The Outpouring of the Spirit and the Salvation of Israel

1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1–4 ESV)

In Acts 2 Luke records that incredible day nearly 2,000 years ago when God poured out the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and forever altered human history. That day set into motion the unstoppable movement known as the global church and things will never be the same again. While that day of Pentecost is frequently referred to as the birthday of the church, it is also a significant day for God’s plan for Israel. The way God poured out the Spirit reveals His ongoing commitment to Israel and also serves as a prophetic picture of God’s commitment to save Israel and to include the nations who will be touched by that outpouring in His plan to save Israel.

To understand all that Pentecost means, we must understand how it relates to God’s plan for Israel so that we can partner with Him.

Israel’s Promise – The Gift of the Holy Spirit

The gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit was not a new idea in Acts 2. The promise of the Spirit was a promise first given to Israel. Israel’s prophets predicted a day when God would pour out the Spirit on the nation:

15until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. (Isaiah 32:15 ESV)

3For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. (Isaiah 44:3 ESV)

28“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28–29 ESV)

26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26–27 ESV)

28Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:28 ESV)

29And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 39:29 ESV)

The outpouring of the Spirit is Israel’s inheritance. God promised it to her. When Jesus promised the disciples He would pour out the Spirit when He ascended (John 7:39; 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13), He was making a statement that He was going to fulfill Israel’s inheritance. It was a statement of who He was. He would be the one to fulfill the promise YHWH had made to the nation.

This is one reason the outpouring of the Spirit gave the apostles such confidence to preach Jesus as the Messiah even though Jesus ascended without restoring the kingdom to Israel or judging the nations. When Jesus poured out the Spirit He was doing something only God could do and that gave the apostles confidence that He was who He said He was. If Jesus has the power to pour out the Spirit then He also has the power to do everything else the prophets promised He would. Things like this gave the disciples courage even though His plan was unfolding in what seemed to be a very strange way.

Because the promise of the Holy Spirit was part of Israel’s inheritance, this is why it was so shocking that God began pouring out the Spirit on the gentiles. This began with Cornelius. When Peter preached at Cornelius’ house, God suddenly poured out the Spirit on Cornelius and his gentile household:

44While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:44–47 ESV)

It is very significant that the Holy Spirit fell while Peter was speaking. The Spirit fell on this gentile audience while Peter was speaking to make the point that the gentiles are participating in Israel’s inheritance in the Spirit purely on the basis of faith in Jesus. Nothing else was required. This is why the Spirit did not give space for Peter or any of the other Jewish believers present to call the gentiles to any sort of response. The Spirit baptized the gentiles as gentiles without any call to take on Jewish identity.

This is one of the great scandals of the New Testament – the gentiles were participating in Israel’s inheritance without making any conversion into Israel. God liberally poured out the Spirit on gentiles repeatedly throughout the book of Acts to emphasize it was faith in Jesus alone that secured the promises of God. Taking on Jewish identity was not required of the gentiles to receive their inheritance. The way God poured out the Spirit on the gentiles gave the apostles the confidence that God had accepted the gentiles as gentiles. This reveals how significant the Spirit was to the Jewish apostles. The apostles all agreed if God was willing to freely give gentiles the Spirit that alone was enough to indicate God had accepted the gentiles as gentiles.

7And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:7–9 ESV)

The Outpouring of the Spirit and God’s Commitement to israel

Because the promise of the Holy Spirit was such a significant promise for Israel, Acts 2 is a significant chapter not just for what God is going to do in the nations, it is also significant for understanding Israel’s future. The way God poured out the Spirit gives us a prophetic picture of God’s plan to save Israel and bring her into her promises. Luke records specific details of that day so that we can recognize it as a sign of God’s ongoing commitment to Israel’s story.

It is important both where and how God poured out the Spirit. The fact that God poured out the Spirit in Jerusalem is a statement of His commitment to that city. Jerusalem is where our story begins and where it will end in this age. God baptized a remnant in Jerusalem as a picture of an eschatological baptism of the Spirit that is coming to the entire nation when He delivers them (Joel 2:28-29; Zechariah 12:10-12). The end time deliverance of Israel and the accompanying baptism of the Spirit will have its origination in Jerusalem and therefore the down payment of that day also had to begin in Jerusalem.

When Luke wrote the book of Acts, he intended for us to connect the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 with Jesus’ promise to Israel in Acts 1:

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6–8 ESV)

In Acts 1, the disciples ask Jesus when He is going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus’ response to them is that it will take longer than they think and He gives them a hint that it will involve the nations by giving them an instruction to carry the gospel to the gentile world. The disciples’ question about Israel’s restoration in Acts 1 reveals Jesus’ commitment to the restoration of Israel. By recording this conversation Luke is telling us Jesus is committed to restoration Israel. However, it will take longer than we expect and it is connected to the preaching of the gospel worldwide.

The outpouring of the Spirit in Jerusalem in Acts 2 is another strong affirmation of the promise to Israel. The fact that Jesus poured out the Spirit in Jerusalem was another statement of His commitment to restore Israel. God launched His new work in the nations from Jerusalem as a statement of Jerusalem’s centrality and His ongoing commitment to Jerusalem. Acts 2 represents a bold commitment to Jesus’ promise in Acts 1. All this gave Peter boldness in Acts 3 to declare that Jesus had ascended into heaven temporarily until the time of restoration:

21whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:21 ESV)

When Peter spoke of restoration he used the word ἀποκατάστασις which is a word frequently used in the Septuagint for the restoration of Israel. Peter was referring to Israel’s restoration (see also Isaiah 40:9–11; Jeremiah 32:42–44; Ezekiel 37:21–28; Hosea 11:9–11; 14:4–7; Amos 9:11–15). Jesus’ promise in Acts 1 and the release of power in Acts 2 gave Peter confidence to boldly proclaim the coming restoration of Israel through Messiah. Luke intentionally records this progression for us in Acts so that we will understand the deep connection between the outpouring of the Spirit and God’s commitment to fulfill Israel’s promises through Jesus.

It is also significant how the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost. Luke repeatedly records that the Spirit fell on every believer gathered (Acts 2:1, 3, 4). This outpouring was not just for a single leader or prophet. It was given to every individual. All were filled. The flame of fire rested on each one. This is a prophetic picture of the promise of Jeremiah 31 that a day is coming when every individual in Israel will know God because of the indwelling Spirit.

33For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33–34 ESV)

In the apostles’ time everyone in Israel did not embrace the Messiah, but this is a significant down payment of the day that all of Israel will embrace Messiah. That is why the Luke emphasizes the Spirit was poured out on the entire body of believers. Before this moment outpourings of the Spirit tended to be on a particular individual to equip them for leadership or for a ministry task. A great shift has now taken place. God has begun the process that will fulfill His promise to pour out His Spirit on every individual within Israel by pouring out His Spirit on every individual who responds to Him.

The apostle John used the language of Jeremiah 31:34 in 1 John 2 to connect the New Testament outpouring of the Spirit with the fulfillment of the Jeremiah 31 promise. The indwelling Spirit is the down payment of the fulfillment of the Jeremiah 31 promise of a holy nation.

27But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:27 ESV)

It is also significant that the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost. Pentecost was also referred to as the “feast of harvest.” It celebrates the gathering of the harvest in Israel. It is also traditionally the time that God spoke to Israel and gave the law at Sinai. The outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 marks the beginning of the “harvest” in Israel. God is gathering a people to Himself in the same way the nation begins gathering the grain and barley at this time. The outpouring of the Spirit is also a new “Sinai” type moment for Israel. This is why it is marked by wind and fire just as the law giving at Sinai was. When the law was given on Sinai, the people were not able to approach the fire, but now the fire can rest on each one of them.

Jeremiah prophesied that a new covenant would be given to Israel that was different from the one given at Sinai. This covenant would save the entire nation. Because Pentecost was traditionally considered a time of remembering Sinai, the fire and wind at Pentecost represent the beginning of the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31 – a promise that will be fulfilled when Israel becomes a saved nation.

31“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord…34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-32, 34 ESV)

God’s Commitment to the Jewish People and the Role of Gentile Believers

The outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost is a prophetic picture of God’s commitment to the Jewish people and the role of gentile believers. This is why the first result of the outpouring of the Spirit was to give a witness to Jews gathered in Jerusalem.

5Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? (Acts 2:5–8 ESV)

It is significant that the first result of the outpouring of the Spirit was to give a witness to the Jewish people. This is the gospel priority that Paul spoke about:

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 ESV)

God is making the point that the gospel is to the Jew first. If the outpouring of the Spirit was intended to transition Israel’s promises away from Israel to the nations then the first result of the outpouring would have been preaching to the nations. Instead, there was a Jewish priority in the outpouring of the Spirit. Jews were the first believers baptized in the Spirit and Jews must be the first to hear the gospel before the outpouring of the Spirit went to the nations. Paul recognized this which is why he said the gospel was to the Jew first. God intends that we keep this same priority as we preach the gospel. Israel’s story is not finished and the gospel is what will bring Israel’s story to completion.

Not only is this a statement of Jewish priority, it also reveals a key purpose for the outpouring of the Spirit. The outpouring of the Spirit both Israel’s promise and both the means of Israel’s receiving her promise. The first fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit was to enable Jewish believers to give a witness to Israel. Out of the purposes of the outpouring of the Spirit is to enable the gentile church to give a witness to unbelieving Israel.

The witness was not just given to the Jewish people, Luke tells us it was given to Jews from “every nation under heaven” who heard a witness in their “native languages.” This statement is profound and is a prophetic picture of God’s fulfillment of Israel’s promises. There are several key themes present in this moment:

God’s Mercy in Israel’s judgment – The exile was God’s judgment on Israel and the fact that Jews still dwell across the nations of the earth remains a visible reminder of God’s judgment on Israel. Acts 2:5 describes God’s graciousness to redeem Israel even in His judgments. The Jews who hear the early believers speaking in languages described these gentile languages as their native languages (Acts 2:8). The fact that gentile languages are native languages for Jewish communities is a result of God’s judgments, because these languages should be foreign to the Jewish people.

Acts 2 is a prophetic picture of the Jewish people hearing the gospel in the midst of judgment (exile). This is a profound picture of God’s redemption. It describes God’s deep commitment to pursue to Jewish people. He will pursue them even in the midst of judgment – even to the ends of the earth. When Peter declared that the promise of the Spirit was for “all who are far off” it was a reference to the Jewish people living in the nations. Peter recognized that God’s promise to Israel was still alive even though they had been scattered in the nations. Peter recognized the outpouring in Acts 2 was great news for the Jewish people.

38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38–39 ESV)

Luke describes the Jews hearing this witness as coming from “every nation under heaven” as a statement of God’s intention to pursue the Jewish people in every nation in the earth. In the midst of global exile, He has not forgotten them. He will speak tenderly to them (Hosea 2:14).

God’s Plan for a Gentile Witness to Israel – Another reason these Jews hear the gospel in gentile languages is because God has a divine plan to provoke the Jewish people through a witness given through gentile believers. The apostle Paul develops this idea when he connects the gospel’s expansion among the gentiles to Israel’s story by predicting that the gentiles will provoke (make Israel “jealous”) to return to her God.

11So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous…13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. (Romans 11:11, 13-14 ESV)

The expansion of the gospel to the nations is ultimately intended to produce a witness that will be given to the Jewish people. The outpouring of the Spirit set this into motion and the end of God’s work among the nations, which Paul refers to as the “fullness of the Gentiles,” will be the salvation of Israel.

25Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; (Romans 11:25–26 ESV)

This is why the Jews in Acts 2:5 heard the witness of the gospel in gentile languages. It is a prophetic picture of gentiles filled with the Spirit speaking the gospel back to Israel. In Acts 1:6-8, Jesus told the Jewish apostles who wanted to see the restoration of Israel to carry the gospel to the gentiles. Acts 2 is a prophetic picture of the result. Gentile languages will be used to speak to Israel about her calling. This is a picture of the provocation that Paul speaks about in Romans 10-11.

God’s Plan for one New Man – In Ephesians Paul describes God’s intention to form “one new man” out of Jew and gentile (Ephesians 2:15). The gospel breaks down the barriers of separation that have kept Jew and Gentile apart for generations. Acts 2 provides a picture of God’s plan to resolve the crisis of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). This is why the nations Luke lists in Acts 2:8-11 are likely an updated list of the table of nations from Genesis 10. In the Tower of Babel, God separated the people of the earth through languages. In Acts 2, through the outpouring of the Spirit, languages will now be used in a redemptive way to call people from the nations back to God. The people of the earth who are deeply divided are being brought back into a single people. Language and culture are no longer barriers. Through the outpouring of the Spirit, unity and restoration are now possible.

A Profound Downpayment of Joel’s Prophecy

Joel gave a profound prophecy of God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on Israel:

28“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28–29 ESV)

When Peter stood up to explain the phenomena of Pentecost, he immediately quoted Joel’s prophecy because he recognized the connection between Acts 2 and Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:16-21). Peter saw the outpouring of Acts 2 as the beginning of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. When you look at the context of Joel 2, it predicts far more than what happened in Acts 2, but Acts 2 is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy because it sets the context for the fulfillment of Joel 2. Acts 2 is a profound down payment of all Joel 2 prophesies. It is the guarantee of the greater outpouring Joel prophesies that will come.

In Israel there is the concept of “early rains” and “late rains.” The early rains begin the growing season and create the context for the late rains which bring in the great harvest. Peter understood the connection between Joel 2 and Acts according to Israel’s harvest cycle. Acts 2 was an early rain – the beginning of the growing and harvesting season – that would pave the way for Joel 2 – the great harvest.

The connection between Acts 2 and Joel 2 is very significant. Acts 2 emphasizes God’s commitment to Israel’s promises and how deeply connected the fulfillment of those promises will be with God’s plan for the gentiles. When we understand all that Acts 2 tells us about God’s redemptive plan, that understanding helps us understand how God is going to fulfill Joel 2. Peter understood the outpouring of the Spirit had set the fulfillment of Joel 2 into motion. The way God poured out the Spirit gives us insight into how God plans to fulfill Joel’s prophecy.

A Profound Promise – Israel’s Salvation

Not only is Acts 2 connected to Joel 2, it is also connected to another profound promise of Israel’s salvation in Zechariah 12. Acts 2:21 predicts the moment of Israel’s national salvation:

21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2:21 ESV)

Acts 2:21 is a quotation of Joel 2:32:

32And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:32 ESV)

Joel 2:32 is a direct reference to the prophecy of Zechariah 12:10-12:

10“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. 11On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; (Zechariah 12:10–12 ESV)

The date of Joel’s prophecy is not known so it is hard to say whether Joel is referencing Zechariah’s prophecy or whether Zechariah is expanding on Joel’s prophecy. Either way Peter’s reference to Joel 2:32 would have been understood by his audience as a reference to Zechariah 12:10-12 as well. When Peter begins preaching in Acts 2, he addresses the “men of Israel” (Acts 2:22). Peter sees Acts 2 as the ultimate means of Israel’s salvation which is why he quotes prophecies of Israel’s day of salvation from Joel and Zechariah. Luke records Peter’s sermon in this way because he expects us to make the connection between Acts 2 and Acts 1:6-8. God is going to restore the kingdom to Israel. It will take longer than we think and it will involve the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles, but it will happen. Acts 2 is the beginning of what is necessary to bring about their salvation.

This is the priority of the gospel Paul spoke about in Romans 1. Acts 2 has profound applications for the gentiles and the expansion of the gospel into the nations, but Peter first preaches to Israel about her salvation because the gospel must first be given to Israel. What began in Acts 2 will end up becoming the means of her salvation.

Conclusion

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is far more than the beginning of the church. It represented a commitment by God to fulfill His promises to Israel and also gives us clues to how God is going to fulfill those promises. The immediate result of the outpouring of the Spirit was the rapid expansion of the gospel beyond Jerusalem to the gentiles. In the years following the day of Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out on both Jews and Gentiles.

The movement that resulted from the day of Pentecost quickly crossed ethnic and national boundaries as the Spirit was poured out across the Roman Empire. Because the church expanded so rapidly among the gentiles, most people think of the day of Pentecost as they day God shifted His redemptive plan away from Israel to the nations. In reality, the day of Pentecost was an expression of God’s commitment to Israel.

In the outpouring of the Spirit, God did not shift His plan from Israel to the nations, He invited the nations to participate in Israel’s story.

If we think Acts 2 was the beginning of a symbolic transfer of Israel’s promises to the church we have missed the point of what happens in Acts 2. This is why Paul warns us to not be arrogant or ignorant of God’s ongoing plan with Israel (Romans 11:28, 25). Acts 2 is not the end of Israel’s story, it is a significant step towards the fulfillment of Israel’s promises. In order to understand the full purpose of the outpouring of the Spirit in this age, we must understand how it brings together Israel and the nations for the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.

Acts 2 is both a fulfillment of God’s promises and a prophecy in and of itself. It predicts the day of a great outpouring of the Spirit which will accompany Israel’s salvation. Because God’s redemptive story has taken so long to come to conclusion it is easy for us to lose sight of His faithfulness, but He has not forgotten His promises. We must remember the words of Habakkuk:

3For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3 ESV)

It is true God has opened a wide door of salvation to all the gentiles. The outpouring of the Spirit has led to the salvation of the gentiles in a way the Old Testament prophets would have never anticipated. However, the outpouring of the Spirit must also do what it was divinely intended to do from the beginning – save Israel.

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