The outpouring of the Holy Spirit ushered in a new era, the church age. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was a rare gift that was only given to a few people, and usually for only short periods of time. When Saul was anointed king of Israel, the Holy Spirit came upon him (1 Samuel 10:10), but when God removed His blessing on Saul, the Holy Spirit left him (1 Samuel 16:14). The Holy Spirit came for specific moments or seasons in the lives of Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (Judges 6:34), and Samson (Judges 13:25; 14:6) as well, to enable them to do His will and serve Israel. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all believers in Christ, and He came to stay. This marked a major change in the Holy Spirit’s work.
Before His arrest, Jesus had promised to send His disciples the Holy Spirit (John 14:15–17). The Spirit “lives with you and will be in you,” Jesus said (John 14:17). This was a prophecy of the indwelling of the Spirit, another distinctive of the church age. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 marked the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, too, as the Holy Spirit came upon all believers in a powerful, visible (and audible) way. Luke records the event: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:2–4). Immediately, the Spirit-filled believers went into the streets of Jerusalem and preached Christ. Three thousand people were saved and baptized that day; the church had begun (verse 41).
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon humanity was the inauguration of the New Covenant, which had been ratified by Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20). According to the terms of the New Covenant, every believer is given the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Ever since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has baptized every believer into Christ at the moment of salvation (1 Corinthians 12:13), as He comes to permanently indwell God’s children.
In the book of Acts, there are three “outpourings” of the Holy Spirit, to three different people groups at three different times. The first was to Jews and proselytes in Jerusalem (Acts 2). The second was to a group of believing Samaritans (Acts 8). The third was to a group of believing Gentiles (Acts 10). Significantly, Peter was present at all three outpourings. Three times, God sent the Holy Spirit with demonstrable signs, as the Great Commission was being fulfilled. The same Holy Spirit coming upon Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles in the same manner in the presence of the same apostle kept the early church unified. There was not a “Jewish” church, a “Samaritan” church, and a “Roman” church—there was one church, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
The outpouring of the Spirit is different from the filling of the Spirit. The outpouring was a unique coming of the Holy Spirit to earth; the filling happens whenever we are surrendered to God’s control of our lives. We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). In this regard it is possible for the believer either to be “filled with the Spirit” or to “quench” the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). In either case, the Holy Spirit remains with the believer (as opposed to the Old Testament era, when the Holy Spirit would come and go). The filling of the Spirit comes as a direct result of submission to God’s will, and the quenching is a direct result of rebelling against God’s will.
Some still look for an “outpouring” of the Holy Spirit on a specific group of people in a specific place or time, but there is no biblical support for the repeat of such a Pentecost-style event. The church has already begun; the apostles have already laid that foundation (Ephesians 2:20). Sometimes we sing songs that ask the Holy Spirit to “come”; the reality is that He has already come to us—at the moment of salvation—and, once He comes, He doesn’t leave. The outpouring of the Spirit is a completed prophecy that ushered in the church age and the New Covenant in which all believers are given the Holy Spirit.