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The first mention of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is in connection with John the Baptist: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:5-6).
This Zacharias was taking his turn in the temple service, and an angel appeared unto him and announced that in answer to his prayer his wife Elisabeth should bear a son whose name should be called John; that he should be great, and should drink no wine nor strong drink, and (Luke 1:15) “for he will be great before the Lord; and he will drink no wine or alcoholic drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from the womb of his mother.” And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and provided redemption for his people. (Luke 1:67-68).
“And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until the day he showed himself publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1:80) His private life was spent in the desert solitudes, where he was being strengthened in spirit for the great work God had prepared for him. This work had been foretold by the Holy Spirit. It spoke through Isaiah the prophet (40:3-5), saying:
3 A voice of one calling out,
In the wilderness, “prepare the way of Jehovah;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Malachi 3:1 says:
1 “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare a way before me. And suddenly the true Lord, whom you are seeking, will come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant will come, in whom you take delight. Look, he will certainly come,” says Jehovah of armies.
In fulfillment of these predictions of the Spirit came John the Baptist in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Great multitudes flocked to his preaching and baptism. Among others came Jesus of Nazareth, and “On the next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
John 1:30-34 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
30 This one is the one about whom I said, ‘After me is coming a man who is ahead of me, because he existed before me. 31 And I did not know him, but in order that he might be manifested to Israel, because of this I came baptizing in water.” 32 And John bore witness saying, “I have seen the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize in water that one said to me, ‘the one upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, this one is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and I have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.”
The next mention of the Holy Spirit by John the Baptist is in reference to the baptism in the Holy Spirit and in fire. In order that the reader may have a clear understanding of this disputed and difficult subject, I shall present the testimonies of the four Evangelists in parallel columns [paragraphs]:
10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to remove; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor; and he will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
7 And he was preaching, saying, “the One stronger than I is coming after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
LUKE 3:9, 16-17
9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than I is coming, the lace of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
33 I myself did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize in water that one said to me, ‘the one upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, this one is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’
John is preaching to a mixed multitude composed of those who would accept his teaching and baptism, and of those who would accept neither. Many of the former would become disciples of Jesus and receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit to qualify them to take up the work of the Master and carry it on until the church would be established and the gospel fully revealed to men. The baptism of the Spirit, a purely supernatural thing, was necessary to qualify them for this work. Others would “reject for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized of him.” These should at last “have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.” That such a division was meant by John becomes evident if we examine the context carefully. In the above parallel columns, the reader will observe that Matthew and Luke use the expression “with Holy Spirit and with fire.” They both use two illustrations to show what is meant by “with fire.” One of the illustrations immediately precedes and the other immediately follows the expression “with Holy Spirit and with fire,” seemingly for the specific purpose of guarding against a failure to understand the expression “with fire.” The illustration that precedes in both instances is: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The illustration that follows in each instance is: “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” With these forcible illustrations to guard the passage, can anyone fail to understand what is meant by the baptism in fire? The reader will also observe that neither Mark nor John refers to the baptism in fire, and neither uses any illustration to explain it, because no illustration is necessary. Where the baptism of fire is used there was always something destroyed by fire. This interpretation harmonizes with the universal use of the word “fire” in the New Testament. (1) In not a single instance is it used to denote a spiritual blessing conferred upon the good. (2) In not a single instance does it refer to the work of the Holy Spirit in purifying sinners. It is connected with judgments, punishments, fiery indignation, devouring adversaries, consuming, and even with hell itself; but in no case does it refer to the power of God in the scheme of redemption to convert and save men.
Neither does the baptism of the Holy Spirit refer to cleansing men from sin and saving them. It was not given for that purpose. This is a foolish dream born out of the castaway doctrine of the total depravity of man and his total disability to hear, believe, and obey the truth. Those who claim the baptism of the Holy Spirit today claim that it is the regenerating, converting, purifying power of God. But the Bible does not so teach. In every instance in which the word “purify” is found in the New Testament it is an act of personal volition—something a man must do for himself. John 11:55: “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves.”
Acts 21:24: “take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the law.”
Acts 21:26: “Then Paul took the men, and the next day having purified himself along with them, he went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be completed and the offering presented for each one of them.”
James 4:8: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
1 Peter 1:22: “The souls of you having been purified by obedience to the truth, for an unhypocritical love of the brothers, intensely love one another from the heart,”
1 John 3:3: “And everyone who has this hope set upon him purifies himself, just as that one is pure.”
“Men must cleanse themselves from wrong in thought, word and deed, and purify their souls in obeying the truth. The Bible teaches that this is God’s way of purifying sinners” (H.R. Pritchard, “Addresses,” p. 323).
From this article the reader will obtain the following Scripture facts:
- The Holy Spirit rested on John the Baptist from his mother’s womb.
- The Holy Spirit filled his father Zacharias so that he prophesied.
- The Holy Spirit bore witness to Jesus by descending and abiding upon him, enabling John to identify him.
- John promised a baptism in the Holy Spirit to some of his auditors and threatened others with a baptism in fire.
1 Peter 1:11-12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
11 searching for what time or what particular time the spirit of Christ which was in them did point to as it testified beforehand about the sufferings of Christ and the glories after these things. 12 To whom it was revealed that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels desire to look.
By Z. T. Sweeney Updated By Edward D. Andrews
 John the Baptizer was the ‘messenger who cleared up or prepared the way.’ (Matt. 11:10-11)