Two weeks ago we saw that Jesus described the sun and moon going dark like an Old Testament prophet describing the destruction of a great city/empire (e.g. Is. 13). Last week we also looked at the judgment of Satan, as the “ruler of this world,” his defeat and binding and plundering by Jesus on the cross. When the curtain was torn in two, Satan was cast down, Jesus ascended, the saints have been delivered from bondage to death and accusation, and a new heavens and new earth came into existence.
In our text this morning, we look at another New Testament reference to a prophetic destruction of an old world. And the apostle says that what the prophet was describing was happening right there in the first century in those last days at the first advent of Christ and the beginning of His Kingdom which will draw all the nations and have no end.
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:14-21).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
When the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost and the disciples began speaking in different languages, some mocked them as drunkards (Acts 2:13). But Peter stood up and explained that this was not drunkenness but rather the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:14-16). Joel had prophesied that in the “last days” the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, young and old, men and women, with prophesying and dreams (Acts 2:17-18). This would mark the beginning of the end of a world, with blood, fire, smoke, and the heavenly lights going out before the Day of the Lord (Acts 2:19-20). But whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21).
THE DAY OF THE LORD
In the Old Testament, the “Day of the Lord” is used prolifically in the prophets to describe a great judgment (Is. 2:12, 13:6-9ff, Jer. 46:10, Ez. 30:3, Amos 5:18-20, Zeph. 1:7-14ff). A similar phrase is “Day of Visitation” (Is. 10:3, Jer. 46:21, Hos. 9:7). This ultimately goes back to the day of the first sin and the first judgment: “And they heard the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” (Gen. 3:8). The day of the Lord is a day on which God visits His people for judgment but also salvation. This reminds us of when God came down to the Tower of Babel and confused the languages of the people (Gen. 11). In one sense, God reversed Babel at Pentecost, but foreign tongues are also a sign of judgment (Is. 28:11, 1 Cor. 14:21-22). So Pentecost was both: salvation for those who believed but judgment for those who did not.
THE LAST DAYS
So Peter says that the “last days” that Joel was talking about were right then in the first century (Acts 2:17). Hebrews agrees: “[God] hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son…” (Heb. 1:2). Likewise, later, it says, “but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). Peter is still thinking this way when he writes of Christ, “who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you…” (1 Pet. 1:20). And he seems to have the same thing in mind when he writes: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7, cf. 1 Jn. 2:18).
Certainly, there are references to the final last days, the final end of all things: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:44, cf. 6:38-40, 54). The resurrection has certainly not happened yet, and so we await that “last day” (cf. Job 19:25-27). Christ must reign until all of His enemies are put beneath His feet; the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death – then shall come “the end” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-26, cf. 2 Tim. 2:18). But the primary referent of the phrase “last days” in the New Testament is the last days of the Old Covenant world, the end of that world, when Jesus came, which was also the beginning of the New World, the New Heavens and the New Earth in which the Holy Spirit has been poured out (Acts 2:17), the era in which salvation is proclaimed to the nations, so that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21).
AS THE WATERS COVER THE SEA
Part of the significance of the end of the Old Covenant world is the promised explosion of the gospel for the nations. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all the nations shall flow into it” (Is. 2:2). And the prophet Micah says almost the exact same thing (Mic. 4:1).
Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as what will happen in the “latter days” (Dan. 2:28): “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:44). And the King’s dream was of a rock cut out without hands that shatters the metal statue and grows into a mountain that fills the whole earth. This is the promise of the Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end…” (Is. 9:6-7). “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Is. 11:9-10).
While there have been and continue to be the “last days” of earthly kingdoms and empires, we are in the era of the New Creation, when Christ’s kingdom grows and fills the earth. In these “last days” of sin and death, we are promised the growth of the kingdom and the nations flowing in.
The Lord certainly still visits this world with His temporal judgments, but in the New Covenant, one of the central ways God visits the world with judgment is through the gathered worship of the saints on the Lord’s Day – the Day of the Lord. In Revelation, John was in the Spirit, “on the Lord’s Day,” and He saw the saints worshipping and judgments falling on the earth. Hebrews says that we have come to Mount Zion, to God the Judge of all, to Jesus the Mediator, and God is shaking all things in Heaven and on Earth (Heb. 12).
This is why worship on the Lord’s Day is central to everything we do. In worship, we are lifted up by the Spirit into the Heavenly places to glimpse the end of all things in order to ask God for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Part of that is being worked out in us individually, making us more like Christ in every area of life, but part of that is also being poured out on the earth by the Prince of Peace who was born at Christmas.