Question: Please comment on Luke 21:25-27. Is this speaking literally or spiritually? Also Mark 13:19-20.
Answer: Luke 21:25-27 reads thus: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
Mark 13:19-20 says, “For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.”
It must surely be evident that some very cataclysmic and catastrophic things are being set forth here. Let us at once drop the idea of any literal interpretation on these scriptures. But in a very real sense, spiritually and figuratively, this scripture spoken by Jesus Himself has been fearfully and wonderfully fulfilled and these things have come to pass. Both of the passages incorporated in this question are a part of Christ’s discourse to His disciples concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the complete overthrow of the Jewish polity, the end of the world, and of the signs of His second coming. Luke merely refers to signs in the sun, moon, and stars; but Matthew goes a little further in describing those signs. I wish to insert here Matthew 24:29 which says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” Since Matthew identifies those signs in more detail, I would like to transfer the emphasis to Matthew 24:29 for the time being.
We must recognize that many prophecies have a twofold fulfillment, especially prophecies concerning the Jews and ancient Israel. The reason for this can be easily explained because literal Israel was a type of spiritual Israel, and some of the things which happened to them have been repeated in the history of the Church in this age of time.
This scripture probably had its primary fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, and Adam Clarke applies it totally to that, excluding all other explanations. He says, “In the prophetic language, great commotions upon earth are often represented under the notion of commotions and changes in the heavens. The fall of Babylon is represented by the stars and constellations of heaven withdrawing their light, and the sun and moon being darkened Isaiah 13:9-10; the destruction of Egypt, by the heavens being covered, the sun enveloped with a cloud, and the moon withholding her light Ezekiel 32:7-8. The destruction of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes is represented by casting down some of the host of heaven, and the stars to the ground Daniel 8:10.” He further says in regard to this particular scripture, “The Jewish heaven shall perish, and the sun and moon of its glory and happiness shall be darkened brought to nothing. The sun is the religion of the church; the moon is the government of the state; and the stars are the judges and doctors of both.”
I will not make any argument with this, as the applications seem to fit all right. But I do not at all consider that to be the end of this prophecy. If it had a fulfillment at that time, the historic annals of the Church in this age of time surely show a terrible fulfillment of it in the Church. However, I agree that it had a very catastrophic fulfillment in the Jewish nation. I want to discuss it now as it pertains to the history of the Church.
In Isaiah 21:11-12 we read, “The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night?… The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.” The reference here is to a time of night and darkness a time when men groped for the Word of God and could not find it Amos 8:11-12. Dumah means “silence” and, no doubt, refers to the period of about 400 years between Malachi and Christ when there was no prophet or voice from God; just silence. When the call came to the watchman, “What of the night?” or what time of night is it? The answer came back, “The morning cometh.” Surely that was a comforting message for night and silence-weary Israel. Accordingly, the morning came, the gospel day dawned and Jesus, the Sun of righteousness arose with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2), and “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” (Matthew 4:16.) Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12). The dawning of the gospel day was a great event to the human race, and Jesus during His ministry healed their dread diseases, cast out the devils, bore the burdens, and alleviated the sufferings of those who came to Him. His apostles and the early Christian Church continued the same work and manifested the power and glory of God and the light continued to shine for a considerable period of time.
After he had announced the coming of the morning, the watchman followed up by saying, “And also the night.” There was another night coming after the dawning of the morning. In Amos 8:9 we read, “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.” The term, “In that day,” was often used by the prophets to signify this gospel day in which we live. In this day, right at noon when the sun was at its zenith and shining in its glory and brilliance, it would suddenly drop out of sight, and the clear day would become dark. Read Micah 3:5-7, telling that the sun would go down over the prophets, and it would be dark unto them and they would have no vision.
In Isaiah 63:18 we read, “The people of thy holiness have possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary.” This actually came to pass in the great apostasy from the truth which came in about 270 A.D. About this time a worldly and ambitious spirit began to work in many of the ministers. Instead of the humble, lowly ministry which characterized the early Church, ministers began to strive and compete one with another for power, position, preeminence, and worldly gain. Some became exalted above others and still others became exalted over them, and this trend finally resulted in the establishment of the Pope of Rome as the universal head of the church.
Paul wrote in II Thessalonians 2:3-4 about the falling away which would come after his time and the revealing of the man of sin, the son of perdition “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” In verses 9 and 10 he says, “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” In verse 7 he spoke of the “mystery of iniquity” and said it was already working. This “mystery of iniquity” was the worldly, ambitious, striving, competing spirit for preeminence and position which laid the groundwork for this “man of sin” to be exalted to his supreme position.
The historian Mosheim wrote of these men that they “Imperceptibly extended the limits of their authority, turned their influence into dominion, and their councils into laws; and openly asserted at length, that Christ had empowered them to prescribe to his people, authoritative rules of faith and manners.” Taken from page 106 of The Revelation Explained by F. G. Smith.
F. G. Smith again quotes from D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation on page 195 of Revelation Explained. “Salvation no longer flowing from the Word which was henceforward put out of sight, the priests affirmed that it was conveyed by means of the forms they had themselves invented, and that no one could attain it except by these channels…. Christ communicated to the apostles, and these to the bishops, the union of the Holy Spirit; and this Spirit is to be procured only in that order of succession…. Faith in the heart no longer connected the members of the Church, and they were united by means of bishops, archbishops, popes, mitres, canons and ceremonies.”
One more quotation from D’Aubigne from page 185 of the same book, “The living church retiring gradually within the lonely sanctuary of a few solitary hearts, an external church was substituted in its place, and all its forms were declared to be of divine appointment.”
When the “man of sin” exalted himself above all that is called God, this pushed Christ into the background and put Him out of sight. When these exalted men declared they had authority to prescribe authoritative rules of faith and manners for the people of God, that pushed the Word of God into the background and put it out of sight. Jesus was the Sun of righteousness; the Light of the world. He was darkened. The stars, which symbolize ministers (Revelation 1:20) and those who apostatized and departed from the true faith, fell from their high and heavenly position.
This is my understanding, and so far as I know the understanding of my brethren in general of this text of Scripture.
My understanding of Mark 13:20, “And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved:…” is this: The passage was in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Jewish nation, and this statement referred specifically to them. The destruction of human life was so extensive (Josephus, a Jewish historian accounts for at least 1,357,000 that perished in the conquest of Judaea) that had it gone on much longer, perhaps not a single Jew would have been spared. The “…tribulation of those days…” in Matthew 24:29 and the severe affliction spoken of in Mark 13:29 refer to the extremely severe conditions prevailing with the Jews during the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Jewish nation. The detailed description of this given by Josephus is terrifying and sickening. Jesus said there had never been anything like it from the beginning of the creation and never would be anything to match it again. The wrath and vengeance of Him to Whom vengeance belongs against sin, rebellion, and rejection of His Son is a dreadful thing. Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” I urge all who read this to flee from the wrath to come.
It was soon after these things that the conditions began to develop which plunged the world into the Dark Ages referred to in figure in Matthew 24:29.