All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
To The Jew First
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. NET
10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek. NET
46 Both Paul and Barnabas replied courageously, “It was necessary to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles. NET
3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed—cut off from Christ—for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen, 4 who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen. NET
Ephesians 2:11-12; 19-20
11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh—who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands— 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world……19 So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
It was “necessary to speak the word of God” (gospel of Jesus Christ) to the Jews first (Acts 13:46). The reason for that is because “to them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever!” (Ro 9:3-5).
But that still doesn’t really answer our question. Why was it “necessary” to give the message of Christ to the Jews first? With the above context in mind, the answer – specifically – has to be because the people of Israel had to know that all that was promised and prophesied for their nation had finally come to fulfillment. They had to know that all that they had hoped for and looked forward to had finally come to fruition, that their Messiah had come and that He is now sitting upon His throne reigning over His kingdom. Like dispensationalists, Israel had an erroneous idea about their Messiah and His kingdom, as well as the land that was promised to them. The Apostles and prophets of Christ served to provide the understanding that they lacked. Thus, the NT Scriptures do the very same thing. They interpret the OT Scriptures, particularly the OT prophecies and promises regarding Israel.
Therefore, it was “necessary” that they receive the message about Christ first, because it’s fundamentally all about them. They had to know that their time had finally come. However, their understanding was limited and flawed, so they had to be properly taught. Again, this was the role that the Apostles and prophets served — as the NT Scriptures were being written through them.
It was also “necessary” that the message of Christ be given to them first, because it was their message to the rest of the world. Think about that. It was the Jews who were first given the responsibility of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ! The reason for that is, because they now had the completed “word of God” (Acts 13:46) that began with them. Again, the message of Christ was really all about them. All that was prophesied and promised to them was fulfilled in Christ and His Church (which began on Pentecost), which was attended by the 120 Jewish believers (including the Apostles) that were mentioned in Acts 1:15 and referred to in Acts 2:1.
The Apostle Peter himself understood this time period surrounding Christ and Pentecost as their (Israel) time of fulfillment, as prophesied in their Scriptures. We know this to be true because he explains it in his very first message to the people of Israel:
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spake forth unto them, saying, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and give ear unto my words. 15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose; seeing it is but the third hour of the day; 16 but this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 And it shall be in the last days, saith God,
I will pour forth 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:
18 Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heaven above,
And signs on the earth beneath;
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke:
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the day of the Lord come,
That great and notable day:
21 And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know; 23 him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay: 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. 25 For David saith concerning him,
I beheld the Lord always before my face;
For he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
26 Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
Moreover my flesh also shall dwell in hope:
27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades,
Neither wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption.
28 Thou madest known unto me the ways of life;
Thou shalt make me full of gladness with thy countenance.
29 Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne; 31 he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear. 34 For David ascended not into the heavens: but he saith himself,
The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
35 Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet.
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.
There are two parts to this sermon, verses 14-21 and verses 22-36. We’ll take a look at both parts, but part two is the one we’re the most interested in. In regard to the first part of the message, for our purposes we’re just going to cover verses 16 and 17a:
16 but this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel:
Peter is very clear that what they were seeing and experiencing (Acts 2:1-4) was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28-32:
17 And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth 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:
“it shall be in the last days”
First, this cannot refer to the whole Church age. It’s been 2000 years since the Church began. Are we to believe that it’s been the “last days” for 2000 years? And what if it lasts another 2000 years? The idea that Peter is referring to the entire Church era is completely unreasonable. He’s obviously referring to a specific time in history. Otherwise, the phrase last days has no real meaning. We have to keep everything in proper perspective and try to see everything through the eyes of the Jews of that day — which was the transition period from the Old Covenant to New Covenant.
Second, this cannot be referring to the last days of the world prior to the return of Christ. This is the position of many Bible teachers. They conclude that this prophecy is only partly fulfilled during this event on the day of Pentecost, and that it’s completely fulfilled in the last days before Jesus returns. However, like the first option, it’s an unreasonable interpretation. In verse 18, Peter emphasizes the fact that what they were seeing and experiencing was in “those days,” so that there would be no mistaking the time period of this Joel-prophecy.
In both of the above cases, dispensational premillennialists can only interpret the event of Pentecost and the Joel prophecy as they do, based on a positional bias. We cannot not allow our personal and positional beliefs determine the interpretation of any passage of Scripture. If we don’t set aside our biases, it will likely blind us to what’s actually being taught. We have to be willing to allow truth to lead us where it wants to take us.
Again, in order to interpret the event of Pentecost and this prophecy of Joel correctly, we must consider what was taking place in the history of Israel at that time. We have to view this from the perspective of the people of Israel — or more accurately, from the perspective of the believing Jews, such as Peter and the other Apostles. We have to consider God’s redemptive plan for mankind at this point in time.
With that in mind, this has to refer to the “last days” of Israel under the Old Covenant (He 1:2; 1 Pe 1:20). Pentecost ushered in the Church age, the Christian/gospel era. It was the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New Covenant in Christ (He 8:8,13; He 9:15; He 10:9; He 12:24). This is the “last days” of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. This is the end of those days where God’s plan was focused on the people and nation of Israel. Pentecost marked the “official” end of that era, and the beginning of the Church era. Instead of working through the nation of Israel as His representatives in the world, He’s now working through His Church to reach the people of the world and to fulfill His plan for the world.
Also in view in the “last days” of this prophecy is the destruction of Jerusalem (and temple) in AD 70. Like Pentecost, it was a dramatic and visible sign of the “last days” of Israel under the old economy. It was the exclamation point. It marked the final end of God’s dealing with the nation of Israel as He had before.
“I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh”
On the day of Pentecost, believers experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Believers at that time and place received the Spirit and were baptized into the body of Christ, which is the Church (1 Cor 12:13,27; Eph 3:6; Eph 4:12; Eph 5:23). This marked the beginning of the Church and the Church age, the gospel era. What began then, continues until the return of Christ. While this was a one time event, the receiving of the Spirit (includes regeneration) and baptism into Christ’s body, continues from that point forward as individuals place their faith in Him.
We must keep in mind that “the last days” are the last days of the Old Covenant, that time of transition to the New Covenant and the establishment of the Church in Christ. We make a serious interpretive mistake to go beyond the boundaries of those days.
The second part of Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:22-36) – with a focus on verses 29-36, will be covered in the next post (2 of 2), with a concluding discussion.