The granularity of Bible prophecy is an important factor we must understand if we are to interpret the Bible correctly. We have to be very careful when seeing events in the world as fulfilling Bible prophecy. They need to be carefully tested as frequently a specific event does not have adequate significance to match the big picture presentation of Bible prophecy. We can gain some perspective of this from the book of Daniel because we can identify the exact fulfilment of some of the things that are written. The same granularity must carried over to all other Bible prophecy.
In this post we want to examine two key passages in the book of Joel. The first is the very well known passage in Joel 2:28-32 where God foretells the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all flesh. This prophecy is picked up by Peter when the Holy Spirit first came on the Day of Pentecost. On that day, Peter quoted from this passage saying that Joel’s prophecy was beginning to be fulfilled and that this was the beginning of the “last days”.
At this point we come up against a major challenge in Biblical interpretation. Many Christians see that Joel’s prophecy will be fulfilled in the last few years before Jesus returns in an extraordinary end time revival and that what happened on the Day of Pentecost foreshadowed a much greater outpouring that will occur in the end times in the generation that will see the return of Jesus. The alternative interpretation is that Joel’s prophecy began with Pentecost and then extends throughout the church age which is equivalent to the “last days” and so has so far lasted nearly 2,000 years. In our view the Biblical evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of this alternative interpretation.
Crucial to making this choice is the time element. Many see most Biblical last days prophecy being fulfilled in the generation that will see Jesus return or the last 3.5 or 7 years before His return. These will inevitably interpret the outpouring of God’s Spirit as primarily being fulfilled during this end time period. However, if the last days extends throughout the church age then so must the outpouring of God’s Spirit.
To see this more clearly, let’s unpack Joel 2:28-32, for the Hebrew text reflects a typical Hebrew structure which can only be partially discerned in our modern English translations. In the Hebrew Bible these five verses are a separate chapter, chapter 3. Our chapter 3 is the Hebrew chapter 4. This passage divides into three sections.
A. The outpouring of God’s Spirit (v 28-29).
B. Final signs (v 30-31)
A’. The salvation for all who respond (v 32)
Sections A and A’ have similar structure
And it will be (one Hebrew word which implies more than just “and”)
A time phrase (afterward)
An action (I will pour out my Spirit)
An outcome (prophesying, declaring God’s word)
A time phrase (“in those days”, in the Hebrew text this comes before the next phrase)
The same action (I will pour out my Spirit)
And it will be (the same Hebrew word as begins section A implying the same time period)
The time phrase is omitted as it is implied and not needed
An action (Every one who calls on name of the Lord)
An outcome (salvation in Mt Zion and in Jerusalem)
The time phrase is omitted as it is implied and not needed
A similar, reverse action (Whom The Lord calls)
Note how the outpouring of God’s Spirit and the prophesying in section A lead to people calling out to God and God calling so that there is salvation in section A’. The two sections are parallel and are fulfilled concurrently. All will experience the outpouring of God’s Spirit, but only those that call on the Lord will experience salvation. That is what Peter saw on the Day of Pentecost; the beginning of the fulfilment of this prophecy as section A and A’ were seen. According to Acts 1 and 2, those that respond to the Spirit and accept God’s call are empowered by His Spirit to be His witnesses and these witnesses prophesy. Together with the Spirit, the prophetic witness is passed on so that more and more people respond and shine the light of the glory of the gospel to those around them. This is also the prophetic witness described by John in a concurrently parallel passage in Revelation 11:1-6 in his allusion to Joel in Revelation 11:3-4. This understanding of Revelation 11 is explained in the book “The Time is Near” available for download on this web site.
Peter also quoted Joel 2:30 describing wonders seen in the heavens and on earth blood, fire and smoke which was clearly not being fulfilled. This verse and similar words are here and elsewhere described as occurring just before the Day of The Lord and associated with the second coming of Jesus. Interestingly, this verse is sandwiched between section A and A’. I suggest the reason is obvious; section B marks the end of the period of time which begins with the outpouring of God’s Spirit and the opportunity of all flesh to respond to God’s initiative. Conclusion, this prophecy must span the whole church age. It is not just about a final end time revival which we have yet to see.
When we examine the statistics of church growth throughout the church age, history supports our conclusion. The outpouring of God’s Spirit has been occurring throughout the church age and also there has been an acceleration of growth and the manifestation of God’s power too.
Note that when Peter quotes from Joel in Acts 2:17-21, he omits the last part of Joel 2:32, the final verse. In that part, those on whom the Lord calls are specified rather than those that call on the Lord. Curious. This relates to those who respond to God’s final call, especially the faithful remnant of Jews and others who have not heard the gospel. See also Revelation 11:12 and those that respond when the earthquake comes and Revelation 14:6-7.
So the locust invasion and the mighty army invasion in Joel 1 and 2 identify the beginning and on going attacks against people which lead up to the Day of The Lord which ends them. Joel 3 describes that final end.
When we come to Joel 3:1, we see that the time of its fulfilment is “in those days” which is the same phrase used for the period of the outpouring of God’s Spirit in Joel 2:28-29 and, in addition, the time when God has restored the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem. If, as we believe, “in those days” refers to the church age, then the only time in history when the second condition could be concurrently fulfilled is in recent times when Israel became a nation in 1948 and the subsequent history which saw Israel win some extraordinary military victories and enjoy incredible success in the face of enormous opposition. At that time, Joel 3:2 says that God would gather all the nations to a place of reckoning and enter into judgment against them based on the way they treated His chosen people.
In a big picture sense, that is what we are seeing occurring today. This gathering is not something occurring in an instant of time, but rather the result of activity spanning the decades since the Second World War. It is the overall outcome of multiple events. In our view it is significant that all the nations geographically surrounding and near Israel are Islamic and that most of them are hostile or at best unfriendly. A few of them, notably Iran and Hamas have publicly stated their goal is to destroy Israel and technically are at war although not in practice. The alignment of other nations further away seems to vary continuously, but is primarily based on political and economical factors. Only the US and a few other nations have remained as faithful allies.
In quite a notable way, the description in Joel 3:4-8 corresponds well with the condition of Lebanon (the region of Tyre and Sidon) and that of the Palestinians (the regions of Philistia) mentioned in Joel 3:4. Although written in words corresponding to the geography and language contextualised to Joel’s era, the description of these people being sold to Judah who then in turn sell them to the Arabs (the Sabeans) is vivid and in a big picture sense an accurate picture of the current situation. This all suggests that Joel 3:1-8 is a picture of our “now”.
If this is correct then the next thing that occurs from Joel 3:9 and onwards is preparation for war. I would suggest that this is already happening. Therefore, we must watch and pray in order that we can be prepared and not be surprised or dismayed as tragic and threatening events continue to unfold.