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PENTECOST AND REVIVAL
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:16-18).
Joel 2:28 is quoted in Acts 2:17. But the Hebrew in Joel 2:28 has “afterward” instead of “in the last days.” Peter quoted from the Septuagint Greek translation of Joel 2:28, rather than the Hebrew. The Greek translation in the Septuagint put “the last days” for “afterward.” That’s the way the seventy rabbis who translated the Hebrew put it in the Septuagint. Were they right? If we believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the New Testament we have to say they were exactly right – or else the Holy Spirit would not have given us “in the last days” in Acts 2:17. The Holy Spirit thus shows us that the seventy rabbis were correct in translating the Hebrew word for “afterward” as “in the last days.” On this verse they, as well as the author of the Book of Acts, were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, though this cannot be said of the entire Septuagint. The incorporating of these words in the New Testament puts the seal of inspiration on the Greek words translated “in the last days.” That is what Joel meant by “afterward.” After that time, in which Joel lived; after this, in the last days, God would do this.
Then there are the words “in the last days.” When you see these words, you have to look at the context in which they are given. For instance, the words “in the last days” in II Peter 3:3 refer to the very end of the age, for in no other period did men generally believe in uniformitarianism, that “all things continue as they were from the beginning.” This view did not become prominent until Lyall and Darwin. So, it is clear in II Peter 3:3 that “the last days” refers to the very end of this age. I think that is also true of II Timothy 3:1, “in the last days perilous times shall come.” Although the following verses in II Timothy 3 describe things that have been true throughout Christian history, they are described as coming together in such intensity that they cause “perilous times” (“furious, fierce” times) in “the last days.” This is a picture of the time we are living in today. But in another place, in Hebrews 1:2, the term refers to the entire Christian era, that God
“Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son”
So, we have to look at the context to see what period is being spoken of by the phrase “the last days.”
This rule of interpretation is applied with more difficulty in Acts 2:16-21. Peter most definitely said
“This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16).
But, taking that literally, as I do, how can we explain the events recorded by Joel, which are given in verses 19 and 20? Some say that these phenomena occurred when Christ was crucified, the sun was darkened, and an earthquake destroyed the Temple. Yes, those things can be seen as foreshadowing the end-time events, but they can hardly be said to be “that great and notable day of the Lord.” And these events happened fifty days before Pentecost, not on that day itself. The “day of the Lord” is very clearly in the future according to the Scriptures. This is what sometimes makes good men stumble. You know that I greatly admire Dr. J. Vernon McGee. But Dr. McGee was quite definitely wrong when he said,
My friend, Joel 2:28-32 has not been fulfilled to this day…It was not fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson, volume IV, p. 519).
Peter said, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Dr. McGee said, “No, it’s not!” His answer seems strange in light of the Scofield note on Joel 2:28. Dr. McGee preached from a Scofield Study Bible. It makes me wonder why he seemed to disagree with it. I think the Scofield Study Bible gives a better explanation than Dr. McGee in its note on Joel 2:28, when it says that verse has “a partial and continuous fulfillment during the ‘last days’ which began with the advent of Christ (Hebrews 1:2); but the greater fulfillment awaits the ‘last days’ as applied to Israel” (The Scofield Study Bible; note on Joel 2:28).
Without going into that any farther, it seems to me that the general idea given in the Scofield note is correct. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was a “partial and continuous fulfillment” of Joel’s prophecy. The prophecy continues to be fulfilled throughout the Christian age whenever the Holy Spirit is poured out in revival.
And then, in verse 17, Peter continues to quote what God said to Joel, “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh.” What began with Jews of many languages, continues, as Dr. Lenski said, “in all lands the world over and is still extending” in various conversions and revivals throughout the earth (R. C. H. Lenski, Ph.D., The Interpretation of The Acts of the Apostles, Augsburg Publishing House, 1961 edition, p. 74). Luther said that the “prophesying, visions and dreams” spoken of in verse 17 “are all one thing, namely the knowledge of God through Christ, which the Holy Spirit kindles and makes to burn through the Word of the gospel” (ibid., p. 74-75).
So, then, we have a further lesson. Since we believe that Pentecost was the first revival, and all later revivals come the same way, from God, who said,
“I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17),
then it is a mistake to use Old Testament passages, such as II Chronicles 7:14, to explain revival. Joel most definitely said,
“It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28).
After what? After His dealings in the world through the Nation of Israel. Though He would still have an earthly covenant with Israel, He would “afterward” (i.e. “in the last days”) pour out His Spirit on all flesh! This is why I repeatedly say that revival is a New Testament phenomenon, and cannot be taught from passages in the Old Testament, such as II Chronicles 7:14. It seems to me that this is what the Bible teaches: Pentecost was the beginning of an era when the Holy Spirit would be poured out in revivals throughout the world. That is my position, and I am prepared to defend it from the Scriptures.
Now, let us go back and look at the beginning of verse 17, which, for us, is really the most important verse,
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh…” (Acts 2:17).
Don’t skip over the little word “of.” It is very important!
“I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh…”
I am shocked to find that the New International Version leaves out the word “of”! That is disturbing to me because the men who translated it claim to believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the New Testament Greek text! Yet they left out the word “of”! That startles me, for it ruins the sense of the verse. The NASV correctly puts it in, but the NIV leaves it out. You never know what these modern translators are going to leave out! That’s why I stick closely to the literal translation of the KJV. I trust the KJV. It doesn’t leave words out!
Why is that little word “of” so important? The Greek word is “apŏ.” Dr. Lenski translates it: “of or from my Spirit,” and he goes on to say, “for to have the Spirit is to have some of his power” (ibid., p. 76). It is important for us to know that, or we may be discouraged when we pray for revival. Revivals are the “extraordinary” outpourings of God’s Spirit. But His Spirit is still with us during more “normal” times, as Iain H. Murray points out (Iain H. Murray, Pentecost Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998, p. 18). Murray also quotes from George Smeaton, who said,
“According to the New Testament quotation there is a shade of meaning not to be lost in the words ‘of my Spirit’ (apŏ), distinguishing between the measure vouchsafed [promised] to men and the inexhaustible fulness in the resources of the fountain.” So the apostolic churches received repeated givings of the Spirit because there was always more of him to be given…there is always more to be received (Murray, ibid., pp. 20-21).
We must, therefore, not be discouraged when we see one or two conversions! Every conversion is a miracle from God! Never let a small number of conversions make us discouraged. If God were not working there would be none! But we should also continue to pray for God to break through and give the “unusual.” Why? Because “there [is] always more of him to be given…there is always more to be received.”
(END OF SERMON)
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