The Study of Last Things

by James T. Bartsch

Learning about the Future to Live Better Today

"And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine, or as one withers from the fig tree."  Isaiah 34:4

Celestial Disturbances in the Tribulation

These celestial disturbances are likely related to the Tribulation Period rather than to the complete destruction of the universe.

by WordExplain

1.           The sky “rolled up like a scroll” motif (Isaiah 34:4). Isaiah speaks of a time when the stars of the heavens will fail and “wither away.” The sky itself, presumably with its contents, “will be rolled up like a scroll.” This passage probably refers to the Tribulation era, not the Destruction of the Universe.

             a.          This may hint at the eventual destruction of the universe, but New Testament Scripture specifically relates this passage to events which terrify men during the Tribulation period. In Rev. 6:12, John watched as Jesus broke the sixth seal on scroll he was holding. John saw that “The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up” (Rev. 6:14).

             b.          Because of the staggering events which occur in Rev. 6:12-14, all men small and great seek to hide themselves from the presence of God and “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:15-17).

2.          The sun “turned into darkness and the moon into blood” motif (Joel 2:31). Scriptures which employ the “moon into blood” portion of the motif include Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20; and Rev. 6:12. These passages refer to the coming Tribulation period, not the Destruction of the Universe.

             a.          In Joel 2:31 Yahweh said that the darkened sun and bloody moon, along with other signs in the sky and on earth (Joel 2:30) would take place before the arrival of “the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31). The “Day of the Lord” (Heb. “Day of Yahweh”) is any period of time in which God overtly and actively enters into human history to purify and rule over mankind. The extended “Day of the Lord” will begin with the Tribulation, include Christ’s Second Coming, his Millennial Kingdom, the destruction of the present heavens and earth (2 Pet. 3:10-12), the final judgment (Rev. 20:11-15), God’s creation of new heavens and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13), and God’s eternal fellowship with redeemed man in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2 - 22:5).

             b.          Joel 1:1 - 2:17 speaks of judgment (purification) coming upon Israel, but deliverance is promised in Joel 2:18-27. Yahweh promises He will, at some distant future time, pour out His Spirit upon all mankind, regardless of gender, age, or economic status (Joel 2:28-29).

                           i.           This time of unprecedented global spirituality is clearly the focus of Joel’s message in this section. It is this overwhelming outpouring of the Spirit that Joel is highlighting when he speaks of the arrival of “the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31).

                           ii.          When will Yahweh pour out His Spirit? It will happen after certain unmistakable signs take place up in the sky and down on earth (Joel 2:30-31). These signs include blood, fire, smoke (2:30), a darkened sun and a bloody moon (2:31). This time when the heavenly bodies go berserk is evidently not the dissolution of the universe, but rather, a time of great trouble upon earth, the time which we know as the great Tribulation. Even though there will be enormous trouble, especially for Israel during that time, there will be salvation, for “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered” (Joel 2:32)! When is the time of the universal outpouring of the Spirit? It is the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom!

             c.          In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quotes (in Acts 2:16-21) nearly the entire passage of Joel 2:28-32a (Joel 3:1-5a in the Hebrew Bible). He is saying, in effect, that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was a partial (but not complete) fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32. It was a partial fulfillment because (1) God’s Spirit was poured out only on selected individuals, not all flesh; and because (2) the catastrophic signs (blood, smoke, darkened sun, bloody moon) of which Joel spoke did not occur. The reason Peter quoted from the extended passage was so that he could reach the line, “and it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). Indeed, three thousand were saved on that day (Acts 2:41)!

             d.          To confirm that Joel 2:31 speaks of the Tribulation, not the Destruction of the Universe, we need look no further than the last passage that employs the “darkened sun, bloody moon” motif, Rev. 6:12-13. John watches Jesus break the sixth seal of a scroll. The breaking of the seven seals occurs during the Tribulation, which John describes in great detail in Revelation 6 - 18. John employs two similes – he watched as the sun turned black like sackcloth, and the moon became like blood (emphasis mine). In view of John’s description, it is not necessary to insist that, in Joel 2:31 and Acts 2:20, the moon actually turns into blood, but only that it has a blood-red appearance. In view of God’s having turned the Nile River literally into blood (Ex. 7:17-21) and his future turning of the sea and rivers and springs into blood (Rev. 16:3-4), however, it makes little sense to rule out at least the possibility of the moon actually turning into blood (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20; Rev. 6:12-13).

3.          The sun and moon (and stars) grow dark or lose their light motif. (Isa. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10; 3:15; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24; Rev. 8:12.)

             a.          The broader context of Isa. 13:10 (Isa. 13:6-13) speaks of “the day of the Lord” (Isa. 13:6, 9) in which Yahweh will “punish the world for its evil” (Isa. 13:11). The stars “will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light” (Isa. 13:10). Yahweh will cause the heavens and earth to tremble and shake because of His “burning anger” (Isa. 13:13). This passage appears to speak, not of the end of the universe, but of the disturbances characteristic of the Tribulation.

             b.          Ezekiel 32:7 speaks of a time when Adonai Yahweh (the Lord GOD) will “darken ... stars; ... cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not give its light.” The broader context (Ezek. 32:1-16) reveals that Yahweh is planning a judgment against “Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Ezek. 32:2, 12, 15-16) through an invasion by Babylon (Ezek. 32:11). That near prophecy has been fulfilled. Yet the language of Ezek. 32:7 seems also to look ahead to a more distant time of celestial disturbance, the Tribulation.

             c.          Joel 2:10 speaks of the sun and moon growing dark and the stars losing their brightness. The context (Joel 2:1-17) describes “the day of the LORD” in which there is an invasion of what appears to be locusts (Joel 2:2-9; cf. Joel 1:1-13). Yet the language of Joel 2:10 appears to go beyond a prophecy already fulfilled to describe the disturbances of the Tribulation.

             d.          Joel 3:15 speaks of “the day of the LORD” (Joel 3:14) in which “The sun and moon grow dark and the stars lose their brightness.” The broader context (Joel 3:1-17) speaks of a time when Yahweh “will gather all the nations ... to the valley of Jehoshaphat” where He will judge them (Joel 3:2, 12, 14). The sickle, the ripened harvest, and the treading of the winepress (Joel 3:13) is imagery that is picked up again in the time of the Tribulation (Rev. 14:14-20), which is clearly the time frame of which Joel 3:15 speaks.

             e.          Matthew 24:29. Jesus predicted that, after the Tribulation will have been completed, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky; and the powers of the heavens will be shaken ....” (See also Mark 13:24-25.) Jesus linked these heavenly disasters with the close of the Tribulation and his own return in power and great glory (Matt. 24:30-31).

             f.           In Rev. 8:12, at the sounding of the fourth trumpet during the Tribulation, a third of the sun, moon, and stars will be darkened.

             g.          Clearly the massive celestial disturbances described in these passages do not relate to the destruction of the earth and the heavens, but are rather linked to the time of the Tribulation and the return of Christ to reign upon earth.

Celestial Disturbances in the Tribulation

by James T. Bartsch, WordExplain

Prepared November, 2007

Published Online by WordExplain

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This study is based on, and the links reference the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE , Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.

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