The Presence of God, part 9

In the last article, we began a study of the Holy Spirit and his work during the absence of Christ from the viewpoint of the gospel’s program of eschatology. When both sides of eschatology are seen – the passing away of the old aeon and the coming in of the new – it is apparent that the work of the Holy Spirit in this interim period was thoroughly eschatological from the beginning (Pentecost) till the end (the fall of Jerusalem). In Part 8 the eschatological import of the Spirit’s mission was underscored from the standpoint of "the last days" and Christ’s "new position" in the heavens in contrast to the world below – the old aeon "according to the flesh" (Joel 2; Acts 2). This eschatological setting sheds light on all aspects of the Spirit’s mission and message, and will be strictly adhered to as we continue to trace his work through scripture to the second appearing of Christ.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit
After showing the connection between Christ’s "new position" (his being exalted in the heavens) and the fulfillment of David’s earthly dynasty (Acts 2:22-35), Peter concluded his sermon with the words, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (v.36). It is recorded, "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said to them, Repent, and let every one of 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" (vv.37-39).

Before delving into the meaning of "the gift" of the Spirit it is important to see the prerequisites of this gift. The penitent believer’s incorporation into Christ by baptism, which is attended with the remission of sins (v.38), is well documented in the testimony of the Spirit (Mk.16:16; Acts 8:36-38; 10:47-48; 22:16; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet.3:21). It is variously expressed "baptized into His death" (Rom.6:3,4), "baptized into one body" (1 Cor.12:13), "buried with Him in baptism" (Col.2:12), or "baptized into Christ" (Gal.3:27).

In these and other passages it is clear that one is united with Christ in baptism. Paul wrote, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?…For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his" (Rom.6:3,5, RSV). The NEB reads, "Have you forgotten that when we were baptized into union with Christ Jesus we were baptized into his death?…For if we have become incorporate with him in a death like his, we shall also be one with him in a resurrection like his."

Notice how Paul ties baptism into Christ to Christ’s death and resurrection. Among other things, these were the decisive events for Christ’s departure from the world below to the world above. Paul’s point in Romans 6 is not merely that of becoming united to Christ, but more significantly, becoming joined to Christ who has entered a different world order. He previously had entered the world below by being born of David’s lineage "under the Law" (Rom.1:3; Gal.4:4; Heb.2:17). But now, in view of Christ’s mission to "put away sin" (Heb.9:26), it is the new world status of Christ that gives baptism its distinctive meaning with respect to placing the believer in a position to receive "the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Furthermore, incorporation into Christ through his death and resurrection is the only condition for receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is clear in Acts 2:38. The case of Cornelius in Acts 10 is no exception in this respect when the full text is considered. The reason the coming of the Spirit preceded baptism in this instance will be shown later in connection with "the unity of the Spirit" in Christ. It can’t be found in scripture where one is commanded to be baptized into the Holy Spirit in order to receive the Spirit. The Spirit is received in Christ. The command to be baptized is Christ-centered, and so is "the gift of the Spirit."

What is meant by "the gift" of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38? Some believe it means receiving the Spirit, others believe it means receiving something that the Spirit gives. A third view is that the reference is to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit peculiar to the early church in the days of its infancy.

In view of the scope of Joel 2:28f and Acts 2:16f with respect to the outpouring of the Spirit, is it not possible that the problem might be that of a too restrictive approach to the meaning of "the gift" of the Spirit; that initially it means receiving the Spirit but not exclusive of something that the Spirit gives, for which the miraculous gifts played an important role? It seems to this writer that the three views presented above – the Spirit, what he gives, the miraculous gifts – represent a fragmentation of "the gift" of the Spirit that calls for a choice when in fact no such choice is necessary. Let us explore the gift of the Spirit from this perspective.

1. The Spirit Was Given To Give. We have established that the work of the Spirit was thoroughly eschatological in character and design. He is poured out in "the last days" after Christ took up his new position "in the heavens." Furthermore he is received "in Christ". A mistake commonly made at this point is that of shifting the focus from Christ to the Holy Spirit, interpreting his work as a "benefit" or "second blessing" beyond or additional to what is obtained in Christ. This is manifestly incorrect. The Spirit was sent to give more, but this more is given by the Spirit IN and THROUGH Christ, never apart from Christ. He is the Spirit of Christ. He is consistently a Christ-centered Spirit, sent to do a Christ-centered work until the arrival or parousia of Christ. The Spirit is received by the firstfruits in Christ in order that this body of believers might ultimately be received by Christ – "that where I am", Christ said, "there you may be also" (John 14:3). And remember, this means restored to the "presence of God" (v.2), which is the focus of this series of articles, and a very needful understanding of fulfilled eschatology in the establishment of Christianity.

The clear implication of receiving the Spirit in Christ is the incompleteness (or immaturity) of the believing community during the interim period from the standpoint of Christ’s absence. This does not contradict Paul’s statement, "…and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power" (Col.2:10). From the viewpoint of Christ and his new position there was absolute completeness in him; it only remained for that completeness to be attained on the part of his own by its outworking on the plane of redemptive history as achieved through the eschatological ministry of the Holy Spirit. The foundational work had been completed already by Christ. More death, more shedding of blood, more resurrection, more ascension, or more power and authority on the part of Christ was not necessary – no, not even a higher, separate, additional work of the Spirit. Completeness resided in Christ, period. The Spirit was not sent to supplement it, but to reveal it and thereby conform the church to its splendor, which equals conformation to Christ (2 Cor.3:18).

It is important to see the context in Col.2:10 lest one is led to use v.10 to teach an eschatological perfection in advance of its time from Paul’s standpoint. Paul’s aim was, "that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end, Paul went on to say, "I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me m
ightily" (Col.1:28,29). What Paul says here does not contradict what he said a few verses later in writing, "…you are complete in him" (2:10). He was making the point that "completeness" was not to be sought through sources additional to Christ, as, for example, the Law and its services. These were merely "shadows of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col.2:17). In that sense the Colossians were "complete in him" without any need for a Mosaic supplement, as per the mind-set of Judaizers. With eyes focused on Christ only the Colossians needed to stay their course and attain unto "that which is perfect" (1 Cor.13:10). It was coming in Christ – through the Spirit. In the words of Paul to the Galatians, "For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith" (Gal.5:5). When one recognizes the eschatological setting of Paul’s time, his point is clear on present completeness in Christ with the view of futuristic attainment by believers through the Spirit.

2. The Things To Come. According to Christ the specific function of the Spirit was that of "disclosing things to come" (John 16:13). This was not accomplished before the Acts 2 Pentecost, neither was it completed on that day. Years later Paul wrote concerning this work, "Now we have received…the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God" (1 Cor.2:12). And again concerning things revealed through the Spirit Paul reminded the Ephesians, "as I wrote before in a few words, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets…(Eph.3:3-5).

Passages like these, and there are many, are thoroughly eschatological. Who could deny that "the things to come" were the things of Christ (John 16:14-15) that comprise "that which is perfect" (1 Cor.13:10), and that without them the church could not have been presented to Christ in his glory and perfection at the end of the age? No matter where one places the arrival of these "things to come," they were as future to Pentecost as was the Spirit’s mission, they were the things of Christ, and they were necessary to establish the believer in Christ’s completeness (1 Cor.1:4-9; Eph.4:7-15; Phil.3:12-21; Col.1:19-29).

It is strange how some argue for consummated change and fullness at Pentecost, then speak of the coming of "that which is perfect" when all scripture is revealed through the Spirit, and then beyond this speak of things still to come in order to obtain full salvation. It is little wonder that some are trying to work the Holy Spirit "overtime" (way past his time) to get fullness (Pentecost) after fullness (completed revelation) after fullness (the end of the world). Is there a leak somewhere in the Lord’s granary? Must we be perfected in Christ once, twice, and then one more time over a period of thousands of years in order to be fully saved? Should Eph.1:10 be translated, "in the multiple dispensations of the multiple fullness of the multiple times God gathers together in one all things in Christ?"

3. The Background of "The Things to Come. Nothing accommodates sound exegesis of scriptures more than reading them in their true setting and against their historical background. When the Spirit was sent to show "things to come" he had a text book which he had written centuries before as a source reference for all things he would "disclose", and he never departed from it. In writing of the salvation that was "ready to be revealed" Peter said that through the prophets the Holy Spirit had "testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (1 Pet.1:5,9-11). Everything pertaining to the "power and coming of Christ" had been concealed in "the more sure word of prophecy" (2 Pet.1:16-21), but now, Peter wrote, these things are being "reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – which things angels desire to look into" (1 Pet.1:12). The nearness of these "things to come" in Peter’s time is exceedingly clear in the next verse: "Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (v.13). And again, "But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers" (4:7).

These verses highlight the eschatological character of the Spirit’s work, showing beyond a shadow of doubt the Old Testament background for "the things to come" in the immediate future of Peter’s first and second epistles. The end at hand in his first epistle (4:7) is the reverse side of the dawning of the day and the rising of the morning star in his second epistle (1:19). In this same time frame of events Paul wrote, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Rom.13:12). Peter said the salvation of which the prophets spoke was ready to be revealed (1 Pet.1:5,9,10) and Paul said, "for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed" (Rom.13:11).

The historical framework for "the things to come" is highlighted in Christ’s words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well: "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). The Holy Spirit never "disclosed" through Christ any other salvation, for there is no other salvation. "The hope of Israel" fulfilled in Christ is the gospel’s one and only hope. We are told that "…once at the end of the ages" Christ appeared "to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb.9:26). In this "priestly/sacrificial" type-antitype context the writer, speaking of Christ’s "second appearing" – "those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin" (v.28) – immediately (in the next verse-10:1) appeals to the Law and its shadows (patterns/types) to substantiate his claims concerning Christ in 9:26-28. "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come…can never with these same (animal) sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect" (10:1).

Here is irrefutable proof that "the good things to come," of which the Law was a shadow, encompass the "second appearing" of Christ. His second appearing in verse 28 is no less a part of his work of atonement than was the offering of himself in verse 26. The antitype must conform to the type. Under the Law of Moses the high priest, after completing the atonement, did not remain in the tabernacle hidden from view, but appeared at the door of the tent to bless the "waiting congregation." His appearance was important inasmuch as it signaled God’s acceptance of the atonement and that sin had been provisionally put away. This was all a pattern, type, or shadow of "things to come" through Christ.

But those who would have the Law and its shadows completely fulfilled in the cross/Pentecost time frame are unable to follow the sacrificial typology no further than the high priest’s entrance into the "holy of holies." At that point the type and the antitype break down, if the sacrificial shadows of the Law have been fulfilled short of the "second appearing of Christ apart from sin." If this is indeed the case, one must ask, Why was Christ left stranded in the tabernacle, leaving his congregation "eagerly waiting" for his appearing "apart from sin?" Did Christ blunder at some point in making atonement? Was his sacrifice rejected of God?

It can’t be argued that Christ will yet come without denying that the Old Testament typical sacrificial system has passed away. That system, with a
ll that it typified, cannot be completely fulfilled until Christ, after having entered into the "holiest of all", appears the second time apart from sin to bless and to receive those who were eagerly waiting for him." A type stands until it is fulfilled by the antitype. Either Christ has appeared the second time, or the sacrificial system of the Law has not been fulfilled.

Paul said much about the parousia of Christ, but he assured King Agrippa that he was "saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come" (Acts 26:22). But if Christ has not appeared the second time, then the prophets and Moses should be preached today alongside of Christ until he fulfills "all things written." This, however, would be contradictory to the facts of history and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. In the context of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus said, "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:22). If this did not encompass Christ’s parousia, then either Christ was mistaken, or Moses and the prophets said nothing about his second coming. In either case the testimony of the Holy Spirit concerning "things to come" loses all credibility.

We believe, however, that the Holy Spirit spoke the truth in Old Testament scriptures, and that he spoke the truth in his interpretation and application of them with respect to Christ and his things to come in the age to come. Nothing failed. It all came to pass. Christ is clear about his coming in conjunction with the fall of Jerusalem. He pointed out in Luke 17 that in the day when "he who is on the housetop" and "he who is in the field" must hastily flee from Jerusalem, THEN is "the day when the Son of Man is revealed" (vv.30,31), and thus when "all things written would be fulfilled." This framework of time and events blends perfectly with the priestly/sacrificial typology in Hebews that is culminated with the appearing of the high priest from the tabernacle. There is absolutely no change in context between the "second appearing" of Christ in Heb.9:28 and his "soon, very soon coming" in 10:37 — "the Day" that those brethren could see "approaching" (10:25). On one side of the coin, the shadows of the Law were "ready to vanish away" (8:13), and on the other side, the "second appearing of Christ apart from sin" (9:28) was ready to occur – the type giving place to the antitype in consummated fulfillment.

If one’s concept of Christ’s parousia will not blend into this biblical setting, there is only one solution and it isn’t changing the Bible’s end-time framework. It has been attempted time and again, but to no avail. The testimony of the Holy Spirit is securely moored in "the last days" — the interim period for the changing of the ages. If, therefore, one correctly understands the final things, both from the standpoint of what passes away and what is brought in, one must begin where the Spirit began and be content to stop where the Spirit stopped, using the same textbook pointing to "the good things to come" that was used consistently and exclusively by the Holy Spirit in disclosing those things in and through Christ.

In summarizing, we have seen: 1) the eschatological character and time frame of the Spirit’s work, 2) the Spirit was received by those "in Christ" after he departed from the Jewish world and took up his new position "in the heavens", 3) the Spirit was sent to "disclose things to come," which were the things of Christ, 4) the Old Testament was the exclusive textbook used by the Spirit in disclosing the things to come under Christ, 5) the things foreshadowed in the Law were inclusive of Christ’s second appearing in his putting away sin, 6) the Law with its typical designs could not be fulfilled short of Christ’s parousia, and 7) Christ tied his coming and the fulfillment of "all things written" to the destruction of Jerusalem. This marks the time frame of Christ’s absence and of the Spirit’s "two-sided" eschatological work – the passing of the Old and the coming of the New.

In the next article we will continue to explore the full dimensions of "the gift of the Holy Spirit" from the viewpoint of the promise, the earnest, the firstfruits, and the unity of the Spirit, followed by a penetrating analysis of his work of transformation.