“Devastation, Revival and Judgment”
The prophecy of Joel opens with a picture of utter desolation caused by an invading army of locusts. These “locusts” describe an invading army of momentous proportions that sweeps the globe right at the end of this present age, an army never seen before and never to be equaled again. This end-time army has devastated every level of society including the political, the social and the religious world. Joel says, “Has anything like this ever happened in your days or the days of your forefathers?” In its context the prophet Joel was prophesying about the future invasion of Judah by the Babylonians in 586BC. Historically there were actually four invasions hence we see 4 types of locusts mentioned. Of course the fourth time Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple itself. Yet when you look at the prophecy of Joel it not only applies to his time frame but also applies to the last days especially where Israel is concerned.
Prophecy is ‘pattern’
Remember Prophecy from the Jewish mindset is a “pattern” in that what has happened in the past teaches us about what is going to happen again in the future. Sometimes there will be multiple fulfilments similar in pattern that all teach about an ultimate fulfilment. It is interesting that in 586 BC Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians on the 9th August by the Jewish calendar and it was on the same day on the 9th August in 70AD that Jerusalem and the Temple fell to the Romans and in very similar military circumstances. However when you look carefully at the prophecy of Joel it is not only speaking about the Invasion of Israel by the Babylonians but more to the point it is speaking about an invasion by demonic forces that would be unleashed on Israel, on the Church and on this world in the Great Tribulation just before Jesus comes back.
The Day of the LORD
Zephaniah the prophet also spoke about this time of devastation that will affect the whole world just before Jesus comes back. This will be the Day of the Lord when God Himself starts to wind things up at the end of this present age. “The great day of the Lord is near-near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warriors there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath. In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.” (Zephaniah 1:14-18) The Prophet Daniel also described this time when he prophesied. “There will be a time of distress such has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.” The Lord Jesus Himself also said concerning this time, “For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now-and never to be equalled again.”
The two trees
Now there are two “trees” described at the forefront of this end time period. They are the fig tree and the vine. The fig tree represents Israel and the vine represents the Church. Both of these “trees” have been systematically stripped of their bark. As this prophecy opens we see that Israel and the Church have been “spiritually barked.” Now trees get their nourishment through the bark but if the bark has been stripped then the tree withers and languishes because it cannot get the nourishment it needs to survive. The spiritual devastation of these two trees Israel and the Church affects all of the other trees or nations of the world. Joel clearly tells us that an invading army of insects has caused this devastation. There is nothing more devastating to a rural community than a plague of locusts.
These insects look like a great cloud rolling across the ground and descend upon the land sweeping away everything in their path. Every tree, every plant, every blade of grass, every living leaf and all of the bark on the trees are totally devoured by them until there is no vegetation remaining at all. Beautiful trees once laden with fruit and luscious greenery are now white trunks, totally stripped, totally ravaged. Even humans would not want to get in their path as they sweep through the countryside. This army of insects spares nothing! This is what the Babylonians were like. When they invaded Judah in 586 BC they cut down every tree, pulled down every wall and every house in the land. Nothing was left standing! This army Joel describes would also arise in the earth right at the end of this age, “A large and mighty army such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come.”
200 million strong
Historically there have been armies greater even than the Ancient army of Babylon so it has to describe an army that has never been equalled in the history of the world. This great end-time army will be like the locusts that devour everything standing in their way. When this army rises in the earth millions will die at their hands. This army will be 200 million strong. This army will come from the region of Ancient Babylon. The Apostle John tells us this in the book of Revelation because he mentions the Euphrates River. “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number.” (Revelation 9:14b-16) Ancient Babylon was built on the River Euphrates and this is the literal Euphrates River itself and a literal army that John describes.
Babylon will arise again. In fact Babylon is already rising and there is a Northern army that is forming even now to devastate the inhabitants of the earth! We also read about this army in Revelation chapter nine that, “A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths.” The whole of Revelation chapter nine it would seem describes nuclear exchanges or at least weapons of mass destruction coming through Helicopter gun-ships and missiles circumnavigating the globe! Indeed there will be, “blood and fire and vapors of smoke before that great and terrible day of the Lord comes!” (Joel 2:30). This army will not only be a literal army wreaking havoc on a godless and rebellious world but also speaks of a demonic army that will bring about spiritual deception in Israel and in the Church in the last days.
The locusts are coming!
In the Bible insects or locusts are always associated with demonic forces. We see this clearly in the book of Revelation. “When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke of a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss and out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.” (Revelation 9:2-3) These “insects” Joel describes are the demonic forces that are wreaking havoc upon these two trees. For Jerusalem, Judah and for the nation of Israel it would be the Babylonian Invasion of 586 BC and a harbinger of the invasion by the forces of the Antichrist at the end of this age. Concerning Israel today it will be the status of Jerusalem that will ultimately trigger and ignite a war unprecedented in the history of the world. The armies of the nations will gather together at the place called Armageddon and from there they will move towards Jerusalem. For the Church the same demonic forces unleashed on Israel would also unleash the persecution of faithful Christians. Furthermore it would unleash a multitude of false teachers and prophets and spiritual deception on a global scale.
Concerning the Church today it is Ecumenism, Interfaith, New Age, Faith prosperity, purpose driven, Alpha, Kingdom Now and who knows what else is to come. The religions of the world uniting is one thing and the unbiblical teachings of Roman Catholicism is another but when you see prominent evangelical leaders such as the late John Stott considering “annihilation” as an alternate to hell and on a Larry King live interview on television Billy Graham it seemed at that time intimating that people of other religions can be saved without faith in Christ, you have real spiritual deception. Even now other heretical teaching is spreading like gangrene through the Body of Christ. When you consider the teaching of men like the late Robert Schueller or see the so-called coalition of prophets headed up by Peter Wagner commissioning a backslidden Todd Bentley you have spiritual deception.
When you see Joel Osteen a so called pastor of prosperity heading up of one of the biggest Mega Churches in the world saying in an interview that the Mormons worship the same Jesus as Christians you clearly see spiritual deception at work. In fact the Mormons actually believe that Jesus is the half-brother of Satan! When you see false prophets like Benny Hinn, Rick Joyner Kim Clement and Jerald Coates and many others making false predictions in the Lord’s name that never happen you have the same scenario that existed in Israel in the last days before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians.
Nothing new under the sun!
Jeremiah was a true prophet but he was in the minority while all of the other numerous false prophets of his day were filling the heads of God’s people with false dreams, false visions and with the delusions of their own imaginations. Jeremiah refused to join “the circle of the merrymakers’ and chose to sit alone with the burden of God’s Word resting heavily upon his shoulders. Then you have Elijah and the seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal while the 850 prophets of the witch Jezebel led the nation of Israel into spiritual deception and idolatry. Today it is the same. The Devil is re-packaging the same spiritual garbage he has always done. As Solomon said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) We have the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Hindus and the Buddhists and especially Islam. These are part of the demonic forces Joel describes but the emphasis of the prophecy itself is the invasion of spiritual deception taking place within the Church today. There have always been false teachers and prophets around but in these last days they are multiplying and breeding like insects upon the “putrefying flesh” of an apostate Church. The prophecy of Joel can be seen in three broad stages. Let’s look at them now beginning with the first stage.
Stage1. “The Time of Devastation” (Chapter 1)
The first stage is the time of Devastation when spiritual darkness pervades every level of society and the demonic forces of the Antichrist ravage the earth, invade Israel, unleash spiritual deception in the Church and persecute faithful Christians (Daniel 7:21-22) (Revelation 13:7). God always warns the faithful and the unfaithful about judgment before He sends it. This was the case with Noah and Lot and with the nation of Israel throughout its long history. Today He is warning the Church but the majorities within its ranks are not listening. An army of “locusts” is arising in the earth again. “Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor will ever be in ages to come.” (Joel 2:2) This army is a supernaturally inspired army and God calls it His army but it is not a triumphant Church taking possession over the nations, as the Kingdom Now people would have us believe, but an evil army that God has sent to bring judgment on an apostate Church, a backslidden Israel and upon a Christ hating, Christ rejecting world.
As mentioned before in its context this prophecy describes the Babylonian invasion of Judah and Jerusalem that occurred in 586BC but in the broader application prophetically speaking it describes the global armies of the Antichrist at the end of the age. You can read about how devastating this army will be in Revelation chapter nine. This is an army inspired and led by Satan himself; “They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon (destroyer). (Revelation 9:11) However, in the end, God destroys this army and drives it far from Israel; “pushing it into a parched and barren land, with its front columns going into the Eastern Sea (the Dead Sea) and those in the rear into the Western Sea (The Mediterranean Sea) and its stench will go up, its smell will rise” (Joel 2:20) This cannot be the Church Triumphant as the Kingdom Now teachers are telling us today because this is an army that God judges. Only after the Great Tribulation does God restore Israel and the Church to receive their inheritance. Look at what Daniel wrote. “As I watched, this horn (the Antichrist) was waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favour of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.” (Daniel 7:21-22). Then there is stage two…
Stage 2. “The Time of Restoration” (Chapter 2)
The Second stage is the time of Restoration when God’s people are to turn their hearts towards the Lord and thoroughly repent so that God can send a revival consequently driving these demonic forces away from His people. In the end we see the Lord restoring His people both Israel and the Church and the “trees” of all the nations producing spiritual fruit. The fig tree (Israel) and the vine (The Church) once more yield their spiritual riches to the nations culminating in the salvation of the lost around the world. God Himself tells us that there would be a time of repentance and restoration just before Jesus comes back.
The former and the latter rain
Agriculturally speaking in Israel there is the former and the latter rain. At the beginning of winter there is an outpouring of rain that covers the whole land. Following this initial outpouring of rain there are spasmodic showers that occur until the end of the winter when there is an outpouring of rain again that covers the whole land. Following this comes the harvesting of the crop. The Bible clearly teaches that here would be “the former and latter rains of the Spirit.” The “falling rain” has to do with the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon His people. On the day of Pentecost the former rain of the Spirit was poured out upon Israel resulting in the Gospel going into the known world of their day. Peter said that this was a partial fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. Peter actually said, “This is like that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel,” Of course on the Day of Pentecost there was no blood and fire and vapors of smoke, neither was the sun darkened and the moon turned to blood.
A partial fulfilment
Peter recognized that the Day of Pentecost was a partial fulfilment of an event to be fully and ultimately fulfilled at the end of this age. Joel described what would happen on the Day of Pentecost but also described a future event like Pentecost that will be totally fulfilled in the last days just before Jesus comes back. Once more the Spirit of God will be poured out upon all flesh, especially upon the nation of Israel. The consequences of this last great outpouring of God’s Spirit will see the salvation of the lost around the world. This will be the latter rain of the Spirit. This is described in chapter two verses twenty two to thirty two. Then there is stage three…
Stage 3. “The Time of Judgment” (Chapter 3)
The third stage is the time of God pours out His final wrath upon the nations. At that time all of the armies of every nation on earth will be attacking the city of Jerusalem. This happens just before Jesus comes back to judge the nations and to inaugurate His Millennial reign on the earth. When you see what is happening in the Middle East today concerning the city of Jerusalem and read the Bible you can see where it will all end. The last Great War to end all wars will be fought over the city of Jerusalem. This war will be against God Himself and only the intervention of Jesus the Messiah coming to earth again will prevent the world from total annihilation (Matthew 24:21-22).
God warns before He judges
The Lord orchestrated the Assyrian Invasion of Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722BC. Likewise, the Lord orchestrated the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem and Judah in 586BC. He also orchestrated the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD. In every case He did this only after he had warned them for years through the prophets he sent among them but in the end they would not listen. This third stage described in chapter three is the same time frame described in Isaiah, Zechariah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the Minor Prophets and especially by Jesus in Matthew twenty-four and by John in Revelation chapter six.
Chastisement then restoration
During this time there will be wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood, fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be darkened and the moon turned to blood. It will be the time of Jacob’s Trouble as it will primarily be a time for the chastisement and restoration of Israel. During this time multitudes will be saved and multitudes will be lost. It will be a time unlike any other time in the history of the world. After Jesus destroys the armies of the Antichrist on the mountains of Israel He will inaugurate His Millennial reign. This is the theme of Joel chapter three. In the end Israel and the Church will receive their allotted inheritance from the Lord. Daniel puts it this way “But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever-yes for ever and ever…As I watched this horn (the Antichrist) was waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favour of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.” (Daniel 7:18, 21-22) The Lord has a spiritual inheritance for His people and in these last days He will fulfil His promises to Israel and to the Church. Both Israel and the Church will come into their spiritual inheritance at the close of this age when the Lord Jesus comes back to rule and to reign over the nations of the world. In that day, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” “The Lord dwells in Zion!”