“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
This text contains a very great message. It includes two verbs and the tense is the same in both of them. One poses a question (receive), and one is an affirmation (believe) ... “Did you receive?” and “You believed.”
The importance of these verbs lies in the fact that some scholars have seen this verse as proof that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a second blessing. A very accurate translation would be, “Coincidentally, with believing, did you receive the Holy Spirit?” The question was not whether these people had received a second blessing. Rather, it was a question concerning the nature of the first blessing. In order to understand the personal application, we must examine this verse in context, so let us read Acts 18: 23–28:
“After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatians and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.”
Here we encounter Apollos. He was an Alexandrian by race, but he was a Jew, and he had been converted to Christianity. He was well-educated, and he had been instructed by word of mouth in the ways of the Lord. However, his knowledge and understanding were limited. All that Apollos knew was the baptism of John, and that was a baptism of repentance. He most likely had heard John preach, foretelling the coming of another whose shoelaces John was not worthy to untie.
The one to come would baptize men with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This was all that Apollos knew, but he taught this carefully. We see in Acts 18 that listening to him were Priscilla and Aquilla, a husband and wife who knew a lot more about the good news than Apollos did. They recognized the sincerity he brought to his teaching, but they also recognized what he lacked.
They took Apollos aside and shared with him more fully and completely the message of Jesus. He accepted their instruction gratefully, and he traveled on to Achaia. It is obvious that his message had changed, and he taught persuasively that Jesus was the Christ.
In the early days of Apollos’ preaching, he had taught what he himself had known and accepted: the baptism of John. John’s baptism was a public renunciation of sin, a sign of repentance. Some who heard him received that baptism, but they knew of nothing more. The baptism of the Holy Spirit would be the sign of a new life. This is something for us to ponder, for no preacher or teacher can bring their hearers beyond the level of their own spiritual knowledge.
Apollos had been preaching in Ephesus, but he had moved on to Achaia, and Paul had arrived to preach in Ephesus. Paul immediately saw that something was missing! He could see that this church knew a great deal, but they had come just so far and there they had stopped.
There are certain evidences of the Holy Spirit’s presence in human lives that are easy to see, and Paul realized that those things were lacking. It may have been with a note of surprise in his voice that he asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Their answer was, “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Acts 19:3.
Today, over 2,000 years later, I wonder how many people in the churches of the world would give this very same answer! The Ephesians knew that John had preached that One was coming who would baptize them with the Spirit, but they didn’t know whether or not that promise had been fulfilled. Paul asked them another question. He said, “Into what were you baptized?” They answered that it was into John’s baptism. Paul then told them that they had not obeyed John’s entire message. John told them to repent and accept a baptism of repentance, but he also told them that they were to believe on the One who was to come and who would baptize them with the Spirit of God.
Paul then told them of Jesus’ coming, of His work and of His miracles, as well as of His death and resurrection and ascension. When they heard, this they wanted to be baptized in the name of Jesus!
. . . to be continued . . .
1. Have you been taught about the Holy Spirit of has this study been your introduction to this subject?
2. What is ONE NEW TRUTH you have learned so far?
*If you would like to delve deeper, we invite you to order Marjorie's book, Blessings of the Holy Spirit, at by stillwater.org or Amazon.com!