Luke’s gospel closes with these words of the Lord Jesus to His own as He was leaving them: “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Luke then begins his account of the Acts with those words of the Lord to His own (Acts 4:1), “wait for the promise of the Father and verse 8, “ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” Consequently, we find that the disciples tarried in the upper room, waiting for the expected coming of the Holy Spirit to begin the work the Lord had commissioned them to do (Matt 28:19-20).
Filling Of The Spirit
When the Holy Spirit came on the disciples at Pentecost, they were not only baptized (a subject dealt with in a previous section of these articles) but He gave them power to carry out the mission the Lord Jesus had charged them with and entrusted to them. They were filled (2:4) so that Peter representatively began to speak to the people, proclaiming a risen Christ and the need of a sinful people. The filling of the Spirit is seen in Acts in at least two different forms. They were “filled” with the Holy Spirit (2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9, 52), an expression that indicates the special, sovereign control by the Holy Spirit for particular occasions or purposes. We also find men who were “full” of the Holy Spirit (6:3,5; 7:55; 11:24), telling us that this was their normal state in that they were controlled and empowered by the Spirit in a personal way that reflected their spiritual exercise and submission to Him.
That filling seems to be directly linked in most cases with the primary work of the Holy Spirit in Acts. That work was to give believers the power to speak God’s Word. Notice this link in 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:5 with 10; 7:55 with 56; 9:17 with 20, 11:23-24; 13:9-10. In all the references to the actions of the Holy Spirit in Acts, the primary one relates to His speaking or giving power to speak. The frequency of this occurrence emphasizes what is to be the primary function of our testimony today as witnesses for the Lord. We do know that we are to witness by our lives (and if the Spirit has control of our lives He will produce lives that support the message we preach). But the work of witnessing by the Spirit is the public proclamation of the Word of God and personal testimony to the truth of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is so prominent in Acts that we find that the disciples did not do any public witnessing until the Spirit of God came. In John 15:26-27, the Lord told these disciples that the Holy Spirit would witness of Him, and they would also witness. As a resuIt, the Holy Spirit clearly was giving them that ability to bear witness to the truth. All effective witness, whether private or public, must be linked with dependence on the Holy Spirit as the Witness.
Speaking By The Holy Spirit
In addition to the filling of the Spirit being linked with speaking, we also find that the Holy Spirit spoke directly in Acts, such as in 8:29 to Philip as He directed him to the eunuch, and in 10:19 or in 11:12 when He directed Peter to go with the men to Cornelius. He spoke in 13:2 when He indicated His Sovereign choice of Paul and Barnabas to be let loose for the work to which He had sent them forth (v. 4), and in 20:23 when He witnessed in every city concerning the future of Paul in Jerusalem. By some means, likely through using men as mouthpieces or through speaking directly to individuals, He gave instructions to the early believers. In this way He made known to them the mind of God regarding their movements. In every case, we find that they were submissive to Divine control, going where and doing what He directed them to do. They displayed Divine power and blessing resulted. This pattern is effective for all servants of Christ so that although we do not have the Holy Spirit speaking directly today, we do have the means through which the mind of God can be known. This knowledge comes through His Word and through submissive exercise of one’s spirit so that we too can know the results in some measure that He desires to accomplish through us.
Not only do we find Him speaking in this more direct way, but those who quoted the Old Testament had assurance that those words were what the Holy Spirit had spoken in the past (1:16, 28:25). He also spoke through believers such as Agabus to indicate the mind of God to the saints then (20:23, 21:4,11). As a result, when there were New Testament prophets (prior to the completion of the canon of Scripture), the Holy Spirit directed their movements and indicated coming events, to instruct and guide the saints.
Spirit’s Control Of Believers
The Spirit’s prominence in Acts was displayed by His specific leading and controlling the Lord’s servants. Thus, He directed Philip to the eunuch’s chariot (8:29) and then He caught him away (8:39). Philip was not as some might be who would linger in a field of labor beyond that which the Spirit of God intends, but he was then found in a new area, again directed of God. He sent Paul and Barnabas forth (13:4) as they were let loose by the brethren, and we know the fruitful work that resulted from this Divine choice and action. A remarkable example of Spirit direction is in Acts 16:6-7, where Paul’s movements were restrained in various directions, but then the way was opened for him to go across into Macedonia, where God began a work in Philippi. The Spirit repeatedly exerted His control and He was emphatically and prominently seen effecting the work of this present dispensation in Acts. We might say that He is giving us the pattern that He intends should be followed by all believers and servants who come after. Would that we might know more of His sovereign control in daily movements for the Lord!
3 Eras Of Prominence In Acts
The Holy Spirit is mentioned more frequently in the first 12 chapters of Acts (36 times) than in the last 16 chapters (15 times). This may indicate His decreasing movements even at this early stage of God’s work over the period covered by the Acts. Even in our day, contrary to what some enthusiastically endorse in the religious world, there is decreasing activity of the Holy Spirit as we approach the end of this dispensation of grace.
In addition, there are three times in Acts during which the Spirit of God is mentioned more prominently and frequently than others. These are during the periods that embrace Pentecost in Acts 2, the outreaching of the gospel to the Samaritans in Acts 8, and the further spread to the Gentiles in Acts 10-11 . We find nine references to the Holy Spirit that are related to His coming at Pentecost, six references regarding the work in Samaria, and eight references in Acts 10-11 . So we discern that there are particular periods when the Spirit of God is more prominently displayed and is more actively engaged than at others. In Acts, these were the periods of God’s more important work relative to the carrying out of the Lord’s commission to the disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 and the use of those keys the Lord had entrusted to Peter (Matt 16:19). In addition, the Lord Himself had told them in Acts 1:8 of the outward movements of God’s grace toward the uttermost bound of the world. To effect this, the Spirit moved men and directed their work to accomplish Divine purposes.
This brief consideration of the Spirit’s prominence in Acts leaves us with an important conclusion: while this book gives us the movements and actions of the early disciples and apostles, behind them and through them the Spirit of God worked to accomplish the Lord’s will. As a result we can truly call this, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles” and be close to the truth conveyed by God’s Word.