The Spirit Is the Guarantee
After Apollos moved on from Ephesus to Corinth, Paul was making his way back to Ephesus. He was there for a brief time with Priscilla and Aquila but then left for Jerusalem. He then visited his beloved brethren in Antioch, the church that sent him and Barnabas on their first missionary journey some years ago where they founded churches in the regions of Galatia and Phrygia. He then returned to see those very churches. Now he was finally making his way back to Ephesus as he had promised in 18:19-21.
But on his way, he ran into twelve men who, upon interrogation, had been disciples of John the Baptist. And unlike Apollos in the last chapter, these men were in dire straits: Apollos was a born again believer who possessed the Holy Spirit but who erred in his understanding of baptism, though for what reason we do not know. So Priscilla and Aquilla explained matters to him “more accurately,” indicating that Apollos merely needed instruction. These men with whom Paul met up didn’t just need instruction; they needed saving. They apparently had been baptized by John during his ministry some twenty years prior. No doubt, they remembered what John preached when Paul reminded them of his words that they were to believe on the one who would come after him. Then Paul tells them of Jesus. It is upon this that they believe, are baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Note that Apollos was not baptized again, signifying that he was saved as one who possessed the Spirit, though he was baptized by John or by one who only knew of John’s baptism; these men were baptized again, signifying they were not saved as men who did not possess the Spirit, though baptized by John or by one who knew him.
And what this means is that the difference isn’t really whose baptism, though that is important and the Church only baptizes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; what matters is the possession of the Holy Spirit. So when Paul said, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed,” he was not a suggesting that one can believe without the Holy Spirit. Paul asked this question to discern whether or not these men were indeed saved: “So you say you believe. Tell me, did you receive the Holy Spirit when you, quote, believed? No? Well then….” And so Paul went on to preach Jesus to them in hopes that they might believe, as John would have hoped for them.
He is the Holy Spirit who is our guarantee of eternal life, not our baptism (2 Corinthians 1:22). And he is our advocate and guide (John 14:15-17).