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An Exposition of Luke 1:15

J.R. Ensey

“For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.”

Thesis: This verse is not to be compared with those scriptural references to the uniquely Christian experience of the “baptism/infilling of the Holy Spirit”—as mentioned in Acts 1:5: “John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence,” and Acts 2:38: “And Peter said to them, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Exposition: Luke 1:15 is saying that the baby John would be filled with a spiritual stimulus that would be an antithesis to being drunk with wine. It was an individual and specific anointing and filling (upon and within). It would be manifested even before birth (Luke 1:41) but it would not be something he would be aware of from that time. He likely had no knowledge of the full significance of what was his from birth. The prophecy intimated that he would be a good man and great in the sight of the Lord, even greater than all prophets that came before him (Luke 7:28). That is why it was said of him: “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil” (Luke 7:33).

Luke 1:15 should be understood in the light of the Hebrew conception of being “filled with the Spirit.” Such references are found in several Old Testament passages, for example in Isaiah 11:2,3—“And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.” (See also Isaiah 61:1). In other words, the recipient fully equipped to perform the assignment given him by God. Of Samson it was commanded: “For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). Of Jeremiah it was said: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). This was the meaning of Luke 1:15 and is the way it would have been understood by those who heard it spoken or read.

English words that are made to conjure up certain images should not be forced into a meaning for which they were not intended to express. He would be “filled with the Holy Spirit” simply implied that he would manifest the above mentioned attributes in Isaiah 11:2. How better could it be expressed in English other than with words such as “upon” or “filled”?

The verse makes the distinction between being “filled with intoxicating beverage” and being “filled with God’s Spirit.” The contrast was carried over from Old Testament references to the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6; Judges 13:4; etc.). The same connotation is used in Ephesians 5:18 where Paul admonished the Ephesian believers (who had already been filled with the Spirit according to Acts 2:4,38) to “not get drunk with wine, in which is debauchery; instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Mounce). He was not telling them to again seek for an infilling/baptism of the Holy Spirit but to embrace and manifest all the attributes generated by the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2; Galatians 5:22), in contrast to being influenced by intoxicating drink. In other words, be “intoxicated” on the influences brought into us by the Holy Spirit, not on mind-altering beverages or drugs.

That John’s “filling” is unlike the future baptism with the Spirit is seen in verses like John 7:37-39: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (ESV).

The fulfilling of Acts 1:8 on the Day of Pentecost was distinct theologically and experientially from that of Jeremiah and John the Baptist. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, which believers receive today (since Pentecost), was not available prior to Acts 2:4, because Jesus had not fulfilled His role in redemption and atonement. The Temple veil had not been rent at that time, and the blood of propitiation had not been applied to the mercy seat in heaven.

Another passage to consider is John 20:22—“He breathed on them and said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” Did the disciples receive the Spirit then, or was that merely another version of the command to wait in Jerusalem until they had received the Holy Spirit? Obviously, it was a command to receive it before evangelizing the world.

John 7:38-39: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” Jesus was glorified when the full process of His resurrection and ascension to a throne in Heaven were complete.

Jesus said in John 16:7, “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” In other words, the Holy Spirit baptism would not be given until after He ascended to Heaven.

Speaking in tongues was not experienced in connection with the operation of the Spirit in the Old Testament. That only began to occur in Acts 2 at the beginning of this dispensation. It became the standard on and after the Day of Pentecost.

Old Testament leaders and prophets were moved upon, guided by, and empowered in particular ways by the Spirit of God at various times. Their “filling” may be not fundamentally unlike ours in some ways, but the operation of the Spirit in our lives is different. They did not have the “gift” of the Spirit (Acts 2:38), or the subsequent “gifts” of the Spirit as we do today (I Corinthians Chapters 12-14). The infilling/baptism of the Spirit with speaking in tongues was reserved for a new birth or induction experience into the spiritual kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13) in this period of time—from Pentecost to the Rapture.