Bible Study Series: Holy Spirit - Roles, Types and Imagery
Joel's prophecy & the Holy Spirit in the last days
by I Gordon
Well we are getting near the end. By that I mean the end of this series on the Holy Spirit, not the age in which we live... though it certainly applies to that as well! In the two remaining messages for this series I want to peer into the future to see the work of the Holy Spirit at the end of this age and in the age to come. These messages will more prophetic than personal though we'll add some application points to take away for the here and now. On the weekend just been, the feast of Pentecost was held in Israel where they celebrate the wheat harvest and we'll be looking today at the first Pentecost for the church. Specifically we'll look at a prophecy from the book of Joel that Peter quoted on that day, exploring a series of questions:
- What is Joel's prophecy about the Holy Spirit being poured out in the last days and does it still apply?
- Is there such a thing, spiritually speaking, as 'the latter rains'?
- Can we expect a Holy Spirit led revival in the Church in the days leading up to the rapture?
- What application can we make for our lives today?
And that, I'm sure you will agree, is more than enough for this one! The next message will go into the Holy Spirit's presence and role in the coming Messianic Kingdom... but let's stick to this age first! Let's go.
The day of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit
No doubt you have read Acts chapter 2 where the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers on the day of Pentecost. Who hasn't right? We spoke about this earlier in this series and saw the miraculous event where people from all nations heard the disciples speaking and joyfully praising God in their own language. This lead to amazement and some, well, perplexing thoughts. 'Can you hear what I hear?' they would have said. 'How is this happening?' 'What does it mean?' 'Are my ears playing up again?' Some tried to write it all off by just saying that the disciples must be drunk. Let's have a read:
Act 2:7-13 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? (8) Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? (9) Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, (10) Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (11) (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" (12) Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" (13) Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine. "
That the disciples weren't drunk but were in the right minds is quickly stated by Peter, who, speaking clearly and logically, explains what was happening:
Act 2:14-21 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. (15) These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! (16) No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: (17) '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. (18) Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (19) I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. (20) The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. (21) And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
What happened to them, Peter said, is what the prophet Joel spoke about. Joel said that in the last days God would pour His Spirit on all people. Sons and daughters would prophesy. Young men will see visions. Old men will dream dreams. Now this is a very famous passage and prophecy... but what does it mean? Was Peter saying it been fulfilled completely or can we expect it to happen in the 'last days'. If it will happen again, when? Is it in the Church age? And can we expect revival in the last days of the Church? Hmmm... questions questions questions. Let me back the bus up a little and give some background before attempting to answer those questions.
A little background
Within certain Pentecostal churches especially, Joel's prophecy is mentioned frequently. Within those churches many are waiting and expecting an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in these last days to fulfill this prophecy of Joel and bring about a great revival to the church. Often this is tied in with another 'teaching' (in speech marks) concerning 'the latter rain' and 'the manifest sons of God' - both of which are based on this thought of a glorious outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days of the Church leading to the return of Jesus. Let me give you a little background on my experience with these teachings.
As I have mentioned before, probably a few times, I became a Christian in 1990 at the University of Waikato. After completing my science degree I decided to spend a year at Bible college so off trotted this three year old Christian to see what one could learn and experience in the Christian life. It was an interesting year in many ways and one that I'm pleased I did. But as you would get in some other colleges there were a range of teachers, and some had, well, some interesting ideas. Ok... some had bogus ideas! One lecturer taught that God had totally finished with the nation of Israel, that the Church had now inherited their promises and blessings (but not their curses), and God wasn't going to fulfill any promises previously made to Israel as a nation anymore. Um... I politely (I think) disagreed stating that God still had unfinished business and promises to fulfill with the nation of Israel. I thought that was that but before long I was called into the Principle's office for a meeting. It really was like being back at school again! : )
The principle actually agreed with me on that one, but he had another topic that he loved to speak about. His pet topic was 'the glorious end-time church'. He believed that before Jesus returned the Holy Spirit would be poured out again in such a way that believers would openly manifest the glory of God, ushering in the return of Jesus. It didn't really matter where he was in the Bible, this topic of the glorious end time church would come up. The problem was that he would use scriptures that weren't actually about that and simply apply them to this 'glorious end time church'... which he was desperately waiting and hoping for. For example, he would read a passage like Isa 4:2 which states 'In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious...' and say this is the church. Except it isn't. It is the Lord Jesus who actually is 'the Branch' as seen in many Old Testament prophecies.1
So what are we to make of this? Can we expect another out pouring of the Holy Spirit in these last days? Can we expect to see a glorious Church BEFORE Jesus comes? Will Joel's prophecy of the Spirit being poured out play out again? Let's have a closer look at Joel's prophecy.
Joel's prophecy in context
Joe 2:18-24 Then the LORD will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people. (19) The LORD will reply to them: "I am sending you grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations. (20) I will drive the northern army far from you,.. (23) Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. (24) The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
Joe 2:25-32 I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten-- the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm-- my great army that I sent among you. (26) You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. (27) Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed. (28) And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. (29) Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (30) I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. (31) The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. (32) And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.
Here we have the context of Joel's prophecy stating that the Lord will pour out His Spirit. You will notice that scripture says the Holy Spirit is poured out on all people. This is not a few isolated drops falling upon certain people but, like standing out in the heavy rain, this will come upon all. So when does it occur? It is clear from the context of Joel's prophecy that he is speaking of the end of the tribulation2 leading on into the Messianic Kingdom. He is speaking about what will happen to the nation of Israel in the 'day of the Lord' and at the time when they once again come back to the Lord and experience His blessing. It comes at the time when the Lord will send them grain, new wine and oil and they will never be an object of scorn amongst the nations ever again. It's a time when they will know that the Lord is in Israel. It also comes around the same time of the 'great and dreadful day of the Lord' when 'the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood'. You will no doubt remember that Jesus spoke of these as signs leading up to His glorious return to this planet:
Mat 24:29-30 Immediately after the distress of those days 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' (30) At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
So all of this is still future and has not been fulfilled yet. William MacDonald speaks well on Peter's quotation of this passage on the day of Pentecost, stating:
"Actually, the events of Pentecost were not a complete fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. The phenomena described in verses 17-20 did not take place at this time. But what did happen at Pentecost was a foretaste of what would happen in the last days, prior to the great and awesome day of the Lord...
The quotation from Joel is an example of the Law of Double Reference, by which a Bible prophecy has a partial fulfillment at one time and a complete fulfillment at a later time. The Spirit of God was poured out at Pentecost but not literally on all flesh. The final fulfillment of the prophecy will take place at the end of the Tribulation Period. Prior to the glorious return of Christ, there will be wonders in the heavens, and signs on the earth (Mat_24:29-30). The Lord Jesus Christ will then appear on the earth to put down His enemies and to establish His kingdom. At the beginning of His thousand-year reign, the Spirit of God will be poured out on all flesh, Gentiles as well as Jews, and this condition will prevail, for the most part, throughout the Millennium. Various manifestations of the Spirit will be given without regard to sex, age, or social status. There will be visions and dreams, which suggest the reception of knowledge; and prophecy, which suggests its impartation to others. Thus, the gifts of revelation and communication will be in evidence. All this will occur in what Joel described as the last days (v. 17). This, of course, refers to the last days of Israel and not of the church."
William MacDonald, Believers Bible Commentary
As I mentioned previously, Joel's prophecy is often tied in with the 'latter rain' movement which you may have heard about3. They believe that in fulfillment of Israel's spring and autumn rains, so the Holy Spirit will be poured out at the beginning and end of the church age. One verse used for this is found in the same passage just quoted in Joel chapter 2:
Joel 2:23 Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.
But as we have seen this is a promise to the nation of Israel following their national repentance at the end of the tribulation. It is a promise of natural abundant rains but also points to a spiritual fulfillment of the blessing they will receive when the Holy Spirit is poured out. Another passage used is found in the book of Hosea:
Hos 5:15-6:3 I will go away and return to My place Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. (6:1) "Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. (2) "He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him. (3) "So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth."
Again we see that this concerns the nation of Israel. It is the Lord speaking saying the He will go away to His place (which is Jesus' ascension and return back to heaven) until they (Israel) admit their guilt and seek His face. This is said to occur after '2 days' (a pointer to 2000 years I believe c.f 2 Pet 3:8) and in the 3rd day (the 1000 year Messianic Kingdom) Israel will live in His presence. And there we see the allusion to the rains once again... Jesus' coming to Israel, with the accompanying outpouring of the Holy Spirit, will be like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth. This will all be fulfilled. But again it is a prophecy concerning the Messianic Kingdom, not the Church age before the rapture. To get this wrong just brings confusion and misplaced hope.
So what about the Church age - Is a Spirit led revival coming?
So what about these last days of the church age? If you have been a Christian a while you have no doubt heard of people talking about a coming revival. Just this last weekend I met someone that used to go to the same church as I did, whom I haven't seen for a few years. She mentioned to me that she had been listening to, and believes, a so-called prophet on Youtube who was saying that a great revival and world wide peace was just about to come. These predictions often sound appealing but they simply don't equate with what the Bible teaches. While we all desire revival, normally the assurances of such come from those that are in the camp desperate for Joel's prophecy to be fulfilled now and believe in latter rain/dominion theology. Let me be clear on two things.
- Revival is God's business and no one can say that a revival will or will not occur. God can and has brought revival in past times and could do so again.
- But looking at the Bible there are no prophetic passages that specifically speak of a revival in the last days of the Church age. In fact it speaks of things getting worse leading up to the day of the Lord. And it is the Holy Spirit that says so:
1Ti 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
2Ti 3:1-2 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. (2) For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy....
2Th 2:3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it (the day of the Lord) will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
We also see that the last church pictured in the book of Revelation (which speaks of the predominant church before the coming of the Lord) is Laodicea... one that revels in wealth, abundance and self-sufficiency, not even realizing that Jesus is outside of the church. (Rev 3:14-22) And again it is the Holy Spirit that says this to all the churches and bids them to have eyes to see so they can understand it (Rev 3:22). But nor should we fail to recognize that the Lord is still at work and there is a general principle encapsulated in the following verse (one especially relevant for the last days):
Isa 59:19 ...When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him...'
The fear and uncertainly surrounding Covid saw many seek the Lord and be saved. praise God! I remembering watching a message by Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills who spoke of a dramatic increase in baptisms during this plandemic. People were hungry for the Lord. This is great to see. And as I have mentioned before, and you have probably heard about, there are amazing things happening within the Muslim world. On the one hand the enemy is stirring up more radical devotion to Islam within certain parts while at the same time there are many testimonies of Muslims having dreams and visions of Jesus and coming to know the true Savior. This seems to have been increasing over the last 15 years especially. I actually spoke to a couple on the weekend who are currently back from missionary work in Senegal and without asking, the husband mentioned to me how an Muslim Iman in a near by village had recently seen a vision of Jesus. These events have been documented in books. As an example, Lee Strobel's 'The case for miracles' has an interview with missionary Tom Doyle. Tom recounts the following experience stating:
“We met another guy in Jericho named Osama who was part of the Palestinian Authority. He started having dreams about Jesus. He went to his imam, who told him to read the Qur’an more. But the more he read the Qur’an, the more he had Jesus dreams. The imam told him to get more involved in the mosque, so he did—still, more Jesus dreams. The imam said to make the Hajj to Mecca.”
In my mind I could picture this person among the throngs at Mecca, walking around the Kaaba, often called “the house of Allah,” a black building in the center of the most sacred mosque in Islam. One of the five pillars of Islam says if a Muslim is able, he should make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca once in his lifetime and walk seven times around the Kaaba. More than a million people walk counterclockwise around the Kaaba during this five-day period.
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“You’re supposed to look at the Kaaba and say your prayers. Instead, he looked over—and on top of the Kaaba, he saw the Jesus from his dreams.”
“That must have startled him!”
“It did!” Doyle replied. “Jesus was looking at him and saying, ‘Osama, leave this place. You’re going in the wrong direction. Leave and go home.’ So he did. Later a … friend shared the gospel with him… Today, this man has such love for Jesus that you can literally see it on his face.”
So while we can't say that there is going to be a general revival of the church before the return of Jesus, for biblically speaking scripture speaks about a falling away in the last days, we do see the Lord moving in pockets of revival in places and we know that His promise will remain true that "When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him." If things get more difficult in the days leading up to Jesus' return for His bride we can expect the Spirit of God to be present equipping believers at the right time to cope with all that comes their way. This reminds me of the following story and advice given to Corrie Ten Boom by her dad during World War II. When Corrie Ten Boom was afraid as a small girl that she would never have the courage to put her faith on the line for Jesus, her godly father simply said to her:
'Corrie, when we take the train to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks early? No. I don't give you the money until we approach the ticket office. So it is with God. He provides the strength we need at the time we need it.'
Application - Personal revival
So what about the here and now? What about personal revival and the operation of the Spirit today? That is obviously what this series has been about. I mentioned earlier that the book of Hosea gives a clue (I believe) when the future revival and restoration will happen to the nation of Israel. It would be '2 days' (or 2000 years) after the Lord went back to His place. But the message of Hosea was also for his time. He was asking them to examine their hearts, seek the Lord, and find refreshing straight away. Let's just have a look at one great verse from this book for it gives instruction on where personal revival begins:
Hos 10:12 Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.
- Sow with a view to righteousness - Every day, whether we know it or not, we are sowing some type of seed for our lives. We are planting seeds for our lives through the actions that we take which will come forth in some way or another. Take a few seconds to think whether you have been sowing with a view to righteousness. That is, have you been sowing seeds in your own life, and those around you, which will produce good fruit? As we abide in Jesus, in His word, thanking Him and thinking about the things that truly matter, then we are sowing with a view to righteousness. We are planting seeds into good soil that shall grow.
- Reap in accordance - We reap in accordance to that which we sow. This is both a natural and spiritual principle. As far back as Genesis this was clearly described: Gen 1:12 'The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.' And this holds in the spiritual realm. We do reap according to that which we sow. Gal 6:8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
- Break up the fallow ground - Fallow ground is that which has just been left, unplowed, unattended, and has become hard. It is resistant to seeds and doesn't produce a crop. Even as Christians our hearts can become hardened by sin (Heb 3:13). Sometimes we become like the first church mentioned in Revelation - Ephesus. They were going through the motions of the Christian life and still had things to be commended for... yet they had left their first love - Jesus. So what was Jesus' instruction for this church? Remember how things used to be. Repent. And do the things you did at the start, in the early days when things where fresh and new (Rev 2:5). This is how fallow ground is broken up.
- It is time to seek the Lord - It is time. It is time to seek the Lord. Not in the future for one of us know how long we have. So now is the time to seek the Lord. I would add that in this day this verse becomes all the more important. Our Lord's coming is at hand and we want to be found awake and alert. Life is becoming harder in the natural as lawlessness increases and society (especially in the West) becomes more and more separated from it's Christian foundation, resulting in more unhinged and unstable behavior. So now is the time to seek the Lord.
- Until He comes to rain righteousness on you - There is always a response from the Lord to such action. 'Until He comes to rain righteousness on you' is that great reply. Reaping doesn't happen the same day that you sow so there is a time of patient waiting involved. But there will come a time of spiritual harvest as surely as the seed in good soil produces a crop. And as we have seen in both this and previous messages, this comes through the 'rain' which is a picture of the Holy Spirit in your life. This is spiritual revival. This is the life giving water of life that gives vitality.
So what have we seen? We have seen that the Bible is clear that the last day of the church age will see a falling away from the faith. It doesn't speak specifically of a glorious church before Jesus comes. The scriptures that are normally used to speak of another outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church at the end of this age are really verses describing an outpouring upon Israel at the end of the tribulation and the nations going into the Millennium. It is important that we read these prophecies in context and apply them correctly. And it is important that we weight any 'prophecy' given today according to God's word.
Yet at the same time we have seen that God is still moving and active and is using the difficulties of this current day to draw more people to Himself. We've seen that with the Covid plandemic and should expect to see this continue as days become more difficult. When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit raises a standard against him. We've also seen that there is a Holy Spirit enabled move amongst Muslim's and those that haven't had easy access to the Gospel previously. This is so like God, desiring to give all the opportunity to hear and believe.
Finally we have also seen the importance of personal revival. There are things that we can do here and now. Sow with a view to righteousness. Break up any fallow ground. Seek the Lord... until He comes. Spare a moment to think about how this applies to your life and pray about what the Lord would have you to do.
We'll continue with one last message in this series next time, looking at the Holy Spirit in the soon coming real 'Great Reset' - the glorious Messianic Kingdom.