These topics will be discussed: (1) dreams and visions, (2) power and mighty deeds, (3) resisting the Spirit, (4) the Spirit and spiritual life, and (4) the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. We will discuss some of what Luke omits as well as what he emphasizes.
Dreams and Visions
As we have seen, the guidance of the Spirit is a strong emphasis in Luke-Acts. Some of the guidance came by way of dreams and visions. Through dreams and visions knowledge is sometimes revealed. Two verses connect the Spirit with visions and dreams. Others visions are woven into stories about Cornelius, Peter, and Paul.
Some dreams and visions are inspired by the Spirit. This is clear from Luke’s comments.
First, according to Peter (Acts 2:17), God says, “‘I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams.'” One of the results of the Spirit’s outpouring “in the last days” is that “your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams.” Joel says the young men will dream dreams and the old men will see visions.
According to Horton (Acts, p. 39), the Bible often uses dreams and visions interchangeably and there is no real distinction between them. We need not limit the meaning of dreams and visions. Some of our dreams and visions have to do with the progress of the gospel and its blessedness. One of the hallmarks of a church being led by the Spirit is that its leaders dream and see visions that God enables them to enact.
What is the relationship between prophecy and dreams and visions? As Keener (p. 56) points out, visions and dreams “were typically prophetic activity.” However, one may have a dream or a vision without speaking prophetically. And, one may speak prophetically without a dream or a vision. It is possible, however, for prophetic utterance to be based upon dreams and visions. The Spirit grants new insights through visions and dreams. Then, the Spirit inspires the prophetic speech based on the dreams and visions.
Second, Luke tells us what Stephen saw just before he died. He writes (Acts 7:55), “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Very often, it is said that Stephen saw a vision. The text does not use the word vision, but we have no objection to using it so long as this does not detract from the reality of what he saw. The Spirit of God enabled him to see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Stephen, of course, was full of the Spirit as he spoke.
Other visions are reported by Luke, but they are not directly connected with the Holy Spirit. An angel of God (Acts 10:3) seen by Cornelius in a vision spoke to him. God spoke to Peter (Acts 10:17) through a vision and a “voice” concerning animals, birds, and crawling creatures. In Acts 11:5 Peters says, “‘I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me.'” According to Luke (Acts 10:19), “While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “‘Behold, three men are looking for you.'” The Spirit (Acts 11:12) told Peter to go with them.
The Lord spoke to Ananias (Acts 9:10) in a vision about Saul (Paul). Later, as Paul traveled, Luke says (Acts 16:9):”A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.'” Then, Paul was faced with opposition in Corinth when he was reassured through a vision. Luke writes (Acts 18:9), “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent.'”
Power and Mighty Deeds
Luke is writing about witnesses. The witnesses he described are like Moses, who was (Acts 7;22) “a man of power in words and deeds.” We have said much already about how the Spirit empowers speech. Now, we will now turn our attention to the role of the Spirit in empowered deeds.
Underlying our discussison is the premise that the Triune God is the source of power. Luke speaks of the “power of God” (Luke 22:69), the “power of the Lord” (Luke 5:17), and the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). Also, he writes about the “power of the most High (Luke 1:35), and “power from on high” (Luke 24:). Many times, Luke simply says “power” without identifying a member of the Trinity. All three Persons of the Trinity have infinite power.
Now, we will discuss the following matters: (1) the relationship between power and the Spirit; (2) the Spirit in connection with Jesus and His mighty works; and (3) how the Spirit relates to the disciples and mighty deeds.
Power and the Spirit
All the verses in this section mention both the Spirit and power. The words “power” and “Spirit” are not synonymous. It is the Spirit who empowers us with the power of the Triune God. The Spirit has power and manifests power. Very often the Spirit is either said to be the source of power or the context yields that information. Let’s examine the evidence.
First, John was attested and empowered by the Spirit as the forerunner of Christ. In Luke 1:17, the angel says John will go “‘in the spirit and power of Elijah.'” Elijah ministered in the power of the Spirit. So this phrase is another way of saying John would be empowered by the Spirit. His ministry would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The Spirit is the source of the power.
Second, the angel told Mary that (Luke 1:35) “‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.'” Menzies (p. 112) maintains that “Luke does not attribute the birth of Jesus exclusively to the activity of the Spirit.” He believes that the second clause about the “power of the Most High” adds something. He (p. 115) holds that Luke purposefully relates the miraculous conception of Christ to the “power of the Most High.” Nevertheless, he does acknowledge (p. 115) that the Spirit is the source of the power. Matthew (1:18) directly attributes the conception of Jesus to the Holy Spirit.
Third, after the temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:14), He “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.” He began teaching in the synagogues and was praised by all. This verse explicitly states that the Spirit is the source of the power. As presented by Luke, the entire ministry of Jesus was empowered by the Spirit.
Fourth, while Peter was speaking at the house of Cornelius, he said (Acts 10:38), “‘You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.'” Through the anointing, Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” The power of the Spirit was manifested by Jesus in His ministry.
Fifth, in Luke 24: the “promise of My Father” refers to the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “‘And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.'” When the Holy Spirit comes upon them, they will be clothed with power from on high. The disciples will be clothed with the power of the Spirit and, we might say, with the power of the Triune God.
Sixth, Jesus declared (Acts 1:8) “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Here, the Holy Spirit is the dispenser of power to help us witness.
Jesus and Mighty Works
Luke indicates, as in Acts 10:38 above, that the Holy Spirit empowers Jesus to heal and do mighty works. In some cases Luke does not specifically mention the Holy Spirit in connection with Jesus and mighty works, but we know that the Spirit was involved in the entire ministry of Jesus. We will discuss both cases that mention and the Spirit and those that do not.
First, let’s look at the cases where Luke mentions the Spirit. One, at the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1. He declared (Luke 4:18), “‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED.'”
Broadly speaking, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. When Jesus quotes Isaiah, He deals with Kingdom matters. He makes His mission clear. He would preach the gospel to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, set free those who are oppressed, and proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. The Holy Spirit would enable Him to do these things.
Two, according to Luke, Jesus cast out demons by the “finger of God.” However, the parallel passage in Matthew 12:28 says Jesus cast out demons “by the Spirit of God.” Given the passage in Matthew, we may conclude that “finger of God” can be used figuratively to refer to the Holy Spirit. It may be that Luke, as Menzies maintains (p. 116 ), said “finger of God” in order to avoid connecting the Spirit directly to casting out demons. This would be due to Luke’s emphasis on the Spirit and prophecy.
Second, we will turn now to cases where Luke does not directly mention the Spirit. One, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter (Acts 2:22) declared that Jesus was “‘a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst.'” Here, God performs the miracles through Jesus. God’s attestation of Jesus by miracles had an impact on evangelism. When signs and wonders take place today, the result is the same. People are confronted with the attested power of God.
Two, similarly, Luke writes (Luke 5:17), “One day He [Jesus] was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing.” The healing is attributed to the power of the Lord. It is not necessary to divide between the power of the Lord and the power of the Spirit. Our Triune God has power and manifests power to do mighty deeds.
Three, at Capernaum, when Jesus cast (Luke 4:33) “the spirit of an unclean demon” out of a man, the people were amazed. Luke says (Luke 4:36), “they began talking with one another saying, ‘What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.'” Luke does not record whether or not Jesus answered the people.
Four, Jesus spent an entire night in prayer on a mountain. While on the mountain, He appointed the twelve disciples. Then, together, they descended to a level place, and a crowd gathered. Many came to be healed of their diseases and to be cured of unclean spirits. Luke tells us (Acts 6:19) that “all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all.” Similarly, the woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched him. Then, Jesus said (Luke 8:46), “‘Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.'”
The Disciples and Mighty Deeds
Both before and after the resurrection and Pentecost, the disciples were given authority and power over demons and power to heal. They did this in the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus represents His power and authority. The Spirit is not directly named in any of the following cases. This does not mean the Spirit was not involved.
First, during His ministry on earth, Jesus gave (Luke 9:1) the disciples “power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.” Luke does not mention the Spirit, but Jesus himself healed diseases and cast out demons by the power of the Spirit. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the disciples, too, operated in the power of the Spirit.
Second, in Acts the disciples exercise “power” and perform miracles in the name of Jesus. When Peter and John spoke to the lame man at the gate called Beautiful, he was healed. Peter discouraged the crowd (Acts 3:12) from thinking that that they had healed him by their “own power.” Rather, he was healed (Acts 3:16) on the basis of faith in His name. The man (Acts 4:10) was healed “‘by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene.'”
Third, when a prayer meeting later ensued, the disciples prayed for confidence to proclaim the Word (Acts 4:30), “‘while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.'” Once again the signs and wonders are to be worked through the name of Jesus, but this does not exclude the power of the Spirit.
Fourth, many signs and wonders (Acts 5:12-16) accompanied the ministry of the apostles. The people wanted just to have the shadow of Peter fall upon them. The people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem came together. They brought others who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits. Luke writes (Acts 5:16), “and they were all being healed.”
Fifth, in Acts 6:8 Luke writes, “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. Luke uses the Greek word charitos, which means grace. This is not saving grace (compare Lenski p. 2), but the grace that is connected with power to perform signs and wonders. Although the Spirit is not named in this verse, we know that Stephen (Acts 6:5) was full of the Spirit.
Sixth, God used Ananias to bring healing to Saul. According to Acts 9:17, “Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.'” NAU Immediately, Saul received his sight.
Seventh, Saul was dealing with Elymas, the magician. Paul “filled with the Spirit” fixed his gaze on Elymas and spoke to him. In the rebuke he said (Acts 13:11) “‘Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.'” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand.” The term “hand of the Lord” can have a broader connotation, but it can refer specifically to the Holy Spirit.
Eighth, during his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium. Luke writes (Acts 14:3), “they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.” The working of the signs and wonders is attributed to the hands of Paul and Barnabas. They were only the instruments that God used.
Ninth, after the outpouring of the Spirit at Ephesus (Acts 19:11), Paul ministered to the people. According to Luke (Acts 19:11-12), “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.”
Resisting the Spirit
Many people resist the testimony of the saints. Witnesses are empowered to deal with such situations. When people resist the Spirit-inspired testimony of believers, they actually are resisting the Holy Spirit.
Jesus declared (Luke 12:10), “‘And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him.'” According to some, disciples blaspheme the Spirit when under persecution they avoid proclaiming Christ. Others hold that it is the opponents of Christ who blaspheme the Spirit. We are not compelled to choose between these views. Under both views, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a rejection of His ministry and actions. Whether the rejection is by disciples or unbelievers may not be the main point. The crucial point is that the ministry of the Spirit is rejected.
Lying to the Spirit
Ananias and Sapphira plotted to deceive the early church. They apparently reported that they gave the entire price of land that they sold. According to Peter (Acts 5:3 and 5:9), they were not just lying to the church, they were lying to the Holy Spirit. As a result, both of them lost their lives. Surely, this event had a strong impact on the lives of the believers. They knew that lying would not be countenanced.
Stephen was addressing the High Priest and the Council. Near the end of his powerful message, he declared (Acts 7:51), “‘You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.'” It is the Spirit who empowers witness and the ministry of the Word. When people reject the Word, they are rejecting the Holy Spirit. This was true in Old Testament times, in New Testament times, and it is true today.
The Spirit and Spiritual Life
Luke stresses that when the Holy Spirit comes upon believers they will receive power to “be witnesses.” Those who relate the baptism in the Spirit to ethical concerns emphasize the word “be.” The Spirit enables them to be the kind of persons who make good witnesses. However, Luke himself is more concerned that the believers are emboldened to speak as witnesses.
Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts does have an impact on spiritual life. After examining the evidence, it is our view that the dimensions of the Spirit often overlap. For example, when one is inspired by the Spirit to speak, it is after all the Holy Spirit who inspires. Surely the impact of His holiness should be felt.
Another point is that through Spirit-empowered witness, people are challenged to life a Godly life. It is the inspired preaching of the Word that ultimately confronts men with a decision. Some will accept the challenge, and their lives will improve. Others will resist the Spirit and face judgment.
In some cases spiritual traits are put by Luke in the company of the Spirit. This points to a relationship between the Spirit and these traits. In other cases the Spirit is not named, but one can assume that the Spirit is involved. Even so, the silence of Luke supports our view that his main emphasis is on prophetic speech and witnessing. We will now consider the evidence.
John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. He ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah. Then, Luke says (Luke 1:80), “And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” We take this to be a reference to John’s spirit. However, even though Luke does not say it, we can assume that the Holy Spirit had a part in the development of John.
Luke writes (Acts 9:31), “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” Both the comfort of the church itself and the growth of the church are in view. Two points need to be made. One, Luke’s emphasis on power to witness does not mean that he is unaware of the work of the Spirit in a variety of ways. As he says here, the Spirit ministers comfort. An encouraged church is itself blessed. Two, the church that is comforted by the Spirit reaches out in its mission. Mission and spiritual well-being belong together.
Three passages have to do with goodness and the Holy Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit was upon Simeon. Also he was a man that (Luke 2:25) “was righteous and devout.” Although the Spirit was upon Simeon and Simeon was righteous, Luke does not directly make a connection. He does not say that Simeon was righteous through the work of the Spirit. Although Luke is silent about the point, we cannot exclude the work of the Spirit.
Second, the seven men who were chosen to serve food in the early church (Acts 6:3) were men of “good reputation.” Also, they were “full of the Spirit and wisdom.” Although Spirit and wisdom are not synonymous, the Spirit is the source of the wisdom. Luke does not identify the “good reputation” as a work to the Spirit, but we cannot exclude the Spirit’s influence in establishing their reputation.
Third, a similar statement is made about Barnabas. Luke writes (Acts 11:24), “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” The goodness of Barnabas is not as closely connected to the Spirit as faith. However, once again, we cannot exclude the work of the Spirit in producing the goodness of Barnabas.
Three times (6:3; 6:5; Acts 7:55) Luke says that Stephen is “full” of the Spirit. Stephen was among those (Acts 6:3) who were “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” Here, in Acts 6:5 Luke writes that Stephen was a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Like Stephen, Barnabas (Acts 11:24) was “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” In both cases the Spirit is the source of faith. The faith mentioned is not saving faith, but rather the faith to do exploits for God.
With regard to joy, two passages strike our attention. First, Jesus sent His disciples out to minister. They came back with a victorious report. According to Luke 10:21, “At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit.” Jesus then uttered praise to God and spoke to the disciples.” Many hold that the Spirit inspired the joy. Turner and Menzies both minimize the direct role of the Spirit in inspiring joy. According to Turner (pp. 264-265), the Spirit inspired Jesus with charismatic wisdom and that was accompanied with joy. Similarly, Menzies (pp. 157-159) holds that the Spirit inspired joyful prophetic speech. However, we need not deny that the Spirit inspired joy to recognize His role in inspiring prophetic speech and in providing charismatic wisdom.
Second, according to Luke (Acts 13:52), the disciples were continually filled with “joy and Holy Spirit.” What is the relationship between joy and the Holy Spirit? We could interpret this as “with joy” and “with Holy Spirit” as two separate and unrelated items. However, as the above instances suggest, when Luke connects the Spirit with a characteristic, such as power, it normally signals a relationship. The characteristics are not synonymous with the Spirit, but they are related. Usually, the Holy is either the source or at least a source of the characteristic.
Now, we will consider wisdom and the Holy Spirit. First, up to Acts 6, the presence of the Spirit primarily has been connected with boldness to speak, power to witness, and prophetic inspiration. When a problem in the church arose (Acts 6:1) over the distribution of food, there was a need for wisdom in practical administration. So men full of the Spirit and wisdom are to be selected for administrative purposes.
The Hellenistic Jews were complaining that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Wisdom to solve this problem was needed. According to Acts 6:3, the apostles said to the church “‘Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.'”
Here, the Spirit is the source of the wisdom. He is the one who leads them, guides them, and helps them in their administrative tasks. This is not without Biblical precedent. In Exodus 31:3, God says concerning Bezalel, “‘And I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship.'” This message is repeated in Exodus 35:31. We learn, also, from the apostle Paul that administration (I Corinthians 12:28) is a gift of the Spirit. The Spirit distributes wisdom as a gift among the believers.
Second, in Luke 21:15 Jesus promised the disciples, “‘I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.'” Also, Jesus promised (Luke 12:12) that on such occasions the Holy Spirit would teach the disciples what they ought to say. Stephen experienced the fulfillment of these promises. When he was speaking to his opponents from the Synagogue of the Freedman (Acts 6:10), “they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” The Spirit was the source of the wisdom.
Fruit and Gifts of the Spirit
As we noted in our chapter on Becoming A Christian, Luke does not deal with the work of the Spirit in drawing men to Christ, the Spirit’s impartation of new life, or the major works of the Spirit in salvation. We may well call this the Lukan silence. Now, we will consider the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.
Fruit of the Spirit
Although Luke mentions joy in Acts 13:52, he does not use the phrase “fruit of the Spirit.” The source of the joy mentioned here is the Spirit. The occasion of the joy was the progress of the gospel. We might call this joy a “fruit of the Spirit,” but Luke does not use the term. Joy as a fruit of the Spirit is no doubt a broader concept. The Spirit, in Luke writing, is a gift. Then, he connects the Spirit with such characteristics as wisdom, joy, and faith.
In contrast Paul directly attributes joy, as well as other fruit, to the Spirit. In Galatians 5:22-23 he writes:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. NAU
Obviously, it was not Luke’s intent to write extensively about the fruit of the Spirit in the life of a believer. He does report many good spiritual results. In Acts 4:32, for example, he writes that “abundant grace” was upon the disciples. Even here, however, he does not directly mention the Spirit.
Gifts of the Spirit
Perhaps surprisingly to many people, including Pentecostals and Charismatics, Luke does not use Paul’s (I Corinthians 12:4-11) “gifts of the Spirit” terminology. According to Luke, the Holy Spirit is a “gift” to the believer. Although Paul speaks about the Holy Spirit being given, he does not call the Holy Spirit a “gift.” He stresses that the Holy Spirit gives “gifts” to the believer. Also, he (Ephesians 4:11) identifies God as the giver of gifts.
In Luke’s writings many miracles and mighty deeds are recorded. The apostles perform signs and wonders in the name of Jesus, but Luke does not say much about the role of the Spirit. Whereas, in Paul the believers work miracles and healings through the gifts of the Spirit. Some writers attempt to classify all the supernatural events in Acts under the various gifts of the Spirit. However, this was not Luke’s approach.
As far as speaking in tongues is concerned, Luke does not deal with this as a gift of the Spirit. Rather, he records instances of the Spirit coming upon people resulting in their immediate inspired witness. He does not deal with speaking in tongues as a gift to be exercised in the church or as a private prayer language.
Luke does not connect the Spirit with the impartation of new birth and new life and says little about the Spirit’s direct work in spiritual maturity. He does include some passages that highlight prophetic praise, but he does not deal with worship in the church as such. Most of what he says has to do with the mission of the church. The Spirit comes upon the believers to empower them to witness and accomplish the mission of Christ.
Luke presents us with a picture of disciples empowered by the Spirit who have a strong sense of mission, who experience the revelation of the Spirit, who utter inspired speech, and who are led by the Spirit. Along with all of this, in tandem with the Spirit, they experience joy, faith, wisdom, and comfort. In addition, within the body there are disciples who have dreams and visions and who perform mighty deeds.
For Further Study
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Keener, Craig S. Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Menzies, Robert P. Empowered for Witness. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.
Shelton, James B. Mighty in Word and Deed. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.
Turner, Max. Power from On High. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1996.
Copyright © 2003 By George M. Flattery