The Coming of the Holy Spirit Part 4
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
and it sat upon each of them.
The meaning of this line is that “cloven tongues like as of fire” rested (set, stayed put, remained) in the form of a radiant but gentle flame, upon the head of each one. This indicated that the phenomenon was intended for them, and was a very significant sign of the promised descent of the Holy Spirit. After the rushing sound, and the appearance of the flames, they could not doubt that they were observing some remarkable intervention of God. The appearance of fire, or flame, has always been regarded as a very striking symbol of Divinity. Take, for instance, God manifesting himself to Moses in a bush which was burning, but not consumed (Exodus 3:2, 3). And God descending on Mount Sinai in the midst of thunder, and lightning, and smoke, and fire—striking emblems of His presence and power. God is said to be "a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). The miracle that was unfolding before their eyes probably reminded them of miraculous events they had witnessed in the past.
1. The prediction of John the Baptist, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Matthew 3:11) would probably be recalled at once to their memory.
2. The strange appearance of tongues of fire was a sign of the diversity of languages which they were about to be able to speak. Any form of fire would have conveyed the presence and power of God, but the form of this case was emblematic of the Holy Spirit. The appearance of anything spectacular at the baptism of Jesus might have indicated the presence and approval of God, but the form chosen was that of a dove descending from the heavens; expressive of the mild and gentle qualities with which He was to be filled. In Ezekiel 1:4, it says, “And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.” Any form of flame might have expressed the presence of God, but the appearance God chose was actually symbolic of His Providence. In the same way, the appearance described here expressed their distinctive endowments for entering into their great work—the ability to speak powerfully with new tongues.
3. This fire sat upon them for some time, to represent the constant presence of the Holy Ghost with them. The prophetic gifts of the past were conferred sparingly and only at certain times, but the disciples of Christ always had the gifts of the Spirit with them, though the sign gifts (those of a miraculous nature), soon disappeared. Whether these flames of fire passed from one to another, or whether there were as many flames as there were persons, is not certain. But they must be strong and bright flames that would be visible in the daylight since it was now daytime.
“It sat upon each”—That is, one of those tongues, like flames, sat upon the head of each disciple; and the word “sat” indicated that it became stationary, which shows that this was no illusion. Brilliant flashes of fire were probably seen frequently at first through every part of the room where they were sitting. Eventually, these flashes became defined, and a bright flame, in the form of a cloven tongue, became stationary on the head of each disciple, which is a proof that the Spirit of God had made each his temple or residence. That unusual appearance of fire is considered an indication of the presence and influence of God; both the Scriptures and the Jewish writings support this opinion.
4a And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,
The sound was heard, the tongues of fire were seen, and its presence filled the house. And what was the immediate effect of this? At the same time the disciples were “filled with the Holy Ghost,” and their spirits were baptized in the Spirit.
“They were all filled with the Holy Ghost,” more abundantly and powerfully than they were before. They were filled with the graces of the Spirit, and more than ever, they were under His sanctifying influences. And as a result, they were now holy, and heavenly, and spiritual, and more weaned from this world and more familiar with the other world. They were full of the soothing effects of the Spirit, and they rejoiced more than ever before in the love of Christ and the hope of heaven, and almost immediately all their grief and fears vanished. They were also filled with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which means they were endowed with miraculous powers which they used to advance the gospel and as proof that they were filled with the Holy Ghost. It seems evident to me that not only the twelve apostles, but all the hundred and twenty disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost at the same time—all the seventy disciples, who were employed in the same work as the apostles, and all the rest that were also preachers of the gospel. We read in Ephesians 4.8, 11: “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high and gave gifts unto men… And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”
When Christ ascended on high refers to 1 Corinthians 2.33, which says: “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” He is describing Pentecost, when he gave gifts unto men, not only making some apostles (this was the twelve), but some prophets and some evangelists (many of the seventy disciples became itinerant preachers), and some pastors and teachers (others of them established and served in particular churches). The here “all” must refer to the all that were gathered together (see Acts 1.14, 15; 2.1).
This verse says they were “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Someone may object to me saying they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Were they? Yes. The Lord Jesus told them they would be. “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:4–5). The very fact that they were filled with the Holy Spirit indicates that all the other ministries of the Holy Spirit to believers in this age had already been performed. They occurred in this order: First, they were regenerated. A man must be born again. “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Secondly, they were indwelt by the Spirit of God. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). Thirdly, they were sealed by the Holy Spirit into an eternal relationship with God. “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13–14). And again, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). It is possible to grieve the Spirit of God, but it is not possible to grieve Him away. He seals the believer unto the day of redemption. We are never told to ask for the sealing of the Holy Spirit. It is something which God does “after that ye believed,” which is better translated “having believed.” Faith in Jesus Christ gives us the sealing of the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption.
Fourthly, they were baptized of the Holy Spirit. This was foretold by John the Baptist (Luke 3:16) and repeated by the Lord Jesus: “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). The baptism took place, and it placed them in the body of believers. It marked the beginning of the church. Ever since that day, every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is placed into the body of Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).
Now when the filling of the Holy Spirit took place on the Day of Pentecost, it indicated that the other four ministries of the Holy Spirit had been accomplished. “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” The filling of the Spirit was for service. The experience of the Day of Pentecost came from the filling of the Holy Spirit (not the baptism of the Holy Spirit). It is still the same today. The filling of the Holy Spirit is for service. This is the only work of the Holy Spirit that we are to do anything about—we are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Notice that before Pentecost the believers wanted this filling of the Spirit. “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication …” (Acts 1:14). What would their supplication (entreaty, prayer, request, plea) be about? About the promise of the Lord Jesus that He would send His Holy Spirit to them.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a command given to us. It is not an experience. It is an act of God whereby the believer in Jesus Christ is indwelt by the Spirit of God, sealed unto the day of redemption, and placed into the church, the body of Christ, by the baptism of the Spirit. To be filled implies that the human spirit within was overwhelmed by, or immersed in, the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit was not a sprinkling, but an outpouring that overwhelmed the human spirit. The filling of the Spirit of God is the enablement for service. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit.