It is the Jewish Feast of Weeks (also known as Pentecost), a festival celebrating the harvest’s firstfruits and also the giving of the Law. Some 120 of Jesus’ disciples are together, expectantly waiting the coming of God’s Spirit as Jesus had recently promised before he ascended to heaven. Suddenly supernatural manifestations fill the room — a sound like a mighty wind, fire-like phenomena that separate and spread upon them all. Jesus’ followers begin to speak in languages they have never learned, reciting the mighty deeds of God. Word spreads and a huge crowd quickly gathers. Some say these people are tipsy with wine. No one has seen or heard anything like this before.
No one here is drunk, says Peter, speaking for the apostles. This is the fulfillment of ancient Hebrew prophecy. Centuries before, God had spoken through Joel of a time when he would pour out his Spirit on all humankind. Then, he said, “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” Servants will participate alongside their masters; men and women of all ages will prophesy together. When God pours out his Spirit, Joel continued, “every one who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Acts 2:1-21). That time has now arrived, announces Peter. The “last days” have begun and salvation is offered through the crucified, risen and exalted Jesus Christ.
To appreciate the lavish generosity of God’s outpouring, we need only remember how limited prophecy had always been among his covenant people. But there had been hints that that would change. In Moses’ day, God once placed his Spirit upon 70 Jewish tribal elders and they prophesied. Two others also prophesied who were not assembled with the elders, and someone suspiciously reported them to Moses. “Would that all God’s people were prophets,” Moses responded, “that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:24-30.) That time will surely come, said Joel, centuries after Moses.
Now that day has finally arrived. God pours out his Spirit on all his people without distinction. Men and women alike. Young and old. Indentured and free. They all will prophesy as God sees fit. This spectacular day marks the beginning of the Christian era, the age of the Holy Spirit — what Joel called the “last days.” This era will continue until Jesus returns. It is the day of salvation. According to both Joel and Peter, ordinary Christian prophecy will be a sign of these times.