As the prophecy of Joel continued to unfold we observed God’s response to the contrition of the people which followed a similar response to that in the day of Moses (Exodus 34). Finally, in Joel 2:15-17 we saw that God had promised to reverse all of the curses that had either already come or were promised to come, restoring blessing once again to the people. However that is not the end of the prophecy. After the promise of the blessing of restoration there is something more promised, something that goes beyond the blessing.
In Joel 2:28, which is actually 3:1 in the Hebrew scriptures, we find a time element, “And it shall come to pass afterward”. By all indications what God is communicating here through the prophet is that after the reversal and restoration promised to the Israelites there was something more to come. The difficulty with this involves interpreting what these things are and when they will occur. The introduction of this passage is below:
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward,The first part of this promise that occurs after the restoration is an outpouring of God’s Spirit indiscriminately, “on all flesh”, further defined to include all regardless of age, gender, or social status. This promised outpouring of the Spirit is apparently something new, something startlingly unexpected and includes its manifestation through prophecy, dreams, and visions. In other words, this outpouring of God’s Spirit would be a time marked by widespread revelation from God to people and subsequently from people to each other. It is the promise of supernatural communication.
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit. 30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 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 2:28-32
With that in mind concerning what these first things beyond the blessing might be, we turn to ask when they will occur. In Joel, the only time indication is afterward, meaning after the contrition of the people which brought about God’s reversal and restoration from the curses that had befallen Israel in their day. The locusts and the armies, the drought and the lack of sacrificial offerings, all had a definite historical time period in which they occurred and in which they were reversed. So then, the promises in Joel 2:28ff are said to occur after this, but when?
As this portion of the prophecy continues, we find additional supernatural events that are to follow. Beginning in Joel 2:30 we read of future, as it relates to the context, cosmological signs and wonders in the heavens and earth, sun and moon, with reference to the Day of the Lord. The language is an undoing or altering of creation. Recall that in Joel 1:15 we read of the Day of the Lord with reference to the coming calamity facing Israel. Now, we read of the Day of the Lord with reference to a future day of judgment with these cosmological signs. After the prophecy of these signs we read of another startling statement. The intersection of the supernatural among the people and among the creation culminates in a declaration that all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. This is a clear witness to human responsibility, calling on the Lord, that is involved in salvation. However, in the very next verse we read that those who escape the Day of the Lord, the survivors as it were, are those who are called by the Lord, a clear witness to the Divine sovereignty in salvation.
This passage in the latter half of Joel 2 requires some analysis concerning the nature of prophecy as well as the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. First, prophet’s of old frequently utilized what is called “prophetic perspective”. This perspective is sometimes explained in terms of mountain ranges. As the prophet is foretelling, it appears in the distance as one mountain range. As one approaches the mountain (chronologically speaking) it actually appears to be more than one, with another mountain in the distance. In short, it often appears that prophets are declaring a single future event when in reality they are combining multiple events into one. This is more of a principle of interpretation than a hard and fast rule, but it does help explain how they viewed and told of the things that God would bring to pass. In our passage, we see this with the reference to the Day of the Lord. On the one hand it refers to the calamity coming from the locust like armies of the north. Then, as in our passage from above, it refers beyond that day to a future period surrounding by the aforementioned cosmological events.
Reading Joel in its Old Testament context and noting the relationship between the calamity which God had relented of and the reversal which He had promised to bring, we are left still wondering when these things might occur. Thankfully, this exact passage is quoted for us in Acts 2:16-21 and is used as the introduction to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. In that context, Peter stands up to reply to the accusation of drunkenness surrounding the event where the people were speaking in tongues following the outpouring of the Spirit, which was marked by a heavenly sound like rushing wind filling the entire house and visually through flames of fire over the heads of the people. In his response, Peter references Joel’s prophecy.
The human author of Acts, the physician Luke, records some subtle adjustments to the Hebrew passage. First of note is that instead of quoting, “afterwards” Peter states, “And in the last days it shall be”. This shouldn’t be read as a misquote from Peter or that Luke has taken liberty to reinterpret Scripture as he sees fit. Instead, this is an example of the prophesying that was promised. This particular prophecy from Joel is now carried forward from afterward, interpreted, and then prophesied in the present by Peter who sees himself as living in “the last days” and the events of Pentecost as fulfilling, at least partially, Joel’s prophecy. The inauguration of the afterward spoken of by Joel with reference to the outpouring of the Spirit and the promise of prophesying, visions, and dreams occurs in this event at Pentecost.
However, what we do not see fulfilled from Joel’s prophecy is the presence of the cosmological events, even though Peter includes them in his sermon. What then should we conclude from this? It is likely that here again we have the use of prophetic perspective, only this time Peter living after the revelation of the Messiah and recognizing He is to come again leaves the cosmological events as yet to be fulfilled. In other words, part of Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled in the days of Israel, part was fulfilled at Pentecost, and Peter carries it forward to leave part of it yet remaining to be fulfilled.* Interpreted this way, the Day of the Lord referenced throughout Joel and cited in our passage from Acts is eschatological. In other words, it refers to the great day of judgment when Christ returns.
The critical use for Peter at Pentecost in addition to referencing the promise of the Spirit outpouring is Joel 2:32, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” It is at this point that Peter shifts to a clear explanation of the promised death and resurrection of Christ. Joel’s prophecy looked beyond the blessing of reversing the curses of disobedience that had brought famine and pestilence in Israel’s day to the day of salvation for all those who call on the name of the Lord by faith which was accompanied by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This salvation in Christ is the true reversal of the curse, not merely of those in Joel’s day, but reaching all the way back to Eden and the original curse from sin that fell on mankind.
*Those who hold to a preterist position would see all of these prophecies fulfilled. Typically, they interpret the cosmological events to have occurred with either the ascension of Christ or the destruction of the temple or some combination of the two events. Those who hold to a classic dispensational position would see all of Joel’s prophecy remaining to be fulfilled.