The Bible presents various symbols of the Holy Spirit, each depicting different attributes of His nature or aspects of His work.
The dove is perhaps the most recognized symbol of the Holy Spirit in Scripture: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16–17; see also Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). The dove is associated with God’s blessing and pleasure and expresses the Holy Spirit’s gentleness, innocence, purity, and patience (Matthew 10:16; Psalm 68:13).
The Holy Spirit is represented as a seal or pledge expressing God’s ownership of the believer: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13–14; see also 2 Corinthians 1:22). The Holy Spirit as a seal or pledge is the believer’s security in Christ, proof that he or she belongs to God forever (John 6:37; Ephesians 4:30).
Oil is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s approval, anointing, and power: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18; see also Acts 10:38; 1 Samuel 16:13; Isaiah 61:1). Biblical scenes of Israel’s kings and priests being anointed with oil are pictures of God’s choice and blessing. The New Testament uses the anointing with oil as a picture of the blessing of the Holy Spirit on all believers: “You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (1 John 2:20).
Emphasizing purification, fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11; see also Exodus 3:2; Isaiah 4:4; Luke 3:16–17; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). On the day of Pentecost, as the disciples saw “what seemed to be tongues of fire” resting on them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3–4).
The invisible, everywhere-present power and life-giving influences of the Holy Spirit are expressed as wind or breath in the Bible: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8; cf. 20:22). The meaning of the Greek and Hebrew words for “spirit” are synonymous with “breath” or “wind.” The powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit was accompanied by the sound of a mighty, rushing wind on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2).
Water symbolizes the cleansing nature of the Holy Spirit’s new birth: “Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit’” (John 3:5; see also Ezekiel 36:25–27). Water also expresses the thirst-quenching, soul-satisfying, life-giving character of the Holy Spirit (John 4:14; see also Isaiah 12:3; 44:3).
Similar to water, rain is a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s refreshing: “Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3). Likewise, rivers in the Bible typify the abundance and prosperity that flow forth from the Holy Spirit: “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’” (John 7:37–38; see also Psalm 1:3). Also, the symbol of dew illustrates the Holy Spirit’s refreshment, abundance, and fertility (Genesis 27:28; Isaiah 18:4).
In the Bible, wine is sometimes a symbol of the joy-giving quality of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Some of the more cynical onlookers who observed the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost thought the disciples were drunk on wine. But the apostle Peter explained, “These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams’” (Acts 2:15–17).
Clothing is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit. After His resurrection, Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem “until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The passive voice of the verb indicates that the individual does not dress himself. The apostles were to remain in Jerusalem until they were “clothed” by God with the Holy Spirit’s power.