THE ACTS OF THE SPIRIT, PART 3: FILLED AGAIN WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT: Acts 4:23-31
Joseph D. McPherson
Date Posted Jan. 17, 2009
In Acts, chapter two, we are informed that on the day of Pentecost the fiery tongues and roaring as of a mighty wind brought together a large and astonished multitude. That gave Peter a vast audience for his first public proclamation of the Gospel and the conversion of three thousand of his hearers. Apparently, some days had passed. The crowds that had attended Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost had now returned to their homes.
The city of Jerusalem had apparently quieted down. At the same time the apostles were kept busy instructing the believers and working signs. And then another notable miracle took place. This time, as we are informed in chapter three, it was the healing of the lame man who had long sat at the beautiful gate of the temple. He had long been a familiar sight to the inhabitants of the city. By his healing he was given strength in his limbs to not only stand but to leap and walk. This filled the people with "wonder and amazement ." In fact it set the city all astir once again. It drew another crowd to the temple grounds and Peter was afforded a second opportunity to preach to a huge audience. But to the amazed multitudes, Peter attributed the healing of this lame man to the power of the risen Christ. The outcome of this second sermon of Peter's was that it brought an additional number of five thousand to the infant but growing church.
The rulers, who had crucified Jesus, now became alarmed at the ever expanding report of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. They became increasingly uneasy at the growing popularity of His name. So it was that they arrested Peter and John, put them in prison for a night, and the next day, endeavored to intimidate them by bringing them into their august assembly.
It was an assembly of the rulers, elders, scribes, as well as the high priest, and various others with big names and much authority. All were there who were most likely to impress these disciples with fear and to coerce them into submission. They ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus.
We can only imagine what it was like to have been personally present during those proceedings and to feel the overwhelming emotional force of that atmosphere. In such awesome surroundings we cannot help but be amazed at the boldness of Peter as we read the account of his response to these Jewish leaders of power and prominence.
This is the same Peter, mind you, who, a few weeks before, in the same city, and before some of the same people, had cowed at the sneer of a maiden and denied his Master. Now, in utter fearlessness, he defies the murderers of his Master. What had made the difference? We are informed earlier in this chapter that "when they [ the rulers] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus " (4:13). The truth is that they had not only been with Jesus, they had received that which he had promised them. They had been filled with the Holy Spirit.
So it was that after these rulers of the Jews had further "threatened them they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done " (4:21).
As soon as they were released, they did what would be most natural. "They went to their own company ." Professor P. C. Barker says that in this passage we are taught how "the Church should be a home of tenderest, most faithful sympathies, and of holy social [fellowship]." Dr. Charles Carter agrees and further stresses their having need of "the understanding and prayer support of the whole church of which they were but the advance representatives. There they shared their burdens and their victories in Christ." He sees as most important the fact that this infant "church took seriously the situation and prayed in faith unitedly, intelligently, and effectively that ‘God would grant unto [His ] servants to speak . . . [the ] word with all boldness .'" "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together "(4:31). A Church Father of the fourth century by the name of John Chrysostom wrote that "This was the proof that they were heard and of [the Almighty's] visitation." A later Bible scholar, David Brown, is convinced that this was a "Glorious token of the commotion which the Gospel was to make and the overthrow of all opposing powers" [Jamieson-Fausett-Brown, Commentary ]. It gave evidence of God's powerful presence with an immediate answer to their prayer.
Far more important, however, than the shaking of the place where these disciples were assembled, was their being "filled with the Holy Ghost " (4:31) and the effect it had upon them. For we read that in consequence of their being filled, "they spake the word of God with boldness "(4:31). Some have stood in utter wonderment at this account. Were not these disciples previously filled with the Holy Spirit? Hadn't they experienced the outpouring of the Holy Ghost some time before on the Day of Pentecost? Why do we read of them being filledagain by the Holy Spirit?
Some in the holiness movement are of the opinion that whenever Luke writes of a filling of the Holy Spirit that he is necessarily referring to the work of entire sanctification. Such was the teaching of W. B. Godbey who looked upon this filling of the Spirit referred to in Acts 4:31 as another Pentecost by which the converts of the first Pentecost were entirely sanctified. "This demonstrates," writes Dr. Reasoner, "a growing rigidity within the holiness movement that always equated the giving of the Spirit with entire sanctification." Adam Clarke provides a much better answer that is both scriptural and reasonable. He writes as follows:
Though these disciples had received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, yet they were capable of receiving larger communications; and what they had then received did not preclude the necessity of frequent supplies, on emergent occasions. Indeed, one communication of this Spirit always makes way and disposes for another. Neither apostle nor private Christian can subsist in the Divine life without frequent influences from on high. Had these disciples depended on their pentecostal grace, they might have sunk now under the terror and menaces of their combined and powerful foes. God gives grace for the time being , but no stock for futurity because he will keep all his followers continually dependent upon himself.
Dr. Robert Lyon clearly shows that "all believers [in this Holy Ghost dispensation] receive at conversion the Holy Spirit as promised—in His fullness. No biblical basis exists," continues Dr. Lyon, "for a distinction between receiving the Spirit and being baptized in, or filled with, the Spirit." The term "baptism," whether by water or the Spirit, is consistently found in Scripture to be referring to the initial event of conversion. In fact it was universally understood by the Church Fathers, reformers, and early Methodists that water baptism was symbolic of Spirit baptism and was never to be considered separately from conversion. "The dynamic of conversion to Jesus Christ," writes Dr. Lyon, "is such that perfection in love [including entire sanctification] is the natural follow-up."
Obviously, these praying believers referred to in Acts 4:31 had already experienced an initial baptism of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The need of their first "filling" was a spiritual entrance into the Church mystical or body of Christ. As St. Paul assures the Corinthians "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body … and have been all made to drink into one Spirit " (1 Cor 12:13).
Chrysostom, though writing many centuries before Adam Clarke, wrote with a similar persuasion, showing that this subsequent filling received by these disciples as recorded in Acts 4:31 "means that they were inflamed and the Gift burned within them so that ‘they spoke the word of God with boldness .'"