Pentecost and the Last Days

The outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost signaled the arrival of the last days, the era of fulfillment

In the book of Acts, the application of Joel’s prophecy to the Day of Pentecost links the outpouring of the Spirit to the commencement of the “last days.” In this book, the activity of the Spirit beginning on that day is essential for understanding the rapid spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, and from Pentecost until the arrival of Jesus in glory.

And in Acts, before the disciples begin their mission to proclaim the gospel, they are to wait in Jerusalem until Jesus “sends the promise of my Father upon you.” The receipt of the Spirit will equip them to become effective witnesses to the nations, even to “the uttermost part of the earth.”

After the initial receipt of the Spirit, the epic story of the church moves inexorably from Jerusalem to the eastern regions of the Mediterranean basin, then to the city of Rome itself where the gospel is proclaimed in the heart of the Empire - (Luke 24:45-49, Acts 1:6-11, 2:38-39).

PENTECOST

In response to the command of Jesus, the disciples wait in the city until the Day of Pentecost. And with the arrival of the Spirit, that day has “fully come.”  This translates a compound Greek verb that signifies the filling of something to the full, to the very brim (sumpleroō).

And thus, the age of fulfillment foreshadowed by that feast day commenced with the outpouring of the gift of the Spirit – (Acts 2:1-4).

Jewish pilgrims in the vicinity were confounded by these sights and sounds, with some suggesting the disciples were drunk. But Peter stood up and declared - “These men are not drunk, but this is that spoken through the prophet Joel.”

In the Greek clause of Peter’s statement, an emphatic pronoun or “this” is found on his lips. THIS very thing witnessed by the pilgrims is that which the prophet Joel predicted for the “last days.”

  • (Joel 2:28-32) - “And it shall come to pass, afterward, 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 said, and among the survivors whom Yahweh calls.

PETER’S SERMON

In his sermon, Peter quotes Joel but deviates from the original Hebrew at several points. First, “afterward” becomes the “last days.” Second, he adds “they shall prophesy” after the promise of the Spirit for “servants and handmaidens.” Third, the term “signs” is added and paired with “wonders.”

Fourth, the “great and terrible day of Yahweh” becomes “the great and manifest day of the Lord.” And fifth, the last half of Joel 2:32 is dropped (“for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, there shall be those that escape, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh calls”).

Peter then focuses on Jesus and what God did in him. He was a man “pointed out of God by mighty works and wonders and signs,” but he also was “delivered by lawless men” to be slain on the cross.

But the Messiah of Israel cannot be held by the “pangs of death,” and just as David foretold, God raised him from the dead and seated him at his “right hand.” And this “same Jesus” also received the “promise of the Holy Spirit” which he poured out that very day, demonstrating that God “made him both Lord and Christ,” the same man that the Jewish priestly leaders crucified – (Acts 2:22-36).

Peter’s description of “wonders and signs” is a verbal link to the prophecy in Joel. The predicted signs and wonders expected to characterize the “last days” began in the ministry of Jesus. And following his ascension, he “received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, that which you see and hear.”

And at the conclusion of his sermon, once more, Peter links the gift of the Spirit to the prophecy from Joel:

  • (Acts 2:37-39) – “And when they heard this, they were pricked to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: What are we to do, brethren? And Peter said to them: Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the free gift of the Holy Spirit; for to you is the promise and to your children, and un all them who are afar off, as many soever as the Lord our God shall call.

He identifies the gift as the “promise” that was given to Israel, but also one for “all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Likewise, the prophet Joel promises that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” an open-ended invitation to all men and nations.

And Peter changes the ambiguous term “afterward” found in Joel to the more specific “last days.”  Thus, the prophecy becomes a promise that in the “last days” the Lord will pour out “His Spirit on all flesh.”

And Peter applies it to the receipt of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.  In doing so, he connects the outpouring of the Spirit to the commencement of the “last days” - the Messianic Age and the time of fulfillment.

SIGNS AND WONDERS

The prophet Joel foretold the coming of “wonders in the heavens and in the earth before the great and terrible day of Yahweh.” Peter now adds the term “signs” or sémeion and pairs it with “wonders” (teras).

Both terms occur together in Acts, beginning with the final verses of chapter 2 (“Many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” – Acts 2:43), and both appear frequently in the book.

Thus, the “wonders” predicted in Joel begin on Pentecost with the “sound like a rushing wind,” “tongues of fire,” and the 120 disciples “speaking in tongues,” and they continue through the evangelistic work of the church until we find Paul proclaiming the “kingdom” to one and all while under house arrest in Rome.

The reason for this modification becomes clear in Peter’s sermon.  Jesus was “a man approved of God as demonstrated by WONDERS (terasand SIGNS (sémeion).” And together, these two terms become thematic in Acts and are linked to the Spirit’s activity.

And just like the gift of the Spirit, the “signs and wonders” manifested by the Spirit also confirm that the “last days” are underway - (Acts 4:30, 5:12, 6:8, 8:13).

The emphasis on visions, dreams, and prophecy in Peter’s sermon prepares the reader for the activities of the Spirit in Acts. Some men and women prophesy while others receive visions and dreams, just as Joel predicted - (Acts 9:10, 10:3, 10:10, 11:28, 16:9-10, 18:9, 19:6, 21:9).

THE CALL

Peter ends his quotation at the midpoint of the original passage – “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  He does not include the original ethnic and geographic limitations (“For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape”).

In the “last days,” no longer is the promised salvation limited to Jerusalem or the remnant of Israel. Instead, the offer of salvation and the gift of the Spirit are extended to all who respond in faith, even to “all those who are afar off.”

Thus, the prophecy in Joel is universalized. Its fulfillment begins on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem with the initial outpouring of the Spirit, and it will continue until the “Day of the Lord.”

And the promise of the Spirit applies to the entire church throughout the interim period between the departure of Jesus and his return in glory. The period known as the “last days” is an era during which the Spirit is active and the summons to receive the gospel goes out continually to all nations.



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