SYNOPSIS – The outpouring of the promised Spirit on the Day of Pentecost signaled the arrival of the “last days” – Joel 2:28.
The application of the prophecy from Joel by the book of Acts links the gift of the Spirit inextricably to the onset of the “last days” – The period labeled by Scripture as the “last days” began after the ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the gift of the Spirit on a gathering of his fledgling church. In the second chapter of Acts, Peter declares that the arrival of the Spirit on that very day is in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy about the coming “day of Yahweh” – (Joel 2:28-32).
In the New Testament, the activity of the Spirit among the followers of Jesus becomes programmatic and essential for the entire period the church is active on the earth, from the Day of Pentecost until his return in glory at the end of the age. The gift of the Spirit is the fulfillment of the “promise of Father” recorded in the Hebrew Bible; likewise, it is connected to the also promised New Covenant – (Jeremiah 3:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-28).
(Joel 2:28-32) “And it shall come to pass afterwards, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy — your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; Moreover also, upon the servants and upon the handmaids — in those days will I pour out my spirit; And I will set forth wonders in the heavens and in the earth — blood and fire and columns of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood — before the coming of the great and awful day of Yahweh. And it shall come to pass, whosoever shall call on the name of Yahweh shall be delivered — For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be a delivered remnant, just as Yahweh hath said, and among the survivors whom Yahweh doth call.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
In Acts and Luke
The gift of the Spirit is mentioned only a few times in the gospel of Luke. The “promise of the Father” is mentioned in its closing verse, although the promise is not explicitly identified as the gift of the Spirit. However, this identification is implicit, as is the necessity to receive it to be an effective “witness” to the deeds of Jesus – (Luke 1:17, 1:35, 1:41, 2:27, 11:13, Luke 24:45).
(Luke 24:45-49) – “Then opened he their mind to understand the Scriptures; and said unto them — Thus, it is written, That the Christ should suffer and arise from among the dead on the third day; And that repentance for remission of sins should be proclaimed upon his name unto all the nations — beginning from Jerusalem. Ye are witnesses of these things. And lo! I am sending forth the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city until ye be clothed from on high with power.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
In contrast to Luke, the Spirit is prominent in the book of Acts. It marked out individuals as disciples and was their most distinctive characteristic. The Spirit demonstrated God’s acceptance of men and women, both Jewish and Gentile believers. The “wonders and signs” performed by the Spirit were in fulfillment of the prophecy that the outpouring of the Spirit in the “last days” would be accompanied by “wonders” and “signs” – (e.g., Acts 2:43, 4:16, 4:30, 5:12, 10:44-48).
Acts is the companion volume to Luke. Just prior to his ascension, Jesus “opened the understanding of the disciples so that they might understand the scriptures.” What had been written in the Hebrew scriptures foreshadowed the Messiah, his suffering, Death, and Resurrection. With his ascension and enthronement, the disciples were now to proclaim the Gospel to all nations – “Beginning at Jerusalem” – To Judea, Samaria and to the “uttermost parts of the earth” – (Luke 1:1-4, 24:45-49, Acts 1:1-9).
Before beginning their mission, the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until “I send the promise of my Father upon you.” When the Holy Spirit arrived, they would be equipped to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth – (Luke 24:45-49, Acts 1:6-11, 2:1-4).
When the Spirit fell on the disciples gathered in Jerusalem, the event produced a sound like a “rushing of a mighty wind,” and what looked like “tongues of fire that sat on each of them.” Hearing the commotion, Jewish pilgrims in the vicinity were confounded. Some even suggested the disciples were drunk. In response, Peter stood up and declared to the crowd – “These men are not drunk, but this is that spoken through the prophet Joel.” In saying this, he used a Greek emphatic pronoun for “this.” That is, THIS event that is confounding you is the very thing predicted by the prophet Joel in the “last days” – (Acts 2:14-21).
Peter deviated from the original passage in several ways. First, “afterward” became the “last days.” Second, he added “they shall prophesy” after the promise of the Spirit to “servants and handmaidens.” Third, the term “signs” was added and paired with “wonders” (Joel only reads “wonders”). Fourth, the “great and awful day of Yahweh” becomes the “great and manifest day of the Lord.” And fifth, the last half of Joel 2:32 was omitted – (“For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh calls”).
God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him to reign at His “right hand” over the nations. Therefore, he “received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, that which you see and hear.” The last clause refers to what they “saw” – “Tongues of fire that sat on each of them” – And what they “heard” – Speaking in tongues and the sound like a rushing mighty wind.
In response to many Jews who were “pricked in the heart,” Peter summoned them to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit was the promise from God “to you, to your children and to all that are afar off.”
The last phrase repeats a clause from the final command of Jesus to the disciples to be his “witnesses, both in Jerusalem and [in] all Judaea and Samaria and as far as the uttermost part of the earth.” Those who are “afar off” has in view not only geographic distance but the temporal aspect of the time from the commencement of the “last days” until the “day of the Lord” at the end of the age.
That day, about three thousand men and women repented and were baptized. From this point, Acts records the progress of the church from Jerusalem to Rome, and the activity of the Spirit in the entire process attested by “wonders and signs.” Thus, as far as Peter was concerned, the presence of the Spirit marked the start of the “last days,” an era that would continue until the day Jesus returned in all his glory.
The Prophecy in Paul’s Letters
Paul instructed the churches of Rome that there is “no difference between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is over all and rich to all that call upon him; for whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The second half of the passage alludes to the prophecy from Joel – (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:12-18).
Like Peter, Paul cites only the first half of Joel 2:32, also omitting the promise of deliverance for the remnant of Israel. The promised salvation is for all men and women regardless of national origin. He links the call for salvation to the proclamation of the Gospel. How will anyone exercise faith in Christ if he or she does not hear the message? (“As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things”).
Paul also alludes to the prophecy in his first letter to the Corinthians and applies it to the church. The congregation included many Gentiles, if not a Gentile majority. He reaffirms that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Not coincidentally, the same context also affirms that God will confirm the Corinthian believers on the “day of our Lord Jesus.”
Elsewhere, Paul links the “day of Jesus” to the Old Testament “day of the Lord,” the day when Jesus will return from heaven in glory and power – (1 Corinthians 5:5,2 Corinthians 1:14, Philippians 1:10, 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:2):
- (Joel 2:31-32) – “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood — before the coming of the great and awful day of Yahweh. And it shall come to pass, whosoever shall call on the name of Yahweh shall be delivered” – (The Emphasized Bible).
- (1 Corinthians 1:1-2, 7) – “Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ, through God’s will — and Sosthenes the brother — Unto the assembly of God which is in Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints — with all who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in every place — their Lord and ours… So that ye come short in no gift of favour — ardently awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who will also confirm you unto the end, unaccusable in the day of our Lord Jesus.”
An echo of the prophecyis heard in the letter to the Ephesians – Paul describes Gentile believers as persons who previously were separated from Christ and the covenants of Israel, but now, in this new “season,” those who once were “afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ”:
- (Ephesians 2:11-13) – “Wherefore, keep in remembrance — that, at one time, ye, the nations in flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by the so-called Circumcision in flesh made by hand, That ye were, in that season, separate from Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and godless in the world; But, just now, in Christ Jesus, ye who at one time were afar off were made nigh in the blood of the Christ.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
- (Joel 2:32) – “And it shall come to pass, whosoever shall call on the name of Yahweh shall be delivered — For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be a delivered remnant, just as Yahweh hath said, and among the survivors whom Yahweh doth call.”
As with Peter’s application on the Day of Pentecost, so also Paul sounds a universal note and indicates a change of eras in his use of the prophecy. The way of salvation is now open to all, and the final phase of history has commenced – The “last days.”
To Sum Up….
The application of Joel’s prophecy to the events of the Day of Pentecost means that the outpouring of the Spirit, the “promise of the Father,” marked the start of the period known in the Bible as the “last days.”
The activity of the Spirit among God’s people that was and is evidenced by “signs and wonders” constitutes incontrovertible proof that the “last days” have commenced. Likewise, the universal offer of salvation signified by the gift of the Spirit means that the gospel is now open to all men and women, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, or gender. The era of Israel’s exclusive possession of the covenants and promises was at an end.