A seal in biblical times was usually made by laying melted wax over the join in an envelope or a parcel and then stamping it with a signet ring or an engraved stone bearing the owner’s initials or name. The scroll of Revelation chapter five was sealed seven times. Wax seals were obviously not strong but like Humpty Dumpty, once broken, they could not be put together again. So any tampering would be obvious. One writer says such seals guaranteed both the ownership and the correctness of the contents of a package or document, or even a tomb.
With Ephesians 1:13, it is sometimes thought that the actions of hearing, believing and being sealed are simultaneous. But clearly they are not. We hear before we believe and we believe before we are sealed. Paul understood this. How can we believe until we have heard, he asks elsewhere (Rom 10:14). And something cannot be sealed unless it already exists. The original grammar also makes this plain.
This is exactly what happened at Ephesus at the birth of the church there (Acts 19:1-6). Paul preached to them (they heard), he baptised them (they believed) and then the Holy Spirit came upon them (they were sealed).
This sealing by the Holy Spirit is critical. New life is received in Christ and when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, he validates the transaction. The Holy Spirit is given to us as a guarantee of the genuineness of our new faith and of the inheritance that now lies before us. Although we have not yet received it, it is actually already ours (Eph 1:3). On the great Day of the Lord, we will acquire possession of it.
The Holy Spirit was promised both by the Father (Joel 2:28) and the Son (Luke 24:49; John 14:16, 26) Before his ascension, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit upon his disciples (Acts 1:5-8). In fact, he would not allow them to begin their ministry until the Holy Spirit fell on them, even though they had walked and talked with him, prayed with him, listened to his teaching, observed his miracles, seen him taken to be crucified and met him after his resurrection. Here’s a question: if these disciples could not serve the Lord without the empowering of the Holy Spirit, how can we? It’s worth thinking about.
· What do we need to do to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? See Acts 2:38, 39; Luke 11:9-13.
· For more on the empowering of the Holy Spirit, read Acts 8:1-4-25 and 19:1-6.