What Is A Cosmic Apocalyptic Catastrophe?

  • Should we be afraid when we read about a cosmic apocalyptic catastrophe in the bible?

The Old Testament prophets described the fall of empires and nations in a very dramatic way that we refer to today as being apocalyptic language. This language used lots of cosmic symbolism and metaphors that evoked the imagination and the emotion of the reader who lived in the same time frame as the OT prophet. Those OT prophets wanted to give their audience hope for the future, as they would eventually become victorious over their enemies.

However, many Christians today are not taught how to correctly understand this stylistic language. As a result, they are taught that these cataclysmic events must be taken literally.

Christians are taught to over analyze the symbols and then insert themselves into the literal events being described. They do this by imagining that the events will be happening to them in their lifetime without considering the original audience at the time the passage of scripture was written.

The False Prophets of Doom

As a result, the western church has become a science-fiction church, full of sensationalist yarn-spinners.

These people keep the check-out tills bleeping with a steady supply of new book releases as they update their fairy tales based on current events. They’ve created a cottage industry based on their speculations that profit from inciting fear and worry in their readers at the expense of biblical accuracy.

In their books, the earth is scorched by solar flares while being pelted by asteroids. The result of this is that the earth’s axis is tilted which in turn causes horrendous natural disasters. While there’s murder and mayhem on our streets, with the anger of the whole world aimed at Christians who suffer unspeakable persecution on a global scale. 

Preachers preach this message with gusto from their pulpits, and popular bible translations describe those events as being literal events in their study notes.

The Dreamers

Under the influence of these authors and teachers of doom, people’s fertile imaginations are seeded by visions of the events described, and people dream dreams. Believing that their dreams are given by God they are convinced they have had a private revelation from the Holy Spirit. They reject any notion that their dreams are the result of an overactive imagination that spills over into their subconscious minds in the form of dreams. You cannot help these people. They impose the role of ‘old testament prophet’ upon themselves and any attempt to reason or correct these people becomes a direct threat to their position of importance.

  • After all who can argue with someone who has a direct prophetic line to God?

This phenomenon is not restricted to our immediate generation and although none of the dreams from generations in the past have come true, the present dreamers will insist that their dreams will be the dreams that will be realised.

This should be warning enough as none of their predictions have ever come true. The world did not end, the Antichrist did not appear, yet this pattern is repeated over and over again.

  • The question the reader must ask first and foremost is how did the original audience understand the apocalyptic visions given in the Old and New Testaments?

In all the examples of apocalyptic literature below, I am going to show you that what sounds like the utter destruction of planet earth to our modern ears, meant something entirely different to its original audience.

  • Each apocalyptic event is set out with the title of a nation or empire symbolized by the fall of its capital city.
  • #1  Then the words that the OT prophets used to describe that event.
  • #2 Then the overall context of the event.
  • #3 How its fulfilment is recorded in the bible.
  • #4 And finally how the event actually took place in history.

The Fall of Babylon

#1 The Cosmic Apocalyptic Catastrophe: Isaiah 13.6-13

Wail, for the day of the Lord, is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every human heart will melt. They will be terrified, Pains and anguish will take hold of them; They will writhe like a woman in labor, They will look at one another in astonishment, Their faces aflame. Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it.

For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light. So I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their wrongdoing; I will also put an end to the audacity of the proud And humiliate the arrogance of the tyrants. I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold And mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken from its place At the fury of the Lord of armies, In the day of His burning anger.

#2 The Overall Context: Isaiah 13:17

Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold.

#3 Its Fulfilment Is Recorded in Isaiah 13:17

Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold.

#4 The Description of the Actual Literal Event in History

Babylon’s fall to Media-Persia (Cyrus the Great) in 539 BC and history does not record a literal cosmic catastrophe. It was lights out for Babylon!

The Fall of Edom

#1 The Cosmic Apocalyptic Catastrophe: Isaiah 34:2-4

For the Lords anger is against all the nations And His wrath against all their armies. He has utterly destroyed them, He has turned them over to slaughter. So their slain will be thrown out, And their corpses will give off their stench, And the mountains will be drenched with their blood. And all the heavenly lights will wear away, And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; All its lights will also wither away, As a leaf withers from the vine, Or as one withers from the fig tree.

#2 The Overall Context: Isaiah 34:5-9

For My sword has drunk its fill in heaven; Behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom, And upon the people whom I have designated for destruction… 9 Its streams will be turned into pitch, And its loose earth into brimstone, And its land will become burning pitch.

#3 Its fulfilment is recorded in Malachi 1:3

but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and given his inheritance to the jackals of the wilderness.

#4 The Description of the Actual Literal Event

The prophet Isaiah was using apocalyptic language to describe the judgment on Edom (Idumea) between the 6th-5th centuries BC. The Edomites are symbolized as being heavenly lights in the sky. The Edomite authorities would fall down like a fig falling from a tree and would be rolled together like a scroll i.e the scroll would be closed, which meant that the authorities of that nation (national leaders) would lose their power and dominion. History does not record a literal cosmic catastrophe. It was lights out for Edom!

The Fall of The Kingdom of Judah 

#1 The Cosmic Apocalyptic Catastrophe: Jeremiah 25:30-33

“You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them “‘The Lord will roar from on high, and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh, and the wicked he will put to the sword, declares the Lord.’

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, disaster is going forth from nation to nation, and a great tempest is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth! “And those pierced by the Lord on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall be dung on the surface of the ground.

#2 The Overall Context: Jeremiah 4:11,16,31

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem, “A hot wind from the bare heights in the desert toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow or cleanse,…Warn the nations that he is coming; announce to Jerusalem, “Besiegers come from a distant land; they shout against the cities of Judah…For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor, anguish as of one giving birth to her first child, the cry of the daughter of Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands, “Woe is me! I am fainting before murderers.”

#3 Its fulfilment is recorded in Jeremiah 4.7-9

A lion has gone up from his thicket, a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant.
For this put on sackcloth, lament, and wail, for the fierce anger of the Lord has not turned back from us.”. “In that day, declares the Lord, courage shall fail both king and officials. The priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.”

#4 The Description of the Actual Literal Event

God used the actions of the Babylonian army to defeat the House of Judah in 586 BC and there were no catastrophic weather events or loud voices from the sky recorded in the history surrounding this event.

The Fall of Egypt

#1 The Cosmic Apocalyptic Catastrophe: Ezekiel 32:7-8

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. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord God.

#2 The Overall Context: Ezekiel 32:2,15

“Son of man, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him: “You consider yourself a lion of the nations, but you are like a dragon in the seas; you burst forth in your rivers, trouble the waters with your feet, and foul their rivers…When I make the land of Egypt desolate, and when the land is desolate of all that fills it, when I strike down all who dwell in it, then they will know that I am the Lord.

#3 Its fulfilment is recorded in Ezekiel 29:19

Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it, and it shall be the wages for his army.

#4 The Description of the Actual Literal Event

Babylon defeats Egypt in 587 BC and the Prophet used apocalyptic language to describe the judgment on Egypt.

The Fall of The Kingdom of Israel

#1 The Cosmic Apocalyptic Catastrophe: Amos 5:18-20

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

#2 The Overall Context: Amos 5:1,27

Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel… and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

#3 Its fulfilment is recorded in Amos 5:27

 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.

#4 The Description of the Actual Literal Event

Assyria defeats the House of Israel (10 tribes) in 722 BC.

The Fall of The Kingdom of Israel Revisited

#1 The Cosmic Apocalyptic Catastrophe: Amos 8:9

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.

#2 The Overall Context: Amos 8:7,14

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds… Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’ they shall fall, and never rise again.”

#3 Its fulfilment is recorded in Amos 8:3,14

The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” declares the Lord God. “So many dead bodies!” “They are thrown everywhere!” “Silence!”…Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, ‘As your god lives, O Dan,’ and, ‘As the Way of Beersheba lives,’ they shall fall, and never rise again.”

#4 The Description of the Actual Literal Event

Again it’s Israel’s defeat to Assyria in 722 BC and lights out for Israel.

Apocalyptic Literature In the New Testament

We find the same cosmic imagery of the Old Testament prophets also used by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse and by John in the book of Revelation.

As we’ve seen in the above examples, the Old Testament prophets used this type of language when referring to the fall of kingdoms and empires including the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.

The 1st-century Jewish Christians would have recognised and understood that this language was not revealing a literal cosmic catastrophe.

The disciples would have had no trouble understanding what Jesus described in the Olivet discourse. They would have known that the language was referring to the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, and not some planet ending event at the end of time.

The Olivet Discourse and Revelation are describing the complete collapse of Judea and Old covenant Judaism in the Apostles generation. It was ‘lights out’ for Judea.

Let’s compare Jesus and John’s descriptions with the literary style of the old testament prophets…

The Fall of The Kingdom of Judea and Old Covenant Judaism

#1 The Cosmic Apocalyptic Catastrophe

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. ~ Matthew 24.29

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. ~ Mark 13.24-25

There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting from fear and the expectation of the things that are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. ~ Luke 21.25-26

John wrote

and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.~ Rev 6: 13-14

#2 The Overall Context: Hebrews 12:26-28

The removal of the Old Covenant and the establishment of the New Covenant.

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,

#3 The fulfilment is recorded in Revelation 21: 1-2

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

#4 The Description of the Actual Literal Event 

Jesus came back as He promised within that generation in 70 AD. He saved those who believed in Him by rescuing them from their Jewish enemies. He came in judgment against the apostate Jews and avenged the blood of the martyrs by destroying the temple and the city. All the land of Judea became a bloodbath as the Roman Empire crushed the Jewish rebellion. Josephus said that 1.1 million people died in Jerusalem alone and those who remained were taken as slaves in ships to Egypt and sold around the Roman empire.

In conclusion

Jesus used words that His original audience would have recognised immediately. They knew that none of those descriptions were to be interpreted literally but that it was lights out for Old Covenant Israel. In other words Regime Change!

The stars of heaven are not literal stars, but those who were in authority. They lost their dominion to rule over the land of Judea when they were ‘shaken by a mighty wind’.

The Jewish Sanhedrin and temple are also described as being mountains and islands that were forcibly removed from their place of power during the War of the Jews. The temple was destroyed, the leaders were killed and their scroll of authority was rolled up and thrown away.

It was lights out for rebellious Israel for rejecting God and killing their Messiah when the Kingdom of God came in power.

When you can properly interpret apocalyptic language in its correct context then you have nothing to fear from these verses in your bible! These events recorded the history of Israel up to the last generation who were part of the Old Covenant.

Further reading: Is there a best way to understand apocalyptic literature?

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