Pentecost: The Fulfillment of Joel 2 Part 6
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
And I will shew wonders in heaven above,
Peter not only quotes that part of the prophecy of Joel which was applicable to the events currently taking place in Jerusalem on Pentecost, but he quotes that part which pertains to the disaster approaching the Jewish nation, and to the final judgment (see Joel 2.1-11). I believe verse 19 applies directly to the overthrow of Judea and Jerusalem. It is likely that both the prophet and the apostle refer to the great tragedy that descends upon the Jews at the destruction of Jerusalem, and the fearful signs and wonders that preceded those calamities. Jesus’ description of the Second Coming sounds somewhat the same. This is how He portrayed it when replying to a question asked by His disciples: “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? He replied, “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:5-7; NKJV).
“Wonders” refers to the signs which were to precede the destruction of Jerusalem. “I will shew wonders” is literally, "I will give signs." The word in Hebrew from which it is interpreted means, phenomenon; wonderful occurrences; miracles fashioned by God or his messengers (Exodus 4:21, 7:3,9, 11:9, Deuteronomy 4:34) etc. It is the common word to denote a miracle, in the Old Testament. Here it means, however, a significant appearance, a wonder, a remarkable occurrence. It is commonly joined in the New Testament with the word signs, and we often read “signs and wonders” (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22, John 4:48). In these places, it does not of necessity mean miracles, but unusual and remarkable appearances or manifestations. Here it means great and striking changes in the sky, the sun, moon, etc. The Hebrew is, "I will give signs in the heaven, and upon the earth."
and signs in the earth beneath;
It is evident from Peter's application that that which is contemplated is still in the future. Though I believe he is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, there is a case that can be made for applying it to the day of final judgment. That theory rests in the opinion that the words “all flesh” cannot be applied to the dangers awaiting the Jews alone, which would occur at the destruction of Jerusalem. But the parties contemplated in the prophecy are “all flesh;” therefore, all classes of men are embraced in the prophetic view, and the “day of the Lord” must, according to Old Testament usage, be a day of terror in which all are included. But in the destruction of Jerusalem the Jews alone faced the terror; therefore this cannot be the meaning. It must, then, be the Day of Judgment; because this is the only day of unsurpassed terror still awaiting all mankind.
blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:
“Blood, fire, and vapour of smoke” refers to the skirmishes and assassinations that will happen all over Judea, and wasting the country with fire and sword.
“Blood” is commonly used as an emblem of slaughter, or of battle.
“Fire” is also an image of war or the burning down of towns and dwellings in time of war.
“Vapor of smoke” means rising columns or pillars of smoke; and is another image of the tragedy of war; the smoke rising from burning towns. It has almost always been customary in war to burn the towns of an enemy, and to render him as helpless as possible, and so the tragedies denoted here are those represented by such scenes. To what particular scenes there is reference to here, it may be impossible now to say. It may be remarked, however, that scenes of this kind occurred before the destruction of Jerusalem; and there is a striking resemblance between the description in Joel, and that by which our Saviour foretells the destruction of Jerusalem—“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake, those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt 24:21-24; KJV).
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
The prediction of the terrible destruction of Jerusalem is foretold here: “There shall be wonders in heaven above, the sun turned into darkness and the moon into blood; and signs too in the earth beneath, blood and fire.” Josephus, in his preface to his history of the wars of the Jews, speaks of the signs and phenomenon that preceded them, terrible thunders, lightning, and earthquakes; there was a fiery comet that hung over the city for a year, and a flaming sword was seen pointing down upon it; a light shone upon the temple and the altar at midnight, as if it had been noon-day.
“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood” are figurative representations of eclipses, intended most probably to point out the fall of the civil and ecclesiastical state in Judea. Every person knows that the SUN is darkened when a total eclipse takes place, and that the MOON looks like a bloody hue during an eclipse. This is very similar to the description Christ gave of the last days that will precede His Second Coming—"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matt 24:29; NKJV). The same images used here by Peter with reference to the sun and moon were used by Christ. They occur several places in scripture, such as:
• "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light” (Mark 13:24; NKJV).
• “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men…But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10; NKJV).
The shining of the sun is an emblem of prosperity; the withdrawing, or eclipse, or setting of the sun is an emblem of calamity, and both are often used in the Scriptures (See Isaiah 60:20, Jeremiah 15:9, Ezekiel 32:7, Amos 8:9, Revelation 6:12, 8:12, 9:2, 16:8). To say that the sun is darkened, or turned into darkness, is an image of calamity and especially of the calamities of war; when the smoke of burning cities rises to heaven, and obscures its light. This is not, therefore, to be taken literally, and it is not necessarily any indication of what will occur in regards to the sun at the end of the world.
and the moon into blood,
The word “blood” as it is used here means that obscure, crimson color which the moon has when the atmosphere is filled with smoke and vapor; and especially the gaudy and disturbing appearance which it assumes when smoke and flames are thrown up by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions—“I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood” (Rev 6:12; NKJV). Here, Peter uses the word to denote great calamities. The images used are indicative of wars, and large fires, and unusual natural disasters such as earthquakes. Since these things actually occurred prior to the destruction of Jerusalem predicted in Matthew 24, it may be supposed that the prophecy in Joel 2:28–32 had a direct reference to that. Therefore, the meaning of this quotation by Peter is that what occurred on the day of Pentecost was the beginning of the series of wonders that were to take place during the times of the Messiah (the Gospel dispensation). It is not implied that those scenes of destruction were to conclude, or to be exhausted in that age. They may herald that great day of the Lord which is still in the future, a date that only God knows. There are some who say that the reference here is to the smoky vapor that accompanied Christ’s ascension. Others say that it refers to the sun darkened, and the moon made blood, at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. Still, others believe this is a description of the struggles of the Jewish people; the burning of their cities, and towns, and synagogues, and lastly their temple. There is yet another opinion which says this turning of the sun into darkness, and the moon into blood, speaks of the dissolution of their government, both civil and sacred, and the extinguishing of all their lights as a nation.