Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Apocalyptic? #32: Armageddon IV--The Plague of “Darkness” Part 2 (On the Sun, Moon, and Stars): Josephus and Acts

The Plague of Darkness, Part 2:
 Previously, in Apocalyptic?  #26:  The Plague of “Darkness”:  Josephus, I presented the way John described the Plague of Darkness on the “Throne” of the Beast (Bowl #5).  Revelation 6:12-13 (NKJV), however, also mentions that, in Seal #6, “the sun became black as sackcloth,” but I believe these two darkness events are not referring to the same occasion.  Concerning Seal #6, John writes: “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.    Trumpet #4 (in Revelation 8:12 NKJV) states, similarly: Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.”

The plague of Darkness in Egypt was the penultimate (next-to-the-last) plague for Pharaoh, just preceding the DEATH (See Seal #4 in Revelation) of the first-born of each Egyptian family (from which the Hebrews were protected in the Passover event by putting the blood of a lamb on their doorposts).  Likewise, Seal #6 is the penultimate seal—occurring just before the “divorce” of Israel in Seal #7.  In that way, “darkness” is a sort-of mirror-image of the history of the Jewish nation as God’s chosen people.  There was darkness just before Israel was called out of Egypt and led to the Promised Land and there is darkness just before Israel is divorced and expelled from the Promised land.  Trumpet #4 just mentions the three kinds of darkness, but Seal #6 mentions all three and adds a “blood” reference to the moon, the stars “falling,” an “earthquake,” and a curious comment about “the sky split . . . like a rolled scroll,” “mountains and islands” disappearing, and great men hiding “in caves and the rocks of mountains” (Revelation 6:14-16 NKJV):

Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!”


I’ll have more to say about mountains and islands” disappearing, and great men hiding “in caves and the rocks of mountains” in a future post, but these astrological, meteorological, and geological events, including earthquakes, are all quite similar to what Jesus predicted in his mini-apocalypse, the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:29-31 (NKJV):


 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (See also Mark 13:24-25 and Luke 21:25.)


What does “the sun will be darkened” mean? 
The sun is darkened by an extreme cloud cover or a solar eclipse.  In the first century A.D., according to Wikipedia, there were 58 total eclipses of the sun and 90 partial eclipses, so there was a partial eclipse about every year and a total eclipse more often than every other year.  The number of times the sun was darkened by extreme cloud cover is anyone’s guess.

What does “the moon will be darkened” mean? 
The moon is darkened by an extreme cloud cover, the earth’s obstruction of the sun from reaching the moon (i.e., a lunar eclipse), or the normal monthly lunar cycle.  We experience a monthly lunar cycle every 28 days (we call it a Moonth [=month]). According to, “In most calendar years there are two lunar eclipses; in some years one or three or none occur.” The term “blood moon” is non-scientific, but refers to a total lunar eclipse in modern parlance.  However, Jesus does not call this a “blood moon.”  The number of times the moon was darkened by extreme cloud cover is anyone’s guess.

What does “the stars will be darkened” or “stars will fall” mean? 
The stars are darkened by an extreme cloud cover.  We say that stars are falling when there is a meteorite shower. The number of times the stars were darkened by extreme cloud cover is anyone’s guess.  Of course, the stars do not technically fall during a meteorite shower any more than a moon is technically turned to blood or the sun technically turns black as sackcloth, but in the ancient world, all of these astrological, meteorological, and geological events, including earthquakes, were interpreted as messages from God. 

Astrological, Meteorological, and Geological Events:  During the War for Jerusalem, for example, Josephus himself interpreted a meteorological and geological event as a message from God.  According to Josephus, “there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, and continual lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth that were in an earthquake . . . that . . . foreshewed some grand calamities that were coming” (Wars IV,IV,4-5).  Of course, “in the night,” the sun would have been darkened and, given Josephus’s description of the “storm,” it is certain that the moon and stars would be darkened by the cloud cover.  This event (the storm in the night, with its attending darkness of sun, moon, and stars, and accompanying earthquake) occurred as the Idumeans, who eventually killed Ananus the High Priest, were attempting to enter Jerusalem.  The Idumeans had been sent for by the zealots, requesting assistance, on the pretext that Ananus was attempting to surrender Jerusalem to the Romans.  Once Ananus was aware of this move, he ordered that the gates of the city be shut, blocking out the Idumeans.  The Idumeans were enraged “by their exclusion out of the city.” “[T]hey lay all night before the wall” until the “prodigious storm” with earthquake broke out. (Wars IV,IV,1-5).

Such astrological, meteorological, and geological events caught the attention of Christians (and, at least one centurion and those with him) at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Matthew 27:45-54 (NKJV) reports:

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.   . . . Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Earthquakes have always been somewhat common in Israel, since it is located along the border between the African and Arabian tectonic plates. Jesus had said in his Olivet Discourse (in Matthew 24:7 NKJV): “there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”  Fifty days after the remarkable geological events of the crucifixion, on the day of Pentecost, Peter announced concerning what was happening at that time (Acts 2:17-20):

is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.  And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.  I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath:  Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.  The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.

It was not necessary that Peter include the portion of Joel’s text referring to wonders in heaven, the sun being turned to darkness, and the moon into blood, had he not considered those events to be occurring simultaneously with the happenings of the day of Pentecost. 

What does “the sky split . . . like a rolled scroll” mean? 
Literally, the Greek verb means that the sky or heaven “separated” or “split,” but then John uses the comparison to a “scroll that is being rolled up.”  Which is it?  Is the sky being separated or rolled back together?  NKJV (as cited here) translates: “Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up.”  The ASV translates: “And the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up.”  The ESV translates: “The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up.”  Did the sky “recede” or was it “removed” or did it “vanish”?  All three of these translations seem to translate a different (but similarly spelled) verb. John uses a form of the verb APOCHORIZO/ἀποχωρίζω, meaning “to separate or split.”  The three previous translations seem to interpret based on a form of the verb APOCHOREO/ ἀποχωρέω, meaning “to go away or depart.”  Interpreters have compared this passage with Isaiah 34:4: “and the heavens shall roll [up] like a scroll.”  The Hebrew and Greek words translated “roll/ed” do not always mean “roll/ed up.”  The word “up” is not present in the text.  Perhaps, John (or even Isaiah) sees the heavens “un”-rolled as a scroll.  Beale, offering a creative solution (p. 396), cites Zerwick and Grosvenor: “The division of heaven is pictured as a scroll that has been split and each of the two halves then rolled up.”  On the other hand, John often uses a free hand in his use of Old Testament allusions.  This could be a hapax legomenon of John’s.  The phrase hapax legomenon (pl. hapax legomena) means “word or an expression that occurs only once within a context: either in the written record of an entire language, in the works of an author, or in a single text” (Wikipedia).  Here, I mean by it that, prior to John’s usage of the expression, no one has used the expression “the sky split . . . like a rolled scroll” in any other existing writings. 

Under my categorization of hapax legomenon, John uses other (pl.) hapax legomena.  Prior to John, no one had used the gematria “666.”  Revelation 13:18 explains that it is the number of a man—the beast (Nero)—so that particular hapax legomenon is, thus, made clearer to most scholars.  Prior to John, no one had used the expression “Lake of Fire,” yet Daniel had used the expression “stream of fire” (Daniel 7:10) and we, therefore, can logically deduce what John means by his expression.  Prior to John, no one had used the term “Armageddon,” and (like the expression “the sky split . . . like a rolled scroll” expression), “Armageddon” seems to be a puzzle, based upon opposite meanings.  The Hebrew word “Ar” means “mountain” and “Mageddon” is a Greek spelling of the Hebrew word “Megiddo.”  However, Megiddo is a “plain,” just the opposite of a “mountain.” 

If John’s audience is seeing the heavens “separated” open like a scroll when it is “un-rolled,” perhaps John’s audience is expected to “read” the cosmological signs of the heavens as a “revelation” of God’s message, just as they would “read” his revelation in a (Bible) scroll.  It might, then, be the equivalent of “the heavens being opened.”  Ezekiel 1:1 says: “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.”  In Revelation 4:1, John saw “a door standing open in heaven” through which John viewed the heavenly thrones of God and Jesus.  In Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, and Luke 3:21, following Jesus’ baptism the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.  In John 1:51, Jesus tells Nathanael: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  In Acts 7:56, at his martyrdom, Stephen exclaims: “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  In Acts 10:11, when Peter was confused about letting Gentiles become Christians, he “saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground,” with unclean animals that he was commanded to eat.  Peter got the point.  At the very least, it is not recommended that one interpret this passage (a hapax legomenon) as an indisputable suggestion that John is here predicting the dissolution of all heavenly bodies at this trumpet.  He will get to that prediction eventually, but not yet at this point.

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