Thursday, November 05, 2009

Matthew 24 (4) - Sun and Moon Fall

Jesus used very strong and vivid language to describe the passing of the Jewish nation (Matt 24:29-31). Many people expect these passages to be fulfilled literally. This leads to an incorrect assumption that Jesus is speaking about the end of the world. Jesus’ words were based on the apocalyptic language of the Old Testament. Failure to understand this has led many people to see them as a description of the second coming. Jesus is actually describing the consequences of the fall of Jerusalem.

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 time frame of these verses is made very clear: "immediately after the tribulation of those days". They apply to that part of the great tribulation which takes place in "those days" when Jerusalem will fall. The word immediately shows that there will be no gap or delay. These verses describe the consequences of the fall of Jerusalem.

Jesus speaks of the sun and moon being darkened, and the stars falling from the sky. These things are not to be understood literally. Jesus is using symbolic language to describe the fall of the Jewish nation. The Old Testament prophets often described the collapse of a great nation in the same language. One example is found in Ezekiel 32:7,
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light.
Ezekiel is speaking about the defeat of Egypt by Babylon. The words give a graphic description of the collapse of Egypt before a greater power. They were not fulfilled literally, but in a prophetic sense they were fulfilled. Other prophets used the same kind of language to describe the collapse of a nation. The heavenly bodies were used as symbols of human governments, so the fall of a human government was described sun and moon falling from the sky. In Revelation 12:1, Israel was described as the sun, moon and stars.

Jesus is prophesying the end of the nation of Israel. The disciples, who were familiar with the Old Testament, would have understood his words. The destruction of Jerusalem would not just be a temporary setback for Israel. It would actually cease to exist as a nation. After AD 70 the Jews existed as a people, but they ceased to be a nation with their own government and their own land. They lost their political independence.

For many Jews, this idea would be impossible to accept. They traced their political independence right back to Moses. They believed that a time would come when a king of Israel would rule all the nations of the earth.

This was a false hope, so Jesus used dramatic language to bring home the seriousness of his message. He wanted them to know that the nation of Israel was coming to an end. The nation would not just be defeated, it would be destroyed. This was a shocking message, so dramatic that it need reinforcing.

Jesus final warning was equally strong.
Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather (Matt 24:28).
The vultures were the Roman army. The carcass was Jerusalem. This shocked his listeners, but his warning proved to be correct.

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