What would you think of an exegesis which made the last mean the first? Would it not be much akin to saying that black means white, or that yes means no? But, it may be asked, who teaches that last means first? It must be admitted that no one claims to teach this, but it will be left for you to judge in this study of Pentecost whether or not this is taught by those who claim that the Body of Christ began on that Jewish feast day.
The Scripture is Acts 2:17. The scene is the day of Pentecost. The Apostle Peter is the mouth piece of the Holy Spirit, who is giving a specific account of what is transpiring upon that notable day. Now the majority of pre-millenarians, if asked to relate what happened on that Pentecost, would say that the Church which is the Body of Christ came into existence at that time. It was the birthday of the Church, or in other words, Pentecost marked the first days of the Church.
Now ask the Holy Spirit what took place, and hear Him answering “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass in the last days . . . .” God says that the events of Pentecost were described by Joel some 800 years before, and that these events marked the last days. You are now face to face with the problem which has confronted many true Bereans. They had been taught, and for that reason had taught others, that Pentecost marked the first days; God said it marked the last days. Who was right? It should not take long to decide, and since God has not given any one authority to make decisions for other people, you must judge and answer for yourself.
For the sake of those who believe it is a heresy to teach that the Body of Christ did not begin on Pentecost, it might be pointed out that many of the outstanding theologians, real defenders of the faith, have taught and do teach that the Church began long before Pentecost. Dr. Hodge, who represents the doctrine of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, makes the following remarks in “Outline of Theology”; in answer to the question: “How may it be shown that this visible church is identical under both dispensations, and what argument may be thence derived to prove that the infant children of believers should be baptized?”
“There is no evidence whatever furnished by the apostolical records that the ancient church was abolished and a new and different one organized in its place.—Their disciples were always added to the ‘church’ or ‘congregation’ previously existing—Acts 2:47” (pg. 619). Dr. A. H. Strong, theologian of the Baptist Church, says in his ‘Systematic Theology’: ‘The church of Christ, in its largest signification, is converted upon that day could have been ‘added’ (Acts and ages, in heaven and on earth.—The church existed in germ before the day of Pentecost,— otherwise there would have been nothing to which those converted upon that day could have been ‘added’ (Acts 2:47).” (Pg. 887, 900).
Space forbids quoting many other great Christian thinkers who are of the same opinion, namely, that the Pentecostal Church was the continuation of that church which was upon earth during the earthly ministry of Christ. And where is there to be found any intimation from the lips or from the pens of the Twelve Apostles that a new church was being inaugurated? Were they not still expecting the Messianic Kingdom to be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6; Acts 3:19 to 21)? Did they not have all things in common, as prescribed by the sermon on the mount (Acts 2:44, 45; Acts 4:32 to 37)? Did they not continue to meet in the Jewish Temple (Acts 2:46; Acts 3:1; Acts 4:1; Acts 5:20, 42; Acts 21:26; Acts 24:18)? Did they not continue to observe the Mosaic Law (Acts 21:18 to 26)? And what is even more conclusive and convincing, was not the Holy Spirit witness (Acts 5:32) to the fact that everything connected with the Pentecostal experiences was but the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectations (Acts 2:16; Acts 3:24), and where in the Old Testament is there to be found any expectation of a new church divorced from the nation Israel and its hopes?
Whereas it is plain that the Holy Spirit teaches that Pentecost began the last days in the consummation of God’s prophetic program; it is just as evident that the same Spirit through Paul teaches that the Church which is the Body of Christ was a secret truth hidden in God, never before made known to the sons of men (Ephesians 3:1 to 9), and therefore in no way connected with God’s prophetic program. How could that which was foretold by all the prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21), be the same as that which was kept secret from the beginning of the world until made known to Paul (Ephesians 3:5 and 9)? And in what sense could the last days of the Body of Christ have taken place before God even revealed that the Body was in existence?
Pentecost ushered in the last days, which have to do wholly with the nation Israel. Israel was expecting a new age, but not a new church. Pentecost was bringing the old age to its consummation and making possible the realization of the Millennial hope of the return of Christ to establish the kingdom. It should be noted that Peter did not say: “It shall come to pass in the last day, but in the last days.” All of Joel’s prophecy was not to be fulfilled in one day, but was to cover a period of days, of which Pentecost was the beginning. Therefore all of Joel’s prophecy was not fulfilled on Pentecost, but there was the beginning. There was the pouring out of God’s Spirit; but it was no secret that God would do this; for it is plainly foretold in Proverbs 1:23; Isaiah 44:3;
Joel 2:28, 29; Zechariah 12:10; and, Malachi 3:10. These last days did not come to completion, however, because the offer of the Kingdom which began on Pentecost was rejected, and God interrupted the Kingdom program with His secret dispensation of the Body of Christ. When God ends this secret dispensation, we have every reason to believe that He will bring to completion Israel’s last days.
It is necessary to see the difference between the last days of Israel and the last days of the Church. The Apostle Paul who was made the depository of the truth concerning the Body of Christ never says that either the first or the last days of that Church began on Pentecost, but instead, some 36 years after Pentecost, points us on to some future time for its last days II Timothy 3:1. No where will it be found that in the last days of the Church there will be any of the miraculous sign demonstrations which belonged to Israel’s last days.
A clear understanding of this subject is perhaps of more importance for the Christian of today than one would at first suppose. Firstly, it shows us that we are not living in Israel’s last days, and therefore we should not look for nor seek to make a place for the sign gifts of Israel’s last days, Secondly, it shows us that the message of those last days has been superseded by a new message for the Body of Christ. It is no longer “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins and God will send Jesus Christ back to earth” (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19 to 21), for Christ will never come back to earth until this present dispensation of the Mystery is completed. We are not and cannot today usher in the kingdom or bring the King back. We today have a message of unmixed grace to proclaim to a world dead in trespasses and sins, that God for Christ’s sake will not only save the sinner by grace through faith apart from all religious works, but will also make him a member of that Body of Christ which He will some day call on High (Philippians 3:14). Thirdly, this truth shows us that the signs which belong to Israel’s last days which must come to pass before Christ can come back to earth are not to be sought after in the last days of the Church.
It does seem peculiar that many who preach on the signs of the times object to people speaking in tongues, when tongues is clearly called one of the signs (I Corinthians 14:21 and 22). It is to be conceded that members of the Body may in its last days see a foreshadowing and preparation for Israel’s political and economic signs, but it is not possible for any one today to say with assurance concerning current events: This is that which was spoken by the prophet.
In conclusion it may be said that it is difficult to see how or why one is not saying that last means first, although perhaps unwittingly, who places the birthday of the Body or Christ on Pentecost, or who follows the Pentecostal program for today, or who preaches the fulfillment of Israel’s signs in the present Dispensation of the Mystery.