Why Does God Baptize His People in the Holy Spirit?
One of the most important reasons why God baptizes His people in the Holy Spirit is the fact He has entrusted His people with an enormous task: to spread the good news of salvation through His Son Jesus. In the Old Testament, God used prophets when He wanted to convey messages to His creation, but this new task could not be accomplished by the old system of prophets because of its inadequacies.
The Old System of Prophets
The most significant role of the Old Testament prophet was to deliver messages from God to His people. The messages could instruct or direct people to take a specific course of action. Or they could announce judgment or promise mercy. Even when they were announcing judgment, the ultimate goal of the message was to offer mercy, because God always wanted Israel to listen and turn back to Him.
Sometimes God would commission a prophet to take a message to those who were not His people, as in the case of Jonah and the citizens of Nineveh. When these people responded to God’s message, God had mercy on them (Jonah 3:10; 4:2,11).
When God’s Spirit inspired an Old Testament prophet to deliver a message, He sometimes gave the actual words to say (Deuteronomy 18:18). Or the Spirit gave the prophet a vision. In that case, the message the prophet delivered was a description of what he had seen in that vision. God often told the prophet where or to whom to deliver the message (Isaiah 7:3–9) or specified additional actions to perform along with delivering the message (Ezekiel 4:1–5:4).
Much of what we read in the prophetic books was addressed to national leaders or people groups, whether Israel, a class of Israelite society, or one of the nations near Israel. The subjects of these prophetic messages most often concerned specific situations, conditions, or practices of that group. God revealed much about His character and His ways of dealing with humanity by the way He responded to these specific situations. But the specificity also meant that God’s revelation by means of human prophets was fragmented and incomplete (Hebrews 1:1).
The Old System of Prophets Fulfilled in Christ
The prophetic succession was set up in Deuteronomy 18:15–18. Peter quoted from this text in Acts 3:22,23 to show that it is fulfilled in Jesus, God’s ultimate Prophet. Jesus brought the message—the good news—of God’s ultimate salvation.
The revelation brought by Christ has another, deeper aspect. While God has not told us everything we might like to know, in a sense His revelation is complete because of the integrated nature of Jesus, who is both God and man. Prophets were humans who delivered messages from God on specific occasions. Jesus was God himself, in person. He perfectly revealed God to humanity, not only by what He said, but also by what He did and by what He was.
This kind of revelation is extremely important. To know Christ is to know God the Father (John 14:9), and to know God the Father is to have eternal life (John 17:3). But there is a second aspect to the salvation that God provided, and that is forgiveness for people’s sins through Jesus. We must not think that the salvation God provided in Old Testament times was unreal; it was preliminary and imperfect (Hebrews 8–10).
The New System of Prophets
The new nature of God’s ultimate salvation incorporated not only Israel, but also all nations. God’s message revealing the good news of salvation was not directed to limit social classes or people groups; it was not given in response to specific situations. It was for all people of every nation. Thus, God could not use isolated prophets to communicate His message to the whole world. The nature of the message demanded a new mode of communication. Yet the mode can still be termed “prophetic,” because God had a message He wanted to communicate to people: the good news that He has provided salvation through Jesus’ atoning work.
There are hints, even in the old prophetic system, that one day God would commission all of His people as prophets. In Numbers 11, the people of Israel complained about their circumstances; they could not see how their present situation within God’s plan was better than their old status in Egypt. The Lord helped Moses by giving 70 of Israel’s leaders a smaller anointing with the same Spirit that He had given Moses, giving them a prophetic function.
Even though two of the elders did not follow Moses’ directions, the Lord still caused His Spirit to rest on them, and they prophesied like the others. Joshua was upset, but Moses responded by wishing that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them. How much easier would Moses’ job be then! God could communicate His will to all the people, not just to and through the prophets. There would still be leaders, but God could show each of His people what His plans were, how they fit into those plans, and how those plans were better than alternatives. And as prophets, the people would follow the Spirit’s directions.
God’s answer to Moses’ wish was recorded centuries later in Joel 2:28,29, where the Lord promised that in the future He would give His Spirit to all of His people. They would receive dreams, visions, and messages from God. Verse 32 also connects this prophetic activity with people turning to God and God saving them.
Luke, an historian and theologian, recorded Peter’s speech in Acts 2, explaining the events on the Day of Pentecost in the light of Joel’s prophecy. God had kept His promise and had poured out His Spirit, with the result that all of His people would be prophets.
Doesn’t Luke elsewhere reserve the term “prophet” for a smaller group of people, as in Acts 13:1 or 21:10? Yes, he does, as does Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:28; 14:29; and Ephesians 4:11. But all believers can be prophets because the Spirit has been poured out on them, and they have been filled. They can participate in some way or another in spreading God’s message of the good news of salvation in Christ. They need not operate blindly or indiscriminately, though. If each believer is functioning in this prophet sense, God by His Spirit can direct each one where to go, to whom to talk, and what to say.
This is the picture Luke paints of the Early Church. Luke depicted that the Church after Pentecost functioned as an army made up of this kind of prophet.1 As people were incorporated into the Church’s mission, sometimes with laying on of hands, they received the gift of the Spirit for prophetic service.2 They were all prophets in the sense of responding to the Spirit’s direction and speaking God’s message, the good news that God had provided salvation through Jesus Christ.
Peter, interpreting the events of Pentecost, stated that God promised to pour out His Spirit not only on those present, but on future generations as well. God’s promise is not limited by time or geography (Acts 2:39). The task has not changed. God has a message to communicate to the world: He has provided salvation through Jesus Christ. Now, as 2,000 years ago, the world needs to hear this message. But it will only hear it if every believer functions as a prophet, going where God directs, speaking as God prompts, delivering God’s message. Being baptized in the God’s Spirit and living a life filled with the Spirit is God’s provision for this task.
—Donald A. Johns, Ph.D., is faculty member at Central Bible College, Springfield, Missouri.
1. Roger Stronstadt, “The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology,” in Pentecostalism in Context: Essays in Honor of William W. Menzies, ed. Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies, JPT Supplement 11 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 60–77.
2. Robert P. Menzies, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts, JPT Supplement 6 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 212–224.