The Holy Spirit Brings Restoration in the End-Times Renewal

Discussions of the End-Times often center on Jesus’ return. But what role does the Spirit play in the End-Times? Beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures and continuing through the Second Temple period, the Spirit is depicted as the means by which God accomplishes his historical and eschatological plan.[1] That eschatological plan includes an expansion of the Spirit’s work upon the earth as well as the Spirit’s inner work that transforms the hearts of the covenant people.[2] The Spirit’s renewing work would prepare God’s people to experience His presence.

In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter cites the pouring out of the Spirit as evidence that the “last days” have begun (Acts 2). The New Testament writers believed that they were in the “last days” (end times) and these previous promises were being fulfilled. The Spirit would indwell and empower the church to expand God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth until Jesus’ return. This post will point out some first-century expectations concerning the Spirit in the End-Times.

Pouring out the Spirit: Eschatological Expansion

The Old Testament (OT) often portrays the Spirit of God as working in leaders and prophets to establish, deliver, judge, guide, and restore the people of God.[3] Not surprisingly then, the Spirit is also depicted as active among God’s people in the eschatological restoration.[4] The eschatological work of the Spirit increases in scope and intensity. This increase is described as a “pouring out” of the Spirit in many OT passages (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25–27; 37:14; 39:28–29; Zech 12:9–10) and exemplified by Joel 2:28–31:

It will come about after this that I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of Yahweh comes.

Joel 2:28–31

By twice using the verb שפך (pour out) and the threefold repetition of spiritual gifts in the following lines, Joel expresses a fullness of amount as well as fullness in scope.[5] The Spirit will not only be upon leaders and prophets, but upon all of God’s people. The day of the Lord, with its theophanic imagery, brings a renewal of the covenant presence (Joel 2:27, “Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am Yahweh your God”) and an expansion of Yahweh’s Spirit among his people. The promise of Yahweh’s restored covenant presence “in the midst of Israel” is closely connected to the Spirit in many prophetic texts (Isa 4:4–6; 59:19–21; Ezek 36:24–28; Hag 2:5–9). These Hebrew texts create an eschatological expectation for an outpouring of Yahweh’s Spirit in conjunction with a renewal of Yahweh’s covenant presence. The pouring out of the Spirit will broaden both the scope and intensity of Yahweh’s blessings.

Many scholars note an eschatological trajectory to the canon that depicts Yahweh’s presence/glory expanding to the ends of the earth. The Spirit would usher in the promised presence of God among his people as “all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Num 14:21) in the eschatological age (Isa 6:3; Hab 2:14).[6]

These expectations inform the background to many of the pneumatological promises in the New Testament. Peter quotes the above passage from Joel in his Acts 2 sermon, and claims that this promise is being fulfilled. In the remaining chapters of Acts, the Spirit is poured out into new people groups and expanding throughout the Roman empire. John’s Gospel shows a similar fulfillment in a slightly different way. John the Baptist introduces the promise that Jesus would baptize in the Spirit (John 1:33), and that promise is fulfilled literarily when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples (John 20:21). This impartation of the Holy Spirit is given in the context of Jesus sending his disciples into the world on a mission of redemption and revelation in continuity with Jesus’ own mission.[7] In addition, the disciples serve a representative function for the later, broader messianic community and the blessings/responsibilities (including the indwelling Spirit) of the first disciples are assumed for later disciples.[8] Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples when the eschatological “hour” (John 4:21–23; 5:25–28; 13:1; 17:1) arrives, thus expanding God’s glory. The expansion of God’s glory through his disciples and beyond is spoken of in John 17:20–22, which states, “Not for these alone do I ask, but also for those who believe in me through their word; so that they may all be one, even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one.” The sharing of glory that denotes the unified presence of God radiates to future disciples, who will witnesses to the world.

The Spirit’s work of renewing God’s people and expanding God’s glory presence is a crucial part of End-Times fulfillment. While modern Christians often think of the “End-Times” strictly in terms of Jesus’ final return, the New Testament seems to include the entire church age in the “last days”. In these last days, the Spirit’s role is to prepare God’s people, and the whole world, for the Lord’s full and final intervention.


End Notes

[1] Willem VanGemeren and Andrew Abernethy, “The Spirit and the Future: A Canonical Approach,” in Presence, Power and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament (ed. David Firth and Paul Wegner; Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011), 333.

[2] Robin Routledge, “The Spirit and the Future in the Old Testament: Restoration and Renewal,” in Presence, Power and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament (ed. David Firth and Paul Wegner; Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011), 348–349.

[3] Wilf Hildebrandt, An Old Testament Theology of the Spirit of God (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995), 67–150.

[4] Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B.C. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968), 177, contends that the prophets Zechariah and Haggai (shortsightedly) considered the post-exilic time as this restoration. The work of the eschatological Spirit was therefore crucial in their depiction of the restoration of the temple in Zech 4:6 and Hag 2:4–5. While I disagree with Ackroyd’s assessment of the prophet’s intentions, the larger point of the Spirit’s work in the promised restoration is still relevant. The Spirit of God transcends the temple and is therefore involved in its restoration.

[5] G. A. Mikre-Selassie points out that Joel often uses repetition to emphasize fullness in “Repetition and Synonyms in the Translation of Joel—With Special Reference to the Amharic Language,” BT 36 (1985): 230–237. See also Douglas Stuart, Hosea–Jonah (WBC 31; Waco: Word, 1987), 260.

[6] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission (NSBT 17; Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004), 25, argues that the temple was designed to foreshadow the eschatological reality of God’s presence spreading throughout the cosmos. See also James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 343. For a biblical tracking of the “all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord” theme, see ibid., 268–269. 

[7] Andreas Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 539–546.

[8] Ibid., 886–894.