Jesus Never Predicted The End Of The World

“Immediately after the distress of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’” – Matt. 24:29


The apocalyptic language that Jesus uses to describe the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem is often misunderstood as being about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ.

But if we read the actual context of the conversation we’ll see that it’s not about that at all.

At the beginning of what’s called the “Olivet Discourse”, Jesus and his disciples are at the Temple. The disciples point to the stones and marvel at how amazing it is. They say “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

And Jesus responds by saying: “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.”

This obviously disturbs them and so they ask Jesus: “When will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

And everything after that is an answer to those two questions.

The “end of the age” is not the “end of the world”. The age that is coming to an end is the Jewish age because their priesthood, their daily sacrifice, their temple and their status as a nation is about to be wiped off the face of the earth.

In this context, the “coming of the Lord” is similar to what is said about the Lord riding on the clouds as He brought judgment against Egypt:

“Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.” – Isaiah 19:1

Did God saddle up a cloud and come riding through the sky when He judged the nation of Egypt? No, that’s not what happened.

What did happen was that armies from another nation attacked Egypt and they experienced the “coming of the Lord” who was “riding on a swift cloud” against them.

This is what Jesus intends to communicate when, in the context of pronouncing a similar judgment against Jerusalem and their Temple, he says:

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” – Mark 13:26

Jesus even goes so far as to let them know the time frame of when these events will take place:

“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” – Mark 13:30

And Jesus was correct. The temple was destroyed in AD 70, just as He predicted it would be, with no stone left upon another and in the lifetime of those who were hearing Him pronounce this prophetic judgment.

What about where Jesus refers to the things like the sun and the moon not giving their light? What about His prophecy about the stars falling from the sky? Doesn’t that mean the world and the universe are being destroyed?

Yes, and no.

Much like the previous use of the “fire is not quenched and their worm does not die” language mentioned above, this is apocalyptic hyperbole.

Here’s a few examples:

Isaiah prophesies against Babylon:

“For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” – Isaiah 13:9-11

Ezekiel prophesies against Egypt:

“And when I shall put thee [Pharaoh] out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 30:18; 32:7-8

Amos prophesies against Israel about how the Assyrians will destroy them:

“in that day, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” – Amos 8:9

Isaiah prophesies against Edom:

“…Hearken, ye people: let the earth hear….All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll….For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold it shall come down upon Edom, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment….For it is the day of the Lords vengeance.” – Isaiah 34:1-8 
Notice anything?
Did you see how these prophets pronounced a very real-world judgment against them and yet used cosmic destruction-language?
Notice how they each promise that the stars will go dark, or the heavens will be dissolved and rolled up like a scroll? Notice how they foretell that this destruction will be marked by the sun and moon not giving their light?

All of that? It’s apocalyptic hyperbole. Prophetic and poetic overstatements about the cosmic-level judgment that is about to come upon them all.

Poetic, not literal.

No stars were harmed in the destruction of Edom. No moons or suns were actually extinguished when Babylon and Egypt got sacked. No heavens were actually rolled into a taco.

Hyperbole.

Now, go back and read what Jesus says about the destruction of the Temple and the “end of the age” that is coming to Jerusalem within a single generation. If you do, you’ll notice he uses the exact same phrases, and when he does the disciples understand that the moon, and the sun, and the stars and the sky will not literally turn to blood, or be extinguished, or fall, or be rolled up in a rubber band.

They knew – where we do not seem to know – that this was very common Old Testament-style apocalyptic language used to communicate a very real day of destruction and judgment that was about to come to pass.

The language is figurative, but the destruction is very, very real.

Notice a few more examples of this type of apocalyptic hyperbole:

“I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the Lord…The wicked will have only heaps of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the earth” – Zephaniah 1:2-3

Note: Zephaniah prophesied against Judah prior to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. God did not destroy the entire planet or wipe away everything from the face of the earth, in this event.

When the prophet Joel prophesies against Judah he says this about the armies that will be used to bring the Lord’s judgment:

“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 2:4-11

Once again, this is not a promise to snuff out the sun and the moon, or to extinguish the stars in the sky. It’s a promise to bring a cataclysmic level of doom upon Judah because of their sins.

Got it?

[I hope so]

Here’s a bonus example for you.

When Jesus says:

“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” [in Matt. 24:21]…
…you already know what he’s trying to say here, right?

Of course you do. Because in the Old Testament this sort of language was used over and over again to overstate the severity and horror of the judgment to come:

“And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations.” – Ezekiel 5:9

This was about the impending destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Jesus applied the same language to the impending destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matt.24:21). Both events, in the common hyperbole of the day, are spoken of as if they were each uniquely horrendous, but this is simply for emphasis.

The same language is used of the locust plague mentioned in Exodus 10:14, yet the language in Joel 2:2 seems to be describing another locust plague, also uniquely horrendous and “unequaled since the beginning of the world”, etc.

But can these three events all be the worst of all time and never to be equaled again? Of course not, but that’s not the point here. The hyperbole is not literal, but the destruction is.

Similarly, Solomon was said to have been uniquely wise and magnificent, using the exact same hyperbole (1 Kings 3:12-13). Yet we know of one [Jesus] who is “greater than Solomon” (Matt.12:42).

The language of “never before, and never after” is common hyperbole, and should not be pressed to a literalness beyond that which was intended in any of its uses.

In Daniel 9:12, he says of the destruction of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar:

“You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.”

Really? Well, maybe up to that point, but certainly not for all time.

The point – and I do think I have made it – is that hyperbole is never literal, but the destruction always is.

If any of this helps you, please let me know in the comments below and please share it with your friends on social media.

Thanks!
**
Keith Giles is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” and he also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast. He lives in Orange, CA with his wife and two sons.

"Awesome that you addressed this. Even though my church isn't "spirit heavy" (possibly to be ..."

What Makes Our Experiences Real?
"with the Potter's hands pressing upon clay in motion, one can perceive a certain progression, ..."

What If God Is Not In ..."
"Keith, how does this differ from the Lutheran definition of the Sacrament of the Altar?"

The Ordination of Bread and Wine
"Hey Keith,Love this article and your generous writing style!While the sovereignty of God and the ..."

What If God Is Not In ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • LisaLynn1961

    Excellent article. Wouldn’t this imply that “Left Behind” people are actually saying that none of these biblical prophecies were ever fulfilled?

  • Eescapers

    Certainly not as they understand their literal meaning…

  • jekylldoc

    Well, you certainly made the point, and it is an interesting one. Yet it still seems probable that Jesus and Paul expected a catclysmic Day of the Lord to overturn Roman rule. The very usage “Son of Man” evokes the prophecy in which beasts and monsters are followed by “One like a son of man” who leads in a very different way. It isn’t easy to untangle references put in Jesus’ mouth by later writers from words he actually said, and there are reasons to believe the Gospels were written after the Jewish Revolt came to serious destruction, but there is a variety of such apocalyptic forecasts in the Gospels, so there is at least some chance they are representing his actual predictions.

  • Paul Shryock

    Part of this article comes off as very anti-Semitic, in saying that the age of the Jews was passing away, as if they were replaced by the Church. While the intent might have been to discuss the ways people connected with God, and how a new Way was coming to replace the old way (sacrifices, temple, priesthood), it really sounds like Christians were replacing Jews. I would love to see that part of this article updated to use language that is more inclusive of Jewish people, please. With that change, I feel the main focus of the article would have my full attention.

  • Charles Le

    What a Crock ! Christ was just another Politician ! And every fucking Politician ever has been a Criminal ! There are Way more LIES than TRUTHS in LIFE ! So Believe what You Will ! That`s what SHEEP Do ! Right up to the Slaughter ! Politics is nothing more than Crimes Against Humanity ! And Where`s Your GOD ? He`s in your Fairy Tales ! BOGUS !

  • ravitchn

    Evidently Progressive Christians want to think well of Christianity and Jesus; they cannot bear the thought that Jesus expected and hoped for the coming of the Kingdom, which is also the end of the world as we know it. This article ignores many scholars, including especially Albert Schweitzer. It also proves that progressive Christians can be just as foolish as orthodox ones.

  • Bennie Waddell

    Great article. After being brain-washed for so many years with the garbage of literal interpretation it is refreshing to finally see some writers with a brain. The language of the New Testament is very similar to that of the Old Testament in it’s use of metaphors and the mystical. As such it is similar to the language of many spiritual texts from even older writings. Thank you.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    How interesting a reply. I just finished his book about his life and thoughts, and am starting his Quest for the Historical Jesus. And while I respect the amount of work involved with the research he has done, his conclusions are not quite right. When you start off with the idea that there are no such things as miracles, you already predicted your conclusion.
    And as far as “many scholars” arguments go, many “more scholars” strongly disagree with Schweitzer’s conclusion.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Why anti-semitic? The age ofg the Jews WAS passing away – obviously, that’s what happened as a start in 70 AD, and was completed after the revolt in 125 AD. That’s what happens when you revolt under the Roman empire…

  • Keith
    Your post is wide of the mark in terms of what Jesus thought.

    I think your problem starts because you think Jesus was a progressive Christian. He wasn’t. He was a conservative Jew—a conservative Jew who was sure the Kingdom of God was about to erupt on the world. Specifically, a literal Kingdom of God was going to be set up in Jerusalem. That new kingdom of God was going to be an example to all the nations that they should get in line and obey the Torah.

    You say, “The age that is coming to an end is the Jewish age because their priesthood, their daily sacrifice, their temple and their status as a nation is about to be wiped off the face of the earth.” I think you seem to be saying that Jesus thought that the daily sacrifices in the temple would no longer be necessary because of his coming sacrifice on the cross.

    That is absolutely not what Jesus thought and taught.

    Jesus didn’t see any end to Judaism. He saw Judaism reaching its pinnacle in the Kingdom of God. The Temple, the sacrifices, the Torah would all still be in operation.

    Happy to engage in a conversation if you want.

    -john

  • Clive Loseby

    HI John, I’m so glad you know exactly who Jesus was and exactly what he thought. I don’t, not being around at the time…..

    It’s fine to be convinced in your own beliefs but probably better not to state them as indisputable facts mate. 🙂

  • Clive Loseby

    I loved this article, by the way, brilliant!

  • Clive Loseby

    I see no anti-semitism here mate, none whatsoever….

  • Paul

    This fits in very well with everything Jesus said about eternal life, which I wrote about here – http://amzn.to/2wZJg0t. Jesus proclaimed the goodness of God, not the judgement of God. He taught people how to live the kind of life God wanted them to live in the world – “eternal” life. And “eternal” is a mistranslation…probably by Jerome.

  • Clive, true, nobody know what Jesus actually said and did. We have to go with the sources we have. And it’s best if we go with our earliest sources. Paul’s letters were first but he doesn’t really say much about Jesus’ life and teachings. Mark was the first gospel, around ad 65. Luke and Matthew followed. If you look at these early sources, and add in Q, you see that the most likely conclusion is that Jesus was a Jewish apocalyptic prophet, a disciple of John the Baptist, in fact. Jesus did not teach that he was God. He didn’t know anything about salvation by grace through faith. He was all about the Torah. His message was repent and start following the Torah because the Kingdom of God is coming real soon. And when he said the Kingdom of God he meant a literal kingdom in Jerusalem (after booting out the Romans).

  • Rudy Schellekens

    I suggest you read through John’s Gospel. Jesus is pretty clear in his purpose: I have come to die… My kingdom is not of this world. My kingdom does not come by sword. Etc., etc.

  • Clive Loseby

    Hi John, that’s one way of looking at it certainly, perhaps not one I would entirely agree with but we are all looking through a glass darkly 🙂

  • Randy, I’ve read John many times. John was written 70 years after Jesus died. During the time between Jesus’ death and John, believers’ esteem of Jesus grew. They considered him part of the heavenly host. But even John doesn’t think he was God Almighty. To John, Jesus was the Word. John is worthless when it comes to trying figure out what Jesus actually said and did.

  • Cliff

    I agree that we must begin more and more to examine Jesus’ Jewishness and his Jewish context, and even the NT itself as a Jewish writing, excepting possibly Luke/Acts…I believe Jesus says the Kingdom of God is here and now, within us? I do not give much credence to John as historical writing, beautiful poetry, yes, but not much to rely on as as factual because John was not an eyewitness or companion to Jesus….

  • “I think you seem to be saying that Jesus thought that the daily sacrifices in the temple would no longer be necessary because of his coming sacrifice on the cross.” – No, he thought that the temple would be destroyed because he thought that the temple would be destroyed. It had nothing to do with his sacrifice on the cross except that it was judgement for killing so many prophets and then killing the Son of God.

  • Jesusisdemocrat

    Excellent article!!!

  • The end of the world is described in Mark 14.
    Mark 14,vs 30/31 states that Jesus said “I assure you this generation will
    not pass away until all these things take place”. The generation he was
    talking to, has passed away a long time ago and nothing happened.

  • Jazz Hands

    Excellent! Where was this when I wrote my Eschatology thesis on this passage and topic? It would look a LOT different.

  • ravitchn

    Read Schweitzer’s The Mystery of the Kingdom of God.

  • ravitchn

    What is antisemitic is the old Christian theme that with Jesus’ coming the old dispensation is irrelevant. This is not something for evidence but it is ideology and the font of future antisemitism.

  • ravitchn

    I Thessalonians (if written by Paul) expects with Jesus the imminent Eng. 2 Thessalonians (cannot be by Paul) contradicts 1 Thessalonians because the End had not come and didn’t seem likely to come (and has never in fact come). 2 Thessalonians was written to refute 1 Thessalonians; they cannot both be by Paul; so early on the Christians engaged in fake news, fake documents, etc. Nothing new here for people whose study has long found that the Gospels and Epistles are not truthful but ideological.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    I’ll look for it – but if his final conclusion on the identity and nature of Jesus is wrong, that book will not do anything other then continue his incorrect thinking…

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Not quite sure how you make that jump. Jesus has nothing to say about what will take the place of Judaism in his statements.

  • ravitchn

    It is more likely you are wrong than Schweitzer. Your attitude towards a great scholar and great man is appalling.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    I do not deny the scholarship of dr Schweitzer. I disagree with his conclusions. And many other great scholars do, too.
    that has nothing to do with my respect for the man.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    Or is it written somewhere that, “Thou shalt never disagree with dr. Schweitzer?” I venture to say he would be the first to take that and place it somewhere where sunshine will never find it. He was a scholar, and dealt with differing opinions every day while he was in school, either as a teacher or a student. That is what happens in a good academic setting: You are challenged and challenging… If you went to school where that did NOT happen, you might reconsider the value of such an education…

  • ravitchn

    No, but almost all the early church figures were sure that Jews and Judaism were finished. This hard to deny; just read any of the ante-Nicaean fathers or anyone up to 1964 when the Catholic church was so embarrassed by its vicious past that it changed its view of this. Many Catholics never changed and remain what I call Catholic Fascists. You are evidently not a Catholic but don’t be so proud; the Protestants were just as bad, starting with Luther until fairly recently.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    I am not sure what direction you are coming from. I am neither Catholic nor Protestant (Catchy title for a book, I guess). I do however, believe that the Bible is pretty accurate in the details of the story.
    And from that perspective, Judaism came to it’s fulfillment in the Christ event. We move from Abraham’s descendants bringing forth a blessing for all nations. From those who once were not His people to now being His people – too.

  • Alem

    Dear Keith,
    You used the word ‘hyperbole’ nine times. I take it you enjoy thinking and writing in hyperboles!

  • ravitchn

    You seem to share the age old Christian denigration of the Jews for their unbelief. Not believing in Jesus is a sign of intelligence and even Jesus would understand this. He and his message have been lost from about the year 100 ad. The real Christians died with the Jewish Christians who followed James of Jerusalem; they died out from persecution and marginalization. Some of their views entered Islam which knew about Christianity from non-orthodox Christians like the Jewish Christians and the Nestorians and Monophysites. Mohammed thought he could be the prophet all awaited but when the Jews were luke warm towards him he turned against them. But it took a few centuries before his followers realized they had a new religion and not just a version of judaeo-christianity.

  • Rudy Schellekens

    The “Jews” started a revolution in 67 AD, and Rome put that down. Is that an historically valid statement? In about 125 AD, the “Jews” started yet another uprising, which caused total destruction. Is that not an historical fact?
    So, if both of those are historically accurate statements, where is the denigration?

    Denigration speaks in your statement, “Not believing in Jesus is a sign of intelligence…” In other words, since I believe in Jesus’ existence, I am of lesser intelligence than say, o, you??

    BTW: The reason for the “Jews” is because I’m not sure what the best referent is for that period. Palestinians seems not quite right, and neither does Israelites.

  • Raymond

    pud? Is that you?