The Holy Spirit has been around since the very beginning of the Bible along with the rest of the Trinity. He is not introduced into the Bible when he is poured out at Pentecost. To think that He didn’t really have a role in the world until that point is to be grossly ignorant of the Scriptures; for as Job said, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). Therefore, our very creation is in Him.
To be concise, the Holy Spirit is “the mysterious power or presence of God in nature or with individuals and communities, inspiring or empowering them with qualities they would not otherwise possess” (1). So if Jesus is “God with us” (Mt 1:23) in visible and physical form, then the Holy Spirit is God with us in invisible and spiritual form, interacting with us in a variety of ways.
And while you may only find the title, “Holy Spirit,” ascribed to the Spirit three times in the Old Testament (Ps 51:11; Is 63:10, 11), He is ever-present and engaging with humanity all throughout it. He is actually mentioned about 250 times in the Old Testament by different names. Furthermore, the name “Holy Spirit” isn’t even His main name in the New Testament. Out of the approximate 430 times He’s mentioned there, only 84 of those times is He referred to specifically as the “Holy Spirit.” (2)
That being said, the Bible is not void of a theology of the Holy Spirit. He is all throughout it, interacting with us in all kinds of ways. He is not unimportant for He is the same as the Father and the Son, though different. The three are so inseparable that they become interchangeable. This is seen quite clearly when Paul tells us, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom 8:9, emphases mine).
For Paul, the Father, Son and Spirit are the same. We live in the Spirit if we have the Spirit of God which is the Spirit of Christ. And therefore, the Spirit is a huge deal for the average Christian, for it is God and Jesus at work in us en masse. Moses could only dream of such a day! When two men were empowered by the Holy Spirit and began prophesying among Israel, a young man delivered the news to Moses. What was Moses’ response? “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num 11:29).
Joel later prophesied that Moses dream would one day become reality (Joel 2:28-29). Likewise, Peter affirmed that Joel’s prophecy had reached fruition when he quoted it in his sermon following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21).
This, of course, should speak volumes to us seeing as how we live in the same spiritual timeframe. Joel’s prophetic word is not beyond us—it’s already here! God has poured His Spirit out on all of His people and so we should live as a people baptized in His power. This is incredible news and I therefore often try to remind Christians that we live in the most exciting movement of God yet! This is not some boring lull between the Early Church and the last days—this is the last days—though they’re certainly lasting a whole lot longer than we expected (more on that in chapter 13). The Kingdom of Heaven is both here, but also not yet. His Spirit was not just given to select groups at the birth of the church, but to all of us.
Joel’s prophetic promise is for us too if we’re willing to embrace it, because heavenly power and wisdom that was once reserved for select people before Pentecost is now given to all of God’s people indiscriminately.
In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit had three major emphases. He was a creator, inspiration/power, and the presence of God among His people. He didn’t endow everyone with His Spirit and His presence on some was only temporary. Take for example the seventy elders that joined Moses around the tent where God’s presence dwelled (Num 11:25). The Spirit came upon these seventy elders so that they would be empowered to carry the burden of Israel along with Moses, so that he wouldn’t have to do it alone. While we might gather that this empowerment stayed with the elders, the Bible at least specifically communicates that the ability to prophesy did not.
Since we have the Spirit dwelling in us in a way that those of the Old Testament did not, I propose that all of the Spirit’s giftings are open to us just as they were to Jesus. That is not to say that I think that we are capable of moving in all of the gifts to the same extent that Jesus did, for we are not the Messiah, but rather a body of believers who are each gifted differently (Ro 12:4-8). I am also not saying that if you prophesy you are therefore a prophet. What I am saying is I believe Christians have a flexibility in the Spirit that was not always available before Jesus.
The qualities we see of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament of course carry over into the New Testament, but the Spirit works in the New Testament with more detail, for Jesus has put the Spirit’s fullness on display for all to see. And it is to the work of the Holy Spirit through Jesus that we now turn.
(1) Thomas R. W. Longstaff. “The Holy Spirit.” Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Society of Biblical Literature, 1985, p. 401.
(2) Reiling, J. “Holy Spirit.” Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Edited by Karel van der Toorn et al. Grand Rapids/Cambridge, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999, p. 418.