The Holy Spirit in the Last Days

Title: The Holy Spirit in the Last Days

Text: Acts 2:14-21

Time: February 17, 2008

The second chapter of Acts is one of the most exciting sections of the whole Bible because it describes the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church, marking a new age of humanity; it’s that big. We measure time before Christ and after Christ, B.C. and A.D, but we must not think of the birth of Jesus as the dividing point, but rather the birth, the life, the resurrection of Jesus, and the birth of the church through the Holy Spirit as all one big diving line. After Jesus and beginning with the Spirit-born Christian church, the historical designation of the present age is “the Last Days,” or “the Latter Day.” Everything that happened before is called the former times, or the earlier days. We are now in the last days, the days on this side of the incarnation of Christ and the birth of the church in the 1st century. We are 2000 years separated from Jesus and we are still in the last days! Today, I like to refer to the times we are living in as the latter later days, meaning that within the last days, we are in the latter last days. It’s hard to imagine things going on the way they are for another 2000 years because it seems that past a certain point it’s difficult to keep describing an age as “last days” when they keep going on and on for hundreds and thousands of years more! I could be wrong though. 2000 years from now, Christians might be having church in space or on another planet, and preachers might be preaching sermons on the fact that Jesus might return at any time because it is still the last days. If that were to be the case, then obviously the phrase “last days” must be referring to the label “latter days” meaning not that the days are coming to an end soon, but that the days we are living in are not the former days or early times. In other words, the Old Testament times might be referred to as the early days and anything past that, starting with the New Testament times would be referred to as the latter days, not meaning that the end is near, but rather than we are not still in the beginning times. I’ve often wondered whether the phrase “last days” found here in Acts 2 might say anything about the age of the earth. There is this debate among theologians within Christianity over the age of the earth. Is the earth really young, like around 5,000 to 10,000 years old; or is the earth really old, like say millions or billions of years old? It all depends on how you read the Book of Genesis and whether you see the events it describes as strict chronology or as general outlines. Christians have debated this question for ages. Is the earth really old, or does it just appear to be old? Is the earth really young, yet of necessity God created it with the appearance of age? These are tough questions. But my interest in them is sparked by the phrase “last days.” I think the description tends to favor the earth being old because if the earth is really old, then thousands and thousands of years would only appear as a small time on a really long time frame, but if the earth is really young, than thousands of years like we have now 2000 years would stretch the whole idea of last days, I think. But again, it’s hard to tell time frames in the Bible. Regardless of what the phrase “last days” means, we are in them still right now, and the “latter days” started 2000 years ago with Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. So today, I’d like to talk about three things from this passage in Acts 2: the Last Days, the Holy Spirit’s outpouring, and the results of the outpouring. Acts 2:14-21 (read). Hopefully, by the end of the message we can see how relevant all of this is for ourselves in our time.

First, it is the Last Days. Acts 2:14-17, “Then peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crows: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says. . . .” We’ve already covered some of this before, but here the Apostle Peter stands up in the midst of the crowd on Pentecost and recalls the words of the ancient Hebrew prophet Joel who prophesied about things that would happen in the “last days,” the first being that the Holy Spirit would be poured out in a new and different way. The age of the Spirit would begin in the last days. Now to understand what Peter is saying, we must remember that in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit is present and active, but only or mainly in connection with particular individuals called of God to do specific things for God during a specific time. For example, we read in the Old Testament we read that Moses was a man mightily filled with the Holy Spirit; as well as other leaders in Israel also were filled with the Spirit. In fact, the general population was bothered by the fact that only certain individuals had the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon them, and resented the fact. Moses responds in Numbers 11:29, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” So we see here in the Old Testament that the Holy Spirit was not given to all people but only to select individuals. And that pattern is pretty much followed throughout the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi. But in the New Testament, at the Day of Pentecost in particular, we see a dramatic shift in God’s activity through the Holy Spirit. Now, in the latter days, the Spirit is available to all people, not just the select individuals like in the Old Testament. The “last days,” that is, the days we are now living in, is often called the age of the Spirit, because now the Spirit is for everyone, as opposed to the former times when the Spirit was confined to the specific called men of the Old Testament. We now live in the age of the Holy Spirit. The Immanuel, or God with us, is now available to live in us through the Holy Spirit. I have God living in me, you have God living in you, as Christians through the Holy Spirit. God is no longer just out-there, or around here, but is now inside of me through the Holy Spirit. That’s a big difference from the Old Testament way of life. The New Testament believer has access to God in a greater way than ever before. Aren’t you glad you live in the New Testament age? Aren’t you glad you live in the age of the Spirit? If you are a believer, God is with you, in you, to encourage you when you are down, to empower you to resist temptation, to help you to love other people, to guide you into the truth, and so many other things. We have this because we live in the last days. But that’s not all.

Second, the Spirit is poured out on all believers. Acts 2: 17-18, “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. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” Like I said before, in the new age of the Spirit, the age we are now in, all believers are given access to the Holy Spirit, not just a few leaders. In the Old Testament times it was mostly men who were given the Holy Spirit to fulfill their specific calling assigned by God. There is the example of Deborah, the prophetess and leader in Israel in Judges 4 and 5; but this is an exception. Most all the instances of the Spirit’s anointing in the Old Testament are men; that was God’s will and plan for that time. But even during that time when the Spirit limited itself to only a few people, and mostly men, there were hints that something better was coming. I mentioned before the desire of Moses, the Spirit-filled leader of Israel saying in Numbers 11:29, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would put his Spirit on them.” Well, on the day of Pentecost, it happened. God put His Spirit on both men and women. No longer was there a difference, spiritually speaking, between men and women in God’s plan and purpose. Now that doesn’t mean that there are not role distinctions between men and women still. The New Testament talks about male leadership in the home and church; that still stands. The New Testament nowhere teaches that we can mix and match male and female roles in the marriage and church. God calls women to do certain things and God calls men to do certain things base on their differences. Men and women are different, if you haven’t noticed (as some feminists refuse to admit), because God has different callings for them. The coming of the Spirit on both men and women doesn’t change this any. It just now gives both men and women equal access to God. The Spirit can inspire a woman to do something and the Spirit can inspire a man to do something. The Spirit can convict both men and women of sin and motivate both to confess and repent of sin equally. The Spirit can guide and direct both men and women to the truth and away from error equally. And not only men and women, but both young and old. All believers now have access to God through the Holy Spirit. That means we don’t need the equivalent of the Old Testament priests any more in the latter days because we are now all priests according to the New Testament. The Book of Revelation says that God has made us “to be a kingdom and priests to serve God,” Revelations 1:6. This is the birth of the New Testament church and the priesthood of all believers that the Reformers taught. All this is possible through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the last days.

Third, what are the results of the Spirit’s outpouring in the last days? Acts 2:19-21, “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The one main thing that characterizes the end times will be signs and wonders before the coming of the Lord’s return. Now some of these signs and wonders are obviously descriptions of what will happen just prior to the Lord’s return, so we can’t look for them all the time except in the last last days. For example, what else can it mean when it says, “Blood and fire and billows of smoke, the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the day of the Lord?” It’s talking about the end of the end times, when Christ returns. But the other characteristics of the latter days can be found at other times, before the times prior to Christ’s return. For example, prophecy and evangelism have and should be occurring all during the last days. In fact, not just prophecy but all the gifts of the Spirit should be in operation during the last days. Why? Because it says the Spirit is poured out on all believers and with the Spirit comes the gifts of the Spirit. Paul lists some of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, but there are other places in the New Testament where spiritual gifts are listed, and there are probably more gifts available than the New Testament describes. I don’t think it is possible to describe all the gifts that the Spirit pours out upon believers. The inspirations and impulses and guidance from the Holy Spirit in believers should characterize the Christian church today. I believe it is becoming more so as we learn to re-discover more of the Holy Spirit in these last days. For example, in these days the Holy Spirit is more talked about and studied than in any age since the early church age. The so-called charismatic movement has inspired a whole new generation of Christians from all denominations to become open to the power and presence of the Spirit in a new way. That doesn’t mean that everything that goes under the category “Pentecostal” or “charismatic” is of God. It’s often hard to tell whether someone is operating under inspiration of the Spirit or under their own emotions, or worse, under demonic control. Satan wants to confuse and counterfeit the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. We must always beware and test everything by the Word of God. Nevertheless, it is a good thing when Christians are starting to ask themselves what spiritual gifts they possess and how might they use these gifts for the benefit of Christ’s church and kingdom. But not only spiritual gifts are mentioned in this passage, but also evangelism is spoken of: “And everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” The Spirit inspires us to witness to others the gospel. We don’t have to rely on evangelists like Billy Graham to do the work of converting souls to Christ, we can do it ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit. These are just two of the results of the Spirit’s presence in our lives: we use our spiritual gifts in service to God and we witness the gospel in the Spirit’s power. Is the Spirit operating in your life today in these areas? Or are you still thinking like the Old Testament? Let’s pray that God uses the Spirit to inspire us to do these two things today.

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