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Baptism (2): Its teaching from the Word of God

T Ratcliffe, Wimborne

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

There are several references in the New Testament to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The first prophetic reference was by John the Baptist as recorded in Matthew 3.11 and rehearsed in Mark 1.8; Luke 3.16; and John 1.33, However, in Acts 1.5 we have the words of the Lord Jesus to His disciples: "Ye shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days hence", the actual event being recorded in Acts 2.1-4. The words of the Lord Jesus are again set forth in Acts 11.16; and we have an historic account of the occurrence in 1 Corinthians 12.13.

We must not confuse believer’s baptism by immersion in water, with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for the two events are quite distinct. Neither must we mistake the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within our mortal being upon conversion (1 Jn 2.20) for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in Scripture are we told of a person converted to Christ since Pentecost being baptised with the Holy Spirit.

We do have the incident in Acts 19.6, where the Apostle Paul laid his hands upon the disciples and the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in other languages and prophesied; but this was not, as some believe, a baptism of the Holy Spirit, it was rather a filling with the Spirit as happened to the apostles at Pentecost. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was a unique event that can never happen again.

So what exactly did take place on that momentous occasion as recorded in Acts 2? The apostles were together as directed by the Lord Jesus, awaiting the promise of power from on high (Lk 24.49) when four separate, yet concurrent, incidents occurred.

1. The sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind (not an actual wind, but the sound of hard breathing, JND note), indicative of the energetic movement of the Holy Spirit over and among the apostles. The sound of the Spirit-charged atmosphere filled the house, and all were divinely affected by the power that was from on high.

2. There appeared at the same time cloven tongues of fire that sat upon each of the apostles. The occurrence of the cloven tongues would in due course, by the power of the Holy Spirit, convince the disciples that the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile had been broken down through the coming in of the day of God’s grace to the world.

3. Each of the apostles, being filled with the Holy Spirit, began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them utterance. This was a dramatic witness by the apostles of God’s message of salvation to the world. Representatives from each of the different nations present heard the message clearly in their own language. The sound of the preaching was not, as some have erroneously suggested, a cacophony of noise; it was rather a delightful euphony of voices in harmony with a new message of love and hope, and of eternal life in heaven through repentance before God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. Most important of all was that every Christian believer in Israel and every Gentile believer who were hitherto separate individuals in the path of faith, were on that day fused indissolubly together by the baptism of the Holy Spirit into one body to be known as the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12.12, etc). It was a unique, singular, corporate event never to be repeated. So we have the historic reference: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many" (1 Cor 12.13).

The "we all" in the above text includes every child of God, from Pentecost to the rapture of the Church.

Baptism by Fire

The actual expression "baptism by fire" does not occur in Scripture, but the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3.11 and many statements by the Lord Jesus clearly imply such an event. Wherever "fire" is mentioned in the Scriptures in association with the final judgment, it refers to Hell (Gehenna). However, it is promulgated by some that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was the baptism by fire to which John referred; but it was not what the Spirit of God led John to imply in his message. The thought is also advanced that the "time of Jacob’s trouble" (Jer 30.7), the Great Tribulation period spoken of in Matthew 24 and in other Scriptures, is also what John meant by the baptism by fire, but clearly these events are not what the Spirit of God had in mind. Nevertheless, the enormity and catastrophic effect of God’s governmental judgments at the time of the Great Tribulation cannot be disputed or minimised, but, as such days will be shortened for the elect’s sake (Mt 24.22), the time cannot be likened to the Scriptural baptism by fire which will be unrelenting and eternal. The words of John in Matthew 3.12 relate to the final judgment from the Great White Throne (Rev 20.11-15).

The Lord Jesus refers to hell fire many times in the gospels, using such words as "the fire that never shall be quenched" (Mk 9.45). Gehenna, from which there is no escape, was never prepared for the children of men, but for the devil and his angels (Mt 25.41). But if the children of men refuse God’s offer of salvation through repentance before God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20.21), they will most certainly suffer the consequences of such rejection and end up in Gehenna.

In the case of Christian baptism by immersion in water, the individual is lifted up out of the water – a figure of death and resurrection - even as Christ was raised from the dead (Rom 6.4). However, when Scripture speaks of baptism by fire there will be no lifting out of, or relief from, the eternal torment to be experienced by all who end up in Gehenna. In the narrative of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.19-31 the Lord Jesus draws aside the curtain of time to reveal the eternal destiny of the godly and ungodly, the just and the unjust, the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and the unbeliever. The Lord Jesus reveals that an eternal gulf is set between the two destinies.

May it be the earnest prayer of all who preach the gospel of the grace of God, that the hearers of the message of salvation will never have to listen to the Lord Jesus, as judge of the quick and the dead, say, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt 25.41).

To be continued.

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