I am continuing my series in critiquing Dr. Michael Brown (Charismatic – Authentic Fire) and Pastor John MacArthur (Cessationist – Strange Fire). While I agree with Pastor MacArthur that the sign and revelatory gifts have ceased, I also agree with Dr. Brown that MacArthur (and Cessationist Futurists in general) does/do not have an exegetical case against the main Charismatic arguments/texts for the continuance of the gifts. We are examining those arguments/texts in this series and MacArthur’s failure to address them. The first argument we covered was:
If the Second Coming and New Creation (“that which is perfect” / seeing “face to face” – 1 Cor. 13:8-12) is still future, then prophecy, tongues and knowledge have not ceased.
We now turn our attention to argument #2 which deals with the “last days” and Acts 2. Remember, MacArthur exhorted his readers and listeners to the soundness of the Puritans and Reformed theology as an antidote to the Charismatic chaos today and even invited R.C. Sproul to lecture on the book of Acts at his Strange Fire Conference. Below I will quote Sproul on the “last days” and other Reformed theologians demonstrating that the sign and revelatory gifts ceased in AD 70 at the end of the last days of the OC age.
Argument #2 – Acts 2 & the last days
On pages 194-199 of Authentic Fire Dr. Brown argues that the miraculous gifts (especially prophecy) are to last throughout the “last days” of “this age” (i.e. the Church age) until the Second Coming. He cites Acts 2:14-21, 38-39; Heb. 1:1-2; 9:26; 1 Cor. 10:11; 1 Pet. 1:20; Jms. 5:3; 1 Jn. 2:18 for support.
Purpose of Acts
Since there is no mention of the G.C. in Luke 21 (as there is in Matt. 24:14 or Mrk. 13:10) and since Luke does not develop the promise and coming work of the Holy Spirit (as John does in John 14), I believe this is where Luke develops the fulfillment of the G.C. and Paul’s doctrine of the “mystery” through the Spirit’s outpouring upon 4 people groups in the book of Acts.
Chronology of the Holy Spirit
I believe Sproul did a good job in his lecture at the Strange Fire Conference in developing the chronology of Holy Spirit in the OT and throughout the book of Acts. I shall cover some of that material here.
The Holy Spirit was poured out upon Moses and then to the 70 elders who prophesied.
Then Moses told Joshua that he wished the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon all of God’s people. Moses’ desire was actually God’s intent, and through Joel God predicts that in Israel’s “last days” His Spirit would be poured out upon “all flesh.”
There is much confusion in the OT and in the NT as to how God was going to include all the Jews, Samaritans, God-fearers (Proselyte – Gentile converts to Judaism that weren’t circumcised), and Gentiles within God’s redemptive plan. The book of Acts not only records the fulfillment of the G.C. to these various groups, but it is Luke’s purpose to demonstrate that the power and outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s work was primarily confirmatory in nature, so as to demonstrate that all these groups would now be equal citizens in the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, Luke actually records 4 Pentecost’s of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon each of these groups in fulfillment of the G.C. of Acts 1:8:
- Acts 2 – for the Jews (“my witnesses in Jerusalem”),
- Acts 8 – the Samaritans (“and Samaria”),
- Acts 10 – God-fearers (“in all Judea”), and
- Acts 19 – the Gentiles (“to the ends of the earth”).
In each of these cases “all” within these groups received the miraculous out-pouring of the Holy Spirit unlike the Charismatic doctrine of the have and have not Christians. And these were examples or real miraculous “tongues” (known human languages) taking place unlike today – which is just learned behavior and gibberish.
The miraculous out-pouring manifestations of the Holy Spirit during this time period were temporal and unique in God’s redemptive plan. After the end of the OC age and the maturing of the NC age at Christ’s parousia in AD 70, these 4 categories of people are gone – there are just believers and unbelievers. With the genealogies and the Temple being destroyed in AD 70, there isn’t even a “Jew” or right to Judaism as a valid religion. In Dr. Brown’s exchange with Gary DeMar, when Gary asked Brown what tribe he was from he said, “I think Judah.”
The Last Days
Isaiah 2—5 & last days
In Isaiah 2:2–4 the prophet spoke of the time when Messiah would come and establish His mountain (Mount Zion), house, and city among Jews and Gentiles. As the New Testament reveals, this prophecy speaks of the spiritual peace that comes through the gospel, wherein Jew and Gentile are united in Christ into one spiritual nation and kingdom.
In Luke 23:30, 2 Thess. 1:9, and Rev. 6 – Reformed theologians and commentators interpret Jesus, Paul and John all seeing the “last days” “in that Day” Day of the Lord’s coming in judgment, as being fulfilled in AD 70. I don’t think it is unreasonable to conclude that the last day or “in that day (singular)” ends the period of the “last days” that Isaiah foretold. Not to mention that the “in that day” prophecy includes the time in which the martyrs would be vindicated – this being the time for the Lord to come and judge the living and the dead. These events close the “last days” of the OC age.
Acts 2 & last days
a). Genesis 11 Cursed reversed – Jews from “every nation under heaven” (that was represented in the table of nations in Gen. 10-11) spoke in “tongues” about God’s “wonders” which would include God’s coming plan of salvation and judgment (of which Peter goes on to elaborate and preach on). G.K. Beale writes,
“Why does Luke want readers to see the link to Genesis 10-11? Babel’s sin of uniting and consequent judgment of confused languages and of people being scattered throughout the earth is reversed at Pentecost: God causes representatives from the same scattered nations to unite in Jerusalem in order that they might receive the blessing of understanding different languages as if all these languages were one.”
If Jews were present from “every nation under heaven” and they went back and preached the gospel to those “nations,” the fulfillment of the G.C. was accomplished not within the “last days” of human history, but prior to the last days of the OC age ending in AD 70:
|1. “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth [Greek ge], and their words to the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18).
|2. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues [Greek glossa], as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation [Greek ethnos] under heaven” (Acts 2:5). This implies the believers went back to these nations with the gospel of Christ.||2. “…My gospel…has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations [Greek ethnos] (Rms. 16:25-26).
“…from the gospel which you heard, which was preached (past tense) to every creature under heaven (that was present in Acts 2:5), of which I Paul became a minister” (Cols. 1:23).
It is more than curious that Reformed Partial Preterists claim Romans 10:18 fulfills the gospel being preached to “all the earth” in (Matthew 24:14) as fulfilled by AD 70, but somehow the gospel being preached to “the end of the earth” in (Acts 1:8) is somehow not fulfilled by Paul’s statement, that the gospel had been preached “…to all the world” in the same text (Rms. 10:18)?!? If Romans 10:18 can be the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 it can also be the fulfillment of Acts 1:8! Sproul and his right-hand man Keith Mathison have not responded to me on this issue for obvious reasons.
b). “blood, fire and vapor of smoke” (v.19) – This is war language referring to AD 66 – AD 70. Tongues were for a sign of impending judgment for Israel (1 Cor. 14/Isa. 28).
c). “sun turned to darkness & moon to blood” (v. 20) – This is the language of a lunar eclipse which darkened the sun and turned the moon blood red. Israel shining like the sun in covenant status with God would now be extinguished. Her moon or city would become blood red like the moon during an eclipse – after all they did say, “His blood be on us and on our children,” and in AD 66 – AD 70 it was so.
d). “before the day of the Lord comes” (v. 20) – As with the judgment and day of the Lord in Mal. 3-4, and Matt. 24:27-30, this passage has historically been referred to as either: 1) The Second Coming closing the “last days” period, or 2) Typical apocalyptic language describing Christ coming in judgment upon Jerusalem with her “last days” OC age ending in AD 70. Both are true, this is the Second Coming event which closed the “last days” of the OC age in AD 70.
e). “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” “…and [Peter] continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (vss. 21, 40) – That this “Day of the Lord” is referring to AD 70 should be obvious in that Peter’s audience is exhorted to be saved from it’s coming within their “this crooked generation.”
Peter is referencing Israel’s last days terminal “crooked” or “perverse generation” of Deut. 32:5, 20 of which it was prophesied that that generation would not discern what their “end” and destruction would be.
f). “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (vss. 38-39). This takes us back to the G.C. of Acts 1:8 reaching the end of the earth (and of them returning back to “all nations under heaven” in 2:5) which was fulfilled just prior to the Lord coming in judgment by AD 70 (Rms. 10:18; 16:25-26).
Charismatics like Michael Brown are fond of quoting this passage and leaving out Peter’s exhortation to be saved from their “crooked generation” in the next verse (v. 40).
When God had saved the last sinner He wanted to save within that “crooked generation” just prior to Him coming in judgment and ending Israel’s “last days,” He also ended the confirmatory nature of the sign gifts. Their purpose had ended.
Many within the Reformed community understand “the last days” in the New Testament to be referring to the end of the old covenant economy in AD 70. For instance, Gary DeMar:
“The last days are not way off in the distant future. The end came to an obsolete covenant in the first century. In A.D. 70 the “last days” ended with the dissolution of the temple and the sacrificial system.” (Last Days Madness, p. 38).
David Chilton, as a Reformed Partial Preterist (before he confessed that the one Second Coming event happened in AD 70) wrote:
“The Biblical expression Last Days properly refers to the period from the Advent of Christ until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the “last days” of Israel during the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant (Heb. 1:1–2; 8:13; James 5:1–9; 1 Pet. 2:20; 1 John 2:18).” (The Days of Vengeance, p. 16, 51).
And John Owen in his exposition of Hebrews 1:2:
“It is the last days of the Judaical church and state, which were then drawing to their period and abolition, that are here and elsewhere called “The last days,” or “The latter days,” or “The last hour,” 2 Peter 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 1:18. . . . This phrase of speech is signally used in the Old Testament to denote the last days of the Judaical church.” (The Works of John Owen, Vol. 19, 12–13).
Hebrews & the last days of the OC age
a). Hebrews 9:26-28
R.C. Sproul in refuting Simon Kistemaker says that this passage includes both Jesus’ first and second comings occurring by the end of the OC age in AD 70.
“This passage refers to both the first and second appearances of Christ. The context for his first appearance is “the end of the ages.” Yet his followers are still waiting for him to appear a second time.” “…If Christ’s first coming at “the end of the ages” has already occurred and if considerable time has elapsed since that coming, then it is impossible to identify “the end of the ages” with the end of time. If the second appearing of Christ here refers to his judgment on Jerusalem, it would still fit in the framework of “the end of the ages” that is not the end of all time.” (The Last Days According to Jesus, p. 106).
But probably the best and most straightforward statement comes once again from Partial Preterist Milton S. Terry,
“The ‘end of the age’ means the close of the epoch or age—that is, the Jewish age or dispensation which was drawing nigh, as our Lord frequently intimated. All those passages that speak of ‘the end,’ ‘the end of the age,’ or ‘the ends of the ages,’ refer to the same consummation, and always as nigh at hand.” “…the writer regarded the incarnation of Christ as taking place near the end of the aeon, or dispensational period. To suppose that he meant that it was close upon the end of the world, or the destruction of the material globe, would be to make him write false history as well as bad grammar. It would not be true in fact; for the world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. It is futile, therefore, to say that the ‘end of the age’ may mean a lengthened period, extending from the incarnation to our times, and even far beyond them. That would be an aeon, and not the close of an aeon. The aeon of which our Lord was speaking was about to close in a great catastrophe; and a catastrophe is not a protracted process, but a definitive and culminating act.” (Biblical HERMENEUTICS, 441-442)
This text is where we get the term “the Second coming” of Jesus, and we have partial preterists such as Sproul and Terry conceding to a common sense Full Preterist interpretation of the passage as possibly or being fulfilled at the end of the OC age in AD 70.
b). Hebrews 8:13 & 10:37
That the “last days” of the OC age is in view throughout Hebrews is supported with its affirmation that the OC was “soon to vanish” (Heb. 8:13). If the OC was “soon” or “ready to vanish” then the “last days” of its age was also ready to vanish in AD 70. And that the second coming of Hebrews 9 would take place at the end of the OC age, is confirmed in the next chapter when His coming is said to be fulfilled “in a very little while” and would “not tarry” (Heb. 10:37).
This age and the age to come / The new exodus – Jewish and Christian beliefs
“This Age” & “Age to Come”
The Jews during Jesus’ day understood “this age” to be the OC age of the law and prophets and the “age to come” to be the NC age of Messiah which would follow.
As I point out in my/our book, it is Reformed and an orthodox Christian interpretation to identify Jesus and Paul’s “this age” to be the OC age (not the Christian age) and the “age to come,” to be the NC age of Messiah arriving when the OC age passed away in AD 70 (see HD, 91ff.). Jesus and Paul do not depart from this traditional Jewish two age structure as they look to an imminent fulfillment coming in the lifetimes of their first century audiences – in which the old would pass and the new arrives in a mature state (ie. AD 70).
The Second Exodus & Days of Messiah
Isaiah 11 predicted a second exodus coming for Israel. The Jews prior to Christ and during his day based upon Psalm 90:15 and other OT passages, believed “the days of Messiah” would be a transition period between the OC “this age” and the Messianic NC “age to come” and that this would be another Forty Year exodus period. Not only that, but that in the Messianic or NC Age/World to Come/New Heaven and Earth – not everything would be “perfect” in the sense that Brown and MacArthur have portrayed it:
“There is no difference between this world and the days of the Messiah except the servitude of the heathen kingdoms alone; as it is said, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land” (Deut. 15:2) (Ber. 34b.), i.e. not even in the Messianic era.
Many Rabbis believed that the period of the Messiah was to be only a transitionary stage between this world [age] and the World to Come [age to come], and opinions differed on the time of its duration. ‘How long will the days of Messiah last? R. Akiba said, Forty years, as long as the Iraelites were in the wilderness.” (Dr. Boaz Cohen, NEW AMERICAN EDITION Everyman’s TALMUD, p. 356.
According to Brown and MacArthur’s hyper-literalism, isn’t there sin, evangelism, physical death, and procreation in the Messianic World/Age to Come or New Heaven and Earth in Isaiah 65:17-22? And yet, John sees evil surrounding the New Jerusalem and evangelism taking place even after Christ comes and after the New Creation arrives — per Revelation 22.
The Last days and MacArthur’s Dispensational Theology
Since Dispensationalism teaches promises made to Israel cannot be fulfilled in and by the Church or in the Church age, Joel 2 presents a problem for MacArthur’s Dispensationalism. Peter applies Joel’s OT prophecy made to Israel to the Church in Acts 2 when he expressly states “this is that.”
MacArthur is anything but clear or consistent on his view of the last days. Out of one side of his mouth he states that the last days period extends, “from the first coming of Christ to His return,” (The MacArthur Study Bible, 1635) and then out of the other side he claims, “Joel’s prophecy will not be completely fulfilled until the millennial kingdom. But Peter, by using it, shows that Pentecost was a pre-fulfillment, a taste of what will happen in the millennial kingdom when the Spirit is poured out on all flesh (cf. 10:45).” (Ibid., 1635-36).
Dispensationalists don’t interpret Peter’s “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;” statement very literally (like they don’t interpret “this generation,” “soon,” “shortly,” etc… literally). This is how they have to re-write and re-interpret Peter’s words to mean:
“This is not a complete fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet Joel;…” (MacArthur).
“This is a pre-fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (MacArthur).
“This is a taste of what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (MacArthur).
“This is an illustration of that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Merril F. Unger)
“This is what Joel spoke of but not necessarily the fulfillment of what Joel spoke of” (Joseph Dillow).
Of course the text says nothing about Joel’s prophecy “not being completely fulfilled” a “pre-fulfillment,” or a “taste” of what will end after the “Apostolic era” and then be completely fulfilled in an alleged future 1,000 year millennial period!
MacArthur’s views on the “last days” puts him at odds with with Scripture and “Reformed” or Covenant theology. And it is an embarrassment as an apologetic against Charismatic arguments on the “last days.” It cannot be taught anywhere from this passage (or any other passage), that 1. the gifts began on the “last days,” 2. stop for the majority of the last days, only to 3. be picked back up at the end of the last days during an alleged future millennial period.
The Last Days and Brown’s Charismatic Theology
Brown’s argument that the miraculous sign gifts continue throughout the “last days” of the NC Church age has been shown to be false. Since the NT uses the “last days” to refer to the end of the OC age in AD 70, this is when those miraculous gifts “ceased.”
Concluding argument #2 the last days
Premise #1 – If it is orthodox and true that the “last days” in the NT refers to the last days of the OC age (not the NC age), and therefore ended in AD 70 (Reformed theology/Partial Preterism and Full Preterism agree),…
Premise #2 – …and if it is also true that the miraculous and revelatory gifts last throughout the last days period (Charismatics and Full Preterists agree),…
Conclusion – …Then it is orthodox and true to believe that the miraculous sign and revelatory gifts ceased at the end of the last days of the OC age in AD 70.
It is sad that MacArthur has not followed his own advise on what R.C. Sproul and other Reformed commentators and theologians have written on the “last days” being roughly from AD 30 – AD 70 and ending with the OC age vanishing in AD 70 with the destruction of the Temple. Instead MacArthur is still trying to defend a “heretical” (according to Sproul) and confusing view of the last days — Premillennial Dispensationalism.