Acts 1, A Misunderstood Text
In Acts 1, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” It is often assumed that the disciples were asking about the national restoration of Israel. It is likewise claimed that Acts 1 shows that the kingdom was not near, because Jesus told the disciples “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons.
Acts 1 is, interestingly, a text that commentators struggle with when it comes to eschatology. The respective eschatological paradigms have a tendency to view the disciples’ question regarding the establishment of the kingdom in one of two ways:
1.) The millennialists insist that since the disciples asked about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, that they retained their nationalistic hopes, but, Jesus’ answer supposedly informed them that the promise of the kingdom had now been postponed. In a four night formal debate in Memphis, Tenn. (May 1-4, 2007), my opponent, Michael Bugg, insisted that Acts 1 proves the disciples were still expecting the restoration of national Israel, but that Jesus informed them it had been postponed.
2.) The amillennial and postmillennial commentators have a tendency to state that the disciples were in fact still deluded with the nationalistic hope of the kingdom, and that Jesus chided them for this, instead telling them to go into Jerusalem. Amillennialists Gareth Reese, New Testament History, Acts, (Joplin, College Press, 1983)1+ is representative of most amillennialists in claiming that the disciples were still mistaken about the nature of the kingdom. One writer goes so far as to say that the disciples were still, “contaminated with the earthly kingdom virus!” (Burton Coffman, (Austin, Tx., Firm Foundation Publishing, 1976)18+).
While this article could become quite lengthy, I will confine myself to making a very few salient, but powerful points.
1.) Regardless of their concepts of the kingdom in Acts 1, the context proves that Jesus was very powerfully telling them that the establishment of the kingdom had not been postponed, and that the time for its initiation was near.
2.) That since the initiation of the kingdom was near, this demands that the parousia of verses 9-11 would occur in that generation as well.
Acts 1, the Spirit and the Old Covenant Background
When one examines the OT prophecies of the outpouring of the Spirit, there are several things that are easily established:
1.) It would be a “Last Days” phenomenon (Joel 2:28f).
2.) It would be for the purpose of raising Israel from the dead, i.e. The restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 37:12f).
3.) It would be poured out during the time of the giving of the New Covenant, the establishment of Messiah on the throne of David, the establishment of the New Covenant Tabernacle (Ezekiel 37)..
3.) It would be a sign of the Great And Terrible Day of the Lord (Joel 2:28f).
4.) The result of the Spirit’s work would be the inclusion of the Gentiles into the blessings of the restored Israel (Joel 2:31).
Acts 1, The Kingdom and Joel 2-3
Many commentators take note of the fact that Jesus, in direct response to the disciples’ question about the kingdom, said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NKJ). He had also just told them to go to Jerusalem and await that outpouring: “And being assembled with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me, for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5). Were Jesus’ words intended to chastise the disciples for their misunderstanding, or to tell them that the kingdom had in fact been postponed? Neither! Jesus’ words, when properly understood, were powerful indicators that the kingdom was about to be initiated!
Let me state this as succinctly as possible, the outpouring of the Spirit was a Last Days sign of the full establishment of the kingdom at the Day of the Lord. Thus, in Matthew 3, John’s promise that the Messiah would baptize with the Spirit was another way of saying “the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.” Furthermore, and this is important, the promise of Acts 1 is the same promise of Matthew 3. There is no doubt that it is. Therefore, since John made the promise of the Spirit well before any imagined “postponement” of the kingdom, this verifies that the promise of the Spirit in Acts 1 was indeed linked with the inauguration of the eschaton and the impending establishment of the kingdom.
In other words, the kingdom was near in Matthew 3, and the promise of the Spirit found there was part of the promise and indication that the kingdom was near. But, in Acts 1, when Jesus told the disciples to go into Jerusalem to await the Spirit, they remembered John’s promise that the Messiah would baptize with the Spirit! Thus, Acts 1, with the re-affirmation of the imminent out-pouring of the Spirit, is a powerful affirmation that the kingdom message of John was now even nearer than before!
There are few millennialists, if any, that deny that the promise of Joel 2:28f was a promise of the outpouring of the Spirit to establish the kingdom. There is scant necessity to document this, as it is well known by anyone that has studied the millennial literature. That being the case, notice the following:
1.) In Acts 1, Jesus was promising the disciples the Spirit.
2.) The promise of the Spirit in Acts 1 is the promise of the Spirit from Matthew 3.
3.) The promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 is given in the context of the promise: “the kingdom of heaven as drawn near.” There is no hint of a postponed kingdom in Matthew 3.
4.) Acts 2 is the fulfillment of the promise of the Spirit from Acts 1.
5.) Since the promise of the Spirit in Acts 2 is the fulfillment of the promise of Acts 1, it is therefore the fulfillment of the promise of Matthew 3.
6.) The promise of the Spirit in Joel 2:28f was the promise of the Spirit for the last days establishment of the kingdom.
7.) The promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 and the promise of the Spirit in Joel 2 are both the promise of the Spirit for the establishment of the kingdom- that the disciples asked about in Acts 1. Since Acts 2 is the fulfillment of Matthew 3, it is therefore, irrefutably true that Acts 2 was the fulfillment of Joel 2! Of course this is precisely what Peter affirmed.
Acts 1: The Holy Spirit and “This Is That Which Was Spoken!”
On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit– promised in Acts 1 and in Joel, was miraculously poured out, manifested in the speaking in tongues on the part of the disciples (Acts 2:1-5). Now, unless one is willing to completely divorce the events of Acts 2 from Jesus’ promise in Acts 1, then patently, Acts 2 must be seen also as the fulfillment of John’s promise in Matthew 3, as seen just above. But of course, that is not all.
In response to the spectacular and stunning display of the Spirit, the apostles were accused of being drunk. Peter’s response dispelled that charge:
“17 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: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: 19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: 21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
In virtually all circles, it is acknowledged that Joel 2 foretold the establishment of the Davidic kingdom. The out pouring of the Spirit was to be a sign of that great event. Of course our millennial friends, due to their belief that the kingdom offer had been withdrawn and the kingdom postponed, insist that the events of Pentecost are unrelated to the prophecy of Joel. Fruchtenbaum says, “Virtually nothing that happened on Pentecost was predicted in Joel.”( “How the New Testament Uses the Old Testament”, Three page article sent to me by Thomas Ice). Dwight Pentecost, says that the events of Pentecost were not the fulfillment of Joel, but simply prove that Joel will one day be fulfilled. (Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, )470). In a radio debate with Thomas Ice, I cited a work Prophecy Watch, that he co-authored with Timothy Demy. ( Prophecy Watch, Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, (Eugene, Or., 1998)137). In that book, it says that Joel “partially fulfilled at the day of Pentecost.” When I gave that citation, Ice vehemently denied believing that Joel was, in any way, fulfilled on Pentecost. When I documented, in follow-up private correspondence, that I had not misrepresented the quote, Ice admitted that I had cited the book correctly, but that he did not believe what was in the book that he had co-authored.
In subsequent writings and radio programs, I have noted that while dispensationalists do not use the specific words “this is not that” for Peter’s quotation, their position on the text is that Joel definitely was not fulfilled on Pentecost. So, Peter’s “this is that” in actuality, for some millennialists means, “this is something like it will be one day” or, “virtually nothing” foretold by Joel was fulfilled on Pentecost,” or some other kind of denial that Joel was in fact being fulfilled on Pentecost.
In an email exchange, I invited Thomas Ice to debate me publically, again, in Carlsbad, N. M., in 2008. His rather curt response was “Don, No.” His reason was that I constantly misrepresent him–in fact he called me a “liar”– and the key area of his accusation was that I twist his words on Joel 2. Ice claims that I tell people that he and other dispensationalists specifically say that Peter said, “This is not that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” As already noted, I have never accused Ice or any other millennialist of using those specific words. What I have and do say is that their position on Acts 2 and Joel, their denial of fulfillment of Joel, their obfuscation when pressed to explain what Peter might have really meant, and their over all refusal to deal with Peter’s emphatic words, demands that while they may not use the specific words, “this is not that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,” they do not believe or accept Peter’s words, “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” This was proven by the correspondence with Thomas Ice.
As our correspondence proceeded, in order to get at the root of what Thomas actually believes, I asked him to clarify his true position on Joel/Acts 2. I asked him if Peter meant:
1.) This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.
2.) This is like that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.
3.) This is not that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.
So far as I can tell, these would be the only real choices for a person, any person, to take on Peter’s words. Although I repeated my questions to Thomas repeatedly, he adamantly refused to offer any answers whatsoever. So, if the millennialists do not believe that Peter truly meant “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,” and if they do not believe that Peter said, “this is like that which was spoken by the prophet Joel”, and if he did not say, “this is not that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” what in the name of reason did Peter say, and mean?
The reader has to see how devastating Peter’s emphatic statement really is. If Peter was declaring that the outpouring of the Spirit was in fact the fulfillment of Joel, then the entire house of cards called dispensationalism comes crumbling down. Now, since Peter said “this is that” and did not use any of the Greek words for “like that” or “similar to that”, and since he certainly did not say “this is not that” we can safely conclude that his words, “this is that” truly meant, “this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.”
Peter’s words on Pentecost, as we have suggested, must be seen in the light of Matthew 3 and Acts 1. Remember that in Matthew 3, the promise of the Spirit was given in the context of the soon coming kingdom. The chronological setting of that promise is so significant, because the millennialists claim that the kingdom truly was near in Matthew. It had not yet been postponed. So, the promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 must be seen as the promise of the Spirit in Joel, as the last days sign of the nearness of the kingdom.
However, if the promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 is the promise of the Spirit in Acts 1– and that is undeniable, then since the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 is the fulfillment of Acts 1, that proves beyond doubt that the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 was, after all, the fulfillment of Joel! And, this proves that the initiation of the kingdom was near in Acts 1! (It is important to distinquish between the initiation of the kingdom, i.e. the enthronement of Christ on the throne to await the parousia, and his coming in glory and judgment. It is also important to see that the outpouring of the Spirit, as the initiation of the kingdom, was a sign of the imminent coming of the Lord in power and glory, to perfect the kingdom).
Our argument would take the following form:
The promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 was the promise of the Spirit of Joel 2.
The promise of the Spirit in Matthew 3 was the promise of the Spirit repeated in Acts 1.
But, the promise of the Spirit in Acts 1 was fulfilled in Acts 2.
Therefore, the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, being the fulfillment of Acts 1, and Matthew 3, was the fulfillment of Joel 2.
Since the promise of Matthew 3, as shown, was inextricably linked with the establishment of the kingdom and fulfillment of Joel, this proves beyond all dispute that the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost was not the sign of a postponed kingdom, but was, in fact, the sign that the kingdom glory was near!
It is only by ignoring or denying the relationship between Acts 1, Matthew 3 and Joel, that one can deny that Acts 2 was the fulfillment of Joel. And this has, as we have already suggested, devastating implications for the millennial view.
If Acts 2 was the fulfillment of Joel, as Peter affirms, and as the connections with Acts 1 and Matthew 3 confirms, then there was not postponement of the kingdom on Pentecost. There was no delay, no establishment of the church as an emergency interim measure, unforeseen by the O. T. prophets. All was on schedule. All was as God originally planned. And, this is confirmed even further by a brief look at something else Peter said on Pentecost. We will do that in our next installment on Acts 1.
Be sure to read my book Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory, where I discuss Acts 1 and the Kingdom in-depth.