THE DAY OF THE LORD IN ACTS 2:16-21
by Ron Merryman
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come. (Acts 2:20)
The Day of the Lord, mentioned by Peter in Acts 2:20, requires special attention particularly in view of its many misapplications.
Peter in Acts 2:15ff is seeking to explain the amazing miracle of speaking in tongues that had just occurred on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). His explanation begins, “These are not drunken as you suppose… but this is that spoken by the prophet Joel…;” that is, “This tongues-language-phenomena that we have all just experienced is clear evidence of the power and special ministry of the Holy Spirit spoken of by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16,17).
Peter is not indicating that the Day of the Lord so predominant in the prophecies of Joel had arrived. He is merely interpreting and explaining the tongues’ experience in the light of an Old Testament passage that spoke of special ministries of the Holy Spirit manifested in human communication.
Peter well knew that Joel’s words not only included special revelation (prophecies, visions, dreams) from the Holy Spirit, but also seismic and astral catastrophes – “wonders in the heavens above and signs in the earth below …the sun turned to darkness, the moon to blood before the great and notable Day of the Lord comes” (Acts 2:19-21). Peter also knew and wrote that the Day of the Lord is to be associated with the Second Advent of Christ and the events surrounding it (II Peter 3:1-13). Obviously, none of these occurred on the Day of Pentecost.
So why did Peter quote Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2? Simply to help his Jewish listeners perceive that what they had just heard and experienced (tongues/languages miraculously spoken) had precedent in Old Testament prophecy.
He along with the leaders in the early church on a number of occasions sought to explain what they experienced by referring to holy Scripture. A clear example is found in Acts 4:23-27. There, in an effort to explain the persecution that they were experiencing and that Christ had suffered, the Christians quote Psalm 2:1,2:
Who by the mouth of thy servant David has said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ (Messiah, the Anointed One).
They follow this by a direct application of the passage to the ruling authorities responsible for the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 4:27).
For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together….
Does this mean that the prophecies of Psalm 2:1,2 are fulfilled; that is, that Herod and Pontius Pilate are the final fulfillment of the “kings of earth” and “rulers” of Psalm 2:2? Absolutely not. Psalm 2 is much more comprehensive and universal in its scope. It reaches far beyond Herod and Pilate to all the “kings of the earth”, to their final rebellion against God (led by the Antichrist), and to their demise under the triumphant return and rule of Jesus Christ.
The rebellion of Herod and Pilate against Messiah was a minor fulfillment of Psalm 2:1,2: Its major fulfillment is future. This is apparent by a simple reading of the Psalm.
Why did these early Christians so apply Psalm 2? Because they were seeking to explain their circumstance and experience in light of Old Testament revelation.
So also with Peter’s quote of Joel 2 in Acts 2. He quotes an Old Testament passage to explain the experience of tongues on the Day of Pentecost. He was in no way implying that the Day of the Lord had come or was even near.
The special revelation brought to the early church by the Holy Spirit through tongues, prophecy, words of knowledge, etc., ceased once the totality of special revelation was given. We call that the New Testament. These special revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit were temporary: The New Testament is permanent. We now interpret Christian experience by the words of the New Testament. ˘
 There are 44 references to the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament: 19 are specific; 25 are to “that day,” “that great day,” etc. Both pre-exilic and post-exilic Prophets refer specifically to the Day of the Lord: Isaiah (3 times), Ezekiel (2), Joel (5), Amos (3), Obadiah (1), Zephaniah (3), Zechariah (1), & Malachi (1). The New Testament uses the phrase only 4 times (to clarify the relationship of N. T. believers to it): Acts 2:17; 1Thess. 5:2; 2Thess. 2:2: & 2Pet. 3:10.
2 In orthodox Jewry, the second Psalm has always been understood as prophetic and eschatological. Its final fulfillment awaits the time of the Antichrist.