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Advancing From John's Baptism To The Truth Of New Creation

Advancing From John's Baptism To The Truth Of New Creation poster

And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples. And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: for he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.”—Acts 18:23–19:7

We have really two incidents here, but they are so intimately connected that I was anxious to take them both up on one occasion. You notice in verse 23 we have the beginning of Paul’s third missionary journey. Having returned to Antioch from his second journey, he spent some time there, and then started out again. He was getting to be an old man, but there was such a desire in his heart to carry the Gospel to distant places and to help and encourage those who had already believed, that he could not be content at Antioch. He must go into the regions beyond. So “he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.” And then we have this interesting story of Apollos which comes in here as an explanation of what is recorded afterwards in chapter 19.

A certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.”

Alexandria, at this time one of the great cities of the ancient world, had a very large Jewish population; and there was in it an outstanding Jewish teacher, Philo. It would seem that this man Apollos was first of all a disciple of his and then, as we shall see later on, of John the Baptist.

He is described as an eloquent man. God does not have a great many eloquent men, even in the ministry of the Gospel. It is just here and there that He lays His hand upon a man of outstanding eloquence, a man who can so speak as to stir men’s hearts and move on and on to a great climax. I think we had a man like that with us last Sunday night, our friend Dr. Robert G. Lee. Some of us when we listen to him feel, well, if we had to preach like that, we should never be able to attain it. So eloquent and yet certainly mighty in the Scriptures! Well, this was what characterized Apollos. He was perhaps the outstanding pulpit orator of the first century in the Christian church. He knew the Word, that is he was familiar with the Old Testament. Remember, the Scriptures that were in the hands of all the early Christians were the Old Testament books. They did not as yet have the books of the New Testament. But Apollos had studied the Old Testament and knew it well. He knew the promises and the prophecies. He knew something, perhaps, of the types and shadows, and was looking for the full manifestation of the Messiah of Israel as promised therein. He had heard John the Baptist preach, and had been baptized by him personally.

And being fervent in the spirit.” I like that. The word fervent means boiling hot. It is a great thing to find people who have received a message from God which so moves their own hearts that it fires them up and sends them out to proclaim it with great earnestness of purpose. You remember the Apostle in one place, writing to believers, says we should be “Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.” I think a great many of us are fervent in business, slothful in spirit, serving ourselves! Of course we are not to be remiss in temporal things, but we are to see to it that we are fervent in spirit, that spiritual things grip our hearts and consciences and move us to earnest devotion to Christ. Well, this man was fervent in the spirit, and “he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord.” But now we get his limitations: “Knowing only the baptism of John.”

I think we need to try to get this man’s background clearly in mind in order to understand what happened afterward. Born in Alexandria, evidently taught in the Old Testament, a disciple of Philo, and an ardent Jew, he was looking for the coming of Messiah, and he heard of John [the] Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judaea. Whether he made a special journey to Judaea or not we are not told, but we know that he heard John preach, was baptized by him, and then, fervent in the spirit, he started out to visit the Jews in distant places and to carry to them the message that John was preaching, calling upon men to be baptized, in repentance looking for the coming of the Messiah. Apollos doubtless felt that if Messiah’s coming was so near, the Jews of the dispersion as well as those in Palestine should hear of it.

Now a good many years had gone by, but evidently Apollos had not returned to Jerusalem and he did not know that Messiah had come. We need not be surprised that this man, going about among what are called the Dispersion, scattered Jews living out among the Gentiles, had not learned that Messiah had not only appeared but had been crucified, raised from the dead, and ascended to God’s right hand. These things had not been made known to him. They had yet to come to his attention. So he went out preaching John’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue.”

In the city of Ephesus, Paul’s two good friends, Aquila and Priscilla were living. These, you remember, were the folk who were tent makers and Paul had labored with them in Corinth. Now they had moved to Ephesus, and when Priscilla and Aquila heard of this eloquent Bible teacher who was giving out the Word of God in the synagogue, they went to hear him. There was no prejudice on their part that would keep them from entering the synagogue. And they were stirred as they listened to the messages of this man Apollos. But we can well imagine that they said one to another as they walked home, “It’s wonderful; everything that he says is true, but the fact is he doesn’t go far enough. He is telling the people to get ready for the coming of Messiah. Evidently he doesn’t know that Messiah has already come, that he died and arose and ascended into heaven, and that the Holy Spirit has come down from heaven to baptize all believers into one body and to bring in the blessed and glorious truth of new creation—a new creation in which all saints on Earth are united by the Spirit to the glorious Head in heaven.” And so they decided that they must try to help this man. And you will notice that they didn’t go at him in a carping, critical way. We hear somebody giving out a measure of truth and we go at them in such a harsh, unkind way. We find fault with them because they do not know more and often we frighten them off instead of helping them. How we need to pray, we Christians who love the Lord Jesus, who believe in the inspiration of His holy Word and the fundamental truths of Christianity; how we need to cultivate the winsomeness that characterized our blessed Lord Jesus! We meet people who have come just so far, and we find fault with them, because they do not see more clearly and forget that they have not been instructed. Many modernists are modernists only because they do not know any better, and if we who know the truth would pray for them and would try in a gracious, kindly way to get to them with the truth of God, either to speak to them personally or to put into their hands some upbuilding literature, many of these men might be won to a full, clear knowledge of Christ. I think I have told before of a dear young man who came to me not very long ago in a nearby city. He said, “Do you recognize me?” I looked at him and said, “I’m afraid I don’t. Your face looks somewhat familiar (he had two eyes and a nose and a mouth, you know), but I can’t recall your name.” “Well,” he said, “I couldn’t forget you because God used you to help me when I needed it oh so badly. I had gone as a young man to a certain seminary. I went in as an earnest, flaming evangelist, and after four years in cold storage there I came out as a practical agnostic. They had filled me with doubt and perplexity. They told me the Bible was not the inspired word of God. They told me that blood atonement was not the way sinners were saved, and I came out of there with nothing to preach. I did not know where I stood myself. I thought I would go into business or take up some other profession. I was passing through Chicago, and my train connection left me some hours to look around. I had heard of The Moody Church, so I thought I would go up there. I inquired how to get there and I came up and met you and you took me through the building and then up into your study. I told you how confused I was and you sought to help me, and prayed with me and just as I was leaving you handed me your book on the Epistle to the Romans. I read it on the train, and by the time I got home, all my doubts were gone, and I had a Gospel to preach again. That book changed my life, and for eight years I have been preaching the Gospel in a Methodist church and winning many souls to Christ.” I felt so unworthy. But it did me good because it made me feel more than ever the importance of trying to help those who really want to give out the word of God but some way or other they do not understand. The full revelation of God’s mind has not been opened up to them.

Priscilla and Aquila were so wise. They did not find fault with Apollos. I think they went up to him after meeting and said, “Brother Apollos, we certainly enjoyed your message this morning. We would love to have you come home and have dinner with us.” I can just imagine them saying, “Come now, come home with us”; and I think Apollos said, “I will be glad to come.” So they took him to their home and then when they got him well filled up and when he was restful and happy and enjoying things, “they expounded unto him the way of the Lord more perfectly.” I think they would say something like this: “My, we enjoyed you, Apollos. That was a wonderful message, but did you not hear that Messiah did come and that He was crucified and raised again?” “Why, no.” “Oh yes, and He has gone up to glory, and He has sent the Holy Ghost down.” Why, I can imagine Apollos saying, “What proof have you of these things?” And then they would begin to tell him of all the wonderful things they had received through the apostle Paul, and other Christians, and as they opened up the Word, Apollos just drank it in. Oh, how grateful he was for these friends who so graciously and so kindly took him into their home and taught him. And as he learned these things, he felt, well, I am not fit to go on preaching here, but if I could get to a Christian assembly someplace, maybe I could learn more and extend my ministry to other places.

And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace.”

He went to them doubtless expecting to get help from them, and undoubtedly he did, but on the other hand this fine, fervent, Bible taught young preacher, standing up among them giving out the truth, was a means of real encouragement to them. I don’t know anyone who does a staid, old Christian so much good as a young convert in the full flush of his first love for Christ and the truth! It was thus with Apollos.

And so he helped the local assembly there at Corinth.

For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.”

Well now, you see he has left Ephesus, gone on to Corinth, and then from there his ministry broadened out, and he became one of the outstanding messengers of the early church. And now Paul comes on to Ephesus where Apollos had been.

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples—”

Now be careful here. It does not say that he found certain Christians, and as we go on it is easy to see from this passage whose these disciples were. They were Jewish disciples who had been instructed by Apollos. He had been preaching in the synagogue, preaching the baptism of John, and giving them all that he knew. Now he has gone on, and as Paul is here, Priscilla and Aquila no doubt ask him to come and preach to these people in the synagogue. And Paul, always ready to communicate to others what God had made so precious to his own soul, went with them and found these disciples. Paul wants to help them, and he begins by putting a question to them: “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Actually what he asked them was this: “Did you, upon your believing, receive the Holy Spirit?” In other words, when you listened to Apollos and heard his message about the coming Christ and you believed it, did you receive the Holy Spirit? This is not a question put to Christians. It is a question put to disciples in, shall we call it, the half-way house between Judaism and Christianity, disciples of John. “Did you upon your believing receive the Holy Spirit?” And they said, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” Well, not exactly that. Of course, even as Jews they had heard of the Holy Spirit. But what they actually said was this: “We had not so much as heard whether the Holy Ghost be,” that is whether He be come. You see, John had said: “I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” And of course Apollos had told them about that, but they said, “We have not so much as heard whether the Holy Ghost be come.”

Paul inquired, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” Notice that question and the implications of it. Why did he ask them that question? He had said to them, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” They said, “We did not know he had come.” He says, “Unto what then” (that is, unto what name then) “were you baptized?” Why did he ask that question? What has that to do with whether or not the Holy Spirit had come? Our Lord Jesus, before He went away, gave His last commission to the apostles: “Go and disciple the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” That is Christian baptism. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. That is the last commission of the risen Christ to His servants. You go out and carry my message everywhere in the world, and baptize your converts in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Now these people had been baptized. Paul says, “Into whose name were you baptized?” If they had received Christian baptism, they should have known the Holy Spirit had come. They were to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But they answered, “We were baptized into John’s baptism.” That was different. That was a baptism unto repentance, a preparatory baptism, looking forward to the coming of the King. Christian baptism looks back to His coming to die, looks up to the throne where He now sits at the Father’s right hand, and on toward the end of the dispensation when He will come again. The age hasn’t ended yet. Therefore, we are responsible still to baptize believers into the name of the Father, and of [the] Son, and of the Holy Spirit. So when Paul heard their answer, “Unto John’s baptism,” he explained:

John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”

And so Paul, we have no doubt (we do not get everything recorded here in a few verses) preached the Gospel to them. He told them the wonderful story, how Jesus came, how He went to Calvary, how He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, how His precious body was laid away in the tomb, how He arose in triumph, how before He went home He commissioned His apostles to go into all the world preaching the Gospel and baptizing men in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, how some day He is coming back again to set up His glorious Kingdom. And we read, “When they heard this” (when they heard the unfolding of the truth concerning our Lord Jesus Christ) “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Now somebody says, “Why, you see, they were not baptized in the name of the Trinity. They were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” People who reason like that fail to take into account what is involved in that expression. “In the name” speaks of authority. Why do I stand here trying to preach today? I stand here because I have been commissioned by the Lord Jesus to carry His Gospel into all the world, and I come to speak to you in the name of the Lord Jesus who told me in His Word to go out and teach the nations in the name of [the] Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. “In His name” is authority. In or really unto the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is the revelation of God in Christ, as we have it in Christianity. And so these men were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, that is by His authority which, of course, implies baptism unto the name of the Holy Trinity. Whether he baptized them himself we know not—but he saw that they were baptized when they confessed Christ as their Saviour. And now, having been baptized with Christian baptism, Paul laid his hands upon them and immediately as at Pentecost, as in Samaria, as in Cornelius’s house, the Holy Spirit came on them and there were the same wonderful manifestations as at Pentecost. “They spake with tongues, and prophesied.” You see, this little group was living in a transition stage. They were neither Jews as such, still on legal ground, nor were they on full New Testament ground. They were Jews who were looking forward to the coming of Messiah, and had been baptized with the baptism of John. In order that there might be definite evidence that they were brought right into the body of Christ, with those gathered at Pentecost and in Samaria, in Cornelius’s house and everywhere else where the Word was preached and believed, Paul in a special way put his hands upon them, commending them to God, and the Spirit fell upon them, thus baptizing them into the body and giving them special gifts as he had given to the Jews at Pentecost. There were not many of them. “All the men were about twelve.”

This was the last group brought in to complete the various companies to whom the Gospel message was to go. Peter began at Pentecost and preached to the Jews. That there were some Gentiles there we know as we are told there were Cretes and Arabians, but mainly his address was to the Jews, calling them to save themselves from that untoward generation and to come out by baptism from the nation of Israel which was already under judgment. Then later on Philip went down to Samaria and carried the Gospel message to that group who come in an intermediate place between Jews and Gentiles. They had a mixed religion of Judaism and paganism, and they were brought unto the new creation through faith in Christ and the Spirit’s baptism. Then Peter went to the Gentiles, preaching the Gospel to Cornelius’s household, and as he preached, they believed, and the Holy Spirit fell on them and brought them into the body of Christ. And now the Spirit of God finds out this little company who had accepted John’s baptism but had not yet heard the further message. They believed and were baptized by the authority of the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit fell on them. There are no other groups to be found. Everywhere else that the message is carried it will go to Jews, Samaritans, John’s disciples, or Gentiles. And so God has given us a little sample of some taken out of these groups and brought into the body of Christ. The coming of the Holy Spirit is the great, outstanding witness that God is satisfied with the finished work of His beloved Son, and His Spirit now dwells in every believer and baptizes every believer into the body of Christ.

Today there are but three classes of people in the world, Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God. And when Jews and Gentiles believe they are no longer seen by God as such but are new members of the new creation, the church, of which Christ is the exalted Head.