The Word of God is a gift, given and preserved by our Lord, inspired by the Holy Spirit, through the writings of faithful men, and faithfully translated over the centuries with fantastic accuracy. The truths within though, fall prey to our fleshly desires and one frequent result is the loss of awe and wonder. Every Christian, understanding that we still struggle with our fallen nature, must fight to preserve and/or restore the awe and wonder of the Word of God. We will sometimes lose sight of what has been fulfilled and relegate it to forgotten familiarity even though it is meant to be always wondrous. A specific text that has fallen prey to the shifting of attention and loss of awe and wonder is Peter’s use of Joel in Acts 2.
The contemporary Christian issue of Peter’s use of Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:14-24 is that Christians have lost their wonder and awe of Joel’s prophecy being fulfilled. The all-too-often tendency of Christians is to turn the text into an exclusively future eschatological event and focus on the end of the universe rather than proclamation of fulfillment in Acts 2:16. The grandeur of the text is lost and the great tragedy is that the text has been relegated to dull familiarity. It has become in the eyes of many what John Piper feared when arriving in the Alps, that he would “be filled with wonder for a couple of days, but by the end of the week be watching television in the chalet.” The glories and grandeur of Joel’s fulfillment ought to be restored to the Christian, and this is to be accomplished by understanding Peter’s usage of the prophecy in light of Joel’s and Peter’s respective historical contexts.
The revelation and birth of the Church occurred on the Day of Pentecost with the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent events in Acts 2. The last days that Joel references are then utilized by Peter to proclaim the arrival of these last days that God promised. It is not meant to be a restoration of the Jewish practices but the arrival of the New Covenant. The fulfillment of Joel in this context is an earth-shattering moment. It would continue the spiritual revolution that the Lord Jesus brought about through his life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection. R.C. Sproul relates this event to the longing of Moses that the Lord would put His Spirit on all the people in Numbers 11:29. Further, R.C. adds that this prayer of Moses would later become a prophecy through Joel.
The last days, as Peter quotes, had arrived, and they were the days that the Jews had longed for and had seen many prophecies concerning. The day of the Messiah and Messianic fulfillment had arrived. The Gospel, as with other aspects concerning the Day of the Lord, contains a double fulfillment. When the Day of the Lord arrives for believers, it is a day of hope, deliverance, light, salvation, and joy, but it is a day of terror, darkness, and destruction for the unbeliever. The Gospel of Jesus Christ itself has a twofold purpose in its proclamation; it brings both repentance and condemnation.
The Lord reveals that in the coming messianic covenant, He will pour out His Spirit on every single one of His people with no distinction of a slave, free, male, or female; all that are His would receive the permanent dwelling of His Spirit. In Joel, the Lord reveals that the Spirit will be within people, empowering them to know him, be obedient to him, and speak prophetically of him. The prophecy of Joel then is the completely new method and fantastic reality of the Spirit of the Almighty God dwelling in the hearts of His people and that His people could never lose the Spirit; He would make a permanent indwelling. There is an essential distinction between the pouring of the Spirit of the Lord in the Old Testament and the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Peter’s use of the text is appropriate. To express Acts 2 as the ultimate fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 is properly and fully applied within the group of believers gathered together on Pentecost.
Acts 2:4 identifies these manifestations of power as being filled by the Holy Spirit precisely and not some other source that would fit the Spirit’s pouring, as mentioned by Joel. Further, there is the inclusion of women in this group and receiving the Spirit based on the consistent references to “they,” referring back to Acts 1:14 with “the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus.” The New Testament speaks on the perpetuity and permanence of the Spirit’s indwelling for all believers as seen in Romans 5:5, 15:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; and Ephesians 1:13. The role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is still to empower. However, specifically in believers, whereas, in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit would empower or come upon individuals for specific purposes and depart when “taken away” because of sinfulness or loss of blessing as seen with Samson and Saul. Fear of losing the Spirit, not concerning salvation, is seen in David’s plea in Psalm 51:11. One of the main characteristics of the coming Messiah would be His continual empowerment by the Holy Spirit. A new concept, looking forward to the Church ultimately, would be prophesied in Joel and Ezekiel.
Peter’s usage of Joel 2:28-32 is crucial in light of his immediate context following the Ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit coinciding with the birth of the Church and the historical context of the Jews. The hope of the Messiah had arrived, and what they had been promised had been fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all those who believe. In this context, the Spirit’s arrival is not insignificant, nor is His arrival an insufficient fulfillment of the language that Peter utilizes in Acts 2:16-21. One of the most significant moments in history had occurred, and Peter’s sermon would continue to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, and the working of the Spirit in this context was to point at Christ. The prophecy of Joel perfectly summarizes the significance of this moment, and it should be restored as a wondrous thing in the eyes of every Christian.
For a deeper treatment of the Holy Spirit’s empowering in the Old Testament, check out another one of our articles, “Theocratic Anointing.”