In the previous post, we began studying what the Old Testament (OT) says about "the last days."
"The last days" is an important concept in the New Testament (NT) and has a big impact on Christian eschatology—the study of death, the judgment and eternal destiny of the soul.
Interestingly, the NT writers never define what is meant by "the last days," assuming the primary audience knew what the phrase meant. And they did understand, because they knew the OT Scriptures. And if we hope to properly understand the important biblical concept, we are going to have to study what the OT reveals about "the last days."
In this post, we continue that study, beginning with the super important prophecy of Joel 2-3.
Welcome to the 12th post in my series of rethinking Christian eschatology. Because these posts build upon each other, if you've not already done so, I invite you to read the previous posts in this series before continuing here.
In the introduction of part 1 of this multi-part article, I referenced Peter’s quoting from Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:14-21. There, Peter referred to the present time period as “the last days.”
The primary audience to whom Peter was speaking would have been very familiar with Joel’s prophecy. Christians today? Not as much.
So let’s expand beyond the verses Peter quoted and look at the larger context of the entire prophecy of Joel 2-3. This is super important stuff.
2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Note: This prophecy is against Jerusalem.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
nor ever will be in ages to come.
Note: The prophecy concerns “the day of the Lord,” a day of judgment. Pay particular attention to the descriptive language in v.2a regarding this day. This language is quite similar to language Jesus used in prophecy of future events (see also v.10). We’ll look at that later.
Also observe that this prophecy concerns a large and unique army. In the next verses, note the connection between this army with fire.
3 Before them fire devours,
behind them a flame blazes.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
behind them, a desert waste—
nothing escapes them.
4 They have the appearance of horses;
they gallop along like cavalry.
5 With a noise like that of chariots
they leap over the mountaintops,
like a crackling fire consuming stubble,
like a mighty army drawn up for battle.
6 At the sight of them, nations are in anguish;
every face turns pale.
7 They charge like warriors;
they scale walls like soldiers.
They all march in line,
not swerving from their course.
8 They do not jostle each other;
each marches straight ahead.
They plunge through defenses
without breaking ranks.
9 They rush upon the city;
they run along the wall.
They climb into the houses;
like thieves they enter through the windows.
10 Before them the earth shakes,
the heavens tremble,
the sun and moon are darkened,
and the stars no longer shine.
11 The Lord thunders
at the head of his army;
his forces are beyond number,
and mighty is the army that obeys his command.
The day of the Lord is great;
it is dreadful.
Who can endure it?
Note: This day of the LORD is dreadful, language repeated in v.31. This same day of the LORD is discussed throughout Joel 2. It is this day to which Peter makes reference in the first century as recorded in Acts 2.
Remember that the word "earth" can be translated "land," which helps improve our understanding of v.10 ("the earth shakes"). See also v.18.
12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
Note: Watch what happens next. The priests stir up GOD’s emotions, but GOD’s response doesn’t seem to be exactly what they were asking for.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”
18 Then the Lord was jealous for his land
and took pity on his people.
Note: Here again we see the distinction between physical and spiritual Israel, between the original people of GOD and the true servants of GOD. The physical Israelite priests ask GOD to spare His people, and He says, “Yes, I will do that!” Only, GOD’s people weren’t those the priests had in mind.
How do I know this? Look at the context. Look at the blessings GOD subsequently promises to His people, which occur after the army He sent (per v.25). This army, the Romans in 70 A.D., eliminated the temple and what remained of the first covenant GOD had made with Israel.
19 The Lord replied to them:
“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
an object of scorn to the nations.
20 “I will drive the northern horde far from you,
pushing it into a parched and barren land;
its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea
and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea.
And its stench will go up;
its smell will rise.”
Surely he has done great things!
21 Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
be glad and rejoice.
Surely the Lord has done great things!
22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.
Note: In v.28, the Masoretic Text (the Hebrew source from which most Old Testaments are taken) simply says, “And afterward.” But remember, in Acts 2:17, Peter, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says Joel said that these things would happen “in the last days.”
28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
whom the Lord calls.
Key Takeaways from Joel 2
Joel 2 is an incredibly powerful and insightful prophecy, especially when combined with Peter’s divine explanation that the timeframe of its fulfillment being the first century.
- There is a single day of the LORD discussed throughout Joel 2.
- This day involved a large and unique army under the command of GOD.
- Israel was admonished to repent before this day came upon them.
- GOD promised blessings to His people in this day.
- Before this day, the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon all people accompanied by signs and wonders.
- GOD would deliver those who called upon Him from this dreadful day.
As powerful as Joel 2 is, GOD takes it up yet another few clicks when we continue reading in context.
Now remember, Joel 2 ended with the promises of what would happen in the last days. So it is this timeframe to which the next statements refer:
3:1 “In those days and at that time,
when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
2 I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will put them on trial
for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
3 They cast lots for my people
and traded boys for prostitutes;
they sold girls for wine to drink.
Note: Jehoshaphat means “the LORD judges,” so the Valley of Jehoshaphat literally means “the Valley of the LORD’s Judgment.”
4 “Now what have you against me, Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. 5 For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. 6 You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.
Note: Verse 6 refers to the physical scattering that Israel suffered due to their idolatry and wickedness, per Moses’ prophecy. But v.7 refers to the spiritual gathering.
7 “See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done. 8 I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away.” The Lord has spoken.
9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
“I am strong!”
11 Come quickly, all you nations from every side,
and assemble there.
Bring down your warriors, Lord!
12 “Let the nations be roused;
let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat,
for there I will sit
to judge all the nations on every side.
13 Swing the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Come, trample the grapes,
for the winepress is full
and the vats overflow—
so great is their wickedness!”
Note: The metaphor of the harvest is repeatedly used in the Gospels by Jesus. We will look at this later, but I just want to call your attention to the reference here in Joel 3.
14 Multitudes, multitudes
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and moon will be darkened,
and the stars no longer shine.
16 The Lord will roar from Zion
and thunder from Jerusalem;
the earth and the heavens will tremble.
But the Lord will be a refuge for his people,
a stronghold for the people of Israel.
17 “Then you will know that I, the Lord your God,
dwell in Zion, my holy hill.
Jerusalem will be holy;
never again will foreigners invade her.
Note: Verse 17 is a key indicator that GOD is speaking of spiritual Jerusalem. The physical city of Jerusalem has continued its wickedness and violence with practically continual foreign invasion since the Romans occupied it during the first century.
18 “In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.
A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house
and will water the valley of acacias.
19 But Egypt will be desolate,
Edom a desert waste,
because of violence done to the people of Judah,
in whose land they shed innocent blood.
20 Judah will be inhabited forever
and Jerusalem through all generations.
21 Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged?
No, I will not.”
The Lord dwells in Zion!
(Joel 2:1-3:21 NIV)
Key Takeaways from Joel 3
- At the time of the last days (i.e., when the Holy Spirit was poured out per Joel 2), GOD would restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem.
- He would gather all nations and put them on trial on the day of the LORD.
- He would gather the exiles scattered by other nations and punish those other nations for their mistreatment of His people.
- There would be a harvest at the time of this judgment.
- The sun and moon being blackened and the stars not shining is connected with this judgment upon the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
Jeremiah 23, 30
Jeremiah twice referenced “the last days.”
Remember that Jeremiah lived during the time of the Babylonian captivity of Judah and was one of the few who remained in Jerusalem during that time. He lived at the same time period as Daniel and Ezekiel, who were both in Babylon.
1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the Lord. 3 “Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.
5 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
6 “In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called,
‘The Lord our righteousness.’
Note: Here GOD is clearly referring to Jesus and in the time of Jesus. The faithful Christians are His flock and the land they dwell in is spiritual Israel, the kingdom of GOD. The righteous shepherds are the pastors / elders / presbyters / bishops / overseers of Jesus’ church.
7 “Therefore behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when they will no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ 8 but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.’ Then they will live on their own soil.”
Note: See in vv.7-8 the distinction between physical Israel (the shadow, which came first) and spiritual Israel (the real deal which came later), and how GOD uses physical terminology (i.e., their own soil) to refer to spiritual concepts (dwelling in the kingdom of GOD).
9 As for the prophets:
My heart is broken within me,
All my bones tremble;
I have become like a drunken man,
Even like a man overcome with wine,
Because of the Lord
And because of His holy words.
10 For the land is full of adulterers;
For the land mourns because of the curse.
The pastures of the wilderness have dried up.
Their course also is evil
And their might is not right.
11 “For both prophet and priest are polluted;
Even in My house I have found their wickedness,” declares the Lord.
12 “Therefore their way will be like slippery paths to them,
They will be driven away into the gloom and fall down in it;
For I will bring calamity upon them,
The year of their punishment,” declares the Lord.
Note: Verse 12 sounds like the Song of Moses doesn’t it?
13 “Moreover, among the prophets of Samaria I saw an offensive thing:
They prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray.
14 “Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing:
The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood;
And they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
So that no one has turned back from his wickedness.
All of them have become to Me like Sodom,
And her inhabitants like Gomorrah.
15 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets,
‘Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood
And make them drink poisonous water,
For from the prophets of Jerusalem
Pollution has gone forth into all the land.’”
16 Thus says the Lord of hosts,
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you.
They are leading you into futility;
They speak a vision of their own imagination,
Not from the mouth of the Lord.
17 “They keep saying to those who despise Me,
‘The Lord has said, “You will have peace”’;
And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart,
They say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’
18 “But who has stood in the council of the Lord,
That he should see and hear His word?
Who has given heed to His word and listened?
19 “Behold, the storm of the Lord has gone forth in wrath,
Even a whirling tempest;
It will swirl down on the head of the wicked.
20 “The anger of the Lord will not turn back
Until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart;
In the last days you will clearly understand it.
21 “I did not send these prophets,
But they ran.
I did not speak to them,
But they prophesied.
22 “But if they had stood in My council,
Then they would have announced My words to My people,
And would have turned them back from their evil way
And from the evil of their deeds.
Note: GOD said they would clearly understand what He was doing “in the last days.”
23 “Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord,
“And not a God far off?
24 “Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?” declares the Lord.
“Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord.
25 “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’ 26 How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, 27 who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? 28 The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares the Lord. 29 “Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock? 30 Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the Lord, “who steal My words from each other. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the Lord, “who use their tongues and declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ 32 Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the Lord, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the Lord.
33 “Now when this people or the prophet or a priest asks you saying, ‘What is the oracle of the Lord?’ then you shall say to them, ‘What oracle?’ The Lord declares, ‘I will abandon you.’ 34 Then as for the prophet or the priest or the people who say, ‘The oracle of the Lord,’ I will bring punishment upon that man and his household. 35 Thus will each of you say to his neighbor and to his brother, ‘What has the Lord answered?’ or, ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 36 For you will no longer remember the oracle of the Lord, because every man’s own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. 37 Thus you will say to that prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ and, ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ 38 For if you say, ‘The oracle of the Lord!’ surely thus says the Lord, ‘Because you said this word, “The oracle of the Lord!” I have also sent to you, saying, “You shall not say, ‘The oracle of the Lord!’”’ 39 Therefore behold, I will surely forget you and cast you away from My presence, along with the city which I gave you and your fathers. 40 I will put an everlasting reproach on you and an everlasting humiliation which will not be forgotten.”
(Jer. 23:1-40 NASB)
Key Takeaways from Jeremiah 6
- GOD was really angry with the false priests and shepherds of the Israelites because they were doing a terrible job.
- GOD promised to raise up Jesus and to gather the exiles of Israel in those days.
- Destruction was coming for the wicked Israelites and they would understand what GOD was doing in the last days.
The second place Jeremiah discussed “the last days” is in Jer. 30. Here we see GOD make a similar statement as with Jer. 6:20:
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 “Thus speaks the Lord God of Israel, saying: ‘Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you. 3 For behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,’ says the Lord. ‘And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.’”
Note: Here again GOD uses physical language to describe the spiritual land.
4 Now these are the words that the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah.
5 “For thus says the Lord:
‘We have heard a voice of trembling,
Of fear, and not of peace.
6 Ask now, and see,
Whether a man is ever in labor with child?
So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins
Like a woman in labor,
And all faces turned pale?
7 Alas! For that day is great,
So that none is like it;
And it is the time of Jacob’s trouble,
But he shall be saved out of it.
8 ‘For it shall come to pass in that day,’
Says the Lord of hosts,
‘That I will break his yoke from your neck,
And will burst your bonds;
Foreigners shall no more enslave them.
9 But they shall serve the Lord their God,
And David their king,
Whom I will raise up for them.
10 ‘Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,’ says the Lord,
‘Nor be dismayed, O Israel;
For behold, I will save you from afar,
And your seed from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet,
And no one shall make him afraid.
11 For I am with you,’ says the Lord, ‘to save you;
Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you,
Yet I will not make a complete end of you.
But I will correct you in justice,
And will not let you go altogether unpunished.’
12 “For thus says the Lord:
Note: See the distinction between the two Israel’s here? This great “day” is “the time of Jacob’s trouble” and yet “he shall be saved out of it.” This is a reference to the distinction between the wicked Israelites and the servants of GOD from the Song of Moses. The rebellious Israelite of the first covenant would suffer, but the faithful Israelite of the new covenant would be gathered from their exile to the land. This gathering and land is spiritual, not physical, just as Isa. 11 describes.
‘Your affliction is incurable,
Your wound is severe.
13 There is no one to plead your cause,
That you may be bound up;
You have no healing medicines.
14 All your lovers have forgotten you;
They do not seek you;
For I have wounded you with the wound of an enemy,
With the chastisement of a cruel one,
For the multitude of your iniquities,
Because your sins have increased.
15 Why do you cry about your affliction?
Your sorrow is incurable.
Because of the multitude of your iniquities,
Because your sins have increased,
I have done these things to you.
16 ‘Therefore all those who devour you shall be devoured;
And all your adversaries, every one of them, shall go into captivity;
Those who plunder you shall become plunder,
And all who prey upon you I will make a prey.
17 For I will restore health to you
And heal you of your wounds,’ says the Lord,
‘Because they called you an outcast saying:
“This is Zion;
No one seeks her.”’
18 “Thus says the Lord:
‘Behold, I will bring back the captivity of Jacob’s tents,
And have mercy on his dwelling places;
The city shall be built upon its own mound,
And the palace shall remain according to its own plan.
19 Then out of them shall proceed thanksgiving
And the voice of those who make merry;
I will multiply them, and they shall not diminish;
I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small.
20 Their children also shall be as before,
And their congregation shall be established before Me;
And I will punish all who oppress them.
21 Their nobles shall be from among them,
And their governor shall come from their midst;
Then I will cause him to draw near,
And he shall approach Me;
For who is this who pledged his heart to approach Me?’ says the Lord.
22 ‘You shall be My people,
And I will be your God.’”
23 Behold, the whirlwind of the Lord
Goes forth with fury,
A continuing whirlwind;
It will fall violently on the head of the wicked.
24 The fierce anger of the Lord will not return until He has done it,
And until He has performed the intents of His heart.
In the latter days you will consider it.
(Jer. 30:1-24 NKJV)
Key Takeaways from Jeremiah 30
- Israel’s wound was incurable and GOD would bring about destruction on them.
- However, Jacob would be saved out of this. GOD would gather them from the places they were exiled.
- GOD’s anger would not subside until these things were accomplished.
- In the last days, the Israelites would understand.
Continue to the next post, where we conclude our study of what the Old Testament says regarding "the last days" and make some concluding observations.
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