Question: "What does it mean that God will pour out His Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28)?"
Answer: Beginning in Joel 2:28, the prophet transitions to a description of events in the distant future (from his vantage point). Verse 28 says, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” What did he mean? Has this been fulfilled?
A New Testament reference to this verse provides help in understanding this statement. In Acts 2:15-17 Peter is preaching on the Day of Pentecost: “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: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.’”
In this sermon, Peter connects Joel’s prophecy with the Holy Spirit’s coming and the commencement of the church. Not every detail of Joel’s prophecy is yet fulfilled, but the “pouring out of the Spirit” began on the Day of Pentecost. From that time, the Holy Spirit indwells all those who come to faith in Jesus Christ.
This event marked a notable difference in the Spirit’s role from Old Testament times. The Spirit had previously only empowered certain individuals and sometimes only for a particular period of time. On the Day of Pentecost, the 120 followers of Jesus in the Upper Room not only experienced the Holy Spirit’s power but His abiding presence (cf. John 14:16). Three thousand people believed and were baptized that day. These converts all received the Holy Spirit into their lives that same day (Acts 2:38).
One of the surprising outcomes of Joel’s prophecy was that even non-Jews were filled with the Spirit. In Acts 10:45 we read, “The believers from among the circumcised . . . were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.” God was lavishing His Spirit on everyone who believed in Jesus, regardless of their culture, nationality, or ethnicity. “All people,” as Joel had said, were offered this gift.
In the future, the Holy Spirit will play an active role in end-time events, bringing to pass the other aspects of Joel’s prophecies in Joel chapters 2 and 3 (Revelation 1:4, 10; 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:1, 6, 13, 22; 4:2, 5, 6; 14:13; 17:3; 21:10; 22:17). However, the initial fulfillment of this prophecy has already begun, as noted by the apostle Peter, allowing all who follow Christ today to experience the blessing of the Holy Spirit living within them and empowering them for Christian service.