The day of Pentecost: Part II - The Promise

The Promise of Pentecost

They had come to Jerusalem from all over the world. And when the sound of a group of Jews speaking each of their native languages reached their ears they were perplexed and bewildered. To their amazement they heard a declaration of the great works of God; what they couldn’t understand was how this group of Hebrew speaking Jews spoke their foreign languages – Parthian, Egyptian, Italian, Arabian. It took the an Apostle of Jesus to explain it to them: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” (Acts 2:14, NIV) So began the Apostle Peter’s address to the crowd of utterly amazed on-listeners on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

What was spoken

To the confused crowd Peter quoted the prophet Joel at length (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17-21): “…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). Joel had spoken of a time at the end of the world when the day of the Lord would come – the great and dreadful day of God’s judgment (Joel 2:11). After judgment God would pour his Spirit onto all types of people (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18). There would be wonders in heaven and signs on earth before the arrival of this day to signal its coming (Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:19-20) and there would be salvation for anyone who called on the Lord by name (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21). It was to the shock of Peter’s audience that, following this quotation, he reminded them that God had recently given signs on earth through the man Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:22). Even more a shock would have been his case that Jesus was the one who had just now poured out God’s Spirit and given from heaven the signs that they had just witnessed (Acts 2:33). They were cut to the heart by his point: This Jesus, whom they had crucified, was the Lord, now raised up into heaven itself – Jesus is the name in whom salvation is now given (Acts 2:38).

Before talking in detail about Peter’s explanation of Joel’s prophecy (beginning in v. 22), notice what the prophet had promised about the Spirit:

“'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” (Acts 2:17-21, NIV)
A new time

Peter announced that the time Joel described has now arrived: that is, the day of the Lord has arrived; in Peter’s words, these are “the last days.” This time is characterised by God’s pouring out of his Spirit on all; that is, the Spirit is no longer reserved for certain ones within God’s people who have special tasks, such as judges, kings and prophets. Now God's Spirit is given to all of God's people (the young and the old; women as well as men; slave and free).

A new revelation

Joel also indicated that the result of God’s outpouring of this Spirit would be the prophecy, visions and dreams of all (Acts 2:17-18). Twice Peter emphasized, “They will prophecy.” The reception of visions and dreams was the usual way God revealed himself in the Old Testament: “When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams” (Numbers 12:6). However such revelation in the past had only come to certain ones, particularly prophets. In promising visions and dreams, Joel predicted a new stage in salvation history when there would be a new revelation from God. Peter’s explanation of Joel’s prediction (beginning in Acts 2:22) sees these words as applying to the God’s new revelation of Jesus as both Lord and Christ.

A new prophesy

In promising prophecy, Joel also described the last days as a time when every one of God's people would declare this new revelation from God; sons and daughters, young men and old, even servants will be the prophets of this new revelation from God. Pentecostalism is not wrong in wanting to see evidence for the reception of the Spirit in God’s people. Here in this prediction of Joel quoted on the day of Pentecost by the Apostle Peter, the result of the reception of God’s Spirit is prophecy. The speech in the tongues of the various nations gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost was the beginning of such prophecy: “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:11, ESV). The last days began with a simultaneous declaration of the gospel to representatives from ‘every nation under heaven.’

A new series of signs

Before the arrival of the day of the Lord, Joel predicted that God would show a new series of signs and wonders. The Exodus is an example of a new stage in salvation history when God displayed signs and wonders (the 10 plagues) before the arrival of his great acts of judgment on Pharaoh in Egypt and his salvation through Moses for Israel. Joel predicted God would in cosmic proportions signal the coming of the Lord’s great and dreadful day of judgment and salvation with wonders in heaven and signs on earth. This news must have left Peter’s audience anxious to say the least: For if as Peter indicated Joel’s words about the Spirit’s outpouring described the events of the day of Pentecost, what and when were the signs and wonders that were to preceded it and what of God’s impending judgment? Again, Peter’s explanation of Joel’s prediction (beginning in Acts 2:22) sees these words as applying to the signs and wonders that God did through Jesus.

A new name

The final point in Peter’s quotation of Joel is a pointy application concerning the means of salvation for those who seek to escape God’s judgment in the day of the Lord that is now upon us. Once again, Peter’s message come as a shock: In these last days when God’s time of judging the whole world has begun, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; that is, it will be possible for anyone who knows the Lord by name to be saved, but anyone who does not know the name of the Lord, or calls on the wrong name will not escape God’s judgment. Peter begins at this very point (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21) to apply Joel’s words to the events of the gospel in order to reveal the new name under heaven by which people must be saved: The Lord Jesus Christ.

In part III of this article, we’ll talk in detail about Peter’s explanation of Joel’s prophecy and the events of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-38).

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