The Audience of the New Covenant in Joel (Part 1)
What is the purpose of Peter quoting Joel in his Pentecost sermon? This original passage that Peter had in mind should greatly dictate any discussion of infant baptism and the holy spirit in the New Covenant. It is worth noting at the outset that Peter's sermon is full of prophecy. In evaluating this prophecy in its context, one must determine when the New Testament fulfillment of Joel begins. This is ultimately incredibly important to determining who the audience of Peter is. Could it be they share an audience typologically?
The book of Joel is a series of short prophecies concerning the day of the Lord (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14). Many of the images associated with this prophecy reach into the future and points directly to the revelation of Jesus Christ. This is both in His incarnation, His judgment of Israel and temple, and His return on the final day. The first section of Joel’s prophecies sets the scene with the clear nature of his speech to multiple generations (Joel 1:3). The people of Israel are to remember their sinfulness before God and the judgment brought upon them. Their kids are supposed to remember. And even their kid’s children are supposed to remember. The day of the Lord is upon them (Joel 1:15) and this is why they must fast and gather together (Joel 1:14). This is a community, cross-generational event.
The people of Israel are in the depth of depravity and sin. The revealing of God’s justice and covenant will lift the people up out of their rejection and return them to their chosen status before God. Not that unlike Ezekiel and Isaiah, Joel will look to the original audience and offer them assurance that ultimately resides in the day of Pentecost.
Following on the heels of this first gathering of the people is another warning of the day of the Lord (Joel 2:1). This important theme is a bookend for Joel, it presides both at the start and the conclusion of the chapter (Joel 2:31). It is not then surprising that another community wide fast will be called at the middle of the chapter (Joel 2:15). The themes of Joel are fairly repetitive and this one will expand upon the generational elements of Joel. This truth though will come slightly later.
First, there is a rather fascinating conglomeration of covenant language for judgment. The people coming in judgment against the people of Israel are a consuming fire (Joel 2:3). This is not that unlike the poetic descriptions of God (Psa 18:8; 50:3). Perhaps, in an anti-exodus manner, it even reflects the pillar of fire that brought the people out in protection from the nation of Egypt (Exo 13:20-22; 14:19-20). In either case, this time the armies are permitted to conquer and turn Israel’s “garden of Eden” into a wilderness (Joel 2:3). Joel’s allusions once again remind us of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The celestial signs are brooding and the question becomes yet again “who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11; Eze 11:13). Who can endure the trials and tribulation? Which of God’s covenant people can survive this endeavor? God responds with the potential for deliverance (Joel 2:12-14). This is the cumulative revelation in the blessing of Israel (Joel 2:18-29) and the infamous portion of Peter’s sermon in Acts (Joel 2:28-32).
This means that any consistent hermeneutic will take this chapter in its entirety unless there is a break in continuity to separate its elements. Hence the interjection of "and it shall come to pass afterwards" (Joel 2:28) is incredibly important. One is left asking questions about when this is. Because of the role this plays in the sermon that Peter gives, this simple conjunction certainly moves from the generation of Joel to a future generation in terms of fulfillment. And it is likely also safe to assume that leads to a direct transfer of audience. So, Joel’s present audience remains in some sense the future audience of Peter. In every case this future generation is the generation of Peter. Thus in his sermon, Peter is picking up Joel's prophecy. Ultimately Peter is saying "this is now for you as the fulfillment of that audience."
This audience will be determined in part 2.