The Last Days Begin

In the Book of Acts, the application of Joel’s prophecy to the events in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost links the initial outpouring of the Spirit to the start of the “Last Days.” The activity of the Spirit beginning on the Day of Pentecost is essential for understanding the rapid spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the very center of the Roman Empire, a process that must continue until the “arrival” or Parousia of Jesus on the “Day of the Lord.”

Before the disciples began to proclaim the Gospel, they were told to wait in Jerusalem until Jesus “sent the promise of my Father upon you.” The receipt of the Spirit would equip them to become his witnesses to “the uttermost part of the Earth.”

Downpour - Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash
[Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash]

After they received the Spirit, the Gospel began to move inexorably from Jerusalem to the eastern regions of the Mediterranean basin, and then to the city of Rome itself - (Luke 24:45-49, Acts 1:6-11, 2:38-39).

The disciples waited until the Spirit arrived on the Day of Pentecost when the Feast had “fully come.”  This term translates a compound Greek verb that signifies the filling of something to the full, to the very brim (sumpleroō).

Thus, the age of fulfillment foreshadowed by the annual feast day began in earnest with the bestowal of the Spirit on the disciples in Jerusalem – (Acts 2:1-4). When Jewish pilgrims were confounded by the sights and sounds that accompanied the Spirit, Peter stood up and declared, “These men are not drunk, but THIS is that which was spoken through the prophet Joel.”

In the Greek clause, an emphatic pronoun is found on his lips. THIS very thing witnessed by the pilgrims was the thing predicted by Joel for the “Last Days” - (Joel 2:28-32).

THE SERMON


Peter quoted Joel but deviated from the original Hebrew at key points. First, the original “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.” Fifth, Peter dropped the last half of Joel 2:32 (“for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, there shall be those that escape, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh calls”).

He then focused on Jesus and what God did 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, the Messiah could not be held by the “pangs of death.” Just as David foretold, God raised him from the dead and seated him at his “right hand.” This “same Jesus” also received the “promise of the Holy Spirit” which he poured out on his Assembly, demonstrating that God had “made Jesus both Lord and Messiah” – (Acts 2:22-36).

Peter’s description of “wonders and signs” is a verbal link to the prophecy in Joel. The predicted signs and wonders that were expected to characterize the “Last Days” began in the ministry of Jesus, and following his ascension, he “received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, that which you see and hear.”

At the conclusion of his sermon, Peter once more linked the Gift of the Spirit to the prophecy in Joel:

  • 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” - (Acts 2:37-39).

He identified the Gift as the “promise” that was given to Israel, but also one for “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. God never intended to limit the Good News and salvation to the people of Israel.

Peter applied the prophecy to the receipt of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.  In doing so, he connected the outpouring of the Spirit to the commencement of the “Last Days,” the era of salvation for all “who call on the name of the Lord.”

SIGNS AND WONDERS


Joel foretold the coming of “wonders in the heavens and in the earth before the great and terrible Day of Yahweh.” Peter added the term “signs” or sémeion to the phrase 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” predicted in Joel began on Pentecost with the “sound like a rushing wind,” “tongues of fire,” and “speaking in tongues.” Moreover, such signs continued through the evangelistic efforts of the Church until we find Paul proclaiming the “Kingdom” while under house arrest in Rome.

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).” Together, these two terms become thematic in Acts for the Spirit’s activity - (Acts 4:30, 5:12, 6:8, 8:13).

The stress on visions, dreams, and prophecy in Peter’s sermon prepares the reader for the activities of the Spirit detailed in the following chapters of Acts - (Acts 9:10, 10:3, 10:10, 11:28, 16:9-10, 18:9, 19:6, 21:9).

THE CALL


Peter ended his quotation at the midpoint of the original 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”). Thus, no longer was (or is) the promised salvation limited to Jerusalem or the remnant of Israel. Instead, the offer of salvation and the Gift of the Spirit were (and are) extended to everyone who responds in faith - To “all those who are afar off.”

In the sermon, the prophecy by Joel is universalized. Its fulfillment commenced on the Day of Pentecost with the initial outpouring of the Spirit, and it will continue being fulfilled until the “Day of the Lord” when Jesus returns at the end of the age.

The promise of the Spirit applies to the entire Body of Christ throughout the period between the departure of Jesus and his return in glory. The period known as the “Last Days” is the time when the Spirit is active and the summons to receive the “Good News” is proclaimed “to the uttermost parts of the Earth.”



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