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Acts #69 (chapter 19:1-7)

The Book of Acts

From Judaism to Jesus

Part 3: The Disciples of John

Acts 19:1-7


Beginning in Acts 18:18, the Holy Spirit gives us three illustrations of the transition that was taking place as the church moves from Judaism to Jesus. First, we saw Paul making that transition. He is the most surprising of them all.


After all, Paul was confronted by Christ Himself at His conversion. He is a believer in every sense of the word, an Apostle of the gospel of grace, one who fully understands his calling and commission and message. Yet we still find him here in chapter 18 taking a Nazarite vow and making sure it is completed in compliance with Jewish requirements.


Then we met Apollos in verses 24 to 28. He is a man who is eloquent and educated and well-respected as an Old Testament authority. And he is ready for the Messiah in that he embraced the teaching of John the Baptist and even believed that Jesus was that Messiah. But either didn't know about or didn't understand the cross and the resurrection. So he needed the help of Aquila and Priscilla so he could transition from Judaism to Jesus.


Tonight we come to a third group who will make that transition and they are the twelve disciples of John the Baptist.


verse 1


So Apollos gets saved in Ephesus and immediately goes to work spreading the gospel. First, he was sent with letters of recommendation to Achaia, and then travels on to Corinth.


At the same time, Paul was out on his third missionary helping the churches and eventually, he makes his way back to Ephesus, and there he comes in contact with some of the disciples of John the Baptist. According to verse 7, there are 12 of them.


Because they are described as disciples has led some to believe they are Christians since that word is used so much to describe Christians through the book of Acts.


  1. it seems to me the word is better used to speak of them being students of John the Baptist. They learned from him. He was their teacher or rabbi. They were in agreement with his teachings. the question Paul asks and the answer they give would lead us to conclude they are not yet Christians.


verse 2


So why does Paul begin with that question?

Because He can establish by the answer to that question whether or not they're saved. If they had said, "Yes!", he would have said, "Terrific! We are brothers in Christ." After all, all Christians have the Holy Spirit. That transition was made earlier when the Samarians and Gentiles received the Holy SPirit through the laying on of hands by the Apostles.


But from then on the transition is gone. People who believe now immediately receive the Spirit.


So Paul asks one simple question and by the answer they give, he knows where they stand with the Lord.


And please notice the phrasing of the question. He asks, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" He didn't ask if they got the Spirit when they prayed or obeyed or yielded or surrendered. And the question is not even as it is phrased in the KJV as "since" you believed or "after" you believed/


The question is about "when" they believed. That is an extremely critical point and I wish some of our charismatic friends would just read it for themselves!


He said, "Did you receive the Spirit when you believed?" "When you believed" is the literal Greek. So what he's saying is that faith is the key to receiving the Holy Spirit.


Listen to their response:


verse 2b


A literal rendering of the verse is "We have not so much as heard whether the Holy Spirit was given." He says, "When you believed, have you received the Holy Spirit? They say, "We don't know anything about the Holy Spirit being given! Obviously, they must have known about the Holy Spirit, but not in these terms.


verse 3


And the point of the question is if they haven't received the Holy Spirit, then it doesn't matter what kind of baptism you've had because they weren't baptized as believers in Jesus Christ.

Follow the flow of the experience. If they had received the Holy Spirit, then they were believers in Jesus Christ. IF they were believers in Jesus Christ, they would have been baptized in remembrance of His death, burial and resurrection.


Or to turn it around, if they were saved, they would have received the Holy Spirit at the moment of their conversion and their baptism would be a testimony to the work of Christ. It's all connected and inter-related


So when they answer, "We don't know about the giving of the Holy Spirit" we can then conclude they are not yet believers. And notice, Paul doesn't try to give them a seminar on the Holy Spirit.


As followers of John the Baptist, they had probably heard him teach about the Holy Spirit. As Jews, they knew about the promise of the Holy Spirit. And John said the Holy Spirit would come, but they didn't know that the Holy Spirit had been given. They didn't know about Pentecost and what had been happening beginning in Jerusalem.


Instead, notice what Paul does:


verses 4-5


Notice at the end of verse 4, Paul mentions Christ Jesus and at the end of verse 5, the Lord Jesus. Isn't it interesting that they've been talking about the Holy Spirit, but Paul discovers they are uninformed about that, He teaches them, not about the Spirit, but about Jesus. Why?


Because if and when they came to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit would be taken care of. Whether or not they had received the Holy Spirit really wasn't the issue. They issue was whether or not they had been saved the Lord, Jesus Christ.


Paul doesn't say. "Well, sit down and get ready because I'm going to teach you about the Holy Spirit and you're going to see and experience amazing things." He just gives them the gospel.


He just says, "John told you to repent and get ready for the Messiah, and to that end, he baptized you. But he was telling you that you had to believe on the one who came after and that one is here and He is Christ Jesus."


And when they heard that, they received Christ and were baptized in His name. And noticed what happened:


verse 6


Those who believe in a second kind of experience after salvation that includes tongues and so forth will try to tell you this is the New Testament pattern. But just so we're clear, this is the last place in the New Testament that we have record of this kind of experience.


And where are we? We are in a period of transition. We read nothing anywhere in the New Testament that refers to this experience or others like it, such as in the experience of the Samarians or Cornelius earlier in the book of Acts. We find no commands or instruction or further explanation that would lead us to believe this is what believers will experience.

We are just told of this experience in the life of these 12 men who are converted from the being followers of John the Baptist to Jesus. So why did they speak in tongues? And by the way, keep in mind the Biblical usage of the word "tongues" always references known languages.


So why did God enable these men with that gift? Keep in mind, these men knew nothing about the coming of the Holy Spirit, so God, wanting to convince them of His power and presence, just recreates the Pentecost experience for them right there in Ephesus.


And I would guess being able to speak in languages that you did not know was fairly convincing! So they were able to leave that experience convinced of what had happened in their lives and those who witnessed it were able to know that they same experience that had been true of others is now true of them. Thus their conversion was verified in the same way it had been with others.


  1. teaching of Acts 19:1-7 is very straightforward. Here were 12 men who lacked the Holy Spirit, not because of a lack of faith on their part or because they were resistant to what God was doing or because they didn't speak in tongues.


They didn't know about the work and the ministry of the Holy Spirit because they didn't know Jesus Christ. Once they got acquainted with Jesus, the Holy Spirit showed up and went to work in a way that was consistent with every other time He showed up.


We've seen three transitions take place. First Paul, then Apollos, then the 12. And you know something? Even though we're 2,000 years away from their experiences and the book of Acts, those three groups are still around. In the church today, there are people like Paul who are saved, have come all the way to Jesus Christ, but they're hanging on to legalism and old patterns and traditions.


And there are people like Apollos, who are good, honest, sincere, religious people. But they've never met Christ.


And then there are a lot of people running around who are uninstructed in the Holy Spirit. Much of it is because they don't even know Jesus Christ. Some know Christ, but grieve the Spirit by misunderstanding His marvelous work.


I hope you're not in transition. God wants us fully committed to Christ, living in a vibrant relationship with Him made possible through His Son, and operating in and through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit that took up residence within us at the moment of our salvation.


Let's pray.

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