A Christian Identity as God’s Kingdom Witnesses in Daily Life (Acts 2:1-41)
There is no question that the story of Pentecost is central to the life of the early Christian community. This is the event that initiates the vocation of witness described in Acts 1:8. This section of Acts makes claims on all workers in two ways. First, the Pentecost account identifies its Christian hearers within a new community that brings to life the re-creation of the world—that is, the kingdom of God—promised by God through the prophets. Peter explains the phenomenon at Pentecost by referring to the prophet Joel.
These [men] are not drunk, as you suppose, for it’s only nine in the morning. No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:15-21)
Peter refers to a section of Joel that describes the restoration of God’s exiled people. Peter uses this section to claim that God has initiated his once-and-for-all deliverance of his people. The return of God’s people to the land both fulfills God’s covenantal promises and initiates the re-creation of the world. Joel describes this re-creation with breathtaking imagery. As God’s people return to the land, the desert comes to life as a sort of new Eden. Dirt, animals and people all rejoice at the victory of God and the deliverance of God’s people (see Joel 2). Among the rich images in this section of Joel, we hear that the restoration of God’s people will lead to immediate economic impact. “The LORD said: ‘I am sending you grain, wine and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a mockery among the nations’” (Joel 2:19). The climax of this act of deliverance for Joel is the outpouring of the Spirit upon the people of God. Peter understands the coming of the Spirit to mean that the early Jesus followers are—in some real, even if profoundly mysterious, manner—participants in God’s new world.
A second important and closely related point is that Peter describes salvation as rescue from a “corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40). Two things need clarification. First, Luke does not describe salvation as escape from this world into a heavenly existence. Instead, salvation begins right in the midst of this present world. Second, Luke expects that salvation has a present-tense component. It begins now as a different way of living, contrary to the patterns of this “corrupt generation.” Because work and its economic and social consequences are so central to human identity, it should come as no surprise that one of the first patterns of human life to be reconstituted is the manner by which Christians manage their power and possessions. The flow, then, of this early section of Acts moves like this: (1) Jesus suggests that all human life should bear witness to Christ; (2) the coming of the Spirit marks the initiation of the long-promised “day of the Lord” and initiates people into God’s new world; and (3) expectations of the “day of the Lord” include profound economic transformations. Luke’s next move is to point to a new people, empowered by the Spirit, living according to a kingdom economy.
The Christian modification of Israelite expectations about the end of the age is called “inaugurated eschatology” and is often organized under the rubric of a kingdom that is simultaneously already present and not yet consummated. Israel expected the day of the Lord to come in one climactic stage. Early Christians discovered that the day of the Lord was initiated at Jesus’ resurrection and with the outpouring of the Spirit, but that the kingdom would not come in full until the return of Jesus.