But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
And it shall come to pass 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 shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
As the 120 disciples of Jesus were assembled on Pentecost in an upper room in Jerusalem, three very unusual things happened. There was the sound as of a mighty rushing wind that filled the house where the disciples were assembled. Cloven tongues as of fire appeared over each of them. And then they all began to speak in foreign languages concerning the things of God.
There was a twofold reaction from the crowds that gathered to witness these things. Some doubted, asking, “What meaneth this?” Others, mocking, said, “These men are full of new wine.”
This reaction became the occasion for Peter to address the crowd to explain that they were witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy. The prophet Joel had spoken of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all flesh in the last days. This would result in dreams, visions, and prophecy in every tier of society. According to Peter the unusual things that had just taken place were all signs of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And the disciples’ speaking in many different languages of the things of God was the Spirit’s gift of prophecy of which Joel spoke.
All those who have faith in Jesus Christ possess the poured-out Spirit of Pentecost.
And with the gift of the Spirit comes the gift of prophecy.
This is a gift that we must all embrace and use.
“I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.”
This was the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Joel.
To pour out means to bestow abundantly. Think of the entire contents of a bowl being poured out, in contrast to a little of the contents of the bowl being sprinkled around. Joel spoke of the day when the Lord would pour out His Spirit and the church would possess the Spirit of God in much richer measure.
Notice that Joel wrote, “I will pour out my Spirit.” Peter quoted Joel by saying, “I will pour out of (literally “away from”) my Spirit.” Often the New Testament writers did not quote the Old Testament prophets exactly, but by inspiration added their own interpretation to it, as Peter did here.
Let’s understand Peter’s inspired interpretation of the prophet Joel. It is through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, that God bestows the blessings of salvation upon His people. It is the Holy Spirit who resides personally in every child of God. And it is through the indwelling Spirit that the elect of God enjoy the blessings of regeneration, faith, justification, sanctification, and assurance. And so we may say that all the blessings of salvation are (away) from the Spirit. Joel spoke of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter by inspiration emphasized the fullness of salvation that would come through the outpouring of the Spirit.
According to Joel, there would come a time that there would be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. To extend this figure, Israel experienced only a trickle of the Holy Spirit and His blessings. But one day there would be an outpouring of the riches of salvation.
And this outpouring of the Spirit and His blessing would be “on all flesh.” The meaning is not that the outpouring of spiritual blessing would come upon every individual of the human race. The meaning is rather that this outpouring of blessing would come on every tribe, tongue, and nation. This was not the case in the Old Testament. The blessings of salvation were bestowed in the Old Testament also by the Holy Spirit, but it was only upon one nation, and this nation was Israel. However, there would come a day when the Holy Spirit would not only be poured out, but be poured out on all flesh.
Joel was a prophet of God in Judah almost 200 years prior to the Babylonian captivity. It was a time of growing apostasy. Joel spoke of a plague of locusts that would lay the land waste as God’s judgment on Judah’s apostasy. This army of locusts was merely the forerunner of the armies of men that would take Judah captive and destroy the land. This was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity. But Joel also spoke of the restoration of Judah to their land in the way of repentance. This was fulfilled in the return from captivity.
Joel continued to describe what would come to pass afterwards.
After the return from captivity the Lord would pour out His Spirit on all flesh.
According to Peter (who spoke by inspiration), Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost.
Why at this time and not before? Why not earlier? Because God had finally provided atonement for sin.
On account of her sins, the church deserves only to perish under the severe wrath of God with the rest of the world. The only way that she can enjoy the blessings of salvation from the Spirit is for her sins to be atoned through proper payment.
In the Old Testament era this atonement had not been made. It was only symbolized and promised in the multitude of offerings Israel was required to make at God’s altar. On the strength of that promise, Israel possessed God’s salvation from the Spirit, but only in small measure. The Holy Spirit and His blessings were sprinkled on the church. And it was Israel alone that enjoyed these blessings.
However, that all changed with the coming and work of Jesus Christ. God sent His Son into the world in our flesh to atone for sin at the cross. His death was an atoning death because through it He endured the full punishment of God for sin. This atonement was not just for one small nation (Israel), but for all flesh—the elect of God that would be found in all the world. And so now the Holy Spirit and His blessing are poured out in rich abundance and are poured out upon all flesh. This began at Pentecost, 50 days after the atonement was made.
In harmony with this, Peter also spoke of the “last days.” Here Peter did not quote Joel but interpreted him. Joel had spoken of “afterwards”—after the return from captivity. Peter by inspiration interpreted this and identified this “afterwards” as the last days. This is in harmony with the rest of Scripture, which identifies the era after Pentecost as the last hour of history. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross has secured the salvation of the church. The next great event of history will be the return of Christ to bring the elect of God to their final glory in a new creation. We are now in the last days.
In these last days the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all flesh.
All those who receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit shall prophesy.
The prophet Joel spoke of different kinds of people— sons and daughters, old men and young men, even servants and handmaids.
They shall see visions, dream dreams, and prophesy.
Visions and dreams were means whereby God revealed Himself. Visions differ from dreams in that the one who receives them is either awake, in the one case, or asleep, in the other. Those who received revelatory dreams and visions also prophesied. They proclaimed what God had revealed to them.
According to the prophet Joel, all those who receive the outpouring of the Spirit shall receive the revelation of God and prophesy. In the Old Testament, only a few were given revelation to prophesy. But through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter days, this gift shall be given to all who believe—young men and old, sons and daughter, even the servants.
How must we understand this?
The dreams and visions were temporary and have been replaced with the completed Scriptures. Pentecostalism teaches that revelatory dreams and visions still occur to this day along with prophecy. God is still revealing new things to the church. Interestingly, they claim this gift of the Spirit is given only to some, not to all who believe. Contrary to this we must understand that revelatory dreams and visions were only for short while after Pentecost. These were necessary until the revelation of God was complete and infallibly recorded by divine inspiration in the Bible. With the writing of the book of Revelation by John, the revelation of God to the church is complete. God has no new thing to say this side of glory. And with the completion of God’s revelation, all revelatory dreams and vision have ceased. In turn, we have much more in the Scriptures than the early church had with visions and dreams. And by the indwelling Spirit every believer is able to understand the revelation of God in Scripture.
And so the prophet Joel also spoke of prophecy.
To prophesy is to proclaim the revealed word of God.
This is done officially by ministers of the gospel, who serve as pastors in the local church and on the mission fields of the world.
But this prophecy is also the gift of God to all believers as they by the indwelling Spirit proclaim the word of God to others—parents to their children, fellow believers to one another in the fellowship of the saints, and saints to those outside the household of faith.
This is the fruit of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit of Pentecost every believer understands the revelation of God as the church never did before. That word so boils over in him that he cannot help but speak it.
Let us live in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we know the Scriptures and are faithful to proclaim them as a church and individually.
The Holy Spirit will use our prophecy to accomplish His purpose, as He did through Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. Some will be hardened. But others will be pricked in their hearts and believe.
And this will hasten the day of the Lord when He shall come to give us all things!