PENTECOST AND THE LAST DAYS

The outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost signaled the arrival of the “last days”Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21.

The application of the prophecy from Joel in Acts links the outpouring of the Spirit to the commencement of the “last days.” For the book, the Spirit’s activity and presence in the church are programmatic and foundational for its existence, from the Day of Pentecost until the return of Jesus.

Before beginning their mission to the world, Jesus commanded the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until “I send the promise of my Father upon you.” The gift would equip them to be effective witnesses of the gospel even to “the uttermost part of the earth.”

Therefore, the fledgling church returned and “tarried” in the city until they received the “power” necessary to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to all nations, “beginning in Jerusalem and Judea.”

FROM JERUSALEM TO ROME

Thus, the epic story of the church moves from Judea to the eastern regions of the Mediterranean region, and finally, to the city of Rome where the gospel was proclaimed in the heart of the Empire – (Luke 24:45-49, Acts 1:6-11, 2:38-39).

  • (Acts 2:1-4) – “And when the day of Pentecost was filling up, they were all together with one intent when there came suddenly out of heaven a sound, just as of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them parting asunder tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to be speaking with other tongues just as the Spirit was giving unto them utterance.”

And so, the disciples tarried in prayer until the Day of Pentecost had “fully come.”  This translates a compound Greek verb that signifies the filling of something to the full, to the brim (sumpleroōStrong’s – #G4845).

The time of fulfillment foreshadowed in the Hebrew feast day had arrived. The receipt of the Spirit by “one hundred and twenty disciples” was accompanied by the sound of a “rushing of a mighty wind” and “tongues of fire that sat on each of them.”

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

As recorded by Luke, Peter used an emphatic pronoun or “this” in the Greek clause. THIS is that which was predicted by Joel – The very thing that the crowd heard and saw:

  • (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 has said, and among the remnant whom Yahweh does call” – (Acts 2:17-21).

In his sermon, Peter deviated from the original Hebrew text of Joel’s prophecy at several points, changing, omitting, and adding the following elements to it:

  • Afterward” becomes “the last days.”
  • They shall prophesy” is added after the promise of the Spirit for “servants and handmaidens.”
  • The term “signs” is added and paired with “wonders,” whereas, Joel only has “wonders.”
  • The “great and terrible day of Yahweh” becomes, “the great and manifest day of the Lord.”
  • 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”).

Next, Peter turned his focus on Jesus and what God had done through him. Note well his reference to “wonders and signs”:

  • (Acts 2:22-24, 29-36) – “You men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man pointed out of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs, which God did through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know, the same by the marked out counsel and foreknowledge of God given up through the hands of lawless men, suspending, you slew, whom God raised up, loosing the pangs of death, inasmuch as it was not possible for him to continue held fast by it… Brethren! it is allowable to say with freedom of speech unto you concerning the patriarch David  that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is among us until this day. Being, then, a prophet, and knowing that with an oath God had sworn unto him of the fruit of his loins to seat on his throne, with foresight He spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ that neither was he abandoned unto hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. The same Jesus has God raised up whereof all we are witnesses! By the right hand of God, therefore, having been exalted, also, the promise of the Holy Spirit having received from the Father, He has poured out this which yourselves do see and hear. For David has not ascended into the heavens; but he says himself: Said the Lord unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I make your foes thy footstool. Assuredly, then, let all the house of Israel know that both Lord and Christ has God made him, even the same Jesus whom you crucified!

SIGNS AND WONDERS

The reference to “wonders and signs” is a verbal link to Joel’s prophecy. The predicted signs and wonders that were to characterize the “last days” commenced in the ministry of Jesus even prior to his death and resurrection, confirming the onset of the end-times.

The Temple leaders were guilty of putting Jesus to death, having conspired to turn him over to the Romans for execution. But God resurrected him, then seated him at His “right hand” to rule over the nations, as promised to David – (“God had sworn with an oath that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne”). Consequently, Jesus “received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, that which you see and hear.” Once again, the gift of the Spirit is linked to Joel’s prophecy:

  • (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: Repent and let each one of you be immersed 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 to all them who are afar off as many soever as the Lord our God shall call unto him.”

Many were “pricked in the heart and cried out, what shall we do?!” Peter responded by calling for repentance and baptism in the “name of Jesus Christ.” All men and women who did so would “receive the Holy Spirit.” And he identified the gift as the “promise” given to Israel and to “them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”  Likewise, the prophet promised that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Thus, Peter changed the rather ambiguous and original “afterward” to the more specific “last days,” and the prophecy became a promise that in the “last days” the Lord would pour out “His Spirit on all flesh.”

That future day will be the “great and manifest day of the Lord.” The change from “terrible” to “manifest” reflects Peter’s use of the Greek Septuagint version of the original passage and replaces “terrible” with the same Greek noun found on Peter’s lips and translated “manifest” (epiphanes, Strong’s – #G2016).

Joel foretold the manifestation of “wonders in the heavens and in the earth before the great and terrible day of Yahweh.” Peter added the term “signs” or sémeion and paired 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).

Thus, the “wonders and signs” predicted by Joel that marked the start of the “last days” began on the Day of Pentecost and continued through the work of the early church.

THE LAST DAYS

The reason for Peter’s modification becomes clear in his sermon.  Jesus was “a man approved of God as demonstrated by wonders (terasand signs (sémeion).”

Sunset - Photo by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash
[Sunset – Photo by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash]

The predicted signs began to manifest in the miracles wrought by Jesus, and these two terms become thematic in Acts. Like the gift of the Spirit, “signs and wonders” confirmed that the “last days” were underway – (Acts 4:30, 5:12, 6:88:13).

The emphasis on visions, dreams and prophecy help prepare the reader for the activities of the Spirit in the later chapters of Acts. Some men and women prophesy while others receive visions and dreams.

SALVATION OFFERED TO ALL

Peter ended his quotation at the midpoint of the passage: “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  The original ethnic and geographic limitations are not included (“For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape”).

In the “last days,” the promised salvation no longer IS limited to Jerusalem or the remnant of Israel. Instead, salvation and the gift of the Spirit are offered to all who respond to it by faith, whether near or far (“to all them who are afar off”).

The change reflects the departing command of Jesus to proclaim the gospel to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. The book of Acts records this process until we find Paul proclaiming the message to one and all in Rome.

Thus, Joel’s prophecy is expanded and universalized. Its fulfillment began on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit, and that process will continue until the “day of the Lord.”  It applies to the church throughout the interim 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 in the world through the church, and the summons for men to receive the gospel goes out continually to all nations.

The activity of the Spirit in the church evidenced by “signs and wonders” is incontrovertible proof that the final phase of history is underway. Likewise, the influx of believers from all nations into the kingdom means that redemption is open to all men regardless of ethnicity, from Pentecost to the “Day of the Lord.”

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