Peter addressed the large crowd on Pentecost, concluding with the appeal in v. 38 to repent, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This reference to the gift of God's spirit is in the context of the apostles having used those gifts in speaking in tongues to the crowd, explaining that by doing so they were providing a fulfilment of Joel's prophecy about the giving of the miraculous gifts (Acts 2:16-20). It is therefore reasonable to assume that Peter was promising the miraculous gifts of the spirit to that crowd of Jews who were listening to him. The crowd was composed of Jews, not Gentiles (Acts 2:5). Joel's prophecy of the giving of the gifts was primarily concerning the Jews. Thus Peter makes the point to them: "The promise is unto you, and to your children" (Acts 2:39), perhaps referring to Joel's prophecy that the spirit would be given to the Jews and to their children (Acts 2:17 cp. Joel 2:28-32). There may also be a hint here that the promise of these miraculous gifts was only to those two generations - those listening to Peter, and their children.
We have shown that by the end of the first century (i.e. about 70 years after Peter's speech), the gifts had died out. This is also confirmed by the record of history. During those two generations the gifts of the spirit would have also been available to Gentiles: "And to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39). Note how the Gentiles are described as "those afar off" in Eph. 2:14-17.
However, there is good reason to believe that what happened in Acts 2 was only a small fulfilment of those words of Joel 2. The major fulfilment will be when Israel has been invaded and the attacking army destroyed (Joel 2:20), and when Israel have repented and are living in happy fellowship with God (2:27) . "And it shall come to pass afterward (i.e. after this), that I will pour out my spirit..." (Joel 2:28). Not until those preconditions are seen can we look for any other fulfilment of Joel's words, apart from that smaller fulfilment which was seen on the day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2.
The promise of receiving the gift of the spirit after baptism, can still be read with some reference to us today. There is one Spirit, but it can be manifested in various ways (1 Cor. 12:47; Eph. 4:4) . In the first century this was through the miraculous gifts; now that they have been withdrawn it is quite legitimate to see a fulfilment of this "gift of the Spirit" promise in another way. The "gift of the Holy Spirit" can refer to 'the gift which is the Holy Spirit', or to 'the gift which the Holy Spirit speaks about' -i.e. the gift of forgiveness and salvation which the Spirit-inspired word of God had promised. There are plenty of other examples of this use of the word "of" (the 'ambiguous genitive', to be technical). "The knowledge of God" (Col.1:10) can mean the knowledge which God has, or the knowledge about God. "The love of God" and "the love of Christ" (1 Jn.4:9; 3:17; 2 Cor.5:14) can mean the love which God and Jesus have for us; or the love which we have to them. "The word of God" can mean the word about God, or the word which came from God. The gift "of" the Holy Spirit can therefore refer to the gift which the Holy Spirit makes possible and speaks about, as well as the gift which consists of the Holy Spirit powers.
The Gift Of The Spirit: Forgiveness?
Rom.5:16 and 6:23 describe salvation as "the gift"-inviting comparison with "the gift" of the Spirit in Acts 2:38. Indeed Acts 2:39 seems to be quoting Joel 2:32 concerning salvation as if this is what the gift of the Spirit was. Peter's reference to the promised gift being to those "afar off" alludes to Is.57:19: "Peace (with God through forgiveness) to him that is far off". Eph.2:8 also describes the gift as being salvation, saying that "by one Spirit (this gift) we all have access to the Father" (2:18). This is further validated by the fact that Eph.2:13-17 is also alluding to Is.57:19: "Ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace. . . (who) came and preached peace to you which were far off" . Isaiah 30:1 condemns the Jews for seeking forgiveness their own way rather than by the gift of God's Spirit: they " cover with a covering (atonement), but not of my Spirit, that they may add (rather than subtract) sin to sin". Is.44:3 describes the latter day forgiveness of Israel in similar terms: "I will pour... floods upon the dry ground (spiritually barren -Is.53:2) : I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring". The blessing of Abraham's seed is in their forgiveness through Christ (Acts 3:25,26) -which is here paralleled with the pouring out of the spirit upon the Jews. This is clearly the language of Joel 2 and Acts 2. Gal. 3:4 puts all this in so many words: "That the blessing of Abraham (forgiveness) might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit". Thus 1 Cor.6:11 speaks of being washed from our sins "by the spirit of our God". There is a parallelism in Romans between us receiving "grace...the atonement... the spirit" (1:5; 5:11; 8:15), showing the connection between the gift ("grace") of the Spirit and the forgiveness which leads to the atonement. It is hard to overstate how much the New Testament builds on the language and concepts of the Old Testament, especially in view of the primarily Jewish readership and influence the epistles would have had. Time and again in the Pentateuch and Joshua God promises to give the land to His people - "the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it", is a common phrase. The counterpart of the land under the new covenant is salvation; that is therefore the gift of God now in prospect, with its associated forgiveness of sins.
Gal. 3:2,5 cp. 3:8-11, parallels the receiving of the spirit with receiving the Abrahamic blessings of salvation and forgiveness. "The promise of the spirit" (Gal. 3:14) is spoken of in the context of the promises to Abraham.
Peter asked the Jews to repent before they could receive the gift; this would have involved personal prayer. There seems reason to believe that the gift of the Spirit is a way of describing answered prayer. The giving of "good things to them that ask" in prayer is the same as the giving (gift) of the Holy Spirit (Matt.7:11 cp. Lk.11:13). Phil.1:19 parallels "Your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ". Similarly, 1 Jn.3:24 says that we are given the Spirit as a result of our obedience to the commands; verse 22 says that obedience to those commands leads to our prayers being answered. Thus our confidence is due to having our prayers heard (1 Jn.5:14) and also due to having the Spirit (1 Jn.3:21,24; 4:13), seeing these are parallel expressions.
A word study of the Greek word 'charis', often translated "grace", will show that it is often used in connection with the gift of the Spirit.
"Through the grace (gift) of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved" (Acts 15:11) . Yet the idea of "grace" is often connected with answered prayer (e.g. Ex.33:12; 34:9; Num.32:5; Ps.84:11; 2 Cor.12:9; Heb.4:16; James 4:6 cp. v.3). Zech.12:10 speaks of the last day outpouring of "the spirit of grace and supplications" upon the Jews. This summarizes what we are suggesting - that prayer ("supplications") brings about the gift of the spirit in the sense of forgiveness, and that this giving of the spirit to answer prayer is exemplified in the Jewish repentance of the first century and last days. In the same context Paul speaks of, "The gifts and calling of God" to repentance and forgiveness (Rom.11:29).
The same approach can be applied to the promise of the Comforter in John chs. 14 and 16. Primarily this referred to the miraculous powers given to the disciples, to whom the promise was first made, and can also apply to us in a non-miraculous sense. The gifts were to "bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (Jn. 14:26), presumably to enable the writing of the Gospel records. The word "remembrance" in itself limits the miraculous element of the Comforter promise to the disciples, who had lived with Jesus during his ministry. Only they could have the words of Jesus brought back to their memory by the Comforter. The language of the "Comforter" promises is also applicable to the power of the completed Bible. Therefore we can conclude that these and other promises of the spirit were fulfilled in a miraculous form in the first century, but now apply to us in the manifestation of the spirit through the written Word of God in the Bible.
It is, of course, true that God's spirit was revealed through the written word in the past, but this was only a partial revelation compared to the fulness ("perfection") which we now have in the completed Word of God (1 Cor. 13:9-13). It follows from this that there cannot have been any other written revelation from God after the withdrawal of the gifts at the completion of the New Testament. The claims of the Book of Mormon and other similar productions, imply that the Bible is not the full revelation
- which the absence of the Spirit gifts today prove that it is. If we are to make full use of the fullness of God's revelation in the Bible, we must use every part of it, both Old and New Testaments, only then can the man of God start to be as complete as the fullness of God, revealed in the Word.
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