Commentary on the
BOOK OF JOEL
Joel's prophecy of the Day of the Lord was cited by Peter in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost. It's imagery was adapted by John in Revelation. The book of Joel thus stands as one of the great "end time" prophecies of Israel's prophets.
|CHAPTER ONE||CHAPTER TWO||CHAPTER THREE|
1 - Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain:
Zion is the name of the Jebusite garrison or stronghold that David captured; it became the seat of his kingdom and was called the city of David after his name (II Sam. 5:4-12); Zion was also the place of the ark of the covenant in David’s day (II Sam. 6:1-19); it was here that David built an altar to the Lord in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, and here that Solomon built the temple (II Sam. 24:18-25; I Chron. 21:18-22:19). Zion thus became a symbol of God’s dwelling place among his people, and was therefore called his holy mountain. 
The two most prominent words translated “trumpet” in the Old Testament are the Hebrew shophar, which occurs here and describes a trumpet made of ram’s horn (Josh. 6:4), and the chatsotserah, the silver trumpets used by priests in various ceremonial capacities (Num. 10:1-10). The term shophar is used for the voice of the Lord, which sounded as a trumpet upon mount Sinai when he spoke to Moses (Ex. 19:16, 19; 20:18, 19; Deut. 18:16; cf. I Thess. 4:16 where “the voice of the archangel and the trump of God” contemplate the same thing, and Rev. 1:10 where the voice of Christ is described as a trumpet). Shophar occurs most frequently where a trumpet is sounded to assemble the people either to receive important information, to prepare against imminent threat, or to rally to or retire from battle (I Sam. 13:3; II Sam. 2:28: 18:16; Neh. 4:18, 20; Ezek. 7:14); it is the word used for the trumpet given to watchmen charged with sounding the alarm warning of invasion (Ezek. 33:3-6). The plague of locusts is treated figuratively as the invading armies of an alien people; the sentinels are thus charged to sound the alarm and blow the trumpet to prepare against the impending danger.
let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand;
In ancient warfare, walled cities were besieged and encompassed about with armies; shut up within, their inhabitants were forced to eat bread and drink water by measure. Such sieges might endure for months or even years, until at length the city’s provisions failed and the inhabitants perished from famine, or were forced to surrender. The prospect of famine by drought and locust plague would have instilled no less terror than an invading army; its consequences equally real and dire. As the trumpet gave warning of approaching armies, so here it would announce the cloud of descending of locusts; the day of divine visitation was near at hand and the inhabitants are called to fear and trembling.
2 – A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness,
Light and joy would flee away; darkness and gloom would cover the land in the day of the Lord’s wrath. The language is figurative and poetic, evoking natural phenomena to describe the emotional, spiritual, and political conditions that would prevail in time of crisis and trouble. We encounter similar language in Ezekiel’s prophecy against Pharaoh and Egypt:
And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God. Ezek. 32:7, 8
Prior to Noah, the heavens did not rain; the earth was watered by dew and mist (Gen. 2:5, 6). Storm clouds and rain first occurred with the universal flood. Clouds thus came to be associated by the prophets with times of divine judgment, as if the face of the sky represented the disposition of heaven and the wrath of God who set his face against men.
as the morning spread upon the mountains:
Jesus said “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering” (Matt. 16:2, 3). That is the sense of the phrase use here: “as morning spread upon the mountains” bespeaks the face of the sky at dawn and the threatening weather the clouds portend as they descend upon the mountains.
a great people and a strong;
With these words calling the locust swarms “a great people” we encounter the first intimation of a plenior sensus (Lat. “fuller sense”) that looked beyond the immediate historical setting unto Messianic times and the destruction of the nation by Rome. The intimation, though but faintly suggested here, will go on and grow as the prophecy unfolds and Joel foretells of the “great and notable day of the Lord” Peter warned was fast overtaking his generation (Acts 2:14-21). Here, however, the prophet’s purpose is to liken the locusts to an invading army, which calling them “a people” helps to advance. Precedence for such use occurs in Proverbs, where Solomon says “The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in summer; the conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks” (Prov. 30:25, 26).
there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.
This description provides further intimation of a plenior sensus, looking ahead to the Roman Empire, which was the greatest empire ever to rise upon earth. Daniel described it as iron that “breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things” (Dan. 2:40) and “dreadful, terrible, and strong exceedingly” (Dan. 7:7). Rome has never been equaled, even to the years of many generations. The language is reminiscent of the locust plague visited upon the Egyptians, which was described, saying, “before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such, for they covered the face of the whole earth” (Ex. 10:14, 15).
3 – A fire devoureth before them and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.
The locusts are now likened to a prairie fire, which sweeps across the land devouring everything in its path. Before the army the land appears as the very garden of Eden for fertility and fatness, filled with orchards, vineyards, and fields of grain and produce of every kind; behind them is left a desolate waste; nothing escapes; all is consumed as if by fire.
4 – The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run.
With this verse, the apostle John begins to freely appropriate the vision in the Apocalypse (Rev. 9:1-11). In its immediate historical context, Joel describes a plague of locusts that strips the land of vegetation. In the Apocalypse, the locusts become the “abomination of desolation”—the Roman infantry and cavalry— that descended upon Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee, and Palestine, denuding the land of men (cf. Matt. 24:15-20 and Luke 21:20-24). The phrase “abomination of desolation” originates in the book of Daniel, who employed the term to describe the desolating power that would end the Jewish state 490 prophetic years from the restoration of the Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall by Nehemiah in 454 B.C. Daniel was told in vision that there were “seventy weeks” of years (490) “determined upon thy people and upon the holy city;” and that following the “cutting off” (crucifixion) of Messiah, the Romans would “destroy the city and the sanctuary;” and that for the “overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation” (Dan. 9:24-27). Daniel was further informed that the abomination of desolation would be “set up” (e.g., the forces assembled) 1290 days, or a little more than 3 ½ years, following the taking away of the daily sacrifice (Dan. 12:11, 12). This should be understood in reference to the cessation of the twice daily offering by the Jewish nation on behalf of Nero Caesar in the late summer of A.D. 66, which Josephus says was the true cause and beginning of the war. The siege itself, however, would begin 1335 days from the said starting point, as in fact it came about, the Roman army suddenly appearing before Jerusalem at the feast of Passover, shutting up within the city two million seven hundred thousand Jews, almost half of whom perished from famine during the siege. Hence, the famine here predicted by Joel because of locusts, found its ultimate fulfillment in the Roman siege of Jerusalem, sent by God in vengeance upon the nation for the murder of Christ and persecution of his church and gospel.
5 – Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array.
In verse 4, the prophet likens the locust plague to the charge of mounted horsemen. In the instant verse, Joel expands upon the simile of an invading army, likening the noise of millions of locusts to the jostling of chariots, and the crackling of fire as it devours stubble after the harvest.
We may well envision the Roman army as it marched into Judea and encamped before Jerusalem, the soldiers in their armor, together with their eagles and standards, set about the task of returning Jerusalem to Roman rule or to consign it to utter destruction. But the terror of the Romans without the city was surpassed only by the seditious within it: for three competing groups formed who, in fighting one another to determine which would be tyrant of them all, managed to destroy the city’s store of grain, dooming the inhabitants to famine. According to Josephus:
It was now a miserable case, and a sight that would justly bring tears into our eyes, how men stood as to their food, while the more powerful had more than enough, and the weaker were lamenting [for want of it.] But the famine was too hard for all other passions, and it is destructive to nothing so much as to modesty; for what was otherwise worthy of reverence was in this case despised; insomuch that children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their very mouths, and what was still more to be pitied, so did the mothers do as to their infants; and when those that were most dear were perishing under their hands, they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives: and while they ate after this manner, yet were they not concealed in so doing; but the seditious every where came upon them immediately, and snatched away from them what they had gotten from others; for when they saw any house shut up, this was to them a signal that the people within had gotten some food; whereupon they broke open the doors, and ran in, and took pieces of what they were eating almost up out of their very throats, and this by force: the old men, who held their food fast, were beaten; and if the women hid what they had within their hands, their hair was torn for so doing; nor was there any commiseration shown either to the aged or to the infants, but they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels they had gotten, and shook them down upon the floor. But still they were more barbarously cruel to those that had prevented their coming in, and had actually swallowed down what they were going to seize upon, as if they had been unjustly defrauded of their right. They also invented terrible methods of torments to discover where any food was, and they were these to stop up the passages of the privy parts of the miserable wretches, and to drive sharp stakes up their fundaments; and a man was forced to bear what it is terrible even to hear, in order to make him confess that he had but one loaf of bread, or that he might discover a handful of barley-meal that was concealed; and this was done when these tormentors were not themselves hungry; for the thing had been less barbarous had necessity forced them to it; but this was done to keep their madness in exercise, and as making preparation of provisions for themselves for the following days. These men went also to meet those that had crept out of the city by night, as far as the Roman guards, to gather some plants and herbs that grew wild; and when those people thought they had got clear of the enemy, they snatched from them what they had brought with them, even while they had frequently entreated them, and that by calling upon the tremendous name of God, to give them back some part of what they had brought; though these would not give them the least crumb, and they were to be well contented that they were only spoiled, and not slain at the same time.
6 – Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness.
The advancing army excites terror, causing great anxiety and anguish of heart. “All faces gather blackness” like soot upon a pot is a figure of speech used to describe the fear and dread that that covers men’s faces as the danger approaches and their doom is realized(cf. Nahum 2:10). Similar usage occurs in the book of Esther, when Haman was confronted with his doom: “As the word went out of the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face” (Est. 7:8).
To feed themselves, the Jews crept from the city to gather herbs in the rough valleys below. Many of these were caught by the Romans. And because they could not let them go nor guard so great a number of prisoners, they were crucified before Jerusalem’s walls five hundred or more a day:
So now Titus's banks were advanced a great way, notwithstanding his soldiers had been very much distressed from the wall. He then sent a party of horsemen, and ordered they should lay ambushes for those that went out into the valleys to gather food. Some of these were indeed fighting men, who were not contented with what they got by rapine; but the greater part of them were poor people, who were deterred from deserting by the concern they were under for their own relations; for they could not hope to escape away, together with their wives and children, without the knowledge of the seditious; nor could they think of leaving these relations to be slain by the robbers on their account; nay, the severity of the famine made them bold in thus going out; so nothing remained but that, when they were concealed from the robbers, they should be taken by the enemy; and when they were going to be taken, they were forced to defend themselves for fear of being punished; as after they had fought, they thought it too late to make any supplications for mercy; so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more: yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as guarded them useless to him. The main reason why he did not forbid that cruelty was this, that he hoped the Jews might perhaps yield at that sight, out of fear lest they might themselves afterwards be liable to the same cruel treatment. So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.
7 – They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks:
Proverbs says, “The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands” (Prov. 30:27).The plague of locusts resembles a marching army as it advances: they scale walls like men upon ladders; each one follows the one that precedes it in an orderly fashion; they do not scatter in many directions, but keep their ranks like an army, advancing methodically step by step, devouring whatever lay in their path.
Jerusalem had three walls. The Romans gained the first two walls within a month of beginning the siege. However, the Jews managed to burn the embankments built by the Romans to take the third wall. Despairing to take the city with their usual engines of war, and as there were no materials to construct new embankments, the Romans dug trenches and mounds around the city, enclosing the inhabitants to allow the famine to weaken the city’s defenses. This fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 19:41-44:
And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, what thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.
8 – Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.
In the press and confusion of hand-to-hand battle, as soldiers thrust and swing their swords, it must sometimes happen that they inadvertently wound their comrades, get in one another’s way and trip and fall upon the sword. The locust army is not subject to the like casualties: having no swords, they do not thrust one another; facing no opponent in battle, they do not break their ranks, depart from their paths, or trip each other; and being so light, even should one fall upon a sword, it would not be wounded. Thus, unlike a human army that may be opposed with sword and shield, the locusts advance unhindered; no weapon forged against them can prosper.
Closed in by the Romans, the famine quickly consumed the city’s inhabitants:
So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine, and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the market-places like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead, wheresoever their misery seized them. As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it; and those that were hearty and well were deterred from doing it by the great multitude of those dead bodies, and by the uncertainty there was how soon they should die themselves; for many died as they were burying others, and many went to their coffins before that fatal hour was come. Nor was there any lamentations made under these calamities, nor were heard any mournful complaints; but the famine confounded all natural passions; for those who were just going to die looked upon those that were gone to rest before them with dry eyes and open mouths. A deep silence also, and a kind of deadly night, had seized upon the city; while yet the robbers were still more terrible than these miseries were themselves; for they brake open those houses which were no other than graves of dead bodies, and plundered them of what they had; and carrying off the coverings of their bodies, went out laughing, and tried the points of their swords in their dead bodies; and, in order to prove what metal they were made of they thrust some of those through that still lay alive upon the ground; but for those that entreated them to lend them their right hand and their sword to despatch them, they were too proud to grant their requests, and left them to be consumed by the famine. Now every one of these died with their eyes fixed upon the temple, and left the seditious alive behind them. Now the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. However, when Titus, in going his rounds along those valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them, he gave a groan; and, spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness that this was not his doing
9 – They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief.
The locusts behave like an army once it has gained a city, spreading themselves everywhere, entering the streets and lanes, breaking open houses, slaying the inhabitants, looting and plundering the city of spoils. Josephus describes the Romans in similar terms when they got the mastery of the city:
So the Romans being now become masters of the walls, they both placed their ensigns upon the towers, and made joyful acclamations for the victory they had gained, as having found the end of this war much lighter than its beginning; for when they had gotten upon the last wall, without any bloodshed, they could hardly believe what they found to be true; but seeing nobody to oppose them, they stood in doubt what such an unusual solitude could mean. But when they went in numbers into the lanes of the city with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook without and set fire to the houses whither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is, of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching any thing. But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men's blood. And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night; and as all was burning, came that eighth day of the month Gorpieus [Elul] upon Jerusalem, a city that had been liable to so many miseries during this siege, that, had it always enjoyed as much happiness from its first foundation, it would certainly have been the envy of the world. Nor did it on any other account so much deserve these sore misfortunes, as by producing such a generation of men as were the occasions of this its overthrow.
10 – The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:
This language is best understood as figurative and poetic, intended to emphasize the immensity of the coming calamity; viz., so terrible is the preternatural host sent against the rebellious nation that creation itself trembles and shrinks from the sight of them. But if the inanimate creation is so affected, how much more should the people and rulers fear the destruction decreed? A second way the language may be understood is metaphorically, in which the world natural is put in place for the world political, so that the earth represents the people or masses, the ruling orbs, the governing authorities— the sun, the king or governor; the moon, the high priest or priestly caste; and stars, the princes and elders of the people—all whose brilliance would be overshadowed, impotent to arrest or allay the impending disaster.
11 – And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army:
The Lord not only commands the invasion, but leads it himself, going before the host into battle against his enemies. Hence, inasmuch as the vision’s plenior sensus looked ahead to the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, implicit in this passage is Christ’s providential rule over the kingdoms of men, and his coming—his second coming— to execute wrath upon the Jewish nation. Christ received the government of the world at his ascension, when he sat down on the right hand of the majesty in heaven “angels, authorities, and powers being made subject unto him” (I Pet. 3:22; cf. Acts 2:33; Heb. 1:3; 2:8). As heir of the world (Rom. 4:13), Christ rules the nations with a rod of iron: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:8, 9; cf. Rev. 2:27). “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies” (Ps. 110:1, 2). It is sometimes imagined that Christ’s kingdom and coming would entail an earthly throne seated in Jerusalem, where he would rule the world in human form. Yet, Jesus rejected this very thing, not only when he was tempted to yield to his fleshly passions, but a second time when the Jews sought to make him king by force (Matt. 4:8-10; John 6:15); moreover, he told Pilate in the plainest terms “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Nay, rather as the Psalms quoted directly above show, Christ has had the government of the world from the time of his ascension and he rules in the power of his divine glory. But if his kingdom and reign are of a divine nature, consisting in his invisible government and providential rule of the nations, how much more must his second coming conform to this rule, seeing that he would come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels? (Mark 8:38; cf. Matt. 16:27, 28). For “glory” by definition is the heavenly realm; and whatever is of the heavenly realm is invisible to the eye of man, as Paul expressly states: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour, and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (I Tim. 1:17). Toward the end of the same epistle, Paul states this same basic fact again:
That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in his times shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.1 Tim. 6:14-16
In his humiliation, Christ assumed human form, taking on him the seed of Abraham, and was therefore “manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16; cf. Heb. 2:14-16; Phil. 2:7, 8); however, in his ascension and glorification, Christ resumed his divine glory. Since, therefore, no man can see Christ in his glory, his “appearing” and “revelation” was not to the physical eye of man, but to the eye of his understanding through the fulfillment of world events he foretold while yet upon earth, showing that he was in fact the blessed and only Potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords. This is also the essence of John’s Apocalypse; viz., the revelation of Christ’s divinity by his command of history and nature, putting his enemies beneath his feet and avenging the blood of his saints and prophets upon the Jews and Romans.
for his camp is very great: for he is strong that excuteth his word:
The exceeding greatness of the Roman power rendered impossible the success of the Jewish revolt, which was fated from the beginning to bring about the nation’s destruction. The national election of Israel had been merely temporary and provisional, to bring Christ into the world that he might die upon a Roman cross and thus bring salvation to all mankind. However, the death of Christ meant that the calling and election of Israel had this ironic twist: that the nation would incur the blood-guilt of its own Messiah and so suffer divine wrath and retribution. Isaiah prophesied of the nation’s end in terms particularly forceful:
I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts…Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?...He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a god’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not. Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word; Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name’s sake, said, let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed. A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that rendereth recompense to his enemies…For, behold the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. Isa. 65:1, 2; 66:1-6, 15
The fulfillment of this prophecy in New Testament times is unmistakable: First, Paul cites it in his epistle to the Romans regarding the call of the Gentiles, which should have incited the Jews to emulation and to imitate the Gentiles by obedience to the gospel. However, the nation obstinately persisted in rebellion and unbelief, and thus came to destruction (Rom. 10:20). Second, reference to “casting out” for the Lord’s name sake was fulfilled in the Jews putting out of the synagogue anyone who confessed Christ (John 9:22, 34; 12:42; 16:2). Third, the prophecy, which twice makes reference to the coming of the Lord in wrath against the Jewish nation, was cited by Stephen at his trial for saying Jesus would come and destroy the city and temple and change the customs delivered to the people by Moses (Acts 6:14; 7:49, 50). Stephen quoted Isaiah in support of the proposition that the temple was sacred only insofar as ordained by God and that God himself had condemned it to overthrow more than seven hundred years before. Hence, in rejecting Stephen’s warning, they were in effect rejecting God’s warning, sealing their own fate.
for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible;
The apostle Peter quoted Joel on the first Pentecost following the Lord’s resurrection; saying that the “great and terrible day of the Lord” would overtake his generation (Acts 2:14-21, 40). This same day of the Lord is the subject of Peter’s second epistle, which speaks of the heavens passing away with a great noise and the elements melting with fervent heat (II Pet. 3:10-12). The language is figurative and metaphoric, as may be seen by the promised “new heavens and earth” that follows. The promise of new heavens and earth occurs in Isaiah’s prophecy, which is cited immediately above. Reference to the new heavens and earth occur at Isa. 65:17 and 66:22. The only thing spoken of between these verses is the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. Hence, it is clearly seen that it is not the physical cosmos that was to be destroyed, nor a new, physical creation that was contemplated by the new heavens and earth; rather, the new heavens and earth refer to the socio-political economy of the world beneath the reigning Christ, whose kingdom and gospel are ever advancing, overspreading the earth, converting the nations and regenerating the fallen race of man.
In the new heavens and earth, the church is the new Jerusalem, which carries the gospel to all mankind, winning the nations to Christ. Rev. 21:1, 2, 9, 10
The promised new heavens and earth are like bookends enclosing the destruction of Jerusalem; nothing else comes between them.
and who can abide it?
The prophet Malachi asked this same question in connection with the coming of Christ and the day of the Lord upon the Jewish nation:
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?... For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch…Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Mal. 3:1, 2; 4:1, 5 (emphasis added)
The messenger sent to prepare the way before Christ was John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10-14). John’s message was eschatological; warning the Jewish nation to repent and avert the wrath Malachi foretold. According to John the Baptist, God had already laid the Roman ax against Israel’s national tree, and would shortly hew it down and cast it into the burning:
But when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly pure his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Matt. 7-12
The exclamation “who can abide it?” also occurs in Revelation:
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and his us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? Rev. 6:15-17 (emphasis added)
Yet, the language about hiding themselves in the rocks and dens of the earth was used by Jesus regarding the destruction of Jerusalem as he was led out to be crucified:
And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? Luke 23:27-31
Jesus was the “green tree,” moist and alive with the Spirit of God; the Jews were the “dry tree,” dead and withered in sin and disbelief, who would be burned up like chaff in the coming judgment. Thus, at every turn we find that the prophesied “day of the Lord,” be it Joel’s or any other prophet’s, had as its primary subject the destruction to be visited upon the Jewish nation for the murder of Christ. We say “primary” because divine retribution was also meted out upon Rome and the nations of the Roman Empire for their part in persecuting the church and refusing the gospel (see comments at Joel 3:9-17, below).
12 – Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
The nation is called to repentance; no half measure will do: they are called to turn to God with the whole heart, unreservedly, fully yielding and compliant. The internal conversion of the heart should then produce outward manifestations of repentance by fasting, weeping, and mourning for their sins.
13 – and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God:
Rending one’s garments was an expression of great personal calamity. Where the heathen might cut themselves as expression of great grief, the Jews rent their garments instead, prohibited by the law to imitate the customs of the pagan nations around them (Lev. 19:28; 21:5). When Jacob learned that Joseph was dead, he “rent his cloths, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned his son many days” (Gen. 37:34). But such outward shows would be meaningless unless they mirrored the inward rending of the heart. The expression is similar to Paul’s statement that “he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28, 29).
for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
These words were used God to proclaim his name when Moses asked to see his glory. Descending upon Mount Sinai, God passed before Moses and proclaimed “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Ex. 34:5-7). Thus, although anger and wrath are necessary attributes of God’s holiness, they come only with the greatest reluctance after long forbearance when there is no other remedy. The cup of divine wrath and retribution sometimes takes centuries to fill. When God promised Abraham the land of Canaan, he said it would not be until the fourth generation, or about 430 years, that he would give the land unto them “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). The Jews were “vessels for wrath fitted for destruction” whom God endured for 1,500 years with much longsuffering (Rom.9:22), but who “filled up” the measure of their iniquity by the death of Christ and persecution of his church (Matt. 23:32-39; I Thess. 2:14-16; Rev. 6:9-11; 17:4; 19:2) Viewing a great catastrophe, men view the immediate suffering and ruin and ask Why, but fail to consider that perhaps for many decades or long centuries God forewent retribution, until he could forebear no more. God repents of the evil he inflicts, but the iniquity of man compels him.
14 – Who knoweth if he will return and repent, Although the prophecy is given in absolute terms, the possibility that God will turn from the purposed destruction remains open if the people repent. Moses thus held open the possibility to avert the latter-day destruction of the nation if it would but repent and obey the voice of the Lord: “When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (for the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them” (Deut. 4:30, 30).
and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?
The prospect of God leaving a meat offering and drink offering suggests a mitigation of his wrath such that a remnant may be preserved and left behind him. The prophet does not hold out the hope of full pardon, but only of partial alleviation; for if the threat were too easily and completely averted, the people would not fully fear the Lord nor come to repentance in their hearts, but would presume upon the mercy of God and be emboldened to do evil. “Because sentence against an evil work is not exceuted speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11).
15 – Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:
As before, “trumpet” here is from the Hebrew shophar, or a ram’s horn, used to call the people to assembly or to warn of imminent danger (see comments at Joel 2:1). The law imposed only one fast, the annual fast of the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month when the High Priest made atonement for the temple against the sins and uncleanness of the people so that the presence of God might continue to dwell in their midst (Lev. 16:29-34). While ceremonial fasting was otherwise discouraged as a form of false asceticism (Isa. 58:3-12; Col. 2:20-23), spontaneous and circumstantial fasting was widely practiced as an acceptable form of contrition for sin; for it is inappropriate for those that are in mourning for sin to feast and carouse : “And in that day did the LORD GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and behold joy an gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die” (Isa. 22:12, 13).
16 – Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.
The threatened crisis was so great that the whole people were called to assemble themselves in the temple and beseech the God’s pardon; none were exempted: bride and groom, though standing at the very threshold of their vows and consummation of their marriage, were to postpone their wedding and resort to the temple to entreat the mercies of God.
17 – Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar,
The priests were God’s appointed intermediaries for the people; they were thus charged to make intercession and to lead the people in entreating God’s mercy and pardon. There were three courts in the temple: the court of the Gentiles, where anyone might worship; the court of Israel, where only circumcised males who were ceremoniously clean could enter, and the court of women, where Jewish women were required to worship. “Between the porch and the altar” likely refers to the court of Israel, for it was here that assemblies of the people were addressed by their leaders and kings; it was here also that the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, suffered martyrdom (Matt. 23:35). This prophet foretold his death and prefigured Christ. For when he wrote “They shall look on me whom they have pierced” and “Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered” (Zech. 12:10; 13:7), the prophet wrote of himself, but these things also looked ahead to Christ (Matt. 26:31; John 19:37; cf. Zech. 11:7-17). It was perhaps also in this court that Jesus sometimes taught in the temple, though it was the outer court where the money-changers and those that sold doves kept shop (Mark 11:17; John 2:14), for when he says “my house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer” he signifies the court of Gentiles. And as she could not enter the court of Israel, it would also have been the outer court where the woman taken in adultery was brought before Jesus; hence it appears that the Lord taught here many times as well (John 8:2-11; 20).
and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?
The immediate threat was of a plague of locusts, coupled with famine and drought. However, as we have seen, the plenior sensus looked ahead to the A.D. 70 destruction of the nation by Rome. Therefore, in saying “give not thine heritage that the heathen should rule over them” the prophecy appears to anticipate the conquest of Palestine by Pompey the Great in 63 B.C.
After defeating Mithridates of Pontus, Pompey deposed Antiochus Asiaticus, the last of the Seleucids (64 B.C). The Jews were governed at the time by Antigonus, who had deposed his brother, Hyrcanus, thrust him from the high priesthood, and put on the royal diadem. The disputing brothers at first agreed to submit the matter to Pompey’s judgment, but Antigonus had a change of heart and shut the gates of Jerusalem against Pompey. Pompey laid siege to the city with Hyrcanus for his assistant, taking it after a siege of five months, bringing the Jews under Roman rule. 49 B.C. marked Julius Caesar’s civil war against Pompey and the Roman senate. When the forces of Pompey were defeated at Pharsalus (Aug. 8, 48 B.C.), Pompey fled to Egypt. When Caesar arrived, he found Pompey had been murdered, and king Ptolemy XIII making war against his sister and co-regent, Cleopatra, whom he had expelled from the throne shortly before. A boy in age, Ptolemy and the kingdom were under the control of the eunuch Pothinus. Caesar, who was consul that year, declared his wish that Ptolemy and Cleopatra disband their armies and settle their dispute before him in process of law, rather than by armed force between them. Pothinus, thinking it unseemly for the king to submit the contest to Caesar’s arbitrage, attacked Caesar’s forces with the royal army. In the war that resulted, Ptolemy was slain, the royal army defeated, and Egypt came under the power of Rome and Caesar. Caesar received help in this war from Antipater, father of Herod the Great. In reward for his assistance, Caesar gave the government of Judea to Antipater, who in turn gave the government of Galilee to Herod when he was twenty-five years of age (46 B.C.). Herod was made king by Octavian Caesar and Marc Antony in the winter of 39 B.C. The New Testament narratives open with the conception of John the Baptist in the autumn of 3 B.C. Herod died shortly before Passover in 1 B.C. at the age of seventy, having reigned twenty-seven years from being made king by the Romans.  Jesus was born the preceding winter, 2 B.C., and was baptized the fifteenth year of Tiberius (A.D. 29) on the threshold of his thirtieth birthday (Luke 3:1, 23).
18 – Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.
The people’s repentance will restore the Lord’s favor and compassion for his people, and return his blessing to the land so that it again becomes fruitful and productive. The phrase “be jealous for his land” evokes the image of a husband resentful of an affront or dishonor done to his wife, which he is ready to vindicate or revenge; the idea being that the Lord will nourish and protect the land to remove the reproach it suffered when it was desolate and unfruitful, and this for the benefit of his people. A similar thought occurs in Isaiah: “In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day. Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together” (Isa. 27:2-4).
19 – Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen:
In the people’s repentance, prayer, and fasting, the prophet holds out the assurance that God will answer their entreaty and fully satisfy their need. Corn, wine, and oil, were the three great staples of ancient life. By repenting and forsaking their sins, God would provide the things necessary to daily life. The existence of famine and drought would have been viewed by surrounding nations as evidence that the Jews were forsaken by God and would have been an occasion for gainsaying them, saying, “Where is their God.” In restoring their corn, wine, and oil, the reproach they suffered among the heathen would thus be taken away.
20 – But I will remove far off from you the northern army,
The normal origin of locusts is not from the north, but the south, from the Libyan, Egyptian, and Arabian deserts. It would therefore seem that the locust swarm, driven by winds, took a circuitous route into Judea, entering from the north. On the other hand, the form of the word “northern” indicates the native land, and cannot therefore in fairness be said to apply to locusts that originate in the south. Accordingly, many commentators take “northern” (the word “army” has been supplied by the translators) in reference to the Assyrio-Babylonian invasions, which are specifically referred to as coming from the north (Jer. 1:13, 14; 4:6; Ezek. 1:4). Farrar finds in the phrase “I will remove far off from you the Northerner” an allusion to Ezekiel’s vision of Gog and Magog, the great pagan hoard that comes from the “north parts” and invades restored Israel in the latter days (Ezek. 28:15). Farrar mistakenly believed Gog and Magog described the Scythian invasion from northern Europe in the seventh century before Christ, which reached as far as Ashkelon before being repelled in 596 B.C. Others have supposed Ezekiel’s vision described Antiochus IV Epiphanes. However, Gog’s invasion of restored Israel follows the appearance of “David their Prince,” which plainly refers to Christ (Ezek. 37:25), so that the vision must be understood in reference to New Testament times. Hence, the better view is that Gog and Magog envisions the great end-time persecution of Nero Caesar against the church. Assuming that Joel describes is other terms the invasion of Gog and Magog, “northerner” would then have reference to the Romans.
and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.
In answer to the people’s repentance, the locust swarm will be driven into the wilderness between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean, where millions of rotting locusts would send up a pestilential stench. However, according to its plenior sensus, the passage likely refers to the cataclysmic judgments visited upon the Romans preceding the death of Nero, including a hurricane followed by a pestilence that killed thirty thousand in the city of Rome, and the series of civil wars that followed Nero’s death, leaving Italy in ruins, littered with tens of thousands of rotting and unburied corpses following epic battles. The sum of these judgments was to succor the church and redeem her from the hand of her persecutors, as envisioned here by Joel.
21 – Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.
As the invading army of locusts had “done great things” and mighty deeds in terms of desolating the land and visiting judgment upon the people; so the Lord would do great things by restoring the land’s fertility in response to the people’s repentance.
22 -Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.
“Pastures of the wilderness” refers to wild, uncultivated places away from human cities and settlements where cattle and beasts forage and graze. “Fig tree and vine” bring in view human cultivation. The drought removed and the locusts driven away, vegetation returns and cultivation resumes: The pastures germinate; the trees bear fruit; the fig and vine yield their strength. In returning his care to the land, the Lord satisfies the need of both man and beast.
23 – Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, and former rain, and the latter rain
“Children of Zion” refers to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; but as Zion was the capital city, the whole remnant of God’s covenant people is almost certainly signified. The marginal reading for “the former rain” is “a teacher of righteousness.” Those adopting this translation view the reference as applying to either Joel himself, to the instructions of Moses, the prophets and priests, or even prophetically to Christ. Assuming the translation is correct, it seems more likely that the plague and drought were the “teacher of righteousness” to chasten the people and lead them to repentance, so that the sense becomes “Rejoice, for the Lord hath chastened you moderately .” In favor of this sense is the verb tense “hath given,” which is the perfect tense, signifying completed action in the past. The plague and drought were in the past, not the former rain, which was withheld (Joel 1:10, 17-20). But if the translation “former rain” is correct, it would seem to conflict with the clause following, which promises the former and latter rains in the future: “he will cause to come down for you the rain, and former rain, etc.” But as “teacher of righteousness” gives us pause as to its meaning, the present reading was undoubtedly chosen because it is easier to grasp. However, as the Hebrew is obscure, it is impossible to say definitively which is correct.
in the first month.
The first month was at the first called Abib by the Jews, but after the Babylonian captivity it was called Nisan according to Chaldean usage (Ex. 12:2; 13:4; Neh. 2:1; Esther 3:7). The first month was determined by the new moon on or just preceding the vernal equinox. The new moon marking the first month had to precede the vernal equinox because Passover occurred at the full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Hence, for the full moon to occur on or after the equinox, it was necessary that the new moon occur on or just before it. But the lunar calendar had not always been used by the Jews; it was instituted under Moses to regulate the annual cycle of feasts. Prior to Moses, it appears that a calendar of twelve months of thirty days apiece was used, with five epagomenal days added at the end of the year to fill out 365, according to the manner of the Egyptians. This appears from the account of the flood in which were accomplished 150 days in five months, so that each month necessarily consisted of thirty days (Gen. 7:11-8:4). The lunar cycle, however, consists of 29 ½ days. To account for the half day, the months alternated in length between 29 and 30 days. But as twelve lunar months equals only 254 days (6 x 29 + 6 x 30 = 254), a thirteenth month of thirty days was added seven times in nineteen years to bring the lunar cycle back in synchronization with the solar year.
24 – And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil
Wheat, wine and oil, being comparatively imperishable and capable of being stored for many years, were the most important crops. Whereas the floors and barns had been empty of grain and the fats without wine or oil due to the plague and drought, repentance would restore the Lord’s favor, who would thus bless the people and abundantly supply their need.
25 – And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
Again we note the future tense appended to these passages over against the perfect tense in the problematic clause in v. 23, above. “The years” that the drought and pests had eaten refers to the annual harvest and the store of grain, wine, and oil that it produced, which might last for several years. The pests sent by the Lord to destroy the land and eat up the crops and were as the invasion of a “great army.” Herodotus describes the army of Xerxes drying up streams, rivers, and whole lakes by the multitude of soldiers and livestock in his army, so that we may imagine the ravage done to the land by an army merely passing through, foraging provisions. Josephus indeed describes the army of Simon, one of the leaders in the Jews’ war with Rome, as having left Idumea a desert waste by reason of his army:
And as one may see all the wood behind despoiled of their leaves by locusts, after they have been there, so was there nothing left behind Simon’s army but a desert. Some places they burnt down, some they utterly demolished, and whatever grew in the country they either trod it down or fed upon it, and by their marches they made the ground that was cultivated, harder and more untractable than that which was barren. In short, there was no sign remaining of those places that had been laid waste, that ever they had had a being.
Thus, are locusts like an army of men, and an army of like a plague of locusts.
26, 27 – And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD you God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.
The blessing of the Lord upon his people would result in their praising and confessing him to be the one true God: the Lord who inhabited the praises of Israel and dwelt in their midst; in clinging to him, God would never allow his people to suffer shame or disappointment.
28, 29 – And it shall come to pass afterward,
The term “afterward” is synonymous with “last” or “latter days.” This is seen by Peter’s quotation of Joel’s prophecy on Pentecost following the Lord’s ascension, where he substitutes “last days” for Joel’s use of “afterward” (Acts 2:17). The eschatological import of the phrase also appears in several Old Testament passages. The prophet Jeremiah uses it interchangeably with latter days when he speaks of the salvation Christ would bring to the Gentiles: “And afterward I shall bring again the captivity of the children of Ammon” and “But it shall come to pass in the latter days, that I will bring again the captivity of Elam” (Jer. 49:6, 39). Similarly, Hosea says, “Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.”
that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh;
The outpouring of the Spirit spoken of here should be distinguished from the Spirit’s indwelling of the believer by the word. Receipt of the Spirit is either direct and miraculous, or indirect and non-miraculous by the word. The word is to the Spirit like copper wire is to electricity; as electricity travels through and is conducted by copper wire, so the Spirit is communicated and conducted by the word. Jesus said, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). As we receive and yield to the word, we receive Christ’s Spirit. All believers are thus “sealed” with the Spirit of adoption by the hope of eternal life in the believer’s breast, by which we also cry Abba, Father (Rom. 8:14-23; II Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14). This indwelling pertains to all believers for all time, and is not attended by miraculous gifts (John 14:16). But the outpouring of the Spirit here mentioned was direct and miraculous, and was of limited scope and duration, belonging to the latter days of the pre-messianic age, and served as a witness of the truth of the gospel as the word of God. “All flesh” signifies men and women of every race, language, and nation, whether Jew or Gentile. Similarly, when Peter said “the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off” (Acts 2:39), he means that the promise was also to the Gentiles, for it is they were afar off, but were made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:17).
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.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit was given only to the apostles, save that the household of Cornelius received a limited dispensation of the Holy Spirit by a like outpouring as a testimony that the Gentiles were acceptable to God without circumcision, purified by the obedience of faith (Acts 10:34, 35, 44-48). In all other instances, the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost were communicated by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:4-19; 19:1-6). The phrase “in those days” signifies the “last days” and establishes the limit during which the miraculous gifts might be received, which almost certainly terminated following the destruction of Jerusalem: for the gifts were among the signs given to urge men to repentance preceding the great and terrible day of the Lord.
30 – And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
These signs should probably be understood literally, as describing conditions that marked the deteriorating stability of the Jewish nation and polity as it approached the end. The thirteenth chapter of Josephus’ second book of Wars is devoted to describing the conditions prevailing among the Jews as the end drew near, which wells comports with the instant language, of which we provide a single example:
Now when these were quieted, it happened, as it does in a diseased body, that another part was subject to an inflammation; for a company of deceivers and robbers got together , and persuaded the Jews to revolt, and exhorted them to assert their liberty, inflicting death on those that continued in obedience to the Roman government, and saying, that such as willingly chose slavery ought to be forced from such their desired inclinations; for they parted themselves into different bodies, and lay in wait up and down the country, and plundered the houses of the great men, and slew the men themselves, and set the villages on fire; and this till all Judea was filled with the effects of their madness. And thus the flame was every day more and more blown up, till it came to a direct war.
31 – The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood,
This is best understood in reference to the “blood, fire, and pillars of smoke” from burning villages and hamlets like those described by Josephus, above, whose smoke would have blackened the sun by day and made the moon red by night as is often seen to occur when fields are burned after the harvest.
before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come.
The day of the Lord was fulfilled in the Jewish war with Rome and the year-of-four-emperors that followed Nero’s death. This may be plainly seen by Peter’s exhortation to his fellow countrymen to “save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40). “This generation” was the time frame established by the Lord for his coming in the clouds of heaven in judgment upon the Jewish nation (Matt. 24:29, 30; Mk. 13:30). Christ would come in his kingdom in power while the disciples were still alive to see it (Matt. 16:27, 28; Mk. 8:38-9:1); before they had had time to evangelize all the cities of Israel (Matt. 10:23); the very Sanhedrin that tried him would see Christ seated on the right hand of power, coming in the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:64; Mk. 14:62). And that this was understood by the earliest Christian writers to be nothing less than the second coming of Christ is well attested. Origen (A.D. 184–254), the great Alexandrian thinker and writer thus states:
We do not deny, then, that the purificatory fire and the destruction of the world took place in order that evil might be swept away, and all things be renewed; for we assert that we have learned these things from the sacred books of the prophets…But according to Celsus, ‘the Christians, making certain additional statements to those of the Jews, assert that the Son of God has been already sent on account of the sins of the Jews; and that the Jews having chastised Jesus, and given him gall to drink, have brought upon themselves the divine wrath.’ And anyone who likes may convict this statement of falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation was overthrown within one single generation after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at their hands. For forty and two years, I think, after the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, did the destruction of Jerusalem take place.
Origen’s use of the phrase “all things renewed” almost certainly alludes to Rev. 21:5, where John describes a “new heaven and a new earth” in which Christ’s bride is the ‘new Jerusalem.’ The implication is that Origen interpreted Revelation’s imagery as being bound up in the destruction of the old Jerusalem by the coming of Christ such that the church became the “new Jerusalem,” taking its place. More importantly, Origen was not alone in this opinion, nor did it originate with him: Celsus cites other Christians as taking the view that Christ returned in vengeance upon the Jewish nation. Indeed, Origen’s quotation of Celsus gives every indication that the view was then normative and widely held among Christians, as indeed it would have to have been for it to come to the attention of an unbeliever and outsider like Celsus, and find its way into his works as representative of the general view among Christians. Since it is unlikely Celsus would include mention of this belief among early Christians if it was merely aberrative and isolated, at this time in history a “preteristic” understanding of eschatology was apparently the dominant view within the church.
The famous church historian, Eusebius (A.D. 260–340), was also a Preterist. Regarding Jacob’s prophecy of the “last days” (LXX “end of days,” Gen 49:1, 10) Eusebius states:
For we must understand by ‘the end of the days’ the end of national existence of the Jews. What, then, did he say they must look for? The cessation of the rule of Judah, the destruction of their whole race, the failing and ceasing of their governors, and the abolition of the dominant kingly position of the tribe of Judah, and the rule and kingdom of Christ, not over Israel but over all nations, according to the word, ‘This is the expectation of the nations.’
According to Eusebius, then, the ‘latter days’ describes the period ending with the abolition of the Jewish state and polity, which has been replaced by the universal dominion and government of Christ. Concerning Christ’s second advent, Eusebius writes:
So, then, the prophecy before us says that He comes forth from His place, and will descend upon the high-places of the earth. How are we to understand this? Shall we take it literally of the hills and mountains of Israel, which are the subjects of so many prophecies, Jerusalem itself and Mount Sion, in which our Lord and Saviour spent so much time? If so, their destruction and ruin at the descent of Christ would be prophesied. And it is the fact that after the Saviour's coming and the treatment He received all the hills mentioned were besieged, and utterly desolated. But the rulers of the Jewish people as well, and their kingdom that existed previously, their sacrificial system and the seats of their teachers, here called Mountains metaphorically, are said to be shaken by the Descent of the Lord from heaven. And who could deny that this was fulfilled after the time of our Saviour Jesus Christ, when he sees all these things not only shaken, but abolished?
Hence we see that Eusebius, like Origen before him, was of the opinion that Christ’s second coming as an accomplished fact, evidenced by the destruction of the Jewish state. Even Jewish Christians took this view, as witnessed by the ‘Moriad.’
The Moriad is a book-length epic poem written by a third century Christian-Jew about the A.D. 70 destruction of the Jewish state. The name is taken from Mount Moriah (Zion) with ‘ad’ appended as a suffix similar to the ‘Iliad’ and the ‘Aeneid.’ The poem was written by Ben Asaph and translated into English from Syriac Hebrew by Anselm Korlstoff in 1857. Book two, entitled “The Advent,” describes Christ’s coming to visit destruction upon the Jewish nation:
“And now, O Branch, (on earth called Christ), descend,
And bring the Second Institution to an end.
Sweep from the land the wretched Jewish State,
Their temple burn, and yield them to their fate.
To spirit-baptism they will not aspire,
So let Jerusalem be baptized with fire!
This is a clear reference to John the Baptist’s eschatological warning in Matt 3:10–12, and shows this third century Christian-Jew understood Christ’s second coming as fulfilled in the A.D. 70 fall of Jerusalem.
32- And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered:
“The name of the Lord” here must be understood as nothing less than Jesus Christ. The apostles taught in his name (Acts 4:18, 19); performed miracles in his name (Acts 4:9, 10), and baptized for remission of sins in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16). They also proclaimed before the Sanhedrin that murdered the Lord “Neither is there salvation in any other: for thee is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, Isaiah’s kingdom prophecy proclaimed that “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3). Zechariah said “In that day thee shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1). That fountain is the blood of Christ embodied in the gospel. The fountain of salvation once opened, soon carved channels into the wide world, bring deliverance to all mankind. Jesus thus told the disciples “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:47). Today, the fountain has become a measureless ocean; Christianity has filled the earth. “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.
Although wide world has received the gospel, only a remnant of the Jews obeyed: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved” (Rom. 9:27-30). This is not because God actively prevented their believing; to the contrary, the gospel call is for all; God would have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth; God commands all men to everywhere to repent and to believe the gospel (Acts 17:30; I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9). However, the gospel is repugnant to natural man—to repent from sin; to deny ourselves; to mortify the lusts of the flesh; to submit to the governance of God over our lives; to put God’s will before our own; to suffer the rejection and shame of naming Jesus as Lord—all this and countless more inherent in the Christian life is repugnant to the natural man, whose first instincts are to follow the carnal appetites and impulses of his mind. Most follow the broad road to destruction; only a remnant of any generation take the straight gate and narrow way to salvation. The word of God is a discerning of the thoughts and intents of the heart; those who have the world in their hearts will not obey the gospel; those that have put the world behind them will believe and obey. The choice is entirely our own.
 Because Zion was the seat of God’s earthly throne, it also came to be called upon heaven itself, the true tabernacle and throne of God (Ps. 11:4; 15:1). As Zion became the seat of David’s earthly kingdom, so the heavenly Zion became the seat of Christ’s throne when he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Ps. 2:6-12; cf. Acts 13:33; Ps. 110:1, 2); the church is the seat of Christ’s earthly and temporal kingdom, and is thus called the new Jerusalem, the covenantal habitation of the saints (Rev. 21:2, 3; cf. Gal. 4:21-31; Heb. 12:22-28; Isa. 2:1-5). It is from the heavenly Zion that the Lord roars against his enemies on behalf of the church in Joel 3:16, 17.
 Christ would be manifest 483 years after the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, or at his baptism in the fall of A.D. 29, the fifteenth year of Tiberius (Lk. 2:1-23). The remaining week is divided between Christ’s 3 ½ year ministry and the 3 ½ year war with Rome. There is a gap following the cutting off of Messiah in A.D. 33 until his coming again in wrath at the outbreak of the war that destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 66.
 Josephus, J.W., 2.17.2 (Whiston ed.)
 Josephus, J.W., 6.9.3 (Whiston ed.)
 Josephus, J.W., 5.10.3; (Whiston ed.). Like a plague of locusts, the Roman army denuded the land of all trees and vegetation around Jerusalem building siege-works to reduce the city to subjection: And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting together their materials, raised their banks in one and twenty days, after they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs round about, as I have already related. And truly the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down: nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change: for the war had laid all the signs of beauty quite waste: nor if any one that had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again; but though he were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it notwithstanding. Josephus, J.W., 6.1.1; (Whiston ed.)
 Josephus, J.W., 5.11,1; (Whiston ed.)
 Josephus, J.W., 5.12.3, 4; (Whiston ed.)
 Josephus, J.W., 6.8.5; (Whiston ed.)
 Josephus, Ant. 14.9.2. This means Herod would have been born in 71 B.C.
 Andrew E. Steinman, When did Herod the Great Reign, 51 Novum Testamentum, 8
 Josephus, Ant. 17.6.1; 17.8.1
 F.W. Farrar, “Joel” in The Minor Prophets (New York, Anson D.F. Randolph & Company), 118, 121.
 Precedent for referring to the Romans as coming from the north is found in the book of Daniel. The eleventh chapter of the book of Daniel provides a timeline of the latter days of the Jewish nation, beginning with the Mede-Persian Empire, followed by the kingdom of the Greeks, and ending with the Roman Empire. Upon his death, Alexander the Great’s kingdom was divided between his generals, which ultimately devolved into four kingdoms or dynasties. The two most powerful of these were the Seleucid dynasty of Syria, called the king or kingdom of the north, and the Ptolemaic dynasty seated in Egypt, called the king or kingdom of the south. Most of the eleventh chapter of Daniel is devoted to the vicissitudes of these two kingdoms. However, with the passage of time the power of these two kingdoms decayed and the balance of world powers shifted, until the phrase “king of the north” and “king of south” came no longer to refer to these two dynasties, but to new world powers grown up in their place. The point where this transition occurs in Daniel’s vision is best understood as verse forty, where the prophecy skips ahead from the depredations of Antiochus IV Epiphanes to the “time of the end.” By this view, the king of the south refers to Mithidates of Pontus, and the king of the north, to the Romans, first under Pompey the Great who conquered Mithidates and brought Judea under Roman rule (vv. 40, 41), followed by Julius Caesar who conquered Egypt and settled the government of Judea upon Antipater, the father of Herod the Great (vv. 42-45).
 Josephus, J.W., 4.9.7; Whiston ed.
 Josephus, Wars, 2.13.6; Whiston ed.
 Origen, Contra Celsus 4.21–22
 The term ‘Preterism’ is derived from the Latin praeteritus, meaning that which has past; it describes a school of eschatology that views end-time prophecy as being fulfilled within the lives of the first disciples. Specifically, Preterists view the end-time language and imagery of Daniel, Revelation, and related prophecies as describing events culminating in the persecution under Nero, the series of Roman civil wars that followed Nero’s death, and the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome.
 Eusebius, Demonstratio Evangelica, 8.5.375
 Eusebius, Demonstratio Evangelica, 6.13.271; Farrar edition.
 Ben Asaph, The Moriad (Nashville, 1857), 2:170–75; p. 51
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