April 18, 1906, marked the beginning of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement when a woman claimed to speak in tongues during the Azusa Street “revival” in Los Angeles. Since that time, some Pentecostal theologians have claimed that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that supposedly happened there was a sign of the last days. After all, Joel 2:28–32, as cited in Acts 2:17–21, promises that the Lord will pour out His Spirit in the “last days.”
Our purpose here is not to debate what happened on Azusa Street, even though we do have grave concerns about Pentecostal theology, and we deny that infallible revelatory gifts (such as prophecy) are in operation today. Instead, we want to point out that to believe we are in the last days now in a way that the early church was not is to make a serious interpretive error. On Pentecost, Peter explicitly identified the era in which he lived as the “last days.” He tells us that the “last days” is a long period of time extending from the ministry of Jesus until His return to consummate His kingdom. We are now living in the eschatological age of the Spirit, and the church of Jesus Christ receives the plentiful outpouring of the Holy Spirit to do its work throughout this age.
The prophesy of Joel and its fulfillment in the new covenant show us once again that what we enjoy now is far better than what believers had under the old covenant. There is a generous effusion of the Spirit on all people — unlike under the old covenant, when the power of the Holy Spirit was largely limited to kings and prophets (Num. 11:26–29). All of God’s people now enjoy a large measure of His Spirit, who is working within all His children even when we do not sense His presence. John Calvin writes, “God did not pour out his Holy Spirit so abundantly and so largely under the law, as after the manifestation of Christ.”
Joel also looked forward to a period when special revelation would flourish once more, for he said the Spirit would cause many to have prophecies, dreams, and visions (Joel 2:28–29). This revelation has been written down in the form of the New Testament, and we do not expect any more special revelation until the return of Christ (Heb. 1:1–4). And what we have confirms what Joel foresaw, namely, that all who call on the Lord, trusting in His promises, join the company of the redeemed.