Among many of the favorite passages of scripture used by International House of Prayer founder Mike Bickle is the prophecy found in the second chapter of the Book of Joel and used again by Peter in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. From here, Bickle draws inspiration for his “prophetic ministry,” as well as his beliefs regarding the end times (which he believes will happen within the next generation at the most). Here is a sample from Mike Bickle himself:
When the prophetic ministry flourishes, it is often confirmed by signs and wonders. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quoted the Joel 2 promise for a last-days’ revival. Of course, the last days began with the cross, the Resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. However, the complete fulfillment of the Joel 2 promises will be in the final decades of the last days – those years just prior to the second coming of Jesus, which I refer to as the “End Times.”
The first half of the passage in Acts 2 speaks of the outpouring of the Spirit and the increase of prophetic revelation on the entire body of Christ:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy;
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My manservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy – Acts 2:17-18
The second half of the passage focuses on the great increase of the acts of God in nature:
I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs on the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved. – Acts 2:19-21
There is a specific order and sequence in the text: the outpouring of the Spirit, followed by the increase of the prophetic dreams and visions, followed by the occurring of confirming signs in the sky and on the earth. We have witnessed a few supernatural confirmations in nature of significant prophetic words. [pg. 11-12; Mike Bickle, Growing in the Prophetic, 2008 edition]
Bickle believes that these signs and wonders spoken about in Joel will increase as Christ’s return draws near.
In the end times, the awesome signs and wonders in the heavens and on Earth prophesied in Acts 2:17-21 will be much greater than anything ever before seen in history. [pg. 21, Prophetic]
Bickle uses this teaching to emphasize the importance of “prophetic ministry” that he and others at IHOP-KC teach.
…the outpouring of the Spirit, the prophetic ministry, and the signs and wonders in nature are clearly a part of God’s agenda for the End Times. God has ordained that the church needs the input of the prophetic ministry to stay properly encouraged and focused as well as to minimize unbelief that plagues so many ministries today. [pg. 22, Prophetic]
Bickle even believes that what is being spoken of in Joel 2 and Acts 2 is being fulfilled in the here and now.
We know that a “Great Awakening” is soon to sweep across our nations. Though many see no hope, no solution to the coming crisis, we look with confidence to God’s promises to pour out His Spirit on all flesh in the last days (Acts 2:17-21), when all nations will receive the witness of the kingdom with power (Mt. 24:14; Rev. 7:9). What a privilege to live in this awesome hour of history! [pg. 5; 7 Commitments of a Forereunner, 2009]
Many believe the words of Mike Bickle that “the church needs the input of the prophetic ministry.” Thousands flock to the IHOP-KC prayer room every day, and countless more watch the live webcast of their prayer room at home. A former neighbor of mine had the webcast on every day, and even had it playing with the speakers directed out his windows, as if some kind of magical force was flowing from them. Someone at my last church who knew an IHOP-KC attendant said that she had it playing at her house nonstop. People have left their homes and traveled hundreds upon hundreds of miles to live in Kansas City, just to be close to this prayer room. Thousands flock to the conferences sponsored by IHOP-KC and associates such as Lou Engle. Its visitors are of many ages, but a large number of them are teenagers and young adults.
How legitimate is Bickle’s exegesis of Acts 2? Does it really speak of an end times prophetic movement? Does it really speak of a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the end times? I thought it would be worth going over Acts 2 and examining what is really going on with Peter’s sermon to the Jews. I recognize that, in doing so, I could cover a whole lot more than just IHOP-KC (Dispensationalism comes to mind), but for this post I will focus on Mike Bickle’s own exegesis and teachings.
First, we need to understand the immediate context that leads to Peter’s quotation of Joel 2.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel…” [Acts 2:5-16]
After the sending of the Holy Spirit, the apostles had begun speaking in tongues, shocking all present because each individual Jew (visiting from their home nation) heard the apostles speak in their own native tongues (signifying that these “tongues” were in fact foreign languages). Some started to disregard this, saying the apostles were just drunk, but then Peter speaks up. Note what Peter says: “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel.” What is the “this”? Peter is referring to the Day of Pentecost as the center of the Joel prophecy. Hence, immediate context of the Joel quote involved what was unfolding that day, and would have been applicable to those listening.
For certain, much of what is described by Peter happened in those times. Peter describes the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh – that happened at Pentecost with the Jews (Acts 2:4) and then with the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-45). Peter says their sons and daughters would prophesy – and indeed, men prophesied, as did many daughters, such as those of the evangelist Philip (Acts 21:9). Peter says young men shall see visions – and indeed, many did see visions (Acts 9:10, 10:3, 11:5). Peter says the old men shall dream dreams, and indeed, old men dreamed dreams (Acts 16:9, 18:9). Peter says men and woman shall prophesy, and indeed, people did so (Acts 11:28, 21:10-11). There’s nothing from the immediate context of scripture that says this wasn’t fulfilled in Peter’s day.
Those at IHOP-KC would argue that they recognize the first part of the Joel prophecy could be related to Pentecost, but that the second half is related to future events. Mike Bickle’s own handling of Joel 2 involves cutting it up, dividing it in the middle of verse 19. From this, he says that the “wonders in heaven and signs on the earth beneath” are about general wonders and signs, while the “blood and fire and vapor of smoke” are about specific future signs and wonders. However, no such division exists in Peter’s original use. Peter quotes it as a single passage. Humorously enough, even the translation Mike Bickle uses treats it as a single thought. To quote from it:
I will show wonders in heaven above and signs on the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapor of smoke. [v. 19]
Note the colon there – what purpose does a colon serve, grammatically speaking? Colons serve either to explain, prove or list elements related to what preceded before it. What Bickle’s own translation says is that the signs described by Joel involve “blood and fire and vapor of smoke.”
Now granted, colons weren’t present in the original Greek manuscripts, therefore some might call this contention a non sequitor. However, whether by using a colon, semi-colon, comma, or run-on sentence, most translators recognize that what Joel is doing here (and verse 20) is describing specific signs that will be seen in heaven and earth. By cutting verse 19 in two and dividing up the context, Bickle is manhandling the text to get it to say what he wants. Unless Bickle can claim he’s seen “blood and fire and vapor of smoke,” he can’t attribute this to any signs or wonders he’s seen to this passage. To do so is to read into the text what isn’t there.
As we said earlier, many at IHOP-KC repeat what Bickle says, which is that half of the Joel prophecy (from “blood and fire, etc.” onward) is about future events, and can’t be about Pentecost because none of that happened at Pentecost. In some ways, they are right – it is about future events. However, it involves the near future, and it is still related to the Day of Pentecost, as I hope to explain shortly, and in this manner:
The apostles, on the Day of Pentecost, were addressing the Jews – the Gospel had not yet gone to the Gentiles, and God would not send anyone to the Gentiles until Acts 10, with Peter and Cornelius. Peter’s quotation of Joel is important because when Joel says “in the last days,” it was generally understood by most Jews (as John Gill discusses from Jewish sources) that this referred to the age of the Messiah. Hence, when Peter says this prophecy is being fulfilled in their midst, the Jews listening understood the significance.
Peter finishes the Joel quotation with: “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” He then – while still addressing the Jews – attests to the historic reality of Christ. Quoting from the ESV:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” [Acts 2:22-24]
He goes on about the raising of Christ, and concludes regarding Christ’s authority: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36). The Jews understand the significance of this as well – Peter is saying that Christ, whom many in Jerusalem believed to have died – was in fact the Messiah, and was now seated with authority on heaven and earth. Realizing this, they ask what they should do, to which Peter gives the call for repentance (v. 37-38). He then says that the promise of salvation is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (v. 39). Remember this part for later, as it will become relevant.
Then comes an important statement from the apostle:
And with many other words [Peter] bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” [Acts 2:40]
Who is “this crooked generation”? That has been a topic of debate for those who study eschatology, but given the immediate context and audience, it is clear that Peter is referring to that current Jewish generation. Moses had called the Jews of his time a “crooked and twisted generation” (Deu 32:5), and Jesus himself had referred to those in Peter’s time as a faithless and twisted generation (Matt 17:17; Luke 9:41). Christ had likewise said: “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Luke 11:29). The sign of Jonah was Christ’s being in the earth for three days and rising up to bring repentance to men (Matt 12:40). Peter had preached repentance, and now it was time for those in this “crooked generation” to repent.
Now we must ask this: when Peter says “save yourselves,” what do they need to be saved from? Many might immediately respond that they need to be saved from the final judgment, and this would not be inaccurate. However, let’s refer back to that second part Bickle referred to:
“I will show wonders in heaven above and signs on the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Acts 2:19-21]
Remember, Mike Bickle divides up verse 19 and tries to separate the signs and wonders from the descriptions, but that isn’t how the text reads – they correlate with one another. What specific signs and wonders does God intend to show? Blood, fire, vapor of smoke, the sun turning to darkness, the moon into blood, and all before the great and awesome day of the Lord. Again, unless Bickle wants to claim he’s seen all of these already, he can’t apply these verses to this day. It will be granted that Bickle often talks about miracles and signs he’s witnessed, but none of them include the aforementioned signs. Therefore, they are irrelevant to this verse. I don’t care if Bickle saw Bigfoot come down from heaven and completely heal Stephen Hawking with a bent seven iron while doing the hokey pokey – if it’s not blood, fire, vapor of smoke, the sun turning to darkness, the moon into blood, etc…then it’s not relevant to Joel 2/Acts 2.
In any case, the language used by Joel is obviously figurative language – unless someone wants to claim the moon is going to become a giant glob of plasma floating around the earth, we can’t assume the prophet Joel is speaking literally. This is also obviously apocalyptic language, dealing with destruction compounded with woe, calamity and misery. The sun is not going to be darkened because there’s a light switch God can flick whenever He wants, but because of the vapor and smoke mentioned before. In like manner, the moon will appear like blood because the vapor and smoke in the atmosphere will give it a reddish or orange tinge (this can be seen sometimes even today).
Now, what significance would this have to the Jews with whom Peter was talking, and how does this relate to what they would be saved from? These are all, in fact, talking about the approaching siege and destruction of Jerusalem, which was God’s judgment upon the “crooked generation” for their rejection of the Messiah. The destruction of Jerusalem, and with it the Temple, was performed by Roman soldiers under Titus in 70 AD, nearly forty years after Pentecost. The Jews had rebelled against Roman rule in the mid-60’s, but soon turned on one another, murdering and torturing fellow Jews as different factions made a bid for power. Thus when Titus arrived with his legions (the “armies” described in Luke 21:20) against Jerusalem, the city was already torn by conflict.
After a prolonged siege and great famine, the city fell and was obliterated. This great calamity, described by the Jewish historian Josephus (who was an eyewitness), saw the city and the Temple engulfed in flames. Roman soldiers left not one single stone of the Temple atop another, fulfilling the prophecy given by Christ (Matt 24:1-2). Aside from the loss of property, the loss of life was even greater, and although there exist no accurate estimates, they range anywhere from a hundred thousand to a million.
This was the “great and awesome day” of the Lord spoken of by Joel, for it was the day of judgment for the Jews who had rejected their Messiah. Even Josephus, who was shocked at the conduct of his own countrymen against one another, and who was certainly not a Christian, believed this was God’s judgment.
“It is God, therefore, it is God himself who is bringing on this fire, to purge that city and temple by means of the Romans, and is going to pluck up this city, which is full of your pollutions.” [Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 1:5]
If we argue this is the “day of the Lord” spoken of by Joel, one might then ask about the following passage which says “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We should first wonder: what happened to the Jerusalem Christians we read about in Acts? Did they perish under the Romans? In fact, the Christians had left Jerusalem before the city fell. The famous church historian Eusebius accounts that the Christians in Jerusalem fled as soon as they found out the Romans were coming. As a result, the Jewish Christians were spared from the destruction of Jerusalem and what befell the unbelieving Jews therein.
But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella… [Eusebius, Church History, Book III, 5:3]
It might be helpful to note here that, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter does not quote all of Joel’s prophecy in full. This is not because Peter himself was playing with the text, but because he had given the full gist of it, and most Jews listening probably would have been able to fill in the blanks themselves. It is also because Peter indirectly refers to it later on. Let’s review the full quotation of that section from Joel:
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls. [Joel 2:32]
Joel prophesies that “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved,” yes, but then adds: “For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape…and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.” Remember what Peter said in Acts 2:39? He had told the Jews to repent and be baptized and turn to Christ for forgiveness of their sins, then proclaims that the promise was for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” It is then, in the next verse, that Peter exhorts the Jews to save themselves from this crooked generation. This is a definite tie-in between the generation to whom Peter is preaching and the prophecies given by Joel. The Jews at Pentecost were to save themselves from the crooked generation because judgment was fast approaching upon that crooked generation.
And as it stood, God kept his promises for all parties involved. Those whom He had called were saved from the destruction that befell that crooked generation, but as for that crooked and faithless generation, they were judged. There was blood (from the massacre of Jerusalem’s inhabitants), fire (across the city and in the temple), vapor of smoke (rising from the ruins), the sun turned into darkness (from the thick smoke) and the moon turned to blood (from the haze of the smoke). Joel 2’s prophecy was fulfilled, as Peter had said it would be.
There are a few assumptions made by Bickle and others at IHOP-KC about what Joel 2 and Acts 2 teach, all of which are false.
1) God will perform natural signs and wonders in the prophetic church today: This is false, at least from the text Mike Bickle relies on. As demonstrated earlier, he comes to this conclusion by chopping up verse 19 and isolating each piece from the full context. This is a blatant mishandling of God’s word that is unbecoming of a Christian leader.
2) God will perform other natural signs and wonders at the end times: This is false, and for reasons dealing with the previous section. The signs and wonders in heaven and earth and the blood, smoke and vapor mentioned by Joel are related to one another. There are not two separate groups of signs and wonders here – Mike Bickle has read that into the text by, again, mishandling God’s word.
3) The latter half of the Joel prophecy is talking about the very end of days: This is also false. Given the immediate context of Peter’s sermon in Acts, accompanied by what he says later and what we know from history, and how the orthodox Christian church has interpreted these verses up until the rise of Dispensationalism and other problematic theologies, Peter is warning the Jews to escape the approaching judgment upon their nation.
The prophecies in Joel refer to the Day of Pentecost, the era of the apostolic church, and the impending judgment of the Jewish nation. They had nothing to do with the church today – let alone do they have anything to do with Mike Bickle and his prophetic ministry.