This is the eighth post in a series titled: Earthquakes… Signs of the Times? I invite you to read the rest of the series here to catch up (the first post would be extremely helpful)…
Here is the text that needs to be dealt with in order to close some open-ended questions that still may linger about this passage as it relates to earthquakes and other natural disasters as signs of the end-times:
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
” ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
Our current passage of continues to warn the disciples of the devastation to come, finding its climax in cosmic apocalyptic language. The images of the sun being “darkened,” the moon losing its glow, stars falling from the sky, and “the heavenly bodies” being “shaken” have often been regarded as an event that will happen during the still future tribulation. This is to take place as a sign that Jesus (Son of Man) is about to return. But this makes the mistake of misinterpreting apocalyptic language! In context, this passage suggests an impending national crisis that will come as an act of God’s judgment within history. Many other examples of this can be found throughout the Old Testament, especially Isaiah. Isaiah uses cosmic language to describe political events such as the coming of Babylon’s conquering and the eventual fall of Edom. These are realities that have already been fulfilled in history! Jesus is simply using an Old Testament prophetic rhetorical devise to explain the coming doom of Jerusalem.
Consider the following analogy to understand the way apocalyptic language functions. Jesus saying that “the sun will be darkened” or that “stars will fall from the sky” could be compared how we might say that something that happened in modern day was an “earth-shattering” event. Think about the example of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Most would agree that in modern rhetoric this could be referred to as an “earth-shattering” event. Now, suppose that someone read a news article with that type of language in it, they would not assume that an earthquake had caused the wall to fall down. They would understand the exaggerated metaphor. The same understanding may not be true of someone who two thousand years in the future, read the exact copy of that particular article. Such a person may be inclined to think that a literal earthquake destroyed the Berlin Wall, causing a new political situation to emerge. But we know that would not be true, because the historical reality is that the Berlin Wall was intentionally torn down stone by stone. The exact same idea must equally be applied to our readings of this apocalyptic text in regards to the destruction of the Temple. We have a two thousand year language gap, but when these are bridged appropriately, we may be able to avoid unnecessary doomsday theologies.
What analogies help you to understand apocalyptic language? Do you have any that complements the perspective offered here? What other thoughts does this bring to your mind about the “communication gap” that must be bridged when reading texts like this?
. Andrew Perriman, The Coming of The Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church, 44.
. N. T. Wright, New Heavens, New Earth: The Biblical Picture of Christian Hope, Grove Biblical Series (Cambridge: Grove Books Limited, 1999), 9.