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, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
–Joel 2:28-29, 32
“I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.”
That’s a pretty exciting statement when taken at face value, and it filled in a gap in my understanding of how non-Jews are supposed to fit into the New Covenant God made (is making, will make) with Israel.
I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to follow the threads from the covenant God made with Noah, to the one He made with Abraham, to the one He made with Isaac, to the one He made with Jacob, to the one He made with Moses and the Children of Israel, to the New Covenant language recorded in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, to the language of Messiah in Luke 22:14-23, and so on.
Classic replacement theology in Christianity has historically made the New Covenant fit but it must grossly misread the text in order to accomplish its goal. Instead of replacing Israel with “the church,” God has renewed and amplified His covenants with Israel in the New Covenant language and is in the process of or is yet to actually write the Torah upon the heart of Israel and to redeem her to Himself.
Only Messiah’s declaration faintly hints that somehow the Gentiles might be involved as well, and I’ve had to satisfy myself with that “slender thread” using more than a little faith and hope, because it’s not all that clear in the Bible just how Gentiles are attached to God through Israel. Oh, we have plenty of evidence that we are. Paul made considerable effort to engage Gentiles and to bring them into the faith after his encounter with Messiah in Acts 9. Then there’s Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and his entire Gentile household and the astonishing event of all those non-Jews actually receiving the Holy Spirit, just as the Jews had in Acts 2, which completely blew the socks off Peter and his Jewish companions (no, they didn’t really wear socks).
But let’s back up a step.
I’m referencing a presentation given by Toby Janicki at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. The name of his teaching was Spirit on all Flesh, and it was one of the few presentations when I addressed the speaker (Toby) afterward with both a question and a thank you.
One of the things Toby established was that there was a movement of the Spirit prior to Acts 2. It’s hard to believe anyone could not know that since the Spirit is all over the Tanakh (Old Testament), but I guess some Christians have a rather myopic view of the Bible. After all, whose Spirit was it that was hovering over the waters? (Genesis 1:2) In Acts 2:2-3, a sound like a mighty rushing wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
It is further said that after the Spirit rested on them, each of the apostles could speak foreign languages that they did not know. This ability allowed them to be united with many other Jews from the various nations in the diaspora. But if language can unite, where do we see it breaking unity?
Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
According to the beginning of this chapter, the “whole earth had one language,” and they used this ability to unite in arrogance against God. God confused their languages into, according to midrash, the seventy languages among the nations, and thus was scattered mankind.
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
The word of God was pronounced on Mount Sinai in seventy languages (Shab. 88a; Ex. R. v.; comp. Acts ii. 5). The Torah was written in seventy languages in order that the nations should not be able to plead ignorance as their excuse for rejecting it (Tosef., Soṭah, viii.). Among the seventy languages the most noble is Hebrew, for in it was pronounced the creative word of God (Gen. R. xviii., xxxi.; Yalḳ., Gen. 52). The Jewish law required that every member of the Sanhedrin should have sufficient knowledge of the seventy languages to be able to do without an interpreter (Sanh. 17a; comp. Meg. 73b; Men. 65a).
“The Seventy Nations and Languages”
It is said in midrash that seventy tongues of fire issued forth from the mountain and that the people could actually see the sound of God’s voice, and it was as if God had spoken the Torah in all seventy languages in a single utterance. And that God had spoken in the languages of all the nations of the earth because the Torah was given to all mankind.
But it’s not as if the Spirit never encountered non-Israelites prior to Acts 10. In Toby’s presentation, he asked how Rahab (Joshua 2:16) knew that the Jewish spies could hide in the mountains and that their pursuers would stop looking for them after three days? Why not two, or four, or six? Midrash suggests that the Spirit rested upon Rahab and she prophesied. Certainly, the Gentile magician Baalam also had access to the Spirit, for he could even speak to God. In fact, Judaism considers that there were seven prophets among the Gentiles, although they were not as elevated as the prophets of Israel.
But when Peter and his companions saw the Spirit descending upon Cornelius and the Gentiles, they must have thought that the Messianic Age prophesied by Joel had come and indeed, that the Spirit had been poured out on “all flesh.” I don’t doubt that prior to that event, few if any Jews believed that a Gentile could receive the Spirit and thus forgiveness of sins.
For the Gentiles, who were once far off from Israel and the promises, had been brought near (Ephesians 2:13) by the blood of Christ and their faith in the Messiah, and the Gentiles too received the Spirit and forgiveness. Thus Jew and Gentile became one in Messiah (Galatians 3:28) upon receiving the Spirit, with both being included in the body of Jesus and both having a place in the life of the world to come by the Master’s merit.
Receiving the Spirit is a sign of repentance. Although Luke doesn’t record Cornelius making teshuvah, he must have in order for Peter to witness the Spirit resting upon the Gentiles in the Roman’s home. Once Peter related what he and the other Jewish witnesses saw, the Council of Apostles and the elders praised God (Acts 11:18) that He showed no distinction and gave the Spirit and forgiveness of sins to all who repented, both the Jews and the people of the nations. What a wonderful gift.
For me, Joel 2:28-32 is the necessary linkage between Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 and binding the New Covenant prophesies to Luke 22:14-23, Acts 2, Acts 10, and finally Acts 15. I know from various sources, including John W. Mauck’s book Paul On Trial: The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity, that it was always God’s plan to include the Gentiles in a relationship with Him through Messiah.
…that the church’s disruption of the social/religious status quo (allowing Gentiles to become full members of the faith without circumcision and observance of the Torah)…
When I put all this together with everything I’ve learned so far about the connection between the covenants and all the material I’ve gathered about the meaning of the Acts 15 declaration, the relevance of Gentiles as members of the Kingdom becomes increasingly clear.
The Jewish people have been the keepers of the Torah, the Shabbat, and the knowledge of One God for thousands of years, while the people of the nations were worshiping figures made of stone and wood. But it was always God’s plan to include us as equal members in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the unique purpose of the Messiah was to allow us to come along side the Jewish people as equal sharers of the Spirit of God and of salvation, in order to give glory and honor to the King of Israel, the Holy One of Heaven.
God indeed has united all of His people among Israel and the people of the nations who are called by His Name. Just as God is One, we are One in Spirit and in the Kingdom, the Jew first and then also the Gentile. The Kingdom isn’t here yet because the Torah has yet to be written on our hearts. Peace has not arrived. We continue to struggle. But now there is hope. Now there is a path for the rest of us to follow. May the Lord of Heaven grant us wisdom and grace so that we can help in repairing our broken world and straightening the now crooked road upon which the King will walk when he returns to Israel and his throne in Holy Jerusalem.
Thanks for the good news, Toby.
Addendum: This ties up the end of my “Jesus Covenant” series called Building My Model and the other parts that came before it.