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21 January 2019

Joel’s Prophecy in the Book of Acts

Day of Pentecost
The application of Joel 2:28-32 in the Book of Acts links the gift of the Spirit to the “last days.” It makes the promised Spirit, and all that it entails, programmatic for the entire period the church is active on the earth.
      Acts is the companion volume to Luke’s Gospel (cp. Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-5 [“The former treatise I made concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach”]). Prior to his ascension, Jesus “opened the understanding of the disciples so that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45-49).
       What had been written foreshadowed Christ; his suffering, death, and resurrection. The disciples were tasked to bear witness and proclaim “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.”
      Before beginning that mission, however, the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until “I send the promise of my Father upon you” (Luke 24:45-49). This was to equip them as witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and finally to “the uttermost part of the earth” (1:6-11). This epic story is told by Acts; the gospel moves from Jerusalem to far regions of the Empire, then finally to Rome itself.
     The disciples and other believers were next found tarrying in prayer as instructed until the day of Pentecost was “fully come.”  This translates a compound verb built on the noun plérōma or “fullness” (sumpleroō). The likely point, the time of fulfillment typified by the Hebrew feast day had arrived.
    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,” using in the Greek clause an emphatic pronoun or “this”; THIS is that predicted by Joel, the thing that the crowd heard and saw that day (Acts 2:14-21).
     Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32: “it shall be in the last days, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days will I pour forth of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth beneath; blood, fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood before the day of the Lord comes, that great and manifest day. And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
     Peter’s citation deviates from Joel’s original passage 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, just 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,” again identifying the gift of the Spirit with Joel’s prophecy.
     Many 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 was that about three thousand men and women received the word, repented and were baptized in water.
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,” including the idea of imminence for the “day of the Lord.”  The change from “terrible” to “manifest” probably reflects his use of the Greek Septuagint version of Joel, which replaces “terrible” with the same Greek noun used in Acts 2, epiphanes.
      Peter has added the term “signs” or sémeion paired with “wonders” (teras).  Both occur together and often in Acts, beginning with the final verses of chapter 2 (“many wonders and signs were done by the apostles2:43. cp. Acts 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 8:13; 14:3; 15:12). The clause “signs and wonders” is thematic for the Book of Acts and always linked to the Spirit’s activity.
     The purpose of Peter’s modification becomes clear as the sermon progresses.  Jesus was “a man approved of God as demonstrated by mighty works, wonders (teras) and signs (sémeion).” The signs predicted by Joel find fulfillment in the miracles wrought by Jesus for a witness to the Jewish nation.
     Peter’s emphasis on visions, dreams, and prophecy likewise prepare for the Spirit’s activities in the later chapters of Acts.  Both men and women prophesy (11:28; 19:6; 21:9), receive visions and “dreams” (9:10; 10:3; 10:10; 16:9-10; 18:9), just as Joel prophesied.  All such manifestations fall under the categories of “signs” and “wonders.”
     Peter ended his quotation from 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 is no longer is limited to Jerusalem or the remnant of Israel; instead, the call goes out to all who will respond, whether near or far, even to the uttermost parts of the earth. This 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 as Gentiles (e.g., Acts 10:44-48). Joel’s prophecy is universalized.  Its fulfillment began at the Day of Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit, and continues until the “day of the Lord.”  The prophecy applies to the entire church and the church age.
     The gift of the Spirit promised to disciples 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 24:45; Acts 1:6-9).
     In contrast, the Spirit is prominent in the Book of Acts; it marks out individuals out as disciples and is their most distinctive characteristic. The Spirit demonstrates God’s acceptance of believers on the basis of faith rather than ethnicity or temple ritual; its manifestation even settles theological disputes (e.g., Acts 10:44-48).
Thus, Acts 2:15-21 not only portrays the gift of the Spirit as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy but the outpouring of the Spirit also evidences the commencement of the “last days.”
     Paul instructed the churches of Rome that there is “no difference between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is over all and rich to all that call upon him; for whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:12).
    Paul applies Joel 2:32 to disputes between Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. Like Peter, Paul cites only the first half of Joel 2:32, also omitting the original promise of deliverance to the remnant of Israel. Joel’s promised salvation is for all men and women regardless of national origin.
     Paul links this call for salvation to the proclamation of the gospel (Romans 10:14-18). How will anyone exercise faith in Christ if he or she does not hear the message? “As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things.”
     Paul alludes to Joel 2:32 in 1 Corinthians 1:2 where he applies it to the church at Corinth, which included many Gentiles; “to the church of God at Corinth, to them who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”
    As with Peter’s application, so also Paul’s use of Joel’s prophecy in the books of Romans and 1 Corinthians sounds a universal note.
     The application of Joel’s prophecy to the events of the Day of Pentecost means that the outpouring of the Spirit, the “promise of the Father,” marked the start of the period known in the Bible as the “last days.”  The activity of the Spirit among God’s people evidenced by “signs and wonders” constituted incontrovertible proof that History’s final phase had commenced. Likewise, the universal offer of salvation signified by the gift of the Spirit meant the gospel was now open to all men and women regardless of ethnicity or gender.

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