with Jeremy Westcott –
Salvation and judgment
Look at what the Jewish crowd said when Pilate was trying to get them to release Jesus instead of Barabbas: “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” (Matt 27:25). Now that is a very serious thing to say; and it is what happened. As we have seen, the counterpart of salvation is judgment. The blood of Jesus brings salvation for us but judgment upon those who did not accept Him.
The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was the culmination of God’s judgment upon that generation. “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand” (Deut 28:49). We have been looking at that over the past couple of weeks, and seeing what scripture really has to say about it.
Here is another much misunderstood verse: “But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matt 24:29). You can already guess what I am about to say about that: it is covenant language and needs to be understood in terms of covenant judgment. People look to see this literally fulfilled. It was not, will not be, and was never intended to be. Let the Bible interpret itself.
And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come’ (Acts 2:19).
Even here, in the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit being fulfilled, an amazing time of blessing, associated with it was judgment.
To get insight into what sun, moon and stars mean, let us look at Genesis. The sun and moon were created by God for a specific purpose, stated in this scripture: to govern.
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night’ (Gen 1:14, 16). They were signs representing government.
“I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me…” (Gen 37:9).
Joseph’s family understood that the sun, moon and stars spoke of government: He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” (Gen 37:10).
Egypt, Babylon, Jerusalem
Nor is this prophecy about darkened sun, moon and stars unique in the Bible, as you might suppose:
And when I extinguish you, 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. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you and will set darkness on your land,” declares the Lord GOD. “I will also trouble the hearts of many peoples when I bring your destruction among the nations, into lands which you have not known (Ezekiel 32:7-9).
That is a prophecy about the fall of the Egyptian civilisation, about the end of a system of government. Although it might sound like the end of the world, it is not. It is just the end for them.
The same language is used of the fall of Babylon:
Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light (Isaiah 13:9-10).
And here in Matthew 24:29, it is the fall of Jerusalem and of the old covenant system. This was prophesied in Zechariah 14:2-9:
For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered… In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle… In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD… And the LORD will be king over all the earth.
Not also a literal splitting of the Mount of Olives: this is all about the destruction of Jerusalem and Jesus coming in judgment. The mountain speaks of authority. Remember, in all this we have to let the Bible interpret itself, and not project onto it what we think could happen in our own time.
The light of Israel was to be extinguished, the old covenant nation would cease to exist, and the old covenant system would come to an end. The partition wall between Jews and Gentiles would be removed: the mountains of Jerusalem and its walls which symbolise this division between the old and the new were to come down. This is what Paul had to say about it:
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross (Eph 2:14-16).
This was the end of the ‘one nation, one city, one temple’ wineskin. Today, there is one people of God: those who come to faith in Christ Jesus.