What is the significance of the first 7 verses of Acts 19? Reaching Ephesus, we’re told that Paul found several disciples. His first question to them was whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. Hearing that they hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit, Paul questions them more closely. Turns out these disciples were followers of John the Baptist! John the Baptist had been dead for quite some years by this stage, and still there were those who still followed his teaching of getting ready for the kingdom of God. The kingdom that came with Jesus! Hearing the gospel, the men immediately get baptised. And then Paul lays his hands on them, and the Holy Spirit comes upon them, enabling them to speak in tongues and prophesy. They number, Luke adds, 12.
I find it incredible that these 12 men hadn’t heard the gospel of Jesus. They were obviously devoted followers of John – hearing that John himself had taught that people should believe in Jesus, they immediately dedicate themselves to Jesus; accepting his death and resurrection for themselves.
Were these men Jews? I suspect not. They have never heard of the Holy Spirit. Although Acts is littered with Jews opposing the faith, I don’t recall any occasion where a Jewish person claims to not even know that the Holy Spirit is. I suspect these were Ephesian men who had encountered either John or a disciple of John, and had committed themselves to repenting of their sins and seeking God.
That these were non-Jewish people is, I think, significant. It’s why, when Paul lays hands on them, the Holy Spirit comes upon them in such a dramatic fashion. Speaking in tongues, prophesying: these aren’t always the gifts of the Spirit. Paul himself makes clear that these are but two of the possible gifts of the Spirit. But these are the same two gifts that we see the Spirit pouring out on the disciples in Jerusalem at Pentecost.
Do we here, perhaps, have another “Hey – this is all a part of Pentecost!” moment in the church? Is this a lesson that speaks of how all those who seek after God are joined to Christ in exactly the same way as the first Christians.
My question is this: if I or you were asked if we received the Holy Spirit when we believed, what would I/you say? From my understanding of the Bible, I would say, “Yes!” I think the Bible (and Jesus!) is clear that all those who believe in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit. Truly, we don’t all experience the Holy Spirit coming upon us in this way. But we have God’s word that we have the Spirit. And why else would we persist in our trust if the Spirit didn’t encourage and reassure our hearts.
Remember also: Paul wasn’t asking what variety of Christian baptism (valid or invalid) these men had received. He was asking what variety of baptism (Christian, John the Baptist, …) they had received. There is a world of difference.
Father, thank you that you are my Father. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit. Thank you that by it I am joined in to that momentous event at Pentecost. Thank you that you have poured your Spirit out. Lord, I do long for a deeper experience of you and your Spirit. But regardless, I dol trust and believe that you are Lord. I do trust and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord – God – my Saviour. And I guess that that itself is a sign of your Spirit. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. For dying, for raising Jesus to life, and for keeping my eyes on him. Father, by your Spirit, fix my eyes on Jesus, I beg.