Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category

For Luke the charismatic ‘Spirit of prophecy’ is very much the power and life of the church, and so probably of the individual too. It is the means by which the heavenly Lord exercises his cleansing and transforming rule over Israel as much as the means by which he uses her as the Isaianic servant to witness his salvation to the ends of the earth (Max Turner 1998:347).

The bestowing of the Spirit on Pentecost didn’t mark the end of God’s dealings with Israel and a transferring of God’s salvific dealings solely to the Gentiles, but was rather the initiation of Israel’s glory age. They were empowered to be the witnesses to the nations as prescribed in Isaiah. The height of Israel’s existence is their mission to the Gentiles and that is being fulfilled right now in these last days. There remains a distinction in ethnicity between Jew and gentile, no doubt, but both constitute a single people of God who are constituted by the same means of calling upon the name of their common Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all the nations are blessed.

Pastor Jim is preaching a series on “Salt & Light” at Cornerstone Worship Center (Nampa, ID) and  a week and a half ago took us into Acts 2/Joel 2 wherein we find the famous prophetic statement:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit,
and they shall prophesy.’”

In teaching this passage, Pastor Jim referenced a phrase that he later shared was from the ministry of Jerry Cook. The phrase is “the prophetic community.” The words resonated with me; this concept that we have an identity together that is not as much about the specific things we do, but is about who we are in the eyes of God, seemed to shift around in my soul. The idea is that, whilst visions, dreams, prophecy etc. are all realities to be expected, the instances of manifestation are not the thrust of the passage.

Part of our mission as the church (which is God’s people together, and in a specific way a locally identifiable body of believers) is to proclaim and speak forth the good news of Jesus Christ, the hope of redemption in Him, and man’s need for a Savior. In a conversation with my good friend Jon Brown he stated that evangelism is the one purpose of the church that will not continue in eternity. Worshiping God, loving one another, glorifying Jesus and finding our truest satisfaction in our Maker, these things will remain. But it is appointed once to a man the opportunity to believe on Jesus. With death comes the end of decision. (more…)

All excerpts are from Dr. Craig Keener’s volume, “The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts”.

Keener (1997:193) sees eschatological significance in the three Pentecostal signs of wind, fire, and tongues:

The external signs more clearly function as divinely bestowed symbols of the impending kingdom of God. Wind (Acts 2:2) would have convinced the gathered believers that the coming age had arrived, for it symbolizes the breath of resurrection life in Ezek 37…

Keener (1997:193) adds:

Fire, of course, could symbolize the imminent time of eschatological judgment (Acts 2:3)….The fire, therefore, serves as a small reminder of the fire to be unleashed in God’s vengeance at the end of the age.

Keener (1997:193-194) remarks lastly about the significance of tongues:

The clearest sign in Acts 2:1-12 that the power of the eschatological kingdom is erupting into history is the phenomenon of glossolalia in 2:4….the Spirit of prophecy was an eschatological phenomenon, and…Luke recognizes speaking in unknown tongues as a form of  prophetic (i.e., inspired) speech, and uses this phenomenon to mark the fact that in the new era all God’s people would be prophets in some sense (Joel 2:28-29).

Keener (1997:195), though not elaborating on the nature of God’s eschatological reign, does affirm that Peter clearly taught that it had commenced in Pentecost, “Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-40 clearly connects baptism in the Holy Spirit with prophetic witness and the present experience of God’s future reign.” He later adds, “…this anointing is evidence that the time of Israel’s salvation has come…”

Turner, M. (2000). Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic.

Turner offers 7 major views within historical scholarship on the nature of the Pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit. The fourth major view is dubbed, “The Gift of the Spirit Emphasized by Luke as the Spirit of Prophecy and Missionary Empowering” (Turner 2000:56). G.W.H. Lampe is credited with this view. Lampe viewed the gift of the Spirit strictly within the prophetic paradigm offered in the OT. Prophets perform miracles and preach. Lampe therefore sees Pentecost as the bestowing of the Spirit unto preaching and supernatural ministry. Lampe struggled with a Lukan pneumatology as it regards the Spirit being poured out on all in its universal nature. While it appears that Luke does emphasize reception of the Spirit as an empowering work for some, it does not suggest such for all who received the Spirit. This tension forced the positing of two different works of the Spirit, one that is soteriological and one that is missionary in His intent. Lampe suggested that Luke himself was using  “two basically different concepts of the Spirit” (Turner 2000:58).

I respect the contributions of Lampe in seeking to be faithful to the OT paradigm of the Spirit’s work upon the prophet as a paradigm for Christ and the Disciples on Pentecost. He struggled, as do I, in Luke’s seemingly clear expectation that the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit is a universal fulfilling of Joel’s charismatic paradigm. The fact also remains that Luke highlights the fact that Phillip’s daughters were prophetesses, when such mentioning would be rather insignificant if everyone was a prophet of sorts. Traditional Pentecostals view the ‘charismatic’ empowering as normative and plead with the Christian community to life in the fullness of what God intends to bring to us through the Holy Spirit. Christians who lack “charismatic” empowering would be seen as the exception, no matter what the respective percentages are for those who have or have not the charismatic experience.

Non-Pentecostals have instead emphasized the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ as the normative paradigm for life in the Spirit. The charismatic nature of the Spirit is either seen as the exception or serving an ad hoc function for the early church.  In either paradigm, the non-Pentecostal is certainly not encouraging believers to seek the charismatic empowering as the normative paradigm.

I struggle in tension between both views. I have lived and ministered within both paradigms and have the greatest respect for believers in each respective community. I have essentially adopted the view that Joel’s charismatic paradigm is the norm for all believers today. However, I would suggest that this charismatic empowering need not necessarily match the extraordinary experiences that we find in Acts. The empowering might not take the form of prophecy or miracles, but may take the shape of incredible hospitality in the koinonia of the Church. Some would accuse me then of not being faithful the Joeline paradigm, which expects prophecy as a normative experience. I would simply say that there does remain tension in my view, however I would emphasis that we have all been made “prophets” in an objective sense through the Spirit and that our individual manifestations proceeding from our “prophethood” will take on varied and complementing functions within the broader community (1 Cor. 12).  As such, the person who ministers mercy in the Spirit is just as much a prophet as the one who speaks in tongues or prophesies in the corporate gathering. Many Evangelicals have rightly understood the “priesthood” of all believers, which views the church as ontologically one and encouraged to minister in various capacities. Those who hold this view would suggest that all are “ministers” in a general sense, without obliterating the distinct nature of a Pastor/Elder who ministers in an analogous, though authoritative fashion. So also, the “prophethood of believers” affords the same paradigm, allowing for a general application, and yet respecting the more extraordinary gifts that God should bestow on some.

Peter, who preached the Pentecostal sermon sheds some light on the potential variety that the “charismata” may take in the Christian community:

1 PT 4:10-11 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I referenced 1 Cor. 12 earlier and many take exception with that because it is seen as a reading of Pauline pnuematology into Luke. I find helpful the reading of Peter through Peter approach. Peter is the one who preached the sermon and is the one who offers us this passage that presumes that “each has received a gift” and then generalizes two categories: speaking and serving. Peter offers not an “all or nothing” approach, but rather a “both and” approach to the nature of the charismata, but it is clearly within an “ALL” paradigm as to  respective recipients, being the full body of believers.

https://i0.wp.com/www.catholicbiblestore.com/productimages/catholic-bible/bible-study-materials/20195.jpg

Sweeney, M.A. (2000). The Twelve Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (vol. 1). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

M.A. Sweeney (2000:174) likens the outpouring upon Israel as a reconstitution of His people of sorts, hearkening back to creation and the work of the Spirit amidst the cataclysmic events:

Indeed, the image of the Hamsin/Sharav appears to underlie much of the imagery of cosmic transformation in this passage, but it is combined with the imagery of prophecy once again to demonstrate the interrelatedness of the natural and the human worlds in the book of Joel….The list of persons involved, sons and daughters, elders, young men, slaves and maid servants, is intended to be comprehensive. This phenomenon appears to project a return to a much earlier or ideal time prior to the establishment of Israel as a nation ruled by a king in its own land, such as the Exodus and wilderness period when the seventy elders of Israel began to prophesy when the “spirit” of G-d descended upon them (Num 11:25) or the period prior to the time of Samuel and the emergence of the first king, Saul, when 1 Sam 3:1 states that the word of YHWH and visions were rare at that time.

Sweeney (2000:174) adds the following:

To a certain extent, the passage attempts to portray a return to a state prior to creation, either of the natural world order or of the nation Israel, which of course enables both YHWH and Israel/Judah to start all over again on a new basis. The portents in the heavens and on the earth recalls both the use of heaven and earth as the comprehensive designation for all creation (Gen 1:1; 2:1,4) and the actions of YHWH in the Exodus narrative that forced Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves and that prompted the creation of Israel as a nation and its covenant with YHWH (Exod 6:1-9; 7:1-7).

Sweeney (2000:175) continues:

The images of “blood, fire, and columns of smoke” appear to be destructive at first sight and suggest the motif of YWHW’s battles against the nations that oppress Israel in the following passages. But these images are also the images of the altar at the Jerusalem Temple….Once the animal is slaughtered and prepared for the altar, it is set on fire and consumed entirely, resulting in a thick column of smoke that will stand over the site of the Temple complex. Although the imagery is destructive, it is also constructive in the sense that the Temple sacrificial ritual is intended to maintain or restore the order of the created world. In a similar manner, the Hamsin or Sharav that darkens the sun and causes the moon to appear red as blood is both destructive and transformative in that it marks the transition from one season to another; one reality is destroyed as another emerges. Altogether, such transformation in both the natural and the human world is labeled as the coming “Day of YHWH” in verse 4 [NRSV:31].

Pentecost therefore marks the commencing of judgment on the “old era”, which is passing away, and the inauguration of the “new era”, which is ever closer to its full consummation.  The signs and wonders surrounding the crucifixion, ascension, Pentecost and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem on 70 A.D. also marks a destructive work on the “old Israel” and the constructing of a “new Israel” that will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The “last days” as a whole also have cosmic consequences as the “old earth” is literally passing away and is yet being renewed.

charles-holman

Holman, Charles L.: Till Jesus Comes : Origins of Christian Apocalyptic Expectation. Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson Publishers, 1996

For more information on Dr. Charles Holman, visit: http://www.regent.edu/acad/schdiv/holman/charles.shtml

Holman comments on Joel 2-3 as follows:

Following material blessing, a deluge of the Spirit “on all flesh” is foreseen, answering to the downpour in verse 23 which replenished the earth and brought prosperity. This apparently introduces the truly eschatological era in which the day of Yahweh finally is to arrive. The fortunes of Judah are to be restored, the nations of earth judged, with Yahweh dwelling in Zion (2:28-3:21). Significant for our subject of expectation is the fact that at first the day of Yahweh is “near”, with signs in the cosmos (2:1-2, 10-11). Then, after Judah’s repentence, the day is seen both as no longer at hand (though anticipated), 2:26-32; 3:2, 18, but also as “near”, 3:14. There seems to be an ambivalence in imminent expectation after the great day is postponed following Judah’s repentance. Otherwise the hope remains the same as in other prophetic writings, though with distinctive profusion of the Spirit on “all flesh,” seen initially fulfilled in Acts on the day of Pentecost (Holman 1996:35).

That Pentecost fulfills Joel 2:28-32 is fairly clear, but what do we make of the antecedent in Joel of the agricultural blessing preceding the promise of the Spirit? Some would suggest that it isn’t an antecedent, but is actually fulfilled by means of the outpouring of the Spirit in verses 28-32 (Van Gemeren suggests such). Perhaps one shouldn’t look for dogmatic parallels to everything in Joel…or else one would wonder what the locusts symbolize within an eschatological framework. It does seem clear that Joel 3 explains events which will proceed following the outpouring of the Spirit in 2:28-32. It is also clear that Judah’s repentance postponed the impending “day of Yahweh”, which has been placed subsequent to a time of blessing. The fortunes change for Israel as they find eschatological salvation in the “name of the LORD” and it is now certain that Israel’s enemies will be judged in the future “day of Yahweh”, which is yet future.

The time of blessing has come through Christ and in His anointing His people on Pentecost. The “day of Yahweh” is indeed imminent, but it seems clear that some objectives need to be fulfilled before that day arrives, namely the mission of the church to all nations. Rather than sitting around and waiting for the day to come, we are instead to seek the expansion of God’s blessing in this era marked by eschatological salvation for all who call upon His name.

Homan comments on Luke’s eschatological paradigm:

We wish to attempt an explanation of why events before the end in the synoptic apocalypse are de-eschatologized by Luke, while encouragement is nevertheless given to anticipate the Parousia. In the way he presents the Jesus tradition we have observed Luke’s particular interest in warning against eschatological deception, including the nearness of the final time, his warning against a “this-worldly” lifestyle, and his warning of persecution and suffering. Also, in the way he presents the Jesus tradition, he urges watchfulness and prayerfulness (Homan 1996:130).

Eschatological piety is definitely distinct by reason of an imminent return. I think that this is the enduring message of Joel; that one should live their life ever mindful that the “day of Yahweh” is near. The people are called to wholehearted worship…and so also are we called to whole-hearted worship in the modern era.

Luke’s frequent detailing of Jewish rejection of the gospel in Luke-Acts, along with success of the Gentile mission, provides a divine reason for Jerusalem’s destruction. But at the same time it would raise eschatological problems in light of familiar apocalyptic tradition of the end as associated with the Jerusalem crisis (Holman 1996:130-131).

The end times are confirmed by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The problems this creates is the postponement of the parousia some 2000 years beyond that event when it seemed intricately connected with it. Various forms of preterism seek greater fulfillment of apocalyptic fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, while certain dispensationalists solve the problem by speaking of a future destruction of a temple in Jerusalem. I think the problem is solved by viewing the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD as being an escalating sign of a “last days” paradigm that began with Jesus and escalated with Pentecost. There are ongoing calamities within redemptive history that should point to the impending “day of Yahweh”. Scripture attests to many signs of the “last days”, all of which have accompanied history up to the modern era. They should serve as perpetual reminders of God’s judgment upon sin and encourage all people to call upon the name of the Lord. (more…)