A natural disaster in the form of a plague of locusts prompted Joel’s prophesy, but it’s not simply his own thoughts on the matter. As with all prophesy, he was ‘moved by the Holy Spirit’(2 Peter 1:21) to see things, some of which he probably didn’t fully understand himself.
Joel’s initial interpretation and application of the plague is clear enough. It’s presented as a wake up call, meant to encourage true repentance or his contemporaries might come to grief in a worse ‘day of Yahweh’(Joel 1:15,2:1&11): ‘“ turn to Yahweh, your God; for he is gracious and merciful’(Joel 2:13). Jesus interprets similar events in a similar way, ‘“unless you repent, you will all perish”’(Luke 13:5).
Then, as often happens with prophesy, Joel is transported into descriptions of future events of which his current circumstances are only a shadow or type. As a true prophet, Joel not only helps people understand where they stand in relation to God in the present, but lifts their eyes to the horizon and beyond to future and eternal realities. What’s interesting for us is that Joel’s future prediction in this verse is planted firmly in history when Peter uses it to explain the day of Pentecost.
At Pentecost, the original small group of Christians were together when ‘They were all filled with the Holy Spirit’(Acts 2:4). Then Peter stood up and declared, ‘“this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel”’(Acts 2:16), and he goes on to quote Joel 2:28-32.
In Joel’s prophesy, this Pentecost event precedes an ultimate ‘“great and terrible day of Yahweh”’(Joel 2:31). Peter later equates this subsequent event with the end of creation as we know it: ‘the day of the Lord will come… the heavens will pass away… the elements will be dissolved… the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up’(2 Peter 3:10).
Since this has not yet happened, we live in between these two events, a time referred to as, ‘“the last days”’(Acts 2:17, 2 Peter 3:3). These days, Joel and Peter insist, are characterized by an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.
It’s not that God’s Spirit wasn’t active in people before. We’ve already noted that Joel and the other Old Testament prophets were moved to speak by the Holy Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit was also on others in old covenant times, like Moses and David, mainly the key leaders. What changed at Pentecost was the breadth of people affected, as Moses had longed for, ‘“I wish that all Yahweh’s people were prophets, that Yahweh would put his Spirit on them”’(Numbers 11:29), and the prophets had predicted, ‘“I will pour out my Spirit on all… sons… daughters… old… young… also on the servants and on the handmaids”’(Joel 2:28-29), ‘Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will make a new covenant… I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it… they shall all know me, from their least to their greatest’(Jeremiah 31:31-34).
So, this new covenant age of the Holy Spirit is characterized by all God’s people knowing Him and being moved to love Him and follow His ways from the heart. Our very ability to even ‘get’ this comes from the Holy Spirit, as Paul explained ‘we received… the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God… which the Holy Spirit teaches… they are spiritually discerned’(1 Corinthians 2:12-14).
The Holy Spirit works in and through this new community of people who serve using their various spiritual gifts: ‘there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit… each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all’(1 Corinthians 12:4-7). Although much of this is spiritually inspired ordinary activity (teaching / practical serving etc.), it can include supernatural experiences/occurrences, especially it seems at times and places of foundation and at the fresh edges of God’s expanding Kingdom. Importantly, all this should be accompanied by spiritual growth and increased bearing of ‘the fruit of the Spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’(Galatians 5:22-23).
This doesn’t of course mean that Christians are yet perfect, but we’ve been woken up regarding the coming ‘“great and terrible day of Yahweh”’(Joel 2:31), and ultimate fulfilment of these scriptures beyond for those who ‘call on the name of Yahweh… whom Yahweh calls’(Joel 2:32) into a perfect ‘new heavens and a new earth’(2 Peter 3:13). So, there should be something otherworldly about Christians, as we flow along in this outpoured stream, with the glint of eternity in our eyes.