One of the pivotal moments in church history is the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Jesus’s words before His ascension give us important keys to understanding what happened at Pentecost.
“Baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5)
Jesus orders the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and to “wait for the promise of the Father”, which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit and would occur “many days from now” (1:4-5). The obvious inference here is that this baptism had not happened yet, hence the instruction to wait. If the disciples had been regenerated before this point, this requires a separation and sequencing of regeneration and baptism of the Holy Spirit, an errant theological view held by Charismatics and Pentecostals.
No, as seen in Titus 3:5-7, this baptism of the Holy Spirit corresponds to “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Though some take the view that the “washing” here refers to water baptism, I do not believe this interpretation makes sense for a number of reasons. First, this washing is in the context of spiritual regeneration and renewal, placing it outside a physical water context. Second, this washing is the means by which God “saved us,” indicating the actual inner reality of salvation. Thirdly, the Spirit is the One being “poured out on us,” which is an image of water but does not provide the substance of water (cf Acts 2:33). Fourthly, such an interpret suggests baptismal regeneration.
The plain reading of this text in Titus provides a picture of what exactly happens in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is not a second spiritual experience following regeneration nor a result of water baptism; rather it uses the symbolism found in Acts 1:4-5 to demonstrate that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an inner washing to such extent that a new creation is produced.  We call this event regeneration.
When we get to Acts 2, we see the direct fulfillment of Jesus’s words. They were not fulfilled in the Old Testament, but rather a new thing was done at Pentecost, initiating the Church Age. Reading through Acts 2, we see some important things.
- The Holy Spirit appeared in a different way than before (as fire) v. 3
- They were all filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 4) This filling is a different filling- OT filling was temporary for the purpose of prophecy, but Jesus promised the Spirit would new be in them and with them and us forever.
- They began to speak in tongues (v.4). This filing of the Spirit produced spiritual gifts, which are unseen in the OT.
- Peter preaches (v.14) . This is a markedly different man from the Peter that denied Christ. He is now standing up to the Jewish people and authorities without an ounce of fear. Peter has been changed.
This is an unprecedented event. Though the Holy Spirit continued to fill believers in a particular way temporarily for the sake of prophecy in Acts 2, He also began to indwell them, something not seen in the Old Testament (as the previous survey of Old Testament references indicates). The Spirit is now IN believers, not just with them, and He is IN them FOREVER. This results in spiritual gifts that had never been seen before, which are nonexistent in the Old Testament. Why would this be such a huge deal if it had been happening since the beginning of time?
Additionally, the narrative of Acts presents a problem for the position that regeneration happened in the Old Testament. Acts 2:37-41 tells us that the Jews were cut to heart, and they repented and were baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. Were these Jews regenerated before they repented and believed? If so, why did they still need to come to Christ?
In any case, the newness of the events in Acts 2 are undeniable, and they are the fulfillment of Jesus’s words in the Upper Room Discourse, which are best understood to say that regeneration is a new reality under the New Covenant.
- “The Greek term for “rebirth” denotes “a new creation” (cf. Matt 19:28), and Paul used this analogy with reference to salvation (2 Cor 5:17).” Lea, T. D., & Griffin, H. P. (1992). 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (Vol. 34, p. 323). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.