Prophetic passages in the Old Testament that appear to be anticipating the church age need to be examined in their context. Arguably the one that comes closest is Joel chapter 2, and the section utilized to relate to the Church and gospel age is vv28-32, but I have incorporated the preceding verses to place the passage in its intended context which is the restoration of Israel, not the establishment of a universal Church:
You (Israelites) shall know that I am in the midst of Israel; I am the lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame. And it shall come to pass that AFTERWARDS I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men shall see visions, and also on my menservants and on my maidservants. I shall pour out my Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall turn sun into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the lord and it shall come to pass that whoever shall call on the name of the lord shall be saved, for in Mt Zion and Jerusalem there shall be deliverance as the lord has said among the remnant whom the lord calls (Joel2:27-32NKJV – listed as 3:1-5 in Catholic versions)
The key point is that Joel’s prophecy is depicting a period of time that immediately follows the restoration of Israel and the vindication of His people in the presence of Yahweh, which is the case in all such prophecy. Order or sequence is a quandary for the Old Testament spiritualising hyper-allegorists; i.e. much of Christendom at present. Whilst there are of course frequent and rich allegorical references to Christ and the gospel throughout the Old Testament, there is also a historical context and narrative to take into account, such as the fact that Torah (the Law) was both practiced and delighted in by the godly (Ps119). Likewise with prophecy, Joel and those who interpreted him understood the promised restoration of Israel in a more literal sense, ending His nation’s humiliation, the oppressing “Northerners” being sent packing (Jl2:20); God’s people and even the animal kingdom liberated (Jl2:22) within a restored religious, political and ecological environment (Jl2:23). This would be FOLLOWED BY an outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh in turn followed by the tribulation (Jl2:30,31) and the Day of Yahweh. The gospel of the kingdom would be preached, echoing Jesus’s words: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Lk24:47)” Those calling on the name of the Lord and fleeing to the Mountains would “escape” whilst the “remnant” (elect) would be safe in Jerusalem (Jl2:32).
For sure, Peter (no less) set a precedent by drawing upon the above passage from Joel in the context of the Spirit’s outpouring on the Day celebrating the Feast of the first-fruits (Pentecost) (Acts2:17:21). But as with all Old Testament prophecy, the understanding was that firstly Israel would be restored, THEN the Spirit poured out on all flesh and the Good News of the Kingdom preached to all nations. Then come the tribulations and finally the coming of the Messiah in glory. The order has been displaced by an unexpected dispensation in which Gentiles are not only enlightened and offered forgiveness but come to “SHARE AN INHERITANCE WITH GOD’S HOLY PEOPLE” (Acts26:18b). Even Peter had not previously understood this (Acts11:17) for it was entirely new revelation revealed through Paul – it was the fellowship (and dispensation) pertaining to the secret (plan) hidden in the Father from the previous age (Eph3:9-11 cf. Greek). It was the establishment of a universal Church formed to become, like Israel before her, a royal priesthood and a holy “nation” to be a light to the world – a witness to Jesu’s Lordship and Saviourhood, faithful members of whom having participated in the life of Christ as His disciples would share His glorious inheritance in the ages to come (Rom8:17).
Illustration: Prophet Joel depicted by Michelangelo on Sistine Chapel ceiling – courtesy Wikipedia
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Related post: OT prophecies yet to be fulfilled
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