He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit."Acts 19:2(NASB)
When the Word is rightly divided, a mist of muddled confusion is lifted, and shrouds of misinterpretation are removed, as the Spirit enlightens the mind. When Scripture is read in context, the temptation to modify meaning, corrupt the content, or falsify truth disappears, and enlightenment floods the heart.
Israel as a nation was corrupt to the core, and the Baptist called for national repentance. Christ their King had arrived, and the gospel of the kingdom of heaven was taught - but ONLY to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Messiah of Israel was called Jesus - "Salvation" and He came to fulfil the word of the prophets and save His people from their sins.
He was the Son of David and the promised Seed of Abraham, through who all the families of the earth would be blessed. He came to the Jews FIRST. He had to come as Israel's Messiah first, because God had ordained that salvation would come to the Gentile world, THROUGH the Jews... for Salvation is by faith in Christ alone - faith in JESUS, the King of the Jews.
To be Saviour of the Gentiles meant that Jesus first had to be sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.. whom God had called to be a light to the Gentile world. And God the Father confirmed Christ's Messianic claims when He spoke from heaven saying, "this is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased."
The words He spoke, and the signs and wonders He performed, authenticated His Messianic claims, for all of them were prophesied of old. He was anointed by the Father to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, to give sight to the blind, and set at liberty those that are broken.
Though the prideful Pharisees, the bigoted scribes, and the blinded leaders of Israel, rejected their promised Messiah, there were those who responded to the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Repent and turn back to God.. for the kingdom of heaven is near." There were those who had responded to the Baptist's call for repentance and John told the people to believe in the One Who would come after him. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved! Believe on the Lamb of God - the Jewish Messiah, Who takes away the sin of the world. "You believe on God," Christ had taught them, "believe ALSO in ME."
How gladly this little group of repentant Jews had welcomed John the Baptist's message. How willingly they had entered the river Jordan and engaged in the ritual cleansing in water that John taught. MANY were 'baptised' into John's baptism of repentance. Many repented of their sin during Christ's pre-Cross ministry. But despite repenting of their sin, many had yet to believe on Christ for the forgiveness of those sins, and life everlasting. If salvation is to be gained, a man must simultaneously turn TO Christ at the same time he turns FROM sin and repents unto salvation.
To turn from sin to good works, or to repent of sin and embrace some alternative religion is NOT repentance unto salvation. Similarly, to regret one's sin or to become guilt-ridden because of one's wrongdoing will not save the sinner who does not concurrently turn TO the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance of sin is vital BUT believing on the Lord Jesus is the ONLY way to be saved. Repenting of sin and believing on Christ for the forgiveness of sin are two sides of the same coin, that are conjoined and cannot be separated.
The Lord Jesus was the One foretold by prophets of old, Who would redeem His people FROM THEIR SIN. He was that promised Seed of the woman, Who would crush the old serpent's head - the one called the devil and Satan. But crucifixion, cruel nails, and the triumphant cry of IT IS FINISHED, had to be announced before the promised Holy Spirit would start to be poured out on the newly-born Church. The repentant sinner who responded to John's baptism of repentance, HAD to believe that Christ's work on the CROSS paid for THEIR sin to be saved. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ - the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection, and you will be saved.
And on that first day of Pentecost, the disciples who responded to John's message of repentance and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation were gathered together in one place, in obedience to Christ's command. But not all those that were baptised into John's baptism of repentance were present on that singular Day of Pentecost... when for the first time, the Holy Spirit was given to the Body of Christ - which is the Church.
As men and women heard the good news being taught on that special Day of Pentecost, and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, they were also indwelled by the Holy Spirit and baptised into the body of Christ. They were saved the MOMENT they trusted Him for salvation.
However, many who had received John's baptism of repentance were yet to hear the gospel of grace and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. And so, in Acts 19, we read, "As Paul travelled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, He found some disciples, and asked them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?' They answered him, 'No, we've never even heard of the Holy Spirit.'"
These disciples of John the Baptist had heard some of his message. They repented, turned back to believe on the living God and were baptised in water, unto repentance. They had turned away FROM their apostate ways but they did not know WHO to turn TO. John baptised with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should turn away from evil and believe on Him which should come after him, that is believe on Christ Jesus.
What joy for this little faithful band of Jews who had received John's baptism of repentance, to at last hear the gospel of Christ, and be placed into (or baptised into) the Body of Christ. How thrilled they would be to receive the indwelling Holy Spirit, by faith in Him. What joy they must have experienced when Paul laid his hands on them and they were immediately transferred (baptised) into the Body of Christ.
There must have been many who believed God's Word by faith, whose lives spanned both sides of Calvary's Cross, who were not present on that special day of Pentecost, or did not realise that it was JESUS about Whom John spoke, when he commanded them to, "believe on Him which should come after him, that is, believe on Christ Jesus."
What joy must have filled their hearts when finally, they became members of the Church (i.e. were 'baptised' into the Body of Christ) by the Spirit of God through faith, and were in-dwelt by the Holy Ghost - as the fledgling church transitioned from the closing days in the dispensation of the Law into the opening hours of the dispensation of the grace of God.
We are not living during that time of transition.. but like that little faithful band of Jews who had received John's baptism of repentance - we are to believe on Christ for the forgiveness of sin and life everlasting - remembering that repenting of our sin and believing on Christ for the forgiveness of sin are two sides of the same coin - that are conjoined and cannot be separated.
Loving Father, how amazing it is to read how the fledgling Church grew and multiplied in those early days of Christianity. What a privilege it is to receive the indwelling Holy Spirit, through faith in Christ, and to know that I have received forgiveness of sin and life everlasting, by faith in Him. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your Word and teach me all that You would have me to learn. Thank You for the gift of the indwelling Spirit, Who has promised to guide us into all truth. Give me a teachable spirit, remove all traces of pride, and may I walk humbly before You, all the days of my life. In Jesus' name, AMEN.