Before leaving Acts 2 and looking at other texts that give "the promise of the Holy Spirit" a broader meaning than receiving the Spirit, we want to make some further observations concerning the context of Acts 2:38,39, particularly from the standpoint of verse 33. As one follows Peter’s train of thought in verses 22-40 it is apparent that what is said in verse 33 about Christ’s "having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit" bears directly on the meaning of "the gift" and "the promise" in store for others in verses 38,39.
But what is meant by "the promise of the Holy Spirit" in verse 33? Does it mean receiving the Spirit himself, or receiving something promised of God of which the Spirit is the agent from the standpoint of his Christ-centered mission? Which view will the context support?
It is apparent that those who see in verse 33 a reference to Christ’s receiving the Holy Spirit (e.g., at the beginning of his earthly ministry, Mk.1:10) must ignore the context of Acts 2 and seek support for this assumption in other texts. One such passage is Acts 1:4-8 where the language used by Christ in promising the Spirit to his apostles closely resembles Peter’s language in Acts 2:33 concerning Christ’s receiving the promise of the Spirit. In Acts 1:4 the apostles were told to wait for "the Promise of the Father," which, in that context, is a clear reference to their receiving the Holy Spirit in the immediate future. In this same connection see John 14:16-18; 15:26,27; 16:7-15.
But is "the promise of the Father" for the apostles in Acts 1:4 definitive of what Christ is said to have "received from the Father" in Acts 2:33? Similar language may be found in both passages, but from a contextual viewpoint the apostle’s situation in Acts 1:4-8 is as far from that of Christ’s in Acts 2:22-40 as earth is from heaven.
With respect to the apostles, none would question the Holy Spirit as the subject in Acts 1:4-8. But with respect to Christ it is no less clear that resurrection is the subject in Acts 2:22-40. From David’s resurrection/messianic testimony in the Psalms (16:8-11), Peter shows that God had promised to raise Christ out of Hades to sit on David’s throne. While the promise was spoken to David, he understood the reference was not to himself but to Christ – "he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ…" (verse 31). Therefore, the context deals with a promise that had been received of Christ "from the Father" through the agency or power of the Holy Spirit. (In this connection see John 6:62,63; Rom.1:3; 8:ll; 1 Pet.3:18).
The centrality of the resurrection in Peter’s train of thought in verses 32-35 cannot be ignored. God’s "raising up Jesus" in verse 32 is precisely that which Christ (not David) had received "from the Father" in verse 33–a promise that is "of the Holy Spirit" in view of his role in NT resurrection. That Christ’s resurrection is the subject of "the promise" is borne out in verses 34,35 in the way Peter rules out David as the recipient of what God had promised with an oath. "For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: `The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’" (vv.34,35).
If Christ’s being "raised up by God" in verse 32 was not the event that fulfilled his "receiving from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit" in verse 33, then what Peter said in verse 34 to rule out David is absolutely pointless. David didn’t receive what Christ received "from the Father" because David did not "ascend into the heavens." Now if receiving the promise in verse 33 means receiving the Spirit, and David is disqualified because he never ascended "into the heavens," on what grounds could Christ be said to have received the Spirit before he ascended to heaven? Did he ascend to heaven at his baptism (Mk.1:10)? The pattern of Peter’s argumentation would require this if receiving the Spirit is the meaning of receiving "the promise of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:33. Unquestionably, the reference is to Christ’s resurrection. He, not David, was the recipient of this promise.
Now let us see the significance of the latter part of verse 33. As the result of having been raised up, Christ, Peter said, has "poured out this" (meaning the Holy Spirit) "which you now see and hear." This becomes an extremely forceful point in Peter’s resurrection polemic when the outpouring of the Spirit is tied to Christ’s resurrection rather than to his having received the Spirit.
First, as we have seen in past articles, the Spirit could not be poured out until after Christ’s ascension. See again John 16:7. The Spirit could not begin his mission of showing the things to come until Christ was positioned in his own world wherein these things would be made manifest. They didn’t belong to the "world below" that Christ entered in his being made "in all things like unto his brethren" (Heb.2:17; Gal.4:4). His presence in Israel meant the time had come for the world of the Mosaic order to give place to "the world to come" foreshadowed in Moses’ Law (Heb.10:1). Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension signaled the emergence of a new world order. It marked the beginning of his age-changing reign. That is the significance of Peter’s words in Acts 2:33…"Having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit (i.e., now that Christ has been raised up, now that he is in the world above), He poured out this which you now see and hear." From that perspective alone the coming of the Spirit was invincible testimony that Christ had received the promise that God made through David, "For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption" (Psa.16:10).
Second, what Christ receives from the Father in verse 33 sets the stage for what others joined to him would receive in verses 38,39. Peter said, "Repent, and let every one you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." That which Peter said "you shall receive" in verses 38,39 follows from that which Christ received in verse 33.
Christ was the first to receive the promise of resurrection (1 Cor.15:20), thereby becoming the forerunner (the resurrection and the life) with respect to "those that are his." This is the force of Peter’s call to repentance and baptism in verse 38. "The promise" in verse 39 draws its meaning from "the promise" first received by Christ in verse 33 in his being raised up.
The implication of resurrection for others in Christ’s outpouring of the Spirit is clear. In the words of Paul, "if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom.8:11). It is the "quickening" or "raising up" function of the Spirit (Christ first, afterward they that are his at his coming) that constitutes the very core of the gift and the promise in Acts 2:38,39. This makes sense from the context and from the standpoint that Christ could not pour out the Spirit until after he was raised up. Who would deny that the Spirit was poured out to raise others in the "likeness" of Christ’s resurrection (Rom.6:3-6).
The fact that "resurrection from the dead" was central in the preaching of the apostles surfaces immediately following the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit. The priests and the Sadducees, for example, were "greatly disturbed" because Peter and John "taught the people and prea
ched in Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (Acts 4:1-3). Note the wording of this verse carefully. The Jews were disturbed by more than the preaching that God had raised Jesus from the dead. They were disturbed because the apostles were preaching "in Jesus" the resurrection from the dead. In the words of George Eldon Ladd: "Jesus’ resurrection is not an isolated event that gives to men the warm confidence and hope of a future resurrection; it is the beginning of the eschatological resurrection itself" (A Theology of the New Testament, p.326). Jesus’ resurrection and the consequent outpouring of the quickening Spirit meant nothing other than that the resurrection had set in with respect to those joined to him. Believers in apostolic time (in the transition period) represented the "firstfruits" of the harvest that stood ready to be gathered at the "consummation of the age."
The Spirit, The Promise, and Resurrection Life
Having established resurrection as the centrality of "the promise of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:33 with respect to Christ first, and afterwards in due time to those joined to him (vv.38,39), attention now is called to other texts that expand on "the promise of the Spirit" from the standpoint of "life" (resurrection life) and "righteousness" through Christ, the promised seed of Abraham.
First, in Galatians Chapter Three Paul wrote, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, `Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (verses 13,14).
Here again we encounter "the promise of the Spirit," and again it has been understood as a reference to receiving the Spirit, based on Paul’s words in verses 2 and 3–"This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" However, a careful examination of the text will show that the Galatians’ receiving the Spirit by the hearing of faith in verse 2 was with the view of their receiving the promise of the Spirit through faith in verse 14. Verse 2 establishes the Holy Spirit as the agent, not the subject, of the promise in verse 14. The difference in phraseology in verses 2 and 14, receiving "the Spirit" and receiving "the promise of the Spirit", is not without significance in Paul’s train of thought.
From the context and what uninterruptedly follows verse 14 it is clear that "the promise of the Spirit" to be received "through faith" (in contrast to "the Law") refers to what God had promised Abraham in Christ through the New Covenant. Paul continues, "Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, `And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, `And to your Seed,’ who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise" (verses 15-18).
Notice how Paul equates "the inheritance" with "the promise" in verse 18. His argument, which stems from "the promise of the Spirit" in verse 14, was not, "if the Spirit is of the law, he is no longer of promise," but if the inheritance is of the law, the promise (which centers in Christ and the New Covenant) is "of no effect," i.e., "it is no longer of promise." In this same connection Paul wrote, "For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect" (Rom.4:13,14).
When the Spirit himself rather than Christ is made the focus of "the promise", the gospel ceases to be a message about the emergence of a new order of life in a new world or creation under the Lordship of Christ. The Spirit’s role with respect to the promise was that of glorifying Christ, not himself. All that the Spirit does is centered in Christ. He is the Spirit of "the promise" in the same sense that he is the Spirit "of Christ." His mission was to show "the things of Christ" (the "things to come") that constituted the "inheritance" that God had promised beforehand to Abraham and his seed. Paul labors to show the Galatians that Christ, not the Law of Moses, determines the true seed and the true inheritance relative to what God promised the fathers of Israel. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ….And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise" (verses 26,27,29).
Inheritance, Life, and Righteousness
Next, attention is called to the comprehensiveness of "the promise" in Galatians Chapter Three. In verse 18 it takes in all that is contained in "the inheritance" that Abraham and his seed were to receive through Christ. "For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise." Abraham was promised, and inherited, Canaan through his physical lineage, but that was not the greater inheritance of the better promise that was to be received through his spiritual seed, Christ, and the New Covenant. Included in this inheritance are such things as "the new heavens and earth (the heavenly country in contrast to earthly Canaan) and the new Jerusalem (the heavenly city in contrast to earthly Jerusalem). See, for example, Heb.11:13-16; 12:22; Rev.21:1,2.
In addition to the concept of inheritance Paul addresses "the promise" from the perspective of "life" and "righteousness." "Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (verses 21,22).
The fact that inheritance, life, and righteousness inhere in the promise that was confirmed in Christ does not preclude any reference to it as "the promise of the Holy Spirit." To the contrary, his mission to show, reveal, or disclose the things that Christ said "are mine" (John 16:13-15) confirms him as the Spirit of the promise that God gave to Abraham in Christ. This becomes clear in what follows.
The Futuristic Dimensions Of The Promise
From the standpoint of Paul’s time (the transition period), "the promise" had a futuristic consummation that hinged on the completed work of the Holy Spirit. This future was the focus of Paul’s statement in Gal.3:14, "…that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." The same future inheres in Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38, "and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Likewise, the "gift" or "promise" that is for everyone in Acts 2:38,39 is identical to the Abrahamic promise that is extended to all nations in Galatians 3. (See verses 8,26-29 in particular).
The future of the promise is drawn out clearly in Paul’s question to the Galatians, "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh"? (verse 3). This statement clearly points to a futu
ristic perfection that is reached by the Spirit, not "by the flesh" (i.e., not by the works of the Law in this particular context). The perfection in view is not a receiving of more of the Spirit, but more of that which the Spirit was sent to reveal relative to "the things of Christ." In this sense the Galatians had "begun in the Spirit," and to be "made perfect" they must continue in this way (apart from the law) until the work of the Spirit is completed. From this perspective, "being made perfect" in the Spirit rather than by the flesh is parallel in meaning to the coming of "that which is perfect" in 1 Cor.13:10, or attaining unto "a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" in Eph.4:13.
Thus, "having begun in the Spirit" in Galatians 3:3 establishes the "already" of the promise, whereas the continuing action of "being made perfect" points to a futuristic consummation in terms of the Spirit’s completed work. This understanding of the Spirit, the promise, and perfection in Paul’s train of thought is impressively clear when one considers that every aspect of "the promise" in Galatians 3 (inheritance, righteousness, and life) plays a central role in the gospel’s eschatological future.
First, the inheritance in 3:18 is future, but not wholly future as seen in Eph.1:11-14. In Eph.4:11 Paul speaks of their having "obtained an inheritance" in Christ, but in verses 13,14 he speaks of "the Holy Spirit of promise" as "the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory." It is common for Paul to speak of what Christians of his time had obtained in Christ in view of the "decisiveness" of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. This does not, however, rule out the future of these things from the standpoint of the "disclosing" mission of the Spirit until all is consummated at the end of the age. In that sense he was the guarantee of a heavenly inheritance that was yet to be made manifest through the ultimate stripping away of the earthly, typical inheritance.
Second, in like manner there is a futuristic dimension of righteousness in Galatians 3:21. Paul argues that if the law could have given life, then righteousness would have been by the law. How then is righteousness obtained, if not by the Law? Hear Paul again on this matter. "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe" (Rom.3:21,22). And again, "…that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (8:4).
Few would deny that it is the gospel (the faith of Christ) that brings the righteousness (and therefore the "life") that the law could not give. Nothing stands out more clearly than this in the Pauline writings. But are we as open to the time frame of fulfillment? Did not Paul also write, "For we through the Spirit" (the Spirit of promise) "eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith" (Gal.5:5)? Do not "hope" and "eagerly wait" tell us something about the "not yet" of righteousness that was crucial to the faith of the Galatians? Did not Paul say, "hope that is seen (realized) is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees. But if we hope for what we do not see, then we eagerly wait for it with perseverance" (Rom.8:24,25)?
If "hope" in Gal.5:5 does not point to an immediate future in Paul’s day, if this hope still is being "eagerly awaited through the Spirit" some 2000 years later, then Paul’s argument that "the faith of Christ" rather than the Law fulfills the promise of life and righteousness, has no validity. It means that we must look for something beyond Christianity (the New Covenant) for receiving the righteousness "witnessed by the Law and the Prophets." If this is not acceptable, then one should be willing to do one’s homework in searching out the futurism that fulfills the "hope of righteousness by faith." What time did Paul have in view in his striving to "be found in Him (Christ), not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Phil.3:9)?
Third, there was a futuristic dimension of Life with respect to "the promise." As seen in Gal.3:21 as well as many other passages of scripture, the connection between life and righteousness is so tight that the former is the essence of the latter. The Jews, in striving after righteousness (Rom.9:30f; Gal.2:16), were striving after life. But neither was possible under the law for the reason that "the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal.3:22).
It follows that to "eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith" (through the Spirit) equals waiting in the same sense for the "life" contained in "the promise" of God to Abraham. Therefore the future tenses in Rom.5:9; 6:5,8; 2 Tim.2:11,12 are genuine futures, not gnomic or logical futures. Paul addresses an eschatological consummation on the sure ground of that which is already by virtue of Christ’s "having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit." He wrote of Christ’s death, "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Rom. 5:9), "if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection" (6:5), "if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him" (v.8), and "if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim.2:11,12).
The Historical Future Of The Promise
We have seen from Paul’s standpoint a definite futurism in three basic aspects of "the promise" that predated the Law. This brings us to an important question. What is the time frame and historical setting for all things to be summed up in Christ? When is the ministry of the Holy Spirit consummated with respect to his showing "things to come" that were given to Christ of the Father? What is the historical background of gospel inheritance, righteousness, and life?
It is clear from the context (even from the entire Galatian letter) that Paul is laboring to rule out the Law as the basis for receiving the promise confirmed in Christ. He is waging war against law-zealous believers who opposed a Torah-less gospel. In this connection it is important to see that the real threat and force of the Judaizing movement stemmed from the fact that the future of the promise in terms of fullness, completion, or consummation (hence Christ’s parousia or presence) had not yet been reached "through the Spirit.". This, coupled with the continued existence of the old Jewish economy (including a zeal for the law by "many myriads" of Jewish believers, Acts 21:20), greatly enhanced the efforts of Judaizers to intermingle the law and the gospel with respect to "the promise." But they would not have had this leverage had the things occurred already that Jesus predicted in Matthew 24.
Matthew 24 is the biblical framework for the gospel’s futurism relative to the bringing in of the promised inheritance, righteousness and life in Christ. Jerusalem and the temple, the heart of the old, outward Jewish economy, had not yet passed away when Paul wrote Galatians. For various reasons God permitted the old order to remain until the work of the Spirit in revealing the new order of life in Christ was completed. The comp
letion of this work represented the coming of the perfect in 1 Cor.13:10, hence the eschatological future of the promise "eagerly awaited through the Spirit."
The same Spirit who revealed "the things to come" also revealed with equal truth and clarity the nearness of the consummated change as the time drew near for the old order to "vanish away" (Heb.8:13). (See also Rom.13:11,12; 1 Cor.7:29-31; Heb.10:25,37; 1 Pet.4:7; 1 John 2:18; Rev.1:1-3; 22:6-10). In this historical setting the Spirit said through the writer of Hebrews, for the benefit of wavering Christians who were tempted to return to the old order still standing, "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry" (l0:36,37). This within itself should arrest the attention of any serious student of God’s Word who may be struggling with "the already" but "not yet" of "the promise in Christ by faith." The receiving of the promise through the Spirit must be read and understood against the biblical background of the Law and the passing away of its system of things that served merely as "shadows of things to come" (Heb.10:1), of which Christ is the substance (Col.2:16,17). The future tense in Heb.10:36 with respect to receiving the promise blends with the future tense in Acts 2:38,39 with respect to the promise that is received through the imparted Spirit.
In the next article we will conclude this series by showing the connection between "righteousness" and "resurrection life" as set forth by Paul in Philippians Chapter Three — a futurism of the promise in Christ that fulfills his "Parousia" or presence, and thus brings redeemed man into the presence of God (John 14:1-3; Rev.21:1-3).
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