Meditations in Acts : 21 : In the Last Days
Acts 2:16,17 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.
Again I work on the basis of what I know is true for me and true for many of us who read the Bible regularly – that familiarity has robbed me of so much of the truth that is here. It is so easy to bundle up these words or Joel’s prophecy and skim by them saying, they just describe what God is now doing, and leave it at that. This is the benefit of meditation; we can slow up, pause and reflect on the words before us.
Peter is first saying to us that we are in “the last days”. Don’t confuse that with “the end times”. The “end times”, I would suggest, refers to the closing time of earth’s existence before Jesus winds it up. The “last days” refers to the period of Church history between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. The word ‘last’ adds a slight note of urgency to it. It is a period of last chance, the Gospel has been made very clear and if you don’t take advantage of it you have thrown away any hope. If you look up uses of the phrase “last days” in the New Testament, it is clear that it is referring to the period of the life of the church, and not the closing times of history.
So, says the prophecy, in this period of time God will pour out His Holy Spirit on all people. Now do those last two words mean upon every human being on earth, or is there something else? It is fairly obvious that it cannot mean upon every human being for God will not impose Himself on unbelievers and it is also clear on the day of Pentecost that the Spirit did not fall on every person in Jerusalem, only the believers. So “all people” must surely mean from every people group in the earth; there is no people group that is excluded from God’s love and from God’s blessing. The only condition is that they hear the Gospel and believe it.
What then follows is the outworking or expression of this outpouring of the Spirit. There is an interesting threefold description of what happens which I think we normally miss. There are three clear groups of people. First there are young men and women, then there are young men only, and then there are old men only. Now please bear in mind that this is Peter preaching the first sermon under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and he reiterates words originally spoken by Joel, and although the order is different in the quote here, the content is the same. Let’s consider what these three groups do and ponder on why they are the groups they are.
The first group are young men AND women who will prophesy. It is interesting to note from the outset that the fruit of the coming of the Spirit will be revelation. All three expressions here are about revelation from heaven. So this first group will prophesy. Paul was later to say, “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). That is the role of Church history prophecy – to build up the church by strengthening, encouraging and comforting the church – and any Christian, including young ones (!) can do that. Remember sons and daughters implies youth! Do we teach our young people to have this freedom in the Lord, to be open to hear Him and use what they hear to build up and strengthen one another and the church generally? Does this imply that no one else can prophesy? No, it simply puts an emphasis where it had not been before. Previously it had been the elders who did all the encouraging and strengthening. Now the Lord says everyone can do it whose heart is open to Him to inspire them.
Next young men will see visions. Why not young women? Well, whether we like it or not, and despite modern norms, the Bible clearly indicates that God holds men responsible for leading the church and obtaining vision. Visions are all about the future. Visions share God’s heart for the future and young men burst to achieve stuff in the future. Thus when the Holy Spirit comes, the Lord looks for submitted children, young Christians who will catch His heart, who will be open to receive fresh visions (to be tested, I suggest, by their elders).
But then old men dream dreams by the Spirit. This is still in the realm of revelation. Someone has said that dreams are built on the past, dreams tend to be less dramatic than visions, dreams are accepted by the wise and experienced in the faith. Younger men might question a dream and their young faith perhaps needs the drama of a vision coming to convince them. Old men wake up with a dream still clear in their mind and say, “God has spoken” (when He has, and it wasn’t just eating cheese last night). Their mature faith accepts such thing that much more readily.
Well here are just some reasons that I suggest are reasons why different people groups will receive revelation when the Spirit comes. When God turns up, we may expect revelation because He is a God who communicates. Have we got that truth well and truly under our belts?
But now, as we have concluded each of these last meditations, consider the preaching of this first sermon and what it says to us. If we didn’t make it clear enough in the previous meditation, let’s do it here: this preaching took the revealed word of God and applied it into the present situation. We see the present situation and are moved by God to speak. As He inspires us we consider His word and let Him shine His Holy Spirit on it, and then by His enabling we declare what it there are bring the two together to make sense of life today. That is New Testament preaching.