Last Days in the Book of Acts

SynopsisThe outpouring of the promised gift of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost signaled the arrival of the “last days,” according to the prophet Joel.  

Photo by Jasper Gronewold on Unsplash
Photo by Jasper Gronewold on Unsplash
The application of a prophecy from the Book of Joel in the second chapter of the Book of Acts links the arrival of the gift of the Spirit to the commencement of the “last days.” The activity of the Spirit in the church is programmatic and essential for the entire period of its existence, from the Day of Pentecost until the arrival of Jesus in glory.

Acts is the companion volume to the Gospel of Luke. Prior to his ascension, Jesus “opened the understanding of the disciples that they might understand the scriptures.” What had been written in the Hebrew Scriptures foreshadowed the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, especially his suffering, Death, and Resurrection. And the Son of God tasked his disciples with proclaiming “repentance and remission of sins among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem,” just prior to his ascension to Heaven and enthronement to rule over the Cosmos (Luke 1:1-4, 24:45-49, Acts 1:1-9, Hebrews 1:1-4).

Before beginning their evangelistic mission, the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until “I send the promise of my Father upon you.” This gift would equip them to be effective witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria and, finally, to “the uttermost part of the earth.” This epic story moves from Jerusalem and Judea to the eastern regions of the Mediterranean region, then to the city of Rome where the gospel is proclaimed in the heart of the Empire (Luke 24:45-49, Acts 1:6-11, 2:38-39).

(Acts 2:1-4) – “And when the day of pentecost was filling up the number of days, they were all together with one intent; — When there came suddenly out of heaven a sound, just as of a mighty rushing wind — and it filled all the house where they were sitting; And there appeared unto them — parting asunder — tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them; And they were all filled with Holy Spirit and began to be speaking with other kinds of tongues just as the Spirit was giving unto them to be sounding forth.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Responding to the command of Jesus, the disciples tarried in prayer until the Day of Pentecost was “filling up” or had “fully come.”  This translates a compound Greek verb that signifies the filling of something up to the full (sumpleroō – Strong’s #4845). That is, the time of fulfillment that was foreshadowed by the Hebrew feast day had arrived fully on this day.

Peter Preaches in the Day of Pentecost
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About one hundred and twenty disciples gathered near the Temple where they were “all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues.”  The event was accompanied by a sound as of a “rushing of a mighty wind,” and what appeared to be “tongues of fire that sat on each of them.”

Jewish pilgrims in the vicinity were confounded by these sights and sounds. Some even suggested the disciples were drunk.  However, the Apostle Peter stood up and declared: “These men are not drunk, but this is that spoken through the prophet Joel.” He used an emphatic pronoun or “this” in the Greek clause. THIS was that which was predicted in the Book of Joel, that is, the very thing that the crowd heard and saw that day.

(Joel 2:28-32) - “And it shall come to pass, afterwards, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy — your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; Moreover also, upon the servants and upon the handmaids — in those days will I pour out my spirit; And I will set forth wonders in the heavens and in the earth — blood and fire and columns of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood — before the coming of the great and awful day of Yahweh. And it shall come to pass, whosoever shall call on the name of Yahweh shall be delivered — For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be a delivered remnant, just as Yahweh hath said, and among the survivors whom Yahweh doth call.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

In his sermon, Peter deviated from the original Hebrew text at several points, as follows:

(Acts 2:17-21) – “And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men visions shall see and, your elders in dreams shall dream,— And even upon my men-servants and upon my maid-servants in those days will I pour out of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy; And I will set forth wonders in the heaven above, and signs upon the earth beneath — blood and fire and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness and, the moon, into blood — before the coming of the day of the Lord the great and manifest [day]; And it shall be — Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

To reiterate, the Apostle Peter changed, omitted or added the following items to the prophecy of Joel: 
  1. Afterwards” becomes “the last days.”
  2. They shall prophesy” is added after the promise of the Spirit for “servants and handmaidens.”
  3. The term “signs” is added and paired with “wonders,” whereas, Joel only has “wonders.”
  4. The “great and terrible day of Yahweh” becomes, “the great and manifest day of the Lord.”
  5. The last half of Joel 2:32 is dropped (“for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, there shall be those that escape, and among the remnant those whom Yahweh calls”).
Next, Peter turned his focus on Jesus and what God had done through him. Note well his reference to “wonders and signs”:

(Acts 2:22-24, 29-36) – “Ye men of Israel! hear these words: — Jesus the Nazarene, a man pointed out of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs, which God did through him in your midst, just as ye yourselves know, The same by the marked out counsel and foreknowledge of God given up through the hands of lawless men, suspending, ye slew, Whom God raised up, loosing the pangs of death, inasmuch as it was not possible for him to continue held fast by it…Brethren! it is allowable to say with freedom of speech unto you concerning the patriarch David — that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is among us until this day. Being, then, a prophet, and knowing that with an oath God had sworn unto him of the fruit of his loins to seat on his throne, With foresight spake he concerning the resurrection of the Christ — that neither was he abandoned unto hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. The same Jesus hath God raised up whereof all we are witnesses! By the right hand of God, therefore, having been exalted, also, the promise of the Holy Spirit having received from the Father, He hath poured out this which yourselves do see and hear. For David hath not ascended into the heavens; but he saith himself — Said the Lord unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Assuredly, then, let all the house of Israel know: that both Lord and Christ hath God made him, even the same Jesus whom ye crucified!” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The reference to “wonders and signs” is a verbal link to the prophecy from the Book of Joel. The predicted signs and wonders that would characterize the “last days” had begun already in the ministry of Jesus, even prior to his Death and Resurrection.

The leaders of the Jewish religious establishment were guilty of putting Jesus to death, having conspired to turn him over to the Roman authorities for execution as an enemy of the state. However, God raised him up and seated him at His “right hand” to rule the nations, just as He promised to David (“God had sworn with an oath that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne”).
Jesus, therefore, “received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, that which you see and hear.” Once again, the gift of the Spirit is linked to Joel’s prophecy. 

(Acts 2:37-39) – “And when they heard this, they were pricked to the heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles — What are we to do, brethren? And Peter [said] unto them — Repent ye and let each one of you be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ into the remission of your sins — and ye shall receive the free-gift of the Holy Spirit; For unto you is the promise and unto your children — and unto all them who are afar off: as many soever as the Lord our God shall call unto him.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Many Jews present in Jerusalem were “pricked in the heart and cried out, what shall we do?!” Peter responded by calling for repentance and baptism in the “name of Jesus Christ.” All men and women who did so would “receive the free-gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter identified the gift of the Spirit as the “promise,” one given to Israel and to “all them that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”  Likewise, the prophet Joel promised that, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The immediate result of this sermon was that about three thousand men and women received the word, repented, and were baptized in water in the name of Jesus.

Peter changed the rather ambiguous “afterwards” from Joel to the more specific, “last days.”  Rather than “afterwards,” the prophecy becomes a promise that in the “last days” the Lord would pour out “His Spirit on all flesh.” The Apostle applied this to the receipt of the Spirit by the one hundred and twenty disciples on that day.  In doing this, he connects the outpouring of the Spirit to the arrival of the “last days,” which culminate in the “day of the Lord.”

Peter called that future day the “great and manifest day of the Lord.” The change from “terrible” to “manifest” reflects his use of the Greek Septuagint version of the Book of Joel, which replaces “terrible” with the same Greek noun found on Peter’s lips and translated “manifest” (epiphanes – Strong’s #2016).

The prophet Joel foretold “wonders in the heavens and in the earth before the great and terrible day of Yahweh.” Peter added the term “signs” or sémeion and paired it with “wonders” (teras).  Both terms occur together and often in the Book of Acts, beginning with the final verses of Chapter 2 (“Many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” – 2:43). The point is, the “wonders and signs” predicted by Joel began on the Day of Pentecost and continued through the work of the early church, at least.

Peter Raises Dorcas from the Dead
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The reason for this modification becomes clear in Peter’s sermon.  Jesus was “a man approved of God as demonstrated by wonders (terasand signs (sémeion).” The signs that Joel had predicted began to find their fulfillment even in the miracles wrought by Jesus. These two terms become thematic in the Book of Acts and are linked to the Spirit’s activity. Like the gift of the Spirit, the “signs and wonders” manifested by the Spirit confirmed that the “last days” were underway (e.g., Acts 2:43, 4:30, 5:12, 6:88:13).

The emphasis on visions, dreams and prophecy prepare the reader further for the activities of the Spirit in the Book of Acts; some men and women prophesy, while others receive visions and dreams, just as Joel prophesied (Acts 9:10, 10:3, 10:10, 11:28, 16:9-10, 18:9, 19:6, 21:9).

Peter ended his quotation at the midpoint of the passage from Joel – “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  The original ethnic and geographic limitations are not included (“For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape”). In the “last days,” the time of the Spirit, the promised salvation was no longer was limited to Jerusalem or to the remnant of Israel. Instead, salvation and the promised gift of the Spirit were to extend to all who would respond, near or far, even “unto all them who are afar off.”

This modification reflected the departing command of Jesus to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. The Book of Acts records this process until, at its end, the Apostle Paul is found proclaiming the Gospel to one and all while in Rome, the center of a vast empire:

(Luke 24:46-49) – “Thus, it is written, That the Christ should suffer and arise from among the dead on the third day; And that repentance for remission of sins should be proclaimed upon his name unto all the nations — beginning from Jerusalem. Ye are witnesses of these things. And lo! I am sending forth the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city until ye be clothed from on high with power.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Acts 1:7-8) – “He said unto them—It is not yours to get to know times or seasons which the Father hath put in his own authority; 8 But ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit cometh upon you, and ye shall be my witnesses, both in Jerusalem and [in] all Judaea and Samaria and as far as the uttermost part of the land.” - (The Emphasized Bible).
(Acts 10:44-48) – “While Peter was yet speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were hearing the word. And the faithful of the circumcision who had come with Peter were amazed — in that, upon the nations, also, the free-gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out; For they heard them speaking with tongues and magnifying God. Then answered Peter — Surely then, the water can no man forbid that these should not be immersed — seeing that the Holy Spirit they have received as well as we. And he commanded them in the name of Jesus Christ to be immersed. Then requested they him to abide still some days.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Acts 28:28-31) – “Be it known unto you, therefore, that unto the nations hath been sent forth this salvation of God: they will also hear. And he abode two whole years in his own hired house, and made welcome all who were coming in unto him — proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all freedom of speech, without hindrance.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Thus, in the Book of Acts, the prophecy of Joel is expanded and universalized. Its fulfillment began on the Day of Pentecost with the initial outpouring of the Spirit, and it continues until the “day of the Lord.” It applies to the entire church throughout the interim between the departure of Jesus and his return on that day. The period known at the “last days” is an era during which the Spirit is active and the summons to receive the Gospel goes out to all nations. 

The activity of the Spirit among God’s people that is evidenced by “signs and wonders” is incontrovertible proof that the final phase of history, the “last days,” is underway. Likewise, the influx of believers from all nations means that the Gospel is open during this entire period to all men and women regardless of ethnicity or gender.


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