The New Testament frequently realizes prophetic fulfillments in various manners of Old Testament prophetic passages. Some have stated that there is in excess of six hundred allusions and quotations in the New Testament from the Old Testament. Others have alluded to the book of Revelation having that many all by itself. Prophecy is obviously a significant component of the New Testament. Therefore, it is important for one seeking a correct reading of the New Testament to understand this issue so he or she will accurately assimilate the message that God is communicating. Without an appropriate understanding of this issue proper reception of God’s Word is jammed and the student will receive error. Just as earthly warfare has combatants attempting to jam each other’s communications so as to gain an advantage, the Biblical text has an enemy that is seeking to cast doubt on God’s Word. Satan has been trying to cast doubt on what God has Spoken since the Garden of Eden. He will use any means possible including poor hermeneutics, grammar and theology.
It is important for the student of the Bible to realize that prophecies and other components of Old Testament Scripture can be quoted without actually being fulfilled. Those of us who apply the literal method of Bible elucidation believe that the writers of the New Testament used real references to Old Testament passages for at least four different reasons. The literal method seems to work best if anyone is going to understand the Bible. Without reading it literally as anyone would any other piece of literature there is only a remote chance that the correct God given message would be communicated. The non-literal method is essentially a jamming of the communication, which results in error, and therefore God’s Word does is not accurately received by His intended audience. As Paul Lee Tan categorizes:[i]
- Recognition of actual fulfillment
- Choice of illustrative material
- Delineation of typical situation
- Appropriation of common concepts
He also cites that there are at least four kinds of prophetic fulfillment.
- Complete fulfillment
- Partial Fulfillment
- Double reference
- Repeat foreshadowing
It is to this last category of prophetic fulfillment that we now turn in order to gain a proper communication of the apostle Peter’s statements in the second chapter of the book of Acts. We recall the excitement that Peter has as he is partaking in the birth of the Church and realizing that it is tied to the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32.
The events of that day must have been miraculous to say the least. The Holy Spirit came first upon the apostles during the feast of Pentecost. He felt like a mighty wind and filled the house where they were sitting. He appeared as cloven tongues similar to fire and sat upon each one of the apostles. Immediately they began speaking with other tongues (languages) as the Spirit gave them utterance.As the texts of the events are recorded in Acts two they include the devout Jews living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven who also begin to hear them speak in their own languages. This Spirit enablement caused the Jews from the other countries to wonder how it is that they can hear the Galileans who would normally speak Galilean. The text goes on to state who all the countries and people groups present were, and the amazement that they experienced. Mockers thought the apostles were drunk. Peter stands up and with the rest of the apostles and begins to speak. He addresses his message to the men of Judea and all that dwell in Jerusalem.
First he rebukes the mockers by saying that they are not drunk being that it is too early in the morning for them to have become inebriated. Then he says that “this is that” which was spoken of through the prophet Joel.
Now Joel was a Jew writing to Jews about last day’s events with direct application to “the last days.” His passage Joel 2:28-32 reads:
28And it shall come to pass afterward, that 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: 29And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. 30And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. 31The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. 32And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call (KJV).
This passage speaks to the absolute end times. We can tell this from the context. Wonders in heaven and in the earth such as blood, fire and pillars of smoke are clearly end times signs. Joel goes on to say that the sun will be blacked out and the moon will turn blood red before the “great and terrible day of the Lord.” Clearly this passage references the pouring out of God’s Spirit at the end of the Tribulation on “all flesh.” Some would say that the blackout is a reference to the darkness that accompanied Christ’s death on the cross. As dark as that was it does not completely explain the passage. For example at Christ’s death the moon did not turn to blood nor is this the “great and terrible day of the Lord.”
How then do we understand Peter correctly so we can receive God’s message properly and offer those to whom we teach and pass on His Word to a correct unjammed communication. The battle continues and we must be aware of the subtleties of the evil one as he tries to corrupt our communication.
Peter could not have been discussing the end times although with the miraculous experience he was having he might have thought that the end was near. Looking back from where we are here in the twenty-first century we are certainly closer to the end than Peter was then.
One very important factor in biblical understanding is the concept of time. God co-created time along with matter and space and discussed it in Genesis 1:1. Prior to the creation there was no time. Just because we utilize “time related’ words such as eternity to discuss the realm where God lives there really is no time in His domain. In II Timothy 1:9, the apostle Paul makes a statement that God’s grace “was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” A study of the Greek phrase “pro chronon aionion,” translated “before the beginning of time,” shows the independent existence of God’s grace in Christ outside of our time domain. It is crucial to be aware of the chronology of events on earth during the period prior to the creation and after the Millennium when the “eternal” order is established.
All things move forward in time since the creation and time will cease after the thousand-year reign of Christ. Therefore it is important to examine biblical events in the chronological framework of time moving forward in succession. The Joel prophecy of the last days or end times and Peters reference to it must therefore must be examined as Tan categorizes a “repeat foreshadowing.”
Joel a Jew saw the absolute end of all things and gave a prophecy of one aspect right at the end for the Jews. Peter saw a repeat of that prophecy but foreshadowing it with the birth of the Church and the launching of the New Covenant that Christ inaugurated at the Last Supper. Christ predicted the birth of the Church and He said He would send His Spirit. But the coming of the Spirit in this instance of Acts two was not the Day of the Lord Joel spoke about. It was the launching of the New Covenant of which Christ spoke and Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-33
31Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people (KJV).
It is quite clear that this prophecy is made with Israel and Judah. In the long chronology of the earth and man’s time here God gave the Jews a message and He gave the Church blessings from those messages to the Jews. This is one of those situations. The Church is not the Nation Israel or Judah. But we will realize some benefit from the New Covenant. We are as it were riding on the coattails of this covenant in terms of blessings. That the actual covenant has not been fulfilled yet is obvious do to the context where Jeremiah speaks about Israel and Judah and them turning to God as a nation. That has not happened at this point in time so that one could notice. It will only happen as the prophet Daniel said in his twelfth chapter “after the breaking of the power (will) of the holy people. They will not have their insubordination toward God broken until the end of the Tribulation. This is one of the purposes of the Tribulation; to break the will of the Jews and have them turn to God finally in belief.
So if we look at the Joel prophecy in light of God’s timing in the great chronology of all time we see that the different dispensations of God have different administrations of His grace and plans. This is not to say that a dispensation is an era of time. That is not true. It is just fundamentally important to realize that all human history is moving through the time domain along a chronological linear line. The Church age receives benefit of the Jews covenants including the New Covenant. But the Church does not replace the Nation Israel and usurp her covenants. The Church just receives the benefit of them. Any Bible student should always keep in mind that God always keeps His promises. He will do what He said He would do. What Charles Spurgeon expounded in one of his sermons may shed light on the subject under discussion.
GOD’S promises are not exhausted when they are fulfilled, for when once performed, they stand just as good as they did before, and we may await a second accomplishment of them. Man’s promises even at the best, are like a cistern, which holds but a temporary supply…
What Peter is experiencing is the amazing time of the day of Pentecost, which foreshadows the spirituality and blessing of the Millennial Kingdom. Christians are spiritual citizens now of the future kingdom. This is not to imply that the long awaited Kingdom has arrived. It is yet future to us and will not be realized “on earth as it is now in heaven” until Christ returns. In principle yes we are spiritual citizens of the kingdom. We have the ticket to get in and know that we will be there when Christ initiates it here on earth.
However, the reference to the Joel prophecy by Peter is what E.H Trenchard calls an “analogy of principle.”[ii] He goes on further to caution that this does not annul the OT prophecy; it is simply a special application of it. So clearly this is not a direct fulfillment of the Joel prophecy and we should consider Peter’s statements referencing the Joel passage as “like” what the prophet Joel spoke of and not a complete fulfillment of that prophecy.
The similarities that Peter saw were communicated to learned Jewish men who knew the Old Testament. Since we don’t see any rebuking of Peter by them for an inappropriate application of Joel it is apparent that Peter is speaking of the portion of the Joel passage with the launching of the Spirit on anyone who would believe. Peter might have quoted the entire passage of Joel so that the learned Jews would not accuse Peter of improper use of Scripture. Joel prophesied that the outpouring of the Spirit would happen just before the kingdom age. Peter uses this prophecy as an illustration and application of the foreshadowing of the Joel prophesied event. He never said that the entire Joel prophecy was being fulfilled at the birth of the Church on Pentecost.
Tan makes an appropriate comment regarding this when he says that:
Moreover, it ushered in the “end age” (I John 2:18) where the benefits of the millennial age would become more evident and might be anticipatively enjoyed by its future participants. Thus, although the millennial kingdom had not yet come, Christians are even now spiritual citizens of the kingdom.
We have the Spirit as the earnest deposit for future redemption. (Ephesians 1:14) We have the blessings that God promised to Israel. They are not getting them now due to unbelief. They will in the future when their will is broken and they cry out to God to stop the Tribulation that they must suffer through. For now God is making them jealous by giving the Gentiles access to the Church. It is open to them too but as a nation Israel is unwilling to enter into the Church any meaningful numbers.
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon a special group of people. The cross and resurrection opened up a whole new dispensation which would culminate in universal spiritual blessing. The Spirit has not yet been poured out upon “all men” as Joel prophesied. This is for Israel and will happen in the future.
For now we can understand that Peter speaking to learned men quoting the Joel passage as being in principle foreshadowing in a way similar to the complete fulfillment yet future to Pentecost.
Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.