What is the Best Short Description of the Last Days? #319
Happy Tuesday to you, friends! Today our readings range from 2nd Kings 23 to Psalms 142, Joel 2 and finish with Hebrews 5. We will be focusing in Joel 2 today, talking a bit about the Second Coming of Jesus and the Last Days.
At the Bible Reading Podcast Bunker/House it feels a little like the last days today. There are seven of us – my wife Janet and 5 kids, and from Saturday night until this morning, we’ve had four come down with sickness – my wife, and three of the kids. They are very stuffy and sneezing, and some are coughing. We are hoping for a cold, and not Covid, but won’t know the results of the tests until Wednesday, so the testing site says. We would appreciate your prayers for quick healing and deliverance from a hard struggle regardless of what it is. The kids and I all have asthma, so that makes any cold/flu/Covid a bit challenging. That said, God is sovereign and on His throne and we trust Him in times that are good and bad – He is faithful!
Can you name the Bible passage the FIRST sermon ever preached in the church was based on? We find the answer to that question in Acts chapter 2, the Day of Pentecost, which finds Peter preaching to the gathered crowd of thousands of people who were drawn by the Holy Spirit speaking through the followers of Jesus. Peter stands up to address the crowd, and quotes directly from Joel 2, which is our focus passage today.
Before moving to California, I was a pastor in Alabama, where I also taught Bible and theology classes at a couple of different colleges for almost ten years. I miss teaching those classes, but there are less opportunities to teach Bible classes at the college level in Cali than there are in the Bible belt, so we make do. One of my favorite questions to ask students on a test was today’s Big Bible question: What is the best six/seven (depending on your translation) word description of the return of Jesus and the end times? The answer wasn’t hard if you were in class, or got the notes from somebody, because I would make a big deal out of today’s Joel 2 passage. Let’s read it together, and see if you can hear that six word description of the return of Jesus/Last Days/End times.
Did you catch it? It’s right there in Joel 2:31, “The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”
I have been thinking about that passage a good bit the last couple of months, most especially when our city of Salinas was being impacted by all of the California fires, one of the bigger of which was just about seven miles from our house. The day was eerie – the sun was indeed darkened, and it looked like a cloudy/stormy day even though there was no clouds at all – the sky was this weird brown color, and the sun was a not very intense pinkish color. You could stare right at it, just like looking at a dim light quite a distance away. It was not bright at all. The moon was weird too, owing to all of the ash in the sky. The moon was a very strange dark orange color. Not quite a blood moon, and the sun wasn’t quite dark, but they were so different looking, that I could far more easily imagine conditions that could turn the moon to a blood-like color, and darken the sun.
When Jesus returns, it will be a great day and a terrible day. Great for those who are saved by grace, through faith and are in Christ, and terrible for those who have rejected Him.
Why will it be terrible? Well, let’s look at Revelation 14:
Rev 14:14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. VISUALIZE!
Now – that last line? That line is very, very interesting. What in the world is going on here? I believe, acknowledging the mystery of Revelation, that John is describing the Second Coming, and that it doesn’t look exactly like what we usually think. It will be beautiful, glorious, hopeful, graceful, wonderful, encouraging and violent. Joel 2: The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and terrible day of the LORD arrives
Why will it be great? Revelation 21 has our answer:
3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. 5 Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life. 7 The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son. 8 But the cowards, faithless, detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
I believe ‘Great and terrible’ is the absolute proper way to talk about the last days. So many things happening will be great, most especially the anticipation of the appearing of Jesus…and yet so many more things happening will be absolutely terrible and difficult. There will be terrible times in the last days, says Paul to Timothy. Jesus tells us that if those days hadn’t been shortened by God’s decree, then nobody would survive them! This is sobering, but also hopeful…because we know that right after the terrible part of the last days, comes the great part!
How can we be prepared for the great and terrible day of the Lord? I love the answer that John “Amazing Grace’ Newton gives to this question, in which he demonstrates (writing in the 1700s) that not all Christians of the past assumed that Jesus would return in their lifetimes!)
These great events will take place unexpectedly and suddenly: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” We have reason to believe, that a part at least of mankind will be employed as they are now, and as they were in the days of Noah and Lot,* eating, drinking, buying, selling, building, and planting; having nothing less in their thoughts than the calamity and destruction which shall overwhelm them without warning. For, while they are promising themselves peace, the day of the Lord shall come upon them, like a thief in the night, unlooked for, and, like the pangs of a labouring woman, unavoidable. “In that day the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of man shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted.”† So large a part of divine prophecy remains yet to be fulfilled, that I apprehend it is not probable that any of us shall be alive when this great and terrible day of the Lord shall be revealed. But are not some of us exposed to a similar dreadful surprise? If you die in your sins, the consequences will be no less deplorable to you, than if you saw the whole frame of nature perishing with you. Alas! what will you do, whither will you flee for help, or where will you leave your glory, if, while you are engrossed by the cares or pleasures of this world, death should arrest you, and summon you to judgement! The rich man in the Gospel is not charged with any crimes of peculiar enormity. It is not said that he ground the faces of the poor, or that he, by fraud or oppression, kept back the hire of the labourers who had reaped his havest; he only rejoiced in his wealth, and in having much goods laid up for many years, and that therefore he might securely eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.”* Awful disappointment! Thus will it be, sooner or later, with all whose hearts and portions are in this world, but are not rich towards God! Consider this, you that are like-minded with him. Tremble at the thought of being found in the number of those who have all their consolation here, and who, when they die, must leave their all behind them. Now is the acceptable time, the day of salvation. Now, if you will seek the Lord, he will be found of you. Now, if you pray for grace and faith, he will answer you. But “when once the Master of the house shall arise, and” with his own sovereign authoritative “hand shall shut the door” of his mercy, it will then be in vain, and too late, to say, “Lord, Lord, open unto us!
John Newton and Richard Cecil, The Works of John Newton, vol. 4 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 475–476.