Our previous issue (Mar/Apr) contained an article Are We Living in the Last Days? It showed how the apostle Peter quoted from Joel 2:28-32 and referred to his own time as the “last days”. Most of Joel chapters 2 and 3 speak of great disaster coming upon Israel and then the nation’s restoration at the return of the Messiah. The point of the article was that Peter was inspired to understand that certain parts of this book were being fulfilled in his day—the pouring out of the Spirit and the offer of salvation: “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
On the next page we have included an article by Ron Wilson about these verses. He points out that Peter also quoted the verses about the “wonders in heaven and earth” and showed how they were fulfilled during Peter’s time. Mr. Wilson claims that Peter said all of this prophecy was fulfilled in his time, but the book of Acts does not actually say that. Nevertheless, we can ask, “why did Peter quote it all, if it were not being fulfilled?”
Mr. Wilson goes on to show how that all of Joel 2:28-32 was fulfilled during the time of the New Testament. Some of the “fulfillments” he identifies would have been witnessed by only a few people—not the many who were living at his time. Others, such as the “moon turning to blood” being a full moon at sunset, are common astronomical occurrences that might be hard to accept as special “signs” from the Eternal.
But this is where we can learn an important lesson about prophecy. Prophecy is a symbolic outline of future events. The Eternal is free to bring about those prophesied events in any way that he chooses—often based upon what people do. The Eternal does not force people to do evil.
When He prophecies that someone will do evil, He does not have to force someone to do evil, He usually finds too many people who are eager to fulfill His prophecy. All he needs to do is make sure that someone is not being punished for their sins for a while: “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl 8:11).
Of the many Old Testament prophecies about Christ, most seem to be about his genealogy, his miracles and other common events that people of his day could have personally verified. But there were other prophecies that only a few would have witnessed, such as the giving of bread to Judas (John 13:18) or the gambling for His garments (John 19:24). It is completely God’s choice as to how a prophecy will be fulfilled. Christ could have given bread to His betrayer in the temple or some other public setting, but he gave it at a small, private meal.
Similarly, someone may have been planning to make Christ’s garment a prize for some public game but at the last minute realized it was wrong—so the prophecy was fulfilled by a few soldiers. Did the Eternal make those soldiers dishonor Christ? Probably not. Some of the soldiers actually believed that He was the son of God (Matt 27:54).
What would have happened if all of the soldiers associated with His trial would have refused to gamble for His garments? Would the Father have to force a soldier to be evil? No. The garment could have been left on the ground—and a couple of beggars could have gambled for it—maybe without even knowing who it belonged to.
The Bible clearly teaches that the actions and decisions of people can change the way prophecy is fulfilled:
The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it (Jer 18:7-10).
So was Joel 2:28-32 completely fulfilled in the time of Peter? It may have been. Or, it may be fulfilled in the future in a much more dramatic and powerful way.
Unless the Eternal has told us, we cannot know for sure. What actually will happen in the future depends upon the future actions of individuals—including you and me.
The Eternal created the Earth and all that is in it, but gave dominion over it to mankind (Gen 1:28). He told Adam to “tend and keep” the Garden of Eden and He brought the animals “to Adam to see what he would call them” (Gen 2:19-20).
As the years have gone by, mankind has completely destroyed some species of plants and animals that the Eternal made.
But every step of the way, the Eternal has been able to bring His plans and prophecies to pass, at the same time letting each man reap what he sows—an operation that is complex and ingenious beyond any man’s understanding (Eccl 3:11).