Today will be sermon number eight in a series I began last October 28 on the Book of Acts.  In the last sermon in this series we concluded an in-depth investigation into the tongues issue.  In the last several sermons we reviewed all the tongues speaking events recorded in the Book of Acts and then spent some time discussing Apostle Paul’s treatment of tongues as a gift of the Spirit as recorded in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 through 14.  Lastly, we compared tongues as practiced in the NT church with tongues as practiced by modern day Christians and arrived at some conclusions regarding these matters.

       Today we will return to the Book of Acts by returning to chapter 2:15-21. We previously discussed this passage in relation to the tongues event. However, there is more to discuss in this passage than only its connection to the tongues issue.  What Peter said here is often read over without real reflection on what he is saying and more importantly what is meant by what he is saying.  As I have indicated, we are going to navigate our way slowly through the book of Acts and carefully deal with what is presented, including what at times may appear as hard to understand narrative.  We may not always arrive at an answer but we will consider different perspectives. Today we will begin with what some feel is a difficult passage.

       You will remember that when the tongues speakers began to speak in the native languages of those visiting or living in Jerusalem at the time of the feast of Pentecost, the reaction was varied.  Some reacted in bewilderment and amazement and others accused the tongues speakers of being drunk.  Here is how Peter responded to the charge that the tongues speakers were drunk.

       Acts 2:15-21: These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 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.'

       Peter explains that the men speaking in tongues were not drunk. He goes on to explain that what they were witnessing was what was spoken by the prophet Joel. Peter then proceeds to quote Joel who is seen as quoting God.  “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.”  Peter goes on to quote God and in so doing describes what the effects of God pouring out His Spirit on all peoples will have on all peoples.  People will prophecy, see visions and dream dreams. 

       Then the God spoken message Peter is reciting becomes apocalyptic in nature and speaks of wonders in the heaven and signs on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness, the moon to blood.  All this will precede the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 

       So in responding to accusations that the tongues speakers were drunk, Peter provides a panoramic view of what the effects of the Holy Spirit being poured out will be and concludes with an outline of apparent eschatological events that are going to occur.  Eschatology is a theological term that means the study of last things or end time events.

       Peter began his response by telling his audience that what they were witnessing was what the prophet Joel said would happen in the “last days.” What last days is Peter talking about?  Let’s take a look at what Joel wrote.

       Joel 2:28-32: And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 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’s narrative begins with a Hebrew word that means “afterward.”  In the Septuagint rendering of this Hebrew word a Greek word is used that means “After these things.”  So Joel appears to be speaking of events that will occur after something else has occurred.  After what events is Joel referring too?

       In reading through Joel to the point of verse 28, Joel appears to be speaking about God’s judgements against a sinning Judah and their subsequent restoration. We know that Judah was allowed to return to Judea some 70 years after the Babylonian captivity.  Beginning in 2:28, Joel appears to be referring to events subsequent to the restoration of Judah.

       Peter, however, picks up on this and sees what Joel writes as being fulfilled in association with the tongues speaking event that occurred on Pentecost.   Peter paraphrases Joel in using the phrase “last days” rather than a phrase that means “afterwards” or “after these things.”  For Peter, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is seen within the context of it being the “last days,” a period of time that also would see the occurrence of a number of apocalyptic events all leading to the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord just as Joel prophesied.

       Peter is not alone in seeing first century events as occurring in what is perceived as the “last days.”  The writer to the Hebrews says the same thing.

       Hebrews 1:1-2: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…

       Here it is rather obvious that the “last days” referred to were first century days or at least days being inaugurated in the first century.  We know it was in the first century God spoke through His Son.

        In James chapter five, Apostle James is seen as speaking to his contemporaries and telling them they have hoarded wealth in the last days.  In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he speaks of the last days being troubling times. The context wherein is found these statements of James and Paul shows they are talking about conditions extant at the time they made these statements.

       So what are we to make of these “last days” statements which appear to be dealing with events and conditions extant in the first century?  Peter sees the tongues event bearing witness to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in what he calls the “last days.”  He appears to include a number of eschatological events in this “last days” scenario terminating with the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  Is Peter looking down the corridor of time thousands of years into the future to a coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord or is he seeing this happening in his own generation?   

       There are two basic schools of thought as to what is meant by “last days” when spoken of in the NT narrative and in particular what it was that Peter was referring too. One school of thought is that Peter and others were referring to a specific last day’s time frame where the Old Covenant system would come to an end with the destruction of the temple by the anticipated soon to occur Roman invasion of Judea.  As you know, this invasion brought about the destruction of the temple and much of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70.

       Under this scenario, The Day of the Lord Peter speaks of is seen as one of many Day’s of the Lord that have occurred throughout Scriptural history where God intervenes in the affairs of men to bring about Judgement.

       We see the “Day of the Lord” referenced many times in the Old Testament and by context it can be seen to refer to God’s judgement upon sinning Israel and other nations.  I earlier referred to the prophet Joel and how he prophesied against Judah.  In prophesying against Judah he refers to coming judgement as “The Day of the Lord.”

       Joel 2:1-3: Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand--a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste-- nothing escapes them.

       In both Isaiah and Ezekiel we see prophecies of impending judgement which are seen as “The day of the Lord.”  In the Old Testament, we often see God using various nations as His vehicle to bring judgement upon other nations.  God used Assyria to bring judgement upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  God used Babylon to bring judgement upon the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  God is seen as using other nations to bring judgement upon Babylon and Egypt. In Isaiah we see a prophecy against Babylon which is seen as a Day of the Lord.

      Isaiah 13: 1: An oracle concerning Babylon that Isaiah son of Amoz saw:  Verse 6:  Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.  Verse 9: See, the day of the LORD is coming --a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger-- to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.

       In a prophecy against Israel, we see reference to the Day of the Lord in association with a day of battle.

       Ezekiel 13:1-5: The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: `Hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, O Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD.

       As can be seen, there have been a number of events recorded in Scripture   as The Day of the Lord.  Is Peter’s reference to the “last days” and the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord a reference to a specific Day of the Lord that was soon to occur in a specific “last days” time frame that Peter was living in? 

       If this is the case, the destruction of the temple and much of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 could be seen as the event in view.  Some see the AD 70 event as God’s Judgement upon first century Israel for their many sins including their rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah. There are many New Testament Scriptures that hint at this. Here is one that is found in Luke 19:41-44:

       Luke 19:41-44: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."

       Here Jesus is seen as weeping over Jerusalem. Jesus knew what was shortly going to happen to this city and its inhabitants.  Jesus was aware of the turmoil brewing and plans being made to proactively try to oust the Romans from the land.  Jesus got very emotional over this. Jesus had been preaching a message of peace, but it was being ignored and war was being chosen instead. Jesus goes on to show how the people of Jerusalem would suffer greatly because they failed to recognize God’s coming to them.  At another point in His ministry Jesus said this:

       Luke 13:34-35: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.

       Jesus’ statement about “your house is left to you desolate” is commonly seen as a reference to the destruction of the temple which was considered their house. In the Luke 19 passage, Jesus said they would not leave one stone on another. When the Romans destroyed the temple, they literally did not leave one stone left upon another. History shows that where the temple stood the land became a farm field.

       As a note of interest associated with what Jesus said would happen, historical records show that when the Romans entered Jerusalem in the spring of A.D. 70, they breached the first and second walls of the city and mass executions of escapees began with up to 500 crucifixions per day taking place outside the city walls.  As the siege continued, famine set in and hundreds of thousands died of starvation, pestilence and disease. Cannibalism was reported throughout the city.  To avoid further attempts at escape, the Romans built an earthen wall around the city, thus hemming in the residents just as Jesus had prophesied.

       I could cite virtually dozens of additional Scriptural passages that give support to the “last days” and coming “of the great and glorious day of the Lord” as referring to the time of the Roman destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem just as God had done in Old Testament times.

       This all being said, there is another perspective as to what Peter was referring too. The other perspective, and probably the most common perspective as to what Peter meant by “last days,” and the coming of the Day of the Lord is that Peter is seeing the “last days” as being inaugurated in the first century and extending out into the future until the end of this world as we know it.  Under this perspective, Peter’s Day of the Lord is seen as occurring in association with the return of Christ yet in our future when the nations will be judged and Christ will establish His kingdom here on earth.  Under this perspective, Peter’s “last days” are elasticized into thousands of years and counting.

       Determining what position appears to be most feasible would involve an extensive investigation into both Old and New Testament eschatology.  Since this would take us far from our journey through the book of Acts, we will have to leave such investigation for another time.  Be that as it may, I didn’t want to just fluff over Peter’s comments about the “last days” and the Day of the Lord and so I leave you to think about the two perspectives I presented and determine for yourself which one is more viable. 

       Before leaving Acts 2:15-21 behind, I do want to say a few words about apocalyptic language.  In the passage under consideration, Peter, in quoting Joel, speaks of blood and fire and billows of smoke and the sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  This is the same kind of language used in the Olivet Discourse where Jesus speaks of events that will occur before his return.

       Matthew 24:29: “Immediately" after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light.  The stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will by shaken”

       Are these signs to be taken literally or is this typical apocalyptic language that is so commonly used by the prophets?  How did the Old Testament prophets use such phraseology?  Let’s take a look!  In Isaiah 13:9-10, is a prophecy about the destruction against Babylon. Here is what Isaiah writes:

      Isaiah 13:9-10: See, the day of the Lord is coming, a cruel day with fierce anger, to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.  

       In prophesying against Egypt, Ezekiel makes the following statements,

        Ezekiel 32:7-8: When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars. I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you. I will bring darkness over your land, declares the Sovereign Lord.

       In a prophecy against Edom, Isaiah says the following:

       Isaiah 34:4:  “all the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll.  All the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine”

       Did the entire starry host actually fall?  Was the sky actually rolled up like a scroll, of course not? Just one single star falling to the earth would obliterate the earth. What we have looked at here is just a sample of the dozens of these types of apocalyptic utterances found throughout the Scriptures.  As I have explained before, apocalyptic language is rhetorical exaggeration to make a point.  It is no different from us saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”  Obviously it doesn’t rain cats and dogs. This is just an expression to emphasize that it is raining hard.      

       So when Peter quotes Joel and speaks of the fire and billows of smoke and the sun turning to darkness and the moon to blood, he is not speaking of these things literally happening and neither is Jesus in the Olivet Discourse.

       Let’s now carry on in Acts by continuing with Peter’s response to those who accused the tongues speakers of being drunk.  After His quoting of Joel, Peter goes on to explain to the gathering at Jerusalem how God empowered Jesus to perform miracles, signs and wonders among the people and that despite all this they put Jesus to death. 

       Acts 2:23:  This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

      Some may look at this passage and conclude that since it was the set purpose of God to have Jesus go to the cross, those men who facilitated the death of Jesus were just doing the will of God and could not have done any different.  There is no doubt that God the Father’s set purpose was that His Son die for the sins of the world.  This being the case, God had foreknowledge of this event.  Does this mean that the Jews and Gentiles responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus had no choice but to do what they did?   

       Throughout Scripture it can be seen that God holds humans accountable for their behavior.  Being held accountable for our behavior presupposes we have choice as to how we behave.  In the case of the crucifixion of Jesus, God foresaw the choices that would be made by the religious leaders who persuaded the Roman authorities to crucify Jesus.  God allowed those choices to bring about the death of His Son, thus fulfilling His set purpose.  It could not have happened any other way because God saw in advance how it was going to happen and in that sense the outcome was predetermined. 

       The actions of those who crucified Jesus were actions of choice. God knows all the dynamics of how we think and what generates such thinking. When necessary, God can create circumstances that will result in very predictable behavior.  The following Jesus had gained and the miracles He performed were seen by the religious leaders as a threat to the authority they held over the people.  Human nature being what it is, they plotted His death to protect their positions of authority from being compromised. We can see the extent of their concerns after Jesus had brought Lazarus back to life.

       John 11:47-48: Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.  "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."   Verse 53: So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

       God simply allowed circumstances to play out and accomplish His will that His Son Christ Jesus die. This, however, didn’t remove accountability on the part of those who instigated the death of Jesus

       Getting back to Peter’s response to the Jerusalem audience, he goes on to tell how God raised Jesus from the dead because it was impossible for death to have a hold on Jesus.  Peter then quotes Psalm 16 where David speaks of not being abandoned to the grave. Yet, as Peter points out, David was abandoned to the grave witnessed by the fact his unopened tomb was present and visible in Jerusalem.  Peter goes on to say David had not ascended into the heavens. Therefore, Peter concludes David was prophesying not his resurrection but the resurrection of Jesus.

       Acts 2:29-32: "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.

       Peter says “we are all witnesses of the fact.”  The “fact’ Peter is saying “we are all witnesses of,” is the resurrection of Jesus.  The “we” who are witnesses of this fact are no doubt a reference to the tongues speakers which probably included the twelve Apostles and possibly others who had seen the risen Christ. While the Scriptures do not reveal anyone seeing Jesus leave the tomb, the Scriptures do reveal that a rather large number of people saw Jesus alive after knowing He had been dead. 

       Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. He appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus followed by an appearance to the eleven Apostles. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus appeared to over 500 of the brothers at one time.  By saying “brothers,” the indication is that these 500 were followers of Jesus and would have been familiar with the fact Jesus was dead but now new for a fact Jesus was alive. 

       After tying the resurrection of Jesus to a prophecy of such resurrection made by David and telling his audience that he and a number of others have seen the dead Jesus again alive, Peter proceeds to tie the tongues speaking event to the resurrection of Jesus as well and explains that what they had just witnessed was the giving of the promised Holy Spirit which the resurrected Christ has received from the Father.  In so doing Peter tells his audience that not only has Jesus been resurrected, He has ascended to the Father and sits at the Father’s right hand, having become both Lord and Christ.

       Acts 2:33: Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

       Acts 2:36: Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

       This was a very powerful message. Peter is proclaiming that the man Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had rejected as an imposter and crucified, was now their Lord and Christ.  Being their Lord meant they were now subject to the one they had crucified.  Being their Christ was to say that this man they thought was an imposter, a false Christ, was/is the real thing. Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah to Israel. 

       By Peter telling his audience Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God He was to telling them Jesus had been glorified and given great power and authority. The very Father God who these Jews worshiped is now seen as exalting the very one they had crucified.

       Having witnessed the tongues event and hearing Peter explain that the resurrection of Jesus had been prophesied by King David and that Jesus was seen alive after being dead by various of His disciples made quite the impression on many in the Jerusalem audience Peter was addressing. Next week we will see how they responded and what that meant for the development of the Church.