Robert Wurtz II
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37–39 ESV)
The title of this entry will seem strange at first mainly because we are fairly familiar with the word anti as in anti-Christ (Antichrist) but we are not as familiar with ante as in antecedent, antebellum, or specifically, Ante-Nicene Christianity. Anti (as in Antichrist) means not only anti in the sense of “against” and “opposite of”, but also “in place of.” Ante (as in Ante-Nicene) comes from the Latin and means before. In other words, Ante-Nicene Christianity means before the council of Nicea in 325 AD. It is in that sense that I formed the title, “Ante-Pentecost Christianity” because it deals with the experience of believers prior to the Day of Pentecost.
A cursory reading of the Gospels, followed by the book of Acts, reveals a tale of two completely different groups of people. The names are the same, but something radical had happened between the Gospels and the Acts. The Gospels reveal men and women who fail to serve God even though they gave it their best effort. The book of Acts reveals the same people who had become partakers of the Divine nature and were living as God intended mankind to live. This is a simple and straightforward observation that is easily substantiated (if we handle the texts reasonably) so I will forgo spending time developing what should be evident.
A Watershed Moment
John 7:39 contains the key to understanding why there is such a contrast between the disciples before and after Pentecost. Jesus was ready to give the living water to His followers, just as He indicated to the woman at the well in John 4. What was preventing Him? Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. Jesus had not yet died on the Cross to set into motion the New Covenant. The book of Hebrews explains the process of establishing the Covenant (Heb. 9:16). When Jesus ascended into Heaven to appear in the presence of God for us, He offered His own blood as is explained in Heb. 9:17-28.
While the events described in Hebrews were taking place in Heaven, the disciples had been instructed to wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). Flashback to Exodus 29:4-8 where God revealed what we now know was Aaron and his sons as antitypes of what would someday happen when Jesus was finally glorified and made our Great High Priest. We even have an allusion to this in the Psalms, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments.” (Psalms 133:1–2 NKJV) Aaron was the High Priest and his sons were partakers of his anointing. Likewise, in Acts 2, when the disciples were in one accord and in one place, Jesus, our Great High Priest, was anointed and that oil (as it were) flowed down upon those waiting on the day of Pentecost to make them partakers of Christ’s anointing. That day they became a kingdom of priests unto God. It was a watershed moment for the disciples as they entered the New Covenant and became partakers of the divine nature.
Stuck in an Ante-Pentecostal Experience
The book of Acts reveals a pattern that was followed (though sometimes the order would change) for people to come fully into the New Covenant. There were no slick formulas in those days, but there was always the same basic ingredients: genuine repentance, genuine faith, water baptism, and receiving consciously the Holy Spirit. Typically, the proclamation of the Gospel went forward and the people responded by asking, “What must I do?” If they didn’t ask, they clearly did not understand the significance of what was said or they were unconcerned and resisting it. In other words, their hearts were not ready to respond to instructions on what to do to be saved. Moreover, if they didn’t have a good enough grasp of the Gospel to call upon the Lord from their own heart and in their own words, they were not ready to pray yet. That’s the common sense of it.
There are examples of people in the Acts who were lacking in their experience. Saul (Paul) had been struck down by the Glory of God and caused to know that Jesus was the Messiah, but this did not baptize him into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. In fact, he spent three days fasting food and water, leading up to the visit from Ananias who laid hands on him to receive his sight and receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:1-17). Apollos had a partial understanding of the things of God as did the believers at Ephesus (Acts 18:24-26). Paul asked the Ephesians if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed (Acts 19:2). They didn’t know what he was talking about–clear evidence that receiving the Spirit is not automatic.
Understand that God is omnipresent. This is a theological proposition. God is everywhere and everywhere is God. So there is a sense in which everyone has the Holy Spirit. Even my keyboard has the Holy Spirit if we want to get technical. But this is not the same as when a person receives the Holy Spirit in such a way that they and the people around them know that God has come into them. No one accidentally receives the Holy Spirit. God desires to give us the Holy Spirit more than a parent wants to provide their child with their necessary food. However, a person’s heart has to be right with God. This means that they agree with God’s word and stop resisting the Holy Spirit.
Simon the Sorcerer is an example of a person who started out as a follower of Jesus. Just like the disciples, he responded to the call of God (Acts 8:12). At this point, he is in a situation similar to the disciples prior to Pentecost. The difference was, the disciples (except Judas) had gotten their hearts right with God by responding to the call to repentance by both John the Baptist and Jesus. This is how they started following. It was not a casual thing. Simon followed along with other believers and was even baptized in water, but his heart was still not right with God (Acts 8:17-23). He was in the gall of bitterness, iniquity, and perishing and was still trying to receive the Spirit. Again, Peter said his heart wasn’t right. I submit that the story of Simon is included in the Acts to show why many people have not received the Spirit. No one can receive the Holy Spirit until they get their heart right with God, even if Peter and John laid hands on you.
Understand that it was normative for people to consciously receive the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. It was not automatic. Receiving the Spirit was a crisis event followed by ongoing fillings. I suggest that when reading through the New Testament epistles that we should assume that the addressees of the letters had been through this conscious reception of the Holy Spirit and were following on with regular fillings (Eph. 5:18). This is why Phillip sent for Peter and John to come and lay hands on the people (Acts 8:14-16). They needed to receive the Spirit. Many Bible teachers and theologians ignore this fact and end up teaching that people receive the Holy Spirit automatically. A.W. Tozer once called it, “logical deductions and proof texts.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they were temples of the Holy Spirit it is because he knew that they had consciously received the Spirit as a crisis event. The same is true every place he speaks of the people having the Spirit. Had he not believed they had consciously received, he would have asked them about it as he did the believers at Ephesus.
I know it’s unpopular, but I’m afraid that multitudes of people are stuck in an Ante-Pentecost (pre-Pentecost) experience. Some try to substitute asceticism, legalism, and a lot of other isms’ for receiving the Holy Spirit. It will never work. This is why Jesus used the analogy of living water to describe the Holy Spirit — because there is simply no replacement. And this is why the enemy fights this truth so ferociously. In fact, the closer we get to the root of the issue the more he fights. He doesn’t want anyone to receive the watershed experience of all believers… receiving consciously the Holy Spirit. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2 ESV)