Devotional Thoughts: How will it all end?

One of the debates in Christian theology is how does the world as we know it come to an end. We all agree that in the end, God's justice will prevail. However, how do we get there?

Joel 3 appears to be one of those passages in the Bible that looks at how it all works out. Its long and its confusing so I'll try to blog through it a little bit at a time.

I'll make the disclaimer right up front: I'm not a theologian. I'm just an ordinary Christian who is trying to understand what the Bible is saying. On 99% of matters, the Bible is pretty clear - what part of the 10 Commandments do I not understand? Or how does my life stack up to the definition of love in I Corinthians 13.

Here goes, the first three verses of Joel 3:

In those days and at that time,
when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will enter into judgment against them
concerning my inheritance, my people Israel,
for they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
They cast lots for my people
and traded boys for prostitutes;
they sold girls for wine
that they might drink.

In Joel 2, we had seen (1) the locusts (or some other great troubles) do damage, (2) the people turn back to God, (3) God blessing the people, (4) the Spirit poured out and then (5) the Day of the Lord.

Question: does this cycle of events repeat itself throughout human history?

The 5th event of this cycle is described in very cataclysmic fashion. So perhaps the events of 1 to 4 are repeated and in the last iteration we finally have step 5?

I'll set aside that question for now because I don't have an answer!

But what is here before us in Joel 3:1-3.

... when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem ...

When is that?

There is debate among Bible scholars as to when the book of Joel was written. Since there is a reference to King Jehoshaphat, the earliest would be when he was king (873–849 B.C.).

Since there is also a statement that suggests Judah and Jerusalem are in a shambles and one day will be restored, there are two possible time points I can think of:
(1) Exile period post 586 BC destruction of Jerusalem but before the restoration under Ezra-Nehemiah which means in some sense this has been fulfilled
(2) Ezra-Nehemiah period and beyond - the restoration of Jerusalem was regarded as somewhat under-whelming compared to its prior glory so Joel may be describing some much grander restoration.

Those who take a literalist approach to this passage would point to 1948 when the nation of Israel was re-established.

Those who take a non-literal approach would say the blessing promised here to Israel has been transfered to the church and will be fulfilled in a spiritual way. St. Peter cited Joel 2 in his sermon in Acts 2 which suggests he believed the pouring out of the Spirit applied to the church and one wonders if St. Peter believed that Joel 3 logically and temporally followed that event?

Again, I can't say I know which explanation is more valid.

What next?

... I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat ...

Alas, there is no Valley of Jehoshaphat in Israel. However, we do know Jehoshaphat means "the LORD judges." We also know that Jehoshaphat was one of the rare good kings. So perhaps the meaning would be similar to "valley of decision" as seen in Joel 3:14.

Indeed, that is what happens there.

... there I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel ...

Why should judgement fall against these people

they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.
They cast lots for my people
and traded boys for prostitutes;
they sold girls for wine
that they might drink.

Well deserved. There should be a special place in hell for those who buy and sell children.

Lord, I don't know when this passage will come to fulfillment. It is a sad fact that some of these things happen today. I trust that a time will come when judgment will fall upon those who do such evil. In the meantime, may Christians be at the forefront fighting for justice until your final justice arrives. In the meantime, I don't know how to pray for people who kill people with suicide bombs. But I pray that your Spirit would tell them it is wrong and if they should harden their hearts, I trust that justice will be done to them in this life and in the next. Lord, open my eyes to my own sin so that I may turn to you and ask for mercy, forgiveness and the power to be transformed into Christ-likeness. Amen.

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