In this blog post I discuss several New Testament and other early Christian texts which describe signs in the sun and the moon, the stars and the sky (‘heavens’), and unnatural changes in light and darkness. Part one offered an overview of the fragments referred too. In part two, I examined more closely the ‘signs’ in these fragments and identified key elements for each of three categories: accompanying phenomena, messianic indicators, and political/chronological indicators. Footnotes provided additional information. This third and last part provides a general discussion of the subject.
At the end of this overview of the signs in the sun and the moon, the stars and the sky in the New Testament and in early Christian writings, we will have a better understanding of the imagery of the coming of the Son of man on a cloud. Since creation, the messiah already existed in heaven near God or even as a part of God (see the gospel of John chapter 1). During the fire of Jerusalem the vault of heaven was unfolded, as became clear from the disappearance of the stars. Between the open heaven and earth a temporary connection was present which allowed the pre-existent messiah to move from heaven to earth and to become a human being, a ‘son of man’. The connecting piece between heaven and earth was the smoke and dust cloud that covered Jerusalem and its environs. The vortex of this cloud can be imagined as a staircase by which the messiah reached the earth. In Matthew 24:30 this cloud is called ‘the sign of the son of man in the sky’.
Old Testament precursors to this ‘signs’ imagery are Joel 2:10 (also concerning the capture of a city) and Jeremiah 33:19-21 (describing the disruption of the day and night sequence).
The texts in part one, in combination with relevant Dead Sea Scroll writings, provide a clear view of how their authors saw the transition from the era of degeneration under Roman rule to the golden Jewish messianic era. They believed the ultimate victory of the Jews over the Romans would ring in a new era turning the tables entirely. God would intervene by bringing about this final victory, and he would send his messiah to establish Jewish dominion over the world for ever (not for a limited period like the rule of the empires of the past, or like Roman rule that would end soon on the ‘day of the Lord’). The fact that the fortunes of war were at complete odds with such an outcome did not deter Jewish freedom fighters from waiting eagerly for the arrival of their God-sent messiah. As no messiah stepped up to deliver the final victory over the Romans, a small ‘substitute’ victory was declared to be the start of the messianic era, and the man who had accomplished this one-man victory would become their messiah. During the decisive battle of Jerusalem, which was the eagerly awaited moment of God’s intervention, something exceptional and spectacular happened to the Galilean priest and rebel leader Jesus son of Saphat: he survived the Romans’ attempt to execute him. With this new ‘substitute’ messiah the Jews had to bury their lofty political ambition of world dominion. They gnashed their teeth at the continuation and tightening of Roman occupation. 4 Ezra 6a: And the one (= the Roman emperor) shall reign whom those who inhabit the earth (= the land of Israel) do not hope for.
In the table in part two, I have mentioned only the chronological clues in the verses under consideration. If we look at the broader context of these verses, we see that there are chronological indications pointing to the war in all the writings under discussion with the exception of the passion narratives of the gospels. The Synoptic Apocalypse, Didache chapter XVI and Revelation do not provide incidental chronological and/or war information as they are entirely dedicated to the war. All these texts are an amalgam of firestorm, messianic and Flavian political/chronological information. In full contrast with the other text of the table in part 2, the passion narratives of the gospels stage Pontius Pilate as their most important time indicator. Comparison with the ‘signs’ texts shows that the chronology of the gospels has been forged.
I did not work out the phrase ‘powers of heaven that are shaken’. Maybe this is a summarizing conclusion of the ‘signs’ referenced. Another possibility is the interpretation of the δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν as ‘those in power in heaven’. In this view the celestial beings who rule the heavens (God and his angels) are disturbed by the aggressive infringement of their realm.
The Epistle of Barnabas XII:5 speaks of ‘a sign when Israel is falling’ (ἐν σημείῳ πίπτοντος τοῦ ʼΙσραήλ) without any further specification. It likely means the different signs are concentrated into a single overarching sign. This verse is of great importance as Jesus’ execution is closely connected to ‘the sign when Israel is falling’.