The disciples were people who had been with Jesus throughout his ministry and had been sent out by Jesus in ministry. They had preached. They had seen God work wonderful miracles through them. Yet Jesus told them, in Acts 1:1-11, that they had to wait for ‘the promise of the Father’.
Jesus promised that – if they waited in Jerusalem- they would soon be baptised in the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, he promised that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and that then they would be witnesses. Their years with Jesus were not enough. Their ministry experience was inadequate. Before they could be witnesses, they needed Jesus to baptise them in Holy Spirit.
This phrase occurs seven times in most English versions of the New Testament. Six of these – Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5 & Acts 11:16 – clearly refer to the baptism which John promised that the Messiah – the Anointed One – would bring. The seventh verse – 1 Corinthians 12:13 – could be translated either as ‘baptised by the Spirit’ or ‘baptised in the Spirit’. However, the phrase ‘drinking one Spirit’ does suggest that this verse refers to the same baptism ‘in’ the Spirit as the other six verses. Either way, both renderings are in the ‘passive voice’, which means that the subject receives the action of the verb – in other words the baptising is done to the person.
The word baptised always appears as a verb and never as the noun ‘baptism’ – which seems to stress the importance of action. Though the noun baptisma appears twenty-two times in the New Testament, it is never used in the sense of ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ – this thought is instead conveyed by the phrase ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit’. This points to an unrepeatable experience of initiation. Baptism – like birth, marriage and death – is something which should occur only once. And it is initiatory in that baptism is not an end in itself – it is not an experience to be enjoyed and then remembered – rather it is the doorway to a new way of living: baptism is essentially the start of something entirely new.
This means that, when Jesus baptised the disciples in the Spirit at Pentecost, it was the unrepeatable moment of initiation into the Holy Spirit’s new age. The use of the word ‘baptised’ shows that nothing would ever be the same again.
But we have seen that Pentecost was also a day of first fruits. It looked forward to a far greater harvest. Each succeeding Christian can enter into the benefits of Pentecost. By faith, we can join them in the baptistery of the Spirit to receive this baptism from the hands of Jesus.
People often ask about the connection between water baptism and Spirit baptism. Put simply, water baptism is a preparation for Spirit baptism – in water baptism the repentant sinner who has already placed his faith in Jesus identifies with Christ as Lord and Saviour; in Spirit baptism, God recognises and seals with his approving acceptance the one who has been baptised in water. Notwithstanding, there are examples in Scripture of individuals being baptised in the Holy Spirit prior to water baptism, as is the case with Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. But more regularly, water baptism precedes Spirit baptism.