By Elizabeth Prata
A reader wondered about the verse in Acts 2:17, where it is said,
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;
And how that verse reconciles with the cessationist position. Cessationists believe that the sign gifts such as miracles, tongues, healing, and visions/prophecy ceased (hence the title of this position) some few years into the end time after Jesus’ ascension. The end time, or latter days, is the period between Jesus ascension and His return in the Second Coming. Therefore we are in the end time now (hence the title of my blog).
I really and truly appreciate when people take the time to ask good questions and seek answers, working to learn what the Bible says and divide it rightly.
It’s a good, but complex question.
In the Acts passage, you’ll notice the double quotes. That is because Peter is quoting Joel 2. I posted the whole passage below. Peter said that this was prophesied by Joel, and it was, in Joel 2.
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;
18even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
The best way to think of this passage is as a series of occurrences separated by intervals. Looooong intervals!
We are in the end time now. THIS is the last days. It began when Jesus was born as the sinless lamb. It continued when Jesus taught that the Kingdom was among them. It continued when He was resurrected, fulfilling all that was prophesied about the Messiah. It went on when Jesus was ascended to the right hand of the Father and now functions as our Priest (and King). It will end when He returns to judge the world and smite those at Armageddon. From His ascension to the Second Coming is the end time, later days, or last days, as they are variously spoken of in the OT and the NT.
But when the Ols Testament Prophets prophesied, they did not see prophetic fulfillment as a series of events at intervals. They thought it was all going to happen at once. Peter asked that question in Matthew 24, “are you going to establish the kingdom at this time?” They didn’t clue in that Messiah’s appearance was in stages. And it still IS in stages.
But Peter’s Pentecost sermon harked back to Joel. Peter wanted to remind them of it, that it was going to be fulfilled, and PART of it was.
If we look at the passage above, we see that not all of it has been fulfilled.
–The Spirit was indeed poured out
–people indeed prophesied (1 Corinthians 14:1-4).
–people indeed had visions and dreams (NT: Peter, Zacharias, Ananias, Cornelius, Joseph, John, & Pilate’s wife…)
HOWEVER, the prophesying, dreams, and visions were only to advance God’s plan by giving God’s new word until the Bible was completed. Then they stopped. (1 Corinthians 13:8). You see the healings dying out, even as Paul advises Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach. (1 Timothy 5:23). Where it says the people spoke different languages at Pentecost, that was actually a message to Israel, fulfilling an old prophecy that the Lord was going to include Gentiles in His salvation plan and that when the Israelites saw people speaking of their God in other languages, it was a message that the prophecy had begun to be fulfilled. (Isaiah 28:11-Acts 2:8).
Also, the testimony of most of the entire church age after Revelation was completed affirms the cessation of the sign gifts. The gifts were given as a sign to authenticate the apostles. Once the New Testament was written, the signs were not needed any more because the people had the direct word of God.
The Bible is all-sufficient and contains all we need to know for education, reproof, etc, 2 Timothy 3:16.
John Owen is attributed to have said, “If private revelations agree with scripture, they are needless. If they disagree with scripture, they are false!“
Now, how do we know that the passage depicts a series of occurrences separated by intervals? Well, the latter part of the passage says that there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, blood, vapor, smoke, sun turned to darkness…that has not occurred. If you read Revelation, ALL those WILL occur in the Tribulation.
And, if everyone running around spouting prophetic dreams is true then why do so many of them contradict each other? God is not the author of confusion!
As for visions etc, they dwindled away. Look what Paul writes,
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:18-19).
Finally, Phil Johnson said in his sermon, The Superiority of Scripture,
There is no need for any other spiritual resource besides the resources we find in Scripture. There is nothing we need to know in the spiritual realm that is not revealed to us clearly in the Bible. These statements are a sweeping affirmation that the Bible contains and explains everything that is essential for life and godliness. If that is true, and it is, then it is folly for anyone to try to supplement divine truth by looking elsewhere for truth to advance our spiritual growth.
We hear constantly about dreams and visions, private prophecies, Spirit-directed impulses, words of knowledge, and whatnot. There is no warrant in Scripture for us to pursue such things. When it comes to spiritual truth, truth about God, redemptive truth, and all other matters pertaining to life and godliness. Call such truth is revealed in the Bible. The Bible alone is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and righteous.
For those who say of the Acts passage that if the passage says there will be prophetic dreams and visions, then you can’t stop interpreting it in the middle, that’s cherry picking…yes we can. Jesus did. He announced the fulfillment of PART of the prophecy in Isaiah when He read Luke 4:16-21 passage to the assembled. He stopped himself from continuing because the part He didn’t read was NOT fulfilled in their hearing. In his incarnation in the first advent, He came the first time to seek and save the lost, He was not ready to fulfill the other part of the prophecy, that he had come for judgment. (Isaiah 61).
And that brings us back to how prophecy works. It is often given in stages, meant to be fulfilled in stages, and often has a double meaning when it is fulfilled (fulfilled now and also fulfilled then.) The word of God is precise. it deserves and demands precise interpretation, careful attention, and rejoicing that the LORD of the universe deigned to speak to us in ways we can understand!