It is probable that the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles form one literary work split into two volumes. The overlap between the ending of this Gospel and the beginning of Acts, with focus upon the Ascension of Jesus Christ, as well as the dedication of both volumes to Theophilus, would be two pieces of data that support this perspective. Another significant indication is that both volumes in their initial segments use terminology in Luke 1:35 and Acts 1:8 that only occurs in these two contexts in the New Testament.
|Luke 1:35||Holy Spirit will come (epeleusetai epi se) upon you [Mary] and power of the Most High will overshadow you.|
|Acts 1:8||But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes (epelthontos…eph humas) upon you [the eleven apostles] and you will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the end of the world.|
What significance does the repetition of this unique expression have for our understanding of Luke’s message and the relationship between the Virgin Birth and Pentecost?
In the Old Testament when God’s Spirit “comes upon a person,” a transaction of divine power or enablement normally occurs. For example, after Israel receives instructions through Moses to construct the Tabernacle, the Spirit “fills” individuals such as Bezaleel (Exodus 35:30-35) and as a result their skills are enhanced to prepare carved, moulded and woven materials. In the context of Isaiah 40 – 66 the Spirit interacts particularly with the “servant.” Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1-2 which begins “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” and as a result he claims authority and power to “proclaim good news…release prisoners…give sight to blind people…proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). Restoration comes through the presence of God’s Spirit.
When God’s Spirit comes, creative, extraordinary, divinely-empowered things happen. In Genesis 1:1 the entire creation story begins with “the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters.” In Isaiah 32:15 “a spirit from on high is poured out upon” Israel as the sign that God’s eschatological restoration of his people is beginning. The transformation of creation signals the renewal of his people. According to Joel 3:28 God “will pour out [his] spirit on all flesh.” Peter quotes this text in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2), indicating that the miracle of languages the early Christian’s experienced in Jerusalem fulfills Joel’s prophecy and marks the coming of God’s Spirit in a new, powerful way.
In the ancient world power was a divine commodity. The pattern of what we discover in the Bible confirms this. Power resides with God and He abases and exalts human beings. So when God’s Spirit “comes upon a person,” that person is empowered by God for specific purpose.
Luke, as author of the Gospel and Acts, makes a significant statement by placing these two, similar statements at the beginning of both volumes. God is taking extraordinary action in the event of the Virgin Birth and the inauguration of the new Messianic community. His redemptive project for human salvation is moving into its final stages. The miraculous, awesome power of God interrupts human history, sending the Messiah in the person of Jesus, and, following Jesus’ resurrection, enabling his followers to implement the Messiah’s worldwide mission through the gift of the Holy Spirit. At this point it is God’s Spirit “coming upon” Mary and the Eleven Apostles; at the end of history it will be the Messiah himself “coming in the clouds with much power and glory” (Mark 13:26). We live in between these amazing demonstrations of God’s power, the Trinity’s mutual, merciful response to human need.
Paul agrees with Luke’s understanding of these things. In Galatians 4:4-7 Paul describes how God “sent his son, born of a woman…” and “sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” This remarkable transaction has transformed us into God’s very sons. If we confess Jesus as Saviour and Lord, then the Spirit envelops our lives. Just as fish live in the medium of water, so we live in the medium of the Spirit. We walk, are led, and live by the Spirit. In response the Spirit cultivates within us a wonderful harvest – love, joy, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:16-25).
When the Spirit came upon Mary and conceived Jesus within her, he inaugurated something from which we benefit today. When God’s Spirit came upon the eleven and other followers of Jesus at Pentecost, he inaugurated the project defined by the Great Commission. God’s Spirit continues to take up residence in people. It is his power that enables us to love, forgive, serve, and lead in ways that exceed human ability. Because the Spirit of God is resting upon us, we can experience the joy of our relationship with God even when suffering threatens to overwhelm us (1 Peter 4:13-15).
The Christmas season should remind us that God’s power, in the person of his Spirit, continues to come upon us. God’s love pours out in our hearts through his Spirit, this precious gift He shares with us. We are changed because God’s power that raised Jesus from the dead now is at work in and through us (Ephesians 1:17-19). In the humble circumstances of our Saviour’s birth and his meek entry into our world, let us not forget that God’s power was at work in incredible ways. God continues to work by his Spirit in our day too, restraining evil, enabling us to be his bold witnesses, and privileging us to enjoy great blessing.
- Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that “in the Spirit” we are plunged into “one body, even as we are enabled to “drink of one Spirit.” In what way is our present experience of God’s Spirit a continuation of Jesus’ prophecy in Acts 1:8?
- If God’s Spirit brings God’s power into our lives today, what difference should it be making – in our ethical choices, our boldness to testify, our commitment to excellence, our ability to forgive?