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21 January 2019

The Last Days in the Book of Acts

Day of Pentecost
The application of the prophecy from Joel 2:28-32 in the book of Acts links the gift of the Spirit to the commencement of the “last days”; the promised Spirit is programmatic for the entire period of the church’s existence until the coming of Jesus in glory.
The book of Acts is the companion volume to Luke’s Gospel (cp. Luke 1:1-4Acts 1:1-5). Prior to his ascension, Jesus “opened the understanding of the disciples that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45-49).
What had been written in the Hebrew scriptures foreshadowed Jesus; his suffering, death, and resurrection. He tasked his disciples with proclaiming “repentance and remission of sins among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
(Joel 2:28-32) - “And it shall come to pass afterward, that 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: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Yahweh cometh. And it shall come to pass, that whoever shall call on the name of Yahweh shall be delivered; for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape, as Yahweh hath said, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh doth call.”
But before beginning their mission, the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until “I send the promise of my Father upon you” (Luke 24:45-49). This gift would equip them as witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria and, finally, to “the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:6-11). This epic story in the book of Acts moves from Jerusalem to the eastern regions of the Empire, then to the city of Rome as the gospel is proclaimed.
Consequently, the disciples tarried in prayer as instructed until the Day of Pentecost had “fully come.”  This translates a compound verb that signifies filling something up to the full (sumpleroō); the time of fulfillment typified by the Hebrew feast day had arrived on this particular day.
About one hundred and twenty disciples gathered near the Temple were “all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:1-4).  The event was accompanied by a sound as of a “rushing of a mighty wind,” and what appeared to be “tongues of fire that sat on each of them.”
 Jewish pilgrims in the vicinity were confounded by the sights and sounds. Some even 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.” He used in the Greek clause an emphatic pronoun or “this”; THIS is that which was predicted by Joel, the very thing that the crowd heard and saw that day (Acts 2:14-21).
(Joel 2:28-32) - “And it shall come to pass afterward, that 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: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Yahweh cometh. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of Yahweh shall be deliveredFor in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, there shall be those that escape, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh calls.
Peter’s citation deviates from the original Hebrew text in several ways. First, “afterward” becomes “the last days.” Second, “they shall prophesy” is added after the promise of the Spirit for “servants and handmaidens.” Third, the term “signs” is added and paired with “wonders,” whereas Joel only has “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”).
Though Jewish leaders put Jesus to death, God raised him up and seated him at His “right hand” to rule 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”). Jesus, therefore, “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.
Many Jews present were “pricked in the heart and cried out, what shall we do?!” Peter responded, “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,” a “promise is to you, to your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”  Joel, likewise, prophesied, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The immediate result of Peter’s sermon was that about three thousand men and women received the word, repented, and were then baptized in water in the name of Jesus.
Peter changed Joel’s rather ambiguous reference, “afterward,” to the more specific, “last days.”  Joel foretold signs that would precede the “great and terrible day of Yahweh.” Peter now calls it the “great and manifest day of the Lord.” In doing this, Peter connects the outpouring of the Spirit to the start of the “last days,” which includes the idea of the imminence of the “day of the Lord.”
The change from “terrible” to “manifest” reflects Peter’s use of the Greek Septuagint version of the book of Joel, which replaces “terrible” with the same Greek noun found on Peter’s lips in Acts Chapter 2; that is, epiphanes or “manifest.”
Peter added the term “signs” or sémeion paired with “wonders” (teras).  Both occur together and often in the book of Acts, beginning with the final verses of Chapter 2; “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (Cp. Acts 4:30; 5:12; 6:88:1314:3; 15:12). The clause, “signs and wonders,” becomes thematic for the book where it is always linked to the Spirit’s activity.
The reason for Peter’s modifications becomes clear in his sermon.  Jesus was “a man approved of God as demonstrated by wonders (terasand signs (sémeion).” The signs Joel predicted found their fulfillment in the miracles wrought by Jesus.
Peter’s emphasis on visions, dreams, and prophecy prepare for the Spirit’s activities in the later chapters of Acts.  Both men and women prophesy and receive visions and dreams, just as Joel prophesied (9:10; 10:3; 10:10; 11:28; 16:9-10; 18:9; 19:6; 21:9).  All such manifestations fall under the categories of “signs” and “wonders.”
Peter ended his quotation at the midpoint of Joel 2:32; 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, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh calls”).
The promise of salvation no longer is limited to Jerusalem or the remnant of Israel; instead, the call is extended to all who will respond, whether near or far, even to the uttermost parts of the earth. This call includes the promise of the Spirit (“For the promise is to you, to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call”).
As editor of Acts, Luke anticipates not only the spread of the gospel geographically, but its opening to Gentiles (e.g., Acts 10:44-48). Joel’s prophecy is thus universalized; its fulfillment began on the Day of Pentecost and continues until the “day of the Lord.”  The prophecy applies to the entire church throughout the interim between Christ’s departure and his return.
The gift of the Spirit is mentioned only a handful of times in Luke’s Gospel (11:13), though the Spirit is active in the ministry of Jesus and events leading up to his birth (Luke 1:17; 1:35; 1:41; 2:27). Even the “promise of the Father” is not explicitly identified as the Spirit until the book of Acts (Luke 24:45Acts 1:6-9).
In contrast, the Spirit becomes prominent in Acts; it marks out individuals as disciples and is their most distinctive characteristic. The Spirit demonstrates God’s acceptance of believers from faith rather than their ethnicity or the performance of Temple rituals. The presence of the Spirit even settles theological disputes (e.g., Acts 10:44-48).
Thus, the paragraph in Acts 2:15-21 not only portrays the gift of the Spirit as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, the outpouring of the Spirit also marks the commencement of the “last days”; the arrival of the messianic age.
The application of this prophecy to the events of the Day of Pentecost means that the outpouring of the Spirit, the “promise of the Father,” marked the commencement of the period known as the “last days.”
The activity of the Spirit among God’s people evidenced by “signs and wonders” is incontrovertible proof that History’s final phase is underway; likewise, the universal offer of salvation means that the gospel is open to all men and women regardless of ethnicity or gender.

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