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Friday, September 2, 2011

Weekly Snippet: Light and Dark at The End of All Things

Last night I read Isaiah chapter 2, which is a prophecy about the end of the world.  Many of the scenes depicted in that chapter are mirrored by prophecies in Revelation, Daniel, Jeremiah, and others. After reading this passage, as sometimes happens, I fell asleep and dreamed about end times events.

That dream brought some insight into one symbolic thing that we see often in end-times prophecies: light and dark.  What does light symbolize in Biblical prophecy?  What is the significance of the absence of light?  It's a rather deep and general concept, so today I'm centering in on the significance of the moon and stars in these prophecies.

My dream began in my back yard, looking up at the night sky.  The stars looked like rhinestones that kept popping free of the velvety black sky, falling, and vanishing.  It wasn't a meteor shower, because these were stars I recognized from constellations like Orion, and when they fell, the constellations vanished.  Meanwhile, the moon was full and the sky was cloudless, yet it was getting darker and darker outside.  The face of the moon had turned a dark shade of charcoal, until it was barely distinguishable from the dark sky around it.  The overall effect of a darkened full moon and the loss of all of those stars made it very dark outside.  Very, very oppressively dark, until even someone who doesn't scare easily would be troubled by the almost-tangible darkness.  It was frightening to be outside, like a huge hand was pressing down on the world.

The Absence of Light

When I woke up I finally understood why this phenomenon--the stars falling and the moon being darkened--appears so frequently in the Bible as a sign of the end of the earth (Isaiah 34: 4; Matthew 24: 29).  Light is a symbol of God's presence, favor, and sovereign rule.  The loss of that light is the signal that God is turning away from the world because the offense of sin has finally driven Him to judge and punish it.  It's a symbol that few will misunderstand, even if they have never heard the words of Scripture.

The Bible starts out with a description of the creation of light and darkness (Genesis 1: 3-5), and the heavenly bodies come later in creation, in verses 14 through 19.  The emphasis in the creation of the moon, sun, and stars, is that they are "governing" bodies, and even in the darkness of night they are present and governing the world.

Besides things like controlling and timing tides and seasons, the moon and stars are there to represent God's justice, and His continued attention.  You see, sin loves the cover of darkness, for fear that it will be exposed by the light (John 3: 19-20).  The moon and stars are light even in the midst of darkness, showing to those who lurk in darkness that God is still watching and seeing everything, and comforting those who follow Him with the promise of God's constant presence, even in dark, seemingly-godless times.  There is another positive message that they send: Even those who live in rebellion against God still benefit from His mercy for now, as they wait for God's complete justice to come (like Cain in Genesis 4: 13-16).

The removal of these stars and the moon is a signal that even that mercy--delayed punishment--is being removed.  Though sin loves darkness to cover it, the need for the protection and guidance of light is still felt.

The Presence of Light

The symbolic representation light as God's presence, justice, mercy, and guidance is also very prevalent in end-times prophecy.  Isaiah 2: 5 says, "Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord," (NIV 2011).  This parallels the Revelation passage that describes the New Jerusalem and the new earth with these words, "There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever," (Revelations 22: 5 NIV 2011).

God's presence is light in a literal sense at the end of things, even as it is now dimly symbolized by the moon and stars at night.  Meanwhile the absence of light is justice and judgment felt and seen, as Jesus described Heaven and Hell when He said, "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the [sinful] kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” (Matthew 8: 11, 12 NIV 2011; see also Matthew 22: 8-14).

The evil people in Isaiah's day benefited from the delayed mercy and continued presence of God in Israel, until the day that God turned away from the nation of Israel and cast them completely into the "darkness" that they had chosen, which brought their destruction at the hands of invading armies (Isaiah 2: 6).  Similarly, evil people to this day benefit from God's mercy (not to be confused with approval for their sins), but one day the whole world will be judged.  On that day, God will turn away, and the absence of that presence will be tangibly felt.

This, I believe, is why people will seek the cover of caves when all of this comes to pass.  They will be searching for a place where God's light (judgement) will not go, where they will be safe, yet they will not find it.  Wherever they go, they will need light to travel; wherever they hide, God's presence can go.  There is no depth where God's presence can't be felt.  As Isaiah wrote, "Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty! The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day," (Isaiah 2: 10, 11 NIV 2011).

My prayer today is that even in the darkest of times, we will see and recognize the presence of God, and at all times we will search our hearts for evil, so we will not be afraid to walk in God's revealing light.  He doesn't want to cast us out of His presence!  He sent Jesus to be our light, as it is written, "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him, " (John 1: 9, 10 NIV 2011).  May we see and recognize that light, and cling to Christ, who can save us, so that we will never have to suffer the crushing judgement of the darkness!