In the Last Days...
The application of Joel’s prophecy in Acts by Peter links the arrival of the Gift of the Spirit to the onset of the messianic age. With the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the promised Spirit, the period known as the “last days” commenced on if not before the Day of Pentecost. Moreover, the fulfillment of the prophecy means the inevitability and possibly even the imminence of the “Day of the Lord” - (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21).
The Gift of the Spirit is the “Promise of Father” that is based on the covenant of Abraham. It is an integral part of the New Covenant prophesied in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
And so, the arrival of the Spirit in God’s covenant community marked a fundamental change in eras. The age of fulfillment had arrived, the period characterized by the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit among the followers of the Messiah.
|[Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash]|
The presence of the Spirit in the body of Christ was and is essential for the entire period between his ascension and return. It is the necessary element for empowering his followers to proclaim his kingdom and gospel to the nations - to the “uttermost parts of the earth.”
In the Gospel of Luke, the gift of the Spirit is called the “Promise of the Father,” and the disciples must receive it before they can become effective “witnesses” for Jesus - (Luke 1:17, 1:35, 1:41, 2:27, 11:13, Luke 24:45-49).
In the Book of Acts, the Spirit marks out individuals as Christ’s disciples and demonstrates God’s acceptance of men and women into His covenant community. The “wonders and signs” performed by the Spirit are in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy - (e.g., Acts 2:43, 4:16, 4:30, 5:12, 10:44-48).
Prior to his ascension, Jesus “opened the understanding of the disciples so they might understand the scriptures.” What was written in the Hebrew Bible foreshadowed the Messiah and his reign.
With the Nazarene’s enthronement at the “right hand of God,” his disciples received the Spirit and began proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom to all nations, “beginning at Jerusalem,” and from there, in Judea, Samaria, and the “uttermost parts of the earth” - (Luke 1:1-4, 24:45-49, Acts 1:1-9).
Jesus commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until “I send the promise of my Father upon you,” thus equipping them to be his “witnesses” to the ends of the earth - (Luke 24:45-49, Acts 1:6-11, 2:1-4).
When the Gift of the Spirit fell on the Day of Pentecost, it produced a sound like a “rushing mighty wind,” and what looked like “tongues of fire that sat on each” of the 120 disciples gathered for prayer in Jerusalem.
Hearing the commotion, Jewish pilgrims around the Temple were confounded. Peter stood up and declared, “THIS is THAT spoken through the Prophet Joel.” In the account, the Greek emphatic pronoun for “this” is used. THIS event was the very thing predicted by Joel and one that would mark the commencement of the “last days” - (Acts 2:14-21).
And in the account, Peter, under the Spirit’s guidance, deviates from the original passage in the Book of Joel. Thus, the term “afterward” in the original becomes the “last days.”
God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at His “right hand” where he “received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, that which you SEE and HEAR.” The last clause describes what they “saw” - “Tongues of fire that sat on each of them” - and what they “heard” - speaking in tongues and the sound like a rushing mighty wind.
Peter concluded his sermon by summoning his audience to “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.” The gift is the promise of God “for you, your children, and FOR ALL THAT ARE AFAR OFF.”
The last phrase reiterates the clause from the final command of Jesus to the disciples to become his “witnesses, both in Jerusalem and [in] all Judaea and Samaria and AS FAR AS THE UTTERMOST PART OF THE EARTH.” The reference to “those who are afar off” has in view not only geographic distance but also the passage of time from the commencement of the “last days” until the “Day of the Lord.”
On Pentecost, about three thousand men were added to the church. From that point, the Book of Acts documents the progress of the church from Jerusalem to Rome, and the activity of the Spirit during the process. And the Spirit’s presence is attested in Acts by “wonders and signs,” just as Joel prophesied.
And so, as far as Peter was concerned, the presence of the Spirit inaugurated the final era known in Scripture as the “last days.”
IN PAUL’S LETTERS
Paul writes to the churches in 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.” His words allude to the prophecy from Joel - (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:12-18).
Like Peter, Paul cites only the first half of the verse, also omitting the promise of deliverance for the remnant of Israel. The promised salvation is for all men regardless of national origin.
The Apostle to the Gentiles links the call for salvation to the proclamation of the gospel. How can 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”).
He also alludes to Joel’s prophecy in his first letter to the Corinthians and applies it to the church. The congregation in Corinth included many Gentiles, and he reaffirmed that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Not coincidentally, the same context also declares that God will confirm the Corinthian believers on the “Day of our Lord Jesus.” Elsewhere, Paul connects the “Day of Jesus” to the Old Testament “Day of the Lord,” the day when the Son of Man will return in glory and gather his saints and judge his enemies - (1 Corinthians 1:2-7, 5:5,2 Corinthians 1:14, Philippians 1:10, 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:2).
An echo of Joel’s prophecy is heard in his Letter to the Ephesians where Paul describes Gentile believers as persons who were separated from Christ and the covenants of Israel, but now, in this new “season,” those who once were “afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” - (Ephesians 2:11-13).
Thus, Paul sounds a universal note and indicates the change of eras by his use of language from Joel’s prophecy. The way of salvation is now open to all, and the final phase of history has begun - the “last days.” And the presence of the Spirit among believers evidenced by “signs and wonders” is incontrovertible proof that the final era is underway.
Likewise, the arrival of the Spirit means the salvation promised in the Hebrew scriptures is now open to all men and women regardless of ethnicity, nationality, or gender, and on the same basis for all, namely, the “faith of Jesus Christ.”
And so, with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, along with the outpouring of the Spirit, the “last days” began in earnest and have been underway ever since.