Luke 1:15

"for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb." ESV. My emphasis.

John as a baby was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:4

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance."

Are these the same sort of fillings?

Matthew 11:11

"Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

What is the nature of John's being "filled with the Holy Spirit" when the "least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."?

Edit: Luke 1:15 and Acts 2:4 both mention "filled with the Holy Spirit". So far they seem the same. Paul explains that what is happening in Acts 2:4 is foretold by Joel [Acts 2:16-17]. "And in the last days".

John's experience of filling is not of Pentecost; it may not be of "last days"; if Pentecost is the arrival of the kingdom of heaven John may not be part of it if he is only a herald. Is the filling which precedes the kingdom of heaven the same as the filling that comes at its arrival?


2 Answers 2


Being filled with the Holy Spirit meant to be filled with the words of the Holy Spirit, to speak the truth / words of the Holy Spirit. Look at the first action the people began to do in Acts 2:4... "began to speak".

Philip opened his mouth (Acts 8:35) and began to teach the eunuch. Those that had been filled with the Holy Spirit were prophets, some teachers, some interpreters (understanding foreign languages), some apostles (1 Cor. 12:28-29). All of these were speaking the words of the Holy Spirit as they were moved to do so.

"because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Pet. 1:21, RSV)

This verse makes it clear that being filled with the Holy Spirit was an occurrence as they were moved by God to speak. It indicates as the Holy Spirit moved them, so being filled with the Holy Spirit was not a permanent condition.

"Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, 2 The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue." (2 Sam. 23:1-2, KJV)

It happened to the prophets of the Old Testament, too. It does not mean that wisdom was always imparted, nor does it mean that the prophet or Apostle was error free, nor does it mean that the prophet or disciple always understood what the Spirit gave him to say. Paul had to reprove Peter publicly (Gal. 2:11), and both Paul and Peter had the Holy Spirit given to them.

and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and remind you of all things that I said to you. (John 14:26, YLT)

The Holy Spirit was going to comfort Jesus' disciples by reminding them of all the things that Jesus had said. He was going to teach them the things they needed to know, to understand what Jesus had told them before.

What did Elizabeth do when Mary came to see her?

"And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe did leap in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and spake out with a loud voice, and said, `Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb;" (Luke 1:41, YLT)

And, John's father Zacharias also was filled with the Holy Spirit.

"And Zacharias his father was filled with the Holy Spirit, and did prophesy, saying," (Luke 1:67, YLT)**

Peter and John were taken before the Sanhedrin (counsel) and spoke the words given to them by the Holy Spirit.

"Then Peter, having been filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them: `Rulers of the people, and elders of Israel," (Acts 4:8. YLT)

When Peter and John told the others what had happened,

"And they having prayed, the place was shaken in which they were gathered together, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and were speaking the word of God with freedom," (Acts 4:31, YLT)

Being filled with the Holy Spirit means to be filled with the truth of God's word, the word of the Holy Spirit so that they would speak the truth of God's word to the people.

John's role was prophesied from old (Mal. 3:1) to be clearing the path for the promised Messiah. He was filled with the Holy Spirit in order to do that job, but John did not live to see the kingdom established, nor to take part in the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost. The context of Matt. 11 was speaking of the prophets from the ages before from the Old Testament, under the old Mosaic covenant.

"For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John." (Matt. 11:13, KJV)

John was the last prophet under the old covenant. Once Jesus came preaching the truth that the kingdom was at hand, the gospel of Christ took over, and the old covenant began to wax and perish (Heb. 8:13). Jesus' disciples and Apostles were prophets under the new covenant of the His gospel, His everlasting kingdom.

Jesus did not mean that John was in any way unimportant, or of no consequence; only that a better covenant was taking over.


The Holy Spirit, or advocate was first introduced to the disciple by Jesus, who called him 'the Spirit of truth' (John 15:26), who 'will teach them all things and will remind them everything that Jesus said' (John 14:26). In other word, from the Holy Spirit comes the wisdom of God that we learn the truth.

When the angel told Zechariah that his son 'will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born' (Luke 1:15), the angel meant John was a chosen one whose mission was to bring the truth of God to the people of Israel.

16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.

17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17 NIV)

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the phrase 'filled with the Holy Spirit' or 'full of Holy Spirit' in the scripture is only used by Luke in his gospel and Acts, with one exception that Paul used it in Ephesians 5:18

  • Luke 1:15; describe John the Baptist in his mother womb
  • Luke 1:41; John the Baptist mother Elizabeth
  • Luke 1:67; John the Baptist father Zechariah
  • Luke 4:1; Jesus
  • Acts 2:4; The apostles at Pentecost
  • Acts 4:8; Peter
  • Acts 4:31; The apostles
  • Acts 6:5; Stephen
  • Acts 7:55; Stephen
  • Acts 9:17; Paul
  • Acts 11:24; Barnabas
  • Acts 13:9; Paul
  • Acts 13:52; disciples

Reviewing how Luke was using the term, apparently he was using it in particular events, in which the person who filled with Holy Spirit, displayed a noticeable character that was unusual. The churches at that time might observe the same, that some members faked themselves filling with Holy Spirit by showing off some unusual acting, e.g. tongues that nobody understood, prophesying etc., that Paul spent 3 chapters (1 Cor 12-14) to correct their focus, using words very carefully, neither against nor promoted.

Paul used 'filled with Holy Spirit' only once in Ephesians 5:18, though he had mentioned 'Holy Spirit' or 'Spirit' nearly a hundred time in his 13 epistles. No other biblical writers used the term. Therefore we may need a more careful approach to understand its meaning and its application.

Matthew 11:11 is a difficult verse to comprehend. But since only Luke used the term 'filled with Holy Spirit', it could even more difficult to link these two together. As such I don't have an answer to this.

  • Thank you for your kind words. I made a small edit. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 20:03

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