“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
… I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapour of smoke” (Acts 2: 16, 19).
On the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the prophet Joel who had spoken centuries earlier. Joel spoke of blessings, namely, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out. The church’s youth would prophesy, young men would see visions and old men dream dreams. But he also spoke of judgement: signs of blood and fire and smoke, of the sun being turned into darkness and the moon into blood. Why would Peter quote Joel?
Peter quotes Joel because there’s a unity in prophecy and there’s also a unity in history. For everything is heading for the day of Christ’s return and the day of judgement. Hence the day of Joel and the day of Pentecost are one. And both speak of prophecy and judgement.
(What follows is largely based on and translated from a part of a sermon by Klaas Schilder.[i])
What was it about Joel that made him prophesy of the day of the Lord, the dark day of heavenly upheaval, of earthquake, of blood and fire and smoke? When Joel prophesied, a great swarm of locusts had flooded the countryside and brought much misery. Everything had been eaten up in the countryside and the locusts left in their wake starving people and animals. And then that terrible, monstrous army of locusts came towards the city Jerusalem. The destroyers had not yet penetrated the city, but danger nevertheless threatened.
And then Joel came to the fore. He stood between the advancing locust army and the temple of his God, and with a trembling voice he called upon the people and their priests to humble themselves before the LORD. He called them to a day of penance and supplication, for he saw in that the terrible plague God’s judgment: Don’t you see, folks, that God Himself is leading the destroying army of locusts?
“The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble; the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness” (Joel 2:10). And the Lord makes His thunderous voice heard before His army, for mighty is He who executes His word. For great is the day of the Lord, and very fearful, and who shall endure it?
But that terrible plague of locusts wasn’t an isolated event, because all God’s judgements are one judgement. There is unity in history, for God’s plan is in it; and therefore all things advance to the one end, which is drawing near in all things. Whether locusts or bulls come from Bashan, whether barren fields or smoking mountains, whether a temple mount shakes or the earth trembles, whether the clouds above your heads are darkened or the sun is darkened or the moon is blood, it is all God’s wrath, and it is all His day, His day of judgement. It has come in essence and it is coming further. The ages are His hours, and the storms of the world are the changing of the degree of the sundial of God’s vengeance day, and it is all one; it is one move toward evening, it is one grand progression of the great day of the Lord, which has come and which is coming!
Joel sees it. And his spirit sees beyond the locust swarm the fiery appearance of the great world judgement, so he calls upon the people to repent. If they repent, that great day will be a blessing for His people. God will give them the Teacher of righteousness and pour out on them the Spirit of grace and of prayer and of prophecy and make it enter into their lives. By that Spirit, the harvest that God wants to prepare will ripen; by that Spirit, the stricken congregation, while prophesying, will lift up its head again and look forward to its God who presses all history toward the consummation of all things. Then with a great noise the heavens will be rent and the earth below shall quake; blood shall flow in warfare; and fire and brimstone, which shall raise columns of smoke in black clouds against the sky, shall do the rest. For that day of the Lord shall complete the kingdom of God, and shall usher in the Messianic era of peace; but there shall be no escape from the woe; for without woe there is no glory.
Yes, that is what the prophet Joel said.
But before this visionary bowed his head in death, the locusts had disappeared, and God’s army had departed, and the land was flourishing again, and the city was reviving, and the temple had again seen its sacrifices.
Yet Joel was not mistaken. The day of the Lord had indeed been revealed to him. To Joel, however, the picture of the future was shown only in rough outlines. Only the child of a later age will see in more detail how the day of the Lord will develop from hour to hour, from year to year, from century to century.
But that child of the later century is standing and speaking today. It is Simon Peter. The same temple to which Joel referred will throw Peter out and say: Joel and you do not belong together. But to Peter’s understanding, Joel’s word has been fulfilled for him today. The Messiah has come; the Messianic age has therefore broken out; and the first hour of the great Day of the Lord has already been experienced. What Joel saw coming on that day is already partly visible today: the Holy Spirit has come down; prophecy is pouring out in all directions; God’s fire has been cast upon the earth. And therefore that other day, that judgment, cannot fail to come. Therefore, that day of the Spirit’s outpouring will continue until the most terrible hour of the world’s upheaval. And as the eleventh hour of every day is tied to the first, so the dispensation of the Holy Spirit is inseparably connected to the final period of the world’s destruction.
Scoffers may laugh. In Joel’s day people shook their head at him: who sees behind a locust swarm thousands of God’s chariots? And likewise people will scoff at Peter, for who can see the world war and the great dissolution coming from behind a bunch of followers of the mysterious sect of the Nazarenes?
But Peter believes. He knows and prophesies: from this day on the world is on fire. Now that the Spirit is breaking through, the beginning of the end has come. The Holy Spirit will fill the world with the knowledge of Christ, who for many will become the great stumbling block. In the end, it will be a matter of being either for or against Him. And when a father rises up against his son for Christ’s sake, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and the husband against his wife, then God will finally say: now it is enough; and heaven will cause the earth to perish with all its glory, when the judgment has carried out the one great wrath in the unity of history.
And those who will not hear this message of Pentecost, to them Peter’s strong voice speaks a word of curse, according to the law, by which Pentecost is incorporated into the unity of world judgment. For Peter’s prophecy is God’s own prophecy. Is it not miracles and signs which the Spirit will work until His day is past?
No, we have not yet seen the miracles in heaven. But blood, fire and smoke – these are familiar words. Blood – the blood of the Christians, the world is crying out for it here and there! Fire – the fire of the burned churches! Smoke – from the huts of the poor who have been driven out for the faith of Jesus! Oh yes, these three will also be the wonders of the Beast and the signs of the Antichrist.
But at the same time they will be the wonders of the Spirit and signs of the Christ of God.
So rejoice with trembling. It seems that one day the Pentecost church will perish in blood, fire and smoke. But in reality, instead of Pentecost destruction, there will be the great fruit of Pentecost.
To God a thousand years are as one day. The locusts of Joel – for us they are centuries ago and yet, for God it is as if they came against the temple in Jerusalem today. The tongues of fire and the blowing of the spirit of Pentecost in Jerusalem – all these things are centuries ago, and yet to God these tongues of fire hang, as it were, over the same heads that once bowed under Joel’s sermon of repentance; it is as if they were sent by Him today. And when in the end the Antichrist fills the world with blood, fire and smoke, then God will see Joel and Peter and all the witnesses of all the ages together in the great battle of that one day, against all the enemies of all the ages of God’s great history-long day.
That is the greatness of the unity of history.
Today’s mockers are thousands of years removed from the enemies of the Temple in Joel’s days, and from the mockers at Pentecost, yet in essence they’re one before God. For there is unity in all unbelief. But there is also unity in all faith, in all love. And so: let God’s Spirit bring you together with Joel and with Peter and the cloud of witnesses to the one confession of the great judgement day of the Lord. That must also be Pentecost. He will teach you that the great question is not whether locusts or human revolution will unleash judgement, for all judgement is one. And the division will continue between those who are righteous and those who do wrong, between those who are holy and those who want to be dirty. That will be the judgement.
Thus Joel and Peter teach us on this day of the Lord, this day of the Spirit, that Pentecost is also world judgement. It is true that they both see things differently. Joel sees the day of vengeance as unity in all its diversity. Peter sees more diversity in unity. Yet they are both one in the Spirit of prophecy and one in its day. And therefore,
Praise God and shout his glory forth,
O kings and kingdoms of the earth!
In joyful song adore him.
Praise him who rides the ancient sky,
who thunders forth his battle cry;
let all bow down before him.
Proclaim his power and spread his fame,
for great in Israel is his name;
his might is in the heavens.
O awesome God, you from your throne
with power and glory bless your own.
To you all praise be given! (Ps. 68:12 Book of Praise)
[i] K Schilder, “Pinksterfeest en wereldgericht”, in Om Woord en Kerk 1, Oosterbaan en Le Cointre, Goes, 1948, p. 66ff.