Question: “Could I have an interpretation of Acts 2:17-18?” The text reads, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
This important passage of Scripture has been frequently abused with interpretations that twist and distort the meaning of the text, and, in this way, obscure its glorious truth.
Revivalists who claim that revivals are a major part of the work of the Spirit in the church, and who now, in these days of apostasy and worldliness, look for a special outpouring of the Spirit, bringing revival as the cure for the church’s ills, appeal to this text and interpret what happened on Pentecost as the first New Testament revival. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pentecostals and those who are a part of the Charismatic movement appeal to this text as proof that their view of the work of the Holy Spirit is correct. They are as far as the revivalists from the truth.
It is sad that such dreadfully wrong interpretations of the text have obscured what is a crucial work of the Holy Spirit in the new dispensation. In fact, in the deepest sense of the word, Pentecost is the beginning of the new dispensation, and this text is the proof of it.
Let us take a close look at this Word of God. It must be remembered, first of all, that Peter is explaining what had happened to the one hundred and twenty gathered together on the first day of the week. Peter is explaining this event as the fulfilment of prophecy. The prophecy is found in Joel 2:28-29. Joel was not predicting revivals; nor was he predicting the rise of the charismatic movement—a heresy in its current form that appeared only in the twentieth century. He was speaking of the work of Christ who came in the fullness of time for the salvation of His church.
Peter himself makes that clear as he briefly reviews the work of Christ (Acts 2:22-28). The outpouring of the Spirit was the climax of Christ’s work. Christ suffered at the hands of wicked men and was nailed to the cross by the Jews in consort with Pilate and Herod—although this was the realization of the counsel of God, according to which He had ordained that His Son should die on the cross as the full accomplishment of the salvation of the elect (23).
When Christ ascended into heaven (33), He was given the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit Christ gave to the church on Pentecost. Christ, from His place of exaltation at the Father’s right hand, gives His Spirit to the church so that, through the Spirit, all the blessings Christ merited for the church would become our possession.
This work of Christ is the fulfilment of the promise He made to the church before He went to the cross. Already Christ had promised this when He was in the temple and when He, in a solemn and startling way, pointed to Himself as the water of life. John, under the infallible guidance of the same Spirit, explained these waters of life as referring to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, an event that would take place only when Christ ascended into heaven: “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).
The Lord also told His disciples of this great gift that He would give in that stirring address after the last supper. It is found in John 14-16 and contains no less than five references to the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is called “the Spirit of truth” and “the Comforter” (14:16-20, 26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11, 13-14). We can find no mention of revivals and their special outpourings of the Spirit, nor of signs and wonders given to the church in some second blessing. In our Lord’s appearance to the disciples on the day of His resurrection, “he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (20:22). In this way, the Lord assured them that He would indeed send His Spirit to them, and by the Spirit be with them always even unto the end of the world.
That revivalism and Pentecostalism are not referred to in the text is evident from the fact, first of all, that Joel spoke of the “last days” when this would happen. Revivalism and Pentecostalism are post-Reformation errors. From Pentecost to rather recent times, no such special outpouring of the Spirit took place—except for some heretical offshoots of the church caught up in mystical frenzy. Both errors are phenomena of the last two or three centuries, and are not events that take place in the “last days.” (Prof. Hanko deals more fully with revivalism and Pentecostalism in chapters 27, 28 and 33 of his recent hardback book, Contending for the Faith, available from the CPRC Bookstore for £16.50 [including P&P]).
By the last days, the prophets referred to the days of Christ’s coming; a period of time extending from Christ’s coming into our flesh through birth from the Virgin Mary, through Christ’s coming at Pentecost, all the way to His coming again at the end of the world (see John 14:1-3 and the texts mentioned above in John 14-16). These are the latter days, and they are so called because they are the days of the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, prophecies that without exception, spoke of Christ’s coming to save His church and bring God’s judgments upon the wicked. After the last days, we enter the eternal state of glory.
Second, Peter speaks of “all flesh” as the recipients of the Spirit whom Christ sends. He does not speak of a few in Wales or in New England who receive the Spirit. Nor does He speak of a special elite who are the recipients of a “second blessing.” He speaks of all flesh. By this term, neither Peter nor Joel meant every man head for head; it refers to the fact that in the old dispensation salvation was limited to the Jews or to proselytes who became Jews through the rite of circumcision. But in the new dispensation, Christ gives His Spirit to His elect people for whom He died in every nation and among every tribe and tongue. This is a magnificent promise, for it is the promise of the gathering a truly catholic church—not a Roman catholic church, but a universal church.
In the next News, we shall consider the profound difference brought about by Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit on that day: the difference between the old dispensation and the new dispensation.
- Volume: 13
- Issue: 10
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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