Joel 2:28-32 gives the highly important prophecy concerning the Day of the Lord and associated events. Four elements of God’s provision according to the prophecy can be summarized: (1) He would pour out His Spirit on all people; (2) He would provide prophecy, dreams, and visions; (3)He would give cosmic signs; and (4) He would deliver a remnant in Jerusalem.
Let us focus our attention on the significant fact that the LORD would pour out His Spirit on all people. The phrase “poured out” connects this to Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29. It also speaks of an inexhaustible abundance, like giving of abundant rain (v. 23). All Israel will receive this, including sons and daughters, old and young men, slaves and women. As Keil mentions,
“The outpouring of the Spirit upon slaves (men-servants and maidens) is connected by vegam, as being something very extraordinary, and under existing circumstances not to be expected. Not a single case occurs in the whole of the Old Testament of a salve receiving the gift of prophecy. Amos, indeed, was a poor shepherd servant, but not an actual slave. And the communication of this gift to slaves was irreconcilable with the position of slaves under the Old Testament. Consequently even the Jewish expositors could not reconcile themselves to this announcement. The lxx, by rendering it ἐπὶ τοὺς δούλους μου καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς δούλας μου, have put servants of God in the place of the slaves of men; and the Pharisees refused to the ὄχλος even a knowledge of the law (John 7:49). The gospel has therefore also broken the fetters of slavery.”
Some take this to mean just the national of Israel, pointing to the phrase “your sons,” etc. However, as Keil goes on to point out, “the word all does not do away with the limitation to one particular nation, but merely that in this one nation even the limits of sex, age, and rank are abolished; since it cannot be proved that the specification in Joel 2:2 and Joel 2:3 is intended to exhaust the idea of ‘all flesh’.”
Moreover, as the prophecy of Joel had respect primarily to Judah, Joel may primarily have brought into prominence, and specially singled out of the general idea of kol-bâsâr in Joel 2:28 and Joel 2:29, only those points that were of importance to his contemporaries, viz., that all the members of the covenant nation would participate in this outpouring of the Spirit, without regard to sex, age, or rank; and in so doing, he may have looked away from the idea of the entire human race, including all nations, which is involved in the expression “all flesh.”
While it is interesting to note that the Jews did interpret this to mean only their nation. This is why the Jewish Christians were astonished that the Spirit was poured out upon the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:45. This prophecy must apply to all who call upon the name of the LORD, which MUST be interpreted to include Gentiles, unless we wish to deny the use of this phrase in the NT. This naturally leads us to consider,
When will this prophecy be fulfilled? This passage is finding its fulfillment since the day of Pentecost and will find its further fulfillment in the tribulation period, Second Coming of Christ, and the subsequent national restoration of Israel. The ultimate fulfillment of this passage is found in the millennium.
In connection with its fulfillment, we must note the quotation of this passage by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21); this has engendered no small debate. Some believe that it is best to see the events of Acts 2 as analogous to the predictions of Joel in light of the fact that the first three elements cited above were not being fulfilled at the time that Peter quotes the passage from Joel. The Spirit had only come upon the twelve apostles, not all the people. The speaking in tongues in the passage apparently needed no interpretation and may not constitute prophecy, dreams, and visions. There were certainly no cosmic signs on the Day of Pentecost. Thus, Joel’s prophecy of the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh is yet to be fulfilled. This passage gives what has been called, based upon terminology from Jeremiah 31:31-34, the new covenant that in the latter days will replace the Old Covenant for the nation of Israel. The mention of the day of the Lord in the passage assures that its fulfillment is associated with the end time scenario of tribulation and judgment.
However, the church has seen this as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy since its inception. The best way to see this passage is the beginning of the fulfillment, which is being fulfilled in the present age and come to a completion at the time the Spirit is poured out upon the children of Israel at their conversion. Also, the New Covenant is very much in force, having replaced the old. Let us then consider,
The significance of Pentecost is seen in empowerment. This is the primary focus of our Lord as well as the book of Acts. While other significances connected with Pentecost, as we have outlined above in the introduction, the NT seems to focus on the element of empowerment. A primary ministry of the Spirit is empowerment for service. It is in this area that we observe a major difference in the Spirit’s work between the OT believer and the NT believer. In the OT, the Spirit imparted this power for service to selected people, such as the craftsmen for the tabernacle, leaders, judges, kings, and prophets. It is with reference to these selective groups of people that reference is made to the Spirit’s activity in the OT. He would come upon them and equip them for service. This was not related to their personal holiness, as demonstrated in the lives of Samson and Balaam, but was for the purpose of carrying out a God-ordained ministry.
At Pentecost all of this changed. Now, rather than just a select few equipped to serve, every believer is equipped to serve. This service falls into two major areas.The first is in evangelism. Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8 make it clear that the Holy Spirit would empower believers to witness to the world concerning the gospel. This was not a requirement for OT believers and therefore they did not need this power for personal witness. This is not to say that Israel was not to be a witness or that certain people were not sent to witness, like Jonah. It is to say that this was not a requirement for every OT believer as it now is for every NT believer.
The second area of service is that of gifts. Whereas in the OT the evidence of spiritual gifts seems to be limited to selected people (e.g., Moses, Joshua, Ezra, the prophets, etc.), this also changed at Pentecost. Now every believer is given gifts (1 Corinthians 12) for the purpose of serving one another.
As the church remembers this vitally important day, the above outline should remind us of what it means to the church. Also, it should cause us to seek the power that we desperately need for this hour. Let us consider the following words of Lloyd-Jones without any fear of becoming Pentecostal as we seek to live in the joy and light of Pentecost:
The greatest need of the hour is a new baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit in renewal and revival…The ultimate question facing us these days is whether our faith is in men and their power to organize, or in the truth of God in Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. (The Basis of Christian Unity)