of a relationship we should have with the Holy Spirit because He is a person. In the coming months I hope to discuss more fully what the Bible says about our relationship with this wonderful Person.