Whatever the apostles did and experienced, especially with regards to receiving the Holy Spirit, provides a complete understanding to Christ’s teachings of the promised Spirit. The giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost not only fulfilled the OT prophecies (Isa. 32:15; 44:1-5; Ezek. 36:27-28; Joel 2:28ff; Acts 2:14ff), but also defines how the Spirit is received. The former is a testimony to the infallibility of God’s promises – He is absolutely faithful to His word. The latter serves as an invaluable pattern for the church to determine the receiving of the Holy Spirit in the face of deception.
The Pentecostal Experience of the pouring out of the Spirit has become a priceless model for the apostolic workers. This is absolutely true in Peter’s case where he explained, to the Jewish believers, why the church must accept Gentile converts as part of the community of God. Most importantly, Peter was convinced, not only with the visions God gave him before he met with Cornelius and his family, but because they also received the Holy Spirit in the exact same way he experienced receiving the Holy Spirit.
1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
In the Upper Room
Adhering to the instructions of Jesus, the disciples assembled together, with others, in one place to wait for the coming of the Spirit. Two signs appeared when the Spirit came. One is the rushing of the mighty wind that filled the whole house (Acts 2:2). This coheres with the narrative given in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus where the movement of wind was compared to being born of the Spirit (Jn. 3:8). One key feature on Pentecost was the sound that came from heaven (Acts 2:2) which exactly resembled the sound of wind (Jn. 3:8).
This sound is closely connected to the second sign – there appeared to them divided tongues as of fire (Acts 2:3). This indicates how the 120 would behave right at the point of receiving the Spirit. Their tongues began to vibrate just like a flame does when wind blows on it. This movement of the tongue is not self-initiated, learned or emulated. It is given by the Spirit as the phrase ‘one sat upon each of them’ indicates (Acts 2:3). This is ascertained by the confirmation detailed in the following verse: they spoke in tongues when the Spirit came. Only through the Spirit could they utter such tongues (Acts 2:4)…
The sound (Acts 2:6) also drew a crowd and the onlookers came to observe for themselves what was going on in that upper room. The emphasis here is on the sound which they heard. Though the Spirit enabled the devout onlookers to understand what they heard in the language to which they were born (Acts 2:6) there were some who could not understand it at all. Consequently, those who did not understand mocked the behaviour of the 120 – thinking that they were drunk (Acts 2:13). However, Peter, being alerted by the mockery, stood up and declared that the Spirit of God had been poured on them (Acts 2:33).
In conclusion, the disciples and those who had gathered to pray are described as having been filled by the Spirit (Acts 2:4). This is stated only after the two signs mentioned, had occurred. Moreover, the two signs are inter-related. The continuity of the entire process is undoubtedly apparent; there is no time gap between the two signs. The first (Spirit) causes the movement of the second (divided tongues). Here, the paradigm cannot be clearer: a person is filled by the Spirit when the Spirit comes upon him (when he receives the Holy Spirit), which is evidenced by the utterance (speaking in tongues) initiated by the Spirit.
At the House of Cornelius
At the command of the Lord, Peter went to the house of Cornelius, to preach Christ. While he was still preaching to the family, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word (Acts 10:44). Here the word ‘fell’ describes the coming of the Spirit where the Spirit initiated coming upon those who heard the word. When the Spirit fell on them it was realised that the gift of the Spirit had been poured out (Acts.10:45). This understanding coincides perfectly with the words of Peter and John when they rebuked Simon, the Sorcerer in Samaria (Acts 8:19f). This gift, which is the Spirit Himself, is made manifest by the utterance given by the Spirit.
The interesting point is that the pouring out of the Spirit was well noticed even by those who came with Peter and they were astonished (Acts 10:45). Perhaps, they never thought that the Spirit would be given to the Gentiles. But, how did they know that the Spirit had come upon the listeners? The reason given is that the Jewish brethren heard them speak in tongues (Acts 10:46) – those who accompanied Peter would have been well equipped for determining the coming of the Spirit.
Their experience further attests to the fact that their observation was accurate and falls well within the apostolic paradigm of receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:47). Therefore, this paradigm must have been widely acknowledged and practised in the early church. It was so commonly known even amongst the non-ordained personnel who were confidently acquainted with the idea. With the widespread reception of the Holy Spirit, ‘how’ the Spirit was received was probably personal to all. Surely, it was an experience that was clearly known to the recipients.
The coming of the Spirit upon the Gentiles fulfils the prophecy of Joel. Since the Spirit is to be given to all flesh (those who come to accept the church and her teachings), surely the experience they had did not vary from those of the apostles. When persuading the listeners to be baptised, Peter explained that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit just as they (the apostles) had (Acts 10:47). On account of his personal experience of receiving the Spirit, Peter came to the conclusion that God had, indeed, called them for salvation.
In view of the above, it is clear that a person cannot be filled by the Spirit without first receiving the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Lord must first pour out His Spirit on him. Following the choice of words given in Acts, the Spirit has to ‘fall’ on him. To say that a person is filled by the Holy Spirit upon having received the One True Baptism of water is inaccurate and contrary to the very teaching of the Bible. Remember! When the Spirit came upon the listeners, they were yet to be baptised in water.
The Return to Jerusalem
After staying a few days with the Gentile converts, Peter returned to Jerusalem. Peter was then surrounded by those of the circumcision, who showed great displeasure with what he had done at Cornelius’s house. As a result, they contended with Peter (Acts 11:2). With the wisdom of God, Peter explained to them patiently (from the beginning) exactly what had happened. On the one hand, his response was intended to diffuse the anger of those who were of the circumcision party. On the other hand, he wanted them to understand that it was the Lord Himself who chose the Gentiles.
In his defence, Peter talked about the pouring out of the Spirit on the Gentiles. Peter’s account of Cornelius’s and the others’ conversion shed more light on the issue of the coming of the Holy Spirit. ‘As I (Peter) began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them (the listeners), as upon us (apostles) at the beginning (on the day of Pentecost)’ (Acts 11:15). Peter drew a parallel between the falling of the Spirit on the Gentiles and their own Pentecostal experience of being filled by the Spirit. The parallel here expressly equates the former to the latter; in other words, they fall within the same paradigm.
Peter further substantiated his actions by saying that he recalled what the Lord had said to them before (Acts 11:16a): ‘John indeed baptised with water, but you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 11:16b; 1:5; Mt. 3:11; Jn. 1:26). Practically, he was saying that the acceptance of the Gentiles to the fold was not of his own making rather it was the Lord’s. If God had given them the same gift then surely no one could stand in the way of the Lord and object to the Gentiles joining the church (Acts 11:17).
It is entirely up to the Spirit’s discretion to come to whomever He chooses – one who is baptised or is yet to be baptised. It is the same Spirit who dwells in both the baptised and truth-seeking friends. The evidence of the Spirit coming upon both has to be the same. Otherwise, it would not have been possible for Peter to conclude that the Spirit had fallen on the Gentiles, as it had done upon them. There is no way he could have discerned that the listeners had received the Spirit had there not been the tangible sign of speaking in tongues.
The Jerusalem Conference
As the church began to expand beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people, she also saw a rise in confusion amongst her believers. Some strayed away from the path of Salvation and began to propagate an idea that directly contradicts the truth of justification by faith. They insisted that Gentile believers were to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). Furthermore, they were not just a group of common believers who could be easily persuaded to change their behaviour; they were well equipped, perpetrating their ideas throughout the church.
In the wake of the damage done to the church, the apostles and the leaders decided that a conference must be convened in order to thrash out the theological difference. After much dispute, Peter rose up to defend the Gospel that the early church had preached (Acts 15:7). The point he raised repeated the message regarding the conversion of the gentiles, namely how Cornelius and the others came to believe in the Lord (Acts 15:8f). Peter explained that God knew their hearts were in the right place and this acknowledgement was made manifest by granting them the Holy Spirit.
Peter made a comparison between the experience of the apostles receiving the Holy Spirit and the Gentiles. ‘God gave them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us’ (Acts 15:8). Here, Peter stressed on the giving and the Giver, the Lord. Since the two accounts of giving are the same, it goes without saying that every essential aspect about the coming of the Holy Spirit on any other occasion then and in the future must fall within the same pattern. This serves as a principle for the church to follow.
From what has been discussed so far, there is an underlying principle that governs our understanding of the word of God, especially the basic beliefs of the church. Peter’s repeated use of the two accounts point to the fact that the word of God is not given to change. The re-affirmation of what happened to them and the Gentile converts when the Spirit came makes the will of God known and Peter was able to distinguish His word against the confusion. It further underlines that God works to maintain His will through those who are faithful to His word.
The two accounts on the granting of the Holy Spirit determine the reception of the Holy Spirit. They serve as the basic foundation of truth for the church. Peter, for some reason, pieced together the two in order to allow the church to have a better grasp on the work of the Spirit. Though it was initially meant for the apostolic workers, it really has become a very precious principle for the end-time true church. It continues to fence off infiltrations that are designed to twist the truth of the Holy Spirit, especially with how the Spirit is received.
Peter’s comments on the two Accounts
Acts 10:47 They had received the same Spirit as the apostles had.
1. The Spirit came on them in the same manner it came on the apostles.
2. They were filled by the Spirit upon receiving the Holy Spirit like the apostles were.
3. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit they were given utterance (speaking in tongues) and this coincides with the Pentecostal Experience of receiving the Holy Spirit.
4. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit Himself.
Acts 11:15-17 The Holy Spirit fell upon them as upon us at the beginning (15).
1. The Spirit fell upon the gentiles in the same manner it came on the apostles
2. The baptism of the Holy Spirit refers to the coming of the Spirit, falling of the Spirit, being filled by the Holy Spirit or the receiving of the Holy Spirit (16).
3. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit Himself.
Acts 15:8-9 By giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us (8).
1. It expressly indicates that the giving of the Spirit to the gentiles fits perfectly into the paradigm that God has set up on the day of Pentecost when He gave the Spirit to the apostles.
2. This indicates that the evidence of the Spirit, having fallen upon them was the same as when He fell on the Gentiles.
3. It undoubtedly reveals that being baptised in water is different from being baptised by the Holy Spirit. The reason is that Cornelius and his family received the Holy Spirit even before they were baptised.