Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ (American, 1937?-), "O Root" (from the "O Antiphons" series). Of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Tags: Tree of Jesse. Source: http://csjstpaul.org/ansgar_holmbergs_o_antiphon_paintings.aspx; http://yokeofchrist.blogspot.com/2010/12/o-root-of-jesse.html

Saving Revelation: End of the World as We Know it

We are in the fifth sixth week of this series Saving Revelation and so far have tried to show that Revelation is written in such a way that we’ve got to try to appreciate it’s genre; it’s not to be taken literally, it uses all sorts of symbolism and when you understand it like that it paints a beautiful portrait of the warfare that we’re in now and the glorious end, and what looks like it’s violent is actually anti-violent.

So we’ll first look at verses that are used to support the rapture doctrine, those that say that Christians are going to be suctioned up into the air at the end of history. Then I want to turn to a passage in the gospels, Mark 13, which has parallels in Matthew and Luke where people base their “signs theology”; all the stuff about signs and wonders and those kind of things comes out of those passages. We’ll be asking the question, do they really support the view that people are using them for?

So the idea of the rapture…it’s primary verse is found in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. We read this in verses 16 and 17:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. [NIV]

That seems straight forward enough. He comes and we go up in the air and then we go off. This is where people get the idea that heaven is somewhere out there and not down here, even though every other verse that deals with heaven talks about a perfected and transformed earth. This one seems like it’s saying—on the surface—that the Lord is going to come back, catch us up and go away someplace and then folks go through the tribulation period.

The other major passage that is used to support this belief is found in Luke 17 verses 34-35 and it also has parallels in Matthew and Mark. Jesus says:

I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. [NIV]

So in the rapture thinking, the one taken is the one who is raptured and in a moment, boom!, they’re gone and the other person is left behind and gets massacred in the tribulation period. If you’re taking revelation seriously it’s a very, very, bloody book.

The first thing I want to say is this: if you’ve ever studied a foreign language you’ll know that one of the hardest things to get are the idioms; those phrases that are not meant to be taken literally. You don’t notice them in your own language because you use it all the time; you don’t even think about it. But when you see it in a foreign language it can seem so odd. Why would they say things like that? I didn’t know how packed the English [language] was of these sorts of non-literal phrases until I went and stayed in Finland with some friends. We were on a lake and saw a loon.  I said “Crazy like a loon” and told me that loons were not crazy. So in the Bible we’re dealing not only with a foreign language and a foreign culture but an ancient foreign language and an ancient foreign culture. So we’ve got to expect that some of the ways they talk are going to be very odd to us and it’s our job to get into their way of thinking and their way of speaking rather than try to get them to conform to us. I’m convinced that most of the confusion and misunderstandings that happen with regard to what the Bible says about the future happen because we take things literally that they meant figuratively. It’s important to assess: is this meant literally or is this meant figuratively?

When we look at 1 Thessalonians 4: the trumpet was always used to announce the coming of a king so it was meant to announce the coming of God’s presence in one form or another. It meant redemption to those who want his presence and it meant judgment for those who didn’t want his presence and so we find that the trumpet comes to symbolize this. So throughout the book of Revelation it symbolizes coming into his presence, which is good news for those who are submitted and very bad news to those who are not. And so Paul says that Jesus would descend with a trumpet. It’s just a way of announcing that the Lord’s presence is now coming to earth to redeem all who can be redeemed but it will be judging all those who don’t want anything to do with him.

And then he says he’s riding on the clouds; he’ll come descending, riding on the clouds. Now that phrase ‘riding on the clouds’ we find all over the place. All throughout the Old Testament you find Yahweh or the Son of Man rides on the clouds. But if you look at the context none of them are meant literally. For example, we find this in Psalms 18:9-11. He’s talking about how he was redeemed; how the Lord saved him from his enemies:

He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. [NIV]

And that’s repeated in 2 Samuel 22:10-12. Now I don’t think anybody at the time would have thought that the Psalmist was saying he actually saw these things. In fact, if you think about it it would be pretty hard to see how anyone could have seen these things because it makes no sense if you take it literally. On the one hand, he’s standing on the clouds but on the other hand the clouds are a canopy around him. And then he says he mounted the cherubim and flew but then he says he soared on the wings of the wind. Well, which is it? Was it the cherubim or was it the wings of the wind? And by the way, what do the wings of the wind actually look like? I’ve never seen them. It makes no sense literally but it wasn’t meant literally. This is just a way of saying that God shows up in glory and power to redeem his redeemed and to judge those who are set against him. And I can show you example upon example that whenever judgments were announced [the phrase] ‘coming in the clouds’ was used. In every other instance it’s found to be figurative and so there’s no reason to believe that Paul would be thinking this literally in 1

Thessalonians; that we’re going to see a tiny Jesus on top of all these clouds or maybe it will be a giant Jesus riding on clouds, but why clouds? He didn’t mean it literally; it’s a way of saying he’s coming in glory and power to redeem and to judge.

And then Paul says we’ll be caught up in the clouds. Now this phrase ‘caught up’ is where some people get the word rapture from but actually the word rapture is not a biblical word. I don’t think it’s even a biblical concept. The word here ‘caught up’, harpazo in Greek, means to seize or be seized, or to claim or be claimed as [belonging to] someone. It’s a way of earnestly claiming something as your own; mine! So what Paul is saying here is that when the Lord comes back he’s going to claim us as his own; we will be seized by him; we belong to him. The word does not mean and cannot mean fly away.

Then he says we’ll meet him in the air. But in a first century context—in their cosmology—air wasn’t the oxygen we breathe, air was a domain of authority around the earth. That’s why Paul says that Satan is the ruler of the kingdom of the air and he’s the spirit that’s now at work in those who are disobedient because he’s got that authority over the earth (Ephesians 2:1-2).

This earth right now is seriously oppressed by the evil one. That’s why there’s so much evil and it’s such a dark place. Many times in the Old Testament they’ll say look, look, the Lord’s riding on the clouds, but it would have been like my son Nathan saying I don’t see the Lord riding on any clouds there. No, you’re not getting the speech; it was saying God’s coming in his power and glory; it was meant figuratively.

What about the passage that says one will be taken and one left behind? What could be clearer than that? That surely is referring to something. Well, it’s referring to something but I don’t think it’s referring to a rapture folks. It’s always important to read things in context. Whenever you hear a quote never trust it unless you really trust the person. Check out what comes before it and what comes after it, because that’s the only way to know what the passage is really talking about. So let’s read it again but this time put it in a little bit of context. Starting with Luke 17:34 Jesus says:

I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left…

Seems clear enough, but read the very next verse.

Where, Lord?

Where are they taken the disciples asked; to heaven? Nope!

…He replied, Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather. [NIV]

What’s up with that? The one taken is not the lucky one. The one taken is the one who got seized by an enemy and was killed. What Jesus is referring to here, and we’ll say more about this a little later, but he’s referring to the attack of Rome on Jerusalem. The Israelites have been causing problems with Rome for a long time and there were all these zealots who were killing off Roman soldiers and there were insurrection movements and the Jews just weren’t conforming to Roman ways. So in 66 A.D. Rome surrounded Jerusalem and they would—and this is how they dealt with people who were guilty of insurrection—they would raid the city and randomly gather people. They’d go in a field and grab one person, go in a house and grab one out of bed and just randomly grab people and then take them out on a hill and crucify them. It was a way of publicly saying you want to screw around with us then this is what will happen to your loved ones. This is how Rome kept the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome; it was through terrorism; they terrorized people into submission. Then what they would do is that after the people would die they would bury them in a mass grave somewhere. They didn’t give them the honor of having a personal burial, which to Jews was so dishonoring; it was blasphemous. So they’d want to find the bodies of their loved ones to give them a proper burial and the only way to know where these mass graves were was to look for vultures. The vultures would always circle around because there were a bunch of dead bodies down there. We have records that show that once they crucified four thousand people at one time. This was how Rome flexed their muscle; take random people, it didn’t matter if they were guilty or not, you round them up and kill them because you want them to back-off of this insurrection. So these vultures are circling around for a free meal and folks would look for them to try to get to the bodies and find their loved ones before they were buried. So Jesus is talking about disaster coming and the one being taken is not the lucky one; it’s the person who was grabbed and killed and now their body is dead. Just look for the vultures.

You have the same essence of the teaching in the version in Matthew. Here’s what he says in chapter 24 verse 37-41:

For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…

In other word they’re going about life as usual.

…up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away….

They were taken.

…That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. [NIV]

The ones who are taken are not the lucky ones. They’re the ones, who like those in the flood, were taken by the flood. They didn’t listen to the preaching of Noah until it was too late and they were taken. So also the coming of the Son of Man; one will be taken and the other left. They’re the unfortunate ones, and I’m going to try to show here in a moment that the coming of the Son of Man isn’t talking about the end of history. This is a phrase that comes out of Daniel 7; that ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds’ is a sign of judgment. This is a judgment that’s coming on Israel because they had abandoned their God. So the two main passages that are used to support this literal rapture doctrine just turn out to be rather weak. My own humble opinion is that this whole concept is based on a misreading of the text; it’s an overly literal reading and they’re taking verses out of context. Read it in its normal cultural context and its literary context and you understand the symbolism of it. It’s talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Let’s turn to the teaching in Mark 13, the ‘sign of the times’ theology. This is where Jesus speaks about the signs that the end is near, there’ll be wars and rumors of wars. I’m sure many of you have heard this sort of thing. There will be earthquakes and famines, the sun and the moon will be darkened, the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken, and if you read this [as though it’s] about the end of history then you get a lot of people doing what a lot of people are doing today. They’ll say, see, wars are increasing and rumors of wars are increasing and earthquakes are increasing and famines are increasing so this is surely a sign of the times. And some get involved with rather extravagant readings of the signs of heaven. I’ll talk about that more at the end of this message. But in some ways they want that to be true because they believe that this is the end. Now it may be the end folks, but it’s not because of anything we’re finding in this passage.

FYI…earthquakes are not increasing in frequency. The number and frequency of earthquake [magnitudes of] 7.0 or above, which is all we can measure back for very long, has remained relatively constant for the last fifty years. It ebbs and flows; it goes up and down a little bit but actually we’re currently in a down period. It will go back up again but it always stays within a range. So they’re not increasing in frequency. It just seems like it because we hear about more of them because the world has shrunk and we get news from everywhere. Also, we have a lot more detecting devices that are much better at detecting smaller earthquakes and some of those get reported on so we’re hearing a lot more about earthquakes and that kind of stuff, but they’re actually not increasing in frequency.

Same thing with wars. Unfortunately there’s always somebody getting killed around the globe. I think at any moment some people group is trying to slaughter another people group but folks, sadly that’s been true every moment of human history without exception. Actually the number of people being killed in wars—the amount of bloodshed in wars—has decreased significantly. It’s still absolutely demonically atrocious but compared to where it was sixty years ago with World War ll or before that with World War l or before that the Civil War, it’s a fraction of that. So it’s not true that wars are increasing.

It is true however, that famines are increasing and they’re increasing in severity and that’s because of global warming and that’s a serious problem, but what I want us to see now folks, is that that is not a sign of anything. It’s not a sign that the end of the world is coming; it may be tomorrow or it may not, but famines are not a sign of anything for us for the simple reason that Jesus, I’m now going try to show, wasn’t talking about the end of the world in Matthew 13.

Jesus is returning, our groom is going to return for us but we don’t know when or how. We don’t have any information about that and there are no signs that we’re to be looking for, and that’s the case I want to make here. We misread this text if we think it applies to us to be looking for signs.

So we have to read everything in context so let’s go to the beginning, Mark 13 verse 1.

As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!

Now the temple of Herod was magnificent; it was one of the wonders of the world. It was huge, ornate; it was incredible. Its foundational stones were 37 feet by 17 feet by 12 feet. Massive! And they put that together without any bulldozers or any kind of machine help whatsoever. I can’t fathom that; it took them 40 years to build this thing and it was just incredible. But Jesus basically says don’t be so quick with your praise because the time is coming he says, and gives this warning:

…”Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

It’s going to be destroyed. Jesus had just a little while earlier given a prophesy. He did it while he was wailing, riding into Jerusalem. While people are waving their palm branches he gives this prophesy about a coming judgment on Jerusalem. And he said, how often I wanted to gather you together but you would not; I want to gather you under my wings like a hen but you would not. And, he says, because you abandoned God and don’t know the ways of peace and now are going to abandon his Messiah, God’s going to abandon you. There comes a time where—and you have this warning throughout the Old Testament—if you turn your back there comes a time when God has no choice but to withdraw from you and that’s going to spell disaster for you and there’s going to be bloodshed everywhere, and Jesus is wailing as he gives this prophesy. Here he’s adding to that prophesy and he’s saying part of this judgment will be the destruction of the temple. Now that would have been horrifying to the disciples or to any Jew in the first century because the temple was the center of everything Judaism was about. They saw the temple as God’s living space; this was his house, he lived there. They also knew God was all around the world but there was a special presence there. The temple represented that God is their God and they are his people; it was the center of everything. And the temple was where atonement took place; the temple functioned like the cross does for us. This is where you made animal sacrifices which they believed atoned for their sins.

And so every Passover, Jews from all around the Roman Empire would come and make sacrifices there because they could only be made in the temple. This was huge; this was the center of absolutely everything. I can’t exaggerate how huge the destruction of the temple would be and yet it happened. In 70 A.D. the Romans, having tried to squelch this rebellion for four years and it wasn’t working, came in and raided Jerusalem full force and slaughtered everybody and they destroyed the temple. It took them 3 years to dismantle the thing but they tore it down. You might wonder why would they tear the temple down? Why not save it, it’s one of the wonders of the world; use it for an office space or something or a palace for crying out loud. But see, they knew how important the temple was to Jewish people and they also knew it was the Jewish faith that was causing all the problems. The Jews alone, above all the peoples that they conquered, the Jews alone always had to have these exceptions. They’d get offended if you printed the face of a Caesar on a coin so they had to make special coins for them; they wouldn’t integrate with Rome and it was because of their Jewish faith, so let’s kill the Jewish faith. And by destroying the temple you’re cutting out what was the heart of Judaism at the time. It didn’t end the world obviously, but it ended the world as the Jews knew it. Judaism was radically transformed as a result of that. And actually it has tremendous theological significance because God didn’t cause this event and God didn’t act violently in this event (the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple). But it was a divine judgment because God said if you abandon me there will come a point where I’ll just have to withdraw, with a grieving heart like Jesus expressed, I’ll have to withdraw and now you’ll suffer the consequences of your rebellion. And this is what happened; it was a divine judgment.

It was also a providential time because the church separated from Judaism as a distinct entity. Up to this point Christians were going to synagogues to worship. Now they become a separate entity; this forced that split. Now the Jews were scattered around the world and they no longer had their own state. This was a time when it was officially made known that God was no longer going to try to work through a distinct nation based on the Law and use violence to protect it. That was now being transferred to the church, which is why Paul calls the church the Israel of God in Galatians 6, and now it will be composed of people from every tribe and every tongue. It wouldn’t be based on the law but on its empowering grace and spirit and it would be characterized by a people who instead of retaliating or using violence they’ll love their enemies and follow the example of Jesus. So the destruction of the temple was absolutely huge. To say it was huge was a massive understatement.

So Jesus blows their mind by saying the temple would be destroyed. And now we come to the all-important verse. Watch what happens. It says [Mark 13:3]:

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” [NIV]

The question is, when will the temple be destroyed and what are the signs that will precede it? They [the disciples] are asking it and they’re saying we’ve got to know when we’ve got to get out of here. So that is the question on the table and everything Jesus says in Matthew 13 is in response to that question. It’s not a question of the end of the world but it is the question of the end of the world as the Jews knew it—the destruction of the temple. All of the signs that he mentions there are signs for the disciples that are going to lead up to the destruction of the temple. They are not signs about the end of the world. You can see this very clearly by the way Jesus ends the message. Let’s look at the beginning and let’s look at the end. After giving all this teaching he says in Mark 13:30:

“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” [NIV]

In Matthew’s version, [Mt. 16:28], Jesus says I tell you there are some standing here who will not pass away until all these things have happened. Whatever Jesus is talking about happens in their lifetime. And so everything that we read about in Mark 13 was fulfilled in the years leading up to and including 70 A.D. with the destruction of the temple. Obviously that generation has been dead 2,000 years so this can’t be applying to us today.

Not only that, but if you read Mark 13 carefully you’ll find there are a number of things in that chapter that couldn’t possibly apply to us but that perfectly apply to Jews before 70 A.D. For example, one of the things Jesus says is that you must be on your guard because you will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. The Jewish council—the leaders of the local Jewish movement—was where they would try fellow Jews for heresy and if they were found guilty they would be returned to their synagogue and flogged there. If they repented they’d be allowed back in the synagogue and if not they’d be considered anathema and kicked out. Jesus is saying this is what is going to happen to his disciples. He says, YOU will be flogged and brought before the council. Does anyone think that at the end of time, the end of world history, those of us who are gentiles are going to be brought before Jewish leaders and tried for heresy and then delivered to synagogues to be whipped? I don’t think so, but this is what happened to first century Christians and it shows that at that time they were still worshipping in synagogues, which is what we know to be the case. It was only after 70 A.D. that they began to split from that.

So we can correlate all the things that Jesus mentions in this chapter from other sources and they are things that happened in the years leading up to the destruction of the temple. He says there will be a plethora of false messiahs saying, I am He, come over here. And we know from Josephus that there was an explosion of would-be messiahs just prior to the destruction of the temple, some of them doing outlandish crazy things. But people were aware of an impending judgment and so these messiahs were saying, I’ve got the answer to this. One guy led a thousand or so people out into the desert claiming God was going to show them a sign and God didn’t show up but the Romans did and they all got slaughtered. So there’s a lot of craziness going around at this time.

Then he [Jesus] says parents will be delivering up their children and children will be delivering over their parents (Mark 13:12). We know that happened under the persecution of Nero. He says that the temple will be desecrated and he talks about the need; if you’re in Judea you’ll need to flee fast, don’t even go back into your house, just make a run for it because these things are going to happen swiftly. And then he says one will be taken and one will be left behind and if you understand it in that context you’ll know what it’s talking about. All of this took place in the years prior to 70 A.D. It’s not about the end of the world; it’s about what’s going to happen at the end of the Jewish era.

Now there are two things about the temple in Judaism, two things in this passage that lead people to think it’s about the end of the world. Here again we have to pay close attention to the idioms of speech. The first thing is that one of the things Jesus says is that before the end— which in this context means before the destruction of the temple—the gospel must be preached to all nations. In my early years I heard many, many sermons about how every people group must be reached before the Lord would come back, trying to motivate people to go out and become missionaries. But see, I think we’re taking things more literally than they would have intended it. Look at Acts 2. This is Luke and he’s reporting on the day of Pentecost and he says in verse 5:

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” [NIV]

Well, every nation under heaven? China, Russia? How about America; they didn’t know about America yet. No, it wasn’t literal. He lists 16 countries but 16 is only a fraction of all the nations under heaven. What’s going on here?

Then Paul says this in Colossians 1:23:

…This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” [NIV]

Really? This is before 65 A.D. and the gospel hasn’t even made it out of the Roman Empire yet. What’s going on here? And not only has every human heard, but every creature; every bird, every cat, every elephant, every aardvark; you name it and it’s heard the gospel. What’s going on here? Well, we have to remember that the Jews, and all Mediterranean people groups, make extensive use of hyperbole. It‘s a way of putting emphasis on something. I can show you a dozen other passages where it’s said that the gospel has already been preached to all the nations when it can’t possibly mean that literally. What’s going on is that when they say ‘all nations’ or the ‘whole earth’—and you find this a lot in the Old and the New Testament—it’s just a hyperbolic way of saying ‘outside of Jerusalem and everywhere.’ The Jews thought of the world as divided among Jews and non-Jews, so to say it’s preached throughout the whole world means 1) it’s gone beyond the Jewish culture and 2) it’s all over the place. And we know that by 70 A.D. Christianity had spread to some of the outer regions of the Roman Empire and it included a number of different people groups; it was already becoming an integrated thing. So Jesus is simply saying that before the temple is destroyed the gospel is going to be breaking out of Judaism and is going to be preached all over the place. That’s all the passage means.

And the second thing that makes people think he’s talking about the end of the world: is in Mark 13:24-26:

“But in those days, following that distress, “‘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.’ “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” [NIV]

You’re asking, how could that possibly be a 70 A.D. thing? Did they see the sun go dark or see the moon go dark or see the stars fall from the sky and heavenly bodies shaking? Did they see the Son of Man coming in glory and power in the clouds? Absolutely! But not if you’re taking it literally. But see it’s something that has to be fulfilled in 70 A.D. because three verses after this (vs. 30) Jesus says:

“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

And this is part of the ‘all things’ so it has to be a first century thing. See, it’s not a literal first century thing but no one would have thought it was literal.

I’ve already talked about [the phrase] ‘riding in the clouds.’ Everywhere else in the Bible where it’s mentioned it’s not meant literally and there’s no reason to think it’s meant literally here. It just means the Son of Man is going to come in power and glory bringing judgment to those to be judged and redemption to those who need to be redeemed. And the same is true about the sun and the moon being darkened and the stars falling from the sky and the heavenly bodies being shaken. It’s applied to almost every judgment of a major city. The stars are going to fall from the sky, the sky will be rolled back as a scroll and the foundations of the earth will be shaken, but people didn’t see that when judgment took place. Here’s an example: Isaiah 34, which is a judgment on Edom, and it says in verse 4:

“All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig-tree.” [NIV]

And Edom was judged and was destroyed. Did anyone see this stuff happen? It’s just their way of saying the world as you knew it would come to an end. In fact, if you take it literally as if people actually saw this, it doesn’t make any sense. It says the stars will be dissolved but then turns around and says the stars are going to fall to the ground like figs. Which is it? If they dissolve they can’t still be around like figs. And by the way, how do stars fall to the ground like figs because they’re giant balls of gas billions of miles away; they’re not fig-like stuff. But see, this isn’t meant to be literal stuff. This is a way of saying ‘raining cats and dogs.’ Raining cats and dogs; the world as you know it is going to come to an end.

Or look at this one in Joel 2:29-31. I could give you dozens and dozens of examples of this.

“Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood…” [NIV]

When is that going to happen? Well, on the day of Pentecost the Spirit is poured out and Peter says folks, this is that which was prophesied by the prophet Joel, ‘my Spirit will be poured out on all flesh,’ and he quotes this passage. Now did they see billows of smoke and fire and blood and wonders in heaven and earth and the moon turning to blood? No, but no one would have thought that was actually going to happen. Peter is simply saying this is a world changing event.

Everything is changed now. The Spirit has come and the era of the Law and working on our own effort is done. Now God is going to write his law in our hearts. This is a game-changer; it’s a way of saying this is a game-changer, and this is how you express it in their culture.

So I believe Jesus here is referring to the destruction of the temple which is as big as the day of Pentecost and any other destruction of a city in the past. This is an ultimate game-changer and this is how you express it. Now it is possible that when Jesus talks about the coming of the Son of Man and the sky being darkened or whatever, he could also be referring to his coming at the end because we know he is coming at the end and it’s going to be in power and glory and all that, so there could be a dual reference here. We find that a lot in the bible where prophets give a prophesy and it has an immediate application in the near future but it also has a future application. So this could very well refer to both, but the important point for us to get folks is that all of the ‘signs’ stuff does not apply to us. All of that was fulfilled in the first century and it can’t apply to us. Here’s the thing: we know Jesus is coming back, our groom will return for his bride; he’s not going to abandon us. But we have no idea when, we have no idea how, we have no idea what that will look like, and there are no signs to look for. The one thing we need to know is that we don’t know anything! So we need always to be ready, always be prepared and be a bride who’s making ourselves ready. So I encourage us to stay miles away from all that ‘sign’ stuff that’s out there. It is at best—and there are books and books and books on this out there every year, I know—but it is at best a waste of your time and at worst it is dabbling in divination because you’re trying to divine something that the Lord has already told us we don’t know. And this is out there all over the place.

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