When the Spirit Manifested

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Today’s Bible reading from Acts 19 begins with an encounter with the disciples of John the Baptizer (Acts 19:1-7).

Paul asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They said they had not; they only knew about John’s baptism and hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit. So like Apollos in yesterday’s reading, they were given the rest of the story. Then John’s disciples received the Holy Spirit, Who manifested with tongues and prophecy just like He had with the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the Gentiles (Acts 10).

And this is the last time Dr. Luke records the presence of tongues.


Tongues and prophecy were very important ways the Holy Spirit manifested Himself in the early days of the church. There were only four instances: When the Jews believed, when the Samaritans believed, when the Gentiles believed, and when John’s disciples believed. That’s it.

So why would Dr. Luke only record only these four occurrences of “receiving the Holy Spirit”? Think about it: Each of these groups was a major milestone in the growth of the church. They were all “firsts”.

Okay, the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles were “firsts”. Why would I say that when John’s disciples received the Spirit that it was a “first”?

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He preached a baptism of repentance to prepare for Jesus’ arrival. John’s disciples hadn’t heard the rest of the story. They needed to know that there was more to the story than just a behavior change of turning from your sin. They needed to know that the Holy Spirit would come to indwell believers, giving them power for behavior change that was never available under the Law.

I see John’s disciples’ reception of the Spirit similar to someone who grows up in church today; all they know is the need for behavior change. Perhaps all they’ve heard is that your sins will condemn you to an everlasting separation from a Holy God. But if that’s all you know, your behavior changes are only to avoid hell. And fire insurance isn’t enough to ensure an eternal reward in God’s presence!

But Jesus’ death sealed the deal on behavior change. No more would anyone need to worry about living up to God’s standards. Jesus did it for us! And by coming to Him, exchanging our sin for His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), we receive the Holy Spirit, Who gives us life (which the Law could never do) and power to live a life that honors God (the Law couldn’t do that either!).

When John’s disciples’ received the Holy Spirit, it was a “first” of those of us who hoped our standing before God could be based on our own behavior, though we knew all along that we never could measure up.

I see each of these “firsts” as Authentic, New Covenant Salvation. Each of these “firsts” describe a new people group being saved. When the Holy Spirit manifested in tongues and prophecy, He confirmed that the individuals in each group were authenticly saved, just like the individuals in the other “first” groups before it, going back to Acts 2 which fulfilled Joel’s prophecy that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all kinds of people.


Remember that Dr. Luke records descriptions of what happened in the early church. He does not record prescriptions of how things should happen regularly on a typical day-to-day basis. The New Testament History books (The Gospels and Acts) describe. The New Testament Letters prescribe. We run the risk of misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture when we force a descriptive Bible passage to function like a prescriptive Bible passage.

So am I saying that tongues and prophecy aren’t needed any longer? No. I’m not saying that at all! But for the most part, the reason the Holy Spirit manifested in those ways at that time isn’t needed anymore, especially in Judeo-Christian culture. Tongues, prophecy, and other Spiritual gifts serve an equipping function today, not a validating function as they did back then.

So where does that leave us today?

God has given each of His kids at least one unique spiritual gift and He intends to use those gifts through His kids to build up His church. He also wired each of us differently in personality and life experience. That means that we have an infinite combination of gift/personality/experience mix in every church, regardless of its size.

Spend some time today thanking God for your gift(s) and individual wiring. Ask Him to show you how to develop your gift(s) to help your local church to grow to be more like Jesus.