From the start, the promise of the Spirit has been integral to redemption and the Covenant of God with His people.
In Galatians, Paul linked the “promise of the Spirit” to the “blessing of Abraham,” the covenant promise that God would bless the Gentiles in the Patriarch. He was referring to the Spirit that the Galatians had received “through a hearing of faith.” Thus, the gift of the Spirit was part of the covenant made with Abraham, and with “his seed.”
In his sermon delivered on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter also linked the promised gift of the Spirit to the “blessing” to all nations promised to Abraham:
- (Acts 2:38-39) – “The promise is for you, and to your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” – (Acts 2:1-4, 2:15-22).
- (Genesis 12:1-3) – “And Yahweh said to Abram… So shall be blessed in you all the clans of the earth.”
- (Genesis 17:7) – “And I will confirm my covenant between me and you and your seed after you to their generations for an everlasting covenant.”
What was received on Pentecost was the outworking of the Abrahamic covenant. However, Israel had failed to live up to the covenant requirements. Though all Israel swore to keep “all the words which Yahweh has spoken,” history attests to her failure to fulfill her obligations. But in fairness, the Israelites lacked the ability to meet its righteous requirements because they lacked the Spirit – (Exodus 24:1-8, Numbers 11:1-15).
The Mosaic legislation anticipated Israel’s failure and the need for something more. After predicting the dispersal of the nation, Yahweh promised that after Israel truly repented, she would “return to me and obey my voice with all your heart and soul.” On that day, He would gather the people from all nations and “circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed to love Yahweh your God with all your heart” – (Deuteronomy 30:1-6).
Later, the themes of renewal and circumcision of the heart were taken up by the prophet Jeremiah. The day would come when Yahweh would “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” But NOT a covenant according to the one that He made with their forefathers:
“Behold, days are coming, declares Yahweh, when I will solemnize with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, a new covenant: not like the covenant which I solemnized with their fathers, in the day when I grasped their hand to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt, in that, they broke my covenant, though I had become a husband to them, declares Yahweh. For this is the covenant which I will solemnize with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh, I will put my law within them, Yea, on their heart will I write it. So will I become their God, and they shall become my people” – (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
God promised to provide the new covenant in which He would write His laws in the hearts of His people. The circumcision-of-the-heart anticipated by Moses would be realized in it. The New Testament applies this promise to the covenant inaugurated by the death of Jesus:
- (Hebrews 8:6-12) – “But now, has he attained to a more distinguished public ministry, by as much as, of a better covenant also he is mediator, which, indeed, upon better promises had been legislated. For if that first had been faultless, not, in that case, for a second had there been sought a place. For finding fault with them, he said: Behold, days are coming when I will conclude for the house of Israel and the house of Judah, a covenant of a new sort: Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers… Because this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: giving my laws into their understanding, upon their hearts, also, will I inscribe them: and I will become their God, and they shall become my people.”
Likewise, the prophet Ezekiel employs this same theme, but he added the essential element of the Spirit:
- (Ezekiel 36:24-28) – “Therefore will I take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the lands, and will bring you upon your own soil… And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh; and my spirit will I put within you and will cause that in my statutes you shall walk, and my regulations you shall observe and do.”
- (Ezekiel 37:25-28) – “And they shall dwell upon the land which I gave to my servant Jacob, wherein your fathers dwelt… And I will solemnize to them a covenant of prosperity, a covenant everlasting shall it be with them… And I will become their God, and they shall become my people.”
Yahweh would give Israel this “new heart” and put “a new spirit within her,” and to replace her stony heart of disobedience with a heart of flesh. Moreover, He would “put His spirit within the Israelites and cause them to walk in His statutes.” Thus, Ezekiel combines the promises of the New Covenant, of the Spirit, and of the circumcised heart. Centuries later, Paul would apply these promises to the congregation at Corinth:
- (2 Corinthians 3:1-6) – “You are our letter, inscribed in our hearts, noted and read by all men, manifesting yourselves that you are a letter of Christ, ministered by us, inscribed, not with ink, but with the Spirit of a Living God; not in tablets of stone, but in tablets which are hearts of flesh… Not that of our own selves sufficient are we to reckon anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God, who also has made us sufficient to be ministers of the new covenant, not of letter, but of spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive.”
These prophecies point to the centrality of the Spirit for the New Covenant community. With the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the long-awaited New Covenant with its gift of the Spirit has arrived among God’s people.
Especially in Paul’s letters, the connection of the gift of the Spirit to the Abrahamic covenant, the “blessings to the nations,” and the New Covenant illustrate the continuity of what God is doing in His Church with the covenant that he made with Abraham thousands of years ago, and with His redemptive purposes for the nation of Israel.
Thus, the Church and the receipt of the Spirit were not unforeseen interim stages or detours in the redemptive plan of God, but integral parts of His covenant from the very beginning.