Our purpose here and in following articles is to scan the period of time between Christ’s departure and his second appearing from the viewpoint of the work of the Holy Spirit. Understanding the meaning and time frame of the Spirit’s mission is the key for understanding the meaning and duration of Christ’s absence. We have seen that the departure of Christ from the world of Old Testament Judaism was the prerequisite for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to his disciples, "…if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you" (John 14:7). In John 14:2-3 Jesus said, I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." From these two passages it is clear that the presence or arrival (parousia) of Christ, and thus the receiving of his disciples unto Himself, was the end result of what the Spirit was sent to accomplish during this interim period of time.
Furthermore, whatever the Spirit was sent to do he did in and through Christ, therefore it is the identical work mention by Christ in John 14:2: "I go to prepare a place for you." This will become clearer as we survey the work of the Spirit, tracing it through to the consummation that brought forth Christ’s second appearing.
An analysis of the Spirit’s work will be made from the standpoint of his role in the gospel’s cross-centered eschatology. This will involve taking a cursory view of the gift, the promise, the pledge, the unity of the Spirit, and the basis of his transforming power.
The Eschatological Role of the Spirit
The work of the Holy Spirit during Christ’s absence was thoroughly eschatological from beginning to end. On the whole this concept is met with bitter resistence largely due to the one-sided approach to eschatology. We have grown accustomed to thinking of eschatology strictly in terms of bringing something to an end. But biblical eschatology is a two-sided coin. On one side there is a movement toward an end in the sense of an absolute termination or passing away of a former state of affairs. On the other side there is a movement toward fullness or completeness in the sense of the coming of a new and eternal state. These actions are not chronological but concurrent, having a common point of consummation.
Later the covenantal framework of gospel eschatology will be shown. It has two sides which cannot be separated by an intervening age. The reverse side of the coming of the New Covenant economy is the passing away of the Old Covenant aeon, and this twofold action occurs side by side until the change is completed. The common mistake made in end-time exegesis is that of separating these interrelated actions, giving them separate frameworks of fulfillment. The passing of the Jewish age is put in one pocket of time and the Spirit’s work of bringing about the new creation in Christ is put in another. Consequently his work in building up the church until it reaches "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph.4:13) is not seen as eschatology. It is seen as something coming with no reverse action of something passing away.
This one-sided approach to eschatology is as wrong as wrong can be. In biblical eschatology the passing away of the Old does not precede the coming in of the New. The statement of the Holy Spirit concerning the Old Covenant, "Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Heb.8:13) was made several years after he came on Pentecost and began to build up the church until it attained unto the image of Christ. During this period Paul wrote, "For the form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor.7:31). And again, "For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious" (2 Cor.3:11). Note that Paul said the glorious (the ministry of the Old Covenant) "is passing away," not HAS passed away. The present action cannot be ignored. Paul sees the passing away of the glorious as an on-going process with the end result being "what remains is much more glorious." The futurity of consummated change is crystal clear in the next verse; "Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech." That would have been a reckless use of "hope" on the part of Paul if the "ministry of death, written and engraved on stones" (v.7) already had passed away at the cross.
Our claim is confirmed in these passages. The work of the Holy Spirit throughout New Testament scripture was thoroughly eschatological until the change from "this age" (the Jewish age) to "the age to come" (the Christian age) was consummated.
1. The Last Days. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in "the last days" is convincing evidence of the eschatological character of the Spirit’s mission. There is no doubt that Joel meant his words (2:28-32) to be understood as addressing Israel’s end time (3:14-21); therefore Peter deliberately adds "in the last days" (Acts 2:17), thereby stressing that the Holy Spirit is an eschatological gift. He was poured out in the final days of the Jewish age to work out the change of the covenant aeons whereby all of God’s promises to Israel would be fulfilled in Christ. One cannot read Joel 2 and 3 and miss Israel’s centrality in the things that would come to pass in the last days.
Any interpreter of eschatology who does not permit the end to begin where the Spirit began will inevitably miss the time and framework of events for the last things. Pentecost was a Holy Day in the Jewish age. The events that unfolded in Acts 2 are prefaced with the words, "Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come…" (v.1). Everything recorded in this chapter took place, not on a Christian Holy Day, but on a festival Day celebrated by Israel from the earliest days of their nation. But the cross was a turning point. The "last days" of Israel’s earthly, national existence as God’s covenant people had come and the Acts 2 Pentecost falls into that eschatological time frame. The concept of instantaneous change at the cross or no later than Pentecost contradicts the clear testimony of Jesus in Matthew 24:3 when he tied the destruction of the temple to "the end of the age." Was the temple destroyed on Pentecost? If not, then the end of the age did not take place on Pentecost. Furthermore, it is not possible to marshal support for the claim that "the end of the age" in Matthew 24:3 is a reference to the Christian age. All would agree that the Jewish age was still present when the disciples asked about "the end of age." If the age they were in was not the age in question, then they should have asked, "what shall be the end of the age to come?".
We are not saying that the "Christian age" did not begin until the destruction of Jerusalem or the end of the Jewish age. It began when the Spirit began his post-cross ministry, with the end results being the coming of the Christian age about 40 years later from the standpoint of fullness or consummation. From this perspective "the age to come" in Hebrews 6:5 is a reference to the New Covenant age. Its powers were being tasted already in the interim period through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, what occurred on Pentecost with the coming of the Spirit signaled the beginning of the end of the Jewish age and the beginning of the coming Christian age. The coming of the New begins in the "last days" of the Old for the simple reason that the Old Testament, with its promises, prophecies, types and shadows, was the background for the gospel’s end-time message. Christ was the sum and substance of all things written in the law and the prophets. He was both the end (telos) and the goal toward which everything moved and found unmitigated fullness in the "great and notable day of the Lord" (Acts 2:20). To
this end the Holy Spirit was poured out in "the last days" of the Old Testament dispensation.
2. The New Position of Christ. The fact that the Christian age had its initial beginning in the latter days of the Jewish age does not mean that it was of that age. Parallel to this is the situation of Christ’s disciples whom Jesus said were IN the world but not of the world (John 17:11,15). Christ himself was once "in" but not "of" the world (see vv.11-15); however, that was no longer the case after his resurrection. (See John 6:62,63; 8:21-23). Neither would such be true of his disciples after they attained "to the resurrection from the dead" through their dying and rising with Christ. The time and framework for this is clearly laid out by Paul in Phil.3:9-16 against the background of the Law (vv.1-9), a great piece of writing on the eschatological work of the Holy Spirit in terms of gospel resurrection.
When Christ told his disciples, "if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you" (John 16:7), he simply was saying that as long as he was in the Jewish world (the world below) the Spirit could not begin his age-changing work. Only after Christ had ascended to the world above (the heavenly realm wherein God’s promises to Israel would be fulfilled) were conditions right from a messianic standpoint for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Christ’s new position, as defined by Peter in Acts 2:22-36, identifies him with "the age to come" of the New Covenant. The first text Peter appeals to is Psa. 16:8-11. It was a messianic prophecy concerning the deliverance of the suffering servant from Hades: "For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption" (v.10; Acts 2:27). Peter argues in vv.29-32 that David was not talking about himself but Christ whom God raised up to sit on his (David’s) throne. The second text is Psa.110:1 where it is said of Israel’s future king: "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." In Acts 2:33-36 Peter shows this was not a prophecy about David, for he did not ascend into the heavens. He was talking about his descendant Christ whom God raised up and exalted to the heavens.
But what does all this mean? What impact did it have on the Jews of Peter’s day to hear that the crucified Christ, now exalted to the heavens, was the one of whom David spoke? First of all they understood that these prophecies, when fulfilled, would bring forth the glorious "age to come" so eagerly awaited by Israel. Suddenly the Jews are confronted with the fact that where Christ is after his resurrection (as foreseen by David) is not the place where they anticipated "the age to come." To make matters worse, Christ, in order to fulfill Psalms 16:8-11; 110:1, came into the world where the Jews thought "the age to come" would be realized. Christ was born of the seed of David "according to the flesh," but Israel should have learned from Abraham the restrictions of "the flesh" with respect to "the promise" (Gal.4:21-31). Paul asked, "What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?" (Rom.4:1). With respect to Ishmael (who was born of the flesh) and to the promise (which was according to the Spirit) the obvious answer is that Abraham found (obtained) nothing. Paul’s point is clear. In this same connection one could ask, "What then shall we say that Christ (the seed of promise) has found or obtained according to the flesh?" The answer is the same — nothing.
It follows, therefore, that that which was necessary to fulfill the Davidic prophecies — Christ’s death and resurrection – is that which removed Christ from the world that was "according to the flesh." Israel’s mistake was not in looking for "the age to come," but in looking for this age from the standpoint of "the flesh." Paul addresses this messianic misapprehension on the part of Israel in writing, "Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer" (2 Cor.5:16). The cross was the point of reference in the statement "from now on" we no longer know Christ "according to the flesh" — the latter being a phrase commonly used to denote Israel’s mode of life under the Law. In this connection see Phil.3:1-10. What greater evidence is needed to show that what came through Moses was not suited for "the age to come" through Christ.
The eschatological import of Christ’s new position (his exaltation to the heavens) is inescapable. Its relevancy with respect to "the age to come," for which the Holy Spirit was poured out, is equally indisputable. From Pentecost on, one world was passing away and another world was coming in as the direct result of Christ’s new position and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through "this same Jesus" who previously had come "in the flesh" – but found nothing.
In this connection the reader is urged to see the "antichrist" of the "last hour" as being Law-zealous Jews, who, in resisting the gospel of Christ’s new location, would not confess that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" (1 John 2:18-23; 4:1-3). The Jews would have received with open arms "the age to come" within the perimeters of their world, but the clear message of Christ’s death in the flesh and resurrection in the Spirit (Rom.1:3,4; 1 Pet.3:18) was the coming of a new world order correspondent to God’s promise to Abraham, who looked for a heavenly country and city (Heb.11:9-16). This changing of worlds through the resurrected Messiah was "the offense of the cross" (Gal.5:11; 6:12-16).
But the point is, Christ’s new position "in the heavens" during the "last days" of the Jewish age is the only frame of reference in scripture for the eschatological work, message, and mission of the Holy Spirit. From this perspective alone one has a reasonable and biblical framework for the pervasive, indisputable "expectation of nearness" in the New Testament. The end of all things was "at hand" (1 Pet.4:7) in the latter period of the apostolic mission simply because the "last days" were about to run out of days. It is just that clear and simple.
On the other side of the coin the arrival of Christ (through whom "that which is perfect" comes) was equally "at hand" (Rev.22:6-10). Few would deny that the fall of Jerusalem was "at hand" in apostolic time, but with eyes closed to the reverse side of that eschatological event many deny that the parousia of Christ was "at hand" despite the clear testimony of the Holy Spirit to that effect. This illustrates the inconsistency of a one-sided approach to gospel eschatology. It has opened the door for numerous man-made end time frameworks of a secular genius, as seen, for example, in the "newspaper theology" of Hal Lindsey. The apostles, however, through the Holy Spirit, preached the parousia of Christ against the background of the Old Testament regime and its "last days."
In our next article we will make further inquiry into gospel eschatology from the viewpoint of "the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38,39).