Australians witnessing terrible bush-fires know how billowing smoke can darken the sun and make the moon look blood-red. I recall reports of people who witnessed the terrible Hobart fires in 1967 commenting on it and saying they thought it was the end of the world. And it’s not just fearful bush-fires that do that. The sun and moon were also darkened through such calamities as the terrible twin-towers tragedy, the Bali bombing, various other terrorist bombings and wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.), not to mention the smoke from bombed cities during two world wars in which countless millions of people died. The fires and billowing smoke of many of these catastrophes darkened the sun and gave the moon a blood-red appearance, reminding believers of the signs alluded to by the prophet Joel who said, “The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31). They also remind us of the coming Day of the LORD of which he spoke.
Joel wasn’t, in the first place, speaking about a blood-red moon and darkened sun caused by smoke but by locusts. He was on the scene about eight centuries before Christ’s incarnation. Judah had continually strayed from the LORD, ignoring the warnings of the prophets. So he prophesied the coming of a plague of locusts. And it came like an army, with deafening noise, swarming over the land, devouring everything edible. They stripped the country bare of every crop, every blade of grass, every leaf, every bit of greenery. Even the bark of the trees was consumed leaving dying trees and a ruined land. Judah was a mess. Stock died for lack of food and the people were in despair.
Joel was sent to speak to the people of God. He told them to turn to the LORD with all their heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. He called on them to appeal to God’s honour, to say to God ‘Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?’” Such sincere repentance and appeal to God’s covenant would lead the LORD to bless them and the land would again be fruitful. Indeed, prophesied Joel, the LORD would even do far more wondrous things. The renewal would extend not only to the land but also to the hearts of the people, and not only to Judah but to all nations. He would pour out His Spirit on people throughout the world so that they would prophesy.
Yet it is in connection with this wonderful outpouring of the Spirit that we read that, “The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.” Joel saw the catastrophic plague of locusts, not as an incidental event but as part of the ongoing calamities leading to the day of the LORD. For the Son of God presses all history on to the Day of His return. All the events of this earth contribute to, and find their culmination in, that great day.
Remarkable, is it not, that Joel speaks of the outpouring of the Spirit in relation to calamities culminating in the Day of the LORD. The period after Pentecost is referred to as the ‘last days’. It is the period of crisis when Satan, realising he has but little time, works all the harder to lure people away from the LORD.
Now that the Pentecostal Spirit is poured out on all flesh, the battle is hotter, the enmity fiercer, and the urgency greater for all of Judah’s spiritual ‘sons and daughters’ to be bold in confessing Christ. That doesn’t mean, as so-called ‘Pentecostal’ groups imply, that the Spirit somehow illuminates us with sudden insight from above. Prophecy is to speak what God has revealed in His Word. When the LORD said to Moses, “Aaron your brother shall be your prophet” (Ex. 7:1), Moses understood that Aaron would say what Moses told him to say. Likewise, God’s prophets speak God’s Word.
Having received the Pentecostal Spirit, the urgency of the approaching Day compels us all, as prophets (LD 12), to study the Word, to stand in awe of Christ’s redemptive work in the history of salvation, to apply it in relation to the issues that confront us in our personal lives, families, church, and society and to confess it frankly and openly. For we know that the Word cuts two ways: to heaven or to hell, to salvation or condemnation. Directed by that Word, Christians will continue to see the godlessness, immorality and calamities as signs of the coming Day of the Lord and will use every opportunity to confess Christ and His Word at home, in church and society.
For Joel also adds that, “whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for in Mount Zion and Jerusalem there shall be deliverance”. Yes, wonderful salvation for all who believe. And that salvation is linked to Mount Zion and Jerusalem. In the Old Testament it was the dwelling place of the LORD, the place of God’s judgements, sacrifices and ceremonies all pointing to the coming Saviour. In the New Testament it’s called the Church, the Bride of Christ. Here the keys of the Kingdom are administered; here it pleases the LORD to grant salvation ‘through the foolishness of preaching’. Outside of it, we confess (also on the basis of Joel 2:32), there is no salvation. That’s why our ‘prophesying’ is always directed at encouraging one another to heed the voice of the LORD, to encourage those straying and lost to return to Christ’s sheepfold to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and to partake of the signs of salvation in the sacraments.
The smoke from burning oil wells, bombed buildings and out-of-control bush-fires, which in various places and from time to time darken the sky, may have dissipated, but the times in which we live continue to unsettle people. Each calamity is a reminder to turn from sin and unbelief to the God who controls the course of history. To Christ’s Church, characterised as it must be by faithful prophecy, has been entrusted the keys of the Kingdom and the sacramental signs that direct us to the only comfort in life and death. Happy are the people who see in the calamities the footsteps of the LORD (Rev. 9:20,21), and who therefore fear not the Day of the LORD, knowing that Christ’s blood sanctifies them, knowing also that the Great Day ushers in the glorious paradise of God wherein Christ will be all in all.
He comes, He comes to Judge the peoples
In righteousness and equity;
He will redeem the world from evil
And righteous shall His judgement be!