The Holy Spirit is a person and so to help us understand His nature and character the Bible is filled with symbols of the Spirit. These are some of the symbols for the Holy Spirit in the Bible.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. This symbol of the Holy Spirit is especially important because it is recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:29–34). Matthew says, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16–17). A dove is associated with the pleasure of God and His blessing. The Holy spirit is pure, patient, and gentle. Jesus told His followers, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Oil was used frequently in the Old Testament for anointing people to the roles that God had chosen for them. Anointing was often followed by the Holy Spirit resting upon that person, like He did with King David (1 Samuel 16:13). The anointing oil represents God’s favor, choice, and blessing, especially for the calling He has placed upon the individual (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38). In the New Testament, oil is still used to represent God’s blessing: “But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge” (1 John 2:20).
Fire represents the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, as well as purification. John the Baptist preached that Jesus would come, baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16–17). The Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire when He came upon the disciples and God’s power was displayed as thousands of people were saved on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3–4). Other places in the Bible use the metaphor of fire for the Spirit and for judgment (Exodus 3:2; Isaiah 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:19).
Jesus uses wind as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. The same Greek word is used for both “wind” and “Spirit” in John 3:8 when Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The wind and breath reveal that the Holy Spirit is the outbreathing of God that brings life. Like the motion of the air, His nature and moving are not foreseeable, but the effects are unmistakable (Acts 2:2; John 20:22).
“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). The Holy Spirit is the satisfying spring of life that Jesus promises to those who seek Him (John 7:37–39). Like water, the Holy Spirit washes over us, refreshing thirsty souls (Isaiah 12:3; 44:3), and like water, the Holy Spirit cleanses us from impurity (Ezekiel 36:25–27). As water is essential for life, so, too, is the cleansing and filling of the Holy Spirit essential for salvation: “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God'” (John 3:5).
Rain and running water represent the refreshing of the Holy Spirit: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37–38). Like rain, the Holy Spirit brings abundance and fertility: “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3; see also Isaiah 18:4). When we abide in Christ, our lives bear the fruit that the Holy Spirit works in our lives (Psalm 1:3; Galatians 5:22–23).
The seal or pledge is a symbol for the believer’s security of salvation. The Holy Spirit indwelling the Christian is the seal or pledge that guarantees eternal life: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13–14; see also Ephesians 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22).
New wine is the symbol of the new covenant that Jesus speaks of, and the indwelling Holy Spirit is part of the new covenant (Matthew 9:17). The apostles, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit for the first time, seem to some others as though they are filled with new wine: “For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days It shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams'” (Acts 2:15–17). Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
Jesus said to His disciples before His ascension, “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The Holy Spirit, like clothing, covers us in the power and grace of God.