There is no doubt but that the return of our Lord Jesus Christ to this earth to be personally present for a thousand years is an extremely important and significant event in God’s future, prophetic calendar. This event is set forth most clearly in Scripture, and that it is a real, physical event is also clear. Acts 1:10-11, describing Christ’s ascension, makes this fact most clear.
10. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11. who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
In light of this most clear statement, all who claim to be Biblical should hold to and believe in the reality of the someday return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will yet come to earth just as He left it. If we truly believe the Scriptures, we cannot doubt this fact. Yet many make the return and second coming of Jesus Christ to be the central, if not the only, significant event in God’s future program. Moreover, they believe that His return is the event to usher in the Kingdom of God and bring all of God’s plans to fruition.
The writer of this article firmly believes in the second coming of Jesus Christ and His return to this world, and he will not back down to anyone who claims to believe it more than he does. This is what God has said, and no one can do any more than believe that it is true and that it will come someday in its proper time. However, that is not to say that I believe that it is the central and key event that begins all God’s glorious plans for the future. Indeed, such an idea does not fit with Scripture. While important, the return of Christ is not the only pivotal point of future prophecy, as many make it out to be. It is not the event that ushers in God’s glorious kingdom. Rather, I believe that the Bible sets forth that what does start God’s future program is what we might call the second coming or the return of the Holy Spirit.
Now there is nothing special about this phrase. It is used merely as a term to describe this Biblical truth. Yet many other phrases could be proposed that would do just as well. We could also call this return of the Holy Spirit “the second outpouring of the Holy Spirit, or “the second advent of the Holy Spirit,” or “the second sending of the Holy Spirit,” or “the second giving of the Holy Spirit,” or “the second descent of the Holy Spirit.” The term used is not crucially important. What is important is the truth: that someday the Holy Spirit will again begin to act powerfully on the earth, even as He did during the period of time of which the book of Acts is the history.
Now perhaps it would be well if we would start to consider relevant Scripture passages which teach this glorious truth. First we will consider Joel 2:28, a passage that sets forth the reality of this future return of the Holy Spirit.
28. “And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
29. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
30. “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
31. The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
32. And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the LORD
Shall be saved.
For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance,
As the LORD has said,
Among the remnant whom the LORD calls.
In this passage, it is declared most clearly that God will someday pour out His Spirit on all flesh. If the reader will consider carefully the implications of this, he cannot help but realize that if it is ever fulfilled to the letter, that that fulfillment would be an event the like of which this world has never seen, and which would change forever the very nature of life on earth. This is a promise of God, and a promise that must be fulfilled, as all God’s promises will be. For we must always remember with God’s promises that if any one of them is not trustworthy, then that brings all His other promises into question. If this promise is not trustworthy, is any other promise trustworthy? Can we believe John 3:16, that whosoever believes in the Son of God shall not perish but shall have eternal life, if this promise of God is not trustworthy? What promise of God can be believed, if this promise will not be fulfilled?
Many are loath to accept the possibility that such a thing could ever take place. Therefore, they point to the fact that Peter quoted this prophecy in Acts 2:17.
14. But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17. ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
18. And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
19. I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
20. The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
21. And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the LORD
Shall be saved.’
Those who attempt to deny the reality of the return of the Holy Spirit and His pouring out on all flesh have pointed to the fact that Peter said “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Fastening upon these words of Peter, they proclaim this prophecy fulfilled, and claim to have no obligation to believe that any future pouring out of the Spirit need ever take place. Yet is this a fair way to treat this passage? The fact is that, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on one hundred and twenty individuals. Can this really be stretched to fulfill a prophecy that He will be poured out on all flesh? If this is the case, then we can hardly expect any of the glorious prophecies of Scripture to ever be fulfilled to the letter, since God can do such a small and minor work and yet claim it fulfills a prediction so superlative. In fact, we might as well throw our Bibles down in despair, for we will never understand any of God’s words if “all flesh” can be made to mean something so much smaller than what it actually says.
Whatever Peter meant by “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel,” the fact is that nothing that Joel predicted came to pass that day. By no stretch of the imagination can we make out that 120 believers are the same thing as all flesh, yet many have attempted to make it mean just that. They point out that universal terms seldom are actually used in universal ways. For example, how many of us have said, “Is everyone here?” when we knew quite well that the vast majority of the billions of people in the world were not present with us, nor would ever be. So it is true that we do not always use universal terms to strictly mean what they say. Yet can we really Biblically admit that the term “all flesh” could be shrunk to mean such a small portion of all flesh?
The reality is that this cannot be done. Biblically, it is easy enough to establish what the phrase “all flesh” means. We can do this by examining Genesis 6:12-13, which tells us clearly what the phrase “all flesh” means.
12. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
13. And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
This passage makes it most clear. At the very least, “all flesh” must mean all human flesh, or all humanity. Yet considering verse 13, even the animals God made to creep upon the earth must be included in “all flesh” as well. This phrase is universal, and the fact that Noah and his family were exceptions to this only goes to prove the rule. When “all flesh” were destroyed in the flood, this meant every last member of Adam’s race upon earth, Noah and his family excepted. Therefore, when the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, can we doubt but that this means every last member of Adam’s race will experience having the Spirit poured out upon him? This is clearly what the prophet intended to convey by the words “all flesh.”
Some have tried to deny this reality by insisting that “all flesh” refers only to Israel or the men of Judea, since they were the ones being spoken to both in Joel’s prophecy and in Peter’s quotation of it. Yet such a conclusion does not follow at all. This would be about the equivalent of me telling you I dislike my neighbors, and you concluding that means I dislike you just because I was talking to you when I said it. No, the promise God made was to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, and He will yet make this promise good. When He does so, that great event will be the second coming of the Holy Spirit.
So what then did Peter mean when he said the words, “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel”? From the context, we can see that the people had come together and were seeing the glorious outcome of the Spirit having been poured out on the 120 disciples. Many in the crowd were from nations other than Israel who had come to Jerusalem to worship at Pentecost. These now heard the disciples, men of Galilee who typically knew no language but Aramiac, speaking not only in their own mother tongues from all the nations scattered around the world from which they came, but also speaking even down to their own dialect and accent of those languages. This caused them to marvel, and wonder “whatever could this mean?” (verse 12)
It should have been clear to all that a powerful work of God was taking place. Some, however, did not wish to acknowledge this fact, and tried to dismiss the whole thing with a flippant remark, “They are full of new wine.” (verse 13) This led to the Holy Spirit inspiring Peter to speak in explanation and defense of what was taking place. He explained to them that “these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is only the third hour of the day.” This was around 9:00AM by our way of reckoning it, and no one in that society but the most hopeless of drunkards would be drunk at such a time. Instead, Peter explains that “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” In other words, it was not wine that was causing these men to act this way. Instead, it was what Joel spoke of that caused them to act this way. What did Joel speak of? The Spirit being poured out. This then is what Peter meant. It was the Spirit being poured out that had caused what they were witnessing before their eyes at that very moment.
Now if the men who heard Peter say “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” took him to mean, “this is the same Spirit being poured out that was spoken of by the prophet Joel,” they would have taken him to mean something that was true and that really was happening before their eyes. However, if they took him to mean that “this is the complete and final fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet Joel,” then they would have taken him to mean something that clearly was not true, and that made a mockery out of Joel’s prophecy and the Lord’s fulfillment of it. It should be clear to all that Peter meant that what they were beholding was the result of the Spirit being poured out. Yet it should also be clear to all that the Spirit had not at that time been poured out on all flesh, nor has He been poured out on all flesh at any time since. When this event does take place and the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, this is what we are referring to as “the return of the Holy Spirit.”
Some might argue that this phrase cannot be found in Scripture. We will readily acknowledge that there is no such phrase in Scripture as “the return of the Holy Spirit” or “the second coming of the Holy Spirit.” These are not Biblical terms. Yet at the same time, we could say the same thing about the phrases “the return of Christ” or “the second coming of Jesus Christ.” These are not Biblical terms either, and yet many accept them because they realize that these phrases are consistent with a truth taught most clearly by the Scriptures: that someday Jesus Christ will return to earth. Consider once again the words of the two angels to the disciples in Acts 1:11.
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
If we would carefully consider these words and acknowledge the truth they express so plainly, we can safely say that beyond any doubt Jesus Christ will return a second time to this earth we live on. Therefore though the Bible does not use the phrase “the return of Jesus Christ,” this phrase is accurate as it expresses the truth of the Scriptures. The same thing is true of the return of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was sent to earth at Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4, in a most spectacular and Biblically significant event.
1. When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
This is what we are referring to as the original sending of the Holy Spirit, or His first coming. Yet the Holy Spirit will yet again be sent into this world, and this time He will be poured out upon all flesh, as Joel 2:28 predicts. So while this phrase does not appear anywhere in the Bible, it can be demonstrated that there will be a yet future event wherein the Holy Spirit will be sent once again as He was at Pentecost, and that the results of His sending will change this world forever. This is what we are calling the “return of the Holy Spirit.”
We are not trying to make too much of these two events, as if these were the only times God has sent His Holy Spirit. The reality is that God has sent and will send His Spirit many other times as well. Yet the same is true of the second coming of Jesus Christ. If the Bible is carefully examined, it will become clear that Jesus Christ appeared on earth many times before He ever became a baby in Bethlehem.
First of all, consider the evidence regarding the Savior. Titus 1:3 declares:
3. but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior;
This verse tells us that God is our Savior. Yet consider the testimony of the very next verse, Titus 1:4.
4. To Titus, a true son in our common faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.
Verse 3 of Titus declares that God is our Savior, and verse 4 declares that the Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior. Which is true? Might one person be saved by God, and another person be saved by the Lord Jesus Christ? Might God save me one day and the Lord Jesus Christ save me the next? No, for Isaiah 43:11 makes it clear that no such thing can be true.
11. I, even I, am the LORD,
And besides Me there is no savior.
The name “LORD” here, spelled all in capitals, is a translation of the Hebrew word Yahweh or Jehovah. If we will consider what these verses are saying and their implications carefully, then we cannot help but conclude that if the New Testament tells us that God is the Savior and that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Savior, and if Isaiah tells us that the LORD Yahweh is the only Savior and there is no other, then Jesus Christ must be the LORD Yahweh, and Jesus Christ must be God. The LORD (the Hebrew Yahweh or Jehovah) of the Old Testament is the Lord Jesus Christ of the New Testament. And the Jehovah of the Old Testament does appear to many people in Scripture. It was Jehovah God Who walked with Adam in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day in Genesis 3. It was Jehovah who appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre with two of His angels and told him of the child he would have and the coming destruction of Sodom, as we read in Genesis 18. It was Jehovah who met Moses on the way to Egypt prepared to kill his son because he had failed to circumcise him in Exodus 4. It was Jehovah who spoke with Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend in Exodus 33:11. It was Jehovah Who came and stood and called to Samuel at night when he was a boy in I Samuel 3.
We could go on, but the point is clear: the Lord Jesus Christ had stood on earth many times before His coming as a baby to Bethlehem. But we do not call any of these appearances His “first coming.” The great event we refer to by that name is when He became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This happened when He was born of a virgin and laid in a manger in Bethlehem (Luke 2). He grew up in Nazareth, ministered to Israel for about three years, and then died on a cross for our sins. Then, after His resurrection, He ascended to His Father, as He said in John 20:17.
17. Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”
Yet He did not remain with His father at that time, but He returned. Now that He had completed this ascension and return, He could be touched, as is clear from His later actions with the women in Matthew 28:9.
9. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.
So the Lord Jesus went to His Father and returned immediately after His resurrection and appearance to Mary Magdalene. This was a journey to heaven and a return by the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet this was not what we call His return or His second coming. When we refer to that we refer to a specific event in the future, the time spoken of by the angels in Acts 1:11, when He comes back to earth to be personally present for a thousand years, as we read about in the book of Revelation.
So even though we call two events Christ’s “first coming” and His “second coming” or return, these are not the only times Christ has actually appeared on earth. In the same way, when we speak of the “return of the Holy Spirit,” we do not mean to imply that the Spirit has only been sent twice, or even that He is not active on earth now. The fact is that the Holy Spirit has been active upon earth since the very beginning. We will examine what His activities have been in our next message.