If I were asked what is the greatest prophecy in the Bible it would not be an easy question to answer. So many wonderful prophecies! But I think I would have to say it’s the one given by the greatest prophet. That, in Jesus’ own words, was John the Baptist. Jesus said that among those born of women there was no greater prophet than John the Baptist (Luke 7:28).
What then did this greatest of prophets prophesy that was so great? I realize that Jesus said this of John because he had been sent to prepare Israel for the manifestation of their great Messiah. But what did John say of this coming One?
All four gospel writers record a certain prophecy which according to the Greek tense in Mark 1:7 John “preached continually” as he baptized. Here are the references in case you want to look them up (Mt. 3:11, Mk. 1:8, Lk. 3:16, Jn. 1:33), and here is Luke’s record:
John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but He who is mightier than I is coming, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals: He Himself will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire” (Lk. 3:16 NASB).
And so there it is. This coming One would be a baptizer like John—but He would baptize (the word means immerse) not in water but in Holy Spirit.
It was not long before this One came to John and was baptized by him in the Jordan waters, John protesting that he needed to be baptized by Him. But after this I think there must have been a continual question in the hearts of John’s anticipating followers. When is this Man going to start baptizing us in Holy Spirit? Did John get it wrong?
For, Jesus never did baptize anyone in Holy Spirit while upon earth. In fact He could not do so till He was glorified (Jn. 7:39). But this meant that after His baptism in Jordan there was yet another baptism for Him to undergo (Lk. 12:50). It was only after this, and seated now at the right hand of God, that He began His ministry of baptizing in Holy Spirit, sending the Spirit according to John the Baptist’s prophecy and His own earlier promise:
For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in Holy Spirit not many days hence (Acts 1:5).
Our Bible tells us that on the day of Pentecost the waiting disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). It is this initial filling, then, that was their baptism in Holy Spirit, although there were also other times later when they were “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 4:8, 4:31, 13:9, 13:52). This does not mean they were baptized in Holy Spirit again and again. Those who believe in Jesus are baptized in Holy Spirit only once (just as they are born again only once)—the first time they are filled with the Spirit. Thus the teaching, “one baptism, many fillings.”
Later when the Spirit was poured out at the house of Cornelius Peter referred to this as baptism in Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16). He also called it the gift of the Spirit, “the like gift” that God had given on the day of Pentecost to those “who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 11:17). This is confirmed by another verse earlier in Chapter Ten:
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:45).
These Gentiles had “received the Holy Ghost,” Peter confirmed, “as well as we” (Acts 10:47). This was their baptism in Holy Spirit.
Baptism in Holy Spirit, then, is the receiving of the Holy Spirit that Jesus spoke of when He promised His disciples He would send “another Comforter… whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him, but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (Jn. 14:17). What wondrous words.
And it is this baptism that is entrance into the Kingdom of God. For, Jesus told Nicodemus that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). Link this with “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit which He shed (poured) on us abundantly” (Titus 3:5). It is in this baptism, this immersion, then, that one is regenerated, born anew. That is some bath, transforming an old creation man into a new creation! And of such is the kingdom of God.
And so we discover that all these—baptism in Holy Spirit, receiving the Spirit, the gift of the Holy Spirit, being born of the Spirit, entering the kingdom of God (and there are others)—they are all different aspects of the one momentous event.
This is why John’s prophecy is so very great. Yes, it all centres in Christ Jesus our Lord. But in fact it may be said that the very reason the Son of God came was to the intent that He might baptize in Holy Spirit, might send the Spirit, thus joining His disciples to Himself, enabling those who believe in Him to live the life which otherwise cannot be lived—His own life, the life eternal. To receive the Spirit of Christ, to be baptized into Christ, means Christ Himself living in us. It means that we who were once “without strength” (Rom. 5:6) are now “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man…” His Spirit in the inner man? What, oh joy of joys, is the implication of this?
“…That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith…” (Eph. 3:16).
That is the essence of the New Covenant. The Spirit baptism is part and parcel of the New Covenant, is in fact initiation into the New Covenant, in which God does what the Law could not do—enabling those who “walk in the Spirit” to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law. That is a fascinating verse—Romans 8:4—moving from the incarnation and death of the Son of God to His sending the Spirit all in one breath.
In fact there are many passages in our Bible that are only seen aright through the lens of baptism in Holy Spirit—baptism into Christ. Here is one.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him (1 Jn. 4:9).
There again the apostle speaks in one breath of the coming of the Son of God and of the sending of the Spirit. God’s purpose in the sending of the promised Spirit is to baptize us into all that God accomplished in the incarnation—to make us one with His Son in His death and resurrection and ascension.
That is why He came. He came to baptize in Holy Spirit. He came to live as a man, and to die as a man… and to live again, that we who are baptized in Holy Spirit, baptized into Himself—we who were once dead in sin—might be dead to sin (for He died to sin), and that we might be raised from the dead just as He is raised from the dead, and that we might walk in newness of life, might live and reign with Him (while yet on earth, it must be said) as He lives and reigns at the right hand of God.
That is the love of God, the love of God manifested in the Cross of Christ, and poured forth into our hearts “through the Holy Spirit who is given to us” (Rom. 5:5).
Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.