Waiting on the Holy Spirit (Everything You Need to Know)


In many churches today there is a lot of misunderstanding on the topic of waiting for the Holy Spirit. Although the Bible is very clear about this topic there is still some confusion in the Body of Christ.

So in this article, we are going to try to answer some of the most common questions surrounding this topic and hopefully clear up the confusion. Let’s begin.

Why did Jesus tell the disciples/apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit?

Jesus told His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit for two reasons: First, because the Day of Pentecost had not come yet, the Day of Pentecost was the appointed day the Holy Spirit was going to be poured out. And second, Jesus was not yet glorified.

The Bible makes it clear that God could not have poured out His Spirit without first having Jesus die for the sins of the world, get buried, and then rise again from the dead.

The reason for this is because: first, people need to be saved in order to receive the Holy Spirit, and second, Jesus needed to be exalted to such a position in order to give the Holy Spirit.

“On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)

As we can see from this passage here Jesus was mentioning a future work He would do in the Believer’s life, but it could not yet be accomplished until Jesus completed the work of the cross and was exalted at the right hand of God.

This is the reason for the disciples being told to wait for the Holy Spirit because they were waiting for Christ to be glorified after His resurrection. Which was not completed until the Day of Pentecost.

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

Why did God wait to send the Holy Spirit?

A quick answer is God did not wait to send the Holy Spirit. Christ sent the Spirit as soon as He was exalted to the right hand of God. However, it did take some time for the completion of Christ’s work to be accomplished.

As we saw earlier from John chapter 7, Jesus couldn’t give the Holy Spirit to believers until He was glorified.

This can also mean that when the Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4, that this was the moment Christ was officially exalted to the right hand of God.

After the disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2, Peter began preaching to the crowd that accumulated around them. And while Peter was preaching the Gospel to the crowd he says of Jesus,

“Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

From this passage we discover two things: first, when Christ was exalted He received the promise of the Father, and second, He poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church as soon as He received Him.

So in short, God didn’t wait to send the Holy Spirit, but the disciples did have to wait for the completion of Christ’s work to be accomplished in order to receive the Holy Spirit.

How long did the disciples wait for the Holy Spirit?

The disciples waited for the Holy Spirit for about 7-10 days. We can assume this because the disciples received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which is 50 days after the Passover. Jesus was only with them for 40 days after His resurrection, and He was buried for three days.

Now, let me give some scriptural support for this.

We know that Jesus was crucified on the preparation day of the Passover and that the next day was a special sabbath (John 19:31). We also know that Jesus was with the disciples for 40 days (Acts 1:3) and that the Day of Pentecost was celebrated 50 days after Passover (Leviticus 23:16).

So, if we do the math, the disciples were waiting for approximately 7-10 days. It can kind of be difficult to get an exact timeline because there were also travel days that are briefly mentioned, but this is still a conservative estimate.

(Also, check out this article on a different website that is a good resource for the topic of Jewish feasts).

What did the disciples do while they waited?

They were in the upper room praying constantly with the other followers of Christ.

“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14).

Of course, we know they did other things as well because even Peter stood up to guide the decision on who should be the 12th apostle after Judas killed himself (Acts 1:15-26). But we can imagine that for the majority of the time they were in either prayer or worship.

Do we have to wait for the Holy Spirit?

Every Christian living today does not need to wait for the Holy Spirit. Instead, we are told by scripture to simply “receive the Holy Spirit”. As mentioned earlier, the disciples were told by Jesus to wait for the Holy Spirit because the day of Pentecost had not fully come yet, however, this is not the pattern for us to follow today.

There are some Christian circles that claim that in order to receive the Holy Spirit we need to wait for Him to come fill us as the apostles did.

But the Bible says that,

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

In this passage, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples “when the day of Pentecost had fully come.” The Holy Spirit was not poured out one day after or one day before the day of Pentecost, so Jesus was very intentional on when He was to give the Holy Spirit.

We can also see by this verse that the “waiting” was not for the Spirit to be poured out but, instead, for the day of Pentecost to fully come. Now that the Spirit has been given to the church we no longer need to wait for Him, instead, we simply receive Him by faith.

Another point to consider is Jesus also told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit.

“And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4).

So, if we are really meant to wait for the Holy Spirit in order to be baptized in Him then we should also take this verse in its entire context and not only wait for the Holy Spirit but also wait in Jerusalem. Of course, none of us take that part of the verse literally just the part that Jesus told His disciples to wait.

Instead, the pattern we see over and over again throughout the book of Acts is one of receiving the Holy Spirit on the spot, not one of waiting days, weeks, and possibly even years.

Below are some scriptures for you to see that we are to receive the Holy Spirit, not tarry for Him.

“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might RECEIVE the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.(Acts 8:14-17).

“And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you RECEIVE the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:1-2).

“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:5-6).

As you can see from these scriptures every time someone came to receive the Holy Spirit they did, immediately. There is no praying for long hours, fasting for many days, and then going away sad that God didn’t give His Sprit.

We are not supposed to wait on God to give His Holy Spirit anymore. God gave the Spirit of God to the Church on the Day of Pentecost. Now Christians receive the Holy Spirit by faith, not wait for Him.

If you want to know how to receive the Spirit of God into your life check out this article: Baptism in the Holy Spirit-In Depth Study

When did the disciples recieve the Holy Spirit? In John 20:22 or in Acts 2?

The disciples received the Holy Spirit the moment Christ breathed on them in John chapter 20. However, they were filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2.

In the beginning, when God made mankind the Bible says He formed man from the dust and then breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and then man became alive (Genesis 2:7). This was the first birth of mankind.

Later, once Jesus dies on the cross and then rises from the grave, He appears before His disciples and “breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit'” (John 20:22). This was the salvation experience of the disciples. We all have the first breath that Adam received, but when they received this breath from Christ they became born again, thus fulfilling Christ’s requirement for entering the Kingdom of God in John chapter 3.

Now, when anyone repents from their sin and is baptized they receive this new birth that is of the Spirit.

So, if this is true, then why did Jesus tell the disciples later that they need to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit?

“He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father(Acts 1:4).

The answer is simple: receiving the Holy Spirit to be born again is not the same as receiving the Holy Spirit to be filled with Him.  

To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be baptized into Him. It is a separate experience that is subsequent to salvation that causes the believer to be totally immersed in the Spirit of God. (Related article:Baptism in the Holy Spirit-In Depth Study)

Throughout the book of Acts, we consistently see instances where people receive salvation and then later “receive the Holy Spirit.”

A perfect example of this is when Phillip preached the Gospel to the people of Samaria. The Bible says,

“But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized…Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:12,14) 

From this passage, we can clearly see that the people of Samaria were born again, they repented and were baptized. And even still the apostles traveled from Jerusalem to Samaria to pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit.

Another illustration that shows someone can be saved and yet not filled with the Holy Spirit is when Paul came to Ephesus. The Bible tells us the story.

“And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:1-2)

Judging by Paul’s question, we can assume that it was not uncommon for someone to be a disciple of the Lord, and still not have “received the Holy Spirit”.

The term “receive Holy Spirit” is used interchangeably between receiving salvation and being filled/baptized with the Holy Spirit so every time we see this term used, we have to look at the context.

Judging by the language in this passage he thought these people were born again, so in a sense, he was asking them “have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit yet?”

Again, receiving the Holy Spirit to be born again is not the same as receiving the Holy Spirit to be baptized into Him.

It’s similar to pouring water into a glass only a fourth of the way full. The glass still has water in it but it is not yet full. This is how it is for the individual who has been born again, but if we want to walk in God the way we are called then we need to receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit so our cup can be overflowing with God’s presence. (Related article: Filled with the Holy Spirit: Does it happen once or multiple times?)

What it really means to wait on the Holy Spirit?

The true biblical meaning of waiting on the Holy Spirit is to minister to Him through praise, worship, and fellowship. Waiting for the Holy Spiritis not us doing nothing until we see God move, rather it is us ministering to the Spirit of God so His presence has access to come into our midst.

A good biblical example of this is in Acts chapter 13 when some early believers came together in a prayer meeting.

“Now in the church that was at Antioch, there were certain prophets and teachers..As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:1-3).

Notice how the Holy Spirit spoke while the believers were ministering to the Lord and fasting. Ministering to the Lord is waiting upon Him.

“Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever, and they immediately spoke to Jesus about her. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she served them.” (Mark 1:30-31)

The word “served” in this passage is the same as to minister or to wait upon. In Peter’s mother-in-law’s case she waited upon them with natural things such as preparing dinner. The believers in Acts 13, waited upon the Lord through prayer, worship, and communing with God.

Waiting upon the Lord opens our hearts to Him so that we are able to feel His leading and hear His guidance. It also ministers to God’s heart because He enjoys our time with Him. So waiting upon God is not waiting for God to do something, rather it is ministering to Him so we give Him access to accomplish what He desires in our midst.

I hope this article assisted you in your walk with the Lord. If you enjoyed this article, please consider giving a donation of any amount by going to the support page. The support I receive from you enables The Biblical Foundation to reach more people with the teachings of the Word of God.

Recent Posts