What is the biblical meaning of Joel 2:28-3:21? — Is it about the Tribulation?
The meaning of Joel 2:28-3:21 will be explained in three parts. This passage is a future prophecy about the return of Jesus Christ, the battle of Armageddon (Joel 3:1-17) and it ends with the 1,000 year, earthly kingdom (Joel 3:18-21). Here is Joel 2:28-32.
And 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. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls. Joel 2:28-32 (NASB)
Joel 2:28-31 and Acts 2:16-20 Compared
Acts 2:16-21 is a quote for the Joel passage.
. . . but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: “And it shall be in the last days,” God says, “That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. And I will grant wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:16-21 (NASB)
A quick comparison of Acts 2:16-21 to the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32 reveals that there are a few slight changes in wording but nothing significant.
The Joel prophecy starts with the statement “I will pour out My Spirit.” Acts states, “. . . in the last days” and then quotes the Joel 2:28-32. It is important to notice that the apostle Peter is very careful when he quotes Joel 2:28-32. He does not say that the prophecy was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles on the day of Pentecost and they spoke in tongues (Acts 2:1-13). Instead, he simply says this “is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel.” That is, the prophet Joel referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that would occur at the end of the tribulation. Note that Zechariah 12:1-14 describes the tribulation and Zechariah 12:10-14 refers to the outpouring of the Spirit at the battle of Armageddon. Zechariah 14:1-7 describes the second coming of Christ. Acts 2:16-21 simply prefigures the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which is described in the Joel prophecy.
After Jesus left, the Holy Spirit came as promised by Christ (John 14:25-26; 15:26; 16:13). The study titled, The Spirit’s Ministry – Tongues and Prophecy explains that while the Holy Spirit has always been active He came in a unique manner after Jesus left this earth and began indwelling the apostles and every Christian since. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers. While Joel 2:28-32 prophetically refers to the outpouring of the Spirit about the time of the battle of Armageddon in the tribulation, Acts 2:16-21 states that an outpouring of the Spirit had also occurred at Pentecost. Acts 9:10-12 tells us that Ananias experienced a vision and Acts 10:17-19 reveals that Peter had a vision from the Lord. The Apostle Paul also had visions (Acts 16:9-10; 18:9; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
Joel 2:32 and Acts 2:21 Compared
The last part of Joel 2:28-32 speaks of a future tribulation period which includes the return of Jesus Christ, the battle of Armageddon, and the establishment of God’s 1,000 year kingdom – all of which have not yet occurred. Joel and Acts say that wonders will occur in the sky, the sun will darken, the moon will turn red. These have not occurred yet and neither has the Lord Jesus returned. Daniel 7 and the book of Revelation confirm this. Acts 2:16-21 quotes Joel 2:28-31 but only the first part of Joel 2:32. In the verses below, we highlighted the common portion of Acts 2:21 and Joel 2:32.
And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21 (NASB)
And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls. Joel 2:32 (NASB)
Meaning of Joel 2:28-3:21
The rest of the Joel prophecy (Joel 2:32b-3:21) will be fulfilled in the future. That is, Joel 2:32b through Joel 3:21 describes the tribulation (Joel 2:32b-3:16). The battle of Armageddon is described in Joel 3:2-8, 11-16. The millennial kingdom is described in Joel 3:17-21.
It is important to recognize that it is common in scripture for hundreds and even thousands of years to occur between verses and in the middle of a verse. The study of the “Picture of the Antichrist” illustrates this type of occurrence. Another great example occurred in Luke 4:16–21 when Jesus was in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. During the worship service, He quoted a portion of the prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2. Jesus read the first verse and then stopped in the middle of Isaiah 61:2. The first part of the prophecy was about His first coming when He preached good news and healed many people. But He did not read the second part, since it is about the future judgment. That will occur in the end time. Old Testament prophecies frequently have large gaps of time in the middle of a verse and between verses.
Therefore, the meaning of Joel 2:28-3:21 is that God has planned for a period of time in which the world will experience horrible suffering. It is called the tribulation. It will end with the second coming of Christ at the battle of Armageddon. Then Christ will establish His kingdom that will cover the world.
The prophecy of Joel 2:28-3:17 is an important prophecy about future suffering. It describes a time when God will judge the world for its evil. God will pour out His wrath on an unbelieving, Christ-rejecting world. God will remove evil men and women from the world and establish His kingdom. After Christ victoriously defeats this evil world at the battle of Armageddon, the Sheep and Goat Judgment will occur and, initially, only Christians will populate the kingdom.
Suggested Links:The Spirit's Ministry - Tongues and Prophecy
Picture of the Antichrist
Satan In A Rage
Healing At Bethesda
When and where does the Goat and Sheep judgment occur?
What is the Battle of Armageddon? Which nations will be there?
Book of Zechariah
What did Jesus mean by the kingdom? — Repent for the kingdom
What are the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 signs and 7 bowls of Revelation? — The Tribulation