Joel’s Prophecy and Events Surrounding the Day of Pentecost (And Our Misunderstandings)

By Marlin Kilpatrick

I am not so naive as to think I know all that can be known about the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32. I am certain there are others who know more than I, but it seems to me there are some things which all of us can know and understand about the events that occurred on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), as well as other events which surrounded that memorable day. But first, we need to get a picture in our minds of the context of the events which Luke, the inspired penman, paints for us.

Jesus gives his final instructions to his apostles and then ascends into heaven (Acts 1:1-11). Among his instructions, Jesus promised his apostles they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit in just a few days (cf. 1:4, 5). Following his ascension, the apostles returned to Jerusalem as they had been instructed (vss. 4, 12). The apostles joined a group of disciples who were in an upper room, including several women, their number being “about 120,” and from this group Matthias was selected to take Judas Iscariot’s apostleship (vss. 15-26). The kingdom of God, our Lord’s church, was about to come into existence, and not a better group of men and women to comprise that kingdom could be found; for they were “all with one accord.” What a picture of unity! Most likely, the Lord’s church has never been as united as it was when it began on the day of Pentecost (Acts2)!

The day of Pentecost arrived and the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and it is here that we begin to divide, with almost every gospel preacher having his own “interpretation” of what happened, to whom it happened, and why it happened, etc. We are so divided over the issue of the Holy Spirit that we ought to be ashamed. The “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) is thought by some to be miraculous and given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, while others think the “gift” is our salvation. We have some who hold there are only two occurrences (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-46) of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and, some cannot even agree that Cornelius was baptized in the Spirit. Recently, I was talking with a fellow gospel preacher about some of these matters and to my utter amazement he said, “I don’t believe the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit, and I don’t believe Cornelius was baptized in the Spirit, either.” Well, whether he believes or does not believe, Peter said Cornelius, his household and near friends received “the like gift” as did the apostles (Acts 11:17). The Greek word which is translated “like” means an equal gift (Vine’s, p. 342). So, whatever the apostles received, Cornelius, his household and near friends, received the same or equal gift.

When the day of Pentecost was fully come, there came a sound from heaven like that of a “rushing mighty wind” (Acts 2:1-4) and “tongues like as of fire” sat upon each of them. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, he used the wind as an illustration and said, “so is everyone that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). One brother says, “Only the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost” (Acts 2). Question: How does he know that? Answer: Most likely he read something written by J. W. McGarvey; or, possibly, he either read or heard the late brother Guy N. Woods say so. But, one thing for sure: he didn’t get it out of the scriptures. Someone may ask, “But wasn’t Jesus talking only to his apostles when he promised them they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit, not many days hence” (Acts 1:5)? Yes, and they were! But that doesn’t prove that only the apostles were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). As far as the apostles are concerned, the only thing that is proven is that Jesus kept his promise! In the gospel of John, chapters 14-16, Jesus was speaking to only his apostles, but some of what he told them applied to more than just the apostles. For example, he promised his apostles he would not leave them as orphans (John 14:18), but are the apostles the only members of the church who are not orphans? Certainly not! If God is your heavenly father, you’re not an orphan! Too, when Peter defended, at Jerusalem, his preaching to the Gentiles (Cornelius’ household) he remembered the words of Jesus, “John indeed baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:16) and he applied Jesus’ words to more than just the apostles; he included both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:17, 18).

According to the apostle Peter, the events which were taking place on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) were the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. In response to the people’s thinking that the apostles were drunk, Peter said, “For these are not drunken as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day, but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:15, 16). Joel’s prophecy reveals that both men and women would experience the pouring out of God’s Spirit (cf. Joel 2:28, 29). Since none of the apostles were women, but God, through the prophet Joel, said both men and women would be affected by his pouring out of his Spirit (Acts 2:17, 18), which is a quotation by the apostle Peter of Joel’s prophecy, then I know that more than the apostles were baptized in the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). This conclusion should come as no surprise, for John the Baptist had said that the one coming after him (Christ) would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (cf. Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16).

It is admitted by some that God did pour out his Spirit upon all flesh, but the claim is made that he began pouring out his Spirit on the day of Pentecost and completed pouring out his Spirit upon “all flesh” in Acts 10, when the Gentiles (Cornelius and his household and near friends) entered the kingdom. If that is true, then when did Philip’s four virgin daughters enter the kingdom (Acts 21:9)? And, furthermore, since there are no “measures” of the Spirit (John 3:34), these four virgin daughters were baptized in the Spirit, just like everyone who enters the kingdom (cf. John 3:5). I imagine someone will say, “But, born of the Spirit is not the same as being baptized in the Spirit.” My response is: If one is in compliance with Jesus’ words “born of water” when he is baptized in water, then how does he comply with Jesus’ words “(born, implied MK) of the Spirit?” If “born of water” requires a baptism in water, why doesn’t “and of the Spirit” (John 3:5) require a baptism in the Spirit? After all, both phrases are joined by the conjunction “and.” There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the context of John 3:3-5 to suggest that Jesus meant one must be instructed by the Spirit (which is the usual explanation of our Lord’s words). The new birth has two elements: water and Spirit.

It’s conceivable that someone might ask, “How do we know the women received the same baptismal measure of the Spirit as did the apostles on the day of Pentecost?” I’m glad you asked! We know the women received the same as did the apostles because, as stated earlier, there is no such thing as “measures” of the Spirit; hence, there is no “baptismal measure” of the Spirit. The scripture says, “for God giveth not the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34). The words “unto him” (KJV) were supplied by the translators. The ASV eliminates these words, as do most all other major translations. Since there are no “measures” of the Spirit given, then, in apostolic times, beginning at Pentecost (Acts 2), one either was/was not baptized in the Spirit. If one had the Spirit it was because Christ had immersed his human spirit in Holy Spirit (cf. Tit. 3:5, 6).

Finally, I would suggest that the question concerning what Jesus meant when he said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), can be easily answered by observing what happened on Pentecost (Acts 2). The Spirit came. How did the disciples, including the apostles, enter the kingdom? They did enter, didn’t they?

The disciples of John (about 120), including the apostles, entered the kingdom when the Spirit descended from heaven (Acts 2:1-4); this was their baptism in the Spirit. All of John’s disciples had already been baptized in water and for the remission of their sins (John 3:23; Mark 1:4). All they needed, in order to enter the kingdom, was to be “born of the Spirit.” When the Spirit came from heaven, they were baptized, or born, of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). They had experienced one birth, the new birth, and, consequently, they constituted the kingdom of which the prophet Daniel foretold (Dan. 2:44). Think about it.

Precious people, it’s still the same today. To enter the kingdom of God, the church of Christ, one must be born again, born of water and of the Spirit (cf. John 3:5).