Joel 2:30-31 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.
Another “blood moon” (a standard lunar eclipse) is upon us, and prophecy pundits are in hysterics again. So let’s just calm down and think about this. What do we actually know about Bible prophecy?
- John’s Revelation is our most well-known but poorly-understood book of prophecies. It is based on and filled with references to older prophecies, both Christian and Hebrew.
- The epistles also contain several prophetic passages, also based on and full of older stuff.
- The Lord Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, is a key basis for many
later NT prophecies, yet it is also based on and full of references to OT images and ideas.
- The Old Testament prophecies usually are way more concerned with forth-telling (proclaiming God’s perspective on their readers’ sins, griefs, and hopes) than foretelling (predicting future events).
- When they do predict future events, one prophecy sometimes refers to two or more events,
sometimes separated by centuries, as in Isaiah 7 (notice 7:14 in particular).
- At other times, a prophecy will address one issue in two very different ways:
- Isaiah 13:1-16 describe the destruction of the Babylonian Empire by the wrath of God.
- Isaiah 13:17-22 depict the overthrow of the Babylonian Empire by the Medes & Persians.
- But these are not two separate prophecies; they are two perspectives on the same event, which took place in 539 B.C. God used the Medes and Persians to judge the Babylonians.
- Notice that the “destruction of the world” language refers to a real military conquest, only
using vivid, frightening, apocalyptic imagery.
- Ezekiel does exactly the same thing in Ezekiel 32, as he prophecies God’s judgment on Pharaoh, this time speaking of how he’ll use the Babylonian armies to judge Egypt. This took place in two separate engagements, including the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. Interestingly, the Medes and Persians were allied with Babylon at that time. Sixty-six years later they would completely overthrow their former (Babylonian) masters.
- This use of “cosmic cataclysm” language to describe a military disaster or cultural collapse happens repeatedly in the Old Testament. So does the idea that God is at work in history, using one kingdom or empire to judge another:
- he used the Assyrian Empire to judge both Egypt and Israel
- he used the Babylonian Empire to judge both Assyria & Edom & Judah & Egypt
- he used the Persian Empire to judge Babylon… and so on
- All this teaches us something about the New Testament prophecies, as well, namely…
- Each prophecy was written primarily to the people of the prophet’s own day, and only secondarily for us.
- The prophets care far more about what their readers (and we) are doing and thinking than about future news headlines.
- The prophecies are often given in highly imaginative and symbolic formats, yet are predicting quite earthly, natural conflicts and disasters.
- The prophecies often speak of one event in a couple different ways, or use one prophecy to speak of a couple different events.
- The prophecies are outrageously unclear, and usually cannot be definitely interpreted until well after they are fulfilled. In other words, there’s a lot that is uncertain, and always a call for humility and honesty.
- Three things you can be certain of:
- There will be a comin’ back day: the Second Coming
- There will be a gettin’ up day: the Resurrection
- There will be a settin’ down day: Judgment Day
- Three ready responses for life in our day:
- Be ready to hurt: numerous prophecies tell God’s people to expect to suffer or even die
- Be ready to win: numerous prophecies tell God’s people to expect to conquer and then rule
- Be ready to go: numerous prophecies tell God’s people to expect to leave this earth
Oh, and that prophecy from Joel began to be fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, 2000 years ago. The Apostle Peter says so in Acts 2:15-21. Check it out!
Also, if you want to get a mostly accurate and helpful picture of “the Day of the Lord,” as a theme that covers the whole Bible, check out this video from The Bible Project: