Were the Apostles converted before the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost?

Sinclair Ferguson & Derek Thomas
2 Min Read

FERGUSON: I think Jesus answers that question in the conversation with Simon Peter in John 13: “You are clean, but not all of you,” referring to Judas. Peter says, “Wash the whole of me,” and Jesus responds, “He who has already been cleansed doesn’t need a bath; he needs his feet washed.” I think that is an implicit reference to the fulfillment of the promise that in the coming covenant of Christ, He would wash clean His people.

So, I think you can argue just on the basis of the conversation in John 13 that the Apostles (minus Judas) are to be viewed as faithful, covenant respondents to Jesus Christ. When Judas leaves the room, as he does later on in John 13, Jesus goes on to speak about their union with Him in John 15, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” He doesn’t say “So now, get yourself into Me,” but He says, “Now remain in Me; you are already branches in the vine.”

The tenor of Jesus’ final teaching conversation with His Apostles in the upper room indicates that they are true believers before the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Although Holy Spirit came at Pentecost in a new epochal way, He was present before then. Jesus essentially said: “You know Him because He’s with you. He’s ministering to you through My ministry. It’s because of His ministry that you’ve come to faith in Me.” There is a lot of evidence, even just in the Upper Room Discourse, that Jesus viewed the Apostles as those who believed in Him, in contradistinction from Judas.

THOMAS: This is an interesting question. Somebody asked me recently how many elders we had at my church. I said that I wasn’t sure, but there were around eighty or ninety elders. The question that immediately followed was, “Are they all Christians?” I was rather taken aback because I do not have a supernatural ability to answer that question in any definitive way. All I could say was: “Well, they all profess to be Christians, they all profess to be orthodox, and they all subscribe the Westminster Confession. But I have no means of giving you a definitive answer to the question of whether they are all regenerate.’” That is what I think he was asking.

We have all known people who profess to be regenerate—and whom we have regarded as Christians—but who have sadly fallen away, and we now have considerable doubt as to whether they were converted in the first place. So, the question is very interesting. Perhaps behind it may lie the idea that a Christian can be known by the decided manner of his conversion experience and a narrative that can be defined clearly.

My wife, Rosemary, and I have a very different narrative. Rosemary was raised in North Belfast, and she doesn’t remember a day when she didn’t believe. My conversion, however, was sudden and dramatic, and I can tell you that it happened at 11:30 on December 28, 1971.” I can be that precise about it. So the question is interesting and raises a number of issues.

This is a transcript of Sinclair Ferguson and Derek Thomas' answer given during our After Darkness, Light: 2018 Regional Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email ask@ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.