Availability of the Spirit Before the New Covenant Period
Last month I was involved in an intense discussion with a Tikkun congregational leader concerning the availability of the Holy Spirit before the coming of Yeshua. The leader convinced me that much more was available in the time of preparation, that is the pre-New Covenant period. How else could David say,
“Take not your Holy Spirit from me?” (Ps. 51:11)
How else could the psalmists, not only David himself, write such inspired words? How could there be such holy people as Anna and Simeon in Luke 2, or people like Zechariah and Elizabeth who are described as holy and obedient to the Law in Luke 1? Some of these were not leaders, prophets or kings, they were just ordinary people who were described as righteous and holy. Was this possible without the work of the Spirit? Israel corporately had the Spirit and a significant measure of the Spirit was available to the individual.
How Much More is Available in the New Covenant
Yet, I was puzzled by the texts that said that with the coming of the New Covenant there would be a significant difference. God promises,
I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Joel 2:28ff.).
For example, the passage describes how prophetic ability will be given to all. I believe one of the differences between the New Covenant and Mosaic Covenant regarding access to the Spirit is related to abundance. Ezekiel also anticipates the promised Spirit moving us to obey (Ezekiel 36:27). This is something more than was the case before the New Covenant. Romans 7 notes that the problem of disobedience is not with the Law, which is “holy, just and good“, but with human inability. According to the New Covenant, now through the Spirit, the righteous requirement of the Law is fulfilled by those who walk by the Spirit (Romans 7:1-15, 8:4). I conclude that through God’s grace – our ability to identify with the death and resurrection of Yeshua puts to death the power of the old man over us – there is now available an abundance of the Spirit. This is embraced through immersion in water (baptism).
If the Spirit was available in the pre-New Covenant period, how much more is this the case after Yeshua’s death and resurrection? Yeshua indicates that something more will be available when He tells His disciples that it is to their benefit that He goes away in the physical dimension that He might then pour out his Spirit on them.
“Unless I go away the Counselor will not come to you, but if I go I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Was the Spirit available before? Yes, but paradoxically in some way much more after the ascension of Yeshua, since if Yeshua did not go, the Spirit would not be sent. Hadn’t the Holy Spirit already been sent before the time of Yeshua? In some sense no, at least not with the general abundance that Yeshua indicated would now be the case.
The Case for the Immersion in the Spirit
Recently I finished reading a very important book by Pentecostal theologian Frank Macchia entitled The Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is the best presentation of what the Baptism is and the best argument I have ever read for it as something that is to be distinguished from conversion. Martin Lloyd Jones’ Joy Unspeakable was previously in my view the best, and is still highly recommended. Macchia argues that immersion in the Spirit is central to the New Covenant Scriptures and permeates these Scriptures. Immersion in the Spirit is an experiential matter, an overwhelming sense of the presence of God in and upon the person, an enveloping in love that is dramatic. As Lloyd Jones had argued, one who has had this experience does not have to wonder whether or not it has been received. It is a prime benefit of the New Covenant. This gift of the Spirit is transformative and enables us both to experience the love of God at a whole new level and to love God in return. It ideally produces a growing in holiness. It is usually accompanied by supernatural gifts, but no one gift signifies proof of this immersion. Tongues, perhaps, is the most common gift, but it cannot be equated with the baptism in the Spirit and this baptism may be received without the sign of tongues.
Through the immersion in the Spirit we are equipped as communities to carry on the same work of Yeshua: healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching the good news to the poor. In light of the signs, we announce, as did Yeshua and the disciples, that the Kingdom of God has come. Thereby many people embrace the Good News and enter the Kingdom of God. In addition, we are able to build up one another through supernatural gifts and manifestations. The motivation must be love (I Cor. 13, 14).
The Spirit and Reaching the Lost
Early Pentecostalism is associated the immersion in the Spirit with power for witnessing or sharing the Good News. Acts 1:8 makes this connection clear.
“You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Simple Expectation of Peter in Acts 2
Peter sums up the very simple theology of entrance into the Kingdom that Yeshua brought. To his Jewish audience he states,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
This is the normal order. The time to expect and be baptized in the Spirit is during water immersion.
When Cornelius and his extended household believed and received the immersion in the Spirit and spoke in tongues, Peter desired to apply water baptism quickly and commanded them to be baptized. This was proof to the apostles that God had received the Gentiles – water immersion was not applied to those who were disqualified (Acts 10:45-48, Acts 11:15-18). Note that Peter in this last passage quotes the words of Yeshua, “John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
There is no text in the New Covenant Scriptures that would lead us to believe that immersion in the Spirit is some hidden and undetectable thing. In every case it is powerfully experiential. This mighty immersion in the Spirit is a key explanation of the explosive growth in first century New Covenant communities in Israel and around the world. As the gospel summarizes in Mark 16:17 and 20, signs followed those who believed and confirmed the word by those very signs.
It is important to add that the immersion in the Spirit is to be maintained. We can slip from the experience and be refilled again, but ideally as Eph. 5:18 says we are to “be being filled” (the Greek here uses the continuous tense) by the Spirit by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
The Messianic Jewish Movement and its Greatest Need
It is important that we Messianic Jews embrace the full import of this. The resistance to the Gospel among our people is very great and no amount of identification with our people and culture, as important as this is, will be sufficient. “We must demonstrate the power of God in a Jewish context to the Jewish community at large! Would that there was as much of an emphasis on the need for us to be filled with the Spirit and empowered as there is on Jewish calling and authentic Jewish life in our Messianic Jewish movement! We must pray and seek the Lord for revival, and outpourings of the Spirit for every individual and for every community.