Baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire was prophesied by both Joel and John the Baptist (Joel 2:28-30; Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). The Hebrew word for Spirit is found 388 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word for Spirit is used 378 times in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit was the Agent in the reconstruction of the chaotic state of creation. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). The earth became without form and void, and darkness was on the deep. The Spirit moved on the chaotic state of creation (Gen. 1:2). The Holy Spirit had a part in the beginning of man (Gen. 2:7). He did not always strive with man through the ministry of the word (Gen. 6:3). Before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came on judges, craftsmen, prophets, and civil leaders in the Old Testament for their empowerment for a particular mission (Num. 24:2; Judg. 3:10; 6:34; etc.), and then He departed from them (I Sam. 16:14). At Pentecost, the assembly was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Five of the seven references to baptism in the Spirit were prophetical (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5). The other two are historical
(Acts 11:16; I Cor. 12:13). Subsequent to Pentecost, the New Testament speaks of being born of the Spirit (John 3:5-8), having been baptized in the Spirit (I Cor. 12:13), having been sealed with the Spirit (Eph. 1:13), being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and having been anointed with the Spirit (I John 2:20,27; II Cor. 1:21).
The word "fire" is used more than 375 times in the Bible, and about 76 of those are in the New Testament. The Hebrew word is esh. It is used in the context of either God's revelation of Himself to man or man's approach to God in worship. In order to properly interpret this word in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16, some of its uses in the Old Testament should be considered.
When Adam and Eve fell, the sword like fire protected the way into the garden so that in order to get back into the garden of Eden they must go through fire (Gen. 3:24). Fire symbolizes separation of life in the separation of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden by the flaming sword. The climax of God's covenant with Abraham was by a lamp of fire (Gen. 15:17). God appeared to Moses in a blazing flame of fire (Ex. 3:2,4). The Lord descended on Mount Sinai in fire (Ex. 19:18). Ezekiel's vision was dominated by fire (Ezek. 1:26,27). The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire is a symbol of God's judgment on those cities (Gen. 18;19). Korah, with 250 followers, was consumed by fire (Num. 16:32-35). God destroyed Nadab and Abihu with fire because they offered strange fire (Lev. 10:1,2). Fire symbolizes cleansing (Is. 6:1-9; Mal. 3:2). Conclusively, in the Old Testament, fire symbolizes separation, judgment, destruction, and cleansing.
To one person fire means death, and to another it means life. Fire refers to God's revelation of Himself and man's approach to God by means of a sacrifice. Where fire and blood are mentioned together one thinks of sacrifice which is bless ing. This is demonstrated in the offerings of Leviticus 1-5. But where there is fire without blood there is a curse.
The New Testament Greek word for fire is pur. It is used a few times in a literal sense (Matt. 17:15; Luke 22:55; Acts 28:5). It is used symbolically of the Spirit (Acts 2:3), of the judgment seat of Jesus Christ where our works will be tried so as by fire (I Cor. 3:13-15), of God as a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), and of the Lord Jesus as He judges the assemblies (Rev. 1:14). The word denotes judgment in many of the approximately 76 references. Since John was predicting blessing when he said Jesus Christ would baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire, how could judgment be a blessing? This will be considered later in our discussion.
The prophecy of Joel, some of which was quoted by Peter at Pentecost, may be divided in the following manner: (1) Joel foretold the day of the Lord (chap. 1). (2) In view of the day of the Lord, Joel exhorted and consoled the people (chap. 2). (3) Although the bondage of God's people may be long and grievous, it shall not be everlasting (chap. 3).
The day of the Lord, which will be associated with fire, is described in Joel 1:1-10 and foreshadowed in verse 15. National calamity came on Israel. The memory of God's judgment should be transmitted to all posterity and written for the generations to come (Ps. 102:18). Israel should let their woes be warnings, their sufferings be standing sermons, and their corrections be instructions for future generations. Paul gave the same kind of instruction to the Corinthian saints when he drew from Old Testament analogies. A record should be kept of God's great works, whether they were for blessings or punishments, as a list for the benefit of posterity, not with vain affection of wit but with holy gravity.
The insects listed in Joel 1:4 were instruments of Divine judgment. Joel was calling Israel to repentance in order to avert a more serious judgment. The palmerworm derives its name in the Hebrew from shaving, because it shaves the fruit from the earth. The locust derives its name in Hebrew from multitude. It crops the tops of plants. The cankerworm derives its name in Hebrew from licking. It feeds on flowers and fruit. The caterpillar derives its name from wasting, because it utterly consumes fruit, branches, and all. Joel was calling the people to repentance in order to avert a more serious judgment by means of hostile armies, of which the insects he mentioned were only types. Each invasion was with more intense destruction. What one insect left, the next devoured until all was destroyed. This is more than history. It is prophecy, a type of another more terrible invasion which had its partial fulfillment in the day of Joel and will have its complete fulfillment in the day of the Lord.
Instruction to the people in view of their judgmental circumstances was to lament like a virgin (1:8), be ashamed (1:11), and gird yourselves (1:13). Joel was calling them to repentance. The Lord's ministers and the land mourned (1:9,10). The land lies under the curse of barrenness, even at its best. Creation is groaning because of the curse, waiting for the time the curse will be lifted (Rom. 8:20-22). The offerings were no longer being made (1:13). The priests should sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather in the house of God, and cry to the Lord (1:14). The place where they were to assemble was "into the house of the LORD your God." He was their God by virtue of the covenant. He is ours by virtue of the eternal covenant of grace. The object of this day was for repentance and confession of sins. There must be humiliation in order for a person to have proper reflection on the things of the Lord. Private mourning and humiliation are not enough under public calamities. A time should be appointed to come to the appointed place that the fast should be made known. There was no example of fasting before Moses. Neither the
Savior nor the apostles instituted any particular fast. True fasting results when believers become so consumed with holy business that everything else is laid aside.
There is a lesson in this for us today. The person with God-given faith embraces Christ; his praying embraces the sovereignty of God; and his fasting denies himself. Because of the desolated condition of the institutional assembly, which is lying in spiritual waste today inflicted by many spiritual foes, we have spiritual drought. As in the days of the prophecy of Amos (Amos 8:11), there is a famine for the word of God in all its purity. The call goes forth to repent, but people will not repent. This repentance must begin with the leaders. Because of famine for the word of God and the worship of God, the judgment of God came in Joel's time. America cannot continue the way she is going without experiencing the judgment of God.
The day of the Lord was interpreted in Joel 1:15. Joel prophesied that it would come as a destruction. The day of the Lord would be associated with fire (Joel 1:19,20). The Spirit took the opportunity afforded by an unparalleled scarcity of things in Joel's time to awaken the people in respect to the day of the Lord. National calamity came on Israel, which foreshadows the great and terrible day in which God's power shall be manifested in judgment.
The blowing of the trumpet is linked with the day of the Lord (Joel 2:1). The priests' duty was to blow the trumpet. There were two trumpets blown in Israel (Num. 10). The trumpets come in with striking fitness after the instruction respecting the movement of the cloud. They were made of one piece of silver, but they served a dual purpose. One was blown to assemble the people, and the other was blown for an alarm to alert the Israelites for journeying.
The trumpet must give a distinct message. This ancient custom of the Old Testament to give a distinct message is for us today. The man of God must give a certain message in order that the people of God may prepare themselves for battle: "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (I Cor. 14:8). Shall we permit men to advance into judgment without being warned? Should we remain quiet and not give a distinct sound? People must be exposed to truth whether or not they heed it. Sounding the alarm is not a warning concerning what has already taken place but the warning pertaining to that which was about to take place. This follows the description of the dread army which was to overrun the land.
The day of the Lord is accompanied with darkness, gloominess, clouds, thick darkness, and fire (Joel 2:2,3). Joel was giving a prophecy of the end time when fire will devour before the people; a flame will burn behind them; and behind them there will be a desolate wilderness. Nothing shall escape them (Joel 2:3). "The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining" (Joel 2:10).
Darkness is the emblem of intense sorrow, but light is the emblem of joy. The image describes the universality of darkness. Darkness will grow darker. In this instance, instead of the mountain tops catching the gladdening rays of the early morning sun and the light spreading from one height to another until the whole earth is arrayed in light, all will become darkness. Apostasy will continue to escalate until the end time. The greatness of Israel's sin brought judgment, and it will bring a terrible time of judgment which she has not seen, even in the years of her captivity.
The day of the Lord is described as "great and very terrible; and who can abide it?" (Joel 2:11). In view of the coming day and God's intervention, Israel should repent. An event too clear to miss is the appeal to the nation to repent before the judgment of God fell (Joel 2:12-17). There is a turning with the brain without turning with the heart. However, alteration is required of not only the mind but also the affections of the heart. Without a change in the affections of the heart, repentance is not genuine. Christians know that when the Lord appeals to us to repent, repentance is needed; and we escape chastisement only by running to God.
Repentance is represented in Scripture as renewing from decay, refining from dross, recovering from a malady, cleansing from soil, rising from a fall, or turning. Some rend neither their hearts nor their garments. Others rend their garments and not their hearts, and some rend their hearts and garments. Inward sorrow and outward expression must both be manifested. Inward sorrow is manifested by what we consistently do. When the heart is made clean, the garment is also made white. A rent heart is followed by a rent veil and a rent heaven (Matt. 27:51; Is. 64:1).
The nation was also called to fast. Fasting is self-denial. Feeding the flesh will increase corruption (Jer. 5:7,8). Abstinence subdues the flesh. This is what Paul had in mind when he said he buffeted his body to keep it in subjection (I Cor. 9:27). Fasting days and soul fattening days are not the same.The nation was called to weeping and mourning. Peter never looked as good as when he wept bitter tears in repentance. A Christian out of the will of God never looks better than when he is weeping bitter tears of repentance. King David illustrates this in Psalms 6 and 51. Repentance includes fasting and mourning. What is a humbling day without a humble heart? Sorrow for sin must not be light and sudden but heavy and piercing. Israel must rend their hearts and not their garments (Joel 2:13).
The appeal was heeded. The priests, the ministers of the Lord, led out in the turning. They wept between the porch and the altar. The porch denotes fellowship with God, and the altar proclaims accomplished redemption. Israel repented and manifested repentance. The Lord blessed her (Joel 2:18,19), emancipated her (Joel 2:20), prospered her (Joel 2:21-27), judged the Gentile nations (Joel 3:1-8), and promised kingdom blessings (Joel 3:17-21).
God promised repentant Israel former and latter rain (Joel 2:23). Charismatics claim that the former rain refers to the original outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the latter rain denotes the charismatic revival of the last days. Contrary to their opinion, this verse and James 5:7-8 are linked: "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." Hence, the rain ties with the outpouring of the Spirit predicted by Joel, and the latter rain designates an event which will immediately precede Christ's second coming.
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