James D. Slopsema is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
These words were spoken by Jesus to His disciples on the very day of His ascension, probably just before He led them out to the Mount of Olives. He informed His disciples at that time that they must not depart from Jerusalem but must wait for the promise of the Father. As is evident from the words that form the basis for our meditation, this promise was that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit.
This promise of the Father had been first spoken through John the Baptist. John had preached, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Matt. 3:11). This promise had later been proclaimed by Jesus Himself. For the promise of the Father, said Jesus, “ye have heard of me” (Acts 1:4).
Now this promise was about to be fulfilled. Not many days hence the disciples would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Hence, they must wait in Jerusalem.
This baptism in the Holy Spirit took place on Pentecost, ten days after Jesus’ ascension. This baptism in the Spirit was a very significant event for the church. When listing the great works of God in our salvation, we give to this baptism in the Spirit a place of great prominence, equal to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
With Pentecost just a few days away, we call attention to this great work of God in Christ to baptize the church with the Holy Spirit.
To appreciate this great promise of God it is necessary to understand the ministry and baptism of John. For even as John baptized with water, so would Christ baptize with the Holy Ghost.
The main theme of John’s ministry was the kingdom of heaven. He fervently proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Very soon the great king Whom God had promised to raise up from David’s seed would come and establish the kingdom.
John also emphasized that this kingdom would be radically different from the present order of things.
For this kingdom would be a heavenly kingdom. The kingdom that existed then was merely an earthly kingdom. It had an earthly temple, an earthly throne, an earthly power, an earthly glory. But the kingdom that would soon be established would be heavenly in nature. In fact, the present kingdom was merely a type and picture of this new, more glorious kingdom that was about to come.
Furthermore, the membership requirements of this new kingdom would be different. All that was necessary to be a member of the old kingdom was that you be a descendant of Abraham. If you were a Jew, you belonged to the kingdom of Israel. However, the requirement for membership in the new kingdom would be much different. In the new kingdom of heaven the requirement for membership would be righteousness. This is due to the fact that this new kingdom would be a kingdom of righteousness.
However, John emphasized that this righteousness must be a true righteousness. It could not be the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees who imagined they could enter the kingdom on the basis of their own works. No, the righteousness necessary to gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven must be the righteousness symbolized in the sacrifices of the law and proclaimed by the prophets of old. This righteousness is the forgiveness of sin and a new life of obedience, both of which result from the payment of sin. This righteousness could be acquired only from the great Savior Who would very soon now appear as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.
But the people had long ago forgotten this righteousness of the Savior proclaimed by the law and the prophets. In the hardness of their hearts they had sought to establish their own righteousness by their own works. Hence, John called the people to repentance. They must leave the error of work righteousness and look in faith for the coming Savior Who alone could provide them with the righteousness of the kingdom.
At this point we can understand the baptism of John. Those who repented, confessed their faith in the coming Savior, and sought His righteousness were baptized by John with water. This baptism was very significant. For baptism with water serves as a sign of the washing away of sins in the blood of Christ. That was no less true in the days of John the Baptist than it is now. Even as water washes away dirt from the body, so also does the blood of Christ wash away the spiritual filth of sin from the soul and render us righteous. As a sign therefore of the spiritual cleansing and righteousness that would be theirs in the coming Savior, John baptized all those who in faith look for Him.
However, John wanted to make it very clear that the baptism he administered was merely a sign and not the reality. The water with which he baptized didn’t wash away sins. His baptism didn’t make the people righteous so that they might enter into the kingdom of heaven. His baptism was merely a picture of a greater, spiritual baptism that would be administered by the Savior Himself. Even as John baptized with water, so would the Savior baptize with the Holy Spirit. He would send the very Spirit of God into the hearts of all those who believed on Him and through the Spirit wash away their sins. Through the inner working of the Spirit He would render truly righteous those that believed on Him so that they will be able to enter into the kingdom and enjoy its great blessings.
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Such was the ministry and baptism of John.
On the day of His ascension Jesus informed His disciples that they should wait in Jerusalem; for they would be baptized with the Holy Ghost “not many days hence.”
This spiritual baptism took place just ten days later on Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish feast day. That explains why the disciples of Jesus, 120 in number, were all assembled in an upper room in Jerusalem. Suddenly some very wonderful and unusual things happened. First, the disciples heard the sound as of a mighty rushing wind. Then, cloven tongues as of fire appeared to them and sat upon each of them. Finally, they all began to speak in different tongues of the wonderful works of God. These were merely signs that the ascended Lord had now baptized the church with the Holy Spirit. Peter understood that. For when the assembled crowd began to mock and accuse the disciples of drunkenness, Peter pointed out that all these things were a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel who spoke of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church in the last days.
What a significant event this baptism was for the church!
We must understand that to baptize means to immerse. At Pentecost, therefore, the church was immersed in the Spirit. That implies that at Pentecost the church received the fullness of the Spirit.
Certainly the church had the Holy Spirit before Pentecost. Didn’t the Holy Spirit testify through the prophets of old? (I Peter 1:10-13). Didn’t David in his repentance pray that God not take the Holy Spirit from him? (Psalm 51:11). Indeed the church of the Old Testament possessed the Holy Spirit. And through the inner working of the Holy Spirit the saints of old found salvation and true righteousness. Through the Spirit they were assured of the forgiveness of sin in the blood of the Lamb Who was to come. Through the Spirit they were also led to live a new and holy life in the service of God.
However, the Old Testament church had not yet been baptized or immersed in the Holy Spirit. They possessed the Spirit of God and the blessings of salvation through the Spirit only partially. The Old Testament saints had only the small beginnings of what the church after Pentecost would be able to enjoy. And this was due to the fact that the great Savior had not yet come as the Lamb of God to shed His blood for sin. Atonement for sin had not yet been made. This atonement had been promised. And on the strength of that promise the people of God in the Old Testament were able to possess the Spirit of God and His salvation, but only in a very small measure. Certainly they could not yet be baptized in the Spirit.
However, the Savior had now come. He had gone to the cross and once for all paid the price for sin that the church might enjoy the fullness of the Spirit and His salvation. Hence, at Pentecost, just 50 days after Jesus’ death, the church was baptized with the Holy Spirit.
What a blessing for the church!
May the church never cease to celebrate this event!
Being baptized with the Spirit it is now our calling to show the fruits of the Spirit in our living.
The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22, 23).
Indeed it has been the calling of the church down through the ages to manifest the fruits of the Spirit. This was the calling of the church also in the Old Testament. However, this calling comes especially to us. For we have been baptized with the Spirit and enjoy His fullness.
Let us show therefore the fruits of the Spirit with Whom we have been baptized.