Sound doctrine from the word.

Joel 2 — Signs of the End?

I recently received a question about Joel chapter 2 after a discussion about signs and the end times. Many people have the unscriptural belief that natural events such as eclipses, earthquakes, and hurricanes, somehow act as signs of the end. One of the most popular passages that people might use to support the idea of signs of the end is Joel 2:30-31. And so the person I was having the discussion with asked me this question, to try to better understand why I disagree with this idea:

How do these passages tie together? Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:19-20; with 2 Peter 3.

The verses in Joel:

Joel 2:30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

Which is quoted in the verses from Acts.

So let's consider this first, and then we'll come back to 2 Peter 3 later.

How do we understand these verses? #

The first thing to do is to consider the context of a passage. In this case, Joel is quoted in Acts, so we have an interpretation from the apostle Peter of that passage. We should still look at the original context to get the full picture, but first we can learn at least one way that the prophecy is fulfilled by seeing how it is explained there in Acts.

Acts chapter 2 #

Acts 2 is the day of Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost after Christ’s ascension. They began speaking to all of the people in tongues:

Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.

Notice the response of the Jews and proselytes. They were amazed and asked what the meaning of this was.

Others dismissed it as a result of drunkenness. But Peter makes a defense unto the people, and answers their question as to what these things mean:

Acts 2:14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:
15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.
16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:
21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Peter quotes from Joel, which said:

  • God’s Spirit would be poured out on his people.
  • This would come to pass in the “last days”.
  • Other signs and wonders would also be shown.
  • These things would take place before the “great and notable day of the Lord.”
  • During that time, whosoever will call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

There are two main things to notice here. First, there are two time specifiers given, “in the last days,” and “before the great and notable day of the Lord.” So we are given two endpoints during which these thing will take place: they will happen during the last days, but before the day of the Lord.

Second, it is important to understand Peter’s focus, which is what will be taking place during that time. Of course it says that God’s Spirit will be poured out and that these signs will take place. But what else do these things mean? He ends his quote from Joel with the verse that gives an answer: during that time whosoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

So what is this pouring out of God’s Spirit a sign of? It is a sign of the times: they are in the last days, before the day of the Lord, when men may call upon God’s name and be saved.

And that is Peter’s point. They have asked what these things mean. He will tell them: they mean that they should call on the name of the Lord, because this is the time in which there is deliverance:

Acts 2:22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
24 Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
25 For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:
26 Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:
27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.
29 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.
30 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;
31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.
33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
35 Until I make thy foes thy footstool.
36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

And so Peter proves that Jesus is the Lord and Christ, upon whom they must call:

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

And so they should be baptized in his name. Because every one that shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, during that time when God’s Spirit has been poured out.

39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Everyone that shall call shall be saved.

40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

So, when Peter quoted Joel, his main points were:

  • The pouring out of God’s Spirit is a indication that they are in the "last days."
  • During those days all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

He then called upon his hearers to recognize that that Lord and Christ was Jesus, and to be baptized in his name.

Peter is not focused on the part about signs in heaven and earth. We may suppose that he quotes those verses mainly just for the reason that they come between the other verses that he needed to quote to make his point. The main “sign” (though it is not specifically called this) on which he is focused, is the pouring out of God’s Spirit on his people, which all present were witnessing the effects of.

So, to further understand those particular verses from Joel, we need to go back to the broader context of Joel itself. We do take with us a few bits of knowledge though:

  • Peter related the pouring out of God’s Spirit to what happened there at Pentecost.
  • Thus, the “last days” are the days after Christ’s ascension, but before the “day of the Lord.”

Joel chapter 2 #

Let us begin at the start of Joel 2, where the day of the LORD is described. Further down in the chapter we find that this is a parallel prophecy. It is speaking of the end times, but it is also prophetic of what will befall the house of Israel during the reign of the latter kings. This immediate prophetic aspect is more readily visible in the first chapter, which does not have any apparent connection with the end times at all.

So, with that background, here is what it says in chapter 2. Remember what we are interested in:

Joel 2:30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

So keep an eye out for these elements, as we begin:

Joel 2:1 Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand;

Remember that what it describes later, in the verses we are particularly interested in, will happen “before the great and terrible day of the LORD come.” So let’s pay close attention to what it has to say here, when it is speaking of the time when the day of the LORD is coming, and is nigh at hand, as these things will likely be related:

2 A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.

First, it speaks of it as a day of darkness, a common theme in prophecy regarding the day of the LORD. This relates to what it says in verse 30 about how “the sun shall be turned into darkness.” This is something that will apparently happen immediately prior to the day of the LORD, as it is coming.

It also speaks of a great army here, unique in the annals of history. Could this relate to the “wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke”? An army does slay people, leading to much blood.

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.

And here we also see a devouring fire related to this army. So this army will cause “blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.”

I suspect that many people, myself included, tend to associate the "pillars of smoke" with the pillar of cloud and of fire that guided the Israelites in the wilderness. However, that was one pillar, while this is multiple pillars. And that was a pillar of cloud, but this is a pillar of smoke. In Judges 20:40 it speaks of a "pillar of smoke" rising up out of a city that had been set on fire during battle. And that is the kind of pillar of smoke that it is talking about here in Joel: one that is caused by this army, along with blood and fire.

4 The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run.
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.
6 Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness.
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:
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.
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.

So this army will produce a terrible destruction on the earth. The same army is described in Revelation 13 (more on that below).

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:

Here again is that talk of darkness, and of the wonders in heaven that it speaks of in verse 31 (“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.”)

These wonders relate to this great army that will fill the earth with blood and fire and smoke at the coming of the day of the LORD.

11 And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?

And at that time the LORD also will utter his voice before his army: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?

And now that it has warned us of the terribleness of that day, it will also describe the way of escape.

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:
13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
14 Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the LORD your God?

So there is hope that in the end of that day there will actually be a blessing.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly:
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.
17 Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, 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?

This part of the passage is especially directed at the time of the kings of Judah, rather than the end. Israel had committed sins that God was going to judge them for, and they needed to repent and mourn to escape that judgment. He will bring armies against them that will slay them and burn their palaces, and also an army of pests (described in chapter 1) that will eat every green thing, as if a fire had burnt and devoured all the land.

But if they repent,

18 Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people.
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:
20 But I will remove far off from you the northern army, 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.

And God did indeed destroy the northern army of Assyria when Hezekiah the king called upon the LORD. (2 Kings 19.)

21 Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.
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.
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, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month.
24 And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil.
25 And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.

So for that time of the kings, the great army of the LORD that it spoke of was the army of caterpillars. But in the end it will be the saints of the LORD.

And God will give them a blessing when they repent; their land that was destroyed by pestilence will again spring and bring forth.

26 And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.
27 And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.

So there will still be hope for deliverance.

But this is not yet the day of the LORD. This is only a taste of what it will be like, a shadow of things to come. The day of darkness is still future.

And so it says:

28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

So after the kings of Israel were delivered from their enemy by repenting before God, God would pour out his Spirit.

And indeed, this happened on the day of Pentecost, as Peter said.

30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

Also, there will be these great wonders, as happened before to his people, but not only as a shadow, but now in truth. The blood and fire and pillars of smoke from the army sent to destroy the earth, and the sun and moon darkened before the coming of the army of the LORD, and his great and terrible day.

32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

But there is a way of deliverance, just as his people were spared from the destruction before. Those who call upon the name of the LORD will not be destroyed by the army of the LORD. The great and terrible day of the LORD will still come, but in mount Zion will be deliverance, just as there was for Hezekiah. (2 Kings 18 & 19.)

So, here is what we learned about these verses:

  • There will be wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke, that will be caused by a great army that God will raise up. This will take place during the tribulation, just before the time of the end. See Revelation 9:13-21. This is the second woe, which is then quickly followed by the third and final woe: the return of Christ. Revelation 11:13.
  • The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. This will happen immediately prior to Christ’s return as well, as witnessed by many passages, because the day of the LORD is a “day of darkness.”

It is important to understand that the “day of the LORD” is a reference to the time when Christ will come to earth with an army and set up his earthly kingdom. It is a reference to the millennium. It comes after the tribulation, when these signs will occur. It is not speaking of the rapture, but the second coming of Christ.

2 Peter chapter 3 #

Now, for 2 Peter 3, which likewise speaks of the day of the LORD.

2 Peter 3:1 This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:
2 That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

In the end there will be those that think Christ is not coming, because all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation. In other words, they will doubt his promise, because they haven’t seen any signs of his return.

5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

They forget that God is able to destroy the earth with his word, as he did when it was found covered in water in Genesis 1:2. (See The Biblical Gap for more information.) But there is a certain day that he has appointed, when he will give the word. And until then, by that same word which once destroyed the earth, the earth is preserved, continuing without divine intervention, until the day of judgement of ungodly men.

8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

(Note that the day of the LORD, being as a thousand years, actually encompasses the entire millennial [1000 year] reign of Christ.)

9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

It will be a sudden event when the day of the Lord comes. There will not have been a sign to prepare them for it, it will come as a thief in the night. As we said before, after the second woe, the third woe cometh quickly.

11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?

So the heaven and earth will be burnt up. However, note that although this happens during the “day of the LORD”, it does not happen at the return of Christ. It actually takes place after the 1000 years.

13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

See Revelation 20 and 21. The old earth is destroyed and the new earth is created after the end of the 1000 years, but still during the “day of the LORD”, for 1000 years is as one day.

Conclusion #

Thus, Joel speaks of the end of the tribulation and the beginning of the millennium, while 2 Peter speaks of the end of the millennium and the creation of the new earth. These things mark the book-ends of the “day of the LORD.”

Leading up to the beginning of that day, however, all things will seem to continue as they did from the beginning of creation. It is only at the time of the second woe that the great signs and wonders spoken of in Joel will take place, and men will realize too late that Christ is about to return. The third woe will come quickly, and there will be no time for the wicked to repent. But those that call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.

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