The symbols of the Holy Spirit



The Holy Scripture uses various symbols for the Holy Spirit.

Fire – On the day of Pentecost, just before the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit, it came to pass that “there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:3 - NKJV). So the Holy Spirit who came upon the disciples was represented by the fire. The fire cleans things up, illuminates and warms, so it is an appropriate symbol of the Holy Spirit, who cleans up, illuminates, and warms up those saints who have become cold spiritually.

Wind – One day Jesus, in speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth, said: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 - NKJV). And on the day of Pentecost, before the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting (Acts 2:2). The Holy Spirit is represented by the wind because of His power and His unpredictability, and because just as the wind sweeps away the cobwebs and it blows away the dust, so the Holy Spirit blows away bad habits, wrong attitudes and false beliefs.

Water – One day Jesus said to the Jews: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). He spoke these words concerning the Holy Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive, for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:39). Actually, when a believer is filled with the Holy Spirit he feels as if rivers of living water are flowing out of his belly. That’s a glorious experience. Jesus used the symbol of rivers of living water in relation to the Holy Spirit because sometimes in the prophetic Scriptures the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was compared to water being poured out. Here are some verses of the Scriptures which confirm this. In the book of the prophet Isaiah it is written: “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring…. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen. ….. When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water….. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes (Isaiah 44:3; 43:19,20; 41:17,18; 35:6,7). Just as water refreshes, quenches our thirst, and brings life to the desert, so the Holy Spirit does these things in the spiritual field.

Oil – Under the Old Testament the High Priest, the priests, and the kings, were anointed with oil (Leviticus 8:6-13, 30; 1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13) before they began to carry out the task which God had entrusted to them. Oil represented the Holy Spirit, with whom they were anointed by God to perform their task. That oil represents the Holy Spirit is evident from the fact that the Scripture says that God anointed Jesus with the oil of gladness (Hebrews 1:9). What does oil do when it is poured upon someone’s head? Well, it brings a sense of refreshment and it illuminates his face. The Holy Spirit refreshes and illuminates our life.

The dove – The Scripture says that when Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (just after Jesus came up from the water) “the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him” (Matthew 3:16). The dove is tender, gentle, innocent, and peaceful, so it is an appropriate symbol of the Holy Spirit, for He is tender, gentle, innocent, and peaceful.

The seal – Paul says to the Ephesians: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). Therefore we believers were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Now in Biblical times a ‘seal’ was used for various reasons, including: 1) To guarantee the genuine character of a document (Esther 3:12), or, figuratively, of a person; (1 Corinthians 9:2); 2) To mark ownership (Song of Songs 8:6); 3) To protect against tampering or harm (Matthew 27:66; Revelation 5:1). The context of Ephesians makes me think that when Paul compares the Holy Spirit to a seal, he refers to a mark of ownership. So the seal of the Holy Spirit indicates that we belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, who purchased us with His own blood (Acts 20:28). In other words, the Holy Spirit was given to us as evidence that we truly belong to Christ. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9 – NIV), because the Holy Spirit is the seal with whom those who belong to Christ were sealed, who bears witness that they are children of God, and therefore anyone who does not have the Holy Spirit in his heart does not have the witness of the Spirit in him.

The earnest – The apostle Paul said to the Ephesians that the Holy Spirit “is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14), and to the Corinthians that God “hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1:22) and again He wrote: “Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 5:5). The Greek word translated as ‘earnest’ is arrhabon which means ‘part of the purchase-money or property given in advance as security for the rest.’ Why is the Holy Spirit represented by an earnest? Because just as when one person enters into a contract he gives an earnest to bind the bargain (that is to say, he gives some money as a pledge or down payment that the full amount will subsequently be paid), so God, who has made a covenant with us, has given us the earnest of the Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. In other words, the Spirit is a sign of what is to come, that is, of the redemption of our body (Romans 8:23-24). That’s why we are waiting patiently and confidently for the redemption of our body, because we have the earnest of our redemption in our hearts. We are sure that the God who has given us the earnest of our inheritance, will give us the inheritance He has promised to us.