The “pouring out of God’s Spirit,” in Joel 2 corresponds to the “earnest” of the Spirit. The word “earnest” (KJV) means a pledge, or a guarantee. “In general usage it came to denote a pledge or earnest of any sort; in the New Testament it is used only of that which is assured by God to believers; it is said of the Holy Spirit as the Divine pledge of all their future blessedness, 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; in Ephesians 1:14, particularly of their eternal inheritance.” (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.)
Since the earnest of the spirit was a pledge of something yet to come, just what was to come? The answer is found in Acts 2:
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
The earnest was a pledge – a guarantee – an assurance – that the gift of the Spirit would be received. The earnest (or miraculous gifts) of the Spirit was not that gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38, but rather a pledge of it. We must not assume that the “gift of the Spirit” was received at the time of baptism in Acts 2:38. Three things must be considered in Acts 2:38-39:
First, the “gift of the Spirit” is not the Spirit’s essential being, but something the Spirit gives. Otherwise Peter would have said, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins and the Holy Spirit.”
Second, the time of this gift was yet future. The exhortation was, “…be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall [future time] receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Baptism would place them in a position to receive, at a latter date, the “gift of the Spirit.” In the meantime, the earnest of the Spirit, involving special gifts, was given to assure reception of the gift to come.
Third, the “gift of the Spirit” was a promise, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (verse 39). It’s the same promise made to Abraham and his seed, which would be fulfilled when Ishmael (the Old Covenant world) was cast out, “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).
The world promised to Abraham and his seed was the one that came by the gospel, not by the law. That world had not yet come at Pentecost, but they were looking for it when Peter wrote 2 Peter 3:13:
Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
When did it come? When the old heaven and earth passed away (Revelation 21:1-2). This was the end of the Old Covenant age (Hebrews 8:13), which brought the promise or the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism placed Jews and Gentiles alike in a position to inherit this promise:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).
Notice that baptism into Christ made them Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. What was the promise? See again Romans 4:13:
For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Abraham and his seed were heirs of a promised world. They inherited this world and received the promise when that world came, which followed the world that was according to the law (Romans 4:13). Thus the new heaven and earth promised to Abraham and his seed did not come until the old world (Old Covenant era) passed away, which was not on Pentecost, but certainly in that generation (See Matthew 24:3, 14, 34).
The new world, being heavenly or spiritual in nature, was in its perfect state the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was promised to all, and would be received by all who were of the seed of Abraham. One could not receive the gift of the Spirit unless they were an heir with Abraham, to whom the promises were given.
As a pledge that this new world would follow the end of that age, the “earnest of the Spirit” was given. The miraculous gifts gave the early church assurance, leadership, and understanding as they left the “elements of the world” to serve in newness, awaiting the coming of Christ at the end of the age, to usher them into their heavenly inheritance – the new heaven and earth.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Christ had promised this inheritance: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
As shown already, the pouring out of God’s Spirit in Joel 2 is not identical to the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38. We actually see three categories of the Spirit in the New Testament:
- The guarantee of the Spirit, which answers to Joel 2 or the miraculous gifts.
- The gift of the Spirit, which was the promise to Abraham’s seed, “…to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). It was the inheritance of which the miraculous gifts were a pledge or assurance.
- The ordinary indwelling of the Spirit through the word. This was available on Pentecost, or whenever the good word was received, even until this day. The indwelling of the Spirit is not the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38. If so, they were not born of the Spirit until after they were baptized. Baptism was commanded in order to receive the gift of the spirit. But who can deny that their believing, repenting, and baptism were unrelated to the Spirit and their birth of the Spirit? They had to be born again in order to receive the “gift of the Spirit” which is equated with “the promise” left unto Abraham and his seed. The promise was renewed on Pentecost, but not received until the end of the age.
Therefore, the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38 is not the ordinary indwelling of the Spirit, but our inheritance in Christ. The Spirit in Joel 2 is miraculous in nature and corresponds to the earnest, like a seed planted. A great source of confusion today is failure to distinguish between the earnest of the Spirit and the ordinary indwelling of the spirit. We don’t have the earnest today because we now have the inheritance.
Join us each week as we continue exploring fulfilled covenant eschatology by blogging through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King, where this post is drawn from. (And if you get impatient, you can always read the full book inspiring inspiring these posts here.) Please feel free to weigh in below.