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.