I want to start this study with the words "For Your Discernment".
Was it on Pentecost, like most of the Church believes? Or was it earlier?
Little did I know scratching at this would take me down such a deep rabbit hole. I believe God revealed some things to me I had never put together before. Perhaps this study will bless you as it did me.
Let's get started.
The first mention of baptism by fire is spoken by John the Baptist. Here's the passage:
10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” ~~Matthew 3:10-12
When I read this passage in context, I noticed two things. First, John says, "Holy Spirit AND fire." Second, he talks about throwing bad trees into the fire, as well as the chaff. I began to wonder if Holy Spirit baptism and fire baptism were two different things. I wanted to go into this with no preconceived notions, no 'old-school' teaching to clog up the works, so I kept an open mind about it. I did some research and found I wasn't the only one to wonder this. It would seem, in context, that John the Baptist is saying Christ can baptize you with the Spirit (believers) and with fire (unbelievers - Lake of Fire). Baptism, after all, is defined as being immersed within something. Water, Spirit. Fire.
"Okay, Lord..." I said, somewhat perplexed. "How does this tie in to when the Apostles were saved?"
As I stated above, most people believe the Apostles became born again on Pentecost. But I've always wondered at the passage in John when our Resurrected Lord BREATHED on them in John 20:22. Well, that's odd. Why would He do that?
I went through the Bible and looked up everything I could about the breath of God. Yahweh breathed into Adam's nostrils, thus giving him life (Genesis 2:7). Scripture mentions all the creatures that came to Noah had the "breath of life" in their nostrils (Genesis 7:22). The dry bones came together with sinew and flesh, and Ezekiel had but to prophesy that the the breath of life enter them (Ezekiel 37:9).
Clearly, we see that God's breath contains life. I do not believe Christ did this for no reason. I believe this is when the Apostles were born again. Christ breathed into their nostrils, much like Adam and Eve, and made their spirits come alive with the Holy Spirit. He even said it, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
"All right, Lord," I replied. "Why didn't the magic happen then? Where was the roaring wind and the tongues of flame?"
I was reminded that Christ was still WITH THEM at this time, and that He'd told them He had to leave before the Holy Spirit could come to them (John 16:7). Therefore, His breath upon them was the Spirit indwelling them, but the Spirit couldn't come in power until Christ had left.
I'm such an inquisitive child. :)
This is where the study began to blow my mind. I believe this was given to me by the very Spirit I'm trying to understand. So bear with me. And if the Spirit in you agrees with the Spirit in me and finds a ring of truth in this, then perhaps I'm not off my rocker.
The Spirit asked me about the OTHER times the Spirit had manifested in Scripture.
I could only think of one time in particular. Christ's water baptism (John 1:29-34).
In this passage from John's Gospel, Christ is baptized, and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. God opened my understanding and told me in that moment, not only was Christ baptized with water, but He was also baptized by the Spirit. This wasn't a mere random manifestation of the Spirit, but rather, an anointing by God for Christ to go into ministry. Most folks agree that this is true, but not many people put into words that Christ was not only baptized by water, but by the Spirit as well at the same time.
Amazing! But... I wondered why Christ's manifestation was a dove and the Apostles' got flames above their heads? So I started asking myself questions. And the Spirit began answering them.
The dove symbolizes peace. Christ is the Prince of Peace. But this revelation went a little deeper. God told me to take a look at when the dove is first presented in Scripture. We see the dove in the story of Noah (Genesis 8:11). He releases it over the floodwaters to see if they've receded. When the dove returns, it has an olive branch in its mouth. God told me to think about that olive branch for a moment. Why is it so important? Then it hit me. There were no "farmers" on the earth -- they'd all perished in the flood! Therefore, that olive branch was from a wild olive tree! Scripture likens the Gentiles as a wild olive branch that's been grafted on to the cultivated olive tree, the Jews (Romans 11:13-18).
Therefore, when the Spirit alighted on Christ like a dove, God was showing me that manifestation was a reminder of the dove in the story of Noah, as Christ Himself was going to leave His chosen people to go out and find the wild olive branch to bring back to the ark.
Now, how does this all tie back in to the tongues of flame above the Apostles' heads in Acts 2:1-4? Recently, God gave me an understanding of the burning bush in the story of Moses in Exodus 3 and 4. Scripture alludes to God being a consuming fire in many places. We know from Acts 2 that the "fire" of God is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the burning bush was on "Spiritual fire", if you will. The voice that spoke was the Word of God, which of course we know from my previous study, is Yeshua. And the Glory that shone was from the Father. In the burning bush, therefore, we see all three Persons of the Godhead at work.
But what does the burning bush and the tongues of flame have in common? In both instances, with Moses and with the Apostles, this was the moment God anointed them to GO IN BOLDNESS and "free" His people. With Moses, God told him to go to Pharoah and the Lord would "teach him what he should say" (Exodus 4:12). Yeshua also told His disciples this same thing in Luke 12:12: "For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
If you look at what happens in Acts 2 when the Spirit falls as flame, the Apostles begin PREACHING. In this instance, they begin preaching in other languages. Not only was the Spirit teaching them what to say, but how to say it. Therefore, just like at the burning bush, God told Moses to GO and the flame of the Spirit gave him boldness. Christ told His disciples to GO and the flame of the Spirit gave them boldness.
The difference between the Apostles and Moses, of course, is the fact that Moses had the Spirit come upon Him, whereas the Apostles had the Spirit indwelling them. The Spirit couldn't come in power to the Apostles until Christ had left them because Christ Himself had come in peace as the Lamb of God, as shown with the Spirit as a sweet, innocent dove. Now, however, that innocent Lamb had ascended to His Throne, and the Spirit could come in mighty power and anoint the men of God to do His work.
There was a roar in the upper room in Acts 2, because never before had the Spirit come in such power before. In Christ, Heaven and earth had been reconciled. The boldness, therefore, that Moses had was a mere drop in the bucket compared to what the Apostles were gifted with. They had it inside them, within their heart, permeating every cell of their bodies.
The coward Simon Peter, who'd denied his Master three times, became one of the most courageous men for Christ who's ever lived. John went with him to the temple and gave the Pharisees what for, unashamed to accuse them of murdering the Messiah, when mere days before, they had all laid low in the Upper Room for fear of being discovered. They healed the sick, just like Christ did, and they preached on the streets of the very city that crucified Him. (I love the book of Acts.)
Were they baptized in the Holy Spirit that fateful Pentecost? Absolutely! But we should take "baptism by fire" much more seriously than merely speaking in tongues. Does it mean being tossed into the Lake of Fire? Does it mean being immersed in the fire of the Spirit? Does it mean refining your faith in the furnace of affliction? Or could it mean all of the above? We do know Scripture has many layers to it, as prophecy usually has a past and a future fulfillment. Perhaps this is one of those layers.
But I found this study quite fascinating. It definitely didn't go in the direction I thought it would. However, I do believe the disciples were born again the moment Christ breathed on them. Obviously they believed in Yeshua's atonement once they saw Him resurrected! They wouldn't have had to wait forty days with Him and another ten after His ascension to be born again. Besides, becoming a Christian involves asking God personally to forgive your sins and live in your heart as the King of kings and the risen Lord. As Christ took their faces in His nail-scarred hands, there's no doubt in my mind each and every disciple individually accepted Him as their Savior in that moment.
There's no mention of a corporate prayer to God in Acts 2 for the Spirit of Christ to come into their heart and dwell within. No, they already had the Spirit of God breathed into their hearts, given by the Lamb in peace as the dove...
...then in power as the flame.