Presented at the WTS Annual Meeting, March 14, 2008 Introduction: (Re)Reading Joel and Acts Together
Luke’s universalism has been noted by many interpreters. By way of an intra-canonical dialogue with Joel, we will argue that the scope of Acts’ universalism reaches the whole creation. Indeed, Acts 2:17-21 and 3:21 invite the hearer to engage in such an intra-canonical exploration of the “holy prophets”1 in conjunction with the narrative(s) of Luke-Acts.2
One can certainly argue that throughout Luke-Acts God is depicted as benevolent creator of the cosmos, that there are “new creation” themes present, and that God’s final purpose for this new creation involves the whole cosmos in some way, including non-human creation.3 Hence, there are grounds for maintaining that the creation theology undergirding Luke-Acts implies that God’s salvation finally extends even to all creation as well. All this indirectly corroborates what we are trying to do here – but we want to proceed differently.
We will begin with a close examination of Joel’s prophecy concerning God’s spirit being poured out “upon all flesh” in Joel 3:1-2 (English 2:28-29).4 We will then return to Luke and Acts and pursue the implications that emerge if we allow the basic narrative pattern of Joel to shape our judgments about the meaning that can be attributed to particular events in Luke-Acts.
Our interpretive method is somewhat eclectic. Our reading of Joel and Luke-Acts in the framework of an intra-canonical dialogue is explicitly invited by Acts itself. The reconstructed intent of the human author is not completely ignored here, but it will not be our primary consideration. Rather, our reading will be constrained and enriched by other literary, canonical, theological, and historical considerations even when it suggests readings that may go beyond the (reconstructed) original intent of the human author.5 Even so, we remain persuaded that the reading we will propose would have been plausible in the context of an early church who interpreted God’s purposes for themselves in light of the prophetic scriptures and the teachings of the Apostles.
God’s Spirit upon All Flesh and the Restoration of All Things in Joel
The promise of God’s spirit being poured out on “all flesh” is usually read in light of the material that follows it, especially Joel 3:1b-5[2:28b-32]. As a result the depicted prophetic activity of “your sons and daughters, your etc.” is understood to define who the “all flesh” is that receives6 the spirit. Occasionally it is observed that the male and female slaves mentioned would include foreigners, or that the “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered” (Joel 3:5[2:32]) implies a place for the nations among those who receive God’s spirit. Most interpreters, however, point out that the prophet must be speaking primarily about the Judeans, since these events take place in Zion. Furthermore, the remainder of Joel announces God’s judgment against the nations (Joel 4:2, 7-8, 11-12, 19).
Seldom is the text interpreted in light of the preceding chapters,7 which results in a much broader picture of the community upon whom God’s spirit is poured out. In this half of the paper we will take up this task. First, we will interpret the extent of the outpouring of the spirit on all flesh in the context of Joel 1-2. Then, in light of our findings, we will offer some proposals regarding the function of the spirit-inspired prophecy in Joel 3:1b-2[2:28b-29]. Finally, we will return to Joel 3 and clarify the nature of the portents and the Day(s) of Yhwh of Joel 3-4 in the broader context of the book of Joel.
The Spirit Poured Out on all Flesh: God’s Response to Earth Community
Joel 3:1[2:28] begins with “Afterward (Nk-yrx) hyhw) I will pour out my spirit,” which connects this event with the preceding material.8 As has been demonstrated elsewhere, Joel 1-2 depicts extensive mourning by the community of nature.9 Briefly, in Joel 1 Yhwh (through the prophet) issues a call to lament due to the devastation of “my land” (ycr), v. 6) and its produce (vv. 4-13). This command also articulates God’s lament for God’s land and vegetation.10 God commands specific affected groups to participate in mourning rites: drunkards (v. 6), a female subject (v. 8), priests11 (vv. 9 and 13), and farmers and vinedressers (v. 11). There is only one who immediately responds to the command: “the ground (hmd)) mourns” (v. 10) — apparently the unnamed female subject in 1:8. The land (or ground) is the first to respond in mourning over the effects of sin and judgment, while the land’s inhabitants’ response is still pending.12 The land’s mourning therefore becomes an example for human subjects to imitate.13
In Joel 1:14 there is another series of calls for a fast and assembly at the house of God, during which humans and nature, i.e., “all those who dwell in the land”14 (cf. Hos 4:1-3) are to “cry out in lamentation” (q(z) to Yhwh. Again, it is only the nonhuman inhabitants of the land who respond. Their language is suggestive of laments: animals sigh (xn)), cattle are confused (Kwb), sheep suffer punishment (M#)n), animals of the fields long for (gr() Yhwh (1:18-19). There are further calls to assemble and for human repentance in Joel 2. The last call details the proper human response grounded in God’s mercy (Joel 2:12-17), followed by God’s response in Joel 2:18-27. The turning point is an oracle of salvation, which is conditioned upon a future repentance of the people:15 “Yhwh will be zealous for [God’s] land, and will have compassion (lmx) for [God’s] people” (Joel 2:18). Significantly, it is the land that first receives God’s attention (cf. 2 Chr 7:13-14). The people are told that the lost agricultural bounty will be restored and the destructive locust army expelled (Joel 2:19-27). But the oracle of assurance (“do not fear”) comes first to those who mourned first — the ground (hmd)) and the beasts of the field (vv. 21-22)!
As attested elsewhere in the ancient world, nature is the first to respond to or mourn a crisis, which then gains the attention of humans, who are expected to join nature in this mourning.16 This interplay between nature and humans attests to the concept that human and nonhuman creation are members of an interconnected web, referred to as “Earth Community” in some recent discussions.17
In summary, at the end of Joel 2, the entire Earth Community is promised God’s intervention, conditional upon a future repentance (Joel 2:12-27). Joel 3:1[2:28] continues where Joel 2:27 left off by describing what will happen after (the Judean) humans repent and God responds by restoring Earth Community. In other words, it is not that Joel 2:12-27 narrate past events and Joel 3-4 [2:28-3:21] move toward an eschatological future. Rather, both texts narrate God’s future responses after an anticipated Judean repentance, with Joel 3-4 taking place after the events at the end of chapter 2.18 As such, God’s actions in Joel 2:12-4:21 are unfolding successive events in God’s single extended response.19 The reader is given new information in the later chapters, however. Joel 1-2 recount how God begins to reconcile and deliver a microcosm of Earth Community when Judah repents and God acts to bless that community. Joel 3-4, however, show that the deliverance will not be complete until some remaining problems are addressed. As we will see, the nations have been violating Judah and their land, and are therefore acting against this portion of Earth Community. Clearly, it is necessary for God to continue responding not only on Judah's behalf, but for the restoration of a more comprehensive segment of Earth Community as well.
The first of these successive events in the further response of God is the promise “to pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” In light of the previous promises to all of Earth Community, it seems natural to take “all flesh” as “all creatures.”20 Since God’s rûaḥ̣ – the spirit / breath / wind – of God is often associated elsewhere with the creation, sustaining, or renewal of all life, this would be a fitting interpretation.21 If the outpouring of the spirit on “all creatures” in Joel 3:1[2:28] is an outgrowth from God’s promises in Joel 2:19-27, then it would signify an intensification of God’s creative presence in Earth Community. Indeed the pouring out of God’s rûaḥ̣ might be considered analogous to God’s bringing down the rain for the renewal of Earth Community in Joel 2:23c.22 The rain would first renew the ground and vegetation, while the spirit is given for the renewal of animate flesh.23
The Prophetic role of the “Children of Zion” in Creation community
Although the spirit has been poured out upon all creatures in Joel 3:1a[2:28a], only the Judeans are singled out as having prophetic functions in what follows. What, then, is the purpose for the spirit of prophecy bestowed on the human members of Earth Community in Joel 3?24 If we remember that humans were the last to respond to the crises of Joel 1-2, one possibility is that the human community needs more and clearer teachings about the causes of such ecological crises and how to respond to them. Lacking prophetic teaching and visions about the ways of righteousness, God’s people bring judgment upon Earth Community. God uses prophets to teach the people, and warn them to repent and thus avert the coming judgment. When prophets fail to bring God’s visions to the people or to seek a word from God to explain “how long” in a lament situation, God’s judgment ensues, often resulting in damage to the creation.25 Likewise, the prophetic human community of Joel 3, then, is empowered for the sake of assuring the continued sustaining presence of God with Earth Community.26 The human recipients of the spirit function in Earth Community as a unified prophetic voice, just as Joel’s prophetic voice functions in Joel 1-2 to call humans to repentance. It is important to note that following the spirit’s being poured out on this prophetic human community in the LXX, good news is proclaimed in Jerusalem on Mount Zion (3:5b[2:32] LXX).27
The “Day(s) of Yhwh” in Joel 3-4: God’s Vindication of Earth Community
The Day of Yhwh (DY) in 3 – as well as 4 – is described similarly to an earlier DY in Joel 2:1-3 and 2:10-11. In Joel 2 the Day of Yhwh is similar to the DY(s) in Joel 3-4: it is a day of great destruction and darkness, the Sun and Moon are darkened and the stars quit shining; the Land is stripped by locusts and fire – indeed, it is great and terrible. The DY is used by God to get the people’s attention: they are to mourn like the rest of Earth Community in Joel 1!28 As such, the DY is also an opportunity to repent, as spelled out by Joel 2:12-17. Similarly, in Joel 3, the DY is immediately preceded by portents in the Sky and Earth, specifically blood(shed), fire, smoke, darkened Sun and the Moon turned to blood.
But what do these portents portend? Portents and signs are often historic events used to announce future judgment, salvation, or both.29 As Fretheim has argued, in Exodus, the plagues against Egypt were signs related to Egypt’s anti-creation policies which bore anti-creation consequences for Egypt (present and future judgment) while portending salvation for Israel.30 We would propose that in the wider context of Joel, the portents of chapter 3 have a similar function. Joel 4 is comprised of oracles against the nations, denouncing various nations for their mistreatment of God’s people (e.g., Joel 4:2, 6, 19) and the Land (Joel 4:2, 19). The book concludes with a declaration that God will vindicate Judah’s innocent blood shed by Edom and Egypt (Joel 4:19-21). With this in view, the blood, fire, and smoke of Joel 3 are a result of the violence of nations against Judah and God’s Land. This is similar to the destruction caused by the locusts in Joel 1-2, which pointed to Judah’s DY in Joel 2:10-11. The smoke from such fires would darken the Sky and Sun31 and give the Moon an eerie blood red color – as recent wildfires in San Diego and elsewhere bear out.32 The nations’ violence against Judah and the Land is violence against Earth Community. The Land is corrupted by bloodshed, and Yhwh’s continued sustaining presence is threatened by this condition (Num 35:33-35).33 The Atmosphere is choked with smoke, and this chokes life on Earth. The darkened Sun and Moon cannot fulfill their roles as rulers of the day and night and to regulate the seasons (Gen 1:14-18).34 Lacking the proper light, the wild animals are hindered from gathering food in their God-assigned night shift, and humans struggle to perform their daily God-assigned tasks (see Ps. 104:19-23). As with the Egyptian plagues, these portents are indications of a creation gone wrong at the hands of a group of violent humans.35 They are not only portents, they are also the problems, and need to be removed for the sake of Earth Community. This can only happen as God intervenes or humans stop further violence through repentance.
In summary, Earth Community in Joel 3-4 is comprised of all creatures, (including repentant humans), Land, Sun and Moon, and Sky and Atmosphere. As in Joel 1-2, Earth Community is under attack, this time by the nations. The darkened Sun and Moon indicates that Creation continues to mourn, this time due to the violence of the nations.36 As God used the natural events of locust attacks, drought and fire as a harbinger of a Judean DY in Joel 1-2, so in Joel 3-4 God is using the nations’ violence against Earth Community as signs of another approaching DY against the nations. In other words, the nations’ violence against Judah and the Land is turned against them as portents to warn them of the impending judgment announced in Joel 4. Whereas the crisis of Joel 1-2 centered on the farms, pastures and fields of Judah, the crisis of Joel 3-4 has taken a decidedly more universal turn.
It must be noted, however, that judgment throughout Joel is a worse case scenario. Judah is instructed to call on Yhwh in Joel 1-2 so that they might avoid further judgment and that God’s blessing might be bestowed upon Earth Community. Likewise, the purpose of Joel 3-4 is that God may dwell in Zion (4:17, 19-20), which is the micro-cosmic center of creation from which creation is renewed, and where some might call upon Yahweh’s name and “escape” (h+ylp, Joel 3:5[2:32]).37 Just as God’s spirit is poured out on “all (lk) creatures” (Joel 3:1[2:28]), so “all (lk) who call on the name of Yhwh shall be delivered” (Joel 3:5[2:32]). We suggest that this includes the nations, who can discern the DY in the mourning creation and other portents, and respond to the prophetic message of the children of Zion. If they do, they will be among those in Zion who escape as they respond to God’s call (Joel 3:5[2:32]).38 The portents of judgment, might also hint at God’s deliverance for Earth Community: the darkened Sky and Sun might remind onlookers of the life-giving rains that come when God’s , the wind, drives in the rain clouds.39
Judah and the nations are not alone among those who may call upon Yhwh. As mentioned earlier, the mourning non-human members of Earth Community offers the most complete picture of mourning and calling upon Yhwh in the book of Joel.40 Joel 1-2 gives a comprehensive picture of non-human creation mourning and crying to Yhwh, and how God will deliver Earth Community once humans repent. Therefore there is no reason to limit “those who call on Yhwh” and are “delivered,” and “are called by Yhwh,” and who will “escape” in Joel 3:5[2:32] to anything less than the entire Earth Community. Indeed, the term “escape” (h+ylp) is used elsewhere in Joel to connote the fate of vegetation (Joel 2:3; cf. Exod 10:5). This proposal is supported by an otherwise difficult to understand comment –“as Yhwh said” – appended to “and there will be those who will escape” (Joel 3:5[2:32], NRSV). What “Yhwh said,” if it refers to anything spoken by God up to this point in the book of Joel, are the promises of deliverance in Joel 2:18-27 – promises which include the nonhuman members of Earth Community who have been calling out to God in lament!41
With this discussion as background, we are now ready to turn our attention to Luke-Acts.
God’s Spirit upon All Flesh and the Restoration of All Things in Acts
As Craig Evans argued some years ago, Joel provides more than a proof text for Acts; it provides the prophetic setting for the Pentecost sermon which “becomes an acting out of [Joel’s] prophetic message.”42 Affirming Evan’s basic insight, we will extend it further by exploring some of the implications that might emerge if we assume that Joel provides the prophetic setting not only for the Pentecost sermon and portions of Acts, but for Luke 23–24 as well. Of course, Luke must account for something Joel does not, namely, a Jew from Nazareth who was the vehicle of the Spirit in the gospel narrative and as the crucified, risen, and ascended Messiah, is the conduit of that same poured out Spirit in Acts. This both complicates and enriches the theological implications that emerge from a reading constrained by the events of Joel.
Re-Reading (Portions of) Luke in Light of Joel’s Script
If one is reading Luke-Acts as a continued narrative or simply as part of the same canon of scripture, the “all flesh” language from Joel in Acts 2:17 points back to the “all flesh” language from Isaiah in Luke 3:6. Unlike Matthew and Mark who only quote a portion of Isaiah 40:3, Luke extends the quote almost to the end of v. 5 ending it with “and all flesh will see the salvation of God.” It is not too bold a claim to assert that Luke depicts these “holy prophets” as making connected claims, i.e., the “all flesh” of Isaiah that “will see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6) is the same “all flesh” of Joel upon whom the Spirit is poured at Pentecost (Act 2:17). Re-reading Luke in light of our reading of Joel opens the possibility that we ought to hear Luke 3:6 as an Isaianic affirmation that the whole animate creation “will see the salvation of God.”43
Joel 1–2 and the Crisis at the Cross
Although there is nothing equivalent to the highly stylized judgment language of Joel’s locust plague and the crisis to which it leads in Luke-Acts, there is a crisis nonetheless. Instead of visiting his people with judgment as God does in the locust plague, in Luke, God, through Jesus, visits his people for their salvation (Luke 1:68-7944). But the response of the people, their leaders, and of their Gentile overlords is to spill the innocent blood of Jesus in the land.45 This is not just any innocent blood, but that of the one who embodies both faithful Israel and Yhwh himself. Hence the cross in Luke does indeed represent a crisis, a creation out of joint because of the violence of human beings. As such, if Joel 1–2 shapes the way we hear Luke’s narration of that event, are there indications that non-human creation is the first to mourn the crisis which then gets the attention of humans in the narrative? Three aspects of the crucifixion scene might lead us in this direction.
First, as Jesus hangs on the cross from the sixth (noon) to the ninth hour (3:00 PM), there is darkness over the whole land “because the sun failed” (Luke 23:45).46 It would be difficult not to hear an allusion to Amos 8:9 where the sun goes down at noon on the Day of Yhwh and the light grows dark upon the land during the day.” As we have already noted, in Amos 8 the sun’s actions are depicted as a part of the mourning taking place in the whole surrounding context (Amos 8:8-10).47 This is similar to the astral disturbances on Joel’s Day of Yhwh in Joel 2:10, 3:4[2:31] and 4:15, which we have argued also represent actions depicting creation’s mourning.48 Hence, if Joel shapes the way we hear Luke 23:45, this day of crucifixion in Jerusalem is analogous to Judah’s Day of Yhwh in Joel 1–249 with a strange twist in that the one who embodies Yhwh hangs humiliated on a cross, the apparent victim of the apex of human violence and disloyalty toward God. With creation gone terribly wrong at the hands of violent humans, the sun reacts rightly, engaging in activity that is indicative of lament and mourning, activity that calls human beings to repent of the damage they are doing to all of creation community.
A second aspect of Luke’s crucifixion scene moves in a similar direction. As is often noted, unlike Mark, Luke has the tearing of the temple curtain prior to the death of Jesus.50 What significance the audience is to attach to this event is not immediately apparent and numerous answers have been given.51 For our purposes, it is important to note that Luke orders his narrative in such a way as to associate the tearing with the darkness. If we understand the latter as symbolizing creation’s lament and mourning, the tearing of the temple curtain might also be associated in some way with mourning and lament.52 Pursuing this line of interpretation, we might go on to ask: “Whose mourning and what sort of lament?”
One possible answer is that the tearing of the curtain is a sign of divine displeasure, a sign of God weeping with creation in its pain.53 This interpretation would be possible whether the audience imagines the temple curtain in question to be the inner curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the remainder of the temple or the outer curtain that hung in front of the doors that separated the sanctuary from the forecourt.54 Josephus’ description of the latter is worth quoting:
Before these hung a veil (katape/tasma) of equal length, of Babylonian tapestry . . . Nor was this mixture of materials without its mystic meaning: it typified the universe (a0ll0 w#sper ei0ko/na tw~n o3lwn). . . . On this tapestry was portrayed a panorama of the heavens (a#pasan th_n ou)ra/nion qewri/an).55
The craftsmanship of this outer curtain graphically depicted the widespread assumption that the temple was anei0kw&n,an image or microcosm of the universe as a whole.56Hence, imagining this curtain as the one torn in Luke would intensify the poignancy of interpreting it as a sign of God weeping with the creation in its pain.57 It might also suggest that the tearing functions as a divine disclosure58 of a creation in distress at the hands of violent humans and creation’s own lament and (non-penitential) mourning in response. Such an interpretation would not only cohere well with the general pattern of Joel 1–2, but would also make some sense of Luke’s narrative ordering.59
We move now to a third aspect of the crucifixion scene. The purpose of the lament and mourning of a creation in distress in Joel is to call human beings to repent of their violence and damage they are doing to all of creation community. Luke 23:47-48 describes the immediate response to Jesus’ death as two-fold. The centurion honors God by declaring Jesus’ innocence and the Jewish crowds who had seen what happened returned home “beating their breasts.” Seeing the portent of a mourning creation (i.e., the darkness) and hearing a representative of Israel’s enemy declare that Jesus is innocent/dikaios, they exhibit penitential petitionary mourning by leaving the scene, like the repentant tax gatherer in 18:13, “beating their breasts.”60 While Luke doesn’t say it explicitly, an audience influenced by our reading of Joel 1–2 might imagine that at their repentance from further violence, the portent of darkness is removed and the sun once again resumes its role as ruler of the day.61 This scene also anticipates Luke’s program in Acts, by an ironic reversal of Joel’s schema. In Joel, the nations will only be confronted with their accountability for innocent blood after the repentance and prophesying of representative Judeans and the appearance of astral portents. Here the opposite takes place. With the manifestation of astral signs a representative of the nations speaks prophetically concerning the shedding of innocent blood, and the Jews repent!
A few in Israel have now joined the community of nature in mourning/repentance on this Judean Day of the Lord (compare Joel 2:12-17) for the innocent blood spilled in their land. In response, however, God does not immediately begin to reconcile and restore either Israel or non-human creation as in Joel 2:18-27. But neither Joel nor anyone else expected God to become incarnate in a Jew from Nazareth who was crucified as messiah at the hands of those from whom many in Israel expected redemption (e.g., Luke 24:21). Nevertheless, one might understand what happens next as the beginning of the restoration of both Israel and non-human creation, an act of God that affirms that “all creatures” “will see the salvation of God.” In raising the innocent/dikaios Jesus from the dead, God does not just raise an individual Israelite, but one whom Luke has cast in a representative role as Israel, faithfully embodying what it means to be God’s son.62 Hence, when God raises Jesus from the tomb in Luke 24, God vindicates God’s dikaios son and thus restores Israel in nuce, initiating the more complete restoration of Israel that is to come in Acts.
But what in this context might be taken as an analogy to the restoration of non-human creation, of all flesh seeing the salvation of God? Other than in the two paradigmatic quotes from “the holy prophets” (Isa 40:3-5 and Joel 3:1-5[2:28-32]), Luke-Acts only uses the word flesh three times, all in reference to the resurrected flesh of Jesus (Luke 24:39; Acts 2:26 [via Ps 15, LXX]; 2:31 [via Ps 16]). In Luke’s depiction it is the very low-status stuff of the cosmos that humans share with the rest of animate creation that is redeemed/transformed in the raising of Jesus.63 In this cultural milieu, “the human body was not like a microcosm; it was a microcosm – a small version of the universe at large.”64 Connected with this, it was commonly assumed that “the human body is of a piece with the elements surrounding and pervading it and that the surface of the body is not a sealed boundary.”65 In light of this, one might argue that in raising the fleshly body of Jesus, God has begun the restoration of the non-human created order. Because Jesus’ body was not separate and completely bounded but shared stuff/material with both animate and inanimate creation, the redemption of the cosmos as a whole has begun. In the words of David Toolan, the risen body of the Lord is “the fleshing out of the Creator’s dream for the universe,” and indeed, “[i]f he be raised up, it means that all things are raised up.”66
To sum up, in Luke 23–24 one can discern the general pattern of Joel 1–2. There has indeed been a crisis, a preliminary Day of the Lord analogous to the Judean Day of the Lord in Joel 1–2, brought on by human violence and disloyalty toward God that has resulted in a creation out of sync, and signified by its mourning and lament. A few in Israel have joined non-human creation in repentant mourning and God has responded by first removing the portent of darkness and then beginning the restoration of both Israel and the non-human created order in the resurrection of the Son.
In the conversation of the risen one with his (now repentant) disciples in 24:44-48, we are given advance notice of what is to come in Acts, i.e., the pouring out of the Spirit that will empower them for their task as witnesses of the resurrection who call the nations to repentance, leading to the forgiveness of their sins.67 Hence, Luke’s story continues to unfold in line with the general pattern of Joel 3–4 where after those in Judea repent, the Spirit is poured out. We turn now to that continuation in Acts.
Re-Reading (Portions of) Acts in Light of Joel’s Script
Prior to Peter’s Speech
Prior to the pouring out of the Spirit in Acts, the disciples raise the question of the timing of the restoration68 of Israel (1:6). Jesus redirects their question to their task of being witnesses empowered by the promised Holy Spirit, beginning at the cosmic center of creation (i.e., Jerusalem) and extending to “the end of the earth” (1:8). Against well-established expectations, the implication is that Jerusalem will not be the place where the nations will come to find (Joel 3:5[2:32] or be judged by Yhwh (Joel 4:2 and 12), but rather, a departure point from which, through various witnesses, the Lord goes out to them. With the election of Matthias in what follows (Acts 1:15-26), there is now a nucleus of twelve, leaders of one hundred twenty (obviously repentant) Jews in Jerusalem who constitute the core of a repentant Israel about to be restored and then enlarged by the promised Spirit.
After the Spirit fills this core, Peter’s speech is addressed not to representatives of the nations, but to Jews “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), Israelites (2:22), whom Peter calls to repentance for the forgiveness of their own sins leading to their reception of the Spirit and inclusion in restored Israel (2:38). If they accept this call and assume their role as part of an Israel in the process of being restored in Jerusalem,69 their non-Jewish mother tongues uniquely equip them to be mediators of the Spirit-inspired prophetic speech to the nations from which they come.70 Although Luke does not specifically narrate them carrying out this task, such a role would resonate with the script of Joel who provides Luke with the prophetic setting of the Pentecost sermon.71
Peter’s Speech and the Unfolding of Joel’s Script
Peter directly connects the unfolding events of Acts with Joel’s script in Acts 2:16ff. With Luke (apparently) changing Joel’s “after these things,” to “in the last days” (Acts 2:17), it is clear that the preliminary DY followed by Jesus’ resurrection, exaltation, and ascension has launched the beginning of the end of God’s salvific story, a story ultimately directed toward “all flesh [seeing] the salvation of God.” According to Peter, what the audience is witnessing is Joel’s promised outpouring of the Spirit on “all flesh.” Since the Spirit has been active in Luke-Acts from the very beginning (e.g., Luke 1:15, 35, 67; 2:27; 3:22; 4:1f), the pouring out of the Spirit on “all flesh” at Pentecost clearly represents an intensification (as in Joel) rather than an introduction of God’s renewing, empowering presence. It is indeed, John the Baptist’s predicted baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16, comp. Acts 2:3-4) which, as in Joel, has been preceded by human “repentance leading to the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).72 As we argued above, in Joel’s literary context, “all flesh” is best understood as a reference to “all creatures” of Earth Community. From a canonical standpoint, then, one might affirm that while God has begun the restoration of even the non-human created order in raising the fleshly body of Jesus, God’s pouring out of the Spirit on all creatures at Pentecost intensifies God’s renewing presence in Earth Community preparing it for “the restoration of all things” (Act 3:21). However, as in Joel, the latter must await God’s dealing with human sin, not just that of Israel, but that of the nations as well. God’s strategy for doing this includes singling out some members of Israel and empowering them to engage in prophetic witness.73 Acts 2:17c-19b
As Peter’s Pentecost speech demonstrates, the Spirit empowers representatives of repentant, restored Israel to speak prophetically (Acts 2:17c-18).74 They follow the pattern expected of Joel’s “children of Zion,” warning others to repent and thus avert the judgment connected with the Day of the Lord (Acts 2:37-41; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20) coming against both the unrepentant nations (Acts 2:20b; 17:31) as in Joel, and even against those in Zion who cut themselves off from Israel (Acts 2:20b; 3:23). But in Acts the impetus of the pouring out of the Spirit is the crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation/ascension of a Jew from Nazareth whom God has made Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord (Acts 2:36).75 And it is he who is said to be doing the very thing that the Joel text presents as a first person Yhwh speech76 with the verb, “he [Christ] has poured out” the Spirit (Acts 2:33). Hence, unlike Zion’s children in Joel, prophetic representatives of restored Israel in Acts are also charged with being “witnesses of [this] Jesus’ resurrection” (e.g., Acts 1:22; 2:32; 4:33). Hence, in Acts their prophetic speech is not only warning about the coming judgment but also about the “good news” (euangelion) of God’s raising Jesus. Although Luke does not quote Joel 3:5b[2:32b], he alludes to it in Acts 2:39 with that language of “as many as the Lord our God summons.”77 Here he is addressing those about to become a part of restored Israel by “calling upon the name of the Lord” for salvation (2:21, 40). If Joel’s script in its LXX form is in the background here, Peter’s audience is clearly among those “whom the Lord has summoned.” Hence, as each one “is rescued” (on Mount Zion78), receives the Spirit, and becomes a part of restored Israel, their task is scripted as including “announcing good news.”
But being “witnesses of the resurrection” involves not only prophetic speech, but prophetic activity as well, the type of activity that Luke often characterizes with the language he attributes to Joel,79 namely, “portents and/or signs (terata kai sēmeia).”80 Acts 3 provides a good example of both this Spirit-empowered prophetic activity characterized by “portents and signs (terata kai sēmeia)”81 and its close connection to prophetic speech that called for repentance. Engaging in both, the apostles give testimony to Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 3:15). In vv. 1-10 Peter and John act as Spirit-empowered channels of the salvific power unleashed for all creation in the resurrection. Imitating the Spirit-empowered actions of Jesus in Luke 5:17-26, Peter “raises up” (ēgeiren, 3:7) a man lame from birth, bringing the salvific power of the name of the resurrected Jesus to bear in his very flesh. Given Peter’s later casting of this event in explicitly salvific terms (4:9-12), the lame man must be counted with the Isaianic “all flesh who sees the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6). In fact, Luke’s depiction of him as a lame (chōlos) man leaping (hallomenos) echoes the language of Isaiah 35:6.82 In that larger context, Yhwh is depicted as being “on the way” leading his people in a “new exodus” through the wilderness where provisional signs of the renewal of nonhuman creation (completed in Isaiah 65–66) begin to emerge and are explicitly connected to the restoration of the bodies of Yhwh’s people.83 The fact that Luke describes the restoration of this man’s body by utilizing language from Isaiah’s context where human and nonhuman creation are members of an interconnected web is important to note. For a canonical interpreter, it further hints that the “all flesh” that will see the salvation of God and upon whom the Spirit has been poured in Luke-Acts includes that whole interconnected web, i.e., Earth Community.84
Peter’s prophetic speech following this incident in Acts 3:11-25 essentially accuses the people/laos gathered in the temple of shedding the innocent (dikaios) blood of the “author of life” (3:14-15). He calls these Jews in Jerusalem to repent and to turn (epistrephō; comp. Joel 2:12-13) to God so that their sins might be wiped away (Acts 3:19) and they might join this Israel in the process of being restored in Zion.85 Turning from their evil ways (3:26) and having their sins wiped away, they will experience “times of refreshing” as members of restored Israel. Such “times of refreshing” point to the “refreshing” power of the Holy Spirit manifest in the new community with its joyous common life86 and its anticipations of the restoration of all things like they’ve just witnessed in the lame man’s healing.87
How this is connected in terms of timing with what follows (the “sending of Messiah” and the “restoration of all things”) is not completely clear.88 Also contested is the meaning of apokatastaseōs pantōn, the phrase we have translated throughout as the “restoration of all things.”89 Nevertheless, the general pattern of Joel’s script provides a coherent framework for understanding these verses. It inclines the audience toward understanding these “times of refreshing” as an unspecified amount of time (i.e., “the last days”) during which the newly restored children of Zion offer prophetic witness in speech and deed to the nations to prepare them for the final Day of Yhwh. During this time it is necessary for the enthroned Messiah to remain in heaven in order to pour out the Spirit who empowers the community for this task. It is only after that, when the nations are gathered for judgment on the final Day of the Lord (Acts 17:31; compare Joel 4:2, 11-15) that God sends the Messiah for the “times of the restoration of all things,” including the non-human members of mourning Earth Community (Joel 4:18).90 Acts 2:19c-21
That Earth Community will be mourning at the time of this final Day of the Lord (Jesus) is apparent from the remainder of Luke’s quotation of Joel in Acts 2:19c-20. As we have seen, God’s promise from Joel to give terata and sēmeia (Acts 2:19ab)is fulfilled in the following narrative.91 However, recalling the script of Joel 3–4 presses one to recognize a both/and character to these signs. In Joel 3 the terata in the Sky and Earth (blood[shed], fire, smoke, darkened Sun and the Moon turned to blood) are portents that precede the nations’ DY. In our discussion of that passage, we pointed out that portents and signs are often historic events used to announce future judgment, salvation, or both (p. 10).
This both/and character is reflected in the way that Luke has ordered his narrative after Joel’s script. On the one hand, the terata and sēmeia function as part of the prophetic witness of restored Israel that anticipates the holistic salvation that awaits the entire Earth community. On the other hand, Luke does not allow the language of terata and sēmeia to be disconnected from the language that follows in Acts 2:19c-20, i.e., blood(shed), fire, smoke, darkened Sun and the Moon turned to blood. Clearly these cosmic disturbances are terata and sēmeia which maintain their function of signaling the mourning of a broken creation and announcing future judgment.92 As in Joel, even when God begins the reconciliation and restoration of Israel in Acts, there are problems that remain that call for the restoration of a more comprehensive segment of Earth Community.
As in Joel 3, these portents may be taken to be a result of the violence of nations against Judah and God’s Land, violence against Earth Community itself.93 As an indication of creation gone wrong at the hands of a group of violent humans, they are not only portents, but also problems, and need to be removed for the sake of Earth Community. In Joel, this can only happen as God intervenes or humans stop further violence through repentance. In Acts, a part of God’s intervention is the Spirit-empowered prophetic activity of the community. It is characterized by salvific “signs and portents” giving anticipations of future salvation and by prophetic speech warning of future judgment and calling for repentance.
Reading Acts 2:21 after this pattern in Joel would encourage us to understand the preceding signs as an indication of a mourning creation in distress in need of “seeing the salvation of God.” If so, all of Earth Community might be included in the “everyone” who calls on the name of the Lord and so are saved. But their salvation (i.e., the restoration of all things which necessitates the removal of these signs) will depend upon the repentance of the nations whose anti-creation violence brings anti-creation consequences.
Concluding Remarks on Acts
The day when all creatures will finally see “the salvation of God” is obviously beyond the bounds of the Acts narrative. But the second half of Acts, underscored by the way it ends, gives reason for hope that the prophetic witness of restored Israel (now embodied in Paul) might finally be effective in calling the nations to repent and experience the final DY as one bringing “this salvation of God” (Acts 28:28). When the nations do so, joining Luke’s centurion in giving proper doxa to God (Luke 23:47), the “times of the restoration of all things” will be at hand.