What is the Prophecy of Joel?

Modern Day Fascination

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. – Joel 2:28-32

The prophecy of Joel 2 has been interpreted by some to give credence to the modern charismatic/Pentecostal practices of speaking in tongues and continuous revelation (prophecy-visions). However, in light of proper Biblical hermeneutical interpretation of Joel 2, one may readily see that this prophecy involves the nation Israel as the principal benefactor of the Spirit’s outpouring.

Let us examine the Joel 2 prophecy in light of the immediate content in which Joel spake the prophecy itself and in the light of the apostle Peter’s reference to the Joel 2 prophecy on the day of Pentecost: But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16).

Joel’s Prophecy in Context

It is this prophecy for which Joel has become most famous in modern days. It must be considered in light of its context and in the light of its New Testament usage. And it shall come to pass afterward (vs. 28) relates this passage to the immediate restoration following the locust plague mentioned by Joel in verse 25. This differentiates the locust plague from the Day of the Lord. The locust plague was preceded by nothing; the Day of the Lord follows the locust plague and will be preceded by the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon all flesh.

Verse 28 reveals that the promised outpouring of the Spirit is to be universal: Sons and daughters will prophesy, old men will dream dreams, young men will see visions. Verse 29 indicates that the Spirit will be poured out even upon male and female servants–not even the most lowly people in society will be exempt from the outpouring of the Spirit. Verses 30 and 31 indicate that the signs and wonders in nature will be manifested in conjunction with the outpouring of the Spirit. All of this will be preliminary to the coming of the Day of the Lord. Verse 32 indicates that salvation, or deliverance, from the Day of the Lord will be possible; because of the outpouring of the Spirit, he will move men to call upon the name of the Lord.

The crucial points of history are the events of the locust plague, 836 BC, the day of Pentecost on which the Holy Spirit was indeed poured out universally and made available for all mankind, AD 33; the event of the Great Tribulation (separated from the day of Pentecost by at least 2000 years); and the establishment of the earthly Davidic millennial kingdom that follows the events of the Great Tribulation.

Peter’s Explanation

In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes this passage in order to explain the phenomenon of speaking in tongues, which some were attributing to drunkenness. In doing so, he said, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet, Joel” (Acts 2:16). There are three ways of understanding what Peter meant: (1) this is like that, i.e., this manifestation is similar to that which was prophesied by the prophet Joel; (2) this is a partial fulfillment of that, i.e., this manifestation is a partial fulfillment of that which Joel prophesied; the ultimate and complete fulfillment will be realized at the time of the establishment of the millennial kingdom; and (3) this is that, i.e., this is the fulfillment of that which Joel prophesied would take place.

The first view sees untenable because Peter is giving a metaphor, not a simile. If one adopts the second view, then he would hold that only those parts of Joel’s prophecy that were prerequisites for the establishment of the church would be fulfilled, while the things pertaining to Israel would not be fulfilled until the end times — prior to the Millennium. This view has the difficulty of having the church contained, even if ever so obliquely, in Joel’s prophecy. The church, however, is a mystery that was not revealed prior to the prophecy of Matthew 16 and is not contained in Old Testament prophecy even in the most oblique sense. It seems best then to view Peter as saying that the outpouring of the Spirit, prompting the phenomena observed in Acts 2, is the fulfillment of that which was prophesied by the prophet Joel.

Two things were necessary for the establishment of Israel’s kingdom: (1) the death of Messiah and (2) the availability of the Holy Spirit. When Peter preached his famous sermon, the death of Christ as an historic fact. All that remained, then, was the provision of the Spirit, which Peter identifies with the outpouring of the Spirit that prompted the speaking in tongues of Acts 2. With the availability of the Holy Spirit, together with the death of Messiah, all that is necessary for the establishment of Israel’s kingdom has been provided. Because of unbelief, they cannot enter into these benefits; but when the time comes that they will receive their King and His kingdom, He will not need to die again, nor will the Holy Spirit have to be made available. As to the day of Pentecost, all that remains is for Israel to avail herself in belief of that which has been provided. Zechariah 13:lff shows that just prior to the establishment of the Millennial kingdom, Israel will avail herself of the fountain that cleanses (i.e., the death of Messiah); and the prophecy of Joel 2:28-29 shows that at the same time Israel will avail herself of the availability of the Holy Spirit. Then the provision made by the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy as recorded in Acts 2:16 will be realized, as well as the provision made by the fulfillment of the death of Messiah.”” (LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Volume 1, pp. 1693,1694).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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