The Love of Christ Made Visible

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:31-46 ESV

Matthew’s entire gospel has been centered around the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ right to rule as the heir of David. And Matthew has recorded the efforts of Jesus to correct His disciples’ errant views of that Kingdom. They fully expected that when the Messiah appeared, He would set up His kingdom in Jerusalem and restore Israel to its former place of power and prominence. But Jesus, as the fulfillment of all the prophetic promises concerning the Messiah, had been out to change their perceptions regarding the Kingdom.

First of all, rather than sitting on a throne in David’s former palace, Jesus would hang on a cross, wearing a crown made of thorns, not of gold. His first coming required His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind. He had come to redeem, not reign. He had come to conquer sin and death, not Israel’s earthly enemies. He had come to restore men to a right relationship with God, not return Israel to its pre-exilic condition.

As His two parables inferred, Jesus was going to go away. He would die, be raised back to life, and then return to His Father’s side. But He would return one day. First, He would come for His bride, the church.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV

This event will usher in the period known as the Great Tribulation. With the removal of the church at the Rapture, the Holy Spirit, who indwells each and every believer, will be removed. The apostle Paul refers to this reality in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed… – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 ESV

Jesus made it clear that only one thing kept the “man of lawlessness” from showing up: The Holy Spirit who indwells His church. When the church is removed at the Rapture, the restraining influence of God’s Spirit, in the form of God’s people, will allow the Antichrist to rise to power. The period of the Great Tribulation, which will follow the Rapture of the church, will be a time of unprecedented suffering, marked by unrestrained sin and unsurpassed rebellion against God. Jesus described this seven-year period in stark terms:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

And at the end of the seven years of tribulation, when Jesus returns to earth the second time, He will come as a conquering king. John describes His arrival in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

And this time, the Messiah will judge all those who live on the earth at that time. The book of Revelation makes it clear that many will come to faith during the period of tribulation. In spite of the absence of the church, God will continue to show grace and mercy to the world, bringing both Jews and Gentiles to faith. His Holy Spirit will once again move among the people of the earth, convicting of sin and leading many to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But a great number of those tribulation saints will suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Antichrist. All of them will face persecution and endure the plagues, famines, wars, and cosmic upheavals that God will bring on the earth during those days.

But when Jesus finally conquers those in rebellion against Him, including Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet, He will judge all those on the earth. And that is what this passage is all about. Jesus told His disciples, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31 ESV).

Notice the conditional nature of this statement. Jesus stated that His reign would begin with His second coming. It will be then that He sits on His glorious throne, not now. And one of His first acts as King will be to judge the nations.

He will gather all the nations, including all Jews and Gentiles, and separate the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. And “he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:33 ESV). Then, Jesus will reveal how He made the determination between these two groups of individuals. He will make known the criteria for His judgment. To the group on His right, the sheep, He will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34 ESV). And He will tell them why they are going to inherit the kingdom. The word “for” could be translated “because,” and Jesus will explain that their judgment is based on their expressions of love for Him. He was hungry, and they fed Him. He was thirsty, and they provided Him with water. They had welcomed as a stranger. They had provided Him with clothes and visited Him while He was in prison.

But these people will wonder how they accomplished any of these things since Jesus was not even among them during the days of the tribulation. And Jesus will explain that their treatment of others was an expression of their love for Him.

It is important to point out that Jesus was not teaching a form of salvation by works. I other words, their acts of love to their fellow man will not be the cause of their salvation. But those tangible expressions of love will serve as proof of their salvation. It is exactly what James discussed in his letter.

“How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 218 NLT

During the incredibly difficult days of the tribulation, these people will show incredible faith by loving the unlovely, meeting the needs of the helpless and hopeless, protecting the innocent, and caring for “the least of these.” All at great risk to their lives. Their love for Christ will show up in their love for others. And Jesus makes it clear that their selfless, sacrificial actions are an expression of their faith and love for Him.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40 ESV

But what about the rest? How does Jesus address all those whom He has gathered on His left? He flatly states: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41 ESV). Then He tells them why.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” – Matthew 25:42-43 ESV

They showed love to no one. They sacrificed nothing on behalf of others. They ignored the needs of all those around them. And in doing so, they revealed their lack of love for Christ. Their actions will give proof of their sinful state. Their failure to love will be evidence of their lack of faith in Christ. And Jesus makes the fate of both groups perfectly clear

“…these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46 ESV

As James wrote, “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26 ESV). That truth applies today, and it will apply during the tribulation as well. Faith in Christ brings life change. It is tangible and transferable. Love for Christ manifests itself in love for others. His selfless sacrifice for us should instill in us a desire to sacrifice our own lives for the sake of others. And those who live lives of selfless, sacrificial love for others give the greatest evidence of true saving faith.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Left in the Dark

” 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:1-12 ESV

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Jesus has been trying to get His disciples to have a long-term perspective when considering the Kingdom of Heaven. While He was the Messiah, the one whom the people of Israel had long expected, He was not going to be establishing His Kingdom at that moment. Jesus has already told them that He was going to have to go to Jerusalem, be betrayed, falsely accused, tried, beaten, and eventually crucified. But He would also rise again.

As part of this, His first coming to earth, His primary mission was to serve as the sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind. But there was a day coming when He would return to earth a second time. But there was much that would have to take place before that return. And the date of His second appearance was a mystery. He told the disciples, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36 ESV).

And He had warned them, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV). The point Jesus seemed to be making had to do with preparedness. He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager expectation, anticipating that His return could happen at any moment. And this led Jesus to tell a few parables to drive home His point.

The first had to do with a wedding. It involved ten virgins who were anticipating the arrival of the bridegroom. The question that must be asked is, “Who are these ten virgins and what do they represent?” Based on the immediate context, it seems clear that Jesus has been addressing His second coming, which will take place at the end of the seven-year period called the Great Tribulation.

Since the church is to be raptured before the tribulation begins, these ten virgins cannot represent the church. It makes much more sense to see them as Jews who will be alive during the period of the tribulation. And, as the text will reveal, the ten virgins break down into two groups. Five of them are prepared, while five are not. This would seem to indicate that the first five represent Jews who will come to faith during the days of the tribulation, which the book of Revelation tells us will take place.

John was given a vision in which “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” He describes them as “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9 ESV). Then John was told their identity. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14 ESV).

There will be many who come to faith during the period of the tribulation, including Jews as well as people from every tribe, nation, and tongue. But the second group of five virgins represents all those Jews who will remain unrepentant and unbelieving during the tribulation, all the way up to the point of Jesus’ return.

In the story, all ten virgins share a common expectation of the bridegroom’s arrival. They are eagerly anticipating his coming. This is why the ten virgins appear to indicate Jews because they alone would have anticipated the arrival of the Messiah. During the days of the tribulation, Jews living at that time will long for the arrival of the Messiah. For believing Jews, they will understand it to be His second coming. For unbelieving Jews, they will view it as His first. But all will share a common desire for His arrival.

But again, the issue is one of preparedness. There is a delay. In the story, the bridegroom has not shown up as expected. But, as part of the welcoming party, they were to have been ready, because, as Jesus had said, the groom was “coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Sadly, the story reveals that half the group was foolish, failing to take oil for their lamps. They were unprepared. They thought they would have plenty of time. But when news of the groom’s arrival was made known, they had lamps, but no oil. They begged the first group to share their oil with them, but were refused and told, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves” (Matthew 25:9 ESV).

They were on their own. It’s likely that the reference to oil in the story was meant to be a symbol for the Holy Spirit. The believing Jews had the Spirit of God within them. The unbelieving Jews did not.

And when the groom arrived, the wedding feast began. But by the time the second group of foolish, unprepared virgins showed up, it was too late. The door was shut. They were left on the outside. And the wedding feast would seem to represent that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, revealed in chapter 19 of Revelation.

Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. – Revelation 19:7-8 ESV

One of the things that will happen at the end of the tribulation will be that Christ, the bridegroom, will hold a feast for His bride, the church. And John was told, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9 ESV). Those who come to faith during the tribulation will be participants in this great celebration. But those who fail to accept Jesus will be left on the outside, looking in. And as Jesus indicated, their destination will be “that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51 ESV).

One of the saddest statements in the Scriptures is found in this parable. It is the words of the bridegroom, spoken to those virgins who showed up late and without oil for their lamps. He told them, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12 ESV). They had been invited. They even had lamps. But they were without oil. They did not have what was necessary to respond when news of the groom’s arrival was announced. They were left in the dark.

The apostle Paul would later tell the Ephesian believers: “In him [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV). Those who lack the Holy Spirit will find themselves outside the feast. And, as Paul makes clear, the receipt of the Spirit is based on belief in the Son.

Again, the point of the parable is preparedness. How are the Jews living during the tribulation to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah? By placing their faith in Him as their Savior. He alone will be able to save them from the persecution of the Antichrist and the judgments of God. He alone will preserve and protect them. Carrying a lamp with no oil is similar to placing your faith in your church attendance or good behavior. It is not enough. Your good works cannot save you. Your membership in a local church does not guarantee you a place in the Kingdom of God. Without the oil of God’s Spirit, you will find yourself on the outside looking in, and hearing those sad and sobering words from Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

It’s impossible to read this parable and not reflect on the words of Jesus spoken years earlier in His sermon on the mount.

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’” – Matthew 7:22-23 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Remain Diligent and Vigilant

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 24:32-51 ESV

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Jesus is attempting to open the eyes of His disciples and help them develop a long-term perspective regarding His Kingdom. They were focused on the here-and-now, and having trouble understanding that the talk of His coming death in Jerusalem was anything but bad news or something to be avoided at all costs. This entire chapter contains the surprising and difficult-to-comprehend words of Jesus as He reveals the bigger picture regarding God’s plan of redemption. Jesus’ death on the cross would be just the beginning of the much larger, comprehensive plan of God. It would also include His resurrection as well as His return to His Father’s side. But, even more importantly, it would require His eventual return to earth as the conquering King.

And while Jesus knew that there would be a long delay before His return would take place, He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager anticipation. If they expected it to happen and kept their eyes open, looking for the signs of its approach, they would be able to endure the struggles that were coming their way.

Jesus used the visual lesson of a fig tree in order to help the disciples understand that there would be visible, recognizable signs associated with His coming. The budding of a fig tree is a natural indication that summer is near. It is unmistakable and irrefutable. In the same way, Jesus stated that the signs of His return will be undeniable. He even assures His disciples that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34 ESV).

But what does that mean? Was He saying that the events associated with the end times would take place during the lifetimes of His disciples? The answer would seem to be no. But while they were alive, they would begin to see the early signs of His return. The budding of a fig tree provides a premonition or portent of something to come. The buds do not mean summer has arrived, but that it is coming. In the same way, the disciples would live to see signs that would point to Jesus’ coming. They would be alive when He returned, but they would be given clear indications that it was going to happen.

Each generation of believers has been given signs that His coming is imminent and inevitable. These signs act as assurances of God’s faithfulness and are meant to encourage us to continue to wait eagerly and hopefully.

The earth would continue to go through all kinds of struggles, including earthquakes, famines, floods, disasters, and even wars. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth: “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 NLT). The apostle John wrote, “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave” (1 John 2:17 NLT). Even Jesus, earlier in this very same discourse, warned His disciples:

“…you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

But while there will be clear signs along the way, the actual day and date of the Lord’s return will remain a mystery. We will be given assurances of its coming, but we will not know the exact time. Jesus indicated that even He did not know the day or the hour. God the Father alone has access to that information.

The second coming of Jesus will be a surprise. And it will catch the majority of people living on earth at the time completely off-guard and unprepared. Jesus used the days of Noah as an apt point of comparison. In a way, Noah’s building of the ark was a clear sign that something was coming. And Peter seems to indicate that Noah warned his neighbors of God’s coming judgment and the availability of salvation made possible by the ark.

[God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness… – 2 Peter 2:5 ESV

The New Living Translation reads: “Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment.” But the people in Noah’s day ignored the signs and refused the message of Noah. Instead, they busied themselves, “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Matthew 24:38 ESV).

They went on with their lives, oblivious to the warning signs and ignorant of what was about to happen, until “the flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 24:39 ESV). And Jesus made it clear to His disciples that the same thing was going to happen when He finally returned. It would catch the world unprepared and completely off-guard.

The next few verses have created a great deal of controversy over the ages. Some have attempted to use them as proof for the eventual rapture of the church. But it is important that we keep them within their context. Jesus has been talking about His second coming, not the rapture. And so the context is one of judgment, not salvation. When Christ returns the second time, He will be coming as a righteous judge to deal, once and for all, with sinful mankind. His coming will take place at the end of the Great Tribulation. During that time, there will be those who come to faith in Christ and endure intense persecution at the hands of the Antichrist. But when Christ returns, He will defeat the Antichrist and his ungodly followers, and He will cast Satan, Antichrist, and the false prophet into the lake of fire or hell.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 NLT

And all those who are living on the earth at that time will be judged as well, with their ultimate destination being hell.

It would seem that, based on the context of the second coming, that those whom Jesus describes as being “taken” are those who remain unbelievers. They will be judged and condemned, then sent to the destination God has prepared for them. And any who are “left” are meant to symbolize those who came to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation.

Jesus appears to be stressing the need to remain prepared and fully expectant. This is why He said, “stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 ESV). He added, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV).

We are to live our lives with a sense of eager expectation and conduct ourselves as if it could be today. The waiting is difficult. The delay can easily cause us to lose hope and take our eyes off the prize. And Jesus provided His disciples with a warning in the form of yet another parable.

A faithful and wise servant will stay vigilant and diligent while his master is away, conducting himself as if the master could walk in the door at any minute. But the wicked servant will use the delay as an excuse to sow his wild oats. His true, sin-prone, self-centered nature will manifest itself.  And Jesus warns that the servant’s master, like the Messiah, will return when everyone least expects it. And when he does, he will bring just judgment on the wicked servant.

Again, Jesus was trying to get His disciples to understand that there was much more to the Kingdom than they ever imagined. His first coming was just the beginning. And His eventual departure would not be the end. He was coming again. He had promised to do so, and they needed to live their lives as if it could and would happen. They were to stay diligent and vigilant. They were to remain faithful and wise. Unlike the wicked, followers of Christ are to stay alert and awake, fully prepared for His return.

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” – Revelation 22:11-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Return of the King!

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.– Matthew 24:15-31 ESV

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In this chapter, which has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse, we have Jesus giving His disciples a glimpse into God’s plans for the end of the age. As His upcoming death and eventual departure drew nearer, He prepared His followers to set their hopes on the future. It was all in response to their question: “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Jesus was providing them with an expansive overview of the things to come. Some of what He had to say would take place in the not-so-distant future, including the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which occurred in 70 AD. But much of what Jesus told them has still not happened. 

Jesus’ reference to the abomination of desolation refers to a passage from the Old Testament book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel records a message he received from the angel, Gabriel. It was in response to a prayer Daniel had prayed on behalf of all his fellow Jews who, like him, were living in exile in Babylon. He had been reading the prophecies of Jeremiah and saw that God had promised to return the people to the land of Canaan after 70 years in captivity. Daniel knew that the 70 years was quickly approaching, and he longed to see God fulfill His promise.

Gabriel delivered the following message to Daniel:

“Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.” – Daniel 9:25 ESV

Daniel had been thinking about the fast-approaching date of Israel’s return to the promised land. But God was giving him a much broader, longer-term view of the things to come. Yes, a remnant of the Israelites would return to Judah at the end of the 70 years of exile. And they would rebuild Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple. But then, God told Daniel that a period of seven sets of seven (49 years) and sixty-two sets of seven (434 years) would pass, once the people had been restored to the land. That adds up to 483 years. Once the people had returned to the land, it would be 483 years until the Anointed One came. This was a prediction of the coming of Jesus in His incarnation. But Gabriel also predicted that the “anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (Daniel 9:26 ESV). This was a reference to Jesus’ eventual death.

But what Gabriel shared next has yet to occur. He was giving Daniel a glimpse into the distant future, the end times.

26 “And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:26-27 ESV

And this is what Jesus referred to in His Olivet Discourse. He too mentioned a time yet to come. The prophetic words of Jesus describe a series of future events, and they are complex, confusing, and controversial. Jesus told the disciples that there would be difficult days. When these future events occur, those living in Judea should run for their lives (vs. 16). They should not bother packing (vs. 17). If they’re away from the house when it happens, they should not go back for any reason (vs. 18). It would be best not to have small children when these things take place (vs. 19). Those who are alive at that time should pray that nothing hinders their departure, including bad weather or the Sabbath itself (vs. 20). Why? Because these will be the worst days the world has ever known or ever will know (vs. 21). Then Jesus stated that unless God intervenes, no one will survive (vs. 22). And while all these things will leave the impression that Jesus’ return is near, no one knows the actual day (vs. 23-28).

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Matthew 24:29 NASB

Here, Jesus describes what is known as the Great Tribulation. It will be a literal seven-year period of great persecution and evil on the earth. But before this all takes place, the Church will be removed or raptured. Jesus will return to the earth in order to gather all the believers who remain. Paul encourages us about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The removal of believers will result in the removal of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the One who restrains evil in the world. And the removal of the stabilizing influence of believers and the presence of the Spirit will result in a time of unrestrained and unadulterated evil on the earth. This period of tribulation will be accompanied by the coming of the Antichrist, described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2. It will be a time of intense persecution of the people of Israel, greater than anything they have ever experienced. But it will end with the second coming of Christ.

The Return of the King!

These difficult days will end with the second coming of Christ.  The tribulation will culminate with the return of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

“And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the people of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” – Matthew 24:30 NLT

The disciples would not live to see this day. Neither will we. And Jesus informs us that no one knows when this day will happen.

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” – Matthew 24:36 NLT

Just like in the days of Noah, Jesus’ return will catch those who are living at the time unprepared and off guard. It will come suddenly and unexpectedly. But during the period of tribulation, there will be those who, by the grace of God, come to faith in Jesus Christ. There will be 144,000 whom God will save and appoint as His missionaries to the nations. They will lead countless people to Christ from every tribe, nation, and tongue. Then Jesus will return.

“And he [the Son of Man] will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” – Matthew 24:31 NLT

Jesus says that there will be two men working in a field. One will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour, one will be taken, the other left. He says that the chosen ones or the elect will be taken. This clearly indicates that there will be those who come to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation. And His second coming will include a dividing between believers and non-believers – all those who are alive at that time. This is NOT a rapture passage.

Even though the disciples would not live to see these events, they were to live in readiness. And, as we make new disciples, we are to pass on this attitude of preparedness. We are not to allow ourselves to be dulled by the world and lulled into complacency. Jesus warns:

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 NLT

What difference should all this make to us today? Do you find yourself dulled by the worries of this life? Do you live in a state of readiness for the Lord’s return? Do you have a proper understanding of what is to come? Jesus was preparing His disciples to keep their eyes focused on the end. Their immediate future was going to be difficult. He was going to die, resurrect, and then leave them. And they would be responsible for carrying out His commission to share the gospel with the world. They would suffer as a result, and many of them would die martyr’s deaths. But He wanted them to know that God had a plan in place. Their immediate circumstances would not be an indication of how things were going to end. Jesus would eventually leave them, but He would also return.

And, as modern-day believers, we need to share the same long-term perspective, focusing our attention on the end that God has in store. Jesus has promised a future day that will feature “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not What We Signed Up For

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” – Matthew 10:16-25 ESV

Jesus is preparing to send out His disciples as laborers into the harvest. He has instructed them to focus all their attention on the Jews, forbidding them to enter into Gentile or Samaritan communities. They were to proclaim the coming of the kingdom by declaring it as being “at hand.” In other words, it was near or imminent. Jesus, the rightful heir to the throne had arrived, but He had not yet established His kingdom on earth, and would not until the end of the age.

This delay in the establishment of Christ’s kingdom was never grasped by the disciples. Their impression was that Jesus had come to set up His kingdom in their lifetimes and that they would rule and reign alongside Him. While the Old Testament Scriptures clearly taught the suffering and death of the Messiah before His kingdom could be inaugurated, the Jews had missed this critical element to the divine timeline.

So, there must have been excitement among the 12 disciples as they prepared to act as emissaries for Jesus, equipped with power to perform miracles and cast out demons. It would have been natural for them to assume an air of eager anticipation as they considered the reactions they would get from their fellow Jews when they revealed their new-found miracle-working powers in front of them. But Jesus dampened their enthusiasm with a few words of warning.

In verses 12-15, He informed them that they were going to meet with resistance. Not everyone was going to greet them with open arms. But now, He paints an even bleaker and foreboding image of their future assignment. Jesus describes them as innocent sheep being sent to minister among wolves. Not exactly a confidence-building metaphor. Earlier, Jesus had described the Jews as “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 ESV), but now He refers to the disciples as the sheep. And they were going to find themselves entering into dangerous territory, surrounded by ravenous wolves, whose sole intent was their destruction.

Now, stop and imagine the faces of the disciples as Jesus shared this news. They must have been looking at one another in disbelief, wondering what in the world He was talking about. Their excitement about the prospect of being able to perform miracles was suddenly replaced by a fear for their lives. While they had seen Jesus face some mild opposition, He had not encountered anything that was remotely life-threatening. But their apprehension was about to increase because Jesus was not yet finished with His warning.

Jesus encourages them to maintain a balance between innocence and wisdom. They will need to remain free from any semblance of evil while, at the same time, living with a sense of prudence or caution. In other words, they were to stay alert to the dangers around them, while keeping themselves pure and free innocent of any guilt.

But even while doing so, they would find themselves undeservedly attacked. Jesus describes them as ending up in court, being flogged, and even having to appear before governors and kings, all for being His representatives. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that each of these things would eventually happen to Jesus Himself. He too, would end up in the court of the Sanhedrin, be dragged before the civil magistrates, and be mercilessly flogged. But the disciples were unaware of any of those future events. All they could think about was the prospects of the suffering Jesus seemed to be predicting for them.

Yet, in the midst of all the bad news, Jesus provides them with a little glimmer of hope. He tells them, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19 ESV). Yes, they will be dragged before courts, governors, and kings, and they will be expected to bear witness for Christ before them, but they will have help. 

For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. – Matthew 10:20 ESV

This bit of good news probably landed with a thud on the ears of the disciples. They had no way of understanding what this even meant. Up until this point in their relationship with Jesus, they had no personal experience with the power of the Spirit of God. They had no way of knowing what Jesus was describing. And they would not know until years later when they experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. So, this word of encouragement would have brought small comfort to the disciples.

And it didn’t help that Jesus followed up this news with talk about betrayal and death.

“A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. And all nations will hate you because you are my followers.” – Matthew 10:21-22 NLT

The longer Jesus talked, the worse it got. Their little adventure was quickly turning into a nightmare. And it didn’t help that Jesus cautioned them to endure even in the face of persecution. And He warns that they are going to have to flee for their lives in order to stay alive and fulfill their commission. Even then, Jesus states that they will never fully complete their assignment before He returns.

I tell you the truth, the Son of Man will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel.” – Matthew 10:23 NLT

This last line must have thoroughly confused them. They were the ones being sent out, so, they would be the ones to return to Jesus, not the other way around. What was He talking about? Where was He going that He would have to return? And why was He sending them out if He knew that things were going to go so poorly?

It is obvious to us who live this side of the cross, that Jesus is predicting future events. As we will see, none of these things happened to the disciples on the short-term assignment given to them by Jesus. And it is likely that they were very much relieved when they returned unscathed and unharmed. But Jesus is speaking prophetically, warning His disciples of a day in the not-so-distant future when the very things He spoke of would take place.

Jesus had come to earth in order to die. That was His God-given mission. But His death would be followed by His resurrection and ascension. And His ascension would result in the coming of the Holy Spirit. That transformational event would be the key to the disciples being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 ESV). The Spirit would be the source behind their words when they spoke before governors and kings. They would have the strength to be His witnesses in the worst of circumstances, because they would have the power of the Spirit within them.

All of this was preparatory and prophetic. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come. The disciples lived with their eyes on the present, but Jesus was preparing them for the future. As far as they were concerned, the King was with them. But little did they know, that He would be leaving them. And when He left, they would be responsible for the continuation of His mission. They would be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). They would carry on His ministry and preach His message of salvation among the Jews and the Gentiles. And they would suffer for their efforts, just as He did.

Which is why Jesus warns them:

“Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names!” – Matthew 10:24-25 NLT

They had chosen to follow Jesus. They were His disciples. And, as such, they were going to learn that their lot was closely and inextricably tied to His. Jesus had come to suffer and so would they. Jesus had come to offer His life as a ransom for many, and they would be expected to sacrifice their lives as well – all for the sake of the kingdom.

None of this made any sense to the disciples. They were probably in a state of shock. They may have been rethinking their commitment to follow Jesus. This was not what they had signed up for. But they were going to discover that Jesus had plans for them that were far greater and significant than anything they could have imagined. And while His description of the future sounded dire and distasteful, they would one day willingly and eagerly embrace His call to be like their Master.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jerusalem Shall Be Holy

17 “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God,
    who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain.
And Jerusalem shall be holy,
    and strangers shall never again pass through it.

18 “And in that day
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the streambeds of Judah
    shall flow with water;
and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord
    and water the Valley of Shittim.

19 “Egypt shall become a desolation
    and Edom a desolate wilderness,
for the violence done to the people of Judah,
    because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever,
    and Jerusalem to all generations.
21 I will avenge their blood,
    blood I have not avenged,
    for the Lord dwells in Zion.” Joel 3:17-21ESV

God cares about His chosen people. In spite of their open rebellion against Him and their rejection of Him as the one true God, He would remain faithful to them – literally, to the end – to the final moments of the great day of the Lord. And He assures the people of Judah that when He finishes with all that He has planned for them and the world, they will know that He is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Lord their God.

It is amazing to think back on all that God had already done of on behalf of the people of Judah and their northern neighbors, the nation of Israel. God had chosen them and had blessed them beyond belief. In choosing them, God had set them apart from all the nations of the earth.

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deueronomy14:2 ESV

What a privilege. But it was a privilege that came with great responsibility. They were to live as who they were: God’s chosen people. When He had freed them from their captivity in Egypt, He had told them:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 15:5-6 ESV

The position as His chosen possession was conditional. They were to obey His commands and to live as His representatives on this earth, modeling to the nations around them what it meant to have a relationship with God Almighty. God had made it perfectly clear that they were to live differently and distinctively from the pagan nations who surrounded them in the land of Canaan. And God had provided them with an extremely high standard: Himself.

“You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” – Leviticus 20:26 ESV

But as the history of Israel so painfully and clearly reveals, they never lived up to God’s holy standard. Yes, there were occasions when they obeyed His commands and lived in submission to His will, but those moments of corporate allegiance to God were rare and never lasted long. Yet, here in Joel 3, God assures His disobedient people that He has unbelievable plans in store for them. Despite their disobedience and unfaithfulness, God was going to faithfully fulfill each and every one of His covenant promises to them. And He would do for them what they had failed to do on their own: Live set apart, holy lives.

In fact, God promises, “Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it” (Joel 3:17 ESV). The city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah and the home to the fantastic temple constructed by Solomon, would once again be set apart as God’s holy dwelling place. We know from history, that it would not be long before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and the Solomonic temple was destroyed. The city of Jerusalem would become occupied by foreign invaders and this dismal scene would continue for generations, even to the days of Jesus, when the Romans ruled the entire region of Palestine, including the of David, Jerusalem.

God had warned that this would happen. All the way back to the day when Solomon dedicated the temple he had constructed, God had warned him:

“But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’” – 1 Kings 9:6-9 ESV

And it happened just as God predicted it would. The city was eventually invaded and the house of God was turned into a heap of ruins. The once holy city became a visual representation of Israel and Judah’s sin and God’s righteous judgment of them. But here in Joel 3, God assures the people of Judah that the day is coming when the city will be restored, not only to its earlier beauty, but to its place as the dwelling place of God. The apostle John was given a vision of this future scene and he recorded it his book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” – Revelation 21:1-3 ESV

The scene Joel presents is one and the same, and he adds details that describe the fruitfulness of that new city. It will be rich, abundant, and filled with the glory of God. He even mentions a fountain coming from the house of the Lord. Again, the apostle John echoes his words and adds some interesting details of his own.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:1-5 ESV

In contrast to the restoration of Jerusalem, Joel describes the devastation of Edom and Egypt, two long-time adversaries of Israel. These two nations act as stand-ins for the rest of the world’s countries that have placed themselves in opposition to Israel over the centuries. Because of their animosity toward the people of God and the city of God, they will experience the wrath of God.

But God promises to shower His chosen people with His unmerited grace and mercy.

But Judah shall be inhabited forever,
    and Jerusalem to all generations. – Joel 3:18 ESV

This entire chapter was intended to provide the people of Judah with words of encouragement. Even in the face of their coming destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, they could rest in the fact that God was not yet done with them. He had long-term plans for them that guaranteed their permanent place as His chosen possession. He wanted them to have an eternal perspective, not a temporal one.

And as Jesus told the apostle John at the close of the book of Revelation:

“These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” – Revelation 22:6 ESV

We can trust Him, because His words and trustworthy and true.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Valley of Decision

Proclaim this among the nations:
Consecrate for war;
    stir up the mighty men.
Let all the men of war draw near;
    let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords,
    and your pruning hooks into spears;
    let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”

11 Hasten and come,
    all you surrounding nations,
    and gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations stir themselves up
    and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
    all the surrounding nations.

13 Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
    for their evil is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel. Joel 3:9-16 ESV

This entire section contains a call to the nations of the earth to prepare for war. The day of the Lord is coming and it will include an epic battle of unparalleled size and scope – like nothing the world has ever seen before. It will involve all the nations of the world, but rather than fighting against one another, they will join forces against God and His people.

The scene Joel depicts is set far into the future, but it grows closer with each passing day. This is not a description of some battle from history-past, but a prophecy concerning the coming day of the Lord and, more specifically, the conflict that will take place in the valley of Jehoshaphat. Since there is no valley by that name in the region around Judah, this appellation is likely a reference to the battle God fought on behalf of King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah. In that conflict, God miraculously defeated the enemies of Judah, without them having to shoot a single arrow or throw a solitary spear. The victory was completely His doing. He judged the nations who had risen up against Judah and blessed His people in doing so.

In these verses, the Valley of Jehoshaphat becomes the valley of decision. This will be a place where God will pass judgment on the unregenerate nations of the earth by sending His Son to defeat them in battle. And God states that He “will sit to judge all the surrounding nations” (Joel 3:12 ESV). God the Father will watch as His Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords returns to earth in order to complete the redemptive plan of God.

But what Joel is depicting is the moments leading up to this decisive battle. In fact, he calls out to God, “Bring down your warriors, O Lord” (Joel 3:11 ESV). And he issues a call to the nations, challenging them to “stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (Joel 3:12 ESV). It is there that God will mete out His judgment on the nations. He will harvest the grapes and tread them in the winepress of His wrath. This is an image of God gathering up the overripe grapes (sinful men) and crushing them (judging them). We see this same imagery used in the book of Revelation, when John is given a vision of God’s pending judgment of the world.

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. – Revelation 14:14-16 ESV

And later on in the same book, John records yet another vision, revealing the second coming of Christ to judge the nations.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. – Revelation 19:15 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah gives us a description of Jesus after the battle in the valley of decision is complete.

Why is your apparel red,
    and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,
    and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
    and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
    and stained all my apparel.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.” – Isaiah 63:2-4 ESV

This future battle is also known as the Battle of Armageddon, which will take place at the end of the seven years of the Tribulation. Jesus Christ will return to earth and do battle with the nations of the earth which will have joined forces against Him, under the leadership of Antichrist. Once again, the apostle John was given a vision of this battle, and he recorded it in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Joel describes the winepresses as full and the vats as overflowing, because the sin of the people is great. In Revelation, John puts it this way: “the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” (Revelation 14:15 ESV) and “its grapes are ripe” (Revelation 14:18 ESV). John uses two different words that are both translated as “ripe” in English, but they carry different meanings in Greek. The first is xērainō, and it means “dried up” or “withered.” It describes grain that has been left in the field too long. It is of no value. The second word, used in reference to grapes, is akmazō and it means, “fully ripe.” It actually describes grapes that are overripe or about to burst. Both words are used to illustrate the unredeemable nature of mankind because they are literally bursting with sin.

Joel describes some amazing meteorological events accompanying this battle. He states that the sun and moon will become darkened and the stars will cease to shine. Himself Jesus echoed these words when He told His disciples:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. – Matthew 24:29 ESV

The Tribulation will be marked by incredible atmospheric disturbances and never-before-seen cosmic signs as God brings His final judgments upon the earth. The book of Revelation describes seas turning to blood, mountains, and islands disappearing, 100-pound hailstones falling from the sky, and long periods of darkness. And while many find these signs and wonders difficult to believe and write them off as nothing more than literary metaphors and spiritual symbolism, there is no reason for us to reject their authenticity. For God, nothing is impossible. And since we are talking about the final days of the earth, it would only make sense that God is going to reveal His power in unprecedented ways during those days.

Yes, the picture Joel paints is unbelievable.

The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake. – Joel 3:16 ESV

But faith requires belief in the improbable and impossible. And Joel calls on the people of Judah to trust in the Lord. He challenges them to believe in the One who can do the unbelievable and perform the impossible.

But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel. – Joel 3:16 ESV

God was on their side. And while their immediate future did not look particularly good, they could trust that God had a plan in place that would include His eventual redemption and restoration of them. As the prophet had told the people of Judah hundreds of years earlier when they were facing a similarly bleak future, the people living in Joel’s day could rest in the faithfulness of the Lord.

You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 20:17 ESV

God has a way of seeing His people through the valleys. He shows up in our darkest moments and rescues us when we are helpless and hopeless. And our enemies stand no chance against the God of the universe. They can turn their plowshares into swords, and their pruning hooks into spears. They can declare, “I am a warrior.” But they will prove to be nothing more than withered grain and overripe grapes in the hand of the Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Do Not Be Afraid

1 “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.

“What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the Lord has spoken.” Joel 3:1-8 ESV

As chapter three opens, Joel is continuing his description of “the day of the Lord,” providing further detail regarding the activities surrounding that future period of time. Not only will God bring undeserved restoration to His chosen people, in keeping with His covenant promises to them, but He will bring well-deserved judgment upon the nations – all those who remain unrepentant and unaccepting of His gracious offer of salvation through faith in His Son.

Joel delivers a two-part message from God Almighty, stating, “I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem“ and “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (Joel 3:1-2 ESV). And God makes it perfectly clear what He has in store for the nations: “I will enter into judgment with them there” (Joel 3:2 ESV). And the reason for His judgment is two-fold. It will be because these nations rejected Him as God, but also because they abused the people of God.

Back in the book of Genesis, we have recorded the covenant promise made by God to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse” (Genesis 12:3 ESV). Now, centuries later, God is assuring the people of Judah that He is going to keep that promise and fully fulfill it during the day of the Lord. Even during Joel’s day,, there were nations that stood opposed to Judah. The Assyrians had invaded the northern kingdom of Israel, destroying their capital city of Samaria and taking thousands of their people captive. And the Assyrians had also invaded the land of Judah, conquering dozens of their cities and villages, while killing and enslaving thousands of their citizens as well. And God has already warned Judah that the Babylonians will be showing up at some point to destroy the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple to Yahweh. And the Babylonians will humiliate thousands of Jerusalem’s most prominent citizens by taking them back to Babylon as lowly slaves.

Yet, God assures the people of Judah that He will one day restore their fortunes and pay back all these nations for the way they treated His chosen people. And He doesn’t mince words or leave anything to the imagination when describing their crimes against his people.

“…they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” – Joel 3:2-3 ESV

Joel describes God’s future judgment against these guilty nations as taking place in the valley of Jehoshaphat. While there is no valley known by that name found in or around Jerusalem, it would seem that this is meant to be a reminder to an event that took place earlier in Judah’s history. Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of Judah, and he was considered a good king, “because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel” (2 Chronicles 17:3-4 ESV). He even instituted a series of religious reforms, removing the false gods and sending out men to teach the people of Judah the Law of God.

But Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, and agreed to go into battle alongside the Israelites against the Syrians. Even though a prophet of God warned that this battle would prove to be a total route, Jehoshaphat and Ahab went ahead with their plans and lost. Not only that, Ahab was killed. And Jehoshaphat received a rebuke from God.

“Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord. Nevertheless, some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Asheroth out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.” – 2 Chronicles 19:2-3 ESV

But not long after this, Jehoshaphat received news that an alliance of nations was preparing to come against them. Having heard this news, the king assembled the people and prayed to God for His help, and He responded by miraculously routing the enemies of Judah. The book of 2 Chronicles provides further insight into the activities of God surrounding that eventful day.

“Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” – 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 ESV

God promised to fight for them. He would judge their enemies on their behalf, and the people of Judah would not have to lift a finger. In fact, they showed up the next day and found a valley filled with dead enemies and the spoil of battle.

When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the Lord. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Beracah to this day. – 2 Chronicles 20:24-26 ESV

The word “Beracah” means blessing. From Judah’s perspective, this valley became a reminder of God’s grace, mercy and blessing. But the valley was a place of judgment for the enemies of Judah. Interestingly enough, the name “Jehoshaphat” means “God has judged.” So, the valley in which God brought about a victory over the enemies of Judah, became a place of both blessing and judgment.

This same scene is going to occur on the coming day of the Lord. God will once again judge and destroy Judah’s enemies, while at the same time blessing His chosen people.
And God addressed the Phoenicians and the Philistines, singling them out for their treatment of His people. But these two nations seem to be used as stand-ins for all the other nation of all time who have mistreated the people of God. And He warns that He is going to reward the people of Judah and Israel, but pay back their enemies for all that they have done.

As God promised the people of Judah in Jehoshaphat’s day, He will be with the people of Israel in that future day. “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 20:17 ESV). God will bless, and God will judge. And His people have no reason to fear.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

In Those Days

28 “And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. Joel 2:28-32 ESV

With the content of these verses, the message Joel is delivering on behalf of God fast forwards to the end times. In the original Hebrew text, verses 28-32 are actually arranged as a separate chapter in the book of Joel. That arrangement further designates this part of the message and accentuates it as being distinct from the rest. The Hebrew text opens up with the words, “Now it will be after this.” Sometime after the events recorded in the rest of chapter two, God is going to do something radically and dramatically different.

Joel refers to this future time period as “those days” and “the great and awesome day of the Lord.” These will not be your run-of-the-mill, ordinary kind of days. They represent a period on the earth that will be marked by extraordinary, never-before-seen events. What Joel describes in these verses are supernatural, one-of-a-kind occurrences that represent the final phase of God’s grand redemptive plan for His chosen people, the Jews, and for the rest of mankind and the created universe.

In the preceding verses, Joel has described how God poured out His judgment on the people of Judah in the form on locusts. And God has warned that He is going to pour out even worse judgment in the form of an invading army. Now, God tells them that a day is coming when He will pour out something quite different: His Spirit.

“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” – Joel 2:28 ESV

In place of His righteous and just judgment, God will pour out His Spirit. The prophet Ezekiel records a very similar message from God, providing greater detail as to what this divine outpouring will look like.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 NLT

The prophet Zechariah provides further proof that this outpouring will be reserved for the people of Israel. And part of its purpose will be to open their eyes to the true nature of Jesus as their Messiah. They rejected Him the first time He came to earth, but when He arrives the second time, their response will be quite different.

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.” – Zechariah 12:10 NLT

This future period of time which Joel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah describe, represent the great day of the Lord when Jesus returns to earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. This will take place at the end of the seven years of Tribulation. And while His return will signal the final destruction of all those on earth who have refused to honor God as the one true God and have rejected Jesus Christ as their only source of salvation, God will extend mercy to a remnant of His people. And this group will be made up of what will likely be millions of Jews who will come to faith during the dark days of the Tribulation. God will redeem 144,000 Jews who will become His evangelists during the Tribulation, and they will lead countless others to faith in Christ, including Gentiles (Revelation 7:1-8). We know from the book of Revelation that there will be a large number of these Tribulation saints martyred by Antichrist. John is given a vision of them standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:8-10 ESV

And John is told who these individuals are.

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. – Revelation 7:14 ESV

But in this message given by Joel, the emphasis is on the Jews. God has a special plan in place for His chosen people. Joel envisions God’s grace being poured out on His undeserving children, and it will fall on men and women, the young and old, and even slaves. And it will be accompanied by prophecy, dreams, and visions. This is meant to distinguish this as a time of unprecedented spiritual awakening marked by a pervasive presence of miraculous signs and wonders. Rather than one man speaking on behalf of God, countless young children will be declaring His truth. Even the old will communicate on behalf of God, declaring messages He has given them in the form of dreams. Young men, not recognized for their wisdom, will be given visions by God intended to communicate His word to the entire community. All of this will be the result of God’s powerful presence among His people. As the prophet Ezekiel recorded, God has promised that one day He will reveal Himself to them in unprecedented fashion.

“And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 39:29 ESV

In these coming days, God will reveal Himself in unprecedented ways. Not the least of which will be in the form of His resurrected and returned Son. The emphasis of these verses is not on the miraculous things the people will be able to do, but on the presence of God that makes it all possible. The prophet Jeremiah recorded yet another promise of God concerning this coming day.’

“I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.” – Jeremiah 24:7 NLT

And the apostle John heard a similar message concerning the day when God and His Son will take up permanent residence among His people.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” – Revelation 21:3 NLT

But before all of this happens, God will bring final judgment on the earth.

“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” – Joel 2:30-31 ESV

But during those days of final judgment, God will still be showing grace and mercy on fallen mankind, offering the gift of salvation to any who will receive it.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. – Joel 2:32 ESV

These verses are full of reminders of God’s power, faithfulness, patience, covenant faithfulness, love, mercy, and grace. In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to disobey His commands and dishonor His name, He would keep His covenant promises to them. And even during the dark days of the Tribulation, when mankind will stubbornly refuse to turn to God in repentance, even in the face of His unrelenting judgment, He will save some.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Cast Out of Eden

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion;
    sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before,
    nor will be again after them
    through the years of all generations.

3 Fire devours before them,
    and behind them a flame burns.
The land is like the garden of Eden before them,
    but behind them a desolate wilderness,
    and nothing escapes them.
Joel 2:1-3 ESV

The nation of Judah was still reeling from the devastating impact of a locust plague. Their crops and vineyards had been destroyed, leaving them on the verge of starvation. Even the herds and flocks in the fields had been left wandering in search of food. And the priests found themselves with no grain or wine to use as offerings to God in the temple. As a result, Joel had called the people to assemble for a national day of mourning and fasting, and had warned them, “cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:14-15 ESV).

Joel was demanding that the people repent of their sins and warning them failure to do so would result in further judgment from God. If they thought the locusts were bad, they were in for a very unpleasant surprise. In these verses Joel describes a second of judgment that was headed their way, and he refers to it as “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is found throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament and is typically used to refer to the final phase of God’s redemptive plan for the world. The day of the Lord will entail the final judgments of God against all mankind, but also the fulfillment of His promises to Israel. It will include the period known as the Great Tribulation, when God will pour out a series of devastating judgments on the world and its inhabitants, but also the second coming of Christ, when He will defeat the enemies of God and set up His millennial kingdom on earth.

For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has a day of reckoning.
He will punish the proud and mighty
    and bring down everything that is exalted. – Isaiah 2:12 NLT

For see, the day of the Lord is coming—
    the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger.
The land will be made desolate,
    and all the sinners destroyed with it. – Isaiah 13:9 NLT

The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
As you have done to Israel,
    so it will be done to you.
All your evil deeds
    will fall back on your own heads. – Obadiah 15

As was often the case with these proclamations of pending doom, the prophets were communicating a two-phase judgment. The first phase would take place in the not-so-distant future. It would come in the form of the Assyrian or Babylonian armies, and end in the defeat and subjugation of the people of God. But these prophecies had a second and much more distant aspect to their meaning. They were speaking of events that still wait to be fulfilled. And this is true of Joel’s words as well.

Joel warns the people of Judah to sound an alarm. They were to blow the shofar or ram’s horm as a warning signal to the nation, declaring the arrival of an enemy army. Joel wants the people to feel a sense of urgency. This was not to be viewed as a remote possibility, but as a divine reality. He warns them that “the day of the Lord is coming; it is near” (Joel 2:1 ESV). He is trying to convey as sense of imminence and immediacy. They can’t afford to ignore his warning or to assume the sound of the shofar is a false alarm.

Joel breaks the news that “a great and powerful people” were headed their way. And their numbers would be so great that they would shroud the land like a blackness. In fact, he states that “their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations” (Joel 2:2 ESV). This was not a case of prophetic hyperbole. Joel isn’t crying wolf or trying to elicit a response by exaggerating the circumstances. He is a prophet of God proclaiming the word of God. 

What makes the writings of men like Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah so fascinating is that they provide us with proof of God’s Word. He speaks and things happen. He provides His prophets with insights into future events and those things take place, just as He predicted. God never issues idle threats concerning coming judgment. He doesn’t bluff about His hatred for sin and His determination to punish His people for their rebellion. The day of the Lord is coming. God will repay all men for the evil deeds and will fulfill every promise He has made concerning His blessings and curses.

In the following verses, Joel will describe the arrival of a mighty army, using words and phrases meant to remind the people of Judah of the most recent insect invasion they had experienced. But this time, it would be armies made up of men, not arthropods. Rather than facing crop-consuming locusts, the people of Judah would become the victims of human enemies who destroy all who stand in their way. Where the insect hordes had devastated the land of God, the human army will destroy the people of God.

It is interesting to note that Joel describes the land as being like the garden of Eden prior to the coming judgment. But when it is all over, the land will be a desolate wilderness. This description is intended to reflect a spiritual reality, not a physical one. The garden of Eden was a beautiful, God-created place of perfect peace, where Adam and Eve enjoy unbroken fellowship with their Maker. But when sin entered into the scene, the guilty pair were cast out of the garden and denied access to God’s presence. They lost their right to enjoy God’s provision and presence. And instead of being blessed by God, they found themselves under His curse.

That is point Joel seems to be making. The land had already been devastated by the locusts. The fields were empty of produce and the trees and vines had been stripped bare of fruit. But it was still Edenic, because God was there. They still enjoyed the presence of God. Yet, Joel warns, the day was coming when the garden-like nature of Judah would be turned into a wilderness, devoid of the fruit of God’s power and presence. God would even resort to their removal from His land of promise, sending them into captivity in Babylon.

God is serious about sin, and He holds His people responsible for their actions. Adam and Eve had known the rules, but they had chosen to disobey them. And they suffered the consequences. The people of Judah knew what God expected of them, but they had chosen to reject His will for their own. And now, they too would suffer the consequences. The day of the Lord was coming. Judgment was inevitable and inescapable. But as we will see, God’s warning of pending judgment is always accompanied by a call to repentance.  He longs to see His people turn away from their sin and rebellion and return to Him in humility and contrition.

All the way back at the dedication of the temple constructed by Solomon, God had promised the people of Israel:

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

That is always the heart of God. He longs to hear from His people and it is His heart’s desire to provide healing for them. But the peace of Eden will not abide the presence of sin. God requires holiness from His creation. And yet, He is going to offer the people of Judah an opportunity to return to Him in humble contrition, acknowledging their sin and their need for forgiveness and restoration.

“…return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.” – Joel 2:12-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson