Spirit and the Last Days

The outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost marked the start of the “last days.” 

Mountain Stream - Photo by Luke Vodell on Unsplash
The application of the prophecy from
Joel in the book of Acts links the initial outpouring of the Spirit to the commencement of the “last days.” In Acts, the activity of the Spirit is programmatic and essential for understanding the rapid spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, indeed, from the Day of Pentecost until the arrival of Jesus at the end of the age - [Mountain Stream - Photo by Luke Vodell on Unsplash].

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

And in Acts, after the initial receipt of the Spirit, the epic story of the church moves inexorably from Jerusalem to the eastern regions of the Mediterranean region, then to the city of Rome where the gospel is proclaimed in the heart of the Empire - (Luke 24:45-49, Acts 1:6-11, 2:38-39).

In response to the command of Jesus, the disciples tarried in prayer until the Day of Pentecost. And with the arrival of the Spirit, that day had “fully come.”  This translates a compound Greek verb that signifies the filling of something to the full (sumpleroō). The age of fulfillment that was foreshadowed by the Hebrew feast day had commenced – (Acts 2:1-4).

Jewish pilgrims in the vicinity were confounded by these sights and sounds, with some suggesting that the disciples were drunk. But Peter stood up and declared - “These men are not drunk, but this is that spoken through the prophet Joel.” In the Greek clause, an emphatic pronoun or “this” is found on Peter’s lips. THIS event was that which Joel predicted, the very thing that the crowd had just heard and seen:
  • (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 said, and among the survivors whom Yahweh calls.
In his sermon, Peter quoted Joel but deviated from the original Hebrew text at several points. First, “afterward” became the “last days.” Second, he added “they shall prophesy” after the promise of the Spirit for “servants and handmaidens.” Third, the term “signs” was added and paired with “wonders.” Fourth, the “great and terrible day of Yahweh” became “the great and manifest day of the Lord.” And fifth, the last half of Joel 2:32 was dropped (“for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, there shall be those that escape, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh calls”).

Peter then focused on Jesus and what God had done in him. He was a man “pointed out of God by mighty works and wonders and signs,” but he also was “delivered by lawless men” to be slain on the cross. However, he could not be held by the “pangs of death,” and just as David foretold, God raised him from the dead and seated him at his “right hand.” And this “same Jesus” also received the “promise of the Holy Spirit” that he poured out that day, demonstrating that God had “made him both Lord and Christ,” the same man that the Jews had crucified – (Acts 2:22-36).

Peter’s description of “wonders and signs” was a verbal link to the prophecy from Joel. The predicted signs and wonders that were to characterize the “last days” had begun in the ministry of Jesus even prior to his death and resurrection. And following his exaltation, he “received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, that which you see and hear.” And at the conclusion of his sermon, once more, Peter linked the gift of the Spirit to the prophecy from Joel:
  • (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 to them: Repent, and let each one of you be baptized 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 un all them who are afar off, as many soever as the Lord our God shall call.
He identified the gift of the Spirit as the “promise” that was given to Israel, but also to “all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”  Likewise, the prophet Joel promised that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” an open-ended invitation to all men and nations.

And Peter changed the ambiguous term “afterward” from Joel to the more specific “last days.”  Thus, the prophecy became a promise that in the “last days” the Lord would pour out “His Spirit on all flesh.” And he applied it to the receipt of the Spirit on that very day.  In doing so, he connected the outpouring of the Spirit to the commencement of the “last days.”

Joel had 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), and both appear frequently in the book. The “wonders” predicted in Joel began that day and continued through the evangelistic work of the early church.

The reason for this modification becomes clear in Peter’s sermon.  Jesus was “a man approved of God as demonstrated by wonders (terasand signs (sémeion).” And together, these two terms become thematic in Acts and are linked to the Spirit’s activity. And just like the gift of the Spirit, the “signs and wonders” manifested by the Spirit confirmed that the “last days” were underway - (Acts 4:30, 5:12, 6:88:13).

The emphasis on visions, dreams, and prophecy in Peter’s sermon prepares the reader for the activities of the Spirit in Acts. Some men and women prophesy while others receive visions and dreams, just as Joel prophesied - (Acts 9:10, 10:3, 10:10, 11:28, 16:9-10, 18:9, 19:6, 21:9).

Peter ended his quotation at the midpoint of the passage – “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 promised salvation no longer was limited to Jerusalem or to the remnant of Israel. Instead, salvation and the gift of the Spirit were extended to all who responded, near or far, even to “all those who are afar off.”

This modification reflected the departing command of Jesus to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, beginning in Jerusalem. The book of Acts records this process until the Apostle Paul is found proclaiming the Gospel to one and all in Rome - (Luke 24:46-49, 1:7-8, 10:44-48, 28:28-31).

Thus, the prophecy from Joel has been universalized. Its fulfillment began on the Day of Pentecost with the initial outpouring of the Spirit, and that process will continue until the “Day of the Lord.”  The promise applies to the entire 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 and the summons to receive the Gospel goes out continually to all nations.



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