Pentecost and the Last Days

SYNOPSIS - The outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost signaled the arrival of the “last days”Acts 2:14-21.

Ocean sunset - Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash
I
n his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter applied a prophecy from the book of Joel to the initial outpouring of the Spirit. The arrival of the gift of the Spirit marked the commencement of the “last days,” the final phase of redemptive history. In the book of Acts, the presence and activity of the Spirit is what identifies the new people of God, the men and women who are summoned to be his “witnesses” to the world in the final days before the “great and manifest Day of the Lord.” - [Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash].

The sermon was in response to the consternation of the Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem who had witnessed the manifestations of the Spirit – A wind-like sound, what appeared to be “tongues of fire,” and above all, hearing the entire congregation of “about 120 disciples” speaking in “other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” The confused crowd raised the question – “What does this mean?” In fact, two questions from this group serve to bracket the start and finish of Peter’s explanation:
  • (Acts 2:12) – “And they were all amazed and perplexed, saying one to another - What does this mean?
  • (Acts 2:37) – “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?
The first question sets the stage for the sermon. The second provides the opening for the summons to repent and receive the very same gift – The “gift of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father” - And the pivotal decision towards which the story moves from the moment the Spirit fell upon the disciples. The gift of the Spirit and its manifestations are in vain if its recipients do not become “witnesses” of Jesus to the nations.

Peter began by declaring - “These men are not drunk, but this is that spoken through the prophet Joel.” An emphatic pronoun or “this” is used in the Greek clause - THIS was that which was predicted by Joel - The very thing the crowd had just heard and saw:
  • (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, 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, whoever 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 is calling.
In his speech, Peter deviated from the original Hebrew text at several points, as follows:
  • (Acts 2:17-21) – “And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your elders shall dream in dreams, and even upon my men-servants and upon my maid-servants in those days will I pour out of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy; And I will set forth wonders in the heaven above, and signs upon the earth beneath — blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and, the moon, into blood before the coming of the day of the Lord the great and manifest [day]; And it shall be whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
In his application, “afterward” becomes “the last days.” “They shall prophesy” is added after the promise of the Spirit to “servants and handmaidens.” The term “signs” is added and paired with “wonders.” The “great and terrible day of Yahweh” becomes “the great and manifest day of the Lord.”
The two most critical elements from the original prophecy are, first, the arrival of the promised “outpouring of the Spirit.” Second, 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. Additionally, Peter connected the outpouring of the Spirit to the “Day of the Lord,” the day when Yahweh would judge the nations and bring the present fallen 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 prophecy prepares the reader for the manifestations of the Spirit in the book of Acts - Some men and women prophesy, while others receive visions and dreams, just as foretold. 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” - The era of the Spirit - No longer is the promised salvation of Yahweh limited to Jerusalem or to the remnant of Israel. Instead, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit are extended to all who respond in faith, near or far, even “unto all them who are afar off.” As Jesus commanded his disciples:
  • You will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come 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 this 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” and its king to the entire world, beginning in Jerusalem. But it will not end 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 of Joel is expanded and universalized. Its fulfillment began on the Day of Pentecost with the initial 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 Day of 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 incontrovertible proof that the final phase of history - The “last days” - is now underway.




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