Is Jesus equal to the other two persons of the Trinity?

Q. If Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, isn’t he then equal to both the Creator and the Holy Spirit?

The answer to your question is yes, with a couple of qualifications.

First—and I don’t think this is what you were saying, but just to be clear—it is not the case that Jesus was a human being who somehow became divine and was welcomed into the Godhead. Rather, the second person of the Trinity came to earth as a genuine human being in order to become our Savior. To put this in theological terms, we should have an incarnational Christology, not an adoptionist Christology.

Second, since all three persons of the Trinity are involved in every action of the Godhead, we do not distinguish the persons of the Trinity by their activity. The Son and the Spirit are the Creator just as much as the Father. (At the beginning of Genesis, we see the Father creating by speaking, that is, by the Word, as the Spirit hovers over the unformed creation. So they are all involved. John tells similarly us at the beginning of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”)

Rather, we distinguish the persons of the Trinity by their relationship to one another. The Son is begotten by the Father, but he is eternally begotten, meaning, in the classic phrase, “there was not when he was not.” How this works is a mystery, but it is part of the larger mystery of the Trinity, in which three are one.

The Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Christians are generally agreed about this; the only disagreement is a historical one about how the Nicene Creed was changed in the Western church to say about the Spirit “who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” rather than just “who proceeds from the Father,” which was the original reading. The Eastern church was in agreement with the doctrine, but it felt that only an ecumenical council (that is, a council of the whole church) could change a creed that such a council had created in the first place. The Western church, for its part, felt that the pope had the authority to add the words “and the Son.”

But that is a matter of how doctrine is to be expressed authoritatively that the larger church is still working out. As I said, there is no general disagreement about how the Spirit relates to the Father and the Son.

So, to summarize, yes, Jesus, the Son, as the second person of the Trinity is equal in power, glory, dignity, and divinity to both the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is marvelous to consider how a person who was so fully God was willing to come to earth in human form, share our experience here, and become our Savior. As the book of Hebrews says about Jesus, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

This is the marvel that we celebrate at Christmas time.


What does it mean to “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit”?

Q. I would appreciate your teachings on “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” Thank you.

Please see this post for an explanation of that statement:

Have I committed the unpardonable sin?

In that post I say, among other things, “The ‘unpardonable sin’ that Jesus talks about (as recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke)”—also described as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”—is “the act of attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. The reason this sin ‘can’t be forgiven’ is not because the person has done something so bad that it’s beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. The Bible stresses that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient for the forgiveness of any and all sins that any human being might commit. Rather, if we attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan, then this will make us resist the work of the Holy Spirit, and His gracious influences will not be able to bring us to repentance and salvation. In other words, Jesus isn’t saying that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. He’s saying that it can not be forgiven, because it separates us from the very influence that’s meant to lead us to forgiveness.”

That is, the statement is descriptive, not prescriptive. It’s describing the position that people put themselves in when they try to dismiss Jesus and his teachings by saying that they come from an evil source. It’s not saying that God will permanently take the attitude of “no forgiveness” towards someone who happens to say or think a certain thing. I hope this is helpful; please see the rest of the post for a fuller discussion.

Were the disciples speaking in tongues on Pentecost?

Q. Was it the gift of tongues being exemplified in the book of Acts at Pentecost or would this fall under the category of a great miracle? I ask this because many cessationists believe that the babbling experienced today in many churches is not of God, yet literally everyone that is close to me prays in tongues. Some will point back to what happened in Pentecost and say that the “babbling” today can’t be of God because the gift of tongues is not that, yet Paul says to the Corinthians, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.” So was the gift of tongues at Pentecost or was this symbolic of the Great Commission and the gospel being preached to all nations?

I’d like to point out first that it’s never correct to describe the exercise of the gift of tongues as “babbling.” That implies that what is being said is nonsensical. “Babbling” is a term that’s used by people who want to oppose and perhaps ridicule the use of the gift today. But the Bible describes at least three uses of this gift, and in every case the understanding is that the person is speaking something meaningful in an actual language. The word “tongue” is being used in the sense of “language,” as when we say of a person, “His mother tongue is English.” The Greek uses the usual word for “language,” which can also mean “tongue,” whenever it describes this gift.

Greek has a separate, distinct word for “babbler,” meaning someone who says things that don’t make sense. This other term is found, for example, in the book of Acts, when the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens accuse Paul of making no sense because he’s talking about the resurrection of the body: What is this babbler trying to say? But that term is never used in the Bible for someone who’s “speaking in tongues,” which really means speaking in a language that has not been acquired in the usual way through immersion or study.

One use that Paul describes for this gift is to bring an authoritative message from God to a group of believers who have gathered together for worship. But the premise is that this message is meaningful, in an actual language, because Paul says that such a message should only be shared if someone is present who can “interpret” it. The word used means to “translate” from one language to another, as in Acts 9:36, where Luke reports, “Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas.” So clearly an actual language is in view.

Another use that Paul describes for the gift of tongues is in prayer to God. I believe that’s what he’s referring in the passage you quote in your question. No one else understands the person not because what they’re saying isn’t meaningful, but because they don’t understand the language that’s being spoken. And so, Paul warns, such prayers should not be said out loud in worship if they are not interpreted. “Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else,” Paul asks, “say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?” Clearly the speaking here is directed towards God, not towards the assembled believers. So this is a second use of the gift. And note that Paul doesn’t say, “since what you’re saying doesn’t make any sense,” i.e. you’re “babbling.” Instead, he says, “they do not know what you are saying,” that is, they don’t understand the actual language in which you’re speaking.

We might wonder what the value of this would be even for the person praying, since they don’t know what they’re saying either. But I think this is also what Paul is talking about when he writes in Romans, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” (There Paul says that this is through “groanings too deep for words,” but in both cases the idea is that the Spirit is taking someone’s prayers beyond the limits of the human language that they know.) So the value for the person praying is to have the reassurance that the Spirit’s prayers are being added to their own as they intercede for something. They don’t understand what’s being said, but they know that it has to be meaningful.

The third use for the gift of tongues is to proclaim the good news about Jesus across a language barrier that would otherwise stand in the way. This is what I see happening on the day of Pentecost. It’s true that the events of that day also constitute a great sign that the good news is for all people and that the curse of Babel has been broken that made different languages a barrier to human community. As the book of Acts progresses, we see the promise of this day realized as people from wider and wider parts of the Roman Empire become followers of Jesus. But the promise began to come true on the day of Pentecost itself, as three thousand people became believers after hearing the good news in their own languages.

There are stories and traditions in church history about further uses of this expression of the gift of tongues. For example, some of the earliest missionaries to various parts of the world are said to have been granted the ability to preach the gospel in the local languages without formally acquiring them. I’ve personally heard several anecdotes about people in our own day having similar experiences. A further theory I’ve heard is that this expression of the gift of tongues might also manifest itself in divinely aided language acquisition: God would help us learn a new language much faster and better than we could in our unaided human ability, so that we could use that language to share the good news. I don’t see why we couldn’t consider that an expression of the gift of tongues as well.

So to summarize, if someone argues that the gift of tongues was not being used on Pentecost because the speech then was meaningful, while speaking in tongues consists of meaningless babbling, the proper response is to say that the gift of tongues actually always involves speaking meaningful things in an actual language, whether to address a group in worship, to speak to God in prayer, or to share the good news across a language barrier. So if speaking in tongues in worship or prayer is meaningful speech, then the events of the day of Pentecost, which were also meaningful speech, could have been, and were, another expression of the gift of tongues.

An icon of the Holy Spirit descending on the first believers at Pentecost.

Does our sin cause pain to the indwelling Spirit of God?

Q. We read in Romans that the Holy Spirit “groans” and elsewhere that He “grieves” for us. When we sin, does the indwelling Spirit of God actually suffer pain for us? Is this something that will end when He’s taken out of the world in the future?

Paul writes in Ephesians, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” I think we can indeed conclude from this that the actions of committed followers of Jesus can cause genuine pain to the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of them. In this context we are told that it is specifically actions that break the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” as Paul puts it at the beginning of this section, that are particularly grievous—actions that destroy relationships instead of healing and strengthening them. But I think we can also conclude from the broader context that dishonest and immoral actions are also very disappointing and hurtful to the indwelling Spirit.

Paul’s comments in Romans about the Spirit “groaning” are actually a reference to the Spirit’s ministry of intercessory prayer for the whole creation. Paul describes how “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth,” waiting to be set free from the effects of the Fall. He then notes that “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” And finally he adds that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Since these groans are compared with the pains of childbirth, they certainly express an intense and desperate longing. The Spirit knows what redemption will look like and keenly feels the difference between that and the present state of creation. But this is not pain caused by the current sins of believers, though it is due to the effects of original sin.

In general we may say that because the Holy Spirit is not a mere force, but rather a genuine person, the Spirit can and does experience emotions, including hurt and disappointment at human disobedience. We see a further example of this in Isaiah. The prophet first relates what God did for Israel: “In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” Unfortunately Isaiah must then say about the people of Israel, “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.”

So not wanting to cause pain to the Spirit, who is supposed to be our Paraclete—translated variously as Comforter, Helper, Counselor, Advocate, and Friend—should be a strong incentive for us not to commit sins.

As for whether the Spirit will no longer have to suffer this kind of pain “when He’s taken out of the world in the future,” I think I know where you get the idea that He will be removed from the world, but I don’t believe that’s something we can be certain will actually happen.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, speaking of the “man of lawlessness” (often believed to be the Antichrist), Paul says, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.” Some interpreters take this to be a reference to the Holy Spirit and an indication that at some point in the future, as the end times approach, He will be “taken out of the way.”

That is a possible interpretation, but personally I find it hard to believe that God would ever remove the Holy Spirit from the earth. The Bible describes how the Spirit has an essential role in maintaining creation (Psalm 104, for example, speaks of the Spirit regularly refreshing creation and “renewing the ground“), and beyond that, the Spirit’s influence is crucial in bringing people to salvation. I don’t believe that God would withdraw that influence as long as people were living on earth and in need of a Savior.

So we have a double incentive for a life of obedience and holiness: Our sins do cause pain to the Spirit, and that pain may last as long as there are people on earth who ought to obey but don’t.

Did Jesus only receive the Holy Spirit at his baptism?

Q. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born. Why did Jesus only receive the Holy Spirit at his baptism? (Was the Holy Spirit transferred to him by John the Baptist laying hands on him, the way “the Spirit was given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands” in the book of Acts?)

First, it is true that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born. The angel Gabriel promised this to his father Zechariah when he told him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. And we get a very interesting indication of it from when John was still in his mother’s womb: Mary came to visit Elizabeth while she was expecting Jesus herself, and Elizabeth reported, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” John knew, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that the Messiah, still unborn, and his mother had come to visit!

However, I’m not so sure that Jesus himself only received the Holy Spirit when he was baptized. When Isaiah announces the birth of the Messiah—”A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit”—he immediately adds, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him.” This does not suggest a delay between the Messiah being born and the Spirit coming upon him. The report that Luke gives of Jesus’ early years suggests that God was present in his life in a special way right from the start: “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” One part of the manuscript tradition even says, “The child grew and became strong in spirit.” While this is not considered the most reliable reading, it does reflect the sense of the passage, which conveys that Jesus was filled with special qualities indicating God’s presence from the time he was born.

Indeed, if Jesus did not have the manifest presence of God in his life, it’s hard to see how John the Baptist, Simeon, and Anna would have recognized him as an unborn child and as a baby. They were all godly and Spirit-filled, but they “had to have something to work with,” so to speak—their spiritual discernment needed something spiritual to discern! I believe that this was the presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life.

So then what was going on at Jesus’ baptism, if it wasn’t the first time the Holy Spirit came upon him and filled him? I think the visible descent of the Spirit from heaven to alight on Jesus was mean to be a sign that showed he was the Messiah. As John the Baptist said, as he bore witness to Jesus’ identity, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

The visible descent of the Spirit, along with the voice from heaven, also provided confirmation to Jesus of his own identity as the Messiah. In one of the churches I served as a pastor there was a man who liked to ask, “What did Jesus know, and when did he know it?” What he meant was that unless Jesus was born knowing everything—in which case he wouldn’t have had a normal human brain and he wouldn’t have shared our human condition—there had to have been a time when he came to know that he was the Messiah. Most interpreters of the gospels agree that Jesus understood definitively at his baptism that this was his role. So it wasn’t so much that Jesus received the Spirit at his baptism as that he received his vocation then, through the Spirit’s manifestation.

As for the connection between receiving the Spirit and the laying on of hands, typically in the book of Acts an apostle or other person commissioned by God will specifically say that they are conveying the Spirit when they lay on hands. For example, Ananias said to the man who would become known as the apostle Paul, as he laid hands on him, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” There’s no record in the gospels of John the Baptist saying any such thing to Jesus at his baptism, so I don’t think we should conclude that this is what happened then.

By the way, I also don’t believe that the laying on of hands is necessary for a person to receive the Holy Spirit. Rather, in the early years of the church it provided a sign that barriers of hostility were being broken down (because enemies usually won’t even touch each other), and as a result of the unity and peace that was created, the Holy Spirit came and made his home in a new extension of the community of Jesus’ followers. Significantly, we see the laying on of hands as the community expands to include Samaritans and Gentiles and when it welcomes its former enemy Saul of Tarsus. Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with laying hands on a person as an expression of support and encouragement while praying for them, even when praying with them for a filling of the Holy Spirit.



What does it mean that the Holy Spirit lives in us?

Q. I struggle with the concept of the Holy Spirit living in us due to two things that I have recently become aware of.

One is that in creation, God breathed life into us; wasn’t this the Holy Spirit? So since the Holy Spirit is the source of life and is living in us, how does this imagery work? If Mary had already conceived Jesus through the Spirit of God, what was happening when the Spirit descended on Him after His baptism?

My second question is the language used to describe the Pentecost event. It’s somehow similar to the temple imagery. I believe that I have the Spirit in me, but I have never experienced what happened to the early believers, as described in Acts. Well, maybe there are exceptions, but can you please help clarify what it means that we have the Spirit in our lives?

Thank you for your questions. Let me share some reflections in response.

First, the book of Genesis does say that “God formed a human from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” But while the word for “breath” in Hebrew can also mean “spirit,” in this case, the Bible is not talking about the Holy Spirit. Rather, it’d depicting how God brought humans to physical life as his creatures.

However, there’s an interesting parallel to this account in the Gospel of John. After Jesus rose from the dead, he met with his disciples and “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” This seems to be an intentional re-enactment on Jesus’ part of the Genesis creation event, to signify that his followers would each become “a new creation” (as the apostle Paul would later put it) as their lives were transformed specifically by the influence of the Holy Spirit within.

This leads directly to your further question about Pentecost. If the disciples had already received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them, what was going on when they were “filled with the Holy Spirit” on Pentecost? I think you’re right to perceive temple imagery at work in this account. As I say in another post on this blog:

As I understand it, Pentecost is the occasion on which the community is  filled with the Holy Spirit. The New Testament speaks of the community of Jesus’ followers as “God’s temple” or a “temple in the Lord.” The physical temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, and the New Testament envisions a new kind of temple, built of “living stones” (as Peter puts it—that is, of people), taking its place.  And so the scene on the day of Pentecost is just like the ones in the Old Testament when God’s Spirit fills the tabernacle built by Moses and the temple that Solomon built. (Along these lines, I once preached a Pentecost sermon entitled “The Filling of the New Temple.”)

Your question about Jesus can be answered along similar lines. Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, but this was what brought him to life physically, similarly to the way the breath/spirit of God first brought a human to life. Jesus would not, through this means, have been filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, any more than the first human was filled with the Spirit at his creation. (However, we shouldn’t necessarily conclude that Jesus was not filled with the Holy Spirit from his very conception; an angel promised that this would be true about John the Baptist, and there’s no reason to think that anything less was true of Jesus, whom John said was “greater than I am.” The fact that John was able to recognize Jesus when they were both still in the womb and their mothers met suggests to me that they were each already very much alive spiritually at that point.)

Jesus was already a genuine and committed follower of God and an instrument of God’s inbreaking kingdom activity even before he was baptized, so I don’t doubt that the Holy Spirit was already living in him by that time. But nevertheless the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in a visible way at his baptism.

For one thing, this signified his identity and mission as the Messiah. It confirmed the Father’s voice from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (As I observe in this post, “Generally all of the activities of the Trinity involve all of its persons.” That is, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do their work together. When Jesus publicly and officially began his ministry with his baptism, the other two persons of the Trinity took part in the event.)

However, I don’t doubt that the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus was also a special equipping for the ministry that lay ahead—beginning immediately with the wilderness temptations that followed his baptism, and continuing on to further great challenges after that. We discover the same thing in many other passages in the Bible, that God sometimes gives a person a special filling of the Spirit to equip them for an urgent and difficult task. For example, the book of Acts tells us that when the apostles were arrested in Jerusalem for speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus, Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” so that he could offer a bold defense. The apostles were threatened and intimidated and then released, and the whole community of Jesus’ followers prayed for boldness. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Similar episodes of people being specially filed with the Spirit for bold action are found throughout the Old and New Testaments.

So, to sum up, people who haven’t yet experienced the new birth by receiving Jesus as their Lord and Savior do not have the Holy Spirit living within them, although they do have the “breath of life” as a gift from God and they bear the image of God, and on that basis they can already begin to contribute to God’s kingdom activity. Once a person does come to follow Jesus, they are born again and become a “new creation,” and the Holy Spirit comes to live within them. The Holy Spirit will work within them to make them more and more like Jesus in their character, conduct, and attitudes, and the Holy Spirit will also give them gifts and opportunities for service.

It’s true that some people seem to experience a filling of the Holy Spirit as something separate from, and subsequent to, their initial commitment to follow Jesus. I recognize that some Christian groups teach that this is normative, that the two experiences are separate. While I respect their beliefs, my personal view is that when someone experiences the filling of the Holy Spirit later, some time after they’ve chosen to follow Jesus, it’s not that they get more of the Holy Spirit, it’s that the Holy Spirit gets more of them. They have opened up wide areas of their heart and life to the Spirit’s influence and control, and as a result they are experiencing the Spirit rushing in. (Indeed, even those groups that teach a subsequent experience of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” associate it closely with “entire surrender” and “complete sanctification.”)

So, at least in my view, if you are a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is already living within you, at work to make you like Jesus and equip you for service. You don’t need to get more of the Spirit. But make sure the Spirit gets all of you!

How can non-believers overcome destructive patterns without the Spirit’s help?

Q. The non-believer goes to various secular sources for help in areas like drugs and alcohol, anger management, eating disorders, etc. The believer goes to the Lord trusting the Holy Spirit for power to help because he’s powerless. My question is, “What is the advantage for the believer?” He sees the non-believer progressing in these areas without the Spirit’s help, doesn’t he? Are there some domains of sin where the believer can say, “I received victory in these areas only by the power of God?”

I think it’s actually inaccurate to draw a contrast between non-believers getting help from community resources without God and believers getting help from God all on their own.

On the one hand, classic Christian theology holds that those who have not yet benefited from the “special grace” of God that leads us to salvation in Jesus Christ nevertheless still benefit from the “common grace” of God that is in the world because it is God’s good creation and because God is actively exerting a redemptive influence throughout the earth. So the non-believer is not necessarily making progress in finding freedom from destructive patterns of life “without the Spirit’s help.” This is particularly true if he or she is participating in a group whose members are all working together to overcome a common problem. Human community, when it is cooperative and directed towards a positive end, reflects the character of God and can be a powerful channel of common grace.

On the other hand, the biblical portrayal of salvation is not that we are saved in isolation and need to work out our sanctification (progress towards Christ-like character and life) all alone, just between ourselves and God. Paul writes to the Corinthians, for example, regarding our entrance into the Christian life, that “we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit.” We are saved into community, not into individual self-reliance. (That’s the American individualistic version of “salvation” instead.)

So it’s not a matter of vindicating the need for faith by identifying certain areas of life where destructive patterns can only be overcome by the Holy Spirit’s help. Rather, it’s a matter of recognizing that we live out the model of life that God intended for us humans when the take part in a community whose members offer one another mutual support and encouragement. This is so powerful that it can have many beneficial effects for members even when the community is not built on a shared faith commitment. (Although many “secular” groups actually do talk about the need to rely on a “higher power.”) But I honestly believe that when followers of Jesus form close communities in which members can share their struggles honestly and receive help from people who do not judge them, but rather support and help them, even more powerful things can and do happen. That’s the kind of community I wish for you and for all of my readers.

Did the Holy Spirit raise Jesus from the dead?

Q. Paul writes in Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” Can this statement be used in support the idea that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead?

For this particular statement to be used that way, it would have to refer to “the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead” rather than “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead.” However, there’s another interesting statement in Romans that suggests that the Holy Spirit might indeed have had a role in raising Jesus from the dead. Paul says something a little earlier in the letter that’s parallel to this later statement: “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Here Jesus’ resurrection is not attributed directly to the Father, but to something (or someone?) associated with the Father.

We may observe more generally that all of the activities of the Trinity involve all of its persons, so it would have been uncharacteristic for the Father alone to have raised the Son, without the involvement of the Spirit. As Christian thinkers in the first few centuries after Jesus tried to wrap their minds around the Trinity, one thing they agreed on was that it would be inaccurate to distinguish between the persons of the Trinity by appealing to their roles or responsibilities. That is, we shouldn’t say, “The Father does this while the Son does that and the Spirit does this other thing,” or, “The Father is responsible for this, and the Son for something else, and the Spirit for yet another area.”

We have some vivid pictures in the Bible of the persons of the Trinity all working together to accomplish important things. For example, in the Genesis creation account, God the Father creates through the Word while the Spirit hovers over the waters. At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens open and the Father speaks while the Spirit descends like a dove. While he was on earth, Jesus himself said, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also.” I think we can legitimately expand this to say, “Whatever the Father and the Son do, the Spirit does also.”

So in some way the Spirit must have been involved in the resurrection of Jesus. I picture it as being something like the way the “two witnesses” in the book of Revelation are raised from the dead: “The Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet.” (Many English translations say “breath of life” or “spirit of life” instead, but I think the text could well be referring to the Holy Spirit.)

This raises another very interesting question: If all three persons of the Trinity work together in every one of their activities, was Jesus involved in his own resurrection? The book of Hebrews makes this interesting statement: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Jesus actually did die an earthly death, on the cross, and so this statement that his prayers to be saved from death were heard seems to be describing his resurrection. In that case, Jesus was involved in his own resurrection through his prayers and submission, that is, his trust in God.

Hebrews goes on to say, “Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” This, too, would suggest that the Second Person of the Trinity was involved in his own resurrection through his trusting obedience, and in that way he contributed to the achievement of salvation for humanity that the whole Trinity was working for together.

Why were the apostles filled with the Holy Spirit again right after Pentecost?

Q. Why are the apostles “filled with the Holy Spirit” when they pray for boldness after Peter and John are arrested, when they had just recently received the Spirit on Pentecost? Isn’t the receiving of the Holy Spirit a one-time thing, as opposed to how it was in Old Testament times? If there are deeper levels or experiences, what do they consist of?

A Coptic icon of the day of Pentecost. Wasn’t the filling with the Holy Spirit that the disciples received that day all they ever needed?

As I understand it, Pentecost is the occasion on which the community is  filled with the Holy Spirit. The New Testament speaks of the community of Jesus’ followers as “God’s temple” or a “temple in the Lord.” The physical temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, and the New Testament envisions a new kind of temple, built of “living stones” (as Peter puts it, that is, of people), taking its place.  And so the scene on the day of Pentecost is just like the ones in the Old Testament when God’s Spirit fills the tabernacle built by Moses and the temple that Solomon built. (Along these lines, I once preached a Pentecost sermon entitled “The Filling of the New Temple.”)

This is indeed a one-time occasion.  The Spirit came to live in the “new temple” only once, just as in the cases of the tabernacle and physical temple. And presumably anyone who was constituting the “new temple” at the time, that is, each the 120 followers of Jesus who were meeting together on Pentecost, was filled with the Holy Spirit as the community was filled. But this is something different from the kind of filling that’s described later in Acts, both in the passage you mention and in others.

In those cases, it’s almost as if the Holy Spirit takes up a person and uses them as an instrument for something on a particular occasion.  We see this from what happens next: they speak the word of God boldly, or they announce God’s judgment on opponents, or (in Saul’s case) his lost sight is restored and he receives his divine calling.

This is directly analogous to the situations in the Old Testament where, in effect, the Spirit picks someone up and uses them for God’s purposes.  The Hebrew idiom is quite striking: It says that the Spirit of Yahweh “clothed herself* in” the person chosen as an instrument.  This is how Gideon, for example, was propelled into his mission of leading Israel’s tribes against an invading coalition of their enemies.

If you think about it, if the Spirit is wearing you like a garment, that’s the same thing as being filled with the Spirit: you’re the outside, and the Spirit is the inside!

This is a matter of special empowerment by the Spirit on a particular occasion for a particular purpose.  I’d say that, for its part, it’s different from yet another kind of “filling with the Spirit.”  I think that all believers receive the Spirit when they choose to follow Christ.  But they are not necessarily filled with the Spirit if they haven’t yet opened up every area of their being to the Spirit’s presence and control.  When we do “surrender all,” then the Spirit can flood our being throughout and we are filled.

This might be a gradual process for some people, but for others, it may be a powerful and moving experience that happens at a specific, memorable time.  In the mid-to-late 1800s, the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” was used to describe this experience, synonymously with “complete surrender” and “entire sanctification.”  The idea was that people weren’t getting more of the Spirit, the Spirit was getting more of them, and so was able to fill them.  (The Greek verb “baptize” actually means “to fill by immersing,” and so it’s a suitable term to use for such an experience.)

Later, specifically within the Pentecostal movement starting in 1906, the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” became associated with receiving the “gift of tongues,” that is, the ability to speak a language not naturally acquired, as the followers of Jesus did on the day of Pentecost.  But even within that movement, the primary emphasis remained on the complete surrender of one’s life and will to God.  I believe that God does still give the gift of tongues today, in a variety of forms and for a number of purposes, but that it is not the identifying sign of having been filled with the Holy Spirit.  Rather, a greater empowerment for service with whatever gifts God has given, and a greater consecration to God, are the evidence of that filling.

I hope this is helpful!

*I use the feminine pronoun because the word for “Spirit” is feminine in Hebrew. The language has no neuter pronoun, and even if it did, I don’t think either using the impersonal pronoun from English (“it”), or using a masculine pronoun (“him”) to represent a feminine word, would be appropriate for the Spirit as depicted in the Hebrew Bible.

Are people “filled with the Holy Spirit” once or multiple times?

Q. Why are the apostles “filled with the Holy Spirit” when they pray for boldness after Peter and John are released from prison, when they have just recently received the Spirit on Pentecost? Isn’t the receiving of the Holy Spirit a one-time thing as opposed to how it was in the Old Testament times? If there are deeper levels / experiences, what do they consist of?

El Greco, “Pentecost” (detail). If the apostles were already filled with the Holy Spirit on this occasion, why did they need to be filled again?

As I understand it, on the day of Pentecost, it is the community of Jesus’ followers that is filled with the Holy Spirit, as the “new temple” of the new covenant.

Under the old covenant, when the tabernacle was first set up in the wilderness, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle,” to such an extent thatMoses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”  Later, when Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem and brought the ark of the covenant there, similarly “the cloud filled the temple of the Lord, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.”

Unfortunately the Israelites broke this covenant and they were conquered and exiled, and the first temple was destroyed.  Shortly before this, as Ezekiel saw in one of his visions, “the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim [i.e. upon the ark], where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple.”  As Ezekiel looked on, “the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple” and it was escorted away out of the city by angelic beings.  (I’m always horrified when I read about this departure of God’s glory and Spirit!)

There is no record in the Bible of God’s glory filling the second temple, which was rebuilt in various stages after the return from exile.  I believe this is because, under the promised new covenant, the community of believers was to constitute the new temple.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, addressing the community corporately, not the members individually, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  Paul wrote similarly to the Ephesians:

“You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

So this is what I think was happening on the day of Pentecost.  As I put it in the title of a sermon I preached one Pentecost Sunday when I was a pastor, it is the “filling of the new temple.”  This is something different from the filling of an individual believer by the Holy Spirit.  I believe that such an individual filling takes place in one sense on a one-time basis, but that in another sense it can happen on a repeated basis.

Everyone who becomes a committed follower of Jesus receives the Holy Spirit as a gift, to equip and empower them to serve and to live a holy life.  So this one-time filling is not a matter of us getting more of the Holy Spirit.  Rather, it’s a matter of the Holy Spirit getting more of us.  Christians throughout the ages have reported an experience that sometimes goes by the name of “complete surrender,” in which they realize that Jesus must have unchallenged lordship in their lives.  They therefore surrender their wills to do only God’s will.  And many report that concurrently something happens that they call the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”  (“Baptism” is simply the Greek word for “to fill by immersing,” so this is just another way of saying “the filling of the Holy Spirit.”)  The point is that the Holy Spirit, who has now been given free access to the whole being, fills all those areas in our lives that had once been closed off.

This experience is known by other names as well, such as the “Second Blessing,” but it does not have to come a long time after a person’s first commitment to Christ.  Churches in the Pentecostal tradition associate it with receiving the “gift of languages” (which I discuss in this post), but the experience was well attested in church history long before the Pentecostal movement began in 1906.  Basically it is a one-time “filling” with the Holy Spirit that occurs when we open our entire life for the Spirit to fill.

This is different from the kind of “filling” we might need and experience on a recurring basis when the Spirit makes use of us in a special way as an instrument of God’s work on earth.  This recurring kind of filling is, as you say, described in the Old Testament, as well as in New Testament passages like the one in which the apostles pray for boldness.  These are those situations in which, as I explain in this post, it is said that “the Spirit of Yahweh clothed herself with” a certain person, in effect “putting that person on” like a garment so that they could become God’s instrument.

Even when this particular language is not present, and we hear simply about the person being “filled with the Spirit,” the idea is the same.  A special measure of God’s presence and empowerment is needed for a particular task, and so it is granted for that occasion.

I hope these distinctions are helpful in answering your question.