Thousands of years ago, a prophet heard a word from the Lord. The people would be exiled, the land destroyed by gnawing locusts, and the armies of the nations would trample down those who remained. This vision came to the prophet Joel for the people of Judah. He saw the signs all around him and interpreted their warning. But the people would not listen.
Yet even in the midst of this deafness all around him, the prophet also spoke of blessing after exile, abundance after want, and the abiding presence of the God who created them:
“Do not fear, o land, rejoice and be glad, for the Lord has done great things….I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust, and the gnawing locust, my great army which I sent among you….Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is no other; and my people will never be put to shame. And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all people; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:21-29).
Here, in the valley of judgment and mercy, the prophet Joel calls to the people to “return to the Lord with all your heart with fasting, weeping and mourning; rend your heart and not your garments….For the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness, and relenting of evil.” God’s grace and compassion will be demonstrated in the gift of the Spirit poured out lavishly on a most stubborn and willful people.
Hundreds of years later there were people who looked back at this ancient text from the prophet Joel and saw themselves as the recipients of this divine outpouring. They were the recipients of multiplied years. The sound of a violent, rushing wind and what appeared to be tongues of fire were the signs of multiplication by the Spirit of God. There were multiple languages being spoken by simple Galileans, barely masters of their own Aramaic dialect. Yet those who heard their own dialect understood as they spoke of the mighty deeds of God.(1) “And it shall be in the last days, God says, that I will pour forth my Spirit upon all people; and your sons and your daughters will prophesy”(Joel 2:28-29). The promise of God’s Spirit, proclaimed long ago by the prophet Joel and reiterated in the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, was now revealed to this relatively small gathering of individuals in Jerusalem: “[A]nd about three thousand were added to their numbers that day” (Acts 2:41). The Spirit of multiplied years had fallen upon those gathered during the feast of Pentecost.
It is amazing that so small a gathering could represent the fulfillment of the promise that the Spirit would be poured out on all people, as Joel prophesied. Of course, those initial followers, much like Joel before them, couldn’t see the ultimate horizon of the Church that was birthed that Pentecost—the festival of the first fruits of harvest. Indeed, these initial followers were the first fruits of the outpoured Spirit, which would go forth into the uttermost parts of the earth represented by those who heard of the mighty deeds of God in their own language on that day. By the power of the Spirit, those first fruits would multiply into the Church, and the Church, the body of Christ, was unleashed into the world. The in-gathering of the nations, shown in nascent form at Pentecost, is fulfilled by the gospel going forth into the whole world through the presence and witness of the Church.
Today, those who embrace Christ are the recipients of the blessing of the Holy Spirit. As we live into the kingdom by the power of this Spirit, so too the years shall be returned, a damaged past restored, and the body of Christ multiplied with abundant fruit and harvest.
Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
(1) See Acts 2:1-13.