The outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost signaled the arrival of the “last days” – Acts 2:14-21.
In his first sermon, Peter applied a prophecy from Joel to the initial outpouring of the Spirit, that event marked the commencement of the “last days,” the final phase of redemptive history. In Acts, the activity of the Spirit is what identifies the new people of God summoned to be his “witnesses” to the “uttermost parts of the earth.”
The sermon was Peter’s response to the consternation of the Jewish pilgrims who had witnessed the manifestations of the Spirit, the wind-like sound, what appeared to be “tongues of fire,” and above all, the sound of the entire congregation of “120 disciples” speaking in “other tongues.” They raised the question, “What does this mean,” which set the stage for the sermon.
Peter began by declaring, “these men are not drunk, but this is that spoken through the prophet Joel.” The emphatic pronoun or “this” is used in the Greek clause – THIS is the very thing that Joel predicted – (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21).
But in his speech, Peter deviated from the original Hebrew text at key several points, as follows. For example, what Joel declared would come to pass “afterward,” a rather ambiguous description, but in the mouth of Peter, it becomes the more specific “in the last days.” Additionally, the clause “they shall prophesy” is added after the promise of the Spirit to “servants and handmaidens,” and the term “signs” is added and paired with “wonders.” Finally, the “great and terrible day of Yahweh,” according to Peter, is now “the great and manifest day of the Lord.”
Thus, in Peter’s sermon, the two most critical elements become the arrival of the “Spirit” and the commencement of the last days – The two events are inextricably linked. The presence of the Spirit in the covenant community signaled the start of the “last days,” the messianic age that is characterized by the activity of the Spirit.
Peter also linked the outpouring of the Spirit to the “Day of the Lord” when Yahweh judges the nations and bring the present age to an end – (“The sun shall be turned into darkness and, the moon, into blood before the coming of the day of the Lord”).
The stress on visions, dreams and the ability to prophesy prepares the reader for the manifestations of the Spirit elsewhere in the Book of Acts – Some men and women prophesy, while others receive visions and dreams, and all such “signs” are attributed to the Spirit. But it is the actual presence of the Spirit among God’s people that is most critical, not any of the resultant miracles – (Acts 9:10, 10:3, 10:10, 11:28, 16:9-10, 18:9, 19:6, 21:9).
Peter ended his quotation from Joel at the midpoint of the final verse: “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He did 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 forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit are extended to all who respond in faith, even “to all those who are afar off.” As Jesus commanded his disciples:
- “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you: and you will be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” – (Acts 1:8).
The implementation of Christ’s instruction began on the Day of the Pentecost. With the outpouring of the Spirit, the disciples became “his witnesses” assigned to announce the “kingdom of God,” beginning in Jerusalem, but certainly not ending there (“This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses” – Acts 2:32, 28:28-31, Luke 24:46-49).
Thus, the prophecy from Joel is expanded and universalized. Its fulfillment began on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit, and it will continue until the “day of the Lord.” The Spirit operates in the church throughout the interim between the Pentecost and the return of Jesus at the end of the age. 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 – To “all who call upon the name of the Lord.”
The activity of the Spirit among the people of God as evidenced by “signs and wonders” is the irrefutable proof that the final phase of history, the “last days,” is now underway.