Peter is about to address the people who had witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit. Some of those gathered there tried to explain the miraculous translation of languages as drunkenness on the part of the 120. But God is about to set them straight in very familiar terms — Peter will open his remarks with a quote from the prophet Joel.
We need to put aside reading this passage as if the people described in it are like us in 21st Century America — ethnically diverse, religiously diverse and not devout about much of anything. If I picked a magazine from a news stand at random, flipped it open, and quoted a paragraph to you, how much impact would it have on you? On the other hand, if I knew that you were passionate about big motorcycles, picked up a copy of RoadRunner magazine, opened it to an article on new products for your particular motorcycle, and quoted a paragraph to you, you’d really sit up and take notice. That’s the intensity of what is about to happen in the next verses in Acts. It’s not like it happened in Times Square in New York City on any given day. It’s more like it happened in Mecca during Ramadan!
Any devout follower of Jehova would have been familiar with Joel’s prophecy, and now would be a good time for you, noble Berean, to do the same. Set this blog aside, pick up your Bible, and read the entire book. It’s only three chapters and will take no more than a few minutes. Please do it now before reading further in this blog post. I’ll wait for you — really!
Welcome back! Let’s make a brief outline of what you just read.
- Joel 1:1-4 describes a plague of four kinds of locusts
- Joel 1:5-12 describes the devastation caused by the locusts
- Joel 1:13-14 pleads with the people of Israel to lament and call upon God for relief
- Joel 1:15-20 reminds the people of Israel that God has judged them in the same way in the past, and has relented when they returned to Him
- Joel 2:1-11 expands on the theme of the “Day of the Lord” mentioned in 1:15; it draws parallels to the plague of locusts, depicting human armies that are as numerous as locusts attacking Jerusalem
- Joel 2:12-17 is a parallel plea for lamentation and repentance in relation to the “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord” that is the theme of Chapter 2
- Joel 2:18-32 describes what will happen when the Lord delivers them from the terrors of the Day of the Lord and blesses them as they never have been before; included in this passage is the promise that God will pour out His Spirit on them in that day in vv28-29
- Joel 2:30-3:21 describes how God will judge the heathen nations but will be a refuge to Israel in the Day of the Lord, avenging the injustices inflicted on Israel by her enemies and establishing Jerusalem and Judah as a habitation of His people forever
Joel’s message begins with the present danger of a plague of real locusts, and ends with long-future events that will follow the same pattern, only with humans instead of insects. In both cases, the plea is for Israel to repent and return to God, who will receive them with forgiveness, joy, restoration, vengeance upon her enemies, great blessing above all other nations, and a promise of an eternal earthly kingdom centered at Jerusalem. This is characteristic of God’s prophetic program throughout the Scriptures — it concerns Israel and an earthly kingdom. In contrast, as gentiles who live in the Age of Grace, a time that was a mystery hidden in God until the Ascended Christ revealed it to Paul, our hope is a heavenly kingdom where we are eternally seated at the right hand of the Father in Christ. We often describe this as the “clock of prophecy” having been temporarily stopped by God’s hand during our day, the Age of Grace. But for the events of the second chapter of Acts, the clock is still ticking away and prophecy is being fulfilled — as it was during the entire earthly ministry of Jesus.
As a consequence, the people of Acts 2 would have known Joel’s prophecies intimately but would have known nothing about the intervening 2,000 years and more before they would be completely fulfilled.
While your reading of Joel is still fresh in your mind, I’d like you to re-read a passage we’ve studied before — Luke 21:7-36. Please read it now before reading further in this blog post. I’ll wait right here for you again.
Welcome back again! Remember that Jesus was preparing His disciples for the days that lay ahead and for His triumphant return in power and glory. Does any of it sound familiar? Yes! Joel said exactly the same terrible events would happen, as did the Apostle John in the book of Revelation. In Joel 2:10 he describes earthquakes, the sun and moon being darkened, the heavens trembling and the stars losing their brightness. In 2:30-31 Joel says there will be “wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood.” Luke records Jesus words in 21:11 saying, “…and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines, and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” In Luke 21:22 we read that “these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” Again in Luke 21:25-27 we read, “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and glory.”
Let’s get the order of events correct here. Joel prophesied these things hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Jesus said these things to prepare His disciples before He was crucified. After His resurrection, Jesus reinforced his training with the disciples for forty days, not teaching them anything that would negate or supercede their previous training. His training had been so successful that just before He ascended, they asked Him if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel, as they knew it had been prophesied. Paul (and the mystery hidden in God) had not come on the scene yet, and Peter had no knowledge of the things that the Ascended Christ would reveal to Paul.
And now this devout crowd of Hebrews and proselytes from many lands and languages, gathered in Jerusalem for one of Israel’s three annual highest holy days, who knew the prophecies and promises of an earthly kingdom through their study and knowledge of the Prophets, and who were under the heavy hand of Roman oppression, had just experienced hearing the 120 speaking to them in their native languages – all of which God had so carefully engineered – these people are about to hear Peter’s explanation of this miracle…