Pentecostals often refer to and preach from Acts 19:1-6 to promote second blessing theology (SBT). SBT teaches that the normative Christian practice is first to accept Jesus as Lord and then, secondly, to have another separate, distinct experience of the baptism of the Spirit. During this second experience the Christian is said to be filled with the Spirit, normally this “blessing” is accompanied with speaking in “tongues”.
In Ephesus Paul found twelve “disciples” (v1). Normally in Acts “disciples” refers to Christians, but it turns out from Paul’s questioning that these people are not Christians, but repentant Jews. Paul probably thought they were Christians at first.
To gauge their spiritual state, Pauls asks (v2), “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Paul did not ask did you receive the Spirit when you attended the course or when you prayed a special prayer or when you truly entered a new level of obedience in your Christian life! Paul associates receiving the Holy Spirit with believing (i.e. believing in Jesus).
They answered (v2), “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Naturally Paul is bewildered so asks (v3), “Then what baptism did you receive?” Paul wants to know whose teachings there are following, with whom they associate themselves with. They reply (v3), “John’s baptism”. In other words, these disciples had agreed with John the baptizer that they should repent and await the promised king, who would baptise – not with water – but with the Holy Spirit (v4).
We realise, with Paul, that these “disciples” were repentant Jews awaiting their promised king, not Christians. The Holy Spirit is instrumental to Christian conversion and life (Romans 8:9) and they had no clue about him!
These “disciples” were like many people today. They have heard of the reality of God, a promised king, of sin, of repentance, but have no clue about Jesus and therefore they do not have the Spirit’s empowering presence.
What’s the remedy? The disciples receive instruction about Jesus (v4-5). Here is a good lesson: For a person to receive the Holy Spirit, they need instruction – not about the Spirit – but instruction about Jesus! The disciples learn about Jesus, the promised king, and receive baptism in Jesus’ name and as a result immediately and inevitably receive the Holy Spirit (v6).
One and the same
Becoming a Christian and receiving the Spirit are aspects of the same experience and go hand in hand. It is impossible to have one without the other, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians years later in Ephesians 1:13 “…Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…”
The visible evidence of the baptism of the Spirit was speaking in tongues and prophesying (v6), as sometimes happened elsewhere in Acts.