God, through the prophet Joel says:
“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. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:28-32)
This passage alone has significance for a discussion on the Spirit because it speaks of God’s promise to pour out the Spirit from Heaven. However, it takes on added significance when Peter quotes this passage at Pentecost in order to explain to the crowd what is happening with the tongues of fire and the different languages being spoken. Still, the meaning runs deeper than just different nationalities hearing the gospel message in their own language. Joel is looking forward to a time that is more than just speaking in tongues. God pours his Spirit out for a bigger purpose than just to stir up a crowd in Jerusalem. Here are just a couple of the ramifications of this pouring out of the Spirit.
The Spirit is poured out on all flesh. Typically today the point from this passage that stands out is equal status for women and men (sons and daughters, male and female) yet the reference to all flesh highlights more than just gender. In reality it promises new life to all who are weak, and powerless, and hopeless. It is not just the male and female slaves, those who have no freedom, who can receive the Spirit and life, but the old and the young too. The old, people who are passing away, who no longer have full power. The young, people who have not yet received power, whose greatest activity lies in the future. All of those whom society deems as less than ideal can come to the table and receive life in God, just like those who do experience power and priority in this life. The pouring out of the Spirit leads to a time when all people are granted an equal status before God and with each other.
Through the Spirit God comes near to everyone. All who receive the Spirit will prophesy and dream dreams with the intention of then sharing those new visions and truths with each other. They will share these new realities with each other and for each other. It will become a Kingdom of Priests in which all are sharing experiences with God and directing each other to the one responsible for their new life. No longer will it only be the Priests or the Levites who are responsible for worship but all will have access to God and be used by God to proclaim his greatness and power. Thus God’s presence will be with all people through the pouring out of an anointing of his Spirit.
A new community will be established. The miracle at Pentecost was not that all people and nationalities heard the same language but that all people heard the same message in their own language. All nationalities (Parthians, Medes, Elamites…), all people maintained their own individuality, they did not become one big master race or nation. Instead, through the pouring out of the Spirit, all of these nationalities, all of these individuals with all of their differences became a community. They were still Parthians and Medes and every other individual nationality but they also became something much greater, they became a community that was united through the power of the Spirit. The miracle was not that they all became the same, but that even in their individuality they all became a community. This is the type of community that can only be brought about through the pouring out of the Spirit. It is the community that Isaiah looked forward to when he spoke of the wolf and the sheep and the lion and the lamb all being together. It is a community that can only be possible through the work of the Spirit.
Joel looks forward to a great day when God’s Spirit will be poured out, when a new community will be born, when the weak and hopeless and powerless will be given equal status, when all will speak of revelations from God because they will have individual experiences, a time when all will come to God and be saved. At Pentecost, Peter says that day has come and God’s Spirit has been poured out. And even today we are living in that day, a day that is different because God’s Spirit has been poured out upon us. May we always live into that reality.
Editors Note: This is part 4 of 6 in a series on the Holy Spirit. The series is not meant to be exhaustive but to serve as a starting point for a fuller understanding of the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer and of the world.