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TEXT: Joel 2:28-32; Matthew 24:29-31,42; Acts 2:14-15,36
The end times, the final judgment, apocalypse… some of the scriptures we’ve heard today might conjure up these terms… and rightly so; that is indeed what they refer to! But those terms have a lot of misunderstanding around them, with a heavy dose of Hollywood mixed in with what we know. So I’d like to try to de-mystify these things a bit. I do so with some fear and trembling because it’s not the sort of thing I or any human being can fully comprehend. But Scripture does address the topic in scriptures like the ones you’ve heard today, so I want to take a little time to unpack them and try to make the concept of the Day of the Lord a little more understandable.
The Day of the Lord (vv.30-32)
I’m going to start with the second half of our Joel 2 reading first (vv.30-32). Joel has already mentioned the Day of the Lord previously, but now is returning to it: the “great and awesome day of the Lord” (v.31). I want to break this into three parts to help explain what is being described. These are imagery, timing, and judgment.
In verses 30-31, we read of “wonders in the sky and on the earth.” On the earth there is “blood, fire, and columns of smoke.” These are descriptions of earthly and human conflict and war. Joel has already spoken of human conflict and God’s people are living through war, exile, and defeat; yet they are hoping for God’s intervention and delivery. In the heavens there are signs: “the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood.” These are solar and lunar eclipses, understood to signal a cosmic conflict between God and His enemy and hope that God is indeed going to deliver.
You may have heard references to the “end times” the “day of judgment” or the “Day of the Lord.” Which is it – a day, a season, an extended period of time? Yes! 😊 Based on the rest of the Bible and Jesus’ own teaching on the matter, it is all the same thing, but it is not a 24-hour day. It is a way of talking with hope about a specific time in the future. Regardless, this “Day of the Lord” refers to when God will reveal His power and come to judge the world.
But it’s more than judgment. Think of a courtroom: judgment can be “guilty” or “not guilty” it can mean consequences or freedom. The judgment of the Day of the Lord is a result of God’s ultimate victory over evil and His enemy. Judgment cuts two ways. It is defeat for God’s enemies and deliverance for God’s people. It is judgment that involves the setting right of all injustice and delivering people from sorrow and suffering. God’s deliverance will mean that the needs of God’s people (physical and spiritual) will be fully met. This passage is quoted in nine different New Testament contexts because they speak of the time when God will bring deliverance or salvation to all the earth. Indeed, “it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered.” (v.32) While intended for Israel in Joel, this hope is extended to all who will believe in the New Testament. See Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:32) or Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 10:13).
The Blessing of the Lord
The signs of the Day of the Lord are not just the signs of conflict. They also include blessings of the Lord to help His people and to help bring people to the Lord. Let’s back up to the first part of our reading in Joel 2 (vv.28-32), also quoted by Peter in his sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2.
28 “It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
(Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2)
Joel was saying that you’ll know the Day is approaching when God pours out His Spirit on all people: young, old, male, female, and on servants (who couldn’t be priests or participants fully in ancient Israel). On Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter was describing what was going on right then with the Holy Spirit, quoting Joel to announce, “the Day is here!”
I don’t know what you think when you hear about “Judgment Day” or the “End Times” but it need not be dread. God has promised to pour out His Spirit, to be WITH US, as the time approaches, to encourage and empower us to join in what He is doing in the world AND to draw in as many as will come. God’s intent is not to smite and burn the earth, but to love and save it… and we are partners in that mission.
One of the things we have realized since Jesus came is that the “Day of the Lord” is indeed a stretched-out season. Jesus said many times that the Kingdom of God was HERE (with his arrival), but also still coming. This is part of the blessing and the demonstration of God’s love for the world: that He sent His one and only Son into the world to save the world (not to immediately judge it). Just like the outpouring of the Spirit, Jesus came among us to lead us to the Father and to rescue as many as would trust and follow. We are living in an in-between time where God is at work to rescue us.
Matthew records Jesus talking about this same “Day of the Lord” in Matthew 24:29-31, which you heard in our first scripture reading. Jesus uses some of the same imagery as Joel, with an eclipse and signs in the sky. Then he speaks of the end of the day, the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” (v.30) He is speaking of himself so this is yet to come. The punchline of all that comes in verse 42 when he says, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know when your Lord is coming.”
It is helpful for me to think of this “Day of the Lord” as an elongated or stretched-out day. It is as if Jesus came at sunrise (incidentally one of his names is the “Sunrise from on high”). The final judgment will be at sundown (or midnight if you prefer) and we are living somewhere in-between… mid-day or afternoon. Is that helpful? What it helps me understand and ask is this: What are we supposed to be doing right now? What does it mean to “be alert?”
Joel and the later New Testament writers who quote him would say that God has sent His Son and Spirit that we might be a part of taking the Good News of God’s love to the world. God’s Spirit is given to us to SEE (visions) and SPEAK (prophecy) about who God is and what God is doing to the world. And this isn’t just a message, but action. Jesus made it clear that we are to be about the work of the Kingdom: healing, helping, doing justice, loving mercy, living humbly in service to our neighbors. It is not enough to have believed; we must follow. This is the Maundy Thursday commandment: live, love, and serve as I have done – “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you….” (John 13:34) We don’t follow to be saved, but because we are saved.
Jesus told a number of stories to illustrate the point. There is a feast coming; go invite guests to come, even from the highways and byways. The wedding party is waiting for the bride and groom to come; some remain ready and some fall asleep. At the judgment folks will be sorted as sheep and goats – their works reveal their true identity. The Kingdom of God is like a seed, a garden, workmen arriving at different times to work for the same reward.
The Day of the Lord is not something for you to fear, but it is a reminder that there is work to be done for God’s sake. That work may first be tending to your own relationship with God or it may be participating in God’s work. Either way, God’s desire and invitation to you is to join in! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Lion of Judah
- Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble
- Ancient of Days
- Open Up the Heavens
- Be Thou My Vision
- Love Divine, All Loves Excelling