Signs on the Earth
The prophecy in Joel sets the tone for Acts, including the signs and wonders that accompany the gospel. Jesus told the disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem” UNTIL they received the Spirit, then they would proclaim the “kingdom of God” in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and the “uttermost parts of the earth.” The book of Acts records how the early church carried out this mission under the power of the Spirit.
The narrative in Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends in the city of Rome, where the Apostle Paul is found proclaiming the “kingdom of God” to Jews and Gentiles alike even while he is under house arrest - (“Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved”) - (Acts 1:6-8, 28:23-31).
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After the Spirit fell on the disciples, Peter preached to the pilgrims that had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. Many of them had “seen and heard” the things that accompanied the arrival of the Spirit.
Peter began his sermon by citing the prophecy in Joel concerning the outpouring of the Spirit “in the last days,” and he pointed out that his audience had witnessed the fulfillment of that promise that very day.
The prophecy provides several themes that are developed in Acts, events that demonstrate how the Hebrew scriptures are being fulfilled as the Spirit empowers the church to take the gospel throughout the world. And this includes Joel’s prediction of end-time “signs and wonders.”
- (Acts 2:17-21) – “And it shall be in the last days, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh… And I will show wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath, blood and 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 shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
In Joel, the Hebrew text reads, “I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth.” However, in his citation, Peter adds the term “signs.” This is not a slip of the tongue. In Acts, “wonders” and “signs” are usually paired when the text describes what God is doing in the church. For example,
- (Acts 2:22) – “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him.”
- (Acts 2:43) – “And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.”
- (Acts 4:30) – “While you stretch forth your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of thy holy Servant Jesus.”
- (Acts 5:12) – “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.”
- (Acts 6:8) – “And Stephen, full of grace and power, wrought great wonders and signs among the people.”
- (Acts 8:6, 13) – “And the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did… And Simon also himself believed: and being baptized, he continued with Philip; and beholding signs and great miracles wrought, he was amazed.”
- (Acts 14:3) – “Long time, therefore, they tarried there speaking boldly in the Lord, who attested to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”
- (Acts 15:12) – “And all the multitude kept silence, and they hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them.”
MIRACLES IN ACTS
Thus, the “wonders” predicted in Joel that are to precede the “day of the LORD” commenced in the “signs and wonders” generated by the Spirit as the church began to take the gospel around the Mediterranean basin.
The acts of healing and exorcisms that accompany the preaching of the gospel constitute “signs and wonders,” miracles that confirm the activity and presence of the Spirit of God among believers.
This is not to say the miracles recorded in Acts have exhausted the prophecy. There may yet be cosmic and terrestrial upheavals as described “before the great and terrible day of Yahweh.”
Nevertheless, the prophecy’s fulfillment began with the initial outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, a process that must continue until the gospel has been proclaimed to the “uttermost parts of the earth” and Jesus returns on the “day of the Lord.”
In the book of Acts, the Spirit leads and empowers the church to proclaim the kingdom of God in boldness, perform “signs and wonders,” and bring wholeness and the “remission of sins” to all who will “call on the name of the Lord.”