”’Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, 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.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”’
– Acts 2:14-21, New International Version
On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were filled with the Spirit and spoke in other tongues. The other tongues were languages unknown to them but known to their hearers. The technical word for this is xenolalia. The reaction of the crowd was mixed. Some simply wondered, What does this mean Others openly mocked, saying that the disciples were filled with sweet wine, meaning that they were tipsy or drunk. When Peter arose to speak, his purpose was to explain the meaning of the event that had just taken place. In addition he would refute those who mocked. The result was what is commonly called his first sermon.
Peter addressed his audience as, “Men of Judea (ioudaioi) and all you who live (katoikountes) in Jerusalem,” (Acts 2:14, New American Standard Bible). The men of Judea are Jews. According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon (pp. 305-306), when ioudaioi is attached to a noun, it means Jewish. When this word stands alone, it means simply Jews. All Jews who were present, whether or not they lived in Jerusalem, were included. When Peter says and all you who live in Jerusalem, he uses the same Greek verb, katoikountes, that he used in Acts 2:5. He refers especially to those, whether Jews or proselytes, who live permanently in Jerusalem, but the term may also include temporary residents. In short, Peter was addressing all those who were present on this occasion.
Then, Peter admonished his audience, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. Ideally, every sermon should inform the audience, stir their hearts, and call for action. Luke’s report shows that Peter’s sermon did all these things. Obviously, they were informed. When the people heard him, they (Acts 2:37) were pierced to the heart and asked, Brethren, what shall we do?
As for the mockers, Peter refuted them by declaring these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day. The third hour of the day corresponded to our nine o’clock in the morning. It was an hour for morning worship and sacrifice. It would be highly unusual for anyone to be drinking at this early hour and especially since it was normally used for worship and religious duties.
Views about Pentecost divide over whether the outpouring of the Spirit was a salvation or an empowerment event. As they explain Pentecost, proponents of these views stress different Old Testament passages. Dunn, for example holds that Pentecost was primarily the beginning of New Testament salvation and only secondarily empowerment for witness (p. 47-48). With regard to the Old Testament, he stresses scriptures such as Ezekiel 36:27 and Jeremiah 31:33. A major problem for this view, of course, is that Peter selected Joel 2:28-32, not Ezekiel 36:27, as the basis for his sermon.
According to Lenski, Joel prophesied about 870 B.C. (p. 73). This was long before Ezekiel prophesied. Joel called on the people to repent (Joel 2:12-14). After they repented, they would be restored (Joel 2:25-26). Then, the Spirit would be poured out upon them (Joel 2:28-29). As a result, they would prophesy. Their prophesying, dreams and visions, and various wonders and signs would set the stage for people to call upon the Lord and be saved.
Moreover, both Jesus and Peter stressed empowerment. Jesus said that the disciples would receive power and that they would be witnesses (Acts 1:8). They would confront people with the message of salvation. Peter explains Pentecost in terms of Joel’s prediction. The Spirit would empower people to prophesy.
Peter says, and it shall be in the last days. Here, he varies from Joel who says afterward. As Biederwolf, explains, afterward refers in the Old Testament refers to the last days (p. 251). Clearly, Peter applies the prophecy to the last days. Dunn maintains that the last days do not begin until the Day of Pentecost (p. 47). He does this in support of his view that Pentecost has to do mainly with salvation. Against this view, Menzies holds that the last days began with the miraculous birth of Christ (p. 180). Bruce says that the last days began with the first advent of Christ and will continue until the second advent (p. 68).
Then, Peter says, I will pour forth of my Spirit (ekcheo apo tou pneumatos). Based on the NASB Joel says, “My Spirit” whereas Peter says, “of My Spirit.” Lenski writes, “We take the sense to be the same, for to have the Spirit is to have some of his power and his gifts, no man can assimilate all of them,” (p. 76). The language of the Spirit, in both Testaments, is very flexible. We sometimes make a distinction between receiving the Spirit Himself and receiving a gift of the Spirit. However, the Biblical language does not always make this sharp a distinction. When you receive a gift of the Spirit, you are receiving the Spirit.
Now, Peter stresses the universality of this outpouring. The Spirit will be poured out on all mankind (sarka). Although sarka literally means flesh, this term can refer, as it does here, to people or mankind. It is clear from Luke’s writing that he understood the promise to include Gentile believers. It may be that both Joel and Peter had in mind mainly all who were Jews or proselytes. We do know that Peter’s understanding of the Gentile mission would grow. Nevertheless, even on the Day of Pentecost, it was clear to Peter that the gift of the Spirit was for those who had repented and believed in Christ (Acts 2:38).
At this point Peter amplifies on the point of universality. All categories of people will be included. He declares that both “Your sons and daughters will prophesy,” (Acts 2:18, NIV). There will be no distinction between male and female. In addition the Spirit will be outpoured on young men and old men. Going further, Peter says there will be no distinction in classes of people. God says that the Spirit will be poured out on “my servants, both men and women.” Joel did not include the word “My”. The addition of “My” transforms slaves into servants of God.
The first result of the Spirit’s outpouring will be prophetic utterance. Peter said, your sons and daughters will prophesy. Although Joel does not say so, Peter adds that God’s bondslaves will prophesy (Acts 2:18). This addition shows the importance of prophecy in Peter’s mind.
What does it mean to prophesy? The temptation is to limit the term. Most prophecy consists of a message from God to man spoken through the prophet. However, when you take the whole of Scripture, prophecy can include both speaking a message from God to man and messages from man to God. The latter messages are praises to God. In addition prophecy can include both prediction and delivering a message, applications of old messages and new revelations, and instructive messages and praises that are delivered under Divine inspiration.
As far as explaining Pentecost is concerned, Peter clearly saw speaking in other tongues as a form of prophecy. The disciples spoke in known languages. They were speaking of the mighty deeds of God. Usually, this is taken to be praise, but it was praise that delivered a message as well. Menzies believes that it was above all proclamation (p. 177).
Jesus was concerned that His disciples be empowered to witness. When the Spirit came upon them on the Day of Pentecost, they spoke in other tongues. This speaking in tongues was a powerful witness to the gathered audience. It was a form of prophesy. Thus, we conclude that prophecy can be a form of witnessing.
As Bruce points out, Pentecost may hark back to the wish of Moses (p. 68-69). The Spirit rested upon the 70 elders and they prophesied. My view is that the elders expressed prophetic praise. When Eldad and Medad prophesied, Joshua wanted to restrain them. Then, Moses expressed his wish, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29, NIV). In the last days, this wish would be fulfilled.
Another result of the Spirit’s outpouring is that “your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams,” (Acts 2:17, NIV). Joel says the “old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions,” (Joel 2:28, NIV). According to Horton (Acts, p. 39), the Bible often uses these terms interchangeably and there is no real distinction between them. We need not limit the meaning of dreams and visions. Some of our dreams and visions have to do with the progress of the gospel and its blessedness.
What is the relationship between prophecy and dreams and visions? One may have a dream or a vision without speaking prophetically. And, one may speak prophetically without a dream or a vision. It is possible, however, for prophetic utterance to be based upon dreams and visions. The Spirit grants new insights through visions and dreams.
According to Peter, God will grant wonders (terata) in the sky above and signs (semeia) on the earth below. Joel does not include the words above and below. Nor does he include the word signs. The word teras may mean prodigy, portent, omen, or wonder. Wonders may be miraculous and they often foreshadow a coming event. The word semeion means sign. According to Arndt and Gingrich, (p. 755), a sign can be a miracle or wonder. They can be seen as portents of the last days. Some signs, however, are not wonders.
Although Peter says there will be wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, the distinction seems to be more rhetorical than significant. According to Lenski, “In the parallelism of Hebrew poetry the wonders are not restricted to the heavens, nor the signs to the earth, but in both spheres both shall occur and shall at the same time be very astonishing and very significant,” (p. 77-78).
The wonders and signs of verses 19-20 point to the future. The Old Testament prophets did not distinguish between the first and second comings of Christ nor see the interval between. These wonders and signs will occur before the great and glorious Day of the Lord. With regard to the Day of the Lord, Horton, writes:
“The Day of the Lord in the Old Testament includes both the judgments on the present nations of the world and the restoration of Israel with the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. But Peter is not concerned with these prophecies as such here. He wants his hearers to understand that the Pentecostal power of the Spirit will continue to be poured out throughout this present age. The age of the Church is the age of the Holy Spirit; the gift of the Spirit will still be available even in the midst of coming wars and bloodshed,” (Acts, p. 40).
Among the wonders and signs that will occur are blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. Joel says, “columns of smoke,” (Joel 2:30, NASB). We often see these signs in times of war and calamity, but need not limit them to these situations. In addition the sun will darken and the moon will turn to blood (Joel 2:31). Jesus made a similar statement in Matthew 24:29.
The emphasis of verses 19-20 is on the future, but that had already happened and would happen throughout history are not excluded. Bruce, for example, acknowledges the future fulfillment of these verses but reminds us that the sun darkened (Luke 23:44) when Christ was crucified (p. 69). The darkening of the sky was an immediate token of God’s salvation to all who invoked his name.
In Acts 2:22 Peter refers to the miracles, wonders, and signs that Jesus performed. Citing this passage, Menzies and Menzies write that the miracles of Jesus and his disciples are precursors of those cosmic signs that signal the Day of the Lord (p. 147). For Luke, ‘the last days’–that period inaugurated with Jesus’ birth and leading up to the Day of the Lord–represents an epoch marked by ‘wonders and signs,’ (NIV).
Now, Peter declares, and it shall be that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” (NIV). Throughout the last days, people who call upon the name of the Lord will be redeemed. This passage applies to all who hear the gospel now. It will apply in the future as well. God desires to empower all of His servants to witness worldwide. The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost was for this purpose. Also, God controls the events of time and the nations of the world. His wonders and signs set the stage for people to come to Him. They are a part of God’s strategy to bring men to call upon Him. When they call upon Him, they shall be saved.
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