Last week I posted on the message of Joel the prophet here, and I promised to add some thoughts about how Joel impacts our understanding of the New Testament. I have three texts / topics in mind.
First, I think Joel’s understanding of pagan armies helps us understand Romans 13, where Paul tells the Jesus-followers in Rome to “submit to the governing authorities because they have been put in their place by God,” etc, etc. People have read this as indicating God’s support of this or that nation or government, with the implication that what nations do is good and godly. Today I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with the application points, but what we often miss is that for Paul, Romans 13 has everything to do with the way God works through pagan nations in the prophets. According to them, especially in texts like Isaiah 10 and here in Joel, pagan armies are both (a) tools accomplishing God’s purposes, and (b) enemies of God awaiting eventual judgment. The key thing is that God can use nations for his purposes, and he can call his people to submit to their rule, without them having his approval or blessing. This was certainly true of the Roman Empire of Paul’s day.
Second, Jesus’ critique was similar to Joel’s, only harsher. Joel got all worked up because Israel, God’s people, thought they were safe and blessed simply because of their ethnic identity. They expected that one day soon they would see “the day of the Lord,” and that this day would be a time when God would judge their enemies and reward them. On the contrary, Joel announced that the Day of the Lord would be a day of darkness not light, because the Israelites had become just as bad as the pagans around them. The so-called light of the world had turned in on itself, ignoring the reason for its existence – to bless everyone else. Jesus leveled the Judaism(s) of his day with a similar critique; the difference is that while Joel still ended his program with a promise of Jewish-centered restoration, Jesus’ program ends with the promise of a restoration centered on the newly formed Messianic family – the church – which was composed of both Jews and Gentiles who were faithful to the Messiah.
Third, Joel helps us understand that heaven is not a place where people will play harps on clouds; the restoration envisioned is earthy and holistic. “Heaven,” or as the New Testament prefers to put it, “the new heavens and new earth,” will be a place much like ours – it will be everything good about our world enhanced, without everything harmful. Our final destination is not in heaven but on a renewed earth. Look forward to it!