SYNOPSIS – A people filled with the Spirit has been foundational to the redemptive plan of God from the very beginning.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul linked the “promise of the Spirit” to the “blessing of Abraham.” The Law pronounced a curse on anyone who did “not continue in all things written” in it, therefore Jesus came under its curse. But he did this to redeem men and women from the curse – that “the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” – (Genesis 12:2-3, Galatians 3:10-14).
Believers are “sealed with the Spirit of promise, the earnest of their inheritance until the redemption of the purchased-possession”. The promised gift has now been bestowed as a down payment, a guarantee of the full possession of the inheritance. The term “purchased possession” alludes to the original land promise to Abraham – (Ephesians 1:13-14):
(Genesis 17:8)– “And I will give to you and your seed after you the land of your sojourn, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession — And I will be to them a God.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Ephesians 1:13-14) – “In whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance,to the redemption of the purchased possession, for the praise of his glory.”
Thus, the Apostle to the Gentiles linked the gift of the Spirit to the covenant promises to Abraham, including the possession of the promised land – (Genesis 12:7, 13:17).
Jesus referred to the gift of the Spirit as the “promise of the Father” that would be given freely to all who asked. Before his ascension, he commanded the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father” – in fulfillment of the prophecy by Joel – (“In the last days God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh” – Joel 2:28-32, Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4, 2:16-21).
The initial outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost began the fulfillment of this promise – The “promise of the Holy Spirit received of the Father.” In his sermon on that day, Peter linked the gift of the Spirit to the promise of “blessing” to all nations that Yahweh made 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 unto Abram: Come thou on thy way, Out of thy land and out of the place of thy birth and out of the house of thy father —Unto the land that I will show thee; That I may make thee into a great nation, And bless thee and make great thy name, And become thou a blessing; That I may bless them who bless thee, But him who makes light of thee will I curse —So shall be blessed in thee all the families of the ground.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Genesis 17:7) – “And I will confirm my covenant betwixt me and thee and thy seed after thee to their generations for an age-abiding covenant —to become to thee a God, and to thy seed after thee.”
What the first Christians received fulfilled the promises made to Abraham, and to his “seed.”
Israel failed to obey the commandments of Yahweh; however, her people lacked the ability to live up to the righteous requirements of the covenant – they lacked the Spirit. But the Torah anticipated the need for something more. After predicting the dispersal of Israel for disobedience, Yahweh promised that after she truly repented, Israel would “return to Yahweh and obey His voice with all your heart and soul.” Then, He would gather the people from all the nations and “circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed to love Yahweh your God with all your heart” – (Deuteronomy 30:1-6).
The themes of renewal and circumcision of the heart were taken up by the prophet Jeremiah. Yahweh would “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” However, NOT a covenant according to the one He made with their forefathers:
“Behold, days are coming, declares Yahweh, when I will solemnize with the house of Israel and with 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 unto 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. Then shall they no longer teach, Every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Yahweh, for they all shall know me, From the least of them, even unto the greatest of them, Declares Yahweh, For I will forgive their iniquity, And their sin will I remember no more” – (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
From the start, God promised to provide a new covenant in which He would write His laws in the hearts of His people. The circumcision-of-the-heart anticipated by Moses is realized in the New Covenant. The New Testament applies this promise to the church, the covenant and people inaugurated by the death of Jesus:
(Hebrews 8:6-12) – “But now, has he attained unto a more distinguished public ministry, by as much as, of a better covenant also he is mediator, which indeed, upon better promises has 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 says, Lo! days are coming, says the Lord, 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, in the day when I took them by their hand, to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt, because they abode not in my covenant and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 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; And in nowise shall they teach, everyone his fellow-citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, Get to know the Lord! Because all shall know me, from the least unto the greatest of them; Because propitious will I be as to their iniquities, and of their sins, in nowise, will I be mindful anymore.”
The prophet Ezekiel took up the theme but added the essential element of the Spirit. A day would come when Yahweh would gather the remnants of Israel from among the nations and write His Law in their hearts, all by means of His 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 throw upon you clean water and ye shall he clean, from all your uncleanness and from all your manufactured gods will I cleanse you; 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 will give you a heart of flesh; And MY SPIRIT WILL I PUT WITHIN YOU, And will cause that in my statutes you will walk, and my regulations you will observe, and do; And you will dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you will become my people, And I will become your God.”
(Ezekiel 37:25-28) – “And they will dwell upon the land which I gave to my servant, to Jacob, where your fathers dwelt; Yea, they will dwell thereupon. They, and their children and their children’s children, unto times everlasting, and David my servant shall be prince unto them unto times everlasting. And I will solemnize to them a covenant of prosperity, A covenant everlasting will it be with them — And I will place them, and multiply them, And set my sanctuary in the midst of them. Unto times everlasting. And my habitation will be over them, and I will become their God, and they will become my people, So will the nations know that I, Yahweh, am hallowing Israel, When my sanctuary is in the midst of them Unto times everlasting.”
For His name’s sake, Yahweh would take pity on Israel and sanctify His name among the nations. Only then, would the Gentiles “know that I am Yahweh.” He would give Israel a new heart and put “a new spirit within her,” thereby replacing the 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, the book of Ezekiel combines the promises of the New Covenant, the Spirit, and the circumcised heart. Note well how the Apostle Paul applies these promises to the congregation at Corinth:
(2 Corinthians 3:1-6) – “Are we to begin again, ourselves, to commend? or have we need, like some, of commendatory letters unto you, or from you? Our letter ye are, inscribed in our hearts, noted and read by all men: Manifesting yourselves that ye 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. But such confidence as this have we through the Christ towards God. 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 A NEW COVENANT, not of letter, but of spirit, for the letter kills, whereas, the Spirit makes alive.”
The prophecies of the Hebrew Bible point to the centrality of the Spirit for the New Covenant. With the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, the long-awaited New Covenant with the vital gift of the Spirit arrived among God’s covenant community, and with it, the time of fulfillment.
Especially in the writings of Paul, the connection of the Spirit to the “promise of the Father” and the Abrahamic covenant, and to the New Covenant, illustrates the continuity of what God is doing in His Church with His original covenant with Abraham.
The formation of the Church and the activity of the Spirit were not unforeseen interim stages or detours in the redemptive plan of God, but foundational to His covenant from the very beginning.
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