is replete with metaphors, symbolism and figurative language.
However, many insist that we must take Scripture
literally. "it says what it means and it means what it
says". Is it that simple? When we read Peter quoting the
prophet Joel in Act
2:19,20 what conclusions do we draw? What
assumptions do we make?
19I will show wonders in the
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire
and billows of smoke.
20The sun will be
Joel 2:28-32 (parallel)
and the moon to blood
coming of the great
day of the Lord.
Is Peter speaking of
a yet future 2nd coming of Christ & the powerful cataclysmic
events that were to accompany His appearance? We
reason that these events must still be future
since there are no known historical references to "the sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair,
the whole moon turned blood red"; and most of us have heard
time and again that the 20"coming of the
great and glorious day of the Lord" is
going to happen sometime in our lifetime, some 2,000 years removed
from the Day of Pentecost. According to scholar Gary Demar in Last Days Madness, doomsday end-of-the-world
scenarios have been presented back to at least the 3rd century. (Review of Demar)
It is at this point that we need to be very discerning not just
believing things are so simply because they have been repeated with
authority ad infinitum. If we do we may be in danger of
arriving at false conclusions and miss some valuable understanding
of God's Word.
look at the following doing our best to put on our 1st
century glasses. At the beginning of the 2nd chapter of
Acts Luke announced, 1"When the day of
Pentecost came, they were all together in one
we read, 5"Now there were staying in
God-fearing Jews from
heaven" and 6"each one
heard them speaking in his own language".
was the reaction of the people? Some
were 12"Amazed and perplexed, and they asked one another, "What does
while 13"some, however, made fun of them and said,
"They have had too much wine."
verses 15 and 16 it's clear that Peter is interested
in offering an explanation to what the people are
witnessing. He says, 15" These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in
the morning! 16No,
this is what was spoken by the prophet
Peter begins to quote Joel, has he gone off on a tangent speaking
about things that would take place thousands of years later or did
he directly address these wondrous acts of God as current
appears to be a reasonable assumption that Peter's
comments were a direct response to the events at hand. In the
beginning of his quotation of Joel he says something
shocking; 17" 'In the last days, God
says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people."
the phrase "in
the last days" refer
to a time period other than the 21st century? Isn't it
quite clear that Peter is offering an explanation as to why
these men heard & saw a tornado-like wind coming from
above; tongues of fire sitting on
each of them; and the miraculous way uneducated Galileans
were able to speak foreign languages that they had never
learned? God truly was pouring out his
this point if you are willing to consider that the last days Joel was referring to could be
century then the next logical question is how could they call
something last if
time continued? (click on last for a
detailed explanation for another valid explanation as to why this
term was used)
move on to the topic at hand - Apocalyptic
We're going to analyze Old Testament Scripture to see how this type
of cataclysmic language is used and interpreted. One of the
very useful rules of interpretation is that Scripture should be
interpreted in the light of Scripture. Verses need to be
taken in context.
the 64k question: Has this type of apocalyptic language in Acts
chapter 2 ever been used before? Let's take a look at a few
passages in the Old Testament and see what we
9 See, the day of the LORD is
—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate
and destroy the sinners within it.
10 The stars of heaven and their
will not show their light.
The rising sun will be
and the moon will not give its light.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens
and the earth will shake from its place
at the wrath of the LORD Almighty,
in the day of his burning anger.
How about this next few verses of
Holy Scripture...We should ask the same questions:
- Did the heavens actual dissolve?
- Did the sky roll up? Did the
streams turn into a thick black tar-like substance?
- Did smoke rise forever?
- Will no one ever set foot on that
portion of land again?
3 Their slain will be thrown out,
their dead bodies will send up a stench;
the mountains will be soaked with their
All the stars of the heavens will be
and the sky rolled up like a
all the starry host will
like withered leaves from the
like shriveled figs from the fig
Edom's streams will be turned into pitch,
her dust into burning sulfur;
her land will become blazing pitch!
10 It will not be quenched night
its smoke will rise forever.
From generation to generation it will lie desolate;
no one will ever pass through it again.
Let's look at a couple more. Is
this truly referring to a cataclysmic event? If so, is there any
record of these things literally happening.
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.
8 All the shining lights in
will darken over you;
I will bring darkness over your land,
declares the Sovereign LORD.
4 The mountains melt beneath
the valleys split
wax before the
water rushing down a slope.
5 The mountains quake before
the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his
the world and all who live in it.
grew until it reached the host of the
it threw some of the starry host down
the earth and trampled on them.
all these verses referring to what is being written in the Left
Behind series as the end times? If not, then did they take
place as stated or were they statements meant as a metaphors of
destruction? Let's look at what we know abou the above
first group of verses from Isaiah
13 were clearly
referring to the fall of
to the Medes in
539 BC. (read
verse 1) Are there historical or
scientific records that validate any of the physical events that
seem to be implied in the above verses!
the prophet Isaiah announces the desolation of Bozrah the
late in the sixth century BC. (read verse
6) If this passage was taken literally we would
assume that the sky actually lost it's light. Did
these events actually take place literally as stated or are
these symbolic words of a coming annihilation of
1:5 Micah foretells how God will come down to earth in wrath
against the sins
Did the earth split & the mountains melt or is
this type of language referring to God's wrath against a
group of people?
was Nahum referencing in Nahum
The result of God's presence. Does His being cause hills to crumble & mountains to quake so that all the
world can feel it?
we have Daniel speaking of stars falling from the sky & then
trampled. In Daniel
8:10 the prophet is referring to the destruction of the Jewish people
by Antioch Epiphanes.
of the examples above are sufficient to illustrate what is actually
self-evident, that in prophetic language the most terrible phenomena
are used to represent God's judgment and His awesome power. The
imagery, if literally fulfilled, would have to result in the
total dissolution of the world or the destruction of the universe
when in fact it is meant to describe:
- the downfall of a
- the capture of a city
- or the overthrow of a
the language we have examined above has the meaning that we have
assigned to it, then similar language throughout the Bible can be
understood in the same manner. This method of understanding the
Scriptures is known as "analogia fide" and is an accepted
interpretation principle used by Bible scholars.
are some who would dispute the above understanding by saying that if
we interpret one part of a discourse literally then we are bound by
consistency to interpret the entire prophecy in the same manner.
This group would contend that in Matthew
24:29–31, if we interpret verse twenty-nine
figuratively then the rest of the chapter must also be interpreted
figuratively as "you cannot have it both ways to suit your
29"Immediately after the distress of those
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.'
30"At that time the sign of the Son
of Man will
appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth
will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming
on the clouds of the sky, with power and great
will send his angels with a loud trumpet call,
and they will gather his elect from the four
one end of the heavens to the other.
would mean that the words, "Judea,"
"mountains," "housetop," and "field" must be figurative. This
reasoning then supports a literal understanding of ALL words that
appear in the text! It is difficult for us to understand how such an
argument can be put forth by anyone who has seriously studied the
Scriptures. A serious study clearly reveals that writers of the
various books of the Bible at times write expressions through a
series of figurative terms, but incorporate all of this in the midst
of a very plain and understandable narrative of factual (literal)
closing, learining about apocalyptic language is but one
small piece that will ultimately help us put the puzzle
together. It may help to break down artificial walls
that are not secured to the
to continue to put on your first century glasses when reading the
Scripture, especially when attempting to understand prophesy and the
study of last things (eschatology). Surely the
Bible was written for our benefit and it is clear that it
has a timeless quality in its application. However, we
must read it from the audience's point of reference & in the
understanding of the the era in which they lived. It's so
temping to read verse 40 in Acts 2, "Save yourselves from this corrupt
assumed that since we have corruption today that this is a reference
to our generation. Simply because it may apply (when we see
our country in moral decline), does not give us the freedom to
assume that these verses in Acts, were directed specifically
to us. So let's not be so egocentric and
believe that every time statement in
the New Testament is referring to the 21st century and
must step beyond the finite. Jesus is the bread of
life but we would all agree that his body isn't composed of
wheat flour. When God refers to "the cattle on a thousand hills" we know that the
one 1001th hill was not His. Let's not make the same mistake
as those spoken of in John chapter 6. How did they react to
Jesus' statement in John 6:51? "...If
anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." In the
very next verse the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves
saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Scripture is repleat with parables, symbolism, forshadowing and
apocalyptic language. If we view the prophesies
of Scripture with our 21st century glasses, we will waste
our time chasing down rabit trails trying to identity VISA as the
mark of the beast or the next Middle East crisis as the sign of the
that's in you Read Matthew 24 in context as though you were a 1st
century Jew - no 21st century presuppositions:
3 As Jesus
was sitting on the
him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will
and what will be the sign of your coming and of
of the age?"
4 Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives
5 For many
will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the
and will deceive many. 6You will
hear of wars and rumors
of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such
must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation
rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
these are the beginning of birth pains.
you will be handed over to be persecuted and put
death, and you will be hated by all nations because of
me. 10At that
time many will turn away from the faith
and will betray and hate each other, 11and
false prophets will appear and deceive many
of the increase of wickedness, the love
of most will grow cold, 13but he
who stands firm
to the end will be saved. 14And this
gospel of the
kingdom will be preached in the whole world as
testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
If these words were writen solely for
the benefit of those living in our generation then it is this
writer's opinion that this was a cruel joke. When Jesus says
in verse 13, "but he who stands firm to the end will be saved", is
He telling the truth to the hearer? (for
an outstanding series of sermons on Matthew 24 click on this