Over the years of attempting to teach this book to others so that they might proclaim the message of the book, the question often asked is, why study Joel?
What relevance to our day are strange phenomena such as locust plagues and military invasions? Why would we want to spend a lot of time and energy poring over this Old Testament book? The reason is because it was meant to be received as a prophetic book to equip end-time forerunners to prepare the unprepared for the unique dynamics that will occur in the generation in which Jesus returns. We study this three-chapter prophecy because God has uniquely designed its message to prepare the end-time Church for glory and crisis in the Day of the Lord. Joel is a dynamic instruction manual to prepare the Bride of Christ for such a time as this.
In the Lord’s kindness, He has given this book as a preparatory tool to equip the generation living at the Lord’s return for the heightened scope of glory and crisis they will encounter.
An Overview of Joel’s Message
1. Joel 1 – a natural disaster (agricultural crisis)
2. Joel 2:1-11 – a military crisis (Babylonian invasion of Israel as a type of the Antichrist’s empire)
3. Joel 2:12-17 – the response that God requires in order to release protection and blessing
4. Joel 2:18-31 – the breakthrough of God’s blessing (agriculturally, militarily, spiritually)
5. Joel 3 – God’s punishment of His enemies (end-time Gentile nations attacking Israel)
Premise #1: Acts 2 Interprets Joel 2
On the day of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were gathered together in one place, eagerly waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit as they tarried in Jerusalem until they received power from on high (Acts 1:4). For ten days they had been together, seeking the Lord with ardent intercession and, undoubtedly, dimensions of fasting (Acts 1:14).
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:14)
Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4)
Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind filled the house and each disciple beheld tongues of fire resting on everyone (Acts 2:1-4). As they began to speak in other tongues, their sound was heard throughout the surrounding area and God-fearing Jews from every nation who were gathered in Jerusalem began to hear the sounds of their own languages being spoken.
Though there were many different nations and languages represented, each one began to hear the wonders of God proclaimed in their own tongue from the mouths of these Galileans! A bewildered and amazed crowd gathered around the followers of Jesus. They were extremely perplexed by what they were hearing and seeing.
Peter, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, interpreted to those gathered that what was happening was certainly not due to wine, but to the fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet Joel—that in the last days God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:29). Drawing a connection between their continual prayer and the sudden release of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with signs and wonders, Peter announced, “This is that which the prophet Joel spoke of!”
This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “It shall come to pass in the last days … that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:16-17)
We are familiar with this story of Pentecost and the early church. We know its events—the Holy Spirit’s outpouring upon His Church—to be the very core of the glory of the new covenant; His indwelling and the anointing to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth is the glorious gift of God.
This was just the downpayment of something that God is going to do globally in the generation in which the Lord returns. What began with three thousand believers gathered in Jerusalem two thousand years ago will escalate to global dimensions at the end of the age. What started in one location will culminate in a mighty breakthrough of the Holy Spirit that will extend to fullness— touching all flesh.
Acts 1-2 was meant to be understood as a model of how God’s Spirit will be poured out. This followed the Joel 2:12-17 pattern. This outpouring will be available upon the entire Church. Joel prophesies that the Holy Spirit will encounter and draw people from all nations to Jesus as He brings His Church to fullness. Joel prophesies that the Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh extending also to unbelievers who call on Jesus’ name. That hour is yet to come. Its comprehensive fulfillment has not yet been seen.
I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy (Acts 2:17) It shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. (Acts 2:21)
Alongside this revival, Joel also describes a great crisis on all Gentile nations in Joel 3. Throughout history, God’s prophets have spoken of an hour of calamity coming to the planet. Jesus called it the Great Tribulation (Dan. 12:1; Jer. 30:7; Mt. 24:21). Joel 3 also points to judgment on the nations in the generation in which the Lord returns. The unfolding of the future historical realities of Joel 2-3 are God-given road marks.
There is coming an unprecedented release of revival far surpassing what happened in the book of Acts. What will happen at the end of the age will include the fullness of what Jesus prophesied: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” (Jn. 14:12).
The three chapters of the book of Joel work together as a clear prophetic picture, containing an intricately connected message for the greatest hour of human history. This is when the Lord pours out His Spirit across the whole earth and simultaneously shakes everything that can be shaken. This two-fold eschatological crescendo, including both positive and negative events (Joel 2:11), is the premier message of Joel. This message is of utmost significance to our day.
Going deep in the book of Joel is essential for the Body of Christ today because of the undeniable relevance of its message for the critical hour of history in which we are living. Although we are not yet in this crisis, it is only moments away (possibly several decades).
Premise #2: Ultimate Fulfillment of Joel’s Prophecies are Future
1. The book of Joel was written for Joel’s day, yet the larger scope of the message is for this current day. This message serves to make people ready for what they will experience before the second coming of Jesus. We cannot neglect this provision from the Lord. We cannot allegorize this book away as a message meant only for another day and lose the strength of its meaning and purpose in the process. It is critical that we go deep in it.
2. My purpose is not to discuss the different positions of the various scholarly points of view. Rather, I focus on giving the conclusions. The positions or insights to which I hold are seen in various commentaries. In other words, they are shared by various commentators who see the ultimate fulfillment of Joel’s prophecies as occurring in the generation when the Lord returns.
3. I interpret the book of Joel in a way that has an ultimate, literal fulfillment through future events. The negatives of Joel 2:1-9 were partially fulfilled in Joel’s day, but will also have a future fulfillment in the generation in which the Lord returns.
4. I appreciate human scholarship that does not deny the revelation of the Holy Spirit and the power of His activity being manifest at the end of the age.
Joel Prophesied just Prior to the Babylonian’s Invasion (606-586 BC)
The dating of this prophecy has been debated by scholars for generations, resulting in three common views. The most convincing view is that this book was written in the generation just prior to Babylon’s invasion and the destruction of Jerusalem in 606-586 BC.
One of the most important dates in Old Testament history is 586 BC. At this time, Israel underwent the darkest and most devastating period in its history in the Old Testament. The Babylonian army, under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar, decimated Israel. Nebuchadnezzar took the vast majority of Israel’s population into Babylonian “work camps” for seventy years (Jer. 25:9-14; 29:10).
Moses foretold exactly what would happen in the Babylonian invasion, which occurred a few decades after Joel’s ministry. The Babylonian siege of Jerusalem took place in 586 BC. The same thing happened again in 70 AD when the Romans came against Jerusalem. Once more Moses’ words were fulfilled precisely. Yet these words have not yet reached the end of their fulfillment. The dreadful prophecies spoken by Moses will see their ultimate fulfillment in the end times. What happened with Babylon in 586 BC and with Rome in 70 AD foreshadowed what will happen in the generation in which the Lord returns. An evil empire at the end of the age will arise and come against the nation of Israel in a way that will exceedingly surpass all other hours of tribulation.
In understanding the 70-year period (in which Israel was in captivity in Babylon), we have a foundation to better understand the Old Testament prophets. Many of them were either preparing Israel for the military invasions of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army, or they were looking back and interpreting it as a picture of future judgment and then deliverance at the end of the age (Zech. 12-14; Ezek. 38-39; Jer. 16).
The Babylonian invasion was described (Joel 2:1-9) by Joel possibly a decade or two before it occurred. Joel described an invasion of Israel that was intended to picture devastation that would occur several times. The first instance related to Joel’s generation (by Babylon) and the second, to invasion by the armies of the Antichrist just before Jesus returns (Zech. 13:8-14:2; Rev. 13).
God’s purpose in Joel 2:1-9 was more than giving us a historical record of a past calamity; it serves also as a prophetic picture of the greatest shaking in Israel’s history that will happen at the end of the age. Babylon’s military invasion in 586 BC was foreshadowing greater invasions (70 AD, then the final one at the end of the age). The most severe invasion of Israel will come in the final generation by the Antichrist’s evil worldwide empire (Zech. 12-14).
God’s purpose in giving us Joel 3 was to give us a picture of the greatest deliverance of Israel and the ultimate destruction of her enemies. This was partially fulfilled when Babylon was defeated. However, the ultimate picture of this will be when the Antichrist’s evil worldwide empire is defeated at the end of the Armageddon campaign (Rev. 19:11-21).
God repeatedly pointed to the exodus from Egypt as a picture of His deliverance, as He pointed to the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC as a picture of His judgment. Both are standards in Old Testament theology and give us a picture of judgment and deliverance coming to Israel in the end times.
Joel carries both messages. First, God’s judgment on rebellious Israel who refuses God’s mercy (Joel 1:1-2:9). Second, judgment on Israel’s reprobate enemies in order to deliver Israel (Joel 3). God will once again deliver His people just as He did in Moses’ time; and He will once again use an evil leader (Antichrist), as He used Nebuchadnezzar.
The book of Joel has an application for the end-time agricultural, economic, and military crisis. The nations will also witness the release of the Holy Spirit beyond what happened in the book of Acts.
This final fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy will include the Joel 1 locust plague (agricultural and economic crisis, Rev. 8), the Joel 2 military invasion (Zech. 12-14), and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In the end times, God’s people will experience the greatest heights of victory in the midst of the greatest hour of pressure and persecution. It will be our finest hour.
Habakkuk and Zephaniah also Prophesied of the Babylonian Invasion
God raised up other prophets who prophesied in Israel around the time of Joel’s generation. They were Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Each of these three small prophetic books, Joel, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, are similar in their language and message of God’s judgment on rebellious Israel by Babylon. They each urgently cried, “Trouble is coming to those who refuse God’s love and mercy. Cry to God for mercy and return to Him in repentance with fasting and prayer!”
I assume these three were friends, each participating in this difficult assignment of warning a prosperous and religious nation that great trouble was coming soon. Few listened to them.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel came soon after them, possibly a decade or so later, yet preceding the Babylonian invasion. Isaiah and Micah also prophesied this about 100 years earlier.
The Church today should note how unpopular the message of the prophets has always been. These prophets of old, with their seemingly irrelevant message, are much like today’s forerunner messengers who are called to prepare the way for the second coming of the Lord. End-time forerunners are in a similar position to Joel in his day.
We are possibly decades away from a global drama that culminates with the second coming of Jesus. If this is so, then we are at the beginning of the beginning of the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit and pressure in all history.
The Lord often gives a prophetic warning several decades ahead of time to prepare the people.
The role of forerunners is to sound the trumpet to gather the people to solemn assemblies to cry out for mercy and to warn of the coming shaking.
The Western world is experiencing a degree of economic prosperity with much religious activity. Yet, the Lord’s message to us is that things are to change before long.
As this happens, the significance of the message of the forerunner will be obvious. Just as when the Babylonian army approached Israel and the words of Joel, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah suddenly held tremendous weight for the Jewish people, so the Lord will cause voices to arise before the great glory and crisis of the generation of the Lord’s return and their message will begin to be heeded as the second coming draws near.
Premise #3: God Uses Evil Leaders and Military Invasion
1. One of God’s methods, as seen through the Old Testament prophets, is to judge rebellious nations through military invasions. God often raises up wicked men and evil nations as His instruments of judgment against other wicked nations (Hab. 1).
2. Our religious thinking is offended by the idea of a military crisis sent by God. Daniel taught that, “God removes kings and raises up kings…” (Dan. 2:21). God sets the boundary lines that limit the actions of earthly rulers. Satan also acts inside the perimeters that God sets for him.
3. We see this principle in the life of Job. Satan wanted to kill Job and his faith, but God put boundary lines on Satan.
4. The righteous end up with a radiant heart and with even more physical blessings than before.
5. God raises up evil leaders and nations to be His tool of judgment to other rebellious leaders and their nations. Those who do not agree with that will usually admit that God allows but does not actually cause evil leaders to invade other rebellious nations to cause them to cry out to God.
6. The people of Joel’s day surely struggled to receive Joel’s interpretation of God’s leadership in sending the Babylonian invasion because of their rebellion.
7. This is an alarming truth about God’s zeal for righteousness. It will cause a severe theological crisis in the Body of Christ to arise, as many questions come to the surface.
Premise #4: The Coming Theological Crisis – Three Difficult Questions
The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come… (Rev. 11:18) Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. (Mt. 11:6)
The anger of the LORD will not turn back until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it perfectly. (Jer. 23:20)
When God’s judgments increase in the land, a theological crisis emerges in the earth. There will be many questions that arise. However, I identify three questions that leaders in the Body of Christ must answer. These questions are not new; God’s shepherds have always had to answer them. The questions relate to how God judges rebellious nations.
Question #1: If God is a God of love, why will He allow this?
The most common question that God’s people grapple with is: How can a God of love allow and even raise up evil nations to be the rod of discipline? It was this tension that Habakkuk wrestled through when he cried to the Lord, “Why do You look on those who deal treacherously [Babylonian armies], and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” (Hab. 1:13).
In essence Habakkuk prayed, “Lord, how can You say that You are righteous when You use the evil nation of Babylon to judge rebellious Israel who is not as wicked?”
Answer #1: The answer is found in understanding God’s heart. The God of love has no contradiction in His personality when He brings judgment to stop rebellious nations from oppressing people and to wake them up spiritually so that they may also be saved. His goal is to remove everything that hinders love, because of His all-consuming love. God’s judgments result in people learning righteousness (Isa. 26:9).
Question #2: What can the righteous do to stop or minimize God’s judgment?
I sought for a man among them who would … stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it. (Ezek. 22:30)
If My people … will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
(2 Chr. 7:14)
What role are we the saints to play in this drama?
Answer #2: It has to do with our God-given role as intercessors as Joel describes (Joel 2:12-17). God calls us to stand in the gap and ask Him to remove, or at least minimize, His judgments (Joel 2:13-14).
Question #3: What do the righteous say and do before and after God’s judgments?
What do we say before and after these judgments occur? What do we call people to do?
Answer #3: A careful study of the book of Joel gives us answers. God has answers to these questions and He will strengthen His people with understanding about Himself. Such knowledge will settle the human heart in the time of crisis. As Isaiah said, “Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times…” (Isa. 33:6).
Premise #5: The End-of-the-Age Forerunner Ministry
When trouble comes, God is sometimes accused—even by His people. These accusations must be answered with the truth about God’s heart. He is perfect in love and wisdom and is just in all His ways (Rev. 15:3-4). We can be filled with confidence in God’s tender mercy when we understand His heart.
Satan desires to plant lies about God in our hearts. One of God’s answers is to raise up forerunners who will prepare the people so they do not accuse God in the coming crisis.
Premise #6: The Need to be Immersed in the Book of Joel
He said to me, “Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. He said to me “fill your stomach with this scroll.” So I ate it, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness. (Ezek. 3:1-3)
9 went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little book [similar to Ezekiel’s scroll].” And he said to me, “Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it [meditated on it to understand it], and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. When I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. And he said to me, “You must prophesy … about many … nations … and kings.” (Rev. 10:9-11)
God is bringing forth those who understand His heart of love in the midst of judgment like Ezekiel and John did; they will eat the scroll (or meditate on the message) in its sweetness and its bitterness.
The sweetness of this message is what God sovereignly accomplishes in His love and mercy. It is also bitter because of the real human pain involved.
The Lord is raising up men and women like Joel, digesting the message thoroughly, including both the sweet and the bitter dimensions. The greatest revival and crisis in history is coming. The Church will be prepared with forerunners who have stood in the counsel of the Lord, those who have “eaten the scroll” of His Word and thus have strong understanding of what the Scripture says about the generation in which the Lord returns.
The point of immersing our lives in the message of the book of Joel is to produce confidence in our hearts in God’s love and wisdom and to dislodge all accusations against God. Moreover, it is to partner with the Spirit in proclaiming the truth of God’s heart to others, thus replacing Satan’s lies for truth, causing offense towards God to be replaced with love and trust.
The role of the forerunner is to establish hearts in confident love before a God of love who has no contradiction in His personality as He releases the end-time judgments. God is now raising up forerunners—people from all over the earth who will give themselves now to digesting His scroll, the prophetic Scriptures.
In doing this we become a voice rather than an echo in the coming hour of crisis. Then with understanding, we help others to make sense of what is happening by speaking truth.
In that day, forerunners will be voices preparing the Lord’s people for His return and the unique dynamics related to it. One way that forerunners prepare the way of the Lord’s return is by dislodging the accusations against God in the hearts of others.