This is undoubtedly one of the most contested sections of Scripture. It would probably take a lifetime of examination toward becoming an expert in cataloguing and identifying the myriad of interpretations given in all the commentaries and sermons ever written in an attempt to explain Peter’s given explanation for what is happening on the Day of Pentecost. The problem can be summed up in the fact that there is near universal agreement that only part of what Peter provided has literally come true, while the rest is yet to be fulfilled. On the surface, it appears that Peter’s explanation is incomplete or involving a biblical mystery obscuring our understanding. However, the best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture. If we can set aside our assumptions and predispositions, and accept Peter’s explanation in the same, consistent way in which all of God’s Word operates, we just might be able to arrive at a solution to this issue.
Q: What has taken place that has caused observers to ask, “What does this mean?”
A: This the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit has been poured out to initiate the birth of the Church.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
— Acts 2:1-4
Point: Whereas God had previously chosen to work exclusively through Israel, this is what many identify as the first day of the “Church Age” when God, for an appointed time will work through the Church composed of both Jew and Gentile believers in Christ. In the Last Days, the “Church Age” comes to an end with the Church’s Rapture and God will once again return to using Israel in order to fulfill all the promises He made concerning them which have been temporarily interrupted.
Q: But if this is the “Church Age”, why does the birth of the Church begin with signs and a sermon which seem to be exclusively directed to Jews?
A: It is the same reason why Jesus’ ministry was primarily to the Jews in that they were first called by God to be set apart exclusively for Him.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
— Romans 1:16
Q: When asked the meaning of the Holy Spirit being poured out on what we might now call the “birthday of the Church”, what Old Testament Scripture is Peter inspired by the Holy Spirit to recite as an explanation?
A: Joel 2:28-32.
Q: How might this prophecy of Joel be divided into two main messages or themes?
A: In v.17-18 the main message concerns the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Last Days; in v.19-21 the main message concerns the outpouring of the day of the Lord in the Last Days.
Q: Why do you suppose that so many theologians are divided in their interpretation of Peter’s quotation of the Prophet Joel to explain the meaning of what is taking place?
A: Because although the first message of Joel promising the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has taken place, the events associated with the day of the Lord did not occur either on that particular day, nor have been fulfilled to this day.
Q: Why would Peter seemingly quote Scripture as the answer to what was taking place when it does not appear to have ever actually taken place?
A: We have to face the very difficult answer that Peter IS providing the whole answer and that if there is a lack of understanding, it is on our part.
Q: What would probably be the most important part of Peter’s quotation of Joel as far as those present on that day of Pentecost were concerned?
A: “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. (v.21)
Application: Peter’s explanation of what is taking place at Pentecost begins with the fulfillment of God’s promise through Joel of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which has literally taken place, but ends with the promise of the day of the Lord, which has not yet occurred.
Read Hebrews 1:1-2
Q: Even though the writer of Hebrews authored this nearly 2,000 years ago, how did he describe the time he was living in when the Holy Spirit inspired this epistle?
A: “…in these last days…” (v.2)
Point: God does not view time in the same way we do. From His point of view, we are already living in the “last days”. Peter reminded us of this when he said, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.” (2 Pe. 3:8)
Q: How might this relate to Peter’s explanation of the meaning of Pentecost?
A: Peter’s explanation, by way of quoting Joel, begins with the caveat, “And it shall be in the last days”. (v.17)
Application: Peter’s explanation was not limited to just that single, literal day when the Holy Spirit was outpoured, but extends over the whole of the “last days” as God views them.
In order to fully understand why Peter would quote an Old Testament reference which has partially come true and partially remained unfulfilled, we need to better understand how the New Testament handles the Old Testament.
Read Matthew 2:13-15
Q: Whom does Matthew quote as having prophesied of this very thing to take place concerning the Messiah?
A: Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1.
Q: But in the original context, to whom did Hosea’s words first and foremost apply?
A: They were originally given specific to the nation Israel.
Point: The Holy Spirit reveals through Matthew that God’s prophetic Word, which originally applied to literal Israel in its given historical context, also has an additional, future fulfillment to be applied to the Messiah as well.
Application: The New Testament specifically quotes what applies to an event fulfilled in the New Testament.
Read Luke 4:16-21
Q: Whom does Jesus quote as having prophesied of this very thing to take place by the Messiah?
A: Isaiah 61:1-2.
Q: What does He do which corroborates the way that Matthew used and quoted the Old Testament?
A: Jesus quotes from the Old Testament exactly what is being fulfilled here in the New Testament.
Q: But what might be different about Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah?
A: Although footnotes in most Bibles say He is quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, if we compare His quote with the original text in Isaiah, we find that Jesus did not quote all of Isaiah 61:2, but stopped in mid-sentence.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
— Isaiah 61:1-2
Q: Why did Jesus stop mid-sentence and not quote the rest of Isaiah 61:2?
A: Jesus only quoted what qualified by saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. (Lk. 4:21) This last part, “And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn” in Is. 61:2 was not, at that time, being fulfilled.
Point: That which Jesus quoted was fulfilled at His first coming; that which He stopped short of quoting was not to be fulfilled until His second coming.
Application: The New Testament quotes the Old Testament so far as what has been fulfilled at Christ’s first coming, anticipating that which remains as yet to be fulfilled at His second coming.
Q: How does the New Testament handle the Old Testament?
A: The New Testament quotes what has specifically been fulfilled in the course of Christ’s first coming, allowing for as yet unfulfilled Scripture to take place in the course of Christ’s second coming.
Q: How would this then apply to Peter’s quotation of Joel as to the meaning of what took place on the Day of Pentecost?
A: It means that Peter is quoting something that is being literally fulfilled in its entirety.
Q: But then how do we account for the fact that the first part of Joel’s prophecy concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has already literally taken place, but the second part concerning the day of the Lord has not?
A: It ties into the fact that, as the writer of Hebrews informs us, we are already living “in these last days”. (Heb. 3:2) We have to see this in the same way God views it, as a fulfillment of Scripture.
Application: Peter’s answer provides not just an explanation of when the “Church Age” begins—with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but when it ends with the onset of the day of the Lord. We are not just in the Last Days in general, but specifically in that period which will end with the events directly associated with Christ’s second coming.
Read Isaiah 13:9-11
Q: How is this description of the day of the Lord similar to that given through Joel?
A: In the heavenly signs such as “the sun will be dark and the moon will not shed its light”. (v.10)
Q: What is further explained here as to the purpose and character of the day of the Lord?
A: It’s purpose is to “punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity”. (v.17) This is further revealed in the list of those who will experience the consequences of this day:
“…He will exterminate its sinners from it.” (v.9)
“…put an end to the arrogance of the proud…” (v.11)
“…abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.” (v.11)
Application: The purpose of the day of the Lord is for the punishment of sin.
Read Zephaniah 1:14-15
Q: How does this description of the day of the Lord affirm what we have learned from Joel and Isaiah?
A: It is not only “a day of darkness and gloom” (v.15) as portrayed in Joel, but specified as “a day of wrath is that day” (v.15) as provided in Isaiah.
Application: The day of the Lord is best understood as “a day of wrath”.
Q: Why might this be particularly important where Believers in Christ are concerned?
A: Scripture repeatedly assures us that although everyone undergoes judgment, Believers never experience God’s wrath. That is the greater doctrinal purpose of the Rapture of the Church, to ensure that the Body of Christ does not experience God’s wrath.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
— Romans 5:9
For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
— 1 Thessalonians 5:9
Read Matthew 24:29-31
Q: What event does Jesus Himself say will take place as a prelude to His second coming?
A: Jesus describes the day of the Lord and the main associated signs with it as provided in many other Scriptures.
Application: The day of the Lord is a prelude to Christ’s second coming.
Read 2 Peter 3:10-13
Q: What additional characteristic about the day of the Lord is provided by Peter?
A: It “will come like a thief”. (v.10)
Q: Why might this sound familiar to us? What else is expressed as coming “like a thief”?
A: It is repeatedly used in association with the return of Christ. (Mt. 24:43-44; Lk. 12:39-40; Rev. 3:3; Rev. 16:15) It is also used by Paul to describe the arrival of the day of the Lord. (1 Th. 5:2-6)
Q: How does Peter turn what will be the worst event for the world into something positive for Believers?
A: Peter reminds us that we are not living in this world, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth”. (v.13) True followers of Christ live IN the world but not OF the world.
Application: The timing of the day of the Lord is expressed in the same manner as Christ’s return.
Read Revelation 6:12-17
Q: What appears to be taking place with the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation?
A: The exact, same events Scripture elsewhere describe as belonging to the day of the Lord finally take place.
Point: What is probably a majority, mainstream teaching within the Church today is that the final seven year period most commonly called the “Tribulation” and “the day of the Lord” are the exact, same thing. Can you see from Scripture that they are not? What begins with God’s judgments on everyone as a result of the seals escalates into the expression of God’s wrath—“the day of the Lord”, which finally comes as a prelude to His divine wrath unleashed through the trumpets and bowls in Revelation.
Application: The day of the Lord and the Tribulation are not the same thing; the day of the Lord finally comes in the course of the Tribulation.
Read Revelation 7:9-17
Q: What is being described as taking place in the shadow of the initiation of the day of the Lord?
A: The Rapture of the Church.
Q: So what would the overall sequence of End Times events look like?
A: Everyone enters into the Tribulation and experiences the judgments which result from the opening of the seals. These judgments are the same kind of judgments God employed in the Old Testament using earthly things in a final attempt to warn people they need to return to Him. Then the day of the Lord is initiated in concert with the onset of the judgments of the trumpets and bowls which differ from the seals in that they come through divine agency, the expression not just of judgment, but God’s divine wrath of final judgment. Notice how God no longer uses earthly things but how they are invoked by angelic means on His behalf. Between the seals (judgment) and the onset of the trumpets and bowls (wrath), the “great multitude” is removed and therefore exempted from God’s wrath.
Q: Is there any other parallel scriptural example which may help confirm this interpretation?
A: Just as we have three sets of judgments in Revelation followed by final judgment, so in the course of freeing Israel from Egypt there were three sets of judgments followed by a kind of final judgment in the Passover. Everyone experienced the first set of judgments, but before the second set began, God exempted His people so that they alone did not experience what came afterward.
“For if you do not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and on your servants and on your people and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians will be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they dwell. But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of flies will be there, in order that you may know that I, the Lord, am in the midst of the land. I will put a division between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign will occur.”’”
— Exodus 8:21-23
Application: The “Church Age” ends with “the day of the Lord”, which occurs with the advent of the sixth seal in the Tribulation.
Because some incorrectly assume that the day of the Lord and the Tribulation are the same thing, but correctly know from Scripture that the Church will not experience God’s wrath so closely associated with the day of the Lord, they do not believe they will enter into the Tribulation nor experience any part of it. How should we actually prepare?