In our quest for the truth upon which authentic Christianity is based, we will be well served in knowing and understanding some basic concepts concerning the work of the Holy Spirit among God’s people.
The apostles were the original ambassadors of Christianity, men chosen by the Lord and recognized by the ekklesia in the 1st century A.D. as having the direct empowering of the Holy Spirit, which they had received on the day of Pentecost (See: Acts 2:1-12). They alone had the authority to pass along the empowering—including all the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit—to others. This fact is set forth in the book of Acts wherein we learn about the preaching of the Gospel in the region of Samaria:
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
(Acts 8:14-20, NASB)
When we look carefully at this passage, we note that Philip the evangelist—not the Apostle Philip—was preaching the gospel in Samaria and baptizing people in the name of the Lord Jesus. Remember, the Apostle Peter said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NASB). So we know that these people in Samaria were receiving the Holy Spirit as a gift; that is, they were indwelled by “the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32, NASB). The Holy Spirit had taken up residence within them, as He does every child of God at the moment of his or her baptism into Christ; and their bodies had become, as the Apostle Paul says, “a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God” (I Corinthians 6:19, NASB).
However, although they had been indwelled by the Holy Spirit, Who had been given to them as a gift, they had not yet received any miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit; that is, He had not yet “fallen upon”—empowered—any of them. As students of God’s word, we must make that distinction—between the “indwelling” and the “empowering”—if we are to be consistent in our own understanding of scripture.
We note, furthermore, that Philip was unable to grant these new Samarian Christians any miraculous gifts of the Spirit because he was not an apostle. Philip was an evangelist—a preacher, a proclaimer of God’s word—and, while he may very well have had miraculous powers himself, he could not pass them on to others.
So when the apostles in Jerusalem heard about the new disciples being baptized in Samaria, they sent two of their own—Peter and John—to them. When the apostles arrive, they prayed and began laying their hands on the new Christians so that they, too, would be granted miraculous gifts from the Spirit. It is important that we note two phrases in particular from the passage of scripture in Acts Chapter 8: first, “the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles hands” (verse 18); and then Simon’s statement, “give me this authority as well” (verse 19).
From this important passage we learn that one might be indirectly empowered by the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, but that did not mean that he or she could pass that empowering along to others; only an apostle had the authority to do that.
The prophets were men and women who were indirectly empowered by the Holy Spirit “through the laying on of the apostles hands.” God used the prophets to make known His word during the first century prior to the completion of the New Testament. It is important to remember that there are no longer apostles or prophets among us in the world today because, when John—the last of the apostles—died, the empowering could no longer be passed along to others. Thus, gifts of prophecy, and all the other miraculous gifts of the Apostalic Age—the 1st century—ceased.
This fact is confirmed for us in scripture when the Apostle Paul reminded the ekklesia living in the city of Corinth that:
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect [teleion] comes, the partial [merous] will be done away.
(I Corinthians 13:8-10, NASB)
Note that the word “perfect” in this passages is the Greek word, “teleion” – from “teleios”: a gender neuter noun meaning, “complete, mature, finished, brought to its end, wanting nothing necessary to completeness” (Teleios, 2013). In interpreting what this word is referring to, we need to keep in mind the context of the passage. In context, the “perfect” is the completion, or the fulfillment, or the totality of the “partial.” The word “partial” in this passage is the Greek word “merous” – meaning, “a part, a part due or assigned to one, one of the constituent parts of a whole” (Merous, 2013). The “partial,” then, is all the bits and pieces of the “perfect.” Both the “perfect” and the “partial” relate to the same thing, but in different forms. Paul says that the “partial” are those miraculous gifts that “will be done away,”—prophecy, tongues, knowledge—all of which, in this passage, relate to truth and knowing the truth. So, whatever the “perfect”—the complete, fulfilled, finished—is, it must correlate with the “partial” and also relate to truth and the disciples’ ability to fully know the truth.
I don’t believe it is just an accident of history that the final book of our New Testament—the book of Revelation—was written by the Apostle John shortly before his death; and that, when John died, the empowering of the Holy Spirit could no longer be passed along to others—because, as we have seen, only the apostles had the authority to do that. What we really see here is the providential intersection of history and prophecy. Paul said the “partial”—miraculously inspired bits and pieces of truth—would cease when the “perfect”—finished and complete revelation of truth—had come. John, the last remaining apostle capable of laying his hands on others and passing along the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, completed the final, inspired revelation; then laid aside his pen and scrolls, and soon passed away. Thus, the “partial” ceased at the precise moment in history that the “perfect” had come—all according to prophecy.
The miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. They accomplished their intended purpose; that of confirming the word of God spoken by the apostles and prophets of the 1st century. When that confirmation had been established, and the Christian faith had been firmly rooted in the context of history, there was no longer any need for them. Some people today will argue with that point and say that we still need the signs, wonders, and miracles of the 1st century so that people will believe. But, remember, that was never the purpose for the miraculous powers that were given. It was never simply about causing people to believe, it was all about confirming the authenticity of the prophetic word for those who would believe. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, NASB). Some people will believe the word, while others will not believe; but, in either case, the holy and inspired word of God stands confirmed.
So don’t be picking up any fiery serpents, dear child of God, or drinking any deadly poison thinking that you will not be harmed. Those particular promises were for those people to whom Jesus was speaking at the time; those who lived during, what we’ve come to know as, the Apostolic Age.
Furthermore, I implore that you not pay any attention to the so-called “modern prophets” who claim to have, what they call, “a word from the Lord.” Our quest for authentic Christianity in today’s world must remain firmly rooted in the message of the true apostles and prophets of Christ, all of whom lived during the 1st century; and who were actually empowered by the Holy Spirit—either directly, or indirectly through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. According to scripture, these servants of God have provided for us, “everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3, NASB).
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