The Prophets' Tongue

and Language

Matt. 24:29 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:

When Jesus spoke the above, was He actually predicting a cataclysmic, cosmic event, or was He pronouncing judgement in the Language of the Prophets? Well, actually He was speaking in the prophets' tongue. This language is found in Isaiah 13, Isa. 19:1; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Ezek. 32:7-8 and many others. This passage in Ezekiel 32, gives some understanding of what all this cosmic talk means.

7 And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light.
8 All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD.

This judgement is spoken against Egypt. In verse 7, where He says, “when I shall put thee out,” this means, to extinguish or cause to expire; to blot out. He tells them what He is going to do to them; He will blot them out. Then He describes this "blotting out," in language that was commonly understood to the men of those days. This judgement is described, as covering the heaven, making the stars dark, covering the sun with a cloud and the moon not giving her light. All this cosmic distress language speaks of blotting out a nation, a people, or a city, making it go dark or non-existent.

We have at least two witnesses in the Old Testament Scriptures, that inform us of the meaning of such language. The first is found in Joseph's dream, and the second, in the prophecy of the New Covenant.

Joseph was given two dreams concerning his rise to authority. The first was a dream about the sheaves [Gen. 37:5-8]. The second was the following.

9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.
10 And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?
11 And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

The second of Joseph's dreams centered on the cosmic bodies. When Joseph told his father the dream, Jacob immediately understood the significance of the dream. He understood that he was represented by the sun, the mother by the moon, and Joseph's brothers by the stars. In this dream, the sun, moon and stars represented the most basic and fundamental order of government, the family. This dream lays a foundation for the understanding of the cosmic bodies, as representing the structure of a people, a nation, or kingdom.

This is further seen in our next example, found in Jeremiah's prophecy concerning New Covenant Israel. In the second half of the New Covenant prophecy, he states,

35 Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: 36 If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.

In the context here, New Covenant Israel's continuance as a nation before God is illustrated by the the cosmic bodies continuing to perform their created functions. The fact that the sun, moon, and stars maintain their created ministries, is testimony to the fact that Israel continues as a nation before Him. We must understand, since this is part of the prophecy of the New Covenant, the Israel that continues forever before God, is New Covenant Israel, or The Israel of God.

When the language is used, that the sun, moon, and stars no longer give their light, it is a testimony that the referenced nation, city, or people, would no longer continue as such. Hence, in His Olivet Discourse, when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the temple, the disciples understood that Israel, as constituted at Sinai, would no longer continue. For this reason, He states,

Matt. 24:29 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:

Concerning this language of Jesus in Matthew 24, John Bray, in his Matthew 24 Fulfilled, states the following:

For example, almost the same identical language was used by prophets of old when they described the coming judgments of God upon certain areas of people. I have learned that in understanding many expressions in New Testament eschatology, it is absolutely necessary to go back to the Old Testament and see how the same expressions were used there. In that way, one lets the Bible interpret itself. [p. 134]

What is most crucial to our own understanding of Biblical language, is how the apostles viewed what was being spoken to them. The key to Jesus' Olivet Discourse, is not how we interpret it, but how did the disciples understand Him. If we can grasp this, then we will be on our way to gaining a clearer picture of its truth. For example, when the disciples asked Jesus about His Parousia [Matt. 24:3], it is not critical how we view Parousia, but how did the disciples understand it.(See my study on Parousia here)

The Olivet Discourse of Jesus began with the disciples asking Jesus questions regarding His statement about the overthrowing of the stones of the temple. One of the questions they asked, was "What shall be the sign of Your Parousia?" (unfortunately translated as coming in most translations). They were asking about the sign of His ascension to the throne of Israel, or when He would be taking possession of His father David's throne. They expected that a sign would be given when He was about to establish His Kingly, Majestic Presence as Israel's King. In Matthew 24:29-30, we have the answer.

As we have just seen, in Matt. 24:29, Jesus said,
Matt. 24:29 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:

He then follows this statement with a comment about the asked for sign.
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

I have discussed the meaning of the sign of the Son of man in more depth in the study on theParousia. I would suggest going there to see what this sign was that Jesus gave them. But, I digress.

This language used by Jesus, was not new to Him. When He spoke prophecies, He spoke in the tongue of the prophets. One of the main genres of this prophetic tongue or language, was what is known as Apocalyptic language. This is the language of symbols. The entire book of Revelation is written in apocalyptic language. In fact, the name Revelation is a translation for the first few words ("The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ . . .") One writer gives us this important understanding concerning this language.

"The apocalyptic element in the Old Testament occupies a larger place than is commonly supposed. The Pentateuch and the Psalms, as well as the Prophets, contain a large amount of pictorial symbolism, and the Book of Genesis exhibits a symmetry of structure comparable to that of the Apocalypse of John. These apocalyptic portions of the Old Testament are essential to a proper understanding of the contents and structure of the New Testament Book of Revelation.
(Milton Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, 1898. p.5)

Again, Terry gives us this bit of wisdom, regarding interpreting the Scriptures.

The principles of Special Hermeneutics must be gathered from a faithful study of the Bible itself. We must observe the methods which the sacred writers followed. Naked propositions or formulated rules will be of little value unless supported and illustrated by self-verifying examples. It is worthy of note that the Scriptures furnish numerous instances of the interpretation of dreams, visions, types, symbols, and parables. In such examples we are to find our principles and laws of exposition. The Holy Scripture is no Delphic oracle, to bewilder the heart by utterances of double meaning. Taken as a whole, and allowed to speak for itself, the Bible will be found to be its own best interpreter.(Milton Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, 1883. p.143)

In the above, when Mr. Terry states, "the Scriptures furnish numerous instances of the interpretation of dreams, visions, types, symbols, and parables," we have just seen two examples of this in Joseph's dream and the prophecy concerning New Covenant Israel.

The most common usage of this Language of the Prophets, is found in the description of an event called, The Day of the Lord. This is the next study to consider.