In Act 2, the disciples of Jesus were gathered in the upper room when something extraordinary occurred which caused a stir in Jerusalem. Luke gives Peter a chance to explain in the first extended monologue in Acts. He explains:

But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“‘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.

—Acts 2:16-18 (ESV)

In other words, Peter is connecting the pouring out of the Spirit on the Eleven as a fulfillment (or partial fulfillment) of Joel's prophecy. This makes sense: Joel predicts that everyone, even those who are not of any particular note, will be like the prophets filled with God's Spirit. But Peter continues:

And I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
    before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

—Acts 2:19-21 (ESV)

Is Peter shifting to look at some point in the future (whether the destruction of the temple or some as-yet-unknown event)? Or is he explaining current (or recent) events?

  • Jon, have you ever read Welch's works? If not, please, go by this link: charleswelch.net/books.htm , find the book # 71 (named "Pentecost to Prison"), click on it, and then in the open book look at page 40. It seems to be covering exactly what you are asking about.
    – brilliant
    May 21, 2013 at 17:05
  • @brilliant: I have not. Wow! That's a lot of material. I'll take a look. May 21, 2013 at 17:09
  • Well, in case, you are interested in reading those works and at the same time overwhelmed by their number, I suggest that you firstly read only two books there: "Ephesians via Romans" and "Foundations of Dispensational Truth" as they briefly summarize the whole teaching by Welch and Bullinger
    – brilliant
    May 25, 2013 at 4:06

5 Answers 5


The phrase "in the last days" is the sign that Peter sees his words as an end-times prophecy. This is an interpretive take on Joel 2:28 because both the original Hebrew and Greek Septuagint say "And it shall come to pass afterwards..." (As an aside, this means that Luke is not working from the Septuagint here to put words in Peter's mouth.)

The paraphrase is appropriate because the phrase "in that day" and related wordings are often used to show that the prophecy following covers the last days in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 3:7; 26:1; 27:1, 2, etc.). See also, "Already but not yet," though be careful not to take this too far.

Many of the signs of Joel were seen on Pentecost, but the blood, smoke, and fire were not. While some link Pentecost to a new Sinai (where fire and smoke were seen as the covenant was given), it is better to understand Peter as saying "these current events (prophecies, visions, and dreams) will continue until these other signs (blood, smoke, and fire) show we are at the end of the age."

  • Indeed, those signs were not seen on Pentecost, but did they happen shortly thereafter? One could say that the sun turning into darkness, and the moon into blood, mean that fire and smoke on earth obscure the sun and turn the moon into a blood-tinged color. Imagine someone looking at the sun and moon when the Romans are in the process of destroying Jerusalem. The year is 70 A.D.
    – user862
    May 21, 2013 at 4:21
  • I gave this a +1 largely for the first paragraph. But Peter could have ended the quotation before the apocalyptic imagery. Why did he choose to continue the quotation? In particular, it seems like he continued the quote just to get in the "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Then he shifts back to preaching about the earthly life of Jesus. That seems strange. May 21, 2013 at 17:01

In his epistle Peter mentions again the immanency of "the end times" (1 Pet 4:7), and of course the imagery of the Book of Revelation captures in vivid imagery the end of the world. In other words, the end of the world is part of the Day of the Lord, to which Peter alludes in Acts 2:16-21. As in the imagery of day in the Bible, the beginning of the day starts with the darkness of night, and culminates with the light of day. Thus the Day of the Lord starts with pain and suffering (darkness), but ends with light. Another image are the birth pangs. While the pregnancy is obvious, the birth pangs are the onset of the turmoil of the end, which result in bringing new life to the light of day. These images were part of the discourse of Jesus in Matthew 24, to which Peter alludes in Acts 2:16-21.

The events of AD 70 fulfilled major portions of the discourse of Matthew 24, but not all of them. For example, the Apostle Paul had in mind Herod's temple in Jerusalem when he mentioned the desecration, or abomination of desolation in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, which Jesus mentions as part of his discourse in Matthew 24:15. That temple was not desecrated by the declaration of idolatry inside that temple (if we understand Jesus or even Paul to mean "desecration" as what Antiochus IV Epiphanes did to Zerubabbel's temple in Jerusalem in 167 BC). Instead Herod's temple was merely destroyed in AD 70 with no formal act or declaration of desecration by Titus, the conquering Roman general at that time, and of course we note that the scope of violence of AD 70 was confined to the geographical area of Israel. That is, the judgment of AD 70 was confined to Jews, and not to Gentiles.

On the other hand, the judgments of the Book of Revelation include the world, which is comprised of "all tongues, tribes, nations, and peoples" (Rev 5:9; Rev 7:9; Rev 10:11; Rev 11:9; Rev 13:7; Rev 14:6; and Rev 16:15), and therefore the concept of the "world" in the Book of Revelation includes areas beyond the immediate geographical land of Israel. Jesus alluded to "world" in Matthew 24:21. In that context, Jesus alluded to the future turmoil of the world that has never existed since the creation of the world, nor will ever exist again. In other words, if Josephus estimated (Wars of the Jews, Book VI, Chapter IX, Section 3) that there were about 3 million Jews who were casualties in AD 70 (of whom no less than 1 million were killed), was AD 70 therefore meant to be the worst catastrophe that the Jews have ever seen (or were ever to see again in the "world")?

In summary, while neither the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70 had occurred (much less the end of the world), we must ask whether or not there is room open to an interpretation that would view these events of Acts 2:16-21 as yet future, and therefore would still remain to be fulfilled as predictive Bible prophecy.

  • One candidate for the desecration is the sacrifice made to the standards of Rome shortly before the temple was put to the torch. But it seems like you got off course since my question was about Acts and not Matthew 24. (I do find the Preterist interpretation compelling, as you might have guessed. ;-) (+1 for the first paragraph, which makes a good connection.) May 21, 2013 at 17:43
  • @JonEricson - Please click here for a proposed discussion of the temple desecration as a future event.
    – Joseph
    May 26, 2013 at 21:10

Acts 2:17-21 is a modified citation from Joel 2:28-32:

Joel 2:28-32: And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

In order to fit the theology of Acts, Peter makes some minor changes:

  • from 'And it shall come to pass afterward' (Joel 2:28)
    to 'And it shall come to pass in the last days' (Acts 2:17)
  • adding 'and they shall prophesy:' (Acts 2:18b) after the citation of Joel 2:29.

Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17 had already said that sons and daughters will prophesy, so the addition to Acts 2:18 is repetition, intended to emphasise that the Spirit has enabled the eleven to prophesy.

The alteration in 2:17 is interesting, because it brings to mind the last days and the second coming of Jesus, which we find in Luke 21:25-28:

Luke 21:25-28: And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.

In fact, Acts 2:19-21 is an echo of the author's earlier passage in Luke 21:25-28, with its apocalyptic references to signs in the sun and the moon, and upon the earth below, then the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Nearly all New Testament scholars say that Luke's Gospel was substantialy based on Mark's Gospel, with Adam Winn (The Purpose of Mark's Gospel, page 1) saying the theory of Markan priority is one of the few that has reached a high level of consensus among New Testament interpreters. Thus, Luke chapter 21 is based on Mark chapter 13. Scholars believe that Mark's Gospel was written about the time of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and that chapter 13 describes the events leading up to the destruction. Mark describes these events, because its author believed the Second Coming to be imminent and would occur within his own generation and saw the terrible events in chapter 13 as the signs of Jesus' return.

By the time Luke and Acts were written, it was clear that the events around the First Roman-Jewish War were not a sign of an imminent Second Coming, but nevertheless it could not be far off. In Acts chapter 2, Peter was speaking in the early 30s and knew nothing of the forthcoming destruction of the temple, whereas for Luke it was an event of the distant past. Peter is to focus on the Second Coming as a future event, telling his audience that there will be signs so that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

  • Your final paragraph seems off to me. I think the destruction of the temple (whether it had occurred at the time of Acts' writing or not) had to have been a sign of Jesus' return. It's difficult to imagine a more apocalyptic event for Christians associated with Paul. If the event was in the past (from the time Luke wrote) it seems rather remarkable that it wasn't explicitly called out. Jun 28, 2016 at 17:31

Firstly, the context of Joel's prophecy is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.—Joel 2:32 (ESV)

This means that the particular "day of judgment" had already passed by the time Peter quoted the prophet. The New Testament writers always quote the Old Testament "covenantally," that is, the way God redeemed and avenged at such-and-such a time is being re-enacted now. The reference in Hebrews to Jeremiah concerning "a new covenant" is similar. In Jeremiah, the new covenant would re-unite Judah and Israel, north and south. The author of Hebrews is using the previous national "death-and-resurrection" to illustrate the international one which was occurring in his day, that is, the reunion of Jew and Gentile into one body.

Secondly, blood and fire and smoke are all sacrificial references. These are things that take place on the "Land" (not the earth) because the Land throughout the Old Testament is a flat, four-cornered altar. The obedient offering of the firstfruits (such as Isaac) would allow the will of God to be done on earth as it was in heaven. We see this on Mount Carmel, where Elijah's holy sacrificial model of Israel (a twelve stone altar) calls down fire from heaven, and the entire mountain becomes a new Sinai, with the false priests slain and God vindicated. The Tabernacle was a model of Sinai, with the Bronze Altar as the raised earth, and the furnitures in the Holy Place signified the sacrificial blood (the Table), the fire (the Lampstand) and the fragrant savory smoke (the Incense Altar). The fragrant smoke was pleasing to God, a "legal witness" that the Law had been satisfied.

In the first century, the death of Christ was the offering of blood. Pentecost was the "holy fire" coming down from heaven, and the testimony of the apostles to an apostate Jerusalem and to the surrounding Gentiles was the savory smoke, after which came God's blessings and curses upon the Jews for all time in AD70. In the Jewish war, as on Carmel, the liturgical model of Christian worship brought down the "days of vengeance." Jerusalem herself was laid upon the altar, the entire Land covered in blood. As she was under Babylon due to her harlotries, idolatries, sorceries and abominations, so she would be under Rome, whom God would bring against her. At Pentecost, it seems the glory of God began to leave the Temple. It was unprotected against invasion and plunder by Gentiles.

This is why the Revelation is a sacrificial liturgy. It is the last sacrifice of the Old Testament: Israel herself. The believers ascended as smoke (the ascension offering in Leviticus 1, the true Isaacs, sons of Abraham by faith) and the unbelievers were swallowed by the Land, descending into the earth, the Altar, as ashes, Adamic dust, like the false priests, the sons of Korah. The Altar was then split in two (symbolically under the feet of Christ) and the ashes poured out. All these allusions help us to understand what is going on. To refuse to understand the Bible on its own terms (with its constant sacrificial/liturgical models) is to refuse to take it as it was intended.

Finally, the "last days" in the New Testament always refer to the last days of the Old Covenant, not the last days of the New.

  • There's lot's of interesting stuff here. You've given me a ton to think about. (+1) It would be interesting to unpack the final paragraph, which makes a bold claim that many interpreters would likely dispute. But that's a whole 'nother question. Have you considered self-answering your own questions? May 21, 2013 at 17:53
  • 1
    @GoneQuiet that is exactly the connection we are supposed to make. We are to observe what is the same and what is different. When the glory filled the house at the completion of the Tabernacle and Temple, the priests had to vacate. Since this new dispensation of glory was an indwelling, those present were the house itself, the stones and the furnishings. The apostolic church, through its faithful prophetic witness, eventually led to the consumption of Herod's Temple, which by AD70, as Jesus predicted, was filled with demons. The symbology doesn't go astray. It's very consistent.
    – Mike Bull
    May 22, 2013 at 0:25
  • @GoneQuiet Best thing would be to give James Jordan's "Through New Eyes" a read. He traces these symbols right back to Genesis. It's available free online in PDF: biblicalhorizons.com/pdf/jjne.pdf
    – Mike Bull
    Nov 3, 2013 at 7:37

Could Luke not have written on or around 62-64 AD? It seems odd that he does not refer either to the death of the apostle Paul nor to the persecution of Christians in the Roman empire following the burning of Rome.

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