“And it shall be in the last days that I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams. Yea and on my servants and my handmaidens in those days will I pour forth of my Spirit and they shall prophesy …” (Acts 2:17-18).
The above quote from Acts 2 was itself a quotation from the prophet Joel and was given to explain what happened on Pentecost when the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. It was the baptism of the Holy Spirit predicted by John (Mt. 3:11) and promised by the Lord to His apostles (Acts 1:4-5). Earlier articles have dealt with Holy Spirit baptism; this article is intended to consider who actually were baptized in the Spirit in light of the fact that Joel said God’s Spirit would be poured upon “all flesh.”
Because Joel said “all flesh,” some believe that Holy Spirit baptism is a promise to all. They see this baptism occurring whenever anyone said to be “filled with the Spirit” or “born of the spirit.” We agree that all must be “filled with the Spirit” and “born of the Spirit.” What we don’t agree with is that to be “filled with the Spirit” or to be “born of the Spirit” is equivalent to one being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Let’s examine from the scriptures what both these expressions mean.
Admittedly, the expression “filled with the Spirit” DOES REFER to baptism in the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:4. However, that does not necessarily mean that the expression ALWAYS has that meaning. Consider the fact that John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, from his mother’s womb” (Lk. 1:15). His mother, Elizabeth, was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and prophesied of the blessedness of Mary (Lk. 1:41-42) and Zachariah also was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and uttered an inspired recitation of the wonderful redemption God was making available to mankind (Lk. 1:67-79). Yet all three of these were “filled with the Holy Spirit” long before the events of Acts 2 when occurred the FIRST INSTANCE of anyone being baptized in the Holy Spirit. We say Pentecost was the FIRST occurrence of anyone being baptized in the Holy Spirit because Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn. 7:38-39). Zachariah, Elizabeth, and John were all filled with the Spirit, yet none of them was baptized in the Holy Spirit because the Spirit that had been promised was not yet given, for Jesus had not yet been glorified. No one had been baptized in the Holy Spirit when John, Elizabeth, and Zachariah lived. Therefore, being “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and “filled with the Holy Spirit” are not synonymous terms. A person may be “filled with the Holy Spirit” and not have been “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” John, Elizabeth, and Zachariah all are examples of this. Today Christians are to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), but the parallel to the Ephesian passage is Colossians 3:16 which says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom.” Being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) and “the word of Christ richly dwelling in one” in these two passages mean the same thing. When Christ’s word is in the Christian’s heart and his thoughts, words and deeds are guided by that word, that person is “filled with the Spirit.”
To be born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 5) and be “baptized in the Holy Spirit” are two entirely different things. The scriptures clearly show that we are begotten of the Spirit through the word the Spirit revealed. Peter wrote, “Having been begotten (born) again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God which liveth and abideth” (1 Pet. 1:23). In the parable Jesus gave of the sower and the seed he scattered upon the ground, Jesus explained it by saying, “Now the parable is this, the seed is the word of God” (Lk. 8:11). The Holy Spirit revealed the word by which we are begotten and thus is responsible for the new creature we become through the new birth — but neither the apostles at Pentecost nor the household of Cornelius (Acts 10, 11) were “born again” simply because they were “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” They were born again through the word the Spirit revealed which came to the apostles at Pentecost.
The prophet said God would pour forth His Spirit upon “all flesh.” Some insist the word “all” in the passage is all inclusive. Yet even those who are so insistent must concede there are some limitations to the word “all.” “All flesh” in Joel 2:28 DOES NOT include animals, flesh, and birds (everyone knows this). But neither does “all flesh” include the unbeliever. So, there ARE limitations to the expression “all flesh.”
And yet, having said this, there is a sense in which that upon “all flesh” (mankind) is poured forth God’s Spirit. First, representatively “all flesh” had the Spirit poured on them when Jews (the apostles) received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and Gentiles (Cornelius’ household) were baptized in the Holy Spirit in Caesarea. Two purposes can be seen in the giving of the Spirit — the revelation to the apostles of the mystery kept in secret from the foundation of the world (Eph. 3:1-11) and, in the case of Cornelius, the fact that there is no respect of persons with God (Acts 10:34). Truly, the gospel is for all!
There is another grand truth that God’s Spirit was poured forth upon all flesh, for although the apostles received the Spirit on Pentecost, they were God’s messengers to reveal to all men that blessing God promised Abraham long ago “And in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18; Acts 3:25-26). Even today, almost 2,000 years after God’s Son walked upon this earth to live, die, and be resurrected, all flesh is blessed by the wonderful truth the Spirit revealed to the apostles; coming to them, just as Jesus said He would, and guiding them into all truth (Jn. 16:13). Today, although there are no occasions in which men are baptized in the Holy Spirit as were the apostles and Cornelius’ house, the word that resulted from the giving the Spirit to the apostles continues and will continue till Jesus comes again! Through the gospel, God’s Spirit is still being poured forth upon all flesh.