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TXT: What did Joel mean that ‘old men will dream dreams’?

Question: If God no longer speaks to people in dreams, what is the meaning of Peter quoting Joel 2 in his sermon in Acts 2:17?

Answer:

Good question! While much could be said about this, please allow me to provide a bit of context and background to help clearly and accurately answer your question.

The apostle Peter is speaking to those who were eyewitnesses of the promised coming of the Spirit at Pentecost (Jn 15:26-27, 16:13-15). They were amazed and confused by the signs and wonders taking place.  Prior to His ascension, Jesus Christ promised the twelve disciples that these “things” would mark the coming of the Helper – God – the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church (Acts 2).

To help explain the  extraordinary events that are occuring in Acts 2, Peter  quotes the prophet Joel’s prophecy found in Joel 2:28-32. This is an “end times” prophecy describing the coming of “the day of the Lord.”

We who live in the “church age” have nearly 2,000 years of history to help us see how God has and is unfolding his redemptive plan in “real time.”  For example, the Old Testament (OT) mystery of the 1st and 2nd coming of Christ was not clear to the OT writers or the Jews of Jesus’ day.  The phrase, the “last days,” was a common OT saying.  It specified the time when the Messiah would come to set up His Kingdom  (Isa 9:6). That’s why, in the gospels, the disciples were constantly asking Jesus when was He going to set up His Kingdom! At that time they did not understand the significance of His 1st and 2nd comings!

Today, we know that  Joel’s prophecy is presented in two stages.  The  phrase “the last days” represents  the time from the birth of Christ to His return in glory. Peter, quoting Joel 2, shows that it was a precursor or foretaste of  the “ultimate kingdom” that would be established when the Messiah returns the second time at the great and final “day of the Lord.”  Not all of the prophecies mentioned in Joel 2 have been fulfilled…yet!

The pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost “pre-figured” what life will be like in the literal, earthly millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ. At that time, all “your old men will dream dreams” through the supernatural power of the indwelling Spirit.

(One interesting interpretation regarding “your young men shall see visions and your old men dream dreams” (Joel 2:17; Acts 2:17-18) is that God, the Holy Spirit, will indwell millennium-age saints in a way that is beyond that which we could ever  imagine or think in this age.  WOW!!)

In summary:

  1. Acts 2:17-18 gives a “foretaste “of a yet future time – the millennial reign of the Messiah, Jesus.
  2. The written revelation of God (the Bible) is complete and authoritative and no further modes of revelation are needed in this age (ie, dreams)Peter, who saw the transfigured Christ and was present at Pentecost, said the Scripture is totally sufficient and complete, even better than eyewitness accounts!…”we have the prophetic word made more sure”… (2 Peter 1:19)
  3. The dreams mentioned in Acts 2:17 are referring to the outpouring of the Spirit in the millennial Kingdom. Men who claim to have “prophetic dreams” today have to apply the ultimate test to them. Do they line up 100% with the prophetic word made more sure, the Bible? If they don’t, they are to be considered false prophets.  And if  they do, why do we need them! (2 Peter 2:19)

Author: Peter Spiers

Peter is an executive with CFA, a national healthcare consulting firm, and invests all his off-work time into his church and his family. He is faithful to invest his life into men and loves to see people transformed by God's Word.

4 Comments

  1. Hey Peter,

    Thanks for answering my question. I was curious if there are other passages that bring more clarity to this being a reference to the future establishment of a millennial kingdom? I read the passage a few times and it seems like Peter is saying this is proof they are not drunk but filled with the spirit? I know that all that Peter quotes is not fulfilled because he says that the “sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood” but I am curious how we know where the fulfillment stopped? I know that there are other passages that reference the sun and the moon as signs to be fulfilled (Rev 6:12, Matt 24:29, Mark 13:24) But are there other passages that could clarify?

    P.S. Just thought it was great that “Peter” is answering the question about what “Peter” said 🙂

    Jake

  2. Jake,

    Thanks for wanting to dig deeper!So, if I understand your core question your asking how do we know the “signs” that Peter is identifing with Joel 2 have “ceased” or “where the fulfillment stopped”? If I’m correct in understanding your question then were talking about what has come to be known as the church age doctrine of “cessationism”.

    The simplest and quickest way to answer your question is to refer you to our FBC “What We Teach” document regarding the cessation of some of the “gifts of the Spirit” with the close of the apostolic era.(I’m not to trying avoid answering this it’s just very concisely and thoroughly laid out there!)

    The main sign being alluded to by the apostle Peter in the first part of Joel 2 is the “speaking in tongues” gift..(Peter clarifies these men were not drunk,but speaking to one another in known tongues/dialects as a sign of the outpouring of the Spirit-Acts 2:4,6)…

    Tongues were primarily a “sign” for unbelieving Jews(1 Cor.14:21-22).And,to confirm God’s gift of salvation to the Gentiles(Acts 11:17-18)

    There is no record of this gift in later epistles.This aligns with the clear teaching of Scripture and the history of the church that this was a “confirming sign”(Acts 2:43,5:12-16,19:11)This “sign” was no longer needed with the closing of the canon because the church would have…”a more sure word”(2 Peter 1:19)

    So, that is how we understand the “initial” fulfillment in Joel 2 and the “gap” between Joel 2:17-18 and 19-21.

    Interestingly, when the millennial fulfillment of Joel 2 oocurs there is an “expansion of the power and fruit of the Spirit” in the millennial saints!(Joel 2:28-32)

  3. Thanks Peter I appreciate your thought out answers both times!

    I will look at the statement and the passages. I guess I was thinking about dreams as an encouragement to individuals not as a gift. But in context Peter is obviously talking about “sign” gifts for the church, not personal comfort or encouragement. I love the reminder that the word of God is sufficient and the only authoritative source of knowledge from or about God!

  4. Jake,

    Amen brother…the Word is awesome!Thanks again for your stimulating and insightful questions!

    Peter