Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:1-40
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. i
In the latter half of the 20th century, it became a very lucrative business for churches and teachers to treat biblical prophecy as if was a series of newspaper articles on future events. What does the Bible say about whether America defeats Russia? What does the Bible say about the modern political nation-state of Israel? Which current political leader is the “Beast” from John’s Revelation?
Prophetic pronouncements regarding locusts or arrows were said to be coded messages about helicopters or missiles. An economic pact between European nations was said to be the “10-horned beast” of Daniel 7 – although the “beast” loses or gains a horn or two with every shift in the political-economic climate these days. I remember in the late 1980s, one of my seminary professors was writing a book on Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s plans to rebuild the ancient city of Babylon and how this was a major event fulfilling biblical prophecy. Shifting news cycles forced him to write a few more books with varying conclusions on the subject.
I’m not mentioning this to make fun of other brothers and sisters in Christ. Many very good bible scholars differ on prophetic interpretations. The point is biblical prophecy is very hard to handle because the prophecies often seem obscure to us. And even if their meaning is clear, we cannot always be sure to what period of history the words apply. To make things more difficult, the Bible itself sometimes takes the prophecies in more than one way. They can be applied to a current event in ancient Israel or Judah at or near the time the prophet is writing. But they can also be referring to a future Day of the Lord.ii
Peter, who will interpret our text in Joel for us this morning, gave the Church its primary lens for NT interpretation of OT prophecy. Peter told us (1 Pt. 1:10-12):
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.iii
When the risen Jesus walked alongside two discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus following his crucifixion, Luke told us (Lk. 24:13-27):
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. iv
So the primary purpose of prophecy, according to Jesus and Peter, is NOT to give us future news headlines of political events. The primary purpose of prophecy is to testify about Jesus! All prophecy is fulfilled in and through Christ Jesus.
Many OT prophecies are directly interpreted by NT writers. No passage is interpreted more clearly than Joel 2:28-32 since Peter quotes and explains it in his great Pentecost sermon. Pentecost is the 50th day following Passover; it was the second great feast day in the Jewish lunar calendar. It was originally a harvest festival (Ex. 23:16) but morphed into a celebration of Moses’ receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai.
Dr. Luke opened Acts with the soon-to-ascend-to-heaven Jesus telling his disciples to stay in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4-5), “to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” v So, about 120 disciples (Act 1:15 — men, women, young, mature, etc.) waited in Jerusalem for 50 days. By the way, baptism is an outward sign and seal of an inward spiritual reality. So those 120 people on Pentecost weren’t “receiving” the Holy Spirit for the first time; the Spirit was putting his public sign and seal upon them as prophets (proclaimers) of the Gospel of Messiah Jesus. Without the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, they could never have exercised trust into the person and work of Christ in the first place.
Dr. Luke, in Acts 2:2-4 writes, “2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” vi Jews gathered in Jerusalem from every tribe, tongue and nation heard the sound. I suspect the sound of the wind in Acts 2:2 was connected to the coming of the Lord in Gen. 3:8 when God blew (ruach hayom, “the wind of the day”) into the Garden to judge Adam and Eve and to promise them victory over sin through the Promised Seed – a day of both judgment and blessing, a Day of the Lord.
The sound of the wind drew the Pentecost pilgrims toward it. It must have been quite loud since about 3,000 people trusted into Christ and were baptized following the incident (2:41; so at least 3,000 people hear the sound). As the 120 disciples go about in the crowd telling …the mighty works of Godvii in all the languages of the known world with the Shekinah glory dancing on their heads, some of the observers said the disciples were drunk (because nothing improves your language skills like guzzling the Judean version of “Two Buck Chuck” at 9 AM and setting your head on fire).
Peter answers the “drunk in public” charge by proclaiming that this outpouring of languages and holy fire is the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘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. … And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Acts 2:17, 21).viii It is a reversal of God’s scattering of people by confusing languages at the Tower of Babel.
The day Joel promised, that Luke records, was something Moses longed for in Numbers 29:11. There, Moses wrote of how the Israelites were all sick of quail and manna; they were arguing with each other constantly. Every decision was brought before Moses. Every dispute demanded Moses’ attention. Every complaint against God, man, and Moses landed on Moses’ desk and he was completely exhausted. He was the only pastor in the very first megachurch and he was burning out fast.
God told Moses to pick 70 elders out the 12 tribes and call them to the tabernacle. God said, “17 And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.”ix So, 68 elders were able to show up to the tent meeting. God poured out his Spirit and they began to prophesy as a sign that God had empowered them for ministry with Moses. That is, they began to tell the people what God’s will for them was in their particular situations, like Moses had been doing.
But two of the chosen elders weren’t at the tent meeting and they too began prophesying the will of God for the people. This upset a couple of good Presbyterians in Moses’ camp because people who didn’t show up for the tent meeting shouldn’t be receiving gifts from the Holy Spirit they didn’t earn. So they consulted their Book of Church Order, went to the index, and found a section about unexcused absences. And young Joshua begged Moses to stop these two meeting-skipping elders from prophesying. Moses responds, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” x
What we see in Numbers 11 is that the kind of prophecy about which Moses writes is NOT foretelling future events but the gift of receiving God’s will from God and passing it on to others, forth-telling. That was a particularly important gift in a time when Moses hadn’t even finished writing the first five books of scripture. Joel’s gift of prophecy was important to the people of Judah in a time when Messiah’s coming was anticipated but not yet fulfilled.
Moses’ wished that all God’s people would be prophets (in the sense they would all know God’s will and pass that knowledge on) was something no OT saint ever thought possible until Joel made this amazing promise to the starving Judeans of his day. And it’s a striking promise in a series of prophecies primarily concerned with physical curses and blessings. “Joel’s emphasis is on the universal nature of this gift, for he shows that it is for ‘all people’ as opposed to being for some only as it had been previously. Lest we miss this, the point is spelled out in detail. It will be for the young (‘your sons and daughters’) and the old (‘your old men’), the strength of the nation (‘your young men’) and servants (‘even on my servants, both men and women’).”xi
The prophet Amos (Am. 3:7) said, “7 For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” xii That gives us a great sense of the fullness of blessing God gives at Pentecost as he fulfills Joel’s prophecy of the poured-out Spirit. It also tells us that the Holy Spirit IS the secret who comes to all those trusting into the perfect law-keeping life and sacrificial death of the risen Messiah Jesus. By the Spirit, they can dwell in God and with God and know God’s will and tell God’s will to others.
SPIRIT IS BLESSING
The poured-out Spirit is the blessing of the New Covenant Jeremiah foretold and St. Author of Hebrews explained (Heb. 8:10-13). “10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”xiii St. Author adds, “13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” xiv
Do you hear the emphasis in Joel and Jeremiah on “all”? There is an individual promise that every one of God’s people will know God’s will through God’s Spirit. But there is also the collective aspect of these promises. The blessing comes especially through the togetherness of the people in worship as we receive God’s completed Word to us in Scripture, as we partake of the Lord’s Supper to taste and see God’s grace to sinners, as we confess our sin, and as we receive the absolution, the assurance of pardon, so crucial to our daily lives.
Your flesh and the devil are constantly trying to paralyze you with false guilt over your lack of perfection – over your inability to be the perfect wife or husband, the perfect son or daughter, over your lack of perfection in your vocation, over your underperformance in school, or in church. Today, the majority of the Jesus-professing Church in America focuses most of its time and attention on asking you to look inward and examine your performance, to try harder and do better so you can earn just a little more on earth and in heaven.
We grow accustomed to the idea that worship is about me measuring my performance. We come to believe receiving some “holy guilt” on Sunday is what true church worship is all about. “Am I doing enough?” we ask as we look constantly inward.
But one very important aspect of Reformed worship that separates us somewhat from our brothers and sisters in broader Evangelicalism is that we proclaim to you Sunday after Sunday that ALL YOUR SINS, real and those imagined through false guilt, have been absolved in the work of Christ Jesus! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We bid you every Lord’s Day to look outside of yourselves to Christ and his finished work because the Holy Spirit’s job is to testify about Jesus.
And how do we know we are in Christ Jesus? We know by the work of the promised-and-now-received Holy Spirit. Romans 8:16-17, “16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ….”xv It’s because of the Spirit’s work that we can sing, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine.”
Joel proclaimed that the coming Day of the Lord would bring a special blessing to all God’s people (even as it brings curses to God’s enemies). EVERY ONE of God’s people will be a minister of the Lord, not merely some special class like Moses and the 70 elders, or Joel, or Jeremiah. All God’s people will be given God’s Spirit to know and proclaim God’s will and do God’s work. In this way, once Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us – ascended into heaven, Joel’s promise of God dwelling with his people (2:27) would be still be fulfilled; but not yet fully realized until the New Heaven and Earth when we live face-to-face with God.
In the days of the Reformation, the doctrine that all flesh, all God’s people were given God’s Spirit to know God’s will and proclaim God’s message was called the “priesthood of all believers.” It meant that the person called to preach God’s Word (the minister, the preacher, the clergy) was no more special than anyone else because all believers had been gifted by the Holy Spirit to minister in some capacity among God’s people and to proclaim the mighty works of God to the lost.
That’s something we see working out in Acts 2 as 120 Jesus-followers, Jews of all ages and all stations in life, men and women go out into a crowd of thousands telling people the what the will of God is. It was a question Jesus answered during his earthly ministry (Jn. 6:28-29):
28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”xvi
In OT days, only the prophets, the priests, and some of the kings knew what it was to have intimate communion with God. Moses had that intimacy. He wrote of it in Ex. 33:11, “…the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”xvii But now, all God’s people have that kind of divine intimacy with him. So Paul wrote, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”xviii
The Spirit brings intimacy, love, joy, communion with God and with one another through the Lord Jesus Christ to all who are trusting into Christ. This is what Peter preaches (Acts 2:22-24):
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”xix
32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.xx
But Peter also spoke of the judgment upon God’s enemies that all good Jews knew to be the great and terrible Day of the Lord; for God’s day is a day of blessing and judgment:
David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ xxi
The Day of the Lord is a day of divine intimacy for God’s people and divine wrath for His enemies. Perhaps you’re here this morning and, like those who heard Peter’s sermon, you wonder “What shall [I] do?” (2:37).
Joel and Peter promise, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”xxii
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” xxiii
At Calvary, God showed wonders in the heavens and the earth – the darkened sun, the red moon, the earthquake that shook the temple and tore the curtain that separated the presence of God from men – the signs and wonders of the Day of the Lord in Joel 1 and 2. He poured out his wrath for sin upon the perfect, sinless Messiah so that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Peter makes plain that the Lord (YHWH in Hebrew) is Jesus and his Day began to see its fulfillment in the judgment and blessing at Calvary.
The Day of the Lord, the Day of Jesus, is the day of grace for all who call upon him. May the Spirit of the Lord move you to call upon him today so that instead of condemnation, judgment and false guilt, you can know the divine intimacy the Spirit of the Lord brings.
i The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joe 2:27–32.
ii James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 143.
iii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Pe 1:10–12.
iv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 24:25–27.
v The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 1:4–5.
vi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 2:2–4.
vii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 2:11.
viii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 2:17-21.
ix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Nu 11:17.
x The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Nu 11:29–30.
xi Boice, 145.
xii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Am 3:7.
xiii The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Heb 8:10–12.
xiv The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Heb 8:13.
xv The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 8:16–17.
xvi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 6:28–29.
xvii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ex 33:11.
xviii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 8:15.
xix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 2:22–24.
xx The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 2:32–33.
xxi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 2:34–35.
xxii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 2:21.
xxiii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 2:38–39.