The Spirit is the motivating, energising force that lights the fire of enthusiasm amongst the followers of Jesus in the early days after his ascension (Acts 1:6–11). In his orderly account of the things coming to fulfilment, Luke makes this clear when he reports what takes place on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fell upon the followers of Jesus “gathered in one place … all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1–4).
Soon after that experience, Peter speaks to the gathered crowd, interpreting the portentous events of the day by relating them to Joel 2:28–32, “God declares, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:14–21). Later in this speech, Peter affirms that Jesus, “being exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear” (2:33).
From Pentecost onwards, the Spirit is active; Luke regularly and consistently notes the presence of the Spirit throughout the events that follow. Specific leaders within the early church are said to be “filled with the Spirit”: Peter (4:8), Stephen (6:3, 5; 7:55), Paul (9:17; 13:9), and Barnabas (11:24). This phrase signals the reactivation of the Spirit in ways that evoke the time, before the birth of Jesus, when key figures were “filled with the Spirit” (1:35, 41, 67), and at the start of the public activity of Jesus, when he was “filled with the Spirit” (4:1, 14).
Indeed, in the early period, the whole community in Jerusalem is filled with the spirit: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (4:31). Beyond Judea, the Spirit guides Philip to travel with the Ethiopian eunuch on the wilderness road to Gaza (8:29, 39), inspires Agabus to prophesy in Antioch (11:28), and probably also is active through the “burning enthusiasm” of the preaching of Apollos in Ephesus (18:25).
When the persecutor Saul has his dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus, a disciple in that city named Ananias is pivotal in the story. In a vision, he is commanded to go to where the blinded Saul is staying, and say to him, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (9:17). As Saul regains both sight and appetite (9:18–19), so he is now open to the work of the Spirit in what he does.
Later on, in Antioch, “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (13:2). Accordingly, “being sent out by the Holy Spirit” (13:4), Barnabas and Saul begin their travels, preaching and performing miracles to people in the eastern Mediterranean.