Were believers under the Old Covenant permanently indwelt with the Holy Spirit? Was Spirit baptism an Old Testament reality?
No. While the Holy Spirit regenerated sinners in the Old Testament, the indwelling of the Spirit in the hearts/lives of believers began at Pentecost. I am a dispensationalist, and I see the church as beginning in Acts 2. I am a progressive, leaky, modified dispensationalist, but even in my compromised form, I cannot imagine any understanding of the uniqueness of the church that simultaneously rejects the uniqueness of Spirit baptism and indwelling.
In the Old Testament, God dwelt corporately with his people in his temple. This changed under King Manasseh’s reign, when the glory of the Lord left the temple. In the New Testament the glory of the Lord returns, but not to a temple made by human hands. Rather, he returns to the a new temple consisting of every believer. This is a radical change from the Old Covenant, as no longer is the glory of the Lord in manifest form confined to a nation, but under the New Covenant there is one body (both Jew and Gentile), and one baptism, and one Spirit.
Obviously the Holy Spirit is necessary for sanctification. But sanctification in the Old Testament was radically different than it is in the church. The basic problem with the Old Covenant was that the people did not have the law on their hearts, thus they not only needed others to teach them, but they consistently broke the Old Covenant. In fact, this is the main point of Hebrews 8:6-12:
But Jesus…is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises. ..For if that first covenant had been faultless, no opportunity would have been sought for a second one. But finding fault with His people, He says: “…I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And each person will not teach his fellow citizen,and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.
The Old Covenant simply did not entail the writing of the Law on the heart and the mind that is evident in the New Covenant. John says that this is exactly what the Holy Spirit corrects in the New Covenant: “The anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him” (1 John 2:27). This anointing is the filling and indwelling of the Spirit under the New Covenant, and is the correction to the deficiency of the Old Covenant.
At this point, my argument has already become more convoluted than necessary. The main reason that I believe the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a New Covenant ministry is because there is not a single verse that teaches it as an Old Testament reality. In fact, every biblical description of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is either in the New Testament, or—if it is in the OT—laden with future hope over present experience. Obviously the Holy Spirit came upon people to empower them for service, and equally obvious is that this temporal empowering often left people and had nothing to do with personal salvation.
There was conversion in the OT, and this conversion is of course caused by regeneration; after all, total depravity and the necessity of regeneration for repentance and conversion are both clearly taught in the OT. I also grant that the Holy Spirit came upon many of the prophets, metal workers, and the occasional King and donkey–these were supernatural and unique exceptions. But the idea of the Spirit indwelling the least and the greatest in the Covenant is purely a post-Pentecost concept.
The reality of the Holy Spirit indwelling every believer’s heart is new to the church, and would have sounded strange to an OT saint. If you would have asked one of the Levites under Solomon’s reign where the Spirit of the Lord dwelt, he would have pointed at the temple. If you would have asked a priest that same question after Manasseh (if you could have found a priest without a Baal statue on his dashboard), he would have looked around timidly and shrugged, as if he did not understand the question. If you would have asked the sons of the prophets that question before Elijah went up in a whirlwind, they would not have pointed at their hearts, but at Elijah. In fact, Elisha did ask the question (2 Kings 2:14), and he answered it by parting the Jordan, not by singing the song, “Down in my heart, down in my heart…”
Moreover, Ephesians 1-3 is distinctly New Covenant. If you take Acts 1 and John 20 seriously when it says the disciples did not yet have the Spirit, you cannot possibly say they were simultaneously bereft of the Spirit and indwelt by the Spirit. In Acts 1, Jesus told them to wait for power before they went off witnessing. They were not missing the languages, they were missing the presence of the Paraclete, because as of yet, Jesus was still with them, and the Spirit could not come until he was taken away. This does not speak to some dispensational time warp, as if they could not have Spirit between Luke 2 and Acts 1, but it speaks of something new in the economy of God: namely, that the Spirit will seal believers, and cause them have the law of God written on their hearts, rather than on those boxes tied to their foreheads.
The chief weakness of the Old Covenant is the lack of the Spirit indwelling every member of the covenant. The chief reason the disciples had to wait to act on the great commission was to wait to be Spirit-filled. The chief reason the Apostles were witnesses of the dramatic signs and wonders in the Samaritans, John’s disciples, and Gentiles was so that they would realize that in the New Covenant, every member (regardless of ethnicity) is filled with the same Spirit. This is the glory of the New Covenant.