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Signs in the Heavens Return for the Umpteenth Time

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“February 20th, 2008, at Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Pastor Mark Biltz of El Shaddai Ministries in Bonney Lake Washington saw something, a total lunar eclipse also called a ‘blood moon’ for its reddish hue” (read article here). “I thought ‘wow’ that looks just like what the Lord was talking about in the last days,” says Blitz. Blitz is referring to Joel 2:31: “The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” Notice that the moon will be turned into blood not look reddish. Those who claim to interpret the Bible literally can’t make a text say what it doesn’t say. Peter quotes the passage from Joel and applies it to the events of Pentecost (Acts 2:14–36) because he understood how the prophets of the Old Testament use stellar language, and it’s not to describe the collapse of the cosmos. In the case of Joel, God was describing the end of the Old Covenant and the inauguration of the New Covenant.

Blitz also appeals to Luke 21:25 and Revelation 6:12–14. In both cases, the Bible is describing what was about to take place in events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The use of sun, moon, and stars has a long biblical history to describe the temporal and local judgment of nations (Isa. 13:10–13; 24:19–23; 34:4; Ezek. 32:6–8; Joel 2:10, 30–31; 3:15–16; Hab. 3:6–11). In none of these passages is the destruction of the earth in view even.[1] Even a futurist like Tim LaHaye admits that sun, moon, and stars are often used symbolically. The symbolic interpretation is confirmed for us when Joseph had a dream in which he saw “the sun and the moon and eleven stars” bowing down to him (Gen. 37:9). Joseph related the dream “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?’” (37:10). They understood that the sun, moon, and stars represented them.

LaHaye writes that the image of the sun, moon, and eleven stars of Genesis 37:9 and the “woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet,” and having “on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1) “is a reference to the nation of Israel.”[2] LaHaye’s further comments are helpful in understanding the imagery:

These objects are light-conveying objects: The moon is a reflector, the sun, a source of light. They are symbolic of Israel as God’s light-bearer to humankind. This Israel was in Old Testament days, for God intended her to propagate His message from the Holy Land to the entire world. Unfaithful in the dissemination of this message, the nation of Israel fell under the judgment of God.[3]

Here is something on which LaHaye and I can agree. When used in these passages, the sun, moon, and stars “are symbolic of Israel.” If they are symbolic of Israel in Genesis 37:9 and Revelation 12:1, then why doesn’t the same hold true in Matthew 24:29? When Israel is faithful, the sun is shining, the moon is giving off its reflective light, and the stars are positioned high in the heavens. “In Ecclesiastes 12:1, 2, we find that the expression ‘while the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened’ is used to symbolize good times. Consequently, the reverse—an expression about the sun, moon, and stars being darkened—would symbolize ‘evil days,’ days of trouble.”[4]

Since Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24 deals with Israel’s judgment within a generation (v. 34), the sun and moon are dark, and the stars fall. Like other prophecy writers, I believe that the image is symbolic of Israel, but symbolic of Israel’s impending judgment. The Old Testament—the only Scriptures the disciples had to interpret Jesus’ words—is filled with metaphors of the darkening of sun and moon and the falling of stars. In each case, the images clearly indicate the fall of nations. Let’s first look at a passage concerning the destruction of Babylon by the Medes and Persians, which is a past event. Notice how Isaiah opens chapter 13: “The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw”:

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. (Isa. 13:9–10)

Isaiah describes this event as the “day of the LORD.” It’s a local event: “To make the land a desolation.” During the course of the judgment nothing happens to the sun, moon, and stars. Similar language is used to describe the destruction of Egypt:

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 . . .

  When I make the land of Egypt a desolation. (Ezek. 32:7–8, 15)

And all the host of heaven will wear away,

  And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll;

  All their hosts will also wither away

   As a leaf withers from the vine,

  Or as one withers from the fig tree. (Isa. 34:4)

Notice what immediately follows: “For My sword is satiated in heaven, behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom, and upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction” (Isa. 34:5). God is describing the judgment on Edom not the actual dissolution of the cosmos.

Using similar language in Matthew 24:29, Jesus told His disciples that there would come a time of intense divine judgment against Israel before their generation came to an end. By letting Scripture interpret Scripture, we are not left to speculate what Jesus meant to say: Israel would be judged before the generation to whom He was speaking passed away.

George Eldon Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), chap. 2.
Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 198.
LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, 198., emphasis added. Also see LaHaye, Prophecy Study Bible, 47, note on Genesis 37:6–11, and 1383, note on Revelation 12:1–5.
[4] Ralph Woodrow, The Great Prophecies of the Bible (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1971), 81.

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