“I indeed baptize you with water, but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16)
There are seven persons whose names were disclosed by God before they were born- Ishmael, Isaac, Solomon, Josiah (32 years before his birth), Cyrus (173 years before), John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah. It is not that God chose these seven only as favorites but God decided to use them for His work much before they were born. God’s love is available to each and every living being on earth and that is the reason that He declared after the flood during Noah’s time “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done” (Genesis 8:21). But the Scriptures categorize people according to their acceptance/rejection of the Son of God as their Savior and “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). And this right is not based on any specific identification tag or something but to all those who received Him.
Rights of a child of God – To be branded as His child by the Almighty God who created the universe certain privileges automatically ensued and the first and the foremost is salvation through forgiveness of sins. The Lord assured His disciples “I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever- the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). There are two specific points that the Lord made- ‘another Helper’ meaning a guide and a teacher or guru and ‘He dwells with you and will be in you’. The Lord Himself was with them and after Him another like Him was to come and “be in you”. The Helper or the Holy Spirit is to be in us and the disciples knew Him but others did not. Thus all those who were with Him were promised the Helper. “I in them and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:23). The oneness with the Lord is given to those who are loved by God as much as ‘God’s only begotten Son’ and are in Him in faith. The Holy Spirit is thus promised to all believers and not just a few select ones.
Situation in Jerusalem and Judea – The events leading to the crucifixion had shaken the confidence of the Jewish community who had witnessed various miracles performed by our Lord during His three years of ministry. Lord Jesus’ answer to the disciples of John the Baptist also illustrated what the Messiah was supposed to do “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:22). This was in fulfillment of the prophetic messages given through Prophet Isaiah in 29:18-19 and other places. The crucifixion of the Lord had been followed by His resurrection, ascension, appearing to various people and finally ascension to the throne. This was witnessed by many people and the Chief Priests and other Jewish leaders had attempted to negate this by spreading the story of the Lord’s body being stolen by the disciples. The Jewish leaders would have been busy contradicting the truth and all this would have created confusion among the multitudes in the area. Amid this cauldron of various opinions expressed by ‘the authorities’ and the disciples remaining in hiding, the masses would be keen to know the truth and the day of Pentecost arrives.
Symptoms of receiving the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost – The Scriptures reveal two stages of the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’. Our Lord ascended to the heavens, performed the necessary worship of God the Father in the heavenly Tabernacle as our High Priest, offered His own blood as the redeeming offering and then returned to the disciples. “On the same day” that He ascended Our Lord entered the room ‘where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews’ and “He breathed on them and said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:19-22). This was the first anointing and the second was on the day of Pentecost. Record of the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2:1-12 clarifies certain important aspects- firstly, before the event; they were all in place and with one accord waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of the Lord (Acts 1:4). Commenting on a similar gathering in Babel “The Lord said “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them” (Genesis 11:6). The disciples and others with them fulfilled this condition.
At the arrival of the Holy Spirit- firstly, there was a sound from heaven; secondly the sound was loud ‘as of a rushing mighty wind; it filled the whole house; there appeared ‘divided tongues, as of fire and finally one (tongue) sat upon each one of them. The result of this was- all being filled with the Holy Spirit and secondly they started speaking with other tongues. The others from various regions came on hearing the sound, were amazed and perplexed on hearing the Galileans in the room speaking in each of their (the audience’s) tongue. The visible and audible signals were akin to the scenario of the ‘burning bush’ to attract Moses to the spot to witness God’s glory and receive His command.
When do we receive the Holy Spirit? – During the process of creation the Holy Spirit ‘was hovering over the waters’ and the action started immediately on receipt of God’s command. The Holy Spirit touches a non believer and leads him/her to the Son of God. The next process is of giving of faith in the redeeming sacrifice of the Lord. This process is external to the individual since the three positions of the functioning of the Holy Spirit are – around you, over you and within you. In the first instance He is everywhere representing the Omnipresence of God and in the second He leads the person to the Living God. Since the Holy Spirit is a gift to every child of God, He enters the individual once he/she accepts the Lord as his Savior. This indwelling could be before the baptism of water like in the case of Cornelius and others or after water baptism which is generally the case. Prophet Elisha sought double portion of the Holy Spirit from Elijah not with the purpose of ‘one upmanship’ but to have adequate power to fight the opposition that he was likely to face. Likewise the portion of the Holy Spirit and the gifts thereof that we receive is not dependant on our own status of caliber but on the purpose for which God has chosen each individual. Ananias was informed by the Lord to go to Saul, “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Accordingly each individual is blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the purpose for which he has been chosen.
Is speaking in tongues a necessary signal of Holy Spirit baptism? – The situation of unbelief created by the actions of the Chief Priests and Jewish elders leading to the Lord’s crucifixion would require a public display of God’s power much like the events on mount Carmel when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal and Ashera to lead the Israelites back to the Lord (1 Kings 18:38). The mighty sound alerted them to come to a place, the visible sign of tongues of fire and then the speaking in each one’s respective tongue was to show them the super-naturalness of the whole event. It was due to this that they exclaimed “Whatever could this mean?” and finally after exposition of the Scriptures by Peter “about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). The people came after hearing the sound, saw the evidence and heard the Word in their own language and believed.
It is not within the capability of any human being to fathom the mysteries of God’s work but conclusions can be drawn after prayerfully examining the Scriptures and other details about Holy Spirit baptism. After that particular event on the day of Pentecost many more disciples were added and then comes the day of Saul being baptized by Ananias in Damascus by laying his hands on Saul. There were only two of them present and “there fell from his (Saul’s) eyes something like scales and he received his sight at once, and he arose and was baptized” (Acts 9:17-18). Likewise in Caesarea, Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian regiment and ‘his relatives and close friends’ who were gathered in Cornelius’ house, and “While Peter was still speaking these words (preaching to them the good news of the gospel), the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word”. The Jewish believers who were with Peter “were astonished because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak in tongues” (Acts 10:44-46).
The first signal of speaking in tongues or any other outward visible or audible sign was always provided by God in only such circumstances where this was required to convince others. Thereafter the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured on believers without any outward signs being displayed and the same is the case today in the church. Apostle Paul while listing out the gift of the Holy Spirit mentions all the nine gifts and clarified that inverted, ”manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1Corinthians 12:7). He further goes on to say while listing out the gifts, ‘to one is given, to another, to another’ and likewise the gifts are provided clarifying that all the gifts may or may not be given to one person. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is, “to teach all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). Thus the gifts of the Holy Spirit are also to reveal the mysteries of the Word of God and to teach us and lead us into a position of similarity with the Lord in thought, word and deed that we are transformed into His image to be ‘received by our Lord in heaven’.
Meaning of Speaking in Tongues – The Greek word ‘glossa’ is used around fifty times in the New Testament and also in reference to the flames of fire shaped like tongues (Acts 2:3). Our Lord just before ascension to heaven while giving command about the Great Commission declared, “ these signs will follow those who believe; in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17). The Greek word used is ‘kainos’ which means not new in terms of invention but new in terms of not familiar to the user but known to others. In Acts 2:4, the Greek word ‘heteros’ is used to define ‘other tongues’ which caused amazement among the listeners, not because they were speaking in some unknown tongue but because each heard the speaker speaking in His own language and there were people from about seventeen nationalities (Acts 2:9-11). The word translated as language is the Greek word ‘dialekto’ and is used as a synonym to ‘glossa’. By implication it is apparent that the disciples were speaking in languages foreign to them but known to others. In the same way, in the Book of Revelation also, wherever the word tongue is mentioned it is used in context with language known to someone or the other.
In my view, the gift of tongues, in one respect refers to grant of ability to speak in a tongue which is unknown to the speaker. This brings to the fore the story of a missionary lady working in Orissa in India. She did not know the local language and as a teacher in the school was finding it difficult to communicate properly with the students. Considering herself a failure she decided to return back to her country and while sitting in the corridor started praying to God for forgiveness for having failed in her mission. During the prayer, unknown to her she started speaking in the local language and the students and teachers gathered around her in amazement. At the end of the prayer she was told about this miraculous happening by the listeners and being encouraged she made an attempt to learn the local language and attained proficiency in a very very short time.
The gift of tongues is given for the purpose of glory of God and Paul specifically mentions “he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God for no one understands him; however in the spirit he speaks mysteries……he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (1Corinthians 14:2-4). This gift is to speak to God but probably not as gibberish which nobody understands for whenever one speaks in tongues in a church, as per Paul, there must be someone to translate that.
Jewish tradition has it that the High Priest used to speak in tongues while once a year offering the sacrificial blood at the Ark in the Inner Chamber, the Holiest place, in the Temple. This came naturally to him the moment he entered there. In a like manner the gift is for a specific purpose but is not the symbol of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The aim is to glorify God and when we start looking for such symbols in men the opposite happens.
Praise God with whatever gifts we have!!