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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Baptism with the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: In What Sense Was Joel's Prophecy Fulfilled at Pentecost?

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In What Sense Was Joel’s Prophecy Fulfilled at Pentecost?

Baptism with the Holy Spirit – Question 18

On the Day of Pentecost, before the large crowd which had gathered, the Apostle Peter cited a prophecy found in the Book of Joel. He said the following.

No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:16-21 NIV).

Joel’s prophecy reads.

After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will dream dreams; your young men will see revelatory visions. Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days (Joel 2:28, 29 NET).

Joel’s prophecy was cited by Peter on the Day of Pentecost to explain what was taking place. In what sense was it fulfilled? Was it not fulfilled at all? Or if it was fulfilled, was it literally fulfilled, figuratively fulfilled or partially fulfilled? What is the best answer?

Option 1: The Prophecy Was Not Fulfilled at All

Some feel that the prophecy of Joel was not fulfilled at all on the Day of Pentecost. When Peter spoke of “this is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel,” he was referring to the power that Joel spoke of – not the fulfillment of the prophecy. In fact, he was careful not to use the word “fulfill” when he quoted the prophecy. Obviously, the entire prophecy of Joel was not literally fulfilled. Indeed, when we continue reading it we find the following.

I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls. (Joel 2:30-32 NIV).

None of these things literally happened on the Day of Pentecost. Before the literal fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy there are a number of other things that have to happen. For one thing, there is the prediction of a great invasion of Israel from enemies to the North (Joel 2:1-10).

In addition, the Battle of Armageddon must be fought. We read the following words.

The LORD thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? (Joel 2:11 NIV).

This prediction also says that the nation Israel will be regathered and converted. The passage reads as follows.

‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing – grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God. Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ (Joel 2:12-17 NIV).

None of these things have taken place. In the Book of Joel it clearly says that the prophecy that Peter cited on Pentecost will take place after these events are fulfilled. Therefore, in no sense, was the prophecy of Joel fulfilled at Pentecost or even began to be fulfilled at Pentecost. Indeed, it cannot be fulfilled until these other events take place.

Option 2: The Prophecy Was Totally Fulfilled at Pentecost

It is clear that there was not a literal fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy on the Day of Pentecost. However, there is the view that it was completely fulfilled on that day. Indeed, it is argued that it was fulfilled in a figurative but not literal manner.

Those who hold this view do not see a literal fulfillment of all the details of the prophecy. They believe that the symbols in Joel’s prophecy were not meant to be understood in a literal manner but rather to be interpreted figuratively. It symbolized that the Holy Spirit, in all His goodness, came down upon believers. Thus, it is argued, Joel’s prophecy was completely fulfilled in this manner.

Option 3: The Fulfillment of This Prophecy Began at Pentecost

There is another view that sees the fulfillment beginning at Pentecost but not completed. The entire prophecy will be fulfilled during this age and will be culminated at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The idea is that the Holy Spirit will show these signs and wonders. These miraculous events will characterize the New Covenant age. Therefore, during this present age, believers should expect to see visions and dream dreams.

We should note that there are good Christians who hold each of these views.

Summary – Question 18
in What Sense Was Joel’s Prophecy Fulfilled at Pentecost?

Peter cited Joel’s prophecy on the Day of Pentecost to explain the power of the Holy Spirit that was evident to all who were there. The question that is often asked concerns the sense in which Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled on that particular day. This has been explained in a number of ways.

Some believe Joel’s prophecy was not fulfilled at all on Pentecost. For one thing, Peter did not say the prophecy was fulfilled – only that the power of the Spirit was similar. In addition, the Book of Joel says a number of things must happen before this prophecy can be fulfilled. None of them has yet happened. Therefore, it one argues for a literal fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel it is something which remains in the future.

Others take the opposite view. They believe the prophecy of Joel was completely fulfilled on that day. However the details were not literally fulfilled because the prophecy was meant to be understood symbolically. The fulfillment was figurative. It represented the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world. Therefore, while there was no literal fulfillment of the prediction, there was a complete fulfillment.

A third view sees a partial fulfillment at Pentecost that will continue to be fulfilled until Jesus Christ returns to the earth. In other words, the prophecy of Joel began to be fulfilled on Pentecost but will not reach its complete fulfillment until Christ returns from the earth.

Each view is held by Bible-believers.

What Happened on the Day of Pentecost with Respect to the Holy Spirit and Believers? ← Prior Section
Why Did Peter and John Lay Hands on the Samaritans to Have Them Receive the Holy Spirit? Next Section →
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