Making Sense Of The Work Of The Holy Spirit In The Lives of Old Testament Believers

candle on bible

When we embrace the lie of disunity in the Divine Revelation we begin to see contradictions that aren’t actually there and search out solutions to those supposed contradictions in places other than the text itself (2 Timothy 4:1-4).  This process inevitably leads to error, error to instability and instability to a Shipwrecked faith which at best leaves us bitter and at worst leads to apostasy (1 Timothy 1).  One such example of this which I often encounter regards the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of God’s People prior to the advent of the Messiah.

Due largely to the fact that Yeshua promises in the Gospel accounts to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples after His ascension (John 14:15-17,25-26; Acts 1:4-5) and that the Book of the Acts details the fulfillment of the Promise to pour out or Baptize the believers with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4, 37-39; 8:14-17; 10:44-48; 11:1-18), many assume that the experience of the Holy Spirit dwelling with and empowering God’s people is quintessentially a post-Messianic [New Testament] experience.  Some will go as far as to consent to idea that prior to the Messiah [Old Testament] God sometimes came upon individual men, but that the experience was both temporary and limited.

Further justification for this on the one hand, generally relies on the limited references in the early Hebrew texts [Old Testament] to the internal work of the Holy Spirit combined with the repeated promise of an internal work in the Last Days (cf. Making Sense of the Day of Pentecost).  On the other hand are the expansive references to the abiding, indwelling and empowering work of the Holy Spirit in the writings of the Apostles and their legates following the Book of the Acts [New Testament] on the other.

I would argue however that this understanding derives far less from the text and far more from popular Christian theology’s intrinsic need to divide the Divine Revelation into parts [Old & New Testaments] rather than allowing it to speak as a unified whole.  For this particular misunderstanding is intertwined with if not at least partially to blame for, the same subtle but pervasive Antisemitism which has plagued the Gentile Church for almost two millennium.

This misunderstanding is a form of Dual-Covenant theology.  Dual-Covenant theology teaches that the Mosaic code represents God’s plan for the Jews and the Messianic code represents His plan for the Gentile [New Testament] Church.  Dual-Covenant theology always relocates one side to second class status in the Kingdom of God.  In this case it is the Jews who are given that status because according to this theological construction God’s grace has been given to the Gentiles [New Testament Church] while the Jews have been left with a system of requirements that they could never meet anyway (Galatians 3:23-24).  Further, an even more insidious implication of this approach to Dual-Covenant theology is that the Jews must abandon Judaism if they wish to experience God’s grace in their lives.

So then how are we to understand the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of God’s People prior to the advent of the Messiah?

Studying from Genesis forward one realizes quickly that while the Hebrew scripture speaks often of the Spirit of God being with, in or upon certain individuals; these translations being somewhat fluid due to the nature of the Hebrew language.  Thus the translation relies heavily upon context and the interpretive lens though which the translators view it.  As such, it can be argued that the latent Antisemitism of popular Christian theology has guided the translation in such a way as to give the impression of a temporary experience of God’s presence.  Similarly the Hebrew scriptures contain a number of references to a future when God will place His Torah in Man and not on stone, that in those Last Days God will once again make His dwelling among Men, and that when that time comes He will pour out His Spirit upon all Men (cf. Making Sense of the Day of Pentecost).  Since these references all refer to the Last Days, the assumption is that prior to the Last Days Man did not experience these things.  Thus the work of the Holy Spirit is considered to have been restricted to a handful of special servants of the Lord and not available for all.

The problem with this is that it creates a situation wherein the call to Sanctification (Leviticus 20:7-8) which is itself predicated on salvation could never actually be obeyed because the only path to holiness left would be to perfectly keep the Law.  But since keeping the Letter of the Law could never save men, let alone make them holy, for all of those who lived up to the advent of Messiah the salvation necessary for righteousness would be potential rather than actual, rendering true holiness impossible.  Furthermore Yeshua was abundantly clear in John 3:1-6 that no one can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  So since this teaching occurred before Messiah’s substitutionary sacrifice, ascension and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Yeshua was either being very cruel or else popular Christian theology has misrepresented the work of the Holy Spirit both here and prior to this.

As the Apostle Paul articulates in Romans 12:2, holiness is the result of having our minds renewed by the Holy Spirit.  We can not walk in the power of the Holy Spirit if our way of thinking is in opposition to Him, but our thinking can not be restored to its original presets unless we are reconnected to the Source of Life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).

This applies to all men who are brought into the covenant promises made to Adam and Noah and Abraham by Faith in the redemptive work of YHVH through His Messiah.  Faith is accounted as Righteousness providing judicial liberation from the condemnation which is the result of Adam’s Rebellion as the Federal Head of Creation (Romans 4&5).  That judicial liberation makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to abide with us, reversing the brokenness our nature passed down from father to child, as the result of Adam’s Rebellion as the Seminal Head of Creation (Romans 6-8).  Thus we see that both in this Age and in the Ages past, it is through Faith that Man is regenerated and sanctified, indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Generally when I share this with people I am asked two questions.  What about the references in the Old Testament to a future indwelling and what about the fact that Baptism of the Holy Spirit is unique to the time of the Messiah?  The answers to these two questions are actually intertwined.

First, the promises of the Hebrew scriptures with regard to a future internal work of God’s Spirit in Man, are always in reference to a universal work with all humanity that begins with the Jews and then flows out from them into all the nations culminating in the Restorative 1000 Generation Messianic Reign which will follow the Time of the Gentiles (Revelation 20:1-6).  As such these promises in no way preclude an understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work prior to Messiah which includes His indwelling and empowering individuals (cf. Psalm 51).

Secondly, not only is there no biblical impetus to restrict the indwelling and empowering work of the Holy Spirit to the advent of the Promise of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  As I have written about previously (cf. Making Sense of the Day of Pentecost) the specific phrase itself alludes more to the fulfillment of the aforementioned prophecy rather than to a specific mechanism of salvation.  Thus Yeshua promises to send the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:5 after the Disciples had already received the Holy Spirit in John 20:22 and before they were filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:4.  This is more than semantics; it is an insight into the distinction between the Promise itself and the mechanics of its fulfillment.  The filling of the Holy Spirit was always available to those whom God chose to empower, but the advent of the Messiah inaugurated the Last Days and the Promised outpouring or Baptism of the Holy Spirit on all of Mankind.

So we see that from eternity past to eternity future, God is accomplishing His Divine purposes in the same way He always has.  In truth there is no such thing as an Old Testament believer and a New Testament believer.  There is no such thing as a Jewish believer and a Gentile believer.  These divisions are arbitrary and false.  Salvation and Sanctification were, are and will always be EK EUDIOS (John 4:22).  For there is One Body, One Spirit, One Calling, One Hope, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father who is above all and in all and through all (Ephesians 4:4-6).

messianic-jewish symbol