The prophecy of Joel highlights the unique plan God has for the nation of Israel in the future. It also reminds us of the hope all God’s people have for a coming day when our just God sets all things right.
Keeping Your Eyes on the Road Ahead
Have you ever thought about the fact that the rearview mirror in your automobile is a lot smaller than your windshield? That’s because the most important thing about your journey is not what is behind you but what is in front of you.
I remember hearing the story of a man who was losing his memory and went to his doctor to be examined. Eventually, the doctor told him, “We cannot solve the physical problem that is creating a loss of memory without surgery, and surgery might very well impair your eyesight. So, you need to make a choice—would you rather be able to see well or to remember well?” The man thought for a long while and then said, “I would rather have good eyesight than a good memory.” When the doctor asked why, he answered, “Because I would rather see where I’m going than remember where I have been.”
That sounds like wise counsel to me. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote that he was going to forget those things that were behind him and press on to that future day when he would be with the Lord (Philippians 3:13). The Bible happens to be filled with prophecies of your future; and let me tell you, it is a lot more encouraging than your history.
The prophet Joel has reminded Israel of what is, or soon will be, their past. The plague of swarming locusts and the prophecy of an approaching enemy invasion were designed to cause the people to turn to Him.
Now, the last half of this little book of prophecy focuses farther down the road—way out into the future—in fact, all the way to the end of human history. It looks to what the Bible refers to as the “latter days.”
Those future days will bring divine judgment, but also a time when Israel will turn to the Lord in repentance and experience the fulfillment of all His covenant promises.
Let’s pick up our study at chapter 2, beginning at verse 28, where Joel describes that future day—the latter days—of Israel. The Lord is speaking here:
“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. . . . I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (verses 28-32)
This prophecy looks to a time in the latter days when the Lord’s Spirit will be poured out on “all flesh.” The context here suggests this refers to all Israel—the Jewish people. This outpouring will be accompanied by special visions and dreams, as well as cosmic wonders. The sun will be darkened and the moon made blood red.
Beloved, this has not happened yet—it is still future. There are many false teachers claiming to have visions and dreams from God in fulfillment of this prophecy, but they disregard the context of the tribulation period, when all this takes place.
Much of the confusion stems from a misunderstanding of Acts chapter 2, when the Holy Spirit descends to indwell the disciples in Jerusalem. The apostles speak miraculously in various languages to the crowd that day, and Peter refers to this prophecy in Joel chapter 2. But as we will see when we get to the book of Acts, Peter is not saying the tribulation period has begun or that the signs of Joel are now coming to pass. Peter is simply saying that the Holy Spirit, of whom Joel prophesied, has indeed come.
This prophecy is related to the day of the Lord at the end of the age and that seven-year period we call the tribulation. Indeed, Revelation 6:12 tells us specifically that in that future tribulation period the sun will become “black as sackcloth” and the moon “like blood.”
In that terrible time, however, many people will come to the Lord, including many, many of the nation of Israel. They will call upon the Lord and be saved.
When is this going to happen? Joel 3:1 tells us, “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem.” God’s promise of restoration for the people of Israel is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, and it is going to begin with Christ’s return to earth, after the tribulation, when the Lord is welcomed by believing Israel as their Messiah. What a day that is going to be.
Verse 2 then describes what will happen immediately following the return of Christ:
“I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land.”
This is a judgment of all those who survive the tribulation period. It will take place in the “Valley of Jehoshaphat.” We don’t know where that is, but apparently, it is near Jerusalem. Interestingly, “Jehoshaphat,” which was the name of one of Judah’s kings, means, “the Lord judges.” In particular, the nations gathered there will be judged for the way they have treated God’s chosen people, Israel.
This is the judgment Jesus describes in Matthew 25, where the Lord separates the “sheep” from the “goats” at the end of the tribulation period. The goats represent those who have rejected Christ and mistreated the Jewish people. Verse 41 of Matthew 25 says they will go “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Now back in Joel 3:9, we find a call for the nations to prepare for war. The judgment in the Valley of Jehoshaphat we just read about is the judgment of the living, unbelieving nations on earth. They are going to gather together to fight against Israel just prior to the return of Christ, at the end of the tribulation. We call this the Battle of Armageddon.
They will come to destroy Israel, only to find out that the Lord Jesus has brought them to that valley to be destroyed at His second coming (see Revelation 16:12-16; 19:11-21). The Lord will descend to destroy this vast army; and by the way, He will be accompanied by the redeemed, those who will have been raptured—snatched up from the earth—seven years earlier.
In Joel 3:13, the Lord’s victory over these defiant armies is described as a divine reaping of the harvest and a treading out of the grapes in the winepress. We see this image in the book of Revelation, chapter 19. When Jesus returns at the end of the tribulation, verse 15 tells us, He will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God.” Unbelievers who survive this great battle then will stand before the Lord at the judgment in the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
Joel does not end here. In the final verses, he points up the road to the next phase of Christ’s millennial kingdom on earth. “Jerusalem shall be holy” (verse 17), and “all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water” (verse 18). The land will be productive and prosperous. And the land of Judah, verse 20 tells us, “will be inhabited forever.”
So, here’s a good reminder, beloved; no matter how bad things get in this present life, followers of Christ have an amazing future of victory and joy—just down the road a little way. So, let’s not focus on the rearview mirror—what is behind us. Let’s look forward, and live in light of these prophecies of the coming day when we see Christ, our King and our Messiah.