This article is about the relation of the Holy Spirit and Word of God, and the Spirit and Jesus Christ. The author also looks at believers as prophets in Acts 2.

Source: Clarion, 1990. 5 pages.

Acts 2 – The Spirit of Prophecy

Word and dove🔗


Pentecost is known as the great feast of the Spirit. On Pentecost, the promises of the Old Testament, of John the Baptist, and of Jesus Christ were fulfilled. The Spirit was poured out on the church. The description of this event in Acts 2 is well-known to all of us. But is the meaning of Pentecost clear to all? Especially in a time when Pentecostal groups and movements raise up new ideas and stir up doubt in the minds of even Reformed people, it will be a good thing to take a closer look at the events of Pentecost.

Spirit and Word🔗

One thing that quickly becomes clear as we read through Acts 2 is that there is a very close connection between the Spirit and the Word. Pentecost is about fiery tongues; it is about prophecy; it is about a sermon. In short, Pentecost is the feast of the Word. Driven by the Pentecostal Spirit of power, Peter begins to preach! And in the course of the sermon, he makes the startling point that from now, on, all God's people will be prophets!

So we see that the Spirit who comes to the church on Pentecost is the Spirit of the Word. And that shouldn't surprise anyone! The Spirit had always been tied up with the Word. When men of the old dispensation came under the influence of the Spirit, they invariably began to speak. As David states in 2 Samuel 23:2, The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me, His word is upon my tongue. Whenever a true prophet said, Thus says the Lord, this was a sure indication that the Spirit of God was at work. Through the prophet came the call to repentance and faith, and also the pronouncement of judgment. In this way, the mind of God was disclosed to His people.

The Man of the Spirit🔗

The Old Testament prophets realized that their possession of the Spirit was inadequate and incomplete. They awaited something greater, namely, the Age of Messiah. Messiah would be, above all, the man of the Spirit. Isaiah speaks of the shoot from the stump of Jesse, and proclaims of Him that the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD (11:2), And in chapter 61, Isaiah prophesies that the Spirit of the LORD will be upon Messiah in order that He may preach good tidings, and proclaim liberty and the year of the Lord's favour (vs. 1,2).

Messiah comes. And in order to fulfil His Messianic task, He receives the Holy Spirit without measure. At the baptism of the Lord Jesus, John the Baptist is witness to the Spirit's descent upon Him in the form of a dove. The meaning is clear: Jesus is anointed for His task. Now His ministry must begin. And that ministry is prophetic! Jesus must declare the will of God to Israel. He must preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. He is, in fact, nothing less than the Word! In Him, the world meets the ultimate revelation of God. The only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known (John 1:18). What would the world know of God without Christ? Nothing would remain but the vanity of the human imagination.

dead tree

Jesus came to preach. Everything that He heard from the Father, He made known to His disciples (John 15:15). He whom God has sent, writes John, utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that He gives the Spirit (John 3:34).

Christ was thus our Chief Prophet. Every word He uttered had the power and inevitability of the Prophet. Because they were from the Spirit, His words were for salvation and destruction. As Simeon had said in the temple: Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel (Luke 2:34). His Word would bring both blessing and curse. It would lift up the humble and destroy the proud. There was grace in the message of the Kingdom, but also judgment. The manner in which people responded to the Word of the Kingdom would have repercussions for all eternity.

As it was, the majority of the covenant people rejected the Word. And what is more, they killed the prophet. For they loved the darkness more than the light! The Word was too painful; it called them to repent, and this the masses would not do. So the Word was suppressed. Because of His Word, the Prophet was killed. The world could not bear His message.

The Church and the Spirit🔗

But already before His exodus, the Lord had given comfort to His disciples; it was true that He would leave them. But He would not leave them as orphans in the world, without any hope or comfort. In fact, His departure would be advantageous for the disciples, because it would mean the coming of the Spirit! That was to be their comfort and hope and strength. The Spirit would come to the disciples and give to them prophetic knowledge. As Jesus said: He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. When the Spirit comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come…. He will take what is Mine and declare it unto you (John 14:26; 16:13-15).

Jesus goes as He must – to His death, and then to the Father, but His Word will remain. It will even increase.

To the disciples will come insight into the person and work of Christ. Things which before their Master's death and resurrection they could not bear will now be revealed to them by the Spirit (cf. John 16:12). They will be able to speak authoritatively about the Christ. So they will become witnesses to Him. As apostles, their Spirit-breathed words will be the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14).

In accordance with the instruction of their Lord (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8), the disciples waited in Jerusalem for the coming of the Spirit of power. They had their Great Mandate (Matthew 28:18-20), but they would not be able to fulfil that mission until clothed with the Spirit of Prophecy.

They wait for ten days. The Lord desires to teach them to depend on Him and to realize that without Him, they can do nothing. While they wait, the congregation of Christ (about 120 persons) gathers together each day to pray. She awaits the good pleasure of the Lord. One can only guess what their expectations might have been. How would the Lord return? What would be the manner of His coming in the Spirit?

The Signs of Pentecost🔗

Finally, it happens. On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, the disciples are gathered together in one place.

And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4)

The disciples understand what is happening. The Lord has returned in the Spirit! Heaven has come to earth. The powers of the age to come have broken into the present age (cf. Hebrews 6:5). The disciples realize that this event cannot be explained in a naturalistic manner. It is from above. The Lord has broken into human history. The last days of the world have started – the age of the Spirit! God makes Himself evident in a new and remarkable fashion.

wind grass

There is a sound like the rush of a mighty wind. Spirit and wind are inextricably bound as metaphor and reality. Like the wind, the Spirit has compelling power. He is untamable and untraceable. No one can master Him. He comes and goes as He wills. He is sovereign. Like the wind, He can both refresh and destroy. And there are tongues of fire. Like wind, fire has a twofold association in our minds. It can warm us; it can also scorch and destroy us. So the Spirit comes into the world as fire. He is the fire of God's love, but also brings the fire of judgment.

Christ's Rule by the Spirit of Prophecy🔗

The signs demonstrate that the Spirit of the glorified Christ has come into the world! The Saviour of the world, the man Jesus Christ, has been accepted into heaven. God has received Him into glory. Jesus, the Son of David sits on His holy throne. The Lamb has become the Lion of Judah. From now on the Spirit will be at the service of the man Jesus Christ, for the exercise and completion of His rule.

Christ takes up His rule. Because of this fact, the Last Days have begun. But how will Christ exercise His rule? How will He bring in His Kingdom? The answer is: through the Spirit of prophecy, through the Spirit who always binds Himself to the Word. Christ reigns through the Spirit of prophecy poured out on His church. Christ pours out His Spirit upon His church, upon His representatives, who must continue His work in the world. From now on, the community of those who believe in Jesus Christ will be full of the Holy Spirit, so that they will be able to live in communion with Christ and do His work in the world via their prophetic office.

Pentecost begins with wonderful signs. But it continues in a starkly "normal" manner. The signs are spectacular. But they require an explanation. And that explanation comes by means of Peter's sermon. It seems so calm and quiet. Peter's sermon is just a patchwork of quotations from the old prophets, interspersed with some explanation. And yet, in that sermon, all the power of the Spirit is unleashed. Peter's tongue becomes a sacred tool in the hands of the Spirit. Peter fulfills his prophetic office, and through that simple sermon, the world is brought a step closer to the end of history.

Yes, Peter's words are a rushing wind and a burning fire. He speaks as one baptized in the Spirit. With incredible insight, He begins to proclaim Christ to the Jewish people – gathered from all nations in Jerusalem. He shows them the meaning of the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth. Before Pentecost, Peter could never have preached such a sermon. Just ten days ago, before the Lord ascended into heaven, the disciples were still hoping for the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6)! For the most part, they were still ignorant. But now Peter has been granted prophetic insight through the Spirit. The Spirit gives him knowledge and insight into the mystery of Christ and enables Him to speak with passion and conviction about Jesus as Lord.

And now, just as the Lord Himself was a power for the rising and falling of many in Israel, so the preaching of Peter and of the church will be for the rising and falling of many in the entire world. The power that comes into the church is a dangerous power. The prophetic ministry of the church brings both death and life, grace and judgment. When the Spirit is loose in the world, one has to be careful. The Spirit transforms all disciples into bearers and proclaimers of the Word. And what people do with that Word has eternal consequences. For in accepting or rejecting the Word, they accept or reject the Kingship of Christ.

All are Prophets🔗

Pentecost is the feast of the Spirit. So we are led to believe. But actually it is Jesus Christ who is in control on Pentecost day: He has poured out this which you see and hear (Acts 2:33). The Lord Jesus wants to continue His work in and through the church. Through the Spirit, the church is always pointed to Jesus Christ. The Spirit's work is like a spotlight pointing to and emphasizing Christ. He leads us to be Christ-centered. And through the Spirit, the church is enabled to speak about the Christ. When explaining the events of Pentecost day, Peter does not preach about the Spirit, but about the Christ, the Saviour of the world. The signs of Acts 2 have not been repeated. We hear no sound and see no flame. But one sign of the Spirit's presence remains forever – the prophetic confession of Christ as only Saviour and only Lord.

Lamb and Lion

The New Testament church is composed of prophets and prophetesses. And we don't mean this in a "Pentecostal" sense – as if all have direct revelation from heaven, whether in tongues, dreams, or words of prophecy. Direct revelation has ceased. We have a closed canon. All we have to do is maintain the sound pattern of words once for all delivered to the saints via the New Testament prophets and apostles. The pretension of latter-day “Pentecostals” is simply a denial of the great Sola Scriptura of the Church (cf. Art. 7 of the Belgic Confession).

Despite out rejecting such claims to tongues and prophecy, we also must insist on a prophetic church. For this is the message of Peter. He quotes Joel to the effect that in the last days, God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, with the result that every member of the covenant community will be prophetically endowed. "Pentecostals" cannot claim this text for their purposes, since the kind of "prophecy" they claim is not universal! Paul cleared up that possible misunderstanding a long time ago when he asked: Are all prophets? The obvious answer was "by no means" (1 Corinthians 12:29).

So Peter does not mean that the Spirit will come and give direct revelations to all persons, as He did to all true prophets in the old dispensation. But Peter does mean that every person who repents and believes and is ingrafted into the New Israel – the church – will have the kind of knowledge and insight characteristic of prophecy. Such believers see and experience the things which prophets longed to see.

The prophets "searched and inquired" about the salvation that is now the possession of the church. They inquired about the person or time indicated by the Spirit. In contrast, the new covenant community has no need to search and inquire. The person is Christ, and the time is now! (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). The mystery of God's redemption is no longer a mystery. All believers know about it. All may understand. It has been declared to them. They are witnesses to the full grace of God in Jesus. They have seen the powers of the age to come irrupt into the present. The knowledge of the folk of the Old Testament was obscure and weak in comparison to what the church may now possess. Then there was a veil; now there is the pure, burning light of Christ. For this reason, the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than the greatest of the prophets – John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).

Through the Spirit of prophecy, the Lord Jesus Christ is powerfully present in the world. Peter preaches a prophetic message of grace and warning. He proclaims to the Jews that because they have rejected and crucified the Messiah, judgment is hanging over their heads. The axe is already raised. But there is one way to escape: and it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. There is yet opportunity for repentance.

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And again he says: Save yourselves from this crooked generation. (Acts 2:21, 28, 40)

Peter's sermon is met with appropriate trembling: fear came upon every soul (vs. 43). The people understood from Peter's sermon that the coming of the Spirit was a terrifying reality. Through the Spirit not only grace, but also judgment would come. Through the Spirit, the world would be thrown into upheaval. The Spirit would bring crisis after crisis. When the Spirit of prophecy addresses the world, everybody and everything is taken up in a mighty rush to the end. The Word of the Spirit is a Word which will lead to bloodshed, fire, and vapour of smoke (vs. 19). Things may have seemed rather quiet on Pentecost, but through the preaching of Peter and subsequently of the whole church, the world would be driven into its mighty last phase to be concluded in the Judgment and Restoration.

Darkness and light

We who believe have been baptized into the church. That means that as our inheritance we possess the Spirit of prophecy. We understand mysteries. We know the Christ. We can confess Him. As the New Israel, we declare the wonderful deeds of God who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). We live in the Spirit-baptized body of Christ. The baptism of the Spirit is not for the select ones who have demonstrated their worthiness of this higher state (as "Pentecostals" teach). It is for all the sons and daughters of the covenant.

We live in the Last Days. The only thing left in the drama of God's redemption is the drawing of the curtain. These are exciting days. These are dangerous days. We must ourselves respond to the urgent preaching of the prophetically gifted church. And then we must be faithful in our own office – as prophets and prophetesses. We must confess, declare, make manifest, bear witness, and testify. The hour is late. We can be sure that we will be mocked for this prophetic activity, reviled on account of the name of Jesus, hated because we don't have the mind of the world but of Christ. But we can be sure that through our prophetic ministry, whether in the office of all believers, or as ministers, missionaries, and evangelists, the Kingdom of God does come. As the Spirit compels us ever and again with holy love to lift up the Name which is above every Name, we are constantly the co-workers of Jesus Christ, our Chief Prophet, who comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Those who receive the Gospel will be saved. Those who reject it will be condemned. That is the prophetic message of the church of Pentecost.

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