“This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…” Acts 2:15f
John the Immerser came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near”, and then, immediately promised that the coming one would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:2-11). Much of the time, in commentaries, the focus of discussion is on John’s declaration of the imminence of the kingdom. Our Dispensational friends admit that John and Jesus did indeed offer the Davidic kingdom to Israel, but, due to Israel’s unbelief, that kingdom offer was withdrawn, until sometime in the distant, from them, future. However, what is too often ignored is that the offer of the kingdom was followed immediately with the promise of the baptism of the Spirit, and, this promise of the Spirit is ever bit as eschatological as the promise of the kingdom. Furthermore, John’s promise that the Spirit would be poured out by Messiah was fulfilled! And this has incredible eschatological implications for then, and for now. We are going to examine this issue in a short series, but want to establish several key points.
☛There was in Israel of the first century, and for centuries previously, the acknowledgment that the gift of prophecy, the presence of the Holy Spirit, had ceased with Malachi.
It is a well documented fact that the Jews believed that the prophetic office had ceased to exist with the prophet Malachi. Sommer effective shows that while some scholars have attempted to deny this, the evidence is conclusively against them. The prophetic office was believed to have ceased in Israel. ( Benjamin Sommer, “Did Prophecy Cease? Evaluating a Reevaluation”, JBL, 115 (1996) 31-47). D. S. Russell says the Jews believed that the spirit of prophecy had ceased during the inter-testamental period. Prophecy had ceased in Israel. (D. S. Russell, Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic,(Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1964). Ladd, likewise adds that Israel had a sense that the Spirit had departed after Malachi. There were no true prophets from that time. (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1974)343). Even Aune, who claims that there was a belief that the Spirit was somehow present at times, for interpretation of the scriptures, nonetheless admits that the Rabbis believed that, “when the last prophets died,–(Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)–the holy spirit ceased in Israel” (David Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1983)103).
So, the evidence is clear: the Jews believed the Spirit had withdrawn from Israel, and we might add, first of all from Israel (Hosea 5), and then from Judah, from Malachi onward.
☛ While the Jews believed the prophetic Spirit had ceased, there was the belief that the Spirit was be poured out again. The prophetic office would be revived in Israel’s last days. Beginning with Moses (Deuteronomy 18) there was the promise that another great prophet would arise in Israel. Deuteronomy 18 is no help in determining when that prophet would arise, however, and in actuality, gives no indication of the cessation of the prophetic office prior to the arrival of that greater prophet. It is in the prophetic books that we find not only the promise of the return of the prophetic office, but, we likewise find the final cessation of the prophetic office. (See my Seal Up Vision and Prophecy for an in-depth examination of this issue). For my purpose in this short series, I want to focus on the significance of the outpouring of the Spirit and the prophetic office in the first century. To do this, we will look at some of the more significant prophecies of the last days out pouring of the Spirit. We will do that as we continue, so stay tuned!