By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Throughout time, God has often forecast His punishments upon sinful nations of humanity through heavenly signs and portents. Throughout Hs inspired Word, the Lord has demonstrated this time after time.
Sometimes “Heavenly Signs” Can Be A Reference To Literal Phenomenon In The Heavens
When the Jews killed the Messiah of God, the Lord rejected them from being His covenant people (Romans 11:18-25). It was at the time of Jesus’ death on Calvary that God foretold in a heavenly omen the calamity which would fall upon the city of Jerusalem. The Prophet Amos declared:
Amos 8:9-10-9 “And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord GOD, “That I will make the sun go down at noon, And I will darken the earth in broad daylight; 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, And all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist, And baldness on every head; I will make it like mourning for an only son, And its end like a bitter day.
When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary this Prophecy was fulfilled:
Matthew 27:45-Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.
Amazingly, many ancient historians confirm this darkness which took place when the Lord died.
“Several interesting reports in extrabiblical literature suggest that the darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion was worldwide. The early church Father Origen (Against Celsus, 2.33) reported a statement by a Roman historian who mentioned such a darkness. Another church Father, Tertullian, wrote to some pagan acquaintances about an unusual darkness on that day, “which wonder is related in your own annals and preserved in your own archives to this day.” There was also a supposed report from Pilate to Emperor Tiberius that assumed the emperor’s knowledge of a certain widespread darkness, even mentioning that it was from twelve to three in the afternoon.” (John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 48425-48434 (Kindle Edition); Chicago; Moody Press)
The Mayans and the Aztec civilizations also contain written references to the terrible darkness and horrible earthquakes which transpired when Christ died on the Cross. Don Mariano Fernandez de Echevarria y Veytia wrote a two volume work entitled Historia Antigua de Mexico. He chronicles:
“These natives indicate another singular event in their histories with great exactness, which later served them as a fixed era for their chronological calculations. They say that 166 years after the correction of their calendar, at the beginning of the year that was indicated with the hieroglyph of the House in the number ten, being a full moon, the sun was eclipsed at midday, the solar body being totally covered, such that the earth became darkened so much that the stars appeared and it seemed like night, and at the same time an earthquake was felt as horrible as they had ever experienced, because the stones crashing against one another were broken into pieces, and the earth opened up in many parts…Following these calculations, and adjusted to the comparison of the tables, this event should be placed in the year 4066 of the world, which was indicated with this character as can be seen in the tables, and precisely 166 after the adjustment of the calendar; and because of the circumstances surrounding this eclipse and earthquake, it was impossible for it to be any other than that which was observed at the death of Jesus Christ our Lord, having suffered it in the thirty-third year of his age, and so it seems that the incarnation of the Word should be placed in the year 4034 of the world, which the Indians indicated with the same hieroglyph of the House in the number 4, and I have noted it that way in the tables, and with this calculation following the chronological order they observed, counting the years from one memorable event to another with the assignment of the hieroglyph of the year in which they fell, I have been able to coordinate it perfectly with our years in the year 1519, in which Cortez landed at Veracruz, as will be seen in the discourse of this history. ( Donald W. Hemingway and W. David Hemingway, The Bearded White God Of Ancient America: The Legend Of Quetzalcoatl, 50-51; Cedar Fort, Inc)
The Lord Jesus Himself, before His crucifixion, warned the Jewish believers of His day that great signs in the heavens would herald the destruction of their city:
Matthew 24:29-Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Mark 13:24-25-24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Luke 21:25-And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;
Interestingly, all of these signs that Jesus prophesied would take place upon “this generation” (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32).
Sometimes people argue that Jesus simply meant that the phrase “this generation” would have reference to “that generation,” i.e., the generation which would be alive when the Lord came.
However, a thorough study of the phrase “this generation” as used in the Gospels will reveal that the phrase always had reference to the generation of people then living, i.e., within the first century A.D. (Cf. Matthew 11:16; 12:41-42; 23:36; 24:34; Mark 8:12; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29-32, 49-51; 17:25; 21:32).
More to the point, if Jesus had wanted to signify another generation then the one He was referring to (i.e., His own generation), there was a specific Greek phrase He could have used instead which would communicated that idea clearly:
““Third, the adjective this points to the contemporary nature of the generation Jesus was referencing (cf. Matt. 11:23; 27:8; 28:15). If some future generation had been in view, Jesus could have chosen the adjective that (cf. 7:22; 10:19; 24:10, 36; 26:29). The passage would then read this way: “That generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” A study of the way Matthew uses the adjective “this” will show that Jesus had the generation to whom He was speaking in mind when He described its soon destruction: “Give us this day our daily bread” (6:11). “And this news went out into all the land” (9:26). “But whenever they persecute you in this city, ﬂee to the next” (10:23). “This is the one about whom it was written” (11:10). “This man casts out demons only be Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (12:24). “And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come” (12:32).” (Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession Of The Modern Church, 101-102 (IBooks Edition); Powder Springs, GA; American Vision)
“Had Jesus meant a future generation He would have had to use a different demonstrative pronoun. Just as we have the term “this” for something close at hand, and “that” for something at a distance, so did the Greeks. Jesus said, “This [Greek haute ] generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” For Him to have meant a future generation, He would have had to have used ekeine which has the significance of “that.” Thus the “time- text” stands. The things mentioned prior to our “time- text” had to be fulfilled while the generation living at the time Jesus spoke these words still possessed physical life here on this earth.” (Everett I. Carver, When Jesus Comes Again, 5139–5372 (Kindle Edition); Prestonsburg, KY; Reformation Publishers)
The Jewish historian, Josephus, writes about the strange heavenly “signs” that took place before the destruction of the city of Jerusalem:
“(3). Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comment, that continued a whole year. (4). Thus also, before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when teh peole were come in great crows to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, (Nisan) and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day-time; which light lasted for half an hour. (5). This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes as to portend those vents that followed immediately upon it…Besides these, a few days after that feast on the one-and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius (Jyar), a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those who saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding cities.” (Josephus, Wars, 6.289-300 (6:5:3)
Sometimes “Heavenly Signs” Can Be A Figurative Reference To The Downfall Of Rulers And Nations
While the imagery of heavenly signs could at times have reference to literally phenomena which would occur, sometimes there was a figurative application of such language as well.
Throughout the Old Testament, God’s Prophets sometimes referred to prominent leaders and rulers as “stars” and couched the destruction of wicked nations in the terminology of galactic doom. In these cases, the references were not understood literally but figuratively and poetically, as expressing great sorrow and destruction upon nations.
In this connection, notice how the patriarchs of the tribe of Judah are described:
Genesis 37:9-Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”
Here, Jacob’s family is personified as the sun, moon, and stars.
Consider again how the kings of the Canaanites are described:
Judges 5:19-20-19 “The kings came and fought, Then the kings of Canaan fought In Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; They took no spoils of silver. 20 They fought from the heavens; The stars from their courses fought against Sisera.
When describing the destruction of the city of Jerusalem that occurred in 586 B.C., the Prophet Jeremiah writes:
Jeremiah 4:23-28-23 I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void; And the heavens, they had no light. 24 I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled, And all the hills moved back and forth. 25 I beheld, and indeed there was no man, And all the birds of the heavens had fled. 26 I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness, And all its cities were broken down At the presence of the LORD, By His fierce anger. 27 For thus says the LORD: “The whole land shall be desolate; Yet I will not make a full end. 28 For this shall the earth mourn, And the heavens above be black, Because I have spoken. I have purposed and will not relent, Nor will I turn back from it. 29 The whole city shall flee from the noise of the horsemen and bowmen. They shall go into thickets and climb up on the rocks. Every city shall be forsaken, And not a man shall dwell in it.
In this passage, Jeremiah is specifically describing the siege of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 4:7). Please observe how the destruction of a city is couched in poetic expressions of universal gloom and calamity.
Isaiah the Prophet uses the same imagery in describing the downfall of the nation of Babylon. He writes:
Isaiah 13:9-10-9 Behold, the day of the LORD comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine.
To make it clear that the Lord was describing the downfall of Babylon in this passage, we are again told:
Isaiah 13:17-19-17 “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, Who will not regard silver; And as for gold, they will not delight in it. 18 Also their bows will dash the young men to pieces, And they will have no pity on the fruit of the womb; Their eye will not spare children. 19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, The beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
Carefully consider that these events were all fulfilled long before the time of Christ, and that the apocalyptic language used here was describing the downfall of a specific nation. The imagery of stars falling, the sun not giving light, etc. was not literal: instead, it was poetically used to illustrate the downfall of specific nations in the world.
Later, in describing the downfall of the nation of Edom, we find similar language used:
Isaiah 34:2-5-2 For the indignation of the LORD is against all nations, And His fury against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to the slaughter. 3 Also their slain shall be thrown out; Their stench shall rise from their corpses, And the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. 5 “For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; Indeed it shall come down on Edom, And on the people of My curse, for judgment.
The Prophet Ezekiel describes the destruction of Egypt by the nation of Babylon, under the king Nebuchadnezzar. In his account, he uses similar language to that of Isaiah:
Ezekiel 30:10-12-10 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I will also make a multitude of Egypt to cease By the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. 11 He and his people with him, the most terrible of the nations, Shall be brought to destroy the land; They shall draw their swords against Egypt, And fill the land with the slain. 12 I will make the rivers dry, And sell the land into the hand of the wicked; I will make the land waste, and all that is in it, By the hand of aliens. I, the LORD, have spoken.”
Ezekiel 32:7-11-7 When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, And the moon shall not give her light. 8 All the bright lights of the heavens I will make dark over you, And bring darkness upon your land,’ Says the Lord GOD. 9 ‘I will also trouble the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries which you have not known. 10 Yes, I will make many peoples astonished at you, and their kings shall be horribly afraid of you when I brandish My sword before them; and they shall tremble every moment, every man for his own life, in the day of your fall.’ 11 “For thus says the Lord GOD: ‘The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon you.
Even David, when he was delivered from the hand of king Saul, used similar language to that of the Prophets in describing the immense events of that time:
Psalm 18:6-15-6 In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears. 7 Then the earth shook and trembled; The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, Because He was angry. 8 Smoke went up from His nostrils, And devouring fire from His mouth; Coals were kindled by it. 9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down With darkness under His feet. 10 And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind. 11 He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters And thick clouds of the skies. 12 From the brightness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire. 13 The LORD thundered from heaven, And the Most High uttered His voice, Hailstones and coals of fire. 14 He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe, Lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them. 15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, The foundations of the world were uncovered At Your rebuke, O LORD, At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
Some General Observations
From the foregoing study, we can draw some general conclusions.
First, throughout the Bible, there were times when God forecast His judgments upon the nations of wicked men with literal signs in the Heavens that took place. The judgments that these signs forecast could take many forms, including (but not limited to) profound darkness, eclipses, strange visions in the skies, and differing weather conditions. While the signs themselves could be used to forecast Divine judgment, this was not always their function.
Second, often in Scripture, heavenly signs are used in a figurative sense to describe the rise and fall of political leaders and powerful nations.
Third, it needs to be pointed out even more emphatically that while the Bible teaches that God sometimes provides heavenly signs of the downfall of wicked and corrupt nations, there are no signs given of the end of the world itself.
This important contrast is made especially clear in the 24th chapter of Matthew. There, several signs are provided for the disciples to beware of regarding the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. The disciples were able to recognize these signs, and therefore were able to flee from the city before its destruction. However, of the end of the world (age), there would be no signs would be given to forecast this day is judgement.
Matthew 24:36-But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
Matthew 24:42-Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.
Matthew 24:44-Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Matthew 25:13-Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
Friends, Christ come come back at any time. On that day, each person will be judged:
Revelation 20:11-15-11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
The only hope you have of being saved is to obey the plan of the Savior, Jesus Christ. He died for you, was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Why not today repent of your sins as a believer in Jesus Christ and be baptized into Him to be saved?
Romans 6:3-4-3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
If you are a child of God who has been unfaithful to Him, won’t you please come back to Him in repentance and prayer?
Revelation 3:20-Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.