Joel 2:28-32, Past or Future?

Hopefully this will be the last of my posts concerning the talking points seminar that we attended a couple of weeks back.  For those of you who didn’t go and have been forced to read these posts on "What is the Gospel?", you are probably thinking, "It’s about time he moved onto something else!"  For those of you who attended the talking points seminar with me, you are probably thinking, "It’s about time he moved onto something else!"
Scot McKnight touched on the subject of prophecy during his second session, which was the fourth session altogether.  It was a subject that he very well could have bypassed, but he specifically went into the passage which did not connect with the main point in his talk.  In expounding on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Scot also talked about the fulfillment of Joel 2 at Pentecost.  He very plainly set forth a view that the entire passage of Joel 2:28-32 that was quoted by Peter was completely fulfilled at Pentecost.  There will be no future cosmic signs in Scot’s view.  He set forth the idea that the cosmic signs were fulfilled at Pentecost because the language is figurative speech for apocalyptic judgement on unjust rulers.  The idea that there is anything in Joel 2:28-32 left over for eschatological fulfillment is nonsense, according to Scot.  The cosmic signs are not astral portents but code language for political disaster.  Scot referenced Isaiah 13 and 34 in just a general way, but did not go into the passages to prove his point.
What Scot calls nonsense, I am calling fact.  What Scot calls fact, I am calling sleight of hand.  Scot’s points concerning ecclesiology and the preaching of the gospel were well taken, however, Scot should stick to his forte.  In the paragraphs to follow, I will go through Joel 2 and larger context, then on to the fulfillment in Acts 2, and even future fulfillment in Revelation.  I will be writing things that I’ve never seen in any commentaries, so if anyone sees any heresy, feel free to point it out.  So, while this is a talking points post, it’s really an eschatology post in disguise.
The theme for the entire book of Joel is the repentance of Israel.  Remember this as we get into the nitty gritty here.  In light of three devastating circumstances upon the nation of Israel, the LORD urges the nation of Israel to repent so that the LORD will take care of these circumstances for them.  #1 is a famine resulting from a locust plague on the crops.  #2 is the offerings being stopped in the house of the LORD.  #3 is the approaching of a terrible army from the north that devours everything in their path.  You can read about these circumstances in Joel 1:1-2:11.
Then in Joel 2:12-17 we have this plea from the LORD to tear your hearts instead of your garments.  Blow a trumpet, consecrate a fast, assemble all together, no matter how young, even if they are still breast-feeding. The words to their cry? "Spare YOUR people. We are yours, do not give what is yours to others. Don’t let the nations have a place of exaltation over You. Why should all the nations be allowed to say, ‘Where is the God of Israel?’"
This passage is the turning point of the whole book.  The previous verses are describing the circumstances that are prompting the Israelites to repent.  Joel 2:12-17 is the repentance of Israel.  Then the following verses describe the reaction of the LORD to the repentance of Israel.  In verse 18 it starts by saying, "Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people."  Then, meaning, at that time, meaning at the time of the repentance of Israel.  What will God do at that time?  We read in 2:18-27 that the LORD will restore everything that was lost in the plague of the locusts.  The LORD will also deal with the approaching army from the north.  There is no mention of how the LORD will deal with the sacrifices being cut off from the house of the LORD.  Those who enjoyed Scot’s points about what was accomplished at Pentecost should enjoy how I reconcile this, but first, a couple of other pertinent points. 
The promises to deal with the northern army and to restore crops are in the prophetic tense.  God will deal with them and that’s all we know.  He promises it when His people repent.  After the repentance of Israel, the LORD becomes jealous and gives His promises beginning in verse 19.  The way in which the LORD will deal with the approaching army is described in chapter 3.  It is known here as the Valley of Jehoshaphat (verse 12) or the valley of decision (verse 14).  In Revelation we know it as Armageddon, Revelation 16:16.  The way in which the LORD will restore the crops is described in chapter 3:18 as we read of the promises to be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom. 
Now if you’re not bored with this post yet, here is where we need to pay close attention to the language in Joel 2 as opposed to the language that Peter uses in Acts 2.  There is a subtle but important difference.  Joel 2:28 states, "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh…"  The afterward here is a clear reference to the afterward of the repentance of Israel.  God will pour out His Holy Spirit on all flesh, that is, on all Israelites after they repent as a nation.  There will be signs in the earth, blood, fire, and pillars of smoke.  There will be signs in the heavens, the sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon turned into blood before the day of the LORD comes. 
Now fast forward hundreds of years later as the Messiah is born, is crucified, rises again, ascends into heaven, and the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost.  The Kingdom of God has broken forth upon mankind, but not in the way that was expected.  The Holy Spirit is here, but the kingdoms of this world are not being judged.  As the Apostles are speaking in other languages, the comments are that of poking fun at them.  "You guys are drunk!"  Peter’s defence needs to be understood in this context.  Peter essentially says, "What you hear is not the work of wine, but the work of the Holy Spirit."  Peter states, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel."  Nowhere does Peter say that this prophecy is being completely fulfilled.  He gives the entire passage and states that what is currently happening was foretold by the prophet Joel.  This is the Holy Spirit at work, not a bunch of drunk guys spouting off their favorite bar tunes.
Here is the subtle difference in language that Peter uses that we need to take note of.  Instead of quoting the passage exactly as Joel gave it, he changes one phrase.  Instead of saying "afterward", Peter uses the phrase, "in the last days".  The Greek word there is eschatos which means last in a series, or final.  Peter is opening up our understanding of the prophecy of Joel with this subtle shift in language.  Now instead of afterward, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit comes in the last days.  You see, the Messiah had come, but not all of Israel had repented, only a remnant of Israelites had repented.  So the kingdom of God broke forth upon those repentant Israelites.  The Holy Spirit was poured out only upon those repentant Israelites.  Peter knew that the full repentance of Israel would prompt the ushering in of the kingdom in its fulness and would result in the return of the LORD.  But he also knew that Israel would reject the Messiah for a considerable length of time.  His plea in Acts 3:18-21 proves that Peter knew that the repentance of Israel would result in the return of Christ.  Most people believe that when the LORD returns, then Israel repents.  Scripture teaches that when Israel repents, then the LORD returns.  Did you catch the difference?
Note that the way in which God deals with the offerings being stopped in the house of the LORD is not to restore the physical temple.  Instead, God creates a spiritual temple within the nation of Israel itself by pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh.  This is a spiritual place in which, as Scot points out, there are no social barriers since even slaves receive the same status according to Joel’s text.  This spiritual temple was initially formed at Pentecost with the believing remnant of Israelites.  Later, Samaritans and Gentiles were brought into this spiritual temple by faith in the Messiah.  But the purpose of this is to provoke national Israel to jealousy (repentance), Deuteronomy 32:21, Romans 10:19, 11:11.
So we still look for a future time for Israel to repent.  It will happen in the way that Joel has prophesied.  Romans 9-11, especially 11:1-2, 15-27, describe the relationship between Israel and the church; God still has a future plan for the nation of Israel and it includes Israel’s national repentance.  Revelation 7:1-8 describes the future Israelite remnant during the last of the last days.  Attempts to spiritualize this passage simply do not work since the twelve tribes are listed individually.  The seal of the living God there in that passage is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself being poured out upon the future repentant remnant of Israelites.  Joel 2:28-32 was not completely fulfilled at Pentecost because the Holy Spirit was not poured out upon all flesh, that is, upon all Israelites.
Now let’s briefly deal with Scot’s contentions about the cosmic signs.  Scot gives no proof at all in Acts 2 concerning any political disaster.  It simply does not exist in the passage.  Scot briefly referred to Isaiah 13 and 34 which will be shown to be a stretch of the imagination after we view the cosmic signs for what they really are.  Scot neglected to mention Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, or Revelation 6 and understandably so.  These passages all view the cosmic signs as happening at the visible, bodily return of the LORD Jesus Christ.  There is no code language here at all.  The nations of the earth mourn, men’s hearts fail them (people drop dead from heart attacks), all people cry out in fear, and they hide themselves under rocks in response to these cosmic signs.  There is no room here for anything but visible signs in the heavens which will serve as a harbinger to this world that they are in big trouble now.  So while we see that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit began at Pentecost which began the last days, we still look for a future day in which Israel repents, Christ returns, and at that time, the cosmic signs are literally fulfilled as astral portents.  Isaiah 13 refers to a judgement upon Babylon, which we see in Revelation 14:8, 16:19, 17:1-19:4 is still future in some way.  Isaiah 34 speaks of the dissolving of the heavenly host, which is not quite the same.  It is either connected with the stars which fall from heaven at the time of the cosmic signs, or this is a heavenly battle in heavenly places (Isaiah 34:5) in which the LORD is taking back spiritual ground in the heavenlies as He advances to the earth at His second coming during the day of the LORD’s vengeance (34:8).
Although the future cosmic signs happen at a time when the governmental structures of this world will be judged, there is still a literal future fulfillment of these cosmic signs as astral portents.  The connection to judgement upon unjust rulers may be a valid one, but it does not explain away the clear language of Matthew 24:29-30, Luke 21:25-26, and Revelation 6:12-17.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
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