The Holy Spirit in Luke - Acts
January 24, 2009
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The Holy Spirit in Luke - Acts
14 And Jesus returned to Galilee
in the power of
the Spirit; and news about Him spread through all
the surrounding district.
15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and
was praised by all (Luke 4:14-15 NAS).
In this passage from the Gospel of
Luke, Jesus Christ has just
returned victorious from the temptation in the wilderness. Now Jesus
begins His public ministry, choosing Galilee as His inaugural mission
field. As one reads this excerpt, a question that might come to mind
is, what does the phrase "power of the Spirit" really signify?
First, a look at the Greek word
translated as "power" in Luke
4:14. One of the obstacles encountered in translation is that the
"parallel" word in another language may not properly convey the
original dynamism. The Greek word rendered as "power" is dunamis
which is the root for the English word "dynamite." The Hebrew-Greek
Key Study Bible relates the meaning of dunamis: ". . . power,
especially inherent power. All the words derived from the stem duna-
have the basic meaning of being able, capable . . ." (Zodhiates 1684).
Hayes' Introduction to the Bible
shows that this passage of Luke
4:14-15 marks a significant pivotal point in the epic of the Bible.
Hayes deems Luke 4:14-15 so critical to the Bible that he appraises it
as "the midpoint of history" (371). Hayes promotes a chronological
succession of three important eras depicted in the Bible. The
presence of the Holy Spirit is increasingly significant in the last
two of these eras:
The author of Luke-Acts divided
the history of
Salvation into three main epochs. The first was
the time of Israel and the Jews, which came to an
end with John the Baptist. This epoch was
characterized by the use of the Law and the
Prophets (see Luke 16:16). The second period was
the time of Jesus, the midpoint of history when
Jesus worked through the power of the Spirit
(Luke 4:14). The third epoch was the time of the
church when the activity of the Spirit worked
through the Christian community and its leaders
A detailed examination of the
workings of the Spirit in the Gospel
of Luke and the Book of Acts will reveal much about the nature and
power of the Spirit. The ministry of the Spirit has undergone a
significant transition over time. The New Bible Dictionary says,
Admittedly, it is easier in the
Old Testament to
interpret the activity of the Spirit in an
impersonal way than it is in the New Testament;
but in both God is personally and powerfully
present in His Spirit. In each Testament there
is a movement from the more external to the more
internal work of the Spirit and from what might
be called "outward application" to inward
The Gospel of Luke and the Book of
Acts are companion volumes,
written by the same author, and are sequential in nature (Hayes 370).
Both books are addressed to the same entity, "Theophilus," evident
respectively in Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1. The Gospel of Luke narrates
the life of Jesus Christ while the Book of Acts records the history of
the newly formed Christian church.
The predominant early Christian
documentation strongly suggests
that the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts is a man
named Luke (NIV Study Bible 1532). Halley says Colossians 4:11
indicates that Luke is a Gentile and the only Bible author to claim
such heritage (559). On Luke's qualities: "He is recognized as a man
of culture and scientific education, a master of Hebraic and classical
Greek. By profession, a Physician" (559).
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark,
Luke and John and the Book of
Acts, "Holy Spirit" and "Holy Ghost" are used interchangeably. Luke
and Acts are chosen as the primary source texts because they have the
greatest number (68) of direct references (17 and 51 respectively)
compared with the other Gospels. Matthew has nine references to the
Spirit, Mark has five and the Gospel of John has 15. The reason the
comparison of references is limited to these five books is that
they are the only five books of the 27 in the New Testament recognized
as historical in nature. The remaining 22 books of the New Testament
are divided into Paul's epistles, general epistles and the apocalyptic
writing of Revelation.
The ministry of the Spirit will be
traced in basically a topical
fashion throughout Luke-Acts. The Bible immediately introduces the
reader to God the Holy Spirit. In the first chapter of the first book
of the Bible, the Spirit is already at work in the world (Genesis
The deeds of the Holy Spirit as
recorded in the Bible are far too
numerous to mention here. The Spirit works throughout the history
detailed in the Bible. In the final chapter of the Book of
Revelation, the sixty-sixth and last book of the Bible, the Spirit is
still found to be exhorting the unbeliever to respond to the Gospel
Luke follows a form subsequently
evident in the canon and makes
reference to the Spirit in the first and last chapters of Luke (1:15;
24:49) and in the first and last chapters of Acts (1:5-6,9; 28:25).
According to the NIV Study Bible, several references in the New
Testament suggest that Luke was a companion of the Apostle Paul
(1532). These are Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16;
Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24. The Apostle Paul wrote 13 of the
27 books canonized in the New Testament. Examining Strong's
Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible reveals that Paul makes at least
95 direct references to the Spirit in his epistles; from Romans
through Philemon. It has been demonstrated that Luke was a fellow
worker with the Apostle Paul. It is quite likely that Paul's
recognition of the essentiality of the Spirit in the life of the
Christian believer significantly influenced the writings of Luke.
The Christian community perceives
the God of Israel to exist in
three distinct persons of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ)
and God the Holy Spirit. Dr. Charles C. Ryrie, retired Professor of
Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, says Matthew 28:19
is the outstanding Scriptural basis for the concept of the Holy
Trinity (53). Luke-Acts reveal that the Spirit is in fact a separate
person from God and Christ and yet has the same nature.
In The Holy Spirit, Dr. Billy
Graham lists several attributes of
the Spirit which reveal that He is a distinct person. Graham states
that there are eleven qualities which indicate that the Spirit is a
person. The Spirit speaks, intercedes, testifies, leads, commands,
guides, appoints, can be lied to, insulted, blasphemed, and grieved
(17-18). Graham submits that Scripture reveals that the Spirit is in
fact God Himself (18). Six attributes support the Deity of the Holy
Spirit. He is eternal, all-powerful, omnipresent, omniscient,
referred to as God, and is the Creator (19).
Genesis records that the Spirit
was involved in the creation of
the world. Luke parallels this theme as he demonstrates the role of
the Spirit in the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Luke
1:15 describes the angel Gabriel announcing that John the Baptist
would be filled with the Spirit while in his elderly mother
Six months later Gabriel appears
to Jesus' mother Mary and informs
her that the Spirit will "overshadow" her, resulting in the immaculate
conception of Jesus Christ (1:35). When the six-months-pregnant
Elisabeth greets Mary, John the Baptist leaps in her womb, Elisabeth
is filled with the Spirit and prophesies that Mary and her Son are
blessed (1:41). Elisabeth's husband Zechariah is filled with the
Spirit at the birth of John the Baptist in vv. 1:67-80 and praises
God. Luke shows no restraint in revealing the significance of the
Spirit in the birth events of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
The Spirit was deeply involved in
prophecy or revealing God's
future plans in the Old Testament. This role continues in the New
Testament. A pious Jew named Simeon is instructed by the Spirit that
he would see the promised Messiah before he died in Luke 2:25-33.
Simeon also prophesied in vv. 34-35 that the child (Jesus) would cause
division in Israel and that His mother Mary would grieve over Him.
Jesus does not begin His ministry
before two momentous events take
place. John the Baptist declares in Luke 3:16 that Jesus will baptize
with the Spirit. John also witnesses the Spirit coming upon Jesus at
His baptism (3:22).
Immediately, Jesus was driven into
the wilderness by the Spirit
(4:1). Jesus fasted for 40 days and faced the temptation. Jesus was
not ill-equipped as verse 4:1 verifies that Jesus was "full of the
Holy Spirit" (NAS). Even though Luke clearly affirms the Deity of
Jesus, it is evident that as a man He required the indwelling of God
the Holy Spirit. Hayes' "midpoint of history" occurs after Jesus
returns from His testing. Now Jesus functions in the dunamis of the
Spirit (4:14), fully equipped for the arduous ministry He is soon to
undertake. Jesus begins His Galilean ministry by reading from the
Scriptures in the synagogue. Jesus reads from Isaiah and pronounces
His commissioning by the Spirit in 4:18-19.
Luke turns his focus on Jesus and
His teachings for the next
several chapters. The Gospel of Luke is divided into 24 chapters and
15 of the 17 direct references Luke makes to the Spirit are found in
the first four chapters. Luke now places Jesus and His disciples in
the forefront of his Gospel.
The next writing of the Spirit is
found in 10:21 when Jesus
rejoices in the Spirit, praising God that He has revealed His power
and wisdom to Jesus' disciples. The final direct reference in Luke is
found in 11:13 where Jesus exhorts His disciples to pray ceaselessly
for God the Father to send them the Spirit.
Although not named directly, Luke
makes one more reference to the
Spirit. Jesus informs His disciples that He will send the Holy Spirit
to them from heaven: "And, behold, I send the promise of My Father
upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued
with power from on high" (Luke 24:49 KJV).
Luke closes his Gospel leaving the
reader anticipating the coming
of the Spirit to the disciples. Luke has shown the dunamis of the
Spirit in Christ. But Luke does not leave his reader unsatisfied. In
the first chapter of Acts, Luke immediately recalls the promise made
by the resurrected Jesus and states that He gave His commandments by
the Spirit (1:2). Barclay notes that "Acts has been called the Gospel
of the Holy Spirit" (1976, 18). Correspondingly, Jesus states that
the disciples would be ". . . baptized with the Holy Ghost not many
days hence" (1:5 KJV). Verse 1:8 cites Jesus instructing the disciples
that they will become witnesses for the faith by the Spirit's power.
The Apostle Peter discloses that
the Spirit inspired King David of
Israel in writing the Psalms (1:16). Acts 2:4 marks the beginning of
the church age in Christianity as some 120 disciples are filled with
the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Peter, always failing in the
Gospels, takes on a new boldness and confidence in the Spirit. Peter
preaches that the prophecy of Joel demonstrates God's promise to pour
out the Spirit upon believers and that amazing signs would follow
(2:17-21 cf. Joel 2:28-32). Peter spoke that the promise of the Holy
Spirit had been received (2:33). Therefore, Peter admonished the
people to repent, be baptized in Christ's name, and thus receive the
Spirit in Acts 2:38.
Peter's boldness is again evident
as he addresses the Jewish
Sanhedrin. But it is by a filling of the Spirit that Peter speaks
(4:8). Again, Peter speaks of the Spirit inspiring David (4:25).
After Peter's speech, the people pray, are filled with the Spirit and
become bold witnesses for God (4:31). Later in Acts, after the
apostles are imprisoned, Peter tells the Council of the high priest
and the Senate that the Spirit is a witness, as are the disciples, to
the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ (5:30-32). Later, Peter also
preaches that God anointed Jesus with the Spirit (10:38).
The fifth chapter of Acts shows
that people lied to the Spirit. A
man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira lied about an offering they
made. Peter told them that they lied not just to men, but to God and
his Spirit (5:3-4,9).
As the early church grew, the
apostles became overburdened with
their ministry. They decided that they should appoint men filled with
the Spirit (6:3). Stephen met their requirements (6:5). Stephen
began a powerful ministry (6:8-10). However false charges, much like
those surreptitiously brought against Jesus, were made against
Stephen. Stephen stood before the Council and preached that they were
in error; always resisting the Spirit (7:51). Angered, the members of
the Council rushed to kill him. Stephen, full of the Spirit, looked
up and saw the glory of God and Jesus (7:56). Stephen's brief
ministry ended with the first martyrdom in the Christian church. Like
Jesus in Luke 23:34, Stephen forgives his murderers (Barclay 1976,
62). Saul, later to become the Apostle Paul approved of Stephen's
martyrdom (Acts 22:4, 20; 26:10).
Acts 9:17 records Paul's
conversion to Christianity by the power
of the Holy Spirit. A murderer of Christians, Paul became one of the
greatest Christians. Barnabas, a man full of the Spirit (11:24), is
sent to Paul. In 13:2-4, teachers and prophets at Antioch are
instructed by the Spirit to set Paul and Barnabas apart for a ministry
ordained by the Spirit. Paul, filled with the Spirit (13:9), rebukes
an evil sorcerer trying to interfere with Paul's preaching on Cyprus.
Paul and Barnabas are persecuted and hence return to Iconium. The
disciples were filled the Spirit and joy (13:44-52). The Spirit
forbids Paul and Silas from preaching in Asia or Bithynia (16:6-7).
The Spirit warned Paul that
persecutions awaited him in every city
(20:23). Undaunted, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders of their
responsibility as overseers ordained by the Spirit (20:28). The
disciples in Syria warned Paul by the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem
(21:4). A prophet named Agabus confirmed that Paul would fall captive
to unbelieving Gentiles at the hands of the Jews in Jerusalem
(21:10-11). Earlier, the Spirit prompted Agabus to predict a
worldwide famine (11:28) which occurred during the reign of the
emperor Claudius. Upon arrival in Rome, Paul stated that the Spirit
spoke through Isaiah concerning the unbelief of the people (28:25).
Acts reveals the miracles
performed by the Spirit filled apostles.
A sorcerer named Simon was rebuked for trying to bribe the apostles
for the gift of the Spirit (8:14-24). Verses 15-16 show that Samaria
had received the Gospel but not the Spirit. Acts 19:1-7 describes the
Apostle Paul's travel to Ephesus. At Ephesus Paul encounters about 12
believers who only knew of the baptism of John the Baptist. Paul
taught them of Jesus and they received the Spirit.
The Spirit speaks in 8:29, telling
Philip to witness to an
Ethiopian. After the Ethiopian's conversion, the Spirit miraculously
transports Philip to another city (8:39). Verse 9:31 shows the Spirit
comforting the ever-increasing church. The Greek word for the comfort
of the Spirit is paraklesis, a variation of parakalein, which means to
exhort or encourage (Barclay 1974, 217-18). The Spirit gave spiritual
commands for the believers to follow in 15:28-29.
Peter received a vision teaching
him to accept the Gentiles. The
Spirit said three men had been sent, by the Spirit, to meet him
(10:19-20). The passage in 10:44-48 describes the Spirit filled
Gentiles. Peter reiterated these acts of the Spirit in 11:12-18 and
Certainly, Luke-Acts have placed
heavy emphasis on the ministry of
the Holy Spirit. It is fair to say that the ministry of Christ and
the church would have had far less impact on the world without the
Spirit. Zechariah 4:6 says: ". . . not by might, nor by power, but by
my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts" (KJV). The Gospel of Luke and the
Book of Acts concur. Barclay emphasizes: "The early Church was a
Spirit-guided community" (1976, 19). Without the Holy Spirit,
Luke-Acts may not even have been written.
Barclay, William. The Acts of the
Westminster Press, 1976.
Barclay, William. The Gospel of
Luke. Philadelphia: Westminster
Barclay, William. New Testament
Words. Philadelphia: Westminster
Graham, Billy. The Holy Spirit. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1978.
Halley, Henry H. Halley's Bible
Handbook. Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1965.
Harper Study Bible (New American
Standard). Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985.
Hayes, John H. Introduction to the
Bible. Philadelphia: The
Westminster Press, 1971.
Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology.
Wheaton, Illinois: Victor
Strong, James. Strong's Exhaustive
Concordance of the Bible.
Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.
The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible
(King James Version).
Chattanooga, Tennessee: AMG Publishers, 1985.
The NIV Study Bible (New
International Version). Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985.
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate
Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1989.
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