The Ephesians receive the Holy Spirit Acts 19:1-7

The Asuza Street Revival began in Los Angeles in 1906 and continued through to 2015. There were miracles of healing and deliverance, speaking in tongues and testimonies of dramatic conversions. It was the birth of the modern Pentecostal movement which led in turn to the Charismatic Movement which spread across mainstream churches in this country beginning fifty years ago. With the spread of Pentecostal churches there came a question which has divided Bible-believing Christians for a hundred years. Do we receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of our conversion, when our sins are forgiven and we begin a new life in Christ? Or should we look for some kind of Second Blessing, which Pentecostals have called the Baptism in the Spirit, which comes to Christians some time after they are born again, sometimes many years afterwards? In this Second Blessing, Pentecostals say, the Holy Spirit comes on Christians in a new and more powerful way, releasing the gifts of the Holy Spirit and especially the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.
Today’s passage in Acts 19 has been at the heart of the debates for the last hundred years. Pentecostals say that it shows that the Holy Spirit comes on believers after they have been saved. In that understanding conversion comes in two stages – being born again, separated from the gift of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand Evangelical Christians insist that we all receive the gift of the Holy Spirit the very moment we are become Christians – conversion comes in just one stage. Two stage or one stage? Who is right?
Well in one sense, both are right. I believe that over the years the Evangelicals have mostly got their theology right. But at the same time, the Pentecostals have got their experience right. I know many Christians who have had powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit after they have been Christians, sometimes after many years. That happened to me. If you have been blessed by God in those ways, praise God! Nothing I am going to say today should take away one bit from the genuine experiences anybody has had of the Holy Spirit working in your lives. In fact, I want to encourage us all to seek God for more and more experiences of the Holy Spirit, as powerful and dramatic as He chooses.
But I also want us to learn to understand the Bible correctly. As we come to Acts 19 I have to say that while their experiences of God have been entirely genuine, Pentecostals have mostly misunderstood what actually happened when these dozen people in Ephesian received the Holy Spirit.
THESE DISCIPLES WERE NOT CHRISTIANS BEFORE PAUL ARRIVED
ACTS 19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’
They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’
3 So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’
‘John’s baptism,’ they replied.

These people were disciples but they had not yet become Christians. They had not been born again. That was because they had been taught by Apollos.
Acts 18 24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
We read that Apollos was a Jew who knew the Old Testament Scriptures very well. He taught people that Jesus was the Messiah who God had promised to send. But it’s not really clear whether Apollos himself had been saved at this point. His understanding was limited and he himself still needed teaching
26 (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

Apollos taught people that Jesus was the Messiah. It doesn’t mention that he taught about the resurrection and he didn’t teach his followers about the gift of the Holy Spirit. And it is clear that Apollos didn’t know anything about Christian baptism. He had baptised his followers following the pattern of John the Baptist
Mark 1 3 ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” ’
4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 7 And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus. He baptised people as a sign that they repented so they could be forgiven. But all the time John was pointing the way forward to Jesus who would follow him and be the Saviour. That was all before Jesus came and died and rose again. That was all before the Holy Spirit came down on the church at Pentecost. Nobody was ever saved through John’s baptism. These people in Ephesus had learned about Jesus as Messiah. They had been baptised with John’s baptism. But they hadn’t put their trust in Jesus as Saviour. They hadn’t been saved. They hadn’t been born again.
When he found out that they knew nothing at all about the Holy Spirit, it was immediately obvious to Paul that these Ephesians had not become Christians. That is why he asks, “What baptism did you receive?” At once Paul knew what needed to happen next.
4 Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ 5 On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.
There’s a reminder for us here. People can know a lot about Jesus. They can even call themselves disciples and try to follow Jesus in their everyday lives. But that is not what makes a person a Christian. “As we learned last week, the jailer in Philippi asked, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer is the same for everybody. “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” As John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Whoever believes in him, whoever puts their trust in Jesus is saved. These people in Ephesus had not put their trust in Jesus yet. But when Paul explained the good news of Jesus to them, they believed in Jesus and they showed their faith by being baptised in the name of Jesus.
THEY BECAME CHRISTIANS WHEN PAUL ARRIVED
Acts 19:2 (Paul asked) ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’

The fact that the Ephesians had not received the Holy Spirit was proof to Paul that they were not yet Christians. And at the moment they put their trust in Jesus and were baptised, they DID receive the Holy Spirit in very visible and dramatic ways.
5 On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
The Ephesians had not become Christians previously. They became Christians and received the Holy Spirit at the same time. This was not a Pentecostal two-stage conversion. This fits the Evangelical understanding – we receive the Holy Spirit at the moment we are born again.
We can perhaps understand why the early Pentecostals made the mistake they did when we realise the only translation of the Bible they had was the King James Version, the Authorised Version. And that translates Acts 19:1-2 like this
Acts 19:1-2 KJV And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”
Have you received the Holy Spirit SINCE you believed? That translation implies that receiving the Holy Spirit is something that should happen AFTER a person believes in Jesus. I am sad to say that in this very significant verse the King James Version translation is quite simply wrong. The Greek word is an aorist participle. It does not say, “since you believed”. It definitely says “when you believed” or “as you believed”. Paul’s expectation is that a person will receive the Holy Spirit at the moment they are saved.
The New King James Version is a complete revision of the King James Version but still based on the same original texts. I am delighted to say that the New King James Version translation is correct. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” As an aside, you know I recommend the New International Version but I also sometimes quote from the Good News Bible or the New Living Translation. Dare I put in a plea here that if you do choose to use the Authorised Version that you will use the NEW King James Version and not the old King James version which dates back 1611. The NEW KJV is so much easier to understand and contains far fewer mistakes in translation.
So the Ephesians became Christians when Paul baptised them and they received the Holy Spirit at the same time.
SO WHAT DOES THIS PASSAGE TEACH US FOR TODAY
1 Acts 19 does NOT teach us that receiving the Holy Spirit is some experience which happens to us later in our Christian lives separate from being saved. It is not an example of the classic Pentecostal 2-stage understanding of conversion (although nowadays not all Pentecostals would say it was either).
Again, please hear what I am saying. If the Holy Spirit has done wonderful things in your life since you have been a Christian I am NOT challenging or criticising those experiences in the slightest. But we should read Acts 19 alongside all the other stories in Acts and alongside the teaching of Jesus and alongside the teaching in all of the letters of the New Testament about becoming a Christian and about the Holy Spirit. All I am saying is that Acts 19 teaches us the same truth as the Bible everywhere teaches us, which is that God gives the Holy Spirit to every Christian at the moment we are saved. But at the same time God wants to keep on blessing us, and the Holy Spirit is always wanting to lead us onwards and upwards and to do new things in our lives. We receive the Holy Spirit when we become Christians, but God wants to fill us with His Holy Spirit again and again.
2 Baptism in the name of Jesus is important.
Jesus said (Matthew 28:19) 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
It was as they were baptised to show that they had become believers that the Ephesians received the Holy Spirit.
From God’s side his wonderful gift of salvation includes forgiving our sins and giving us eternal life. Our side of salvation involves repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus. The Bible says it is the Holy Spirit who makes our eternal life real to us and is our first instalment of heaven. And throughout the New Testament God’s side and our side of salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit are linked with the outward sign of believer’s baptism.
Acts 2 38 Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
3 The laying on of hands has a place in the church today
5 On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
The Bible shows us that the Holy Spirit can come on believers through the laying on of hands. Hebrews 6 lists laying on of hands as one of the basics of the Christian faith. If we want to move on with God and we want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, if we want God to work in our lives in new ways, then the laying on of hands will be helpful.
1 Timothy 4 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
2 Timothy 1 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
4 Receiving the Spirit is often visible and dramatic. As we have seen in so many of our sermons in Acts, when the Holy Spirit comes on believers there are often signs and wonders, miracles of healing and deliverance, and spiritual gifts such as prophecy and speaking in tongues.
. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied
We should expect the same Holy Spirit to work in our lives in the same kinds of ways today. Not all Christians speak in tongues, but very many do. The gift of speaking God’s messages in prophecy should still be very much of church life. Miracles of healing and deliverance do still happen in churches today. And bold and fearless witnessing inspired by the Holy Spirit should be the mark of the activity of the Holy Spirit in every Christian. Not the exception but the rule.
In Acts 19 those Ephesians received the Holy Spirit at the moment they became Christians. If we are Christians, God has already given us the Holy Spirit when we were saved. But we may still need God to fill us afresh with His Holy Spirit time and time again. As Moody, said, “I have been filled with the Spirit, but I leak.” The experiences of the Early Church in the Book of Acts, and the testimonies of Christians in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches today, all challenge us to ask whether WE are experiencing as much as we could be of the love and power and self-discipline which the Holy Spirit brings. We need to open our lives to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit. We don’t receive more of the Holy Spirit but the Holy Spirit receives more of us.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me

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