8 Representations of the Holy Spirit in Scripture

Paul Enns
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There are descriptions and depictions of the Holy Spirit in Scripture that vividly portray His person and His work. These could variously be identified as type, illustration, emblem, or symbol and are thus categorized as representations of the Holy Spirit.

1. Clothing

Following His resurrection Jesus commanded the disciples to wait in Jerusalem “until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Clothed (Gk. enduo) is the normal word for “dress,” or “clothe someone.” The word is passive, indicating the individual does not clothe himself; someone else (God) does it for him. The meaning of clothing is explained in the text by the phrase “with power.” The apostles were to stay in Jerusalem until they were clothed with the Holy Spirit’s power.

2. Dove

At the baptism of Christ the Holy Spirit descended “like a dove.” Was it an actual dove? A study of the passages is helpful: “as a dove” (Matt. 3:16); “like a dove” (Mark 1:10); “in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22); “beheld the Spirit descending as a dove” (John 1:32). According to Luke 3:22 and John 1:32 there must have been a physical representation of a dove. However, the dove only represented the Holy Spirit. Something in the quality and characteristics of the dove served as a vehicle to portray the Holy Spirit.

Each of the Gospels emphasizes the descent of the Spirit as a dove “out of heaven,” which stresses that the Holy Spirit has come from the presence of God in heaven. It is significant, of course, in emphasizing the Father’s blessing and anointing of His Son for His public ministry. This was an important witness to the people, particularly those who opposed Christ.

The dove portrayed the Holy Spirit coming upon Christ at the beginning of His public ministry and therefore emphasizes the power of the Holy Spirit on Christ for His work.

The dove is also a symbol of purity (cf. Matt. 10:16) and a representation of peace.

3. Pledge

In 2 Corinthians 1:22 Paul says God “gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” The word pledge (Gk. arrabon) means a “first installment, deposit, down payment, pledge, that pays a part of the purchase price in advance, and so secures a legal claim to the article in question, or makes a contract valid. . . . (Arrabon) is a payment which obligates the contracting party to make further payments.”[1] Ephesians 1:14 reveals the nature of the Holy Spirit as the down payment of our ultimate and complete glorification in heaven. “Redemption” in Ephesians 1:14 looks forward to the final stage of the believer’s redemption, that is, his ultimate glorification. The Holy Spirit as a pledge is a symbol of the believer’s security in Christ.

4. Fire

At Pentecost “tongues of fire” distributed themselves and rested on the apostles (Acts 2:3). God’s revelation of Himself by fire was not unusual and would have been understood by the Jews. It would have denoted the presence of God. This unusual occurrence, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, would signify that God was in this event (cf. Ex. 3:2). The occurrence also indicated the approval of God. When Peter proclaimed the resurrected Jesus moments later, the fire would symbolize the approval of God upon Peter’s message (cf. Lev. 9:24; 1 Kings 18:38–39). The fire also symbolized the judgment of God (cf. Lev. 10:2). The unbelievers at Pentecost were ultimately judged for their unbelief at the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.

5. Oil

Oil is a type of the Holy Spirit inasmuch as the Old Testament practice of anointing priests and kings served as a type of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Zechariah 4:1–14 illustrates the significance of oil as a type; oil depicted the Holy Spirit’s power in strengthening Joshua and Zerubbabel to lead the people in completing the construction of the temple in 515 B.C. The constant flow of oil from the lampstand (v. 2) to the two leaders (vv. 3,14) is interpreted in verse 6, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.” In 1 Samuel 10:1 Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel, the anointing representing the Spirit of the Lord coming upon him to lead the people (1 Sam. 10:6, 10). The Old Testament events, however, were only types for the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

6. Seal

The Holy Spirit is identified as the seal of the believer (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). A seal means securing or fastening a stone with a seal as in Matthew 27:66 by the Roman authorities. Figuratively, sealing means to “mark (with a seal) as a means of identification . . . in papyrii, of all kinds of animals, so that the mark which denotes ownership also carries with it the protection of the owner.”[2] Cattle branding would be a modern parallel of ancient sealing (cf. Isa. 44:5; Ezek. 9:4).

Several important truths emerge from the sealing of the Spirit. (1) It signified ownership by God. The Spirit’s seal upon the believer indicates the believer belongs to God. (2) It suggests security. The seal is permanent, “for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). (3) It also suggests authority. Just as the Roman authority existed over the area where the Roman seal was placed, so the authority of God is over the believer to whom He has given His Spirit.

7. Water

During the final ritual at the Feast of Tabernacles the priest brought water from the pool of Siloam and poured it in the funnel beside the altar, amid the singing of worshipers. The event was a joyous one, in anticipation of Messiah’s glorious reign (Zech. 14:16–21). During that event Jesus proclaimed, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:37–38). The next verse gives the explanation: “But this He spoke of the Spirit” (John 7:39). Several points are noteworthy. Water as an emblem of the Holy Spirit signifies eternal life (cf. John 4:14; 7:37–39). Water signifies a reception of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25–27; John 7:39). It anticipates millennial blessings (study the background of John 7:37–39; cf. Isa. 12:3; Joel 2:28–32).

8. Wind

Wind is a most natural representation of the Holy Spirit since the word spirit (Gk. pneuma) may be translated wind as well as spirit. English words like pneumatic derive their meaning from the word pneuma. In explaining the new birth to Nicodemus, Jesus compared the birth by the Holy Spirit to the wind (John 3:8). The new birth was an inexplicable sovereign work of God; just as the wind blowing through the trees is inexplicable and sovereign, so is the new birth by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does “as He wills;” no one dictates to Him just as no one dictates to the wind (cf. 1 Cor. 12:11).

[1] Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon, 109.

[2] Ibid., 796.

For Further Reading:

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by Paul Enns

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