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There are numerous baptisms mentioned in God’s progressive revelation. Ceremonial purifications were common practice in Judaism. These early forms of baptism could involve priests or other believers or even clothing and various utensils (Lev. 8:6; Exod. 19:10-14)

Mark 7:3, 4

“For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.”

Heb. 9:9-10 speaking of the limitations of the OT priestly system in contrast to the New Covenant:

“Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.”

These actions only touched the outer man while Christ came to bring reformation from within under the dispensation of the New Covenant

But the most important types of baptism are discussed in our text this morning and there is much controversy surrounding how this historical narrative should have application to believers today. It should be clear that there is some type of progression in view from

– first, the baptism of John the Baptist which is described as a baptism of repentance, of preparation for faith in Jesus Christ to

– second, what I will call Christian baptism. This is described as believer baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus and bears some association with the reception of the Holy Spirit.

At issue for us is the charismatic or Pentecostal doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit which would encourage believers to seek some post conversion experience with the Holy Spirit that would result in the speaking of tongues and a new level of Christian intimacy. Is this what Christ desires each of us to seek after today? Are those who do not speak in tongues some type of second rate Christians? Or is the charismatic position not a legitimate option for some believers but actually a misunderstanding and misapplication of texts such as this?

What does not seem to be in view here is any type of infant baptism experience or any type of connection between baptism and circumcision as if Christian baptism is somehow the fulfillment of circumcision. So we will not be looking at those controversial subjects.



“And it came about that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found some disciples,”

This account dovetails nicely with the previous section dealing with Apollos needing to progress to complete faith in Jesus Christ

Kent (quoting Ramsay): the higher and more direct route to Ephesus, rather than the regular trade route through the Lycus and Maeander valleys.

18:21 Paul had promised to return to Ephesus if God permitted it

“disciples” means followers – does not always identify individuals as Christians

We find that these disciples are specifically identified as disciples or followers of John the Baptist. Where do you find such individuals today?? Nowhere to be found – this a very special category of individuals – leads to some application issues for us today


A. (:2) Key Question #1 – What is the Timeline Relationship Between Faith in Jesus Christ and the Reception of the Holy Spirit?

1. Question

“and he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’”

MacArthur: The question reflects Paul’s uncertainty about their spiritual status.

Or what it more that Paul recognized the possible incompleteness of their faith in this transitional context?

Have you asked anyone this question lately? Sounds like a question a Pentecostal might ask: Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit yet?

Shows the importance of the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit to Paul:

– associated with character fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,

faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — Holiness

– associated with spiritual gifts

– associated with power for ministry

– associated with leading and direction for ministry

Paul presents this timeline as the normal explanation of what should be the experience of every Christian.

Talking about believing in Jesus Christ because that has been the whole theme of the apostles’ preaching throughout the Book of Acts – the object of your faith is very important

1 Cor. 12:12-13 “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

Romans 8:9 “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”

1 Cor. 6:19 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”

Ephes 1:13 “sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise”

2. Clarification

“And they said to him, ‘No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’”

Had not heard that the Holy Spirit had been given yet; knew nothing of the event so Pentecost; probably as disciples of John the Baptist they had heard that one was coming who would baptize with the Spirit

Seems to indicate that they had not fully believed in the person of Jesus Christ – they fall into that unique transition period where they were some form of OT disciples of John the Baptist – a category that does not even exist today

Certainly they were ignorant of the teaching concerning the promised gift of the Holy Spirit – quite a significant admission since the dramatic day of Pentecost that launched the church and marked the beginning of this new Christian movement that grew out of the roots of Judaism but diverged from it – this day of Pentecost was all about the coming of the Holy Spirit – a long awaited and very special event

Spurgeon: Give a man an electric shock, and I warrant you he will know it; but if he has the Holy Ghost, he will know it much more.

Stott: In a word, they were still living in the Old Testament which culminated with John the Baptist. They understood neither that the new age had been ushered in by Jesus, nor that those who believe in him and are baptized into him receive the distinctive blessing of the new age, the indwelling Spirit.

Do we value this special blessing?

B. (:3-4) Key Question #2 – What was the Nature of Your Baptism?

1. (:3) Question

“And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ And they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’”

Apparently their status as disciples was associated with some type of baptism

People want to ask the question: were these OT disciples already genuinely saved?? Not the question to ask – what you want to see is that their faith is incomplete – they need to be fully introduced to the person of Jesus Christ whom the Holy Spirit makes plain

Why did Paul ask them about their experience of water baptism? Was he indicating that water baptism somehow is essential to the new birth experience? Some people put too much emphasis on baptism – doctrine of baptismal regeneration == hold that water baptism is the direct agent of regeneration – we tend not to put enough emphasis on it

2. (:4) Clarification

“And Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’”

John’s was an anticipatory baptism; a prepatory baptism

They seemed to understand the concept of sin and repentance

The One whom John described as “coming” has already come and fulfilled his earthly ministry

Paul’s explanation to them focused on understanding the person and ministry of Jesus Christ – the significance of His death and resurrection – He did not spend a lot of time teaching them about the person of the Holy Spirit

MacArthur: Oh Paul asked the right question. He did not ask did you after believing realize that you must press on to a second level? Didn’t say that. Didn’t say don’t you know how to seek for the baptism? Didn’t say that. He didn’t say let’s go to the second level; he said let’s go back to the first level. He didn’t say we must go to higher things. He said, let’s get back to the basics. You don’t know Jesus.


A. (:5a) Faith Comes by Hearing

“And when they heard this,”

they heard the message of the gospel about the person of Jesus Christ and the absolute necessity of faith in His name

remember the parable about the sower and the various soils – these 12 men had the good soil that received the Word of God and acted on it in faith

B. (:5b) Christian Baptism Immediately Follows Faith

“they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

very different from the baptism of repentance administered by John the Baptist; so they were baptized a second time

Raises the interesting question: were the apostles rebaptized after Pentecost?? They never made a big deal of this and they were in a very unique category of genuine disciples of Christ who transitioned into NT believers in the church age

Bruce: no question of re-baptism seems to have arisen for them; probably their Pentecostal endowment with the Spirit transformed the preparatory significance of the baptism which they had already received into the consummative significance of Christian baptism. But these Ephesian disciples had received no such Pentecostal endowment.

C. (:6a) The Holy Spirit is Received in Conjunction with Faith – not some mountaintop second blessing experience

“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them,”

the laying on of hands is symbolic – not the means by which the Holy Spirit came on them

You see this small group of believers identified with the apostles and accepted as genuine believers in the one body of Christ; speaks to the unity of the body; not trying to imply that we need some special service where super leaders lay hands on us to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit – nobody should be trying today to put themselves in the position of the Apostle Paul

D. (:6b) The Unusual Gift of Tongues Verifies the Legitimacy of this New Group being incorporated into the Body of Christ

“and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.”

We learned back in Acts 2 that speaking in tongues involves known foreign languages that were unknown by the speaker; not ecstatic utterances; here that is clear as well since the content of the spoken message is described as prophesying – not 2 separate activities necessarily but those who were speaking in tongues were actually communicating divine revelation in the form of prophesying

This experience of speaking in tongues marked the entrance point for significant new groups to be incorporated into the body of Christ

– Acts 2 – at Pentecost

– Acts 8 – Samaritans

– Acts 10 – Gentiles

– Acts 19 – now the disciples of John the Baptist

E. (:7) This Experience Was Quite Unique

“And there were in all about twelve men.”

A very special category of believers during this unique time of transition

Number 12 – interesting that it is the same as the number of the tribes of Israel – possibly symbolic of the OT saints as a whole transitioning over to believers under the dispensation of the New Covenant; not saying that the church is equal to Israel and will spiritually fulfill the OT promises made to the nation of Israel