Ephesians 3:14-19 (HCSB)14 For this reason I kneel before the Father15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.16 ⌊I pray⌋ that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit,17 and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. ⌊I pray⌋ that you, being rooted and firmly established in love,18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth ⌊of God’s love⌋,19 and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
There are many symbols of the Holy Spirit in scripture. Each one communicates something different about the Holy Spirit and His work in the life of a Christian. One word of caution. When looking at a symbol, be careful to make sure of the context. If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I warn against taking verses of scripture out of context. That's what false teachers often do and it can result in heresy.
For example, the Holy the Holy Spirit is identified with a dove in;
Matthew 3:16 (NLT)16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.
However when we read that Noah sent out a dove in
Genesis 8:8 (NLT)8 He also released a dove to see if the water had receded and it could find dry ground.
We shouldn’t interpret that Noah was sending out the Holy Spirit. It would be a mistake in interpretation to see the Holy Spirit in every place that a dove is referred to in the Bible.
One more point. While I use the word symbol I do not mean a material object or image of anything... that would be an idol. These symbols in scripture give our limited human minds an idea the characteristics and attributes of the Holy Spirit since we can’t see Him because He is a spirit.
The dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit communicates beauty, gentleness, and peace.
We already looked at Matt 3:16. This same event is recorded in Mark, Luke, and John.
Mark 1:10 (NLT)10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove.
Luke 3:21-22 (NLT)21 One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened,22 and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”
John 1:32-34 (NLT)32 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him.33 I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”
Fire can communicate God’s:
- Presence - Exodus 3:2 (NLT) There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up.
- Glory - Numbers 9:15 (NLT) On the day the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered it. But from evening until morning the cloud over the Tabernacle looked like a pillar of fire. Ezekiel 1:4 (NLT) As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber.
- Purification - 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT) These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
- Judgment - Leviticus 10:2 (NLT) So fire blazed forth from the LORD’s presence and burned them up, and they died there before the LORD. Hebrews 12:29 (NLT) For our God is a devouring fire.
The symbol of fire for the Holy Spirit most remembered or thought of by Christians is;
Acts 2:3-4 (NLT)3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
The Greek word for spirit, which is pneuma (pnyoo'-mah) can also be translated as breath or wind. The ides of wind communicates that the Holy Spirit is powerful, invisible, and blows where He intends to blow.
Acts 2:2 (NLT)2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.
Remember when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about being born again?
John 3:8 (NLT)8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is symbolized by water. This speaks of refreshing, cleansing and washing the believer of his sins. Jesus makes this connection at the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the annual feasts that was required under the Law of Moses. Jesus said this on the last day of the feast.
John 7:37-39 (NLT)37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)
As freshwater is needed for physical life, the “living water” of the Holy Spirit is needed for spiritual life.
Anointing with oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit uniting us with Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Oil symbolizes the soothing and healing presence of the Holy Spirit. Oil was involved in the anointing of the prophets, priests and kings for ministry to their offices.
Acts 10:38 (NLT) And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
The cloud speaks to us not only of the Holy Spirit's guidance and leading, but of His faithfulness as well.
When the Israelites were in the wilderness, no matter how much they grumbled and complained the cloud never left them. It was always there to lead and protect them.
Exodus 13:20-22 (NLT) The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness.21 The LORD went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night.22 And the LORD did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people.
Still Small Voice
The voice of God that speaks to our innermost being.
1 Kings 19:11-13 (NLT)11 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
These seven symbols describe the ways, the Lord desires to move in our lives. Just as He manifested Himself in a dove and lighted upon Jesus. He wants to manifest Himself in you and me with the glory of the invisible God. That glory becomes visible through and in us so that we can show Him to others.
I’ll end this post with a devotion from Charles Spurgeon.
Rich were the blessings of this day if all of us were filled with the Holy Ghost. The consequences of this sacred filling of the soul it would be impossible to overestimate. Life, comfort, light, purity, power, peace; and many other precious blessings are inseparable from the Spirit's benign presence. As sacred oil, He anoints the head of the believer, sets him apart to the priesthood of saints, and gives him grace to execute his office aright. As the only truly purifying water He cleanses us from the power of sin and sanctifies us unto holiness, working in us to will and to do of the Lord's good pleasure. As the light, He manifested to us at first our lost estate, and now He reveals the Lord Jesus to us and in us, and guides us in the way of righteousness. Enlightened by His pure celestial ray, we are no more darkness but light in the Lord. As fire, He both purges us from dross, and sets our consecrated nature on a blaze. He is the sacrificial flame by which we are enabled to offer our whole souls as a living sacrifice unto God. As heavenly dew, He removes our barrenness and fertilizes our lives. O that He would drop from above upon us at this early hour! Such morning dew would be a sweet commencement for the day. As the dove, with wings of peaceful love He broods over His Church and over the souls of believers, and as a Comforter He dispels the cares and doubts which mar the peace of His beloved. He descends upon the chosen as upon the Lord in Jordan, and bears witness to their sonship by working in them a filial (the love orfa parent for their child) spirit by which they cry Abba, Father. As the wind, He brings the breath of life to men; blowing where He listeth He performs the quickening operations by which the spiritual creation is animated and sustained. Would to God, that we might feel His presence this day and every day.