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Peter’s Definition of “The Last Days” December 2, 2011

Posted by arkwork in Cessationism.
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There is one single Scripture that tells us very literally the time when God would pour out His Holy Spirit, and the time when signs and wonders will all culminate.

I am referring to that glorious and historic day of Pentecost when Peter preached his classic sermon recorded in Acts 2:17-21. Early that morning in Jerusalem, 120 Spirit-filled believers came pouring out of the upper room and into the street—apparently drunk. Peter proclaimed: “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel” (from Joel 2:28-32):

17. “And it shall be in the last days,” God says, “that I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;

18. “Even upon My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy.

19. “And I will grant wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.

20. “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.

21. “And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 1

Acts 2

We Evangelicals believe that we are living in the last days! But do we know when the last days started, and when they will end? Peter told us precisely when in his Pentecost sermon.

THE FIRST DAY OF THE LAST DAYS

Peter said: on the first day they would receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of spiritual gifts such as the visions and prophesy that Joel announced so eloquently.

That first day, Peter said, was the day of Pentecost! As the Amplified Bible says, that was “[the beginning of] what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Then, in verse 19 and 20 Peter told us when the last day of the last days would be. That last day, Peter said, will be the day of the Second Coming of Christ. Otherwise, why didn’t Peter just quote verses 17 and 182 and stop? To reiterate . . .

Peter said that the first day of “the last days” started on the day of Pentecost, and the last day of “the last days” will take place on the day of the Second Advent of Christ. And on every day between the first and last day of “the last days,” anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. And—lest we forget—prophetic messages, visions, and dreams could potentially be poured out by God’s Spirit during this whole 2,000-year period!

Again, Peter said: “The gifts of the Holy Spirit (outlined in 1 Corinthians 12) are to be poured out in the last days, and the last days started on the day of Pentecost, and will end on the day of the Second Coming. The Bible clearly says that the fulfillment of this prophecy of Joel’s started, even as Peter was speaking it, on the day of Pentecost. Peter based his whole argument on that premise.3

We need to understand that Peter wasn’t just preaching to those present on that day 2,000 years ago, but to us as well—according to Acts 2:38-39. He was an anointed oracle of God, a prophet, speaking the fulfillment and the revelation of a prophecy made by Joel 835 years earlier.

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39).

THE APPARENT CONTRADICTION

Two things bothered me for a while. First, the crowd of foreigners watching this exuberant scene wondered if the upper room occupants were drunk (Acts 2:15). It struck me as a curious contrast with many sober-side pulpits of today that the first Christian sermon should begin with a stout denial by Peter that he and his 120 friends were drunk. But, since their intoxicating experience is scriptural, I got over being bothered.

Second, it bothered me that there is an apparent contradiction in this passage. Using the King James Version this time . . . Peter said, “This is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel.” When Peter used the word “this” he obviously was referring to (and pointing at?) the 120 that were speaking in languages unknown to them (verse 6). However, the crowd of foreigners from several nations that gathered around (to see what the commotion was all about) heard the 120 speaking in their native language.

So, the “this” was the “other” tongues, and the “that” was Joel’s prophecy (1 Cor. 13:1). Yet, Joel’s prophecy does not mention tongues. And, worse yet, the 120 were not manifesting the prophecy, visions, or dreams that are listed in Joel’s prophecy. Is this inconsistent or a contradiction?

Consider all the unlikely things happening here. Even though Isaiah 28:11-12 may be the exception . . . this was the first time in history that tongues were mentioned or manifested, yet Peter seemed to suddenly understand what was happening.

How could that be?

I believe the key phrase is in verse 17, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” By divine revelation the Holy Spirit caused Peter to understand what Jesus had said (in John 16:7 and Acts 1:6-8): . . . the comforter will . . . come unto you . . . I will send him to you . . . on the day of Pentecost . . .

HOW COULD PETER HAVE KNOWN?

We can all agree that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter, and by divine revelation he suddenly knew—this is that—spoken of by the Prophet Joel. Perhaps Peter experienced the word of knowledge4 here (1 Cor. 12:8; Acts 2, verses 17 and 18 happened that morning—figuratively speaking). Then verses 19 and 20 (which sound like Matthew 24:29, 30) 5 tell of an event sometime in our future; but verse 21 (see Romans 10:13) is for ALL of the church age. Therefore, in context, Peter is saying that all of this passage is for the whole church age—the last days—from that day to this.

IT IS TIME TO RESTORE THIS TEACHING

Brethren, we are in the same “last days” that Peter was in. He saw them start, and our generation will (as taught by most Evangelicals) see the “last days” end. Isn’t that exciting? Therefore, if we believe Peter, we can and should expect to see Christians prophesying, and having prophetic dreams and visions today! As further proof, Jesus commanded the apostles to:

Go . . . and make disciples of all the nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . “

Matthew 28:19, 20

Here is what Jesus said to us in this verse: In every generation the whole church is to do everything that Jesus commanded the apostles to do.

There is no biblical reason to exclude prophecy, prophetic dreams, or visions (or any other spiritual gift) from the “everything I have commanded you” in the Great Commission any more than we would exclude witnessing or prayer.

And, if that were not enough, Paul tells the whole church that . . .

9. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.

Philippians 4

Part of that “whatever” is found in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14.

Since Paul was writing to the parishioners at Philippi—common Christians like you and me—it cannot be argued that only apostles could practice the Pauline precedent.

Now is the time to restore this teaching and expect these experiences, because God has never changed!

3. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard,

4. God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

Hebrews 2:3,4

It is vital in this hour that God would give us a heart for signs and wonders. Hebrews 2:3-4 says God testifies to our great salvation by signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. He gives us these signs to create a hunger in our hearts for Him. We need to go on with God, and He often uses the supernatural to rekindle our spiritual passion.6

IT’S JUST SCRIPTURAL

Some people will get nervous when Peter talks to us about prophecy and visions. It sounds so Pentecostal . . . so Charismatic. Yet, these doctrinal groups also practice water baptism by submersion, and the Lord’s Supper the same way Southern Baptists do. That does not make them Baptists. But it does make them solidly scriptural.

That is how we are to look at prophecy and visions. They are scriptural. And they are as much for us today as water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29 NKJV).

The question is not IF the spiritual gifts are Scriptural and revocable, but SINCE they are Scriptural and irrevocable, how are they to be defined and practiced today?

Perhaps they are now diminished and less frequent than their first century counterpart. Perhaps they are not. The Bible is silent on this issue. But, whether diminished or not, they are still valid for today.

That is a separate issue that needs to be studied by Evangelicals. However, we won’t pursue it here.

Baptists do not have to adopt the traditions or theology of the Pentecostals and Charismatics, and vice-versa. One tradition is as good, bad, or indifferent as any other. This being true, Baptists [Evangelicals] are free to allow the Holy Spirit to manifest His gifts in them —according to their own Baptist [Evangelical] style and traditions.

The bottom line is: All Christians are compelled to be (1) faithful to the Word of God, (2) obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and (3) acceptant of these gifts experientially, even as the Holy Spirit chooses to manifest Himself through us.

 ____________________________________________

Footnotes: Peter’s Definition of the Last Days

1. Verses 19 and 20 in Acts 2 reads a lot like verses 29 and 30 in Matthew 24.

29. But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken,

30. and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear.

2. It can be argued that Peter reluctantly quoted verses 19 and 20 only because he was trying to get to verse 21. Here we are in the middle of one of the most important days in church history. The Holy Spirit has 120 people simultaneously preaching in a language they don’t know. And Peter is telling us all about something he had no way of knowing anything about. Obviously, the Holy Spirit was using him as an oracle to proclaim a great new revelation to the church. Due to the importance of this momentous day in history and the unprecedented anointing on Peter and the 120, it seems ridiculous that anything that happened that morning was fumbled or bumbled or done in the flesh. Therefore, I believe that there is nothing misleading or erroneous in this passage of the inerrant Word of God. Surely everything Peter said that morning was a completely clear and straightforward oracle of God.

3. The following confirmation was copied from Parousia . . . The Sign Ministries Newsletter, Spring 1998, by Charles Cooper. P.O. Box 113, West Olive, MI 49460. Article: Dispensational Foundations, Acts, Joel, and Revelation, Part 2 of 2, 3, and 4.

Peter’s quotation of Joel 2:28-32 evidences several changes from its Old Testament counterpart, the most important being the phrase “in the last days.” The original phrase “after these things” is very broad and offers no clue as to when the event would occur from Joel’s perspective. However, with the alternative phrase “in the last days” the timing became crystal clear. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit marked the entrance into a period called “the last days” (the church age), the period proceeding the day of the Lord. The gift of the Spirit is thus a token that the last days foretold by the prophets have arrived. This period is characterized by prophetic utterances (2:17).

Unlike the previous generations, both male and female, the young and old, slave and free will reveal God’s will. Secondly, heavenly wonders and earthly signs will mark the beginning of the eschatological Day of the Lord (2:19-20); and thirdly, salvation is available to anyone requesting it (2:21).

The book of Acts does contain prophecies, visions, and miraculous signs. However, there are no cosmic disturbance on a magnitude prophesied by Joel listed in Acts. Therefore, the Pentecost experience is a beginning of the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32, but it certainly is not the total fulfillment.

A second significant change by Peter of Joel’s passage is the phrase “and they shall prophesy” at the end of verse 18. Peter’s insertion of this sentence in Joel’s prophecy at the beginning of verse 19 underscores the fact that as prophetic activity marked the beginning of “the last days,” the end of “the last days” will be characterized by prophetic activity as well. God’s servants shall announce the coming Day of the Lord. The time period between these two events is called “the last days,” “the church age,” and “the dispensation of mystery.”

4. It can be argued that while the Spirit is certainly inspiring the sermon, it may be one of the things He brings to mind that Jesus taught. Some say a “word of knowledge” usually does not refer directly to a Scripture. But, since opinions are a dime a dozen, here is my nickel’s worth. When God speaks knowledge to us in word form . . . how are we to restrict, define, or dictate His source? When the Holy Spirit tells a Christian a “word of knowledge,” the message usually addresses (reveals, defines) a problem that the ministering Christian had no way of knowing about. In like manner, a “word of wisdom” usually gives God’s answer to the problem. And the problem and answer most probably are both addressed in Scripture. That is both an academic and an experiential answer.

5. See note 1.

6. Water and rain can be symbolic of the Holy Spirit, but only if the context supports this symbolism. In John 7:37-39, the context supports the symbolism, but in James 5:7,8 and Joel 2:23 some believe that the rains may simply be an analogy, but Billy Graham used it symbolically (see Billy Graham quote above).





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