Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
As we make the transition in our doctrinal studies from Christology to soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, we consider together the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That is fitting, because soteriology is the work of the Holy Spirit in applying the benefits of Christ to the elect.
We read in Acts 2:1 that the Holy Spirit was poured out when the day of Pentecost was fully come, that is, when the day of the Old Testament Pentecost was fulfilled. It was therefore the morning of the next day, the day after the Jewish feast of Pentecost, that these events took place.
That the fulfillment would come the day after was inevitable, according to the outworking of God’s counsel.
On Thursday, the 14th of the month Nisan, the Passover lamb had been slain. On the following day came the fulfillment of the type when the Lamb of God laid down His life for His sheep on the altar of the cross.
On Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, the firstfruits of the barley harvest were presented before the Lord. On the following day Christ showed the fulfillment of the Sabbath and of the feast of firstfruits when He arose from the grave as the Firstfruits of the glorious resurrection harvest.
Step by step, you see, the realization followed the shadow. And therefore, 50 days after the firstfruits were brought to the temple, those Jews who followed the law brought to the temple the first two loaves of bread from the completed harvest for the Old Testament day of Pentecost. On the following day, again the first day of the week, when the type which was Pentecost had come and gone, the Holy Spirit was poured out into the church.
By the amazing wonder work of God’s grace, the church in Jesus Christ was ready to enjoy the benefits of Christ’s resurrection by the work of the Spirit in their hearts.
A Necessary Gift
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not only a tremendously rich experience, but a necessary gift for the church of Jesus Christ.
At the command of Jesus the disciples had remained in Jerusalem, waiting for the realization of the promise. Just before His ascension, Jesus had promised them that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
According to Acts, chapter 1, there were about 120 disciples who gathered in the upper room, where the remaining eleven apostles were living, to await the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. Imagine that, can you? Out of all the world, out of that huge city which was Jerusalem, the church was gathered in a rather large room — certainly not a huge sanctuary, not a beautiful edifice, but a large room in the upstairs of a building. There were only 120 believers.
The condition of these 120 disciples surely seemed miserable. They were small in number, a despised people, united and gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ. They were gathered in unity of heart and mind, all having one desire — the return of Christ. They were as orphans.
But for this small company the promise of Christ was sufficient; for He had left them the promise that He would not leave them orphans, but would send to them the Comforter.
This was the nucleus of the New Testament church.
No, Pentecost was not the birth of the church, as is sometimes said. The church has been from the beginning. It was in Adam already, as redeemed in Christ by promise. Stephen, in the sermon which he proclaimed to those who would kill him, spoke specifically of the church in the wilderness; so we cannot say that on Pentecost the church was born.
However, there was a tremendous change wrought in God’s church when the Spirit was poured out. For there in that upper room was witnessed the wonder, the Spirit of the exalted Christ coming to dwell in His church and to abide with her forever.
A Tremendous Change
It is difficult for us to fathom the tremendous change that God worked in His church in that upper room. We live, after all, in the age of spiritual riches. We live in the age of Pentecost. We have never been without the blessings of Pentecost.
But for the disciples who were gathered in that upper room, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was like having all the lights turned on in a pitch dark room, and seeing everything without having to wait for one’s eyes to adjust to the bright lights. And yet, even that analogy is far too weak to express the wonder of Pentecost. For we are talking not merely of some natural event, but we are talking about salvation and the experience of salvation in Jesus Christ.
All the blessings of salvation in Jesus Christ had been engulfed in darkness to the disciples until this wonder. That is not to say that the saints in the Old Testament did not enjoy the blessings of salvation. Of course they did. But they enjoyed those blessings in an entirely different way than we do now. For they enjoyed them only as promissory blessings.
Whether in the Old or in the New Testament, the Spirit is the Spirit of God, as He is in God and dwells in the covenant life of the Trinity. That Spirit was known in the Old Testament. Scripture makes that clear.
But in the Old Testament, the Spirit operated as the Spirit of the shadows. In the old dispensation of the types and shadows, the Spirit operated in connection with those types and shadows, the law and the ceremonies of the law. He worked in connection with the promise as it always looked ahead and pointed ahead to the fullness of time.
The saints of old experienced the blessings of salvation, ministered by the Spirit. David celebrated the forgiveness of sins, for example, in Psalm 32. But he enjoyed the forgiveness of sins, and the Old Testament people of God enjoyed the blessings of salvation, only and always in connection with the types and shadows. It was known, even by David, that there had not yet been the actual blotting out of sin. There was no cross as yet, there was no resurrection life. That was to be in the Messiah who was yet to come. And if you ask, how could they then be saved, the answer is, objectively, because they had good credit. Their credit was good, because on the basis of election, God had given His own to His Son. And subjectively, that is, as a matter of their own experience, these blessings of salvation were theirs through the pictures that were explained by men who had the Spirit of Christ as He was promised.
That brings up another interesting fact. In the Old Testament, only those who had been anointed in the office of prophet, priest, or king, had the Spirit and could interpret Christ as He was to come. That the common people did not have. In the old dispensation, if one wanted to know the Word of God, he had to find a prophet. Only a few, by the vision of prophecy, could see a little of the Christ. Abraham saw Christ, but his household did not. He had to proclaim Christ to his household. The same held true for Moses, whose face shone when he beheld the Christ.
The people had to ask the officebearers: Can you tell us a little about the Messiah? Even the pictures, the temple with its altar and sacrifices, the ceremonies and feasts, all had to be explained to the people — until Pentecost. And suddenly, as we read in verse 4, “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.”
What a tremendous change this was! Christ had come; He had accomplished His purpose in His death and resurrection, had ascended into heaven, and was exalted at God’s right hand. And having received the Spirit, as the Head of His church, He returned as He had promised — not just to some, but to all. He gave His gifts to all His people. Now all are prophets, priests, and kings. All understand the wonder work of God in Jesus Christ. All the children of God experience the rich blessings of salvation.
A Continued Gift
Although it is true that we do not need to be delivered from the types and shadows as did the disciples who were first partakers of this marvelous gift, we need the Spirit that we might understand and bow before God as He reveals Himself in the face of Jesus Christ through the inspired Scriptures.
John Calvin, in a sermon on the opening verses of Acts 2 which has been translated in the book Sermons on the Saving Work of Christ, has much to say about this particular aspect of the application to us of these events on Pentecost.
We are by nature so inclined to unbelief that the truth of God must be sealed in our hearts in such a manner that we may be assured of it and receive it. The Holy Scriptures must be sealed upon our hearts in such a way that we are assured of their inspiration, sufficiency, and authority, and that we do not receive them as from men, but as from God Himself.
For God knows that the object of our faith would have a foundation far too weak if we had only the authority of men. After all, what is the authority of mere men? Whom would we believe?
We would be running here, there, and everywhere — unstable as oil and water — unless we were raised up above those of this world, and firmly founded in God, knowing that this Word of salvation which is also preached unto us comes from Him. Men did not invent what is contained in the Old and New Testaments. But God, by a visible sign at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, has testified that men were instruments of His Holy Spirit.
But that is only one reason why the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a necessary and continued gift for you and for me.
We also need that gift in order to understand the Scriptures which God has given to us. We who are by nature blind cannot understand the Scriptures. Oh, we can understand them intellectually. We can understand them from a doctrinal point of view. We can understand them factually and historically. We can understand the words of Holy Scripture, even if, from time to time, we need to take out a dictionary to look up a word. Scripture is clear.
So when I say that we cannot understand the Scriptures as we are by nature, then I mean that we cannot understand them spiritually, as they reveal God as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ. That we cannot see.
But now the Spirit is poured out. And, as we read in I John 2:20, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” Or in verse 27: “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”
But there is yet one more thing. We need the Spirit to show us Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Little good will it do you to know all the facts and to understand intellectually all the truth, but to refuse to bow before Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is, after all, our Lord, is He not? Then you and I must bow before Him in all our life.
We must not twist the Scriptures to fit our conception of Him, but we must see that our conception of Him is that of His Scriptures. And for us to do that, for you and me to bow before the Word, we must comprehend that Word spiritually, by the work of the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit poured out this first Pentecost. We must receive the wisdom of the exalted Christ.
When we see all these things, then we understand that Pentecost is a day that concerns far more than just the 120 or so disciples.
Pentecost is essential to our salvation! What happened as recorded in Acts 2 is not a passing event. It is an abiding act of grace. For from that day on, the abiding day of Pentecost begins. We can say of Pentecost that it is the beginning of the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ into the church. We are now living in the day of Pentecost, a day which extends throughout the whole new dispensation and, in fact, a day which never will end.