From the Reformed Quarterly Spring 1988 Bulletin.
THE SPIRIT OF RESTORATION
“Isn’t it beautiful!” Alice exclaimed as she showed off her one-carat diamond engagement ring. She excitedly shared with her family and friends the prospect of marriage and dreamed of a happy home. To Alice, the ring symbolized the future, and every glittering facet of the diamond spoke of the promises and blessings of marriage.
Like Alice, we all want a “token” of commitment and appreciation; our human nature demands some concrete evidence. The Bible strongly emphasizes the sincerity of God’s promises to us. He expects faith, but in turn the Lord gives us tokens that His promises will be fulfilled. One of these “tokens” is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ “engagement” gift to His people and promises a full share with the Son in the Father’s inheritance. As Alice anticipated her prospective marriage, so we look forward to the full realization of God’s promises.
The prophet Joel foretold the Spirit as the assurance of God’s restoration, which involves the forgiveness of sins, the presence of God, the renewal of heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem, and the perpetual enjoyment of the goodness of the Father and the Son. However, these promises must be seen against the background of the terrible tragedy that had befallen God’s people. In Joel’s time, some twenty-five hundred years ago, Israel had lost nearly everything to a locust plague, a plague far worse than any which had come before (1:2). In times past, the Lord had sent drought, blight, and pests to call His children to repentance (Deut.8:5; cf. Prov.3:11,12; Heb.12:4-11). But the locust plague was different.
Suddenly, without warning or apparent reason, God’s children lost everything to insects! The Lord sent Joel, first, to explain that the devastation was nothing compared to the Day of the Lord and, second, to assure God’s children that their Father in heaven cared.
THE DAY OF THE LORD
The locust plague had catastrophic effects on Israel’s economy, society, international relations, and religious life. God’s people were asking, “Why?” and “Does God care about us?” In this context Joel asked them to determine what gave them real meaning in life: human comfort or the promise of God’s kingdom on earth.
The plague devastated Israel’s economy, society, culture, and political system. This “great depression” revealed man’s utter helplessness in the face of God’s infinite might. The Lord taught His people that the present calamity was insignificant compared with the Day of the Lord, when the great King will bring judgment on all humanity (cf. Isa.2:22). Joel asks, “Who can endure it?” in order to impress upon all that on that day “no one can stand, except by God’s grace.
THE CALL FOR DEVOTION
Who is not afraid of this day? Joel strips away our self-confidence and reliance on human structures and values as insignificant in the face of God’s coming. No one can escape His consuming fire except for those who have found protection in God:
“But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel” (3:16b). The people of God, who persevere in living godly lives, enjoy God’s fatherly compassion and patience (2:13).
Joel called on his contemporaries for a wholehearted loyalty to the Lord (2:13). Tragedy and disappointment are divinely ordained instruments of reevaluation and self-assessment. Through them the Lord renews the invitation to trust in Him for everything. The nature of man’s response evidences whether his commitment is to the Lord or to the structures of this world.
Joel is a representative of the prophets, our Lord, and the apostles, who call us to greater devotion in light of the future. For the prophets, as for our Lord, the teaching on salvation is directly related to the doctrine of the future. To put it more sharply, there is no biblical salvation, justification, or sanctification unless these doctrines are viewed in relation to the fullness of salvation: the victory, glory, and holiness of the New Creation.
THE VISION OF THE FUTURE
The doctrine of the future is important for every Christian. Through the prophetic word we receive glimpses of the great future God has prepared for us in Jesus Christ. The New Age will initiate the full enjoyment of salvation by all believers, Jew and Gentile alike.
Vitally important to this era are the judgment on evil, the subjugation of all nations and kingdoms, and the defeat of Satan and his hosts. Only when all forms of alienation have been removed will God’s children enter into the full enjoyment of their inheritance: the glorious liberty of the children of God (cf. Rom.8:21).
Judgment will fall on all who have rebelled against God. In His wrath, God will quash opposition and bring hidden motives to light. The whole creation, heaven and earth, will tremble at His presence: “The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble” (3:16a; cf. 2:10, 30ª31). As Judge and Warrior (3:2-13), God will bring down the kingdoms of this world as He did to the Egyptians at the Red Sea, prompting Moses to sing, “The LORD is a warrior; Yahweh is his name” (Exod.15:3).
The New Testament affirms that Jesus is the Divine Warrior who will come “like a thief in the night” and bring sudden destruction (1 Thess.5:2-3; cf. 2 Thess.1:9). John portrays the glorious Lord of Lords as the warrior whose eyes are a “blazing fire” (Rev.1:14) and from whose mouth comes “a sharp double-edged sword” (Rev.1:16). The “King of kings” commands “the armies of heaven” (19:14) and rides victoriously, inaugurating his glorious reign.
THE PROMISE OF THE SPIRIT
The believer in God’s Christ need not be afraid of the coming day of wrath because our Lord has suffered the Father’s wrath (1 Thess. 1:10) and because he has received assurance of the glorious future in the New Jerusalem. But how do we cope with the reality of this world: sickness, economic disaster, relational problems, and despair? God speaks through Joel His words of comfort: the Spirit, indwelling every believer, is His token of the age to come: Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed. When I will pour out my Spirit on all people … I will pour out my Spirit in those days (2:28-29, translation mine).
How do we know that the promises, the covenants, and the glorious future are ours? God has given us the Spirit of his Christ, who confirms our new relationship with Him. As Paul says, We know that the whole creation has been groaning … up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Rom.8:22-23). The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of Restoration. He renews faith and hope in us as we eagerly look toward the reality of God’s presence in protection and blessing.
The Spirit of God works in us, bringing about a closer fellowship and renewing hope in us with regard to the glorious fulfillment of the promises. He is present with all the godly, regardless of age, social standing, sex, or race (2:28-29; Rom. 10:12-13; cf. Eph.2:11-13). He assures us of the promises, draws us closer to the Father and Son, and evokes in us a hope in the restoration: the era of blessedness and the presence of God.
In conclusion, Joel predicts God’s judgment and the magnificence of His redemption! He promises that the “Spirit of Restoration” seals the promises of God for all who call on the name of the Lord. In our despondency, questions, and human frailty, the Spirit of God witnesses within us that we are the Father’s children. The Spirit of Christ witnesses to us that our Lord Jesus will come triumphantly as the great King and that He will bring in a new era of bliss, joy, peace, and tranquility. He is the “engagement” ring, the token that all the promises of God in Jesus will be fulfilled (2 Cor. 1:20). He beckons us not to be satisfied with the present but to long physically for the moment of consummation, the day of Restoration, for the Spirit will not rest until that time. He prays in all God’s children, “Come, Lord Jesus! Maranatha!”