Bible Question:

I do not really understand Acts 2:19-20. What does it mean?

Bible Answer:

As we come to the passage in Acts 2 we want to remember that Jesus Christ had already left this earth and returned to heaven (Acts 1:8). Some days after Jesus had left, we are told that the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost and indwelt the apostles in a very unusual way.

When the day of Pentecost had come . . . suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting . . . And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (NASB) Acts 2:1-4

This event had been predicted by Jesus on several occasions (Luke 24:49; John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Acts 1:7-8). When the Holy Spirit did come, the result was that the apostles spoke in “tongues” or known languages (Acts 2:4). The Greek word for “tongues” in verse 4 is GLOSSA and it refers to human languages. Acts 2:5-12 tells us that people from different countries and cultures were present and heard the apostles speak in his or her own language. It appears that the apostles spoke as a group, but yet each person heard them in their own languages. All of these people were amazed that they could simultaneously hear the apostles speaking in their own language. It was a miracle.

Peter’s Sermon. But some individuals attempted to explain the event by accusing the apostles of being drunk. It is obvious that the accusation did not explain how they could hear their own language being spoken at the same time, but Peter used the opportunity to tell them about Jesus Christ. So Peter quoted the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32 and added a few words. Here are Peter’s words as recorded in Acts 2:15-21.

For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: “AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,” God says, “THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS; EVEN ON MY BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT and they shall prophesy.

AND I WILL GRANT WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE AND SIGNS ON THE EARTH BELOW, BLOOD, AND FIRE, AND VAPOR OF SMOKE. THE SUN WILL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME. AND IT SHALL BE THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED. (NASB) Acts 2:15-21

Last Days. Since Acts 2:15-21 is a quote of Joel 2:28-32, it is important to understand that the Joel passage describes some of the events that will occur before the second coming of the Messiah (Joel 2:31). Peter calls the period of time which starts before the Messiah’s second coming (Jesus’ Second Coming) the “last days.” The phrase “last days” was also used to refer to the time when Jesus was here on earth.

. . . in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (NASB) Heb. 1:2

For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you . . . (NASB) 1 Pet. 1:20

The last days also include the end times – the tribulation and the earthly kingdom (Is. 2:2; Hos. 3:5). From a biblical perspective, we are in the last part of world history or the “final days of the world” (Heb. 9:26; 1 John 2:18).

Dreams and Visions. The prophecy in Joel predicted that people would have dreams and visions and the Holy Spirit would be poured out during these last days. Some individuals believe that this means that dreams and visions should be occurring in our life time. But it is important to remember that dreams and visions have already been occurring since the book of Genesis (Gen. 37:1-8; Gen. 46:2). A previous question and answer discusses dreams and visions in the Bible. You might want to read it before preceding further. Dreams and visions are not new. They also occurred during the times of the apostles.

Rest of The Prophecy. The prophecy also predicted that the sun would be darkened, the moon would turn red, and wonders would appear in the sky before the great and glorious day of the Lord. This statement refers to the events that will come immediately after the great tribulation referred to by Daniel the prophet (Dan. 7; Matt. 24:15, 21, 29) and before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus made the same statement during His ministry. Here is a portion of Jesus’ comment,

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. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. (NASB) Matt. 24:29-30

These events have not yet occurred. These are future events according to Joel 2:28-3:18. Joel’s prophecy covers a long period of time starting at the time of Jesus Christ. It includes the tribulation and the Second Coming of Jesus (Joel 2:31-3:2, 9-16), and concludes at the end of the kingdom (Joel 3:17-18). Joel’s prophecy covers the time from Jesus through the kingdom.

The Message. What is the point of Peter’s message? Peter wanted to tell them that they should not be surprised that the Holy Spirit had been poured out in such a spectacular way. Even the prophet Joel had predicted an unusual outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days. The Holy Spirit has been active among us since Genesis (Gen. 6:3). The ministry of the Holy Spirit continues today, but not like that experienced by the apostles. Today, very few young men, if any, see spiritual visions and every few old men, if any, have dreamed spiritual dreams of the type that Joel predicted. Today the Holy Spirit now lives inside each believer and empowers one to live a godly life and perform spiritual ministry (Gal. 5:16-23; Eph. 3:16; 5:17-25). But when the kingdom comes, Joel’s prophecy will be completely fulfilled. Here is a great summary quote from Dr. J. Vernon McGee,

If we could only see that all Simon Peter is saying in his introduction is, “Now look, this is not strange or contrary. The day is coming when this will be fulfilled. And today we are seeing something similar to it.”

Conclusion:

Acts 2:19-20 is a quote of Joel’s prophecy which stretches from the time of Jesus into the kingdom. Yet, the primary emphasis of Joel is on the future tribulation and future kingdom, and not the time of the apostles or the New Testament era. The ministry of the Holy Spirit started in a new way at Pentecost as a partial fulfillment, but we have not seen anything yet. Wait for the kingdom!