Summary: Is it afterward, as in Joel, or "in the last days" as quoted by Peter? Are we in the last days, everyone wants to know. Amazingly simple answer.
The final days: Spirit and ultimate judgment. 2:28-3:3
The most famous passage of Joel is this one that is quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost. The assumption is that the Holy Spirit gave this passage to Peter, to link what he was experiencing there to the end times that Joel is here prophesying. The link is real, and very instructive, but not what even Peter was thinking in his natural mind. One gets the distinct impression from reading the New Testament that the early church, from messages like this, assumed that Jesus’ return was to be very soon. What they and many of us need to comprehend is that the grace and mercy of God has caused Him to place a huge gap of time right in the middle of Joel’s prophecy. Let’s go verse by verse.
v. 28. Where Joel says “afterwards”, Peter, in quoting Joel, tends to interpret him instead by saying “in the last days.” Perhaps the Spirit changed Peter’s quote in this way to let us know that Joel was speaking of events that would not come directly after the last things he was talking about (Israel’s full restitution in the Millennium). Instead Joel was starting a new paragraph, as it were. As that restitution was to be, in a generic sense, in the future, so is this pouring out of God’s Spirit. Verse 28 begins a new topic altogether, the only thing similar to the prior topic being that it will come about later than now.
All mankind is to be affected by this latter day outpouring. We read in Acts only of the beginning of that work, as representatives of all the Gentile nations receive a measure of the Spirit. Supernatural revelations from Heaven are promised not only to leadership, but to sons and daughters, young and old.
v. 29. Even the lowliest of classes are to be touched by this Spirit of God in the last days.
v. 30. But then comes a gap. Suddenly it is not Pentecost. Peter quotes this portion also, to show us something important, but the events of 30-32 have not happened in their fullness yet. Here is pictured the chaotic times also portrayed in the Bible’s final prophecies.
v. 31. Matthew 24:29 is in agreement with Joel’s statement here about how the sun and moon will not behave as they have for so many millennia. Notice that this entire period is called “the last days”. Hence we have been in “the last days” for over 2,000 years. But this verse says that one of these “last days” is the “great and awesome day of the Lord.”
v. 32. More “puzzlement” added to the difficulties of this passage. While it is true that whoever calls on Jesus’ Name will be delivered from his sins, there is a physical deliverance being mentioned here. When the awfulness of the Tribulation period begins, Revelation tells us that Israel will escape to an appointed place in “the wilderness” outside the reach of antichrist. That is when a horrendous persecution of Christians takes place, But elect Israel escapes, and thus fulfills the words of Joel.