11 Biblical images of the Holy Spirit
It’s Australia’s State of Origin match for rugby league football today. Can the Blues (New South Wales, also called the cockroaches) win or will it be the Maroons (Queensland, also called the canetoads)? It will be a tough game. Defence is vital. The big men will run at the smaller ones. And there will be big collisions and hits. Life can be a struggle like that. How can we get though? Satan can attack us like an opposition footballer. In this post we will see how God helps Christians in daily life.
In particular, we will look at what the Holy Spirit is like from the images given in the Bible.
The big picture
The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. God the Holy Spirit is invisible because He is spirit and not part of the physical world. So, He doesn’t have a body like us.
Spirits, such as angels and demons, are invisible beings. When the Greek adjective hagios, which is translated “holy” (Strongs #40), is used with the word “spirit” it refers to a spirit that is divine, which is the Holy Spirit. The core meaning for “holy” is “different”. In the New Testament it often means set apart by God or set apart for God. It’s also used to describe things or people associated with God and the attribute of purity and sinlessness.
God the Father sent Jesus to earth to be our Savior by sacrificing His life. He came as a baby (which is called the incarnation) who grew up to be a man. After this, Jesus returned to heaven and God sent the Holy Spirit to earth to live in all those who repent of their sin and trust in Christ’s sacrifice. The Holy Spirit was sent to earth on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2; 1 Pt. 1:12). Since then He lives in believers from the time of their conversion (Rom. 8:9; Eph. 1:13-14). And He will be with them forever (Jn.14:16). Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Mt. 28:20NIV). But Jesus is in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. Instead He’s with us spiritually by the Holy Spirit. One of the names of the Holy Spirit is “Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9; 1 Pt. 1:11). This is different to Old Testament times, when the Holy Spirit came on people for a while and then left them (1 Sam. 16:14; Ps. 51:11).
The Holy Spirit’s mission is to testify about Jesus (Jn. 15:26). He guided those who wrote the New Testament (Jn. 16:13). He also convicts people of sin (Jn. 16:8-11). He empowers Christians to live by the Spirit and “not gratify the desires of the sinful flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Then the Holy Spirit can produce His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23). The Holy Spirit also supports good (1 Cor. 12:3) and restrains evil (Gen. 6:3; 2 Th.2:5-8).
We will see that the Bible uses figures of speech to describe the Holy Spirit. That’s one way of describing someone who is invisible.
Metaphors as images of the Holy Spirit
The best way to know what the Holy Spirit is like is to look at what the Bible says about Him because it’s a message from God. In particular, we’re looking at images of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors which are powerful images that show what the Holy Spirit does.
The Holy Spirit is like a lawyer. A lawyer (or advocate or intercessor) helps defend people who are accused of breaking a law. They give evidence that stands up in court.
Jesus asked the Father to give His disciples “another advocate to help you and be with you forever” (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). An advocate supports a position or viewpoint and this is what the Holy Spirit did for the preaching of the disciples. Paul said, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26-27). He intercedes for us with God the Father by praying for us. So the Holy Spirit is on our side.
Jesus is also like a lawyer (or advocate or intercessor) – He represents Christians to God the Father (1 Jn. 2:1). He is the “other advocate” (Jn. 14:16). When we sin, Jesus pleads with God the Father for a pardon. He pleads our case on the basis of His death, by which forgiveness of sins was made possible. He is our mediator with God the Father (1 Tim. 2:5). He’s at God’s right hand, interceding for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). So Jesus is also on our side.
So we have the best defence team, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They can also defend us against accusations by Satan. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Rom. 8:31). The answer is, no-one.
If the Holy Spirit is like our lawyer, then we have the best possible helper. This image reminds us of how the Holy Spirit helps us get through the trials and troubles of life and supports our witnessing.
The Holy Spirit is also like a dove. A dove is a symbol of peace, love and innocence. When Jesus was baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove” (Mt. 3:16; Mk. 1:10; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:32).
After the flood, Noah sent out a dove that returned with an olive leaf (Gen. 8:11), which symbolized peace with God. The dove announced deliverance from the flood, and at Christ’s baptism, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove announced deliverance from sins.
Because of their courtship, their joint care of young, and the tender loving care between the parents, doves were symbols of romantic love in the ancient Near East. For example, “my dove” was used as a term of endearment between lovers (Song. 2:14; 5:2; 6:9).
When Jesus sent His disciples to preach to the Jews, He told them to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16).
If the Holy Spirit is like a dove, then He is associated with peace, love and innocence. This image reminds us of the love, peace and goodness in the fruit of the Spirit which the Holy Spirit produces in the life of the believer (Gal. 5:22-23).
Next, the Holy Spirit is like certain inanimate objects.
The Holy Spirit is like wind, which is the movement of air from a region of high pressure to one of lower pressure. The wind moves and is invisible but we can see its effect on clouds, flags and leaves. And we can feel wind, particularly when it’s very hot or very cold.
Jesus told Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” spiritually (Jn. 3:3). He is saying that just as the first (physical) birth is necessary for physical life, so a second (spiritual) birth is necessary for spiritual life. Christ’s kingdom can only be entered by those whose lives have been changed. Since His reign will be a righteous one, His subjects must be righteous also. He couldn’t reign over people who were going on in their sins. This spiritual birth is produced by the Holy Spirit when a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:6, 8). When a person is born again through the Spirit, they receive a new nature, and so are fit for the kingdom of God. Then Jesus gave an illustration, “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” (Jn. 3:8). The Greek noun for “Spirit” is the same as for “wind” (Strongs #4151). The word can mean spirit, Spirit, wind or breath, depending on the context. The same applies to the Hebrew word for these nouns in the Old Testament (Strongs #7307). Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit and spiritual birth are like the wind. He’s using the physical to illustrate the spiritual. We can’t control or fully understand the invisible origin and movement of the wind or the Holy Spirit. Both the wind and spiritual birth are unpredictable. We don’t know just when and where it will take place.
On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to live in the disciples, “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven” (Acts 2:2). So there was an audible sign of this event.
If the Holy Spirit is like wind, then although He’s invisible, He’s life-giving (we need air) and powerful. This image reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s role in giving us spiritual life.
The Holy Spirit is also like running water, which like air is a dynamic fluid that’s essential for physical life. In ancient times settlements were near wells and waterways. Water also washes, purifies and refreshes (Ps.51:7).
When Jesus preached to the Jews during the Festival of Tabernacles He said, ‘“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them”. By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified’ (Jn. 7:37-39). He is quoting from Isaiah where there is a gospel invitation to those who are thirsty (who sense their need) to “come to the waters” (Isa. 55:1). If they do this and live godly lives, they are promised “The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden; like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isa. 58:11). John explains that the “rivers of living water” was a metaphor for the Holy Spirit “whom those who believed in Him were later to receive” at Pentecost. A river channels water. This water can be used to irrigate crops, which bring a harvest. So if you are spiritually thirsty, accept Jesus as your Savior and the Holy Spirit will immediately come and empower your life and produce the fruit of the Spirit.
This happened on the last day of the Festival. So they had been celebrating for 7 days before Jesus said “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink”. Obviously, their religious observance hadn’t met their spiritual needs. So He invited them to come to Him for spiritual satisfaction by trusting Him as Savior. The same principle applies today. If you have a spiritual need because the gods of this world don’t satisfy or because you are aware of our sinfulness, then learn about what Jesus has done for us.
If the Holy Spirit is like a running water, then He is life-giving (we need water) and He satisfies our spiritual needs. This image reminds us that the impact of the Holy Spirit leads to spiritual growth and the fruit of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is also like olive oil, which was used in Old Testament times to anoint prophets, priests and kings for ministry to their offices (Ex. 29:7; 30:30; 1 Sam. 16:13; 2 Sam. 5:3; 1 Ki. 19:16; Isa. 61:1). In this case anointing with olive oil symbolized the coming of the Holy Spirit. The words “Messiah” and “Christ” mean “anointed one”. Also, it was courtesy, honoring and respectful to anoint the head of a guest with oil (Ps. 23:5; Lk. 7:46). And in those days the oil lamp was their only source of light at night (Mt. 25:3-4).
Jesus quoted from Isaiah when He said “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Isa. 61:1; Lk. 4:18). The phrase “He has anointed me” refers back to Jesus’ baptism (Lk. 3:21-22). So He was anointed with the Holy Spirit, not with oil.
Peter told Cornelius that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). Paul wrote, “God has anointed us” and then mentions the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21). So Christians are also anointed with the Holy Spirit.
In the context of discerning truth from the error of false teachers, John wrote “you have an anointing from the Holy One (Jesus), and all of you know the truth” (1 Jn. 2:20). The anointing refers to the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit helps believers to discern between truth and error. The Holy Spirit exposes false teachers when we test them against Scripture (1 Jn. 2:26-27). In His warning against false teachers, John says that because we received the Holy Spirit, we don’t need any spiritual teaching apart from what is found in the Bible. The Holy Spirit will help us understand what we need to know about salvation and Christian living.
If the Holy Spirit is like olive oil, then He empowers us for ministry and service. This image reminds us that the Holy Spirit will help us understand the Bible and apply it to our daily lives.
The Holy Spirit is also like fire. In ancient times, fires satisfied many human needs by producing heat and light. It was also used to purify precious metals (Mal. 3:2-3) and was a symbol for God. God is like “a consuming fire” (Dt. 4:24; Heb. 12:29) towards those who reject Him for idolatry. He made the covenant with Abraham as a burning torch (Gen. 15:17), spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex. 3:2), and guided the Israelites at night with a column of fire (Ex. 13:21; Num. 9:15-16).
On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to live in the disciples, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit …” (Acts 2:3-4). So there was a visual sign of this event. It doesn’t say they were tongues of fire, but that’s what they seemed to be. The tongues may refer to the miraculous gift of speaking in other languages. The fire may refer to the Holy Spirit as the source of this gift and may also describe the bold enthusiastic preaching that followed (Acts 4:31).
Paul said “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th. 5:19). He was warning against hindering the work of the Holy Spirit in the local church. The Greek word translated “quench” (Strongs #4570) occurs 8 times in the New Testament. In 6 of these it means extinguishing a flame or fire. Another one is metaphorically extinguishing “flaming arrows” (Eph. 6:16). Therefore, it’s reasonable to infer that this verse is also a metaphor where the Holy Spirit is taken to be like a fire.
If the Holy Spirit is like a fire, then He is divine and can enable us to be filled with His Spirit. This image reminds us that the Holy Spirit enables the local church to function harmoniously using the gifts of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is also like a seal, which is evidence of ownership and security. In ancient times official documents were sealed with hot wax and an imprint was made on the wax with the official seal of the person sending the document (Neh. 9:38 – 10:1; Est. 8:8). Last year I obtained an apostille for my son so a document would be accepted in France. The certificate is attached to the document being verified and they are then embossed with an official government seal so it is evident if any of the pages have been removed.
Paul said, “He (God) anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:21-22). And, “When you believed, you were marked in Him (Christ) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). The Spirit indwelling the believer is the mark that they belong to God and are eternally secure. The only visible evidence of this is a spirit-filled life. We are now God’s property. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). In this sense, it’s a sacred place because it’s inhabited by a sacred person.
Paul said, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). We are sealed until the Rapture when our salvation is complete and our bodies are resurrected and changed. Here our ownership and security is said to be a reason why we should not sin.
If the Holy Spirit is like a seal, then we are owned by God and spiritually safe and protected. This image encourages us to care for our bodies and gives us reasons not to sin.
Deposit and first-fruits
The Holy Spirit is also like a deposit and first-fruits. A deposit is the first payment for something, with the balance being payable later. Because all of creation belongs to God, the Israelites were commanded to offer the first and best of their animals and produce to God (Lev. 23:9-14). These first-fruits were considered a promise of the coming harvest.
Paul says that God “put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5) and the Holy Spirit is “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph. 1:14). So this deposit is like the first instalment of a sum of money that has been inherited and it comes with a guarantee that the balance will be paid later. As we receive the Holy Spirit, we will also receive the full inheritance of God. This inheritance includes our bodies being transformed to be like Christ at the Rapture and reigning with Him at the second coming (Rom. 8:17; Phil 3:21).
Paul says that believers “have the first-fruits of the Spirit” as they wait eagerly for the redemption of their bodies (Rom. 8:23). Just as the first handful of grain is a pledge of the entire harvest to follow, so the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of the full salvation that is yet to come, including the redemption of our bodies. Our spirits and souls have already been redeemed, and our bodies will be redeemed at the Rapture (1 Th. 4:13-18). By the way, Jesus is also a first-fruit of the coming resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20).
If the Holy Spirit is like a deposit and first-fruits, then our inheritance is guaranteed and protected. This image gives us assurance and confidence in the inheritance that God has promised for His people.
The Holy Spirit is also like a power supply. A power supply like power stations and batteries enables work to be done. Our phones and tablets are useless unless their batteries are charged. And there has been a power crisis in Tasmania since the power cable from Victoria was cut in December 2015.
Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high” because when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, they would receive power to witness throughout their known world (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8). The apostles preached the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. And Christians today have spiritual power which enables them to obey the great commission (Mt. 28:19-20). This power comes from the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16, 20).
If the Holy Spirit is like a power supply, then Christians have more power to live for God than we realize. This image encourages us to be ready to share our Christian faith.
Next, the Holy Spirit is likened to an attribute.
The Holy Spirit is also like a voice which instructs and warns. His words to the prophets and apostles are preserved for us in the Bible. I imagine it was a bit like the voice of a GPS that instructs as we drive.
Isaiah told Judah that when they repented “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isa. 30:21). And they will obey the instruction. Jesus told His disciples “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come” (Jn. 16:13). And they wrote this truth in the New Testament. For example, in Hebrews 3:7-11 the Holy Spirit gave a warning from Psalm 95 and gives the application in verses 12-15. This shows that God speaks in Scripture, even to generations subsequent to its time of writing (Hebrews was written about 770 years after Isaiah). And the apostles were told “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt. 10:19-20). So the Holy Spirit would give them the words to say in situations such as sudden arrest when there is no time to prepare what to say.
If the Holy Spirit is like a voice, then He can guide us today through the Bible. This image reminds us that God can use the Holy Spirit to speak to us through our conscience.
The Holy Spirit is also like a teacher, seven spirits, and seven lamps (Jn. 14:26; Rev. 1:4-6; 4:5).
We have looked at several images (metaphors) of the Holy Spirit from the Bible.
They show that He:
Defends and helps like a lawyer.
Brings love and peace like a dove.
Is powerful like wind.
Satisfies like running water.
Empowers like olive oil and a power supply.
Sustains the church like a fire.
Protects us like a seal.
Guarantees our inheritance like a deposit and first-fruits.
And, guides like a voice.
So the Holy Spirit operates behind the scenes and not in the limelight. He helps, empowers, sustains, and guides. And He implements all of God’s plans. The Spirit is mentioned throughout the Bible: He’s there in the background making it all happen.
Is our spirituality based on the Holy Spirit and what He’s revealed to us in the Bible?
Are we aware of the Holy Spirit’s help and support?
Are we experiencing love and peace?
Do we realize His power?
Are we spiritually satisfied?
Are we empowered for ministry and service?
Is our church life sustainable?
As we assured of our spiritual protection?
Are we assured of our inheritance?
And, are we following what we learn from Scripture?
It’s amazing! God created everything in the beginning. Later He (Jesus) died for us, so we can have spiritual life. Now He (the Holy Spirit) lives in in us and helps us. He is the “power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).
We have looked at two words today, “holy” and “Spirit”. May we be more holy and more spiritual by living in the power of God’s Holy Spirit as He gives us spiritual life and enables us to live the Christian life.
Written, June 2016
Tasmania’s electrical power shortage has reached crisis levels. 30% of the power usually comes from Victoria by cable, but the cable has been broken since December 2015. 60% of the power usually comes from hydro-electric systems, but dam levels are at a record low capacity of 14% and falling. An old gas-fired power station has been brought back into operation and temporary diesel generators acquired. And major manufacturers have cut production to conserve power.
After Jesus died and rose again, He told His apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16; Acts 1:4, 5, 8). When the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, the church era commenced replacing the era of the law of Moses. In this post we look at the meaning of a passage from Joel, quoted by Peter as an explanation to the Jews.
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants (slaves), both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18NIV).
We will see from this passage that God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit.
Context of Acts 2
Luke wrote the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible. Acts, written about AD 63, is a selective history of the first 30 years of the church. It describes the church in Jerusalem (Ch 1-7), in Judea and Samaria (8:1 – 9:31), and elsewhere in the Roman Empire (9:32 – 28:31). It was written for Theophilus who was probably Luke’s patron (Lk. 1:3-4; Acts 1:1). The main theme of the book is to describe the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem across the Roman Empire and to indicate the major challenges to this.
After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His followers, so they could be His witnesses (1:3-8). Then the Lord ascended into the sky and the disciples were promised that He would return in a similar manner (1:9-11). While they waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas (1:12-26).
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and indwelt the disciples (2:1-13) and Peter addressed the crowd of Jews and Jewish proselytes who were in Jerusalem (1:14-41). As a result of Peter’s message about 3,000 people came to faith in Christ and joined the infant church. Then Luke summarized the activities of this pioneer church (2:42-47).
Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost included:
– an explanation of recent events (v.14-21)
– the gospel of Jesus Christ; His death, resurrection and exaltation (v.22-36)
– an exhortation to repentance and baptism (v. 37-40).
Peter explained what happened on the Day of Pentecost by saying they weren’t drunk and quoting from the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32).
Context of Joel
Joel was a prophet of God to Judah prior to the Jewish exile (his book is difficult to date more precisely). The key phrase of the book is “the day of the Lord”, found five times (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14). It’s a time when the wicked are judged and the repentant are saved (Joel 3:15-16).
Up to 2:18 Joel addresses the desolation that would come on Judah. After that the repentant are promised deliverance. The book is structured as follows:
– Plague of locusts (Ch 1). This probably also symbolized the Lord’s army on the day of the Lord.
– An army is approaching (2:1-11)
– Call to repentance (2:12-17)
– They are promised material prosperity (2:18-27)
– They are promised an outpouring of God’s Spirit (2:28-29)
– Wonders in the heavens and earth (2:30-32)
– Judgement of the Gentile nations (3:1-16a)
– Promises restoration and blessing for the Jews (3:16b-21).
The people of Judah had turned away from the Lord (Joel 2:12-14). They had broken their covenant with the Lord. Consequently, the locust plague and drought was God’s judgement. Joel urges Judah to repent, but when they continually resist, God’s judgement is inevitable. Those who repented were promised prosperity, restoration, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament Jewish prophets had two main messages about the future: God’s judgement (the “day of the Lord”) and God’s blessing—the Messiah will come and lead their nation. The passage quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost mentioned God’s blessing (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18) and God’s judgment (Joel 2:30-32; Acts 2:19-21).
Joel 2: 28-29
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).
As the context is “afterward”, these verses may apply after the day of the Lord. So after God punishes the rebellious, He rewards repentant Jews with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit is generally among the community of Israel, but not in the individuals (Is. 63:11). Instead, the Holy Spirit only came upon particular people for particular tasks. For example:
– The Holy Spirit empowered Joseph (Gen. 41:38), Moses and Joshua.
– The Holy Spirit empowered craftsman (Ex. 31:2-5) and Gideon and Samson (Jud. 6:34; 14:6)
– The Holy Spirit empowered prophets (Ezek. 11:5; Mic. 3:8; Zech. 7:12; Acts 28:25)
– 70 elders prophesied when the Spirit of the Lord came on them (Num. 11:24-30).
– The Spirit of the Lord came on David and departed from Saul (1 Sam. 16:13-14).
When the task was accomplished, the Holy Spirit would leave the person. David said, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). So, in Old Testament times the empowering of individuals by the Holy Spirit was selective and temporary.
Joel 2:28-29 predicts a change where the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people. Instead of selected individuals, God says it will regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”, age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves). The example given is prophesy which was a message from God enabled by the Holy Spirit. This is different to the rest of the Old Testament because it indicates the Holy Spirit coming on people in general and not only particular individuals. Instead, it’s similar to the promised new covenant, which included “I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezek. 36:26-27).
Of course, the Holy Spirit’s current role of indwelling believers and abiding with them “forever” is also a great contrast to the Old Testament situation (Jn. 14:16).
Joel 2: 30-32
On the day of Pentecost, Peter also quoted from, “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:30-32).
The day of the Lord is the time of judgment associated with the blessing given in Joel 2:28-29.
What did Joel 2:28-32 mean then?
Joel was given a revelation of a future time when a period of judgment (v.30-32) is followed by a time of blessing (v.28-29). Wonders in the heavens and on earth precede the judgment (day of the Lord). As judgment was often associated war, the meaning to the Israelites of that time could be that they will by invaded by an enemy, but God would deliver the faithful who would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. As afterwards “all people” have faith in God, it seems as though all the unfaithful people are destroyed in the judgment. Or it could mean that Israel is physically delivered from God’s judgment and its enemies destroyed. When the prophecy was given their enemies were the Phoenicians, Philistines, Egyptians and Edomites (Joel 3:4, 19).
The phrase “all people” (Strongs #3605, #1320) could mean every person, people from all categories in society, or all nations. As the context is “Your sons and daughters”, “Your old men” and “Your young men”, it probably means every Israelite. To call “on the name of the Lord” meant to trust and respond to God the Father (Mt. 7:21; Jn. 6:29). It shows God’s mercy in offering a way of escape to those facing judgment. They will survive the day of the Lord.
The principle of Joel 2:28-29 is that in future God will empower all the faithful Israelites with the Holy Spirit.
What does Joel 2:28-32 mean now?
With the benefit of additional revelation in the New Testament and the benefit of hindsight, we can understand more about Joel’s prophecy.
The law of double reference helps to understand some of these Old Testament prophecies—some of them had both an immediate partial fulfilment and a distant complete fulfilment. Some of the Jewish prophecies about the “day of the Lord” were partially fulfilled when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C and by the Romans in AD 70. But John also prophesised about the day of the Lord in AD 95 (Rev. Ch. 6-20). So the final day of the Lord is yet to come. It’s associated with Christ’s second advent.
What about times of blessing? It’s difficult to identify periods when Israel has been blessed since Joel’s time. The only clear application of Joel’s prophecy to times of blessing is that made on the day of Pentecost by Peter, which is the subject of this post. Soon after this Peter said that the promised time of blessing was still future (Acts 3:21). It’s associated with Christ’s millennial kingdom.
So we understand that Joel 2:28-32 is a prophecy about events associated with Christ’s second coming and His millennial kingdom.
When Peter quoted from Joel, he changed the introduction from “And afterward”, to “In the last days”. As he is speaking to Jews and it was before the New Testament was written, they would have understood the “last days” from the Old Testament where it can mean the coming tribulation or the Millennial kingdom (Dt. 4:30; Isa. 2:2; Dan. 10:14; Hos. 3:5; Mic. 4:1).
Peter also added “God says” to the quotation to emphasise that these were the words of God written by the prophet Joel. This is like a prophet saying “The word of the Lord came to me, saying” (Jer. 1:4).
Peter changed the word “dreadful” to “glorious” when describing the day of the Lord (Joel. 2:31; Acts 2:20). The reason for this maybe that He was associating this occasion with Christ’s second coming (Ti. 2:13).
Peter also added “and they will prophesy” at the end of v.18. This phrase is repeated from the previous verse for emphasis. Also he stopped half way through Joel 2:32 omitting, “for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls”. This could be so he could finish the quote with “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” to indicate what his audience needed to do when they were convicted of their sin (Rom. 10:13). In this context, they are spiritually saved from God’s judgment. And “the Lord” is Jesus Christ. Also, he didn’t want to make the application to deliverance from an army.
There is another difference between what happened on the day of Pentecost and Joel’s prophecy. The spiritual gift that occurred on the day of Pentecost was speaking in other languages, while Joel referred to prophecy. So the emphasis is on the Holy Spirit who gives the gift, not on the particular spiritual gift.
With the benefit of additional revelation in the New Testament and the benefit of hindsight, we can understand more about Peter’s sermon. He was announcing to the Jews that what they saw on the day of Pentecost was a fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. But this is only a partial fulfilment because John also prophesised about the day of the Lord in AD 95 (Rev. Ch. 6-20). Also, the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers, not “on all people”. Also, there were no wonders in the heavens on the day of Pentecost (Mt. 24:29; Acts 2:19-20). Although some argue they were fulfilled at the crucifixion or figuratively on the day of Pentecost. So the final day of the Lord is yet to come. This is associated with Christ’s second advent and His millennial kingdom.
Peter was announcing to the Jews that through Jesus Christ, God had now brought in the promised new covenant. This meant that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”, age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves). The example given is prophesy which was enabled by the Holy Spirit. Updating the principle from Joel 2:28-29 to the day of Pentecost gives: God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit.
Who were “all people” who received the Holy Spirit? It wasn’t every Israelite. Afterwards, Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children (Jews) and for all who are far off (Gentiles)—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). So, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to those who repented and were baptized. Although they were mainly Jews, Gentiles weren’t excluded. They were people of every gender, age and social class.
It was also a fulfilment of Christ’s promises to send the Holy Spirit (Lk. 24:49; Jn. 7:37-39; 14:16-26; 15:26 – 16:15; Acts 1:3-5; 2:33).
What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?
It meant that from that time onwards, all those who accepted God’s gift of salvation through Christ would receive the Holy Spirit. This was the new era of the church age which replaced the era when the Israelites lived under the Law of Moses. It doesn’t mean that all will prophesy. Instead the New Testament teaches that each believer will have at least one spiritual gift.
Today, we are still in the church era, and the Holy Spirit still indwells all believers. But the church’s foundation was laid almost 2,000 years ago. It is founded on Christ’s completed work (1 Cor. 3:11) as taught by the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5). This work was completed in the first century AD and we have a record of this foundation in the New Testament. So, in this sense, we no longer have apostles or prophets in the church today because these gifts are no longer required now the church’s foundation has been laid.
Peter was pointing out a similarity between what happened on the day of Pentecost and events associated with the second coming of Christ. This involved the activity of the Holy Spirit.
What doesn’t it mean today?
Be careful of using Acts 2:17-18 to over-ride other verses in the New Testament. For example, it doesn’t mean that:
– every Christian has the gift of prophecy regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race, or
– every Christian can prophesy (or preach or teach) at a church meeting regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race.
Instead, prophecy was used to illustrate the fact that every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race.
There are similar messages to this in other New Testament Scriptures. For example, when the household of Cornelius accepted the gospel message, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles” (Acts 10:45). Now Gentiles could be God’s people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Also, in the church people of various genders, ages, social classes and races are empowered by the Holy Spirit:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11).
Quotation from the Old Testament
According to Fruchtenbaum, Peter’s quotation in Acts 2 of Joel 2 is a literal fulfilment of an application from the Old Testament.
“Virtually nothing that happened in Acts 2 is predicted in Joel 2. Joel was speaking of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the nation of Israel in the last days. However, there was one point of similarity, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. Acts 2 does not change or reinterpret Joel 2, nor does it deny that Joel 2 will have a literal fulfilment when the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the whole nation of Israel. It is simply applying it to a New Testament event because of one point of similarity.”
We have seen that Acts 2:17-18 shows that Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-29) had a partial fulfilment on the day of Pentecost, but the complete fulfilment is still future. The thing they had in common was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Since the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit indwells all believers. But in a coming day after the wicked have been judged, everyone will be empowered by the Holy Spirit as prophesised by Joel.
The fact that God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit is a challenge and an encouragement. Do you have this power in your life? If the answer is yes, does the presence of the Holy Spirit encourage you to live for Jesus Christ?
Fruchtenbaum A.G (1992) “Israelology: The missing link in Systematic theology”, p. 844-845
Written, March 2016
Tourists often fear dangerous animals in Australia, such as venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, crocodiles, sharks, killer jellyfish, and the blue ring octopus. On a recent hike we were surprised by a black snake. Most of us were afraid, but someone wanted to pick it up!
Fear can help us respond to a dangerous situation. This is protective fear. It’s why I told them not to go near the snake. It’s foolish to ignore real danger.
But constant fear is debilitating and can lead to anxiety that immobilizes and paralyzes us. This is chronic fear.
The fear (reverence and respect) of God is a feeling of awe and praise of a small creature before their immense Creator. This is respectful fear.
Let’s look at what the Bible says about these three kinds of fear. We’ll see that through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful, can avoid the bad fear and practise the good fear of reverence and respect for God and Christ as our Lord.
There are at least 10 Greek words that are used in the New Testament to describe “fear”.
The two most common ones are:
– phobeo (Strongs #5399) is a verb which means either to fear and be afraid, or to reverence.
– phobos (Strongs #5401) is a noun which means either fear, or reverence and respect for authority.
This article is based on verses with any of these 10 Greek words for “fear” in the books of the Bible written to the early church from Acts to Revelation. We begin by looking at protective fear.
When Paul was a prisoner he was sent to Italy by ship. A storm with hurricane force winds struck when they were near the island of Crete and the ship was driven towards Malta for 14 days. During the storm, the sailors were afraid the ship would run aground, and near the island of Malta they feared the ship would be dashed against the rocks (Acts 27:17, 29). This is a fear of danger, when our body reacts with a boost of adrenaline and we prepare to fight against or flee from the danger.
People are also afraid when they face punishment. When a Philippian jailer thought all his prisoners had escaped after an earthquake, he was about to kill himself because he would be punished (Acts 16:29). When we do wrong we are afraid of those in authority because we can be punished (Rom. 13:4). Those living under the Jewish law feared God’s judgment, but believers don’t live in this fear, as sons shouldn’t fear their father (Rom. 8:15).
The Bible says that unbelievers will be afraid when they face God at the Great White Throne to be judged because their names are not in the book of life. Apostates who abandon the Christian faith will be fearful when they face God’s judgment (Heb. 10:27, 31). When Paul spoke about the judgment to come, the Roman governor Felix was afraid (Acts 24:25). This is a real fear because there is no protection for those who ignore Jesus Christ.
People are also afraid of dying. The Bible says this fear is like slavery (Heb. 2:15).
These are examples of fearing danger, punishment, and death. Protective fear can be an alarm that arouses us to protect ourselves.
Sin is another danger we should fear. We should be afraid that some people haven’t yet accepted God’s plan of salvation and so they aren’t going to heaven (Heb. 4:1). If an elder sins in such a way as to harm the testimony of the church they are to be rebuked publicly so the others may fear falling into sin (1 Tim. 5:20). And when responding to victims of apostasy, we should fear being trapped by the allure of sin (Jude 1:23). As Christians, do we fear sin and its consequences, which is a healthy fear that helps us live godly lives?
In First Aid when there is an accident or emergency we are told to follow DRABC. The first response is D for Danger. We protect ourselves, the casualty and other people from danger. After we have done this we can help the casualty. It’s risky to ignore this step, but it is also risky to not proceed on to the following steps. Likewise for us it’s good to have safety in mind by responding to reasonable fears.
If we obey the law of the land, there is no need to fear punishment from authorities. But do we fear danger or death? If we have no external resources to help us, it’s natural to fear these possibilities. But through faith in Christ, these fears can be replaced with courage, security, protection and peace when we realize two things. First, God and Christ are with us in the form of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 13:6). Paul was told, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you” (Acts 18:9-10NIV). God is always with us. Second, prayer is helpful in overcoming all types of fear (Phil. 4:6-7). “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:7). God always cares for us. Prayer draws us near to God. That’s how to deal with protective fear without lapsing into chronic fear.
But if fear persists it becomes anxiety.
In the case of chronic fear, people are too anxious and doubtful to respond appropriately. This is an unhealthy kind of fear, which keeps us from doing things we should do. It’s bad fear, which is based on one’s perceptions and assumptions. Such anxiety can lead to depression and possible mental illness (such as phobias, which are persistent fears of objects or situations).
In this case fear stops us from developing our spiritual gifts, from loving and serving God and loving and serving one another. Instead of being focused on God and others, we become self-focused. We worry about our needs instead of trusting God to take care of them.
Christians have a great foundation for overcoming fear and anxiety. All of our sins have been paid for. God isn’t angry towards us, and He will never punish us because His Son took our punishment. God has forgiven our sins, His Holy Spirit lives in us, and we will spend eternity with Him.
It is reported that about 40% of Australian police business involves domestic violence. During my last shift of telephone counselling, I spoke with three women who were constantly living in fear. They felt isolated and controlled by their partners. They were anxious not knowing when the next episode would occur. But they were seeking help.
If we are fearful and anxious do we seek help? Anxiety has various physiological, emotional and spiritual causes. As childhood experiences can have a big impact on personality development, are parents aware of their children’s needs? They need to be loved and wanted. To belong. And to feel worthwhile. Addressing these needs in childhood can help avert adult anxiety.
The process for overcoming anxiety is the same as for addressing any sin in the life of a Christian. The steps are:
• Identify what we are worried about.
• Identify our sin – what we doubt about God’s care for us.
• Confess and repent of our doubt.
• Remind ourselves of the truth about God and His promises in the Bible.
• Thank God in prayer for His care of us.
• Then we can have peace because we are trusting in God’s promises once again.
Courage is the opposite of fear; it’s the ability to face danger without fear. Next we look at when those who trusted in God demonstrated courage instead of fear.
The apostles were courageous when they faced the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13; 5:29). This courage came from the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). Christians are commanded to be courageous against dangers and difficulties (1 Cor. 16:13). They were not to fear threats or be frightened when persecuted, and not retaliate, but endure it patiently and be kind to their persecutors (1 Pt. 3:14). The church in Smyrna was told not to be afraid of persecution and to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev 2:10). All this is possible because the Holy Spirit makes believers courageous and not timid; “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid (fearful), but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).
When Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey, he preached to the Jews. But when they opposed him and became abusive, he moved and preached to the Gentiles. But Paul would have been discouraged and may have worried he would have to leave the city as had been the case in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 16:39-40; 17:5-10, 13-14). One night the Lord told him “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). As Paul knew that God was with him, he kept teaching them the word of God for 18 months.
During the storm mentioned earlier, an angel told Paul to not be afraid of shipwreck because he would stand trial before Caesar (Acts 27:24). So God encourages us to be courageous.
Christians don’t fear death because it brings them closer their Savior. In fact, Jesus frees believers from the fear of death (Heb. 2:15).
Christians don’t fear God’s judgment because Jesus has already paid the penalty. John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). Christ’s death on our behalf is the “perfect love” that “drives out fear” of God’s judgment.
These are examples of courage and not fearing trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, and God’s judgment. This courage is healthy because it is associated with godly living.
A young father was having a difficult time convincing his son to go to bed. “I don’t want to go to bed. I’m afraid of the dark!” the five-year-old exclaimed. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” his father said reassuringly. “I sleep in the dark and I’m not afraid.” “Sure,” the youngster replied, “you’ve got Mom lookin’ out for you!”. He wasn’t alone. And that’s true for Christians as well – they have God the Holy Spirit with them.
Are you alone or have you turned away from sin and towards Christ as your Savior? That’s the only way to receive the Holy Spirit who can help us have courage instead of fear. In Revelation, unbelievers are described as being cowards because, they are afraid to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Rev. 21:7-8).
Do we have courage instead of fear when we face authorities, trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, or God’s judgment? This courage comes from the Holy Spirit who empowers believers for godly living.
When facing our fears, do we act in the strength of the Holy Spirit? Are we motivated by love for God and love for one another? Are we self-controlled?
The second meaning of “fear” in Scripture is to indicate reverence and respect for authority.
Believers are commanded to give respect and honor to those owed respect and honor (Rom 13:7). This includes revering and respecting God and worshiping Him with reverence and awe (2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pt. 1:17). “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Pt.2:17). They were not to fear persecution, but revere Christ as Lord (1 Pt 3:14, 15).
Paul respected the Lord as He is the one to whom Christians are accountable when they are rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10-11). Similarly, we should fear displeasing the Lord.
Slaves (employees), children, and wives are to submit to their masters, parents and husbands out of reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21). Respect is part of a healthy marriage. While the husband is to love his wife, the wife is to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33). Slaves (employees) should respect and obey their masters with reverence to the Lord (Eph. 6:5; Col 3:22; 1 Pt. 2:18). Similarly, as God’s slaves/servants, our attitude towards Him should be one of reverence and respect (Rev. 19:5).
These are examples of reverence and respect for God who we wish to please as our Lord. Such respectful fear is healthy because it is associated with godly living. It’s good fear.
This is opposite to unbelievers, who don’t revere or respect God – “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18).
After a cop shot and killed a teenager in Ferguson, Missouri last year, potential US presidential candidate Ben Carson claimed that young males living in inner cities need to be taught how to respond better to authority. He said that a major problem that faces many who grow up without fathers or other authority figures in their homes, is that they don’t learn the right way to respond when confronted by law enforcement. They never really learn how to relate to authority in the proper way. If you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they are very likely to end up as victims of violence and imprisonment. When it comes to God, are we like the teenagers?
A child’s view of God is usually similar to their view of their father. So Dad’s, be awesome, not angry or absent. If they can’t respect you, they will struggle to respect God. Pray for the children of single parent and step-parent families and homosexual marriages. What will their father image be like?
Do we reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord? Do we fear displeasing Him?
Do we respect His message for us in the Bible? Do we respect our employer, parents, spouse and our church elders?
Less respect of God means more trust in humanity, which leads to more anxiety and chronic fear. It also leads to less respect for authority in families, schools, and society. When parents don’t respect God, children don’t respect parents. When teachers don’t respect God, students don’t respect teachers. When our leaders don’t respect God, people don’t respect the police, the judiciary or the government.
While we are all products of our past to some extent, we don’t need to be fearful and anxious. God is always with us. He always cares for us. We can turn to God, and we can also have the help of friends, family members, or Christian counsellors.
Let’s confess and repent of our anxiety and bring all our fears to the Lord in prayer so we can exercise protective fear when we are aware of danger and not lapse into chronic fear. And most important of all, let’s be aware of God and Christ so we can practice respectful fear until it is part of our character.
Through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful. Above all, let’s reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord.
Written, June 2015
I have been asked whether Jesus Christ used any of His divine power when He was on earth. Or did He not use this power at all during this time and always function as a human being who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit? Also, as a consequence of this were the disciples able to do whatever Christ did? And does this mean that today Christians can also do whatever Christ did?
The Bible teaches that Jesus was unique. “There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Tim. 2:5-6NIV). He was both human and divine (Jn. 1:1, 14, 18; Rom. 9:5). Because He claimed to be equal with God, the religious leaders wanted to kill Him (Jn. 5:17-18). Biologically, He had a human mother but not a human father. He was sinless.
What do the gospels say?
Several examples of Jesus’ actions in the gospels show His divine power:
• He forgave sins so people were no longer guilty before God, and even those who opposed Him knew that only God can forgive sins in this way (Mt. 9:2-3, 6; Mk. 2:5-7, 10). He also gives eternal life (Jn. 10:28).
• Jesus knew what others were thinking (Mk. 2:8; Lk. 11:7). He knew the Samaritan woman had five husbands and knew everything she had done (Jn. 4:18-19, 29). He knew the future (Mt. 16:21) and He knew everything (Jn. 16:29-30; 21:17).
• Jesus saw Nathanael before Philip told him about Jesus (Jn. 1:48-49). This is divine omniscience.
• He is omnipresent (Mt. 28:20).
• Jesus’ power over nature was clearly divine. People were amazed when the winds and the waves obeyed Him (Mt. 8:26-27). After He walked on water and calmed a storm, the disciples said “truly you are the Son of God” (Mt. 14:25-32). Also, they were amazed when Jesus calmed another storm (Mk. 4:39-41). This is divine omnipotence.
• He had the power to raise Himself from the dead (Jn. 2:19-22; 10:17-18).
• He does what God the Father does (Jn. 5:19).
The disciples had none of these divine powers.
Because Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father, His goal was to do God’s will (Jn. 4:34; 14:24). He lived to please Him (Jn. 6:57). So, He always obeyed the Father and never acted independently (Jn. 5:19, 30; 10:18). Jesus often prayed to the Father and received daily instructions from Him (Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:16; 6:12; 11:1). Matthew 26:39-44 and John 17 are examples of Christ’s prayers. They had a close relationship; the Father loved the Son (Jn. 10:15; 14:10; 15:10).
The Holy Spirit is mainly mentioned at Christ’s baptism, His temptation and when He visited His hometown Nazareth. It says “the Holy Spirit descended on Him”, He was “full of the Holy Spirit”, He visited Galilee “in the power of the Holy Spirit” and He drove out demons by the Spirit of God (Mt. 12:28; Lk. 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18). There is no other mention in the gospels of Jesus being empowered by the Holy Spirit. The reason for this is that it seems He did most of His miracles by His own inherent divine power, and not by the power of the Holy Spirit. For example, when two blind men told Jesus “we want our sight”, the Bible says He had compassion on them and touched their eyes and immediately they received their sight (Mt. 20:33-34). The Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned here. Maybe the three members of the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) all worked together in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Of course God the Son and the Holy Spirit are under the authority of God the Father (Jn. 5:19; 16:13). Jesus certainly didn’t always function as a human being who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, because then He wouldn’t have been unique and He couldn’t reveal Himself or the Father (Jn. 14:9).
Some people “cherry pick” verses to claim that Christ gave up all His divine ability and lived on earth as a person filled with the Holy Spirit so that all He did was done by the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 5:19; 14:10; Acts 10:37-38). However, these verses teach that Jesus was closely united with God the Father and did what He did, which means He was omnipotent!
By the way, the purpose of Christ’s miracles was so people would repent (Mt. 11:20-24; Lk. 10:13) and many believed after they saw them (Jn. 2:23; 4:48). The miracles also revealed His divinity (Jn. 5:36; 9:9; 10:37-38) and glory (Jn. 2:11; 11:4, 40).
What does Philippians 2 say?
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, because of disagreements amongst them he urges them to have unity (Phil. 2:1-11; 4:2-3). In particular, they should “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4). He then gives an example of humility because humility can end arguments and disunity.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:5-8).
This passage says that Jesus Christ was fully God; being “in very nature God” and having “equality with God” (Phil. 2:6). This is confirmed by, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him” (Col. 1:19), “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9) and “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3).
But Jesus Christ was willing to give up His high position in heaven with all its privileges. This is described as, He “made Himself nothing” (or “emptied Himself” ESV, HCSB, NET). This means Christ laid aside aspects of His equality with God or the form of God (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). The Greek verb here is kenoo (Strongs #2758). Paul used this word figuratively elsewhere in his writings (Rom. 4:14; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:15; 2 Cor. 9:3). It is also used figuratively here – Jesus didn’t literally empty Himself or make Himself nothing with respect to His divinity (Phil. 2:7). Other translations say that He:
• “stripped Himself (of all privileges and rightful dignity)” AMP
• “stripped himself of all privilege” (PHILLIPS)
• “gave up everything” CEV, ERV
• “gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing” EXB, NCV
• “gave this up” WE
• “of His own free will He gave up all He had” (GNT)
• “put aside everything that belonged to Him” NLV
• “made Himself of no reputation” GNV, NKJV
• “lowed (meeked) Himself” WYC
The meaning of kenoo is given by the rest of the words in verses 7-8, which describe the period between His miraculous conception and His death and burial. This passage says, when He came to earth, Jesus:
• Acted like a slave who obeys their master, not like the ruler of the universe (v.7). He came to serve both God and humanity in God’s plan of redemption (Mt. 20:28).
• Appeared physically as a human being, not as God (v.7-8). He looked like other men and was fully human, but was different to them in that He did not have a sinful nature. He gave up the glory He had with God the Father since before the world began (Jn. 17:5, 24).
• Allowed Himself to be crucified, although He was the eternal omnipotent God (v.8).
What a change! Jesus went from a place of power and glory (ruling in heaven) to a place of humiliation (dying on earth like a criminal). He went from a high position to a low one. Paul summarised it, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Then after His death, God restored Jesus to the exalted place (Phil. 2:9). Some of the dazzling splendor of this place was shown at the transfiguration (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9: 3). The lesson is that Christians are to be humble like Christ and not proud or desiring pre-eminence.
Some examples in the gospels of Jesus’ omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence are given above. So, He didn’t completely stop using these divine attributes. But while He was on earth He used them less often. Instead, He chose to limit the use of these unlimited powers. This is also part of what He gave up when He came to earth to live as a human being.
Because Jesus retained His divine nature and didn’t give it up or stop using it completely, He was able to perform miracles by using His divine nature alone. This means that He didn’t need to do them in the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no Scripture suggesting He solely relied on the Spirit.
Because they were human and not divine, the disciples couldn’t duplicate the examples of His divine power given above. This means that they couldn’t do whatever Christ did. Likewise, because people today are not divine we can’t do whatever Christ did.
But what about verses that have been used to claim that Christians can have unlimited power?
What about not knowing the date of the second advent?
Jesus said that “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” knows the day or the hour of the second advent (Mt. 24:36; Mk. 13:32). This doesn’t mean that Jesus was a human being with limited knowledge like us or that He emptied Himself of all the attributes of deity when He came to earth as a man. Instead He was both fully God and fully human. When the Bible says that Jesus didn’t know the date of His second advent it is referring to him as a finite human being, not as the divine Son of God. He also came as a Servant that was obedient to God the Father and said that “a servant does not know his master’s business” (Jn. 15:15). Although Jesus often spoke of His second advent, as a Servant He wasn’t given its date for the purpose of revealing it to others. But as God, He knows it.
One example is not sufficient to make a rule, but it is sufficient to disprove one. This is a principle of science. Therefore, one example of Christ’s divine power (and several are given above) disproves the claim that Christ emptied Himself of the attributes of deity when He came to earth as a man.
What about other promises?
The phrase “all things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27) was spoken in the context of salvation. It means that everything to do with the miracle of salvation is only possible through God’s power. Salvation comes from God’s grace and mercy alone, and human achievement has no role in it. It doesn’t mean that God can do anything; because He can’t sin and He can’t deny who He is (2 Tim. 2:13). Also it has nothing to do with miracles or prayer requests (except prayers of confession and repentance).
What about God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them? The “mountain” is a figure of speech for the obstacles and difficulties being faced. “You can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move” (Mt. 17:20) means that their prayer will be answered and the obstacles removed if it was in accordance with the conditions for prayer and the commands and promises given in the Bible. It is not an unconditional promise. God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them are not unconditional. They also rely on the Bible’s conditions for answered prayer being satisfied.
What are the “greater works”?
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn. 14:12). The Greek word erga (Strongs #2041) translated “works” is mentioned in the two previous verses as well. It means an act, deed or thing done (Thayer’s Greek Lexion). In this context it means acts of Christ, to rouse people to believe in Him and to accomplish their salvation. It says that Jesus did the Father’s work and His followers will also do the Father’s work (Jn. 14:10-12). This message was spoken to the disciples and we know that their “works” are given in the book of Acts where we see more people coming to trust in God than in the gospels. So in the context of evangelism, their works were greater than Christ’s.
The reason the disciples would be able to do greater evangelistic works than Jesus is “because I am going to the Father” (Jn. 14:12c). After Jesus ascended back to heaven, believers were able to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, and Jesus Himself promised to answer these prayers (Jn. 14:13-14).
Because John 14:12 is not addressing miracles (apart from salvation), the claim that it means we can do “greater miracles” than Jesus is obviously false.
There are many examples in the Bible of Jesus using His divine power when He was on earth. It appears that the three members of the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) all worked together in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. As there is no Scripture suggesting He solely relied on the Spirit, there is no evidence that Jesus always functioned as a human being who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit.
Because they were human and not divine, the disciples couldn’t duplicate these examples of Christ’s divine power. This means that they couldn’t do whatever He did. Likewise, because people today are not divine we can’t do whatever Christ did. In particular, although Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they can’t do whatever Christ did. To claim otherwise destroys the uniqueness and deity of Jesus Christ.
Written, November 2014
Also see: What does all things are possible with God mean?
What about Gods promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them?
Why didn’t Jesus know the date of His second event?
A New Zealand prime minister once said, “New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQs of both countries”. That’s slander; a false spoken malicious statement that damages someone’s reputation.
After Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who couldn’t see or speak, the common people were astonished and wondered whether He was the Messiah. This enraged the Pharisees who claimed He did it in the power of “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24). That’s slander because Beelzebub is another word for Satan (Mt. 12:26) and Jesus said that He drove out demons in the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:28). So they called the Holy Spirit, Satan or a demon! In saying that someone who was good was evil, they were totally wrong. Whereas as Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees knew about the prophecies concerning the Messiah (Lk. 4:16-21; 7:18-22).
Then Jesus told the Pharisees, “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:31). He repeated, “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:32). The account is repeated in Mark, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mk. 3:29). He said that the reason for this was because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit” (Mk. 3:30). Jesus said this because He “knew their thoughts” and their future behavior (Mt. 12:25). He knew they would continue to be hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent in their opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit. They would stubbornly reject all the evidence before them and be blind to the truth. Forgiveness is impossible as long as one continues to reject the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Although the Pharisees observed His powerful miracles, they continued to oppose Christ until they convinced the Romans to crucify Him.
Jesus pointed out the Pharisees inconsistency (Mt. 12:25-29; 33-37). It makes no sense to say He’s a bad tree (demonic) producing good fruit (healings). Using this illustration, blasphemy against the Spirit is saying that Jesus’ good works (by the Spirit) are the fruit of a bad (demonic) tree.
The Greek word translated “blaspheme” (blasphemis, Strong’s #988) means slander; speech that injures another’s good name. The ones who made these accusations were Jewish religious leaders who had travelled all the way from Jerusalem (Mk. 3:22). Because they thought their role was threatened by Jesus, they had plotted how they might kill Him (Mt. 12:14). So they were full of evil intent.
In this context, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean swearing or bad language. As the Holy Spirit’s mission was to testify about Christ – “He will testify about Me” (Jn. 15:16), it was saying that Jesus performed miracles by the power of Satan rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit, and continuing to reject Christ as the Messiah throughout their lifetime.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Th. 5:19). Also, it doesn’t apply to everyone who openly rejects Christ, because Peter and Paul did this but became leaders in the early church (Jn. 18:15-17; Acts 9:1-2). This sin is not based on a single act, but on someone’s spiritual state.
How does it apply today?
Can this unpardonable sin be committed today? There are two main views on this topic. First, it is not possible in the sense of Jesus being physically on earth performing miracles and being accused of being demon-possessed. Also, it is not mentioned in any of the letters in the Bible written to the church. Furthermore, the accusation of demon possession is rare because today many people reject the idea of a spiritual dimension to life.
Second, the outcome of this sin still occurs today. As long as people reject Christ as Savior, their sins cannot be forgiven and pardoned. Today the only sin that is unforgivable is that of not receiving Jesus Christ as Savior. Permanently rejecting Christ is an unforgivable sin (Jn. 3:18, 36). There is no pardon for a person who dies in unbelief. In this sense, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unbelief that persists throughout life. But only God knows in advance if this will be the case.
If a person continues in apostasy (those in the early church who reverted to Judaism; rejection of Christianity by those who had professed to be Christians; false teachers), they are unforgivable – they can’t be brought to repentance while they continue to reject Christ (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 1 Jn. 5:16-17). They continue “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace”. They trample Christ underfoot, say His death was useless and insult the Holy Spirit. Persistent sin against the trinity leads to spiritual death. Such hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit is similar to the behavior of the Pharisees who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. As they can repent and be forgiven, apostasy is only unpardonable if it continues to death and only God knows this in advance.
As the Holy Spirit’s mission today includes convicting us of our sins (Jn. 16:7-8), is deliberate, hard-hearted, aggressive and persistent rejection of one’s sinfulness equivalent to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
Written, March 2014
After Philip baptized the Ethiopian treasurer, “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea” (Acts 8:39-40NIV). Was Philip miraculously transported to Azotus, a town that may have been 30 km away? Luke, the author of Acts, would have heard about this event directly from Philip as he stayed with him in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9).
What happened to Philip is described by the Greek word harpazo (Strongs #726), which is translated above as “suddenly took”. The other occasion this word is used by Luke is when Paul was in Jerusalem and the Jews accused him of speaking against their religion: “The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10). Here harpazo is translated “take by force”. In both cases someone is suddenly moved away from where they were – it is as though someone has seized them. In the second case it was via means of the troops and in the first case it was via means of the Holy Spirit.
In this brief account we are told that Philip left the Ethiopian suddenly after the baptism at the direction of the Holy Spirit. There is no clear evidence in the text that any other miracle was involved and such a miracle is not necessary to explain what happened. For example, Philip could have been shown that he had to leave the Ethiopian immediately and then travelled by the normal means of transport to Azotus. After all, that’s what happened when Paul was directed by the Holy Spirit to travel to Macedonia instead of to Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-10). In Paul’s case, they “got ready at once to leave for Macedonia”.
Philip’s sudden departure meant that the Ethiopian was unable to thank or reward Philip for his help. Instead of being occupied with the person God used to assist in his conversion, he was occupied with Christ as “he went on his way rejoicing”, which is much more important than Philip’s mode of travel.
Written, June 2012