What happened at Pentecost? Wasn’t it the day the Holy Spirit was invented? It seems to be quite a common view that after the ascension, as the Disciples waited for the ‘Counsellor’ (John 14:16), they had no idea who they were expecting as it was something completely new to them!
So, were the Disciples the first ones to experience the Spirit? It seems not. There are plenty of examples of Old Testament believers being filled with the Spirit or having the Spirit resting on them (e.g. Deuteronomy 34:9; Numbers 11:25-26; 27:18; Psalm 51:11 etc.) ‘But ah!’ you say, ‘in the Old Testament the Spirit was put on particular people at particular times for particular tasks.’ I think there is definitely something in that statement. The Spirit clearly anointed the Old Testament saints for particular tasks. But does that mean at other times he did not dwell in them?
So what’s the problem?
The problem is, if we are to say that the first time the Spirit filled believers is at Pentecost, what we are saying is that the Old Testament believers weren’t born again by the Holy Spirit. Why is this a problem? Well, it is a problem for two reasons. Firstly, if they aren’t born again by the Holy Spirit then how are they bound to Christ? How do they become part of the body of Christ? If they are not born again then is heaven half-full of a bunch of legalists who ‘believed’ but were not born again? And if this is so, what is the need for us, now, to be born again? And secondly, Jesus teaches it. If we look at John 3:
3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
So Jesus explicitly states that no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born again of the Spirit… and this is certainly something Jesus expected Nicodemus to know!
What happened in the Old Testament?
As Jesus teaches, the only ones who will enter the Kingdom of God are those who are born again of the Spirit. So unless we are to say that everyone before Pentecost will not enter the Kingdom of God there must be another answer. But do we find any evidence that the Old Testament believers were born again of the Spirit? I think we do. In Romans 2:28-29 Paul writes:
28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.
Paul, here, is referring back to Deuteronomy 30:6 that says:
6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.
So a Jew is only a Jew if he is circumcised of the heart by the Spirit. Old Testament believers were not bound to Christ or saved by the sacrificial system or the law or a ‘written code’. They were bound to Christ and incorporated into his body by having their hearts delightfully touched by the Spirit of Christ and being born again, filled with the Spirit.
So what happened at Pentecost?
So if believers were always born again by the Spirit, what actually happened at Pentecost? It may sound as if I am playing down Pentecost, but I’m not. I certainly think something very significant happened on Pentecost all those years ago. We get a big hint of what is happening at Pentecost by the events that took place.
Jesus said to the Disciples ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). The Disciples were then told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem until they were fully equipped for the task (Acts 1:4) – and it is exactly for this task that the Holy Spirit is anointing them on Pentecost. You see, what we see at Pentecost is not the invention of the Holy Spirit, or his sudden springing into action, but instead an anointing by the Holy Spirit to go make disciples of the nations. No longer is the LORD’s work focused on the nation of Israel. The walls have been smashed down and the LORD’s focus has gone worldwide. That is exactly why we witness the speaking in tongues on Pentecost – the nations all understood in their own language. Whereas before, if people wanted to follow the LORD and be incorporated into the body of Christ, they had to come in to the nation of Israel, now the message was going out.
O that the world might know
the all atoning Lamb!
Spirit of faith, descend and show
the virtue of his name;
the grace which all may find,
the saving power, impart,
and testify to humankind,
and speak in every heart.
(Charles Wesley, Spirit of Faith, Come Down)
Happy Pentecost Sunday!