Before It Happens: “Forced to Give Account” – Joel 3

gavel1I don’t think I am exposing a secret when I say that it seems an election season brings out the worst in media personalities. Am I wrong? I mean, in all the years I have been watching elections, I have never seen so many so-called “news” outlets parsing stories to get an angle for or against a candidate as we are seeing in this one. Some of the media outlets should be on the payrolls of the candidates! Many reporters don’t simply have a “point of view” but they even seem to possess their own “facts on the ground.” How often you hear some inflammatory statement of one of the candidates repeated, and then you look up the whole speech in context and conclude the reporter wasn’t really listening to what the candidate said at all. It is happening on both sides, and it is making the process of examining either candidate effectively impossible.

The American people are not being served well by leaders who will easily dismiss the truth to win votes, nor by reporters who already know who we should vote for if we were as enlightened as they are. Honestly, neither side appears deeply concerned with the truth as much as they are about the next good sound bite. Yet, here is what I know… what we say and do cannot simply be swept away by misinformation. Each of us must remember there will come a day when we will be forced to give an account of our lives to our Creator. Jesus said it this way:

Matthew 12:36 “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.”

Have you thought much about that? Have you stopped to carefully consider that even when you have long forgotten, the record of your words and actions has already been recorded by the One Who misses neither detail nor true intent? For most of us, that is a sobering thought.

I mention accountability because we have been studying prophecy narratives about the “Day of the Lord” and made note along the way that a variety of judgments are a part of that record in the Book of Joel. This lesson is about the last chapter of that short prophecy. Perhaps a fair warning is in order: based on extensive study of the narrative of the Word, I have concluded this: the hour seems late in the human program. There is a timeline for the terminal generation in Heaven and the hints to the appearance of the end of our age seem very much like what I am reading in the daily news. I cannot be sure the day is soon, but I can say with certainty this…

Key Principle: God hasn’t left us unaware of what to look for, nor has He left us without something to do about the terminal generation. A time of giving a full account of our life is coming.

We must live as though God is watching, and our choices will be judged. I am well aware such talk is not popular in today’s western view. We want to hear about grace, about personal exceptions to every rule that allow for my personality, and about how my choices are truly my own while God’s job is to bless me no matter what I say or do.

That isn’t the mature believer – but that does represent many believers. In truth, I can fill rooms with believers who come from broken backgrounds and found love, security and joy in Jesus – and that is as it should be. Yet, I have never met a truly mature and surrendered follower of Jesus who was honestly unaware that our personal relationship with Jesus compels us to grow and change into His likeness and character by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. They know that Jesus calls us to change. He calls us to become distinct from the world around us. He calls us to reckon ourselves as servants of the Almighty. The one enduring mark of a profitable servant must be faithfulness.

In the last chapter of Joel, the prophet spoke of a time of judgment on both His long estranged wife, Israel, and the nations of the world. He presented an orderly look at a severe and precise conclusion to the days of Israel’s great tribulation. The problem is, it may not be obvious what the prophet is telling us…we may need some help. Joel was an early prophet, and his imagery may be a bit cryptic. Maybe looking at some words of the Savior that are less enigmatic will help us drop into Joel 3 with more understanding. Let me propose this…

To understand the timeline of Joel 3, let’s look at the same imagery as told by Jesus in places like Luke 21 and the cross references in Matthew 23-25.

Turn for a moment to the Gospel of Luke in chapter 21, where the good doctor opened the account reminding us of a time Jesus was watching people in the Women’s Court as they placed their offerings in the containers prepared for that purpose. The rich came (likely with great fanfare and gave (Lk. 21:1) and that contrasted with a very poor widow, who put in (in comparison) a tiny token. Jesus noted the woman gave the greater gift, because she gave sacrificially from her only coins that met her most basic needs, while the rich gave from the mere extras of their wealth (Lk 21:2-4).

In the context of expressions of worship and giving, surrounded by the grand Temple and Plaza with its impressive size and intricate design, Jesus prophesied a coming destruction before His closest followers – and that got their full attention! The Master warned them of the coming day when all the physical beauty of the building would be stripped away, and the Temple would come down (Luke 21:6).

For a Jew of His time, raised with this Temple at the center of their life, a natural negative reaction could be expected. One question, if you followed Jesus and trusted His prophetic sense in the scene would rise within a follower as to the timing of such destruction. Another serious challenge would rise as the purpose of such an event – what would God be doing allowing the religious center of His people to come apart. It would be, in modern Christian terms, to prophesying that God abandoned the church, and the world swarmed it, picking over the rubble. How could that be? The whole crowd probably wanted to know what to expect in regards to the collective Jewish national future in light of the words of the Savior regarding the Temple’s coming destruction. Jesus answered them about the days ahead:

In simple terms, the timeline of Jesus included five major items from the time of Gentile domination to the reemergence of Israel:

• There would be deliberate attempts to deceive Jews with false Messiahs (Lk. 21:8).

• Skip down to verse 12 (we will look at the intervening verses in a moment). There would be persecution because of the name of Jesus against the Jewish people (Lk. 21:12-18).

• Now look at the verses we passed by. There would be a stark rise in news of wars and natural convulsions (21:9-11).

• There would be an obsession in the nations with Jerusalem that culminated in military blockade (Lk. 21:20-24).

• Messiah will come and the people will be rescued and the land restored. Predicting an eventual military blockade against Jerusalem that will be devastating, Jesus made clear the troubles would only be ended when the Messiah returns. To make that clear, He said:

Luke 21:27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The Prophecies of Events beyond the Return of Messiah

In addition to the prophecies concerning His return to rescue the people, Jesus spoke about His judgment of the nations in direct terms as well. Those can be found in much more complete terms in Matthew 24 and 25. To be sure, the setting for Matthew 25 must be considered after the return of Messiah, because of what Jesus said in places like Matthew 24:29ff (just before Matthew 25):

Matthew 24:29 “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. 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

The time will be following the Great Tribulation with its powerful signs. Messiah will come to earth visibly and be seen by the nations. His return will terrify and trouble them, because it will be in overwhelming force. Whatever deception they previously believed, whatever taunting and mocking of His Word they have done – it will become instantly clear they were found on the wrong side of truth. Some people will MOVE TOWARD Him, because they have believed. Others will gather only to fight Him. In any case, the coming of the Son of Man will be neither silent, not unnoticed.

When He comes, the nations and their people will need to be dealt with. National leaders will suffer as a result of the armed offensive against Israel, and the destruction of their forces made clear in Revelation 16:16 and Revelation 19. Yet, many in those nations may have believed, and didn’t agree with the governmental response. Matthew 25 revealed the scene:

Matthew 25:31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations (ethnos) will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

The text notes the coming, the enthroning, and the judgment. If you continue reading, Jesus noted the rewards and penalties coming out of that judgment.

• First, He spoke of those who would receive blessing in Matthew 24:34

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

• A few verses later, He spoke of those who would be judged negatively in Matthew 24:41:

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;

The text also made clear the STANDARD by which the Son of Man judged the people of the earth on His return. Each was judged, positively or negatively, based on their response to the needs of His people during the hour of their greatest trouble. In 24:35-40, some treated Jesus well by treating His people well. In 24:42-46, others were harshly judged because they were cruel and hateful toward His people. To them, the text records Jesus’ voice:

Matthew 24:45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

David Levy wisely noted: “What is meant by judgment of the nations? The word nation (Greek, ethnos) refers [here] to the judgment of individuals within the country, not to the judgment of whole nations. The following reasons bear this out. First, the message of salvation presented in the Tribulation calls for an individual acceptance, not a national one. Second, there is no record in Scripture that whole Gentile nations will accept the preaching of the 144,000 Jewish witnesses. Third, in all the judgments presented in Scripture, it is the individual, not the nation, who is judged…[In addition] the term nation is used in other portions of the New Testament with reference to individuals (Mt. 6: 31– 32; 12: 21; 20: 19; 28: 19; Acts 11: 18; 15: 3; 26: 20).” – Levy, David. Joel: The Day of the Lord (Kindle Locations 909-915). The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

With those scenarios in mind, take a moment and look with me at what the Prophet Joel recorded about the judgment of the nations in Joel 3, and see if you can observe that five-part story (or at least the greatest part of it) emerging from the narrative.

The Timing of the Judgment of the Nations (3:1-2a)

The prophet began by explaining the timing relative to the work God was doing with the Jewish people. Israel is an effective CLOCK one can watch in order to follow the end times happenings. He prophesied:

Joel 3:1 “For behold, in those days and at that time, When I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I will gather all the nations And bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat.

The passage begins with an assumption, that we recall “where we left off in the story” at the end of Joel 2. God’s promise to His people didn’t stop at pain and rejection. The narrative at the end of Joel 2 promised an END to the pain of their darkness and shame before the nations. Note again the end:

Joel 2:25 “Then I will make up to you for the years That the swarming locust has eaten, … 26 … Then My people will never be put to shame. 27 “Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, And that I am the Lord your God, And there is no other; And My people will never be put to shame.

That record, then, reminds us we are at the point of the story when the Great Tribulation has given way to the Millennial Kingdom – with the arrival of the King – as recorded in Revelation 19 and 20. Note two other things about the verses.

First, there is a “gathering of the nations” referred to in Joel 3. At the end of the Great Tribulation, the remaining Jewish people found salvation in their Messiah, Who came rescuing them from impending doom brought on by the armies of the nations. The huge army that gathered against Israel, the Gospel and Israel’s God was summarily smashed by the Word of the Savior Who came in the clouds. That military obliteration dealt with the combined armies of the confederate nation states, but not with the judgment of the nations they represented, per se. (A reference of that can be found in the fifth of seven judgments we will study below). The last book of the Bible unfolds this story well:

Revelation 19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses…19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet … 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.

A second note should be made of Joel 3:2’s mentioning of a place in the “Valley of Jehoshaphat” – the place which was given in terms of its purpose “our Lord will Judge” (the meaning of Jehosophat). Since Zechariah 14:4 mentions a new valley created at the division of the Mount of Olives, this is a likely place where the Messiah holds court. Specific designation of its location isn’t given because it was not formed at the time of Joel.

The Terms of the Judgment of the Nations (Joel 3:2b-3)

Return with me to Joel 3, now that our timing is understood. The prophet continued with the specifics, or the TERMS of the judgment.

Joel 3:2b “…Then I will enter into judgment with them there On behalf of My people and My inheritance, Israel, Whom they have scattered among the nations; And they have divided up My land. 3 “They have also cast lots for My people, Traded a boy for a harlot And sold a girl for wine that they may drink.

The graphic version of the “terms of judgment” seems to regard the treatment of Israel from the Tribulation as Jesus explained further in Matthew 25. Note in Joel 3:2b the terms of God:

I will enter into judgment: God will be the judge. At the valley of “our Lord will judge” the ethnos gathered are brought to stand before the Holy One.

On behalf of my people: there is no doubt this referred to both the saved Jews entering the Millennium, and in particular the witnesses from among their number. Consider the cruelty of martyrdom of many of those witnesses. A question posed in practical terms, “Did you show support for such atrocities? Did you harbor them at the risk of YOUR life? Did you have a heart faith that was shown by your moral response and your acceptance of risk on their behalf? This is surely part of the “least of these” from Matthew 25 who, when cared for, become a testimony of our heart faith in Messiah.

And My inheritance, Israel: Another demonstration of belief in the Person and program of the Messiah is the aiding of the children of Israel during a time of international abhorrence, scattering from their land, and shattering over the security of their land and people. Just as Abraham was promised that God would “bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him” the terms appear to include the treatment of his children.

Cast lots for my people: Some Jews of the Tribulation Period appear to be a commodity, traded as slaves or chattel. Note the bartering that appears during this time as well as the things purchased – a prostitute and more drink. The fruits of the people in that business show them to be of the basest kind of people.

The judgment is one of works, the terms of which are the treatment of the holders of the Gospel (the Jewish witnesses of the Tribulation) and the Jewish people in their plight of dispersion, while hiding among the hostile and largely unprotected actions of the nations. The judgment of these sinful works show they reflected heart attitudes toward the revealed Word of God, and the Savior that Word teaches. Look at it this way:

People who care about the Bible and take it literally will be those most sensitive to the treatment of the Jewish people in that hour. The same appears true today.

The Targets of the Judgment (Joel 3:4-8)

Look closely at the verses that follow the terms of the judgment and you will see WHO will face sentencing for their misdeeds. It is likely this is not an exhaustive list, but rather a typical one – a sample of the people and deeds that are judged most harshly by God. That will become clearer as we look closely at the verses.

Joel 3:4 Moreover, what are you to Me, O Tyre, Sidon and all the regions of Philistia? Are you rendering Me a recompense? But if you do recompense Me, swiftly and speedily I will return your recompense on your head. 5 Since you have taken My silver and My gold, brought My precious treasures to your temples, 6 and sold the sons of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their territory, 7 behold, I am going to arouse them from the place where you have sold them, and return your recompense on your head. 8 Also I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the sons of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a distant nation,” for the Lord has spoken.

What are you to Me: What have we in common? What is your tie to me?

O Tyre, Sidon and all the regions of Philistia? These named regions are those of the Philistine coast and the Phoenician coast in antiquity, and include Lebanon and the Gaza strip today. They appear in the prophecy to relate to the actions of those nations of long ago – that is, the peoples who willingly dispossessed the children of Israel of land in their desired territories given them by God (Joshua 13:1-7). Unable to supplant them (Judges 1:21-36), they became a constant “thorn” to Israel (Judges 2:1-6) trying to destroy them. These groups were a terrible affliction to Israel from the time of the Judges through the Divided Kingdom period (the time of Joel). The last recorded plunder by them was that of the invasion under the fifth of the kings of Judah in the Divided Kingdom, that of King Jehoram of Judah (who reigned about 8 years from about 848-841 BCE, as referenced in 2 Kings 8:16-9:37. He was the son of King Jehoshaphat, and a child of intermarriage with the household of Ahab in the north – a king of Judah who walked like a king of Israel because of family connections).

Are you rendering Me a recompense? Can you make up for your rebellion and your terrible harm committed against my people? After all, these were the “apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8) which simply means: “God is as sensitive about Israel as people are sensitive to their pupils!” If you smack someone in the pupil, they will react. There is little that can be done for the damage the nations caused against God’s people.

Swiftly and speedily I will return your recompense on your head. Don’t relax. This is coming down hard and fast upon you.

You worked to scatter My people, you stole the silver and gold that was given in worship to Me, said the Lord. You labored to break up My land and give it away to others. You sold My beloved children into slavery. What can you do now that I have caught you?

The Trick of the Judgment (3:9-11a)

The prophet showed that God was going to draw the armies of the Gentile nations into conflict through a stirring from Heaven. God uses the egos of men and the stupor of their deceived state to draw them into a direct confrontation with Him and His people. The scene was proclaimed in Joel 3:9ff:

Joel 3:9 Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare a war; rouse the mighty men! Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up! 10 Beat our plowshares into swords And your pruning hooks into spears; Let the weak say, “I am a mighty man.” 11 Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, And gather yourselves there.

Mid way into the eleventh verse, it appears that either the perspective of the narration changed, or the nations cry out to taunt God. The prophets said:

Joel 3:11b “…Bring down, O Lord, Your mighty ones.

In any case, it is clear the deceived nations will be drawn to the conflict, and will be destroyed. After that, the people of the defeated nations will be drawn to stand before the Judge at the Valley of Judgment in Jerusalem.

Joel 3:12 Let the nations be aroused 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. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness 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 moon grow dark And the stars lose their brightness.

The Termination of the Judgment (Joel 3:16-21)

The Judgment of Israel by God will end, once and for all, when her King returns. The conditions of both the Jewish people and the nations will be altered by His arrival.

Jerusalem will be purified in the coming of Her King:

Joel 3:16 The Lord roars from Zion And utters His voice from Jerusalem, And the heavens and the earth tremble. But the Lord is a refuge for His people And a stronghold to the sons of Israel. 17 Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, Dwelling in Zion, My holy mountain. So Jerusalem will be holy, And strangers will pass through it no more.

The Apostle Paul knew his people were going to be renewed to a walk with God. Yet, he knew that early believers who only looked at the attempts of Jewish leadership to discourage and dissect the early church would not see the bigger program of God. He saw it, because his view wasn’t based on the news – but on the Word of God.

Romans 11:25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery– so that you will not be wise in your own estimation– that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” 27 “THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.” 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of [God’s] choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

A Biblical world view allowed Paul to see what others could not see – that God was working an intricate plan, and believers who took their cue from the news would not see what God was doing. That is STILL a major problem with the church of Jesus Christ.

Many in the church see Israel as replaced – but Romans eleven verses twenty-five to twenty-seven make no literal sense in that scenario. Others focus on current Jewish opposition to the Gospel and conclude that because they are hard to reach in the time of their veiling, the efforts would be better spent elsewhere – but that doesn’t take into account Paul’s answer in verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine. Here is the simple truth: God doesn’t give up on His plan…He keeps steadily working it out. He works it out when even the believers don’t believe. He plods ahead, unaffected by our doubt and complaint – because He knows what He is doing. He knows where it all ends… in His glory.

Joel ended with a grand promise. The Land of God’s people will yield abundantly at the Coming of Her King:

Joel 3:18 And in that day The mountains will drip with sweet wine, And the hills will flow with milk, And all the brooks of Judah will flow with water; And a spring will go out from the house of the Lord To water the valley of Shittim.

That won’t happen everywhere on earth…

Joel 3:19 Egypt will become a waste, And Edom will become a desolate wilderness, Because of the violence done to the sons of Judah, In whose land they have shed innocent blood.

The land threats against the Jewish people, so familiar to our news today, will be gone!

Joel 3:20 But Judah will be inhabited forever And Jerusalem for all generations.

At long last, the Holy One will bring to an end the suffering, and right the transgressions against His once wayward, self-willed people. They may have spurned Him, but those who dealt harsh blows against them faced judgment in the end.

Joel 3:21 And I will avenge their blood which I have not avenged, For the Lord dwells in Zion.

As we close this lesson, let me be honest with you.

If there are any THREE questions I would like to pose to those of us who busily study prophecy, the first is this:

“What exactly do we need to see in our world to know that we are nearing the END of the human story?”

In more direct terms: ”If you aren’t busy sharing your faith and preparing your life – what are you waiting for to get busy for God?” I want to know what people across our land in the church, many who possess solid knowledgeable of God’s Word, are waiting for to acknowledge that we are quickly approaching the “terminal generation” of human society. What will it take for you to surrender to Jesus Christ in light of what the Bible has predicted and what you see coming to pass?

2 Peter 3 warned that people would mock the very message that Jesus would return. Do you think that is where we are as we face campuses across our nation that have squandered the money and facilities of generations of believers to preach the Bible is a false Bronze Age mythology offering no more truth than a story about unicorns and fairies? Our colleges and universities in the country were largely begun to train men and women to follow God. We now sponsor public mocking.

1 Thessalonians 5 predicted that people would proclaim “peace and safety” when the end came suddenly. We have watched in my lifetime the dissolution of the Soviet Union in a period of weeks and even days. Do we not know that we live in a world where markets can tumble in hours. Do we not understand that a few airplanes crashing can change the world as we know it?

We don’t mention these things because we want to scare people, but rather our heart’s desire is to let the Word of God sound a trumpet blast to awaken the slumbering from sleep.

If Daniel 12:4 marked the end as a time of massive amounts of information becoming accessible and people traveling about in a constant whirl, shouldn’t the international airlines, the compact computer we all carry in the phone in our pockets, the internet and Uber’s driverless car cause you to pause and think about how late in the world’s story we may be? Since man walked out of the Garden of Eden until the dawn of the twentieth century, men traveled on foot or tamed animals to ride. There was little difference in transportation between Abraham when he left Ur of the Chaldees and President Lincoln when he pulled up in front of Ford’s Theatre. In the last few generations, we have traveled to the moon, sent satellites into the heavens, driven at break-neck speeds on our highways and flown around the world in a day. Shouldn’t that make us think about the hour growing late?

Revelation 11 predicted the death of two witnesses in Jerusalem being simulcast to the whole of the world in international and instant video communication. Did you stop and think about that? Before television, before international satellites, before cell phones with video capability, before the world wide web – the Apostle John mentioned the whole world watching at one time. That was not possible in 1900! It wasn’t even possible in 2000 – but it IS possible now. Very few places are isolated from the reach of modernity.

This is looking more and more like the terminal generation.

The second question I have for those of us who study prophecy is this:

Why does the study of the end make us sad and often more stern than other believers? Prophecy addicts are not known for being the most compassionate followers of Jesus. Isn’t something WRONG with that?

We must seek answers, but we must love people enough to do something about what we find in those answers.

My final question is this: Are you ready to give an account of your life choices to the God Who loves you – but truly KNOWS you?

God hasn’t left us unaware of what to look for, nor has He left us without something to do about the terminal generation. In the end, everyone will be forced to give an account of their life. There is no escape from that truth. Don’t be scared. You can know the Creator well by that day if you begin to walk closely with Him now!