The Day of Pentecost that immediately followed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, marked a significant event in the history of the church. It was the birthday of God’s true church. Without doubt this day was filled with miraculous events to signify its importance. However, many people disagree as to how significant certain aspects of this day are. Some will claim that the events that unfolded some 2000 years ago were only a onetime event. They suppose that this event was not meant for people to experience today. Others will claim that this miraculous outpouring of God’s Spirit using the sign of speaking in other tongues was only for the Jews in Israel. Perhaps the most argued aspect of the birth of the church is not whether we are required to receive the Holy Spirit, but rather the manner in which it is received. More specifically, the sign that the Holy Spirit has been received.
The book of Acts makes it clear that the events on the day of Pentecost were not a onetime event. It also makes it clear that the events were not limited to the Jews, or even to one geographical place. Furthermore, the outpouring of God’s Spirit was always accompanied by one sign. It would be illogical to have multiple signs, and it would also lead to confusion. There is only one sign for the initial reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that gift is not limited to any one group of people, place, or time.
The Day of Pentecost
About 2000 years ago Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. He was then seen alive by many witnesses for approximately 40 days. During this time, He left very important instructions for His closest followers. One of the last things that He told His disciples can be found in the first chapter of the book of Acts. In verse 4, Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. Jesus then elaborates on what that promise is in verse 5 stating, “… you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” So, in the first 5 verses of the Book of Acts, we find the real theme of the book. This theme is further detailed in verse 8 of the same chapter when Jesus gives an outline of how the Holy Ghost will spread geographically throughout the world. The writer of Acts uses chapter 1 verse 8 as an outline for the whole book (Tenney, 1985). In that verse, Jesus says that the disciples will begin to witness about Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit in “Jeruselaem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8 King James Version).”
In chapter 2 of the book of Acts we find the initial occurrence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that Jesus told His disciples to wait for in chapter 1. The supernatural sign that let them know what was happening was the fact that they spoke in tongues (Acts 2:4). This meant that they spoke in a language that they did not know. Verse 4 also states that it was the Spirit that gave them the “utterance”. According the Oxford dictionary, the word utterance means, “A spoken word, statement, or vocal sound.” In other words, God was giving them the ability to make the sound of words from another language. This supernatural sign is the only sign that is given by scripture to signify someone being baptized by the Holy Spirit (Bernard, 1984). Notice the conjunction “and” which links being filled with Spirit and speaking in tongues in verse 4. It was simultaneous.
The commotion of 120 people being filled with God’s Spirit was not able to be contained within the walls of the upper room they were in. There were people outside that began to gather, and wonder what was going on (Acts 2:6). Peter then stood up to address the crowd, and expel any doubts about what was happening (Acts 2:14). He informed them that what they were hearing was exactly what Joel prophesied would happen in the last days when God poured out His Spirit (Acts 2:16-17). This is ironclad proof that speaking in tongues is the sign of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. They were asking how and why the people were speaking in many different languages, and Peter answers them by saying that what they were hearing was the fulfillment of Joel 2:28. Peter then goes on to say that every one of them in the crowd could have this gift too (Acts 2:38-39).
Dr. H. L. Willmington writes in his guide to the Bible that the events in Acts chapter 2 were a onetime thing, and that verse 38 only applied to the people of Israel because of their crime of murdering the Messiah (1981). This does not make sense for many reasons. First, we know from verse 5 that these Jews were visiting from every nation, and they were just returned home for Pentecost. They had nothing to do with the murder of Christ ~50 days prior, but Peter still told them to obey verse 38. Secondly, in verse 39 Peter tells them that this promise is for their children and their children’s children. How could future generations be also responsible for the death of Jesus? Also, Peter tells them in verse 39 that the gift of the Holy Spirit was for everyone in the world. So, how then can Dr. Willmington state that this was a onetime event when Peter clearly intended for it to keep happing for generations to come, and for people on the other side of the world who had nothing to do with Christ’s death?
In a later edition of his guide to the Bible, Dr. Willmington states that teaching that Acts 2:38 is required is like “robbing Paul to pay Peter (2011, p. 282).” He is referring to scriptures where Paul teaches on salvation by faith alone in his epistles. Dr. Willmington misses two key pieces of information in making that claim. First, Paul was writing to churches full of people that had already experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Second, Paul taught the same thing as Peter in the book of Acts chapter 19 when he encountered some of John’s disciples. This is covered in more detail later.
In Acts chapter 8, the revival of the early church was beginning to spread outside of the full-blooded Jews just as Jesus had foretold in Acts 1:8. In verse 17, we find that the Samaritans (half Jews) received the Holy Spirit, but we do not find any exterior sign mentioned like we did in Acts chapter 2:4. However, we can eliminate one very common misconception using verse 16. Many people teach that you receive the Holy Spirit during water baptism, but Acts chapter 8:16 clearly refutes that teaching. There is also something else that can be learned from the outpouring of the Spirit on the Samaritans. In verse 18-19, Simon sees something happen when the Samaritans received the Holy Ghost. He does not tell what he sees, but we know that there must have been an outward physical sign. This further eliminates any beliefs that call for an inward-only sign of being filled with God’s Spirit. How else could Simon see it, and want to buy it?
The conversion of Cornelius’ house is a very key piece of the puzzle in church history regarding who could have the gift of the Holy Spirit. In verse 44 of Acts chapter 10, the Holy Ghost fell on the gentiles (non-Jews) for the first time. It is stated in verse 45 that the Jews were amazed by this. However, the key verse here is 46. Acts 10:46 tells us that the outward sign that the gentiles had received the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues. This is how the Jews said that they knew the gentiles had received it. There can be no doubt after reading this verse that speaking in tongues is the true sign of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and that it was not just for the Jews as Dr. Willmington posits. Gentiles can have it too. Again, we notice in this passage that water baptism is a separate and distinct event from Spirit baptism (Acts 10:47-48).
Acts chapter 19 provides the last key pieces of the puzzle regarding the evidence of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul asks some of John’s disciples point blank if they had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2). He then eliminates belief as an evidence of receiving the gift because he asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit since they believed (19:2). This means they could not have received it when they simply believed as many people teach. Paul then further separates water baptism and Spirit baptism once again in verses 5 and 6. Again, in verse 6 we have a clear outward sign of speaking in tongues that accompanies receiving the Holy Spirit.
The evidence is clear. In every case of God pouring out His Spirit in the book of Acts, it either directly or indirectly verifies that speaking in tongues is the sign that one has received this gift. It could not have been an inward only sign like joy or belief, because the scriptures shown have eliminated those possibilities. However, Jesus tells us that one of the signs of a true believer is speaking in tongues according to Mark 16:17. There is a clear separation between water baptism, and Spirit baptism. It is evident that the outpouring was not limited to any one people, place, or time. This supernatural gift is freely given to all who are hungry, and to all that are a far off.
If you seek this gift, you will know that God is real. It is the only way to really know Him.
Bernard, D. K. (1984). The New Birth. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press.
Johnston, R., & Alexander, L. A. (2014). Apostolic study Bible: King James version. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press.
Tenney, M. C. (1985). New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
Willmington, H. L. (1984). Willmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.
Willmington, H. L. (2011). Willmington’s guide to the Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House.