“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.”– Acts 2:1-4
When considering controversial texts and subjects such as the Day of Pentecost we must take great care not to be reactionary. First of all, we cannot develop our theology by reacting against the heresies of our day. If we do, we will have committed some of the same exegetical fallacies1 as those against whom we are reacting. Secondly, we must not allow false teachers to steal our inheritance—i.e. the life and power of the Spirit. Evangelicalism is full of false teaching regarding the Holy Spirit. In fact, atrocities have been said and done in His name. Nevertheless, we must not allow such false teaching and ludicrous behavior to drive us away from the Holy Spirit, blind us to our need for His life and power or cause us to close our eyes to the great promises of the Scriptures. Instead, we must take a closer look at the Day of Pentecost and seek to glean its essential truths for us today. Thus, for the remainder of this chapter, we will consider the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 which Peter quoted on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-18) and seek to understand how it applies to the contemporary church and the Great Commission as it is advanced in our day.
“But this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and you’re your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy.”2
Pentecost was a Unique Event
The first thing that we must recognize about Pentecost is that it was a unique event in the history of the church. First, it was the inaugural moment in which the Spirit of God was poured out upon the church, and it is possible to have only one inauguration! Secondly, it was accompanied by unique spiritual phenomenon. Regardless of what one believes about the cessation or continuation of spiritual gifts, all must recognize that there were manifestations that are unique to Pentecost: a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire, and the ability to speak in the languages of the nations.3 These miraculous signs are not recorded as occurring together again even in the book of Acts; not even in Acts 4:31, where a similar outpouring of the Spirit is recorded.
It is important to recognize the uniqueness of the Day of Pentecost so that we do not make it the standard or litmus tests for all other outpourings of the Spirit or revivals in church history or today. There is simply no biblical warrant to claim that all subsequent revivals or outpourings must be evidenced by similar supernatural manifestations. We must remember that the emphasis in the Old Testament prophesies and the promises of Christ regarding the future outpouring of the Spirit, was not supernatural phenomenon, but the power to live unto God and to be His witnesses upon the earth.4 Anyone who is more enthralled with the exercise of signs and wonders than with Christ-likeness and the power to proclaim the gospel demonstrates a great immaturity in the faith!
Pentecost has Real Application to the Entire Church Age
In the above text, quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, the prophet Joel begins with the words, “In the last days.” The phrase is key to understanding both the meaning and application of the entire prophecy, and therefore it is absolutely essential that it is correctly interpreted. Two current and popular interpretations are that the “last days” refers to the time right before the second coming, or to the recent charismatic movement in the twentieth century. However, when we look closely at the text itself the exact time period to which Joel is referring becomes clear. When the unbelieving Jews began to mock the disciples, Peter countered their accusation by declaring that the events they were beholding were a direct fulfillment of Joel’s “last days” prophecy! This proves that the “last days” began with the first coming of the Messiah, His atoning death, exaltation, and pouring forth of the Spirit. The last days began nearly two thousand years ago and will continue until the second coming of Christ in glory.
Having said this, it is important to understand that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost marked the beginning of the new age, and not the beginning and the end in one singular event. It is wrong to think that Joel’s prophecy applies only to the Day of Pentecost or limit its application only to the early church. To do so would be to redefine the last days! It is also wrong to think that the promise is only for the apostolic era. The amazing thing about Joel’s prophecy is not that the Spirit would be poured out on the leaders (i.e. Apostles), but that He would be poured out upon all the people of God — sons, daughters, young and old, slaves, men and women!
It is indisputable that Joel’s prophecy is for every Christian of every generation, and in some way, this bountiful supply of the Spirit is promised throughout the entire Church age. Does this mean that dreams, visions, and speaking in other languages should be the norm in our Christian experience? Absolutely Not! One of the great errors that is often committed when sincere believers seek to interpret Joel’s prophecy is that they fix their attention on a minor element in the prophecy and miss the greater promise. Is Joel delighting in the fact that the people of God will one day ‘dream dreams’, ‘see visions’, or ‘speak in tongues’? Was the great hope and joy of the prophets merely that the day would come when the people of God would experience supernatural phenomenon? Absolutely not! As we will see, Joel’s prophesy and others like it are declaring that the days of the Messiah would be extraordinary because God’s people would possess an unprecedented knowledge of Him and be clothed in His life and power. And thus, they would live a life that would be pleasing to Him and serve as His witnesses to the nations.
Joel’s Prophesy in its Proper Context
One of the greatest reasons for the confusion that surrounds Joel’s prophecy is that it is often interpreted independently of the other New Covenant promises. However, when we compare Joel’s prophesy to these other promises, we see great similarities between them, which in turn helps us to understand the truths that Joel seeks to communicate. In fact, we learn that all the prophets who spoke of the “last days” of the Messiah, spoke in a singular and united voice regarding the blessings that would abound in the New Testament church! Among these blessings, the most prominent and frequently mentioned are the new nature, an extraordinary knowledge of God and His will, and the indwelling Spirit resulting in an abundance of life and power:
The New Nature:
“And I will give them one heart and one way.” – Jeremiah 32:39
“And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 11:19
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 36:26
An Extraordinary Knowledge of God:
“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it.” – Jeremiah 31:33
“They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 31:34
“And your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, you young men will see visions.” – Joel 2:28
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” – Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9
The Indwelling and Empowering Spirit:
“I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” – Ezekiel 36:27
“So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, and exceedingly great army.” – Ezekiel 37:10
“I will pour out of My Spirit on all mankind.” – Joel 2:28
“Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” – Joel 2:29
The main emphasis of Joel’s prophecy is not that believers in the Messiah would experience the wonder of prophetic utterance, visions, and dreams. Instead, he uses this terminology common to the prophets in order to express something far greater—that the church would possess an extraordinary knowledge of God and His will. Joel’s great hope, as well as that of the other prophets was that through the redemptive work of the Messiah, God’s people would be radically transformed into a new creation, that they would possess an extraordinary knowledge of God’s person and will, and that they would be indwelt and empowered in an extraordinary fashion by the Holy Spirit so that they might live to the glory of God and as a witness to the world!
This is the central truth of Joel and Pentecost that we must focus on and long for. We should not seek for dreams or visions or words from self-styled prophets, but we must seek for truth as the Spirit reveals it through the inspired and inerrant Scriptures.5 We must seek for greater and greater aid or empowering from the Holy Spirit to enable us to proclaim the Word with power and live out the Word we proclaim. This is what we must seek for constantly and this is what has been promised to us, not only by the Old Testament prophets but also by Jesus Himself:
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” – John 7:38
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”– Acts 1:8
- Exegetical Fallacies refers to errors in Bible interpretation that lead to doctrinal and practical error.
- Acts 2:16-18
- Acts 2:2-6
- Acts 1:8
- II Timothy 3:15-17
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer