The Problem of Cataclysmic Language
The Problem of Cataclysmic Language.
As we read Joel 2 / Acts 2, the 'wonders in heavens and on the earth, blood and fire, and columns of smoke, the sun being turned to darkness and the moon to blood' pose problems for understanding. Such sounds like the end of the universe and yet the prophets used such language to describe events that have already transpired.
In the prophetic use of this language it meant the end of a nation or kingdom. THEIR sun became dark, their world ended. While another people may have taken over the land, THEIR kingdom ended. Such was not the end of THE world, but it was and end of THEIR world. Isa. 13:10; 24:23; Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Acts 2:20; [Amos 5:20; 8:9; Zeph. 1:15; Rev. 6:12; 8:12]
Concerning God's judgment upon the ancient (now long gone) kingdom of Babylon, Isaiah said: 9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. 11 I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity (Isa. 13:9-11). It was the day of the LORD (for Babylon). The destruction of the kingdom is described in cataclysmic language but it refers NOT to the end of the universe but to the end of the Babylonian kingdom - to the end of THEIR world.
In the 24th chapter of Isaiah God foretells the destruction of the various kingdoms that were the enemies of Israel in the Old Testament period. The prophet uses extreme language to describe this judgment against the nations. God "emptied the earth and made it desolate" scattering its inhabitants. Hence the earth was said to be utterly empty. The earth lies under a curse and there is no more joy. Notice, while the earth is 'empty of inhabitants' yet there are people and they suffer and cry out. "On that day the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth…. 23 Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders" (Isa. 24:21-23). God's people would live in the glory of God but as far as the rest of the nations the "moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed". It was the end of THEIR world but not the end of the world.
When Ezekiel describes the punishment upon the kingdom of Egypt that existed in 600 B.C., he used similar cataclysmic language. "When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. 8 All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord God." This shall happen when "The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon you" (Ezek. 32:7-9). It is interesting that 'Egypt' continued as a different nation. They had new kings and dynasties. They lived in the same cities on the same land. BUT it was NOT the kingdom of Egypt of Ezekiel's day. THAT kingdom ended. Their world became dark and the sun and moon no longer gave light to THAT kingdom. Such was not the end of THE world but it surely was an end to THEIR world.
The prophet Amos foretold a 'day of the LORD' for Israel (the northern kingdom). As such it would be a day of "… darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it" (5:20). Amos continued later: "…on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight" (8:9).That day came when Assyria destroyed their kingdom. Their world ended. The sun went down no more to rise on THAT kingdom. The earth (their world) became dark in broad daylight. Such described NOT the end of the world but the destruction of a nation.
Turning to the prophet Joel we see such language several times. It appears in 2:10 when the great northern army invades the land of Judah. "The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 11 The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?" Again, such was not the end of THE world but it was the end of the kingdom. Such 'destruction' was followed by a rebuilding of a different kingdom and that was followed by the coming of God's kingdom with the Messiah.
Then we see this language used in Joel 2:31, which is the passage that was quoted by Peter in Acts 2. With the coming of the NEW revelation and salvation there would also be a 'day of the LORD' (a day of judgment and destruction). This is the language of the prophets. This destruction is not the end of the world but the end of a nation or kingdom. The nation described this time is Israel. While there was a remnant of Israel that accepted the Messiah, the majority did not. With the rejection came a cutting off of the people (Deut. Acts 3 ). This was NOT the end of the world but it ended the nation of Israel as a nation. Yes, today there is a 'nation' of Israel. It was setup in 1947 in the same land and it includes the descendants of the first century nation. It is NOT the same nation any more than Egypt today is the same nation as that destroyed by the Babylonian. That nation ended. Their world ended. The sun no longer rises upon their world. The moon gives no light to them.
So God had warned the Jews that their 'world' was coming to an end with their rejection of the Messiah. Jesus thus used this same cataclysmic language to describe the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:29). Jesus describes the days of the LORD that were coming upon Jerusalem for they had rejected the son of God (Matt. 23: ). He specifically spoke of seeing "the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place" (24:15). Describing the same event Luke writes: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near" (Luke 21:20). This was to be the end of THAT nation and era. With the coming of the Romans, Jesus said: "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 heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken."
Jesus used the same language as the prophet to describe the same kind of event, the destruction of a nation or kingdom. He used the same language that Joel used when Joel described the destruction of the Jewish nation. Neither Jesus nor Joel was speaking of the end of the universe but rather they spoke of the end of the nation of the Jews. Their nation ended although the people as individuals continued.
The Problem of Cataclysmic Language #2
One major problem that has become the basis of a huge mistake being made by some bible students is to assume that all similar language has the same meaning in every passage. Peter also uses such cataclysmic language in 2 Peter 3 to describe the coming of the LORD. Yet even within that passage there appear indicators of a different usage of language. Peter compares the end of the people in Noah's day and the coming of the LORD. While there are things that are paralleled there are also some contrasts. For the people of Noah's day their world came to an end yet it was not the end of the universe.
The world that existed 6
Deluged with water - 6
Perished - 6
Coming of the LORD
The heavens and earth that now exist 7
Stored up for FIRE - 7
Heavens will pass away - 10
Heavenly bodies will be - 10
All these things are thus to be dissolved… 11
Heavens set on fire and dissolved 12
Heavenly bodies will melt as they burn 12
Peter's conclusion: 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
Today, God's people are the followers of Jesus. We are "a holy nation unto the LORD" (1 Pet. 2 ). Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3 ). When we obeyed the gospel we were added to the kingdom of God's dear son (Col. 2:13) and were made to be "a kingdom of priests" (Rev. 1:6, 9). As for the former nation, it ended.
*Cataclysmic Language Passages include:
TEXT of Joel 2
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls." (2:28-32).