joel… eschatological salvation (3)


It seems Israel responds to the voice of the prophet. When genuine tears, whole-hearted repentance, mourning over sin and renewed consecration are heard by the Lord he responds in mercy. The day of the Lord in judgement is transformed into a salvation event.

Then the LORD became jealous for his land. and had pity on his people. (2:18)

When his people call upon him in repentance then his protective love is aroused; land and people become the objects of his care. In salvation he will renew his creational blessings. No more will they be a reproach among the nations. The ‘no more’ and ‘never again’ show we have moved into the ‘last days’, the days of eschatological salvation. Israel is not to be condemned but saved. The northerner will be far removed – Israel is secure. Israel’s fiercest enemies (Assyria and Babylon) attacked from the north. God promises desert and sea will devour any attackers (2:18-27). Nature will conspire to protect God’s people.

If there is a multiple call to grief (1:5,8,11,13) now there is a multiple call to joy; the land (v21), the wild animals (v22) and the people (v23) all rejoice in the renewal of God’s salvation. The land again provides its abundance. Nature is once more as God intends. Judgements of the past (the years the locusts ate) will be more than compensated by the plenty that God in grace provides for his people. God is among his people to bless and protect (2:27). He is the Lord and there is none beside him; Israel’s security and blessing is guaranteed (2:27). The focus in 2:10-27 is the renewal of creation, its pleasing bounty and the security of God’s people.

The picture is undoubtedly that of the final eschatological kingdom; the twice repeated ‘my people shall never again be put to shame’ points to the final kingdom. In the OT, it often seems that eschatological judgement and salvation arrive together within a narrow time-frame. However, in the NT, we discover eschatological salvation and judgement involves a wide span of history. The compressed End-times of the OT in the NT range from the first coming of Christ to his second coming and beyond into the consummated kingdom; all are part of the last days (2 Pet 3:3; Hebs 1:2; Acts 2:17-21).

The primary focus at his first coming is undoubtedly salvation. Jesus announced, in himself, the arrival of the kingdom of God and the day of salvation; in him the day of the Lord’s favour arrived (Lk 3:6, 4:,18,19, 19:9; Matt 1:21,4:17,23, 12:28). Significantly when he begins his ministry by reading from Isaiah 61 (Lk 4) he stops reading before ‘the day of vengeance of our God.’ Judgement belongs more to his second coming than his first. True, judgement would come upon Jesus (at the cross) and eventually upon the nation (in AD 70), however, final judgement lay in the future; at his first coming he came to save not judge (Jn 12:47) At the second coming (the day of the Lord) the ungodly would be judged and his believing people saved un the fullest sense. We sometimes describe this two stage kingdom coming in the language, ‘the kingdom has come but is yet to come; salvation has arrived but is yet to arrive.’ (We may perhaps say the day of the Lord arrived at the cross upon Christ and will yet arrive at the end of the age upon all who have opposed Christ and failed to give him allegiance).

Salvation in the NT is therefore a present possession and a future prospect. Understanding this is important. Salvation begins at Christ’s first coming and is completed at his second coming. It is a mistake to think this present age is not mentioned in the OT. It is the initial stage of eschatological fulfilment. This is clear in vv28,29.

When we read 2:18-27 we may be inclined to think the eschatological kingdom belongs only to the final manifestation of the kingdom initiated by Christ’s second Coming. It describes, after all, a time of abundant blessing in the land. God’s people are secure and will never again be put to shame. This seems idyllic. Yet, while the kingdom in completion is eschatological so too is the kingdom in its commencement. It is to this that vv 28,29 point.

And it shall come to pass afterward, 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. (2:28,29).

The kingdom is not only physical it is spiritual. The promised eschatological gift of the Spirit, the new covenant gift of the messianic age is part of the restoration of 2:18-27(Isa 32:15, 44:3; Ezek 39:38,39; Zech 12:10). We are told that it is ‘afterwards’ or ‘after these things’ the Spirit is poured out. Perhaps the ‘afterward’ means after the eschatological repentance of Israel of which Joel has been speaking. Peter replaces ‘afterward’ with ‘the last days’. (Acts 2:14-21) This is a semi-technical term for the time of eschaton or time of the end. The ‘last days’ was the OT way of describing the days of the eschatological kingdom (Acts 2:14-21. Cf. Isa 32:15-17, 44:3-5, Ezek 39:28,29). Perhaps ‘afterwards’ simply means ‘in the last days’. In Joel these last days of the outpoured Spirit follow salvation yet precede the judgement of the ‘great and awesome day of the Lord’ (v30).

What is arresting is that in the NT these ‘last days’, the days of the messianic kingdom and the messianic gift of the Spirit, begin at Pentecost.

An important principal of biblical interpretation involves asking how NT writers understand OT prophecies; what does fulfilment look like in the fuller NT revelation. How the NT interprets OT texts must guide our interpretation. We have already observed that the final kingdom of the End-times arrives in stages. Aspects of the end initiated in Christ’s first advent are consummated at his second advent. It shouldn’t surprise to find OT prophecies cover the whole period. OT prophecies find fulfilment sometimes in his first coming, sometimes in his second coming and sometimes OT prophecies refer to both.

The NT clearly locates the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy of the outpoured Spirit (at least its initial fulfilment) at the beginning of the NT church. For Peter, the birth of the church in the outpoured Spirit is the beginning of the messianic age. The church is the messianic and Spirit-filled nation. The messianic age which arrived in Jesus’ enthronement is now realized in his messianic people. Christ has been enthroned as messianic king at the right hand of God and has sent the promised Spirit to indwell his people. Christ’s messianic reign has begun to spread in Israel and among the nations, albeit in an unexpected way (Matt 13). His people by the Spirit participate in him and in his grace; we are the savour of Christ.

In the first instance, Pentecost was for Israel. It was repentant Jewish believers at Jerusalem who were first in-dwelt by the Spirit and who spoke in other tongues. It was devout Jews from every nation under heaven who heard in their own language the mighty works of God. They hear, through Peter, of the death, resurrection and ascension of Messiah who has poured out the Spirit on all who believe. Many were cut in heart (repentant) and three thousand Jews believed. A little later five thousand men believed excluding women and children. Indeed we are told the Lord added daily to the church. God’s eschatological salvation had arrived for Israel and the gift of the Spirit followed. The ‘early rains’ of blessing were falling (2:23; Zech 12:10-13:1). Israel was being saved from the terror of the day of the Lord and being blessed by the indwelling Spirit.. The majority of the nation, however, did not believe. It will be much later, at his second coming, the day of the Lord, that Israel will undergo a national conversion (Roms 11). The nation, or most of it, will be converted and delivered from the wrath to come. Joel’s mourning Israel will be finally fully saved (2:18-27; Deut 30; Zech 12-14).

Joel’s focus is Israel, however, contained in his prophecy is a universal impulse. God had promised he would pour out his Spirit on ‘all flesh’. Ultimately it is not simply age, gender and rank that are democratised but nationality too (Gal 3:28). Latent in Joel’s prophecy is the anticipation of a wider Spirit-filled constituency than Israel. It is ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (Jesus) who is saved (2:32). Peter develops this universal thrust when he says, ‘the promise is for you and your children and for all who are afar off, everyone the Lord calls’ (Acts 2:38,39). He may not have been specifically thinking of gentiles as those who are ‘afar off’ but in a short time he will discover they are indeed among those the Lord calls. God’s kingdom salvation, like his house, is for all nations.

Yet it is in Jerusalem and Mount Zion salvation is found. Pentecost happened at Jerusalem. Paradoxically, Jerusalem, which rejects Jesus and is warned of coming judgement, is nevertheless the hub from which salvation radiates out to the world. It is to this, at least in the first instance, that Joel refers when he says

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.

The ‘survivors’ are those who call upon the name of the Lord, those the Lord calls (Mic 4:7, Isa 4:2, Obadiah 17). Israel, indeed the world, is in mortal danger. The Lord is about to visit with his fearsome apocalyptic army in earth-moving cataclysmic judgement (Rev 19). The only safe place from the wrath of the lamb is among those who have humbled themselves in Jerusalem and Mount Zion; it is they who survive. Yet, in the NT, Jerusalem and Mount Zion, shift from being earthly entities to being heavenly (Hebs 12:22-24). It is Jerusalem above which is the mother, of those who believe (Gals 4:25-31). When the day of the Lord comes upon the world in full cosmic display it is the citizens of the heavenly city who will escape destruction (Ps 87: Phil 3:20). These, as Paul shows, are drawn not only from Israel but from all nations (Gals 3,4). Israel’s security is in Zion with the Lord dwelling in her midst (2:27; Mic 5:1-5).


If there is eschatological salvation for all who believe so there is eschatological judgement for all who do not. The day of divine judgement will not fall on redeemed Israel but it will fall on her enemies (2:20, 3:19). We have already seen that the day of the Lord is often presented as one of judgement. Ch 3 is shares the same eschatological time frame as Ch 2. ‘In those days and at that time’ place us firmly within the time of the End. The reference to ‘the great and awesome day of the Lord’ further confirms we are dealing with a day that is ultimate. Now, however, we have moved forward to the events of the Second Coming. The day of the Lord’s visit in eschatological judgement is in view. It is the final battle and the judgement of the defeated for the Lord is coming with the armies of heaven to judge (2:11).

Two images of war and judgement are employed (3:13). God is coming to harvest the earth: the sickle cuts ruthlessly through the grain threshing the nations (Matt 13:36-43; Rev 14) and judgement is a winepress of divine fury as he tramples on the blood of his enemies (Rev 19:15, 14:17-20; Isa 63:1-5). The nations are summoned to ‘consecrate for war’. This final battle is a holy war for the Lord (in Jesus) is coming with his warriors to engage in battle. He is himself like a mighty warrior goading his enemies to attack (3:11-12). However, the battle is hopelessly one-sided; it is a battle in name only. The nations who come to fight remain to be judged.

The international court of divine justice sits. War crimes are investigated and prosecuted. The criminal charge in the divine court is the treatment of Israel. Joel’s focus is on the nearby nations, cities such as Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia and Philistia are examples of those who mistreated Israel. But these are only illustrative. On that final day all nations will be judged (including any of Israel who remain converted).

In the NT, there are two principal passages that develop Joel’s imagery. In both, Joel’s prophecy is universalised. The first, Rev 19, emphasises holy warfare – the Lord (Jesus) comes with the armies of heaven to strike down the nations. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. He heads his army armed with the sword of his word (Rev 19:11-21 Cf. Joel 2:11; 2 Thess 1:7-10). The second is Matt 25 where the focus is a throne of judgement. The time of reckoning has come. The vanquished nations stand arraigned at the divine tribunal; they are judged according to how they have treated God’s people (these my brothers). ‘My brothers’, however, refers not only to Israel, as in Joel, but includes NT believers (Matt 12:48-50). The treatment of God’s people is the criterion of judgement. God’s people are vindicated in the judgement of those and who opposed them. The promise to Abraham is complete – I will bless those that bless you and curse those that curse you (Gen 12:3). How we treat God’s people reveals whether we belong to God’s people (Matt 25: 31-46). Moreover, our treatment of God’s people is really our treatment of God (Matt 25:40).

In Joel, the location of judgement is the valley of Jehoshaphat. It is the valley of decision, of verdict. There God in Christ enters judgement with the nations (Matt 25). The numbers are vast (3:14). Jehoshaphat means ‘the Lord judged’. The nations are put on trial. Litigation commences. God will not permit his people to be mistreated with impunity. He will avenge his people, he will repay (Roms 12:19). The Lord’s voice iis the majestic roar of the lion – causing all to quake (3:16). The nations will be paid in kind for their treatment of God’s people. God judges justly; their sins will rebound upon themselves (Obadiah 15). It is the law of strict retribution, ‘an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth’. Eternal verdicts are pronounced. While it seems in Joel (and Matthew) that the nations are judged as nations we should keep in mind that judgement in the NT is ultimately of individuals (Roms 2:6; Rev 20). This explains why in the OT we read of nations both saved and damned; some of the nation believe and are saved while others of the nation persist in unbelief and are damned.

Literal or symbolic

Just how literally intended is Joel’s eschatological landscape? It is a moot point. The picture of kingdom joy is drawn largely from the agricultural world of 8th to 6th century Israel in Canaan. Is this what the final kingdom will actually look like? Is the ‘valley of Jehoshaphat’ a literal valley or an image for God’s judgement? OT prophets naturally describe events within their frame of reference and that of their audience. The NT counterpart describing the apocalyptic battle is clearly symbolic. (Rev 19). It is unlikely that the Lord actually ‘roars from Zion’ (3:16) rather Joel is depicting his frightening power that he employs to protect his people. We should remember too that NT fulfilment of OT texts is often in surprising ways, Joel is painting a Spirit-given picture of ultimate salvation and judgement in terms meaningful to those to whom he speaks. Prophecies function like types; fulfilment is likely to exceed the description while remaining true to it.

Salvation and Judgement – a conclusion

Joel ends with final snapshot of the joy of the future kingdom. He speaks of ‘in that day’ which perhaps ties in with the salvation side of the day of the Lord. It is at any rate the coming kingdom that is in view. It is above all God dwelling in Zion among his people (3:17, 21). Because the Lord dwells in Jerusalem, it is holy (Cf. Isa 52:1; Zech 14:21; Nah 1:5). He has renewed its inhabitants and made them holy. No aliens will pass through – none unclean will enter it (Rev 21; Isa 52:1; Zech 14:21; Nah 1:5)). An everlasting fountain of living waters will emerge from the house of the Lord renewing wherever it flows (3:18; Ezek 47:1-12; Rev 22). In the NT, Jesus is the eschatological temple from whom the living renewing waters of the Spirit flow in every direction (Jn 7:37-39). In the eschatological New Jerusalem (itself a temple) the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and of the lamb (Rev 22; Zech 14:8). God through his Spirit is the source of constantly renewed and refreshed life (Rev 22: 1-4). The mountains, replete with vines and cattle, flow with milk and drip with wine (3v18). The New Jerusalem and the renewed Canaan are a new and greater Eden lush with the gifted vitality of its Creator.

Two lands are contrasted – the desolate lands of Egypt and Edom and the teeming life of Judah. Desolation is the fate of all the enemies of God’s people. Revelation makes a similar contrast though it is cast slightly differently (Rev 21:8). The paragraph in Joel ends as it begins – the Lord dwells in Zion (3:21). It is the presence of the Lord that gives glory to all.

Joel’s message is clear: repent- choose salvation, choose life.

PS. My one hesitation in reading the invading army of Ch 2 as a reference to the eschatological army of Christ at his second coming (Rev 19) is that I did not encounter any who took this view; admittedly my reading was limited. Locusts, the Assyrians or End-time opponents of Israel were suggestions but no-one I read suggested the armies of heaven. Presently, it seems to me the ultimate ‘day of the Lord’ when he visits the world in judgement and salvation can be nothing other than the return of Christ.


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