Okay, just one more thing I want to cover:
In those days there will be oppression, such as there has not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. Unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved; but for the sake of the chosen ones, whom he picked out, he shortened the days. … In those days, after that oppression, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. (Mark 13:19-20,24-25)
What I’m about to say could be very offensive. I am about to say really terrible things about religious organizations, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. What I’m saying, however, is simple history.
Let’s address the beginning of that passage of Scripture first.
I am somewhat influenced by the book A World Lit Only by Fire. William Manchester did an excellent job of pulling me into the superstitious, quasi-Christian world of late medieval Europe.
I’ve read Martyr’s Mirror, and I’ve read the stories of men like Jan Huss and John Wycliffe. Huss was burned for his devotion to the Scriptures, and Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed and burned posthumously because he translated the Bible for others.
Recently, I was looking up information on Pope Alexander VI. I was reading a discussion of whether he was a good or bad pope. At the end of it, after the discussion, the history then described his succession of mistresses. That didn’t play into whether he was a good pope or not???
Knowing these things, I believe this description of sixteenth-century Europe by John Calvin:
Those who were regarded as the leaders of faith, neither understood Thy Word, nor greatly cared for it. They only drove unhappy people to and fro with strange doctrines, and deluded them with I know not what follies. Among the people themselves, the highest veneration paid to Thy Word was to revere it at a distance, as a thing inaccessible, and abstain from all investigation of it.
… every place was filled with pernicious errors, falsehoods, and superstition. They, indeed, called Thee the only God, but it was while transferring to others the glory which thou hast claimed for Thy Majesty. They figured and had for themselves as many gods as they had saints, whom they chose to worship. Thy Christ was indeed worshipped as God, and retained the name of Saviour; but where He ought to have been honored, He was left almost without honor. For, spoiled of His own virtue, He passed unnoticed among the crowd of saints, like one of the meanest of them. There was none who duly considered that one sacrifice which He offered on the cross, and by which He reconciled us to Thyself … none who trusted in His righteousness only. That confident hope of salvation which is both enjoined by Thy Word, and founded upon it, had almost vanished. (translated by Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, references here; emphasis mine)
How close is this description to “unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved”?
I’d like to suggest that the shortening of those days was the overthrow of the secular authority of the Roman Catholic Church by the Renaissance and Reformation, a process that took centuries.
The Sun Will Be Darkened
Let’s look around at what we’ve replaced superstitious, hybrid Christianity with. Here I won’t bother to quote history because we can look around us and see it happening. Protestant Christianity is not just a divided, disagreeable mess. Division and being disagreeable is the most notable feature of Protestant Christianity.
When I read Genesis, one of the interpretations I give to the “greater light” and “lesser light” that God created is that the greater light is Christ, the Son who shines over the whole world like the sun, and the lesser light is the Church, which has no light of its own, but reflects the light of Christ.
Jesus said that after the oppression of those days, the sun would be darkened and the moon would not give its light.
There is little doubt, I think, that a central presentation of division dims the light of the Son to the world. Jesus once prayed:
Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. (Jn. 17:20-22)
If unity lets the world believe, or see the light of the Son, then surely when division is our most notable feature, then the sun has been darkened.
Further, when the sun is darkened, the moon cannot give its light because it has no light of its own.
We can see from John 17:20-22 that the light of the church is unity. That light is worse than dimmed. It is lost behind our divisiveness, and that is as true between Catholic and Protestant as it is within the Protestant denominations and the bickering factions of Catholicism.
I would add that the situation is exacerbated by the fact that almost all of Christianity—western and eastern, with few exceptions—has lost any concept of the church.
Where is the church like Philippi, where Paul was confident that God was doing a good and growing work in every or almost every person? (Php. 1:6). Such churches are almost unheard of. Where is the church that loves Jesus more than father or mother, so that the destitute in the church find themselves living in the homes of their brothers and sisters in Christ rather than the homes of their parents and siblings in the flesh?
The sort of unity that makes the members of a church significantly closer to one another than they are to the members of the their biological families is unusual, even “cultish,” now, but it was simply typical in the early churches. As late as the early third century, one Christian wrote:
It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to label us. “See,” they say, “How they love one another!” … “How they are ready even to die for one another!” … no tragedy causes dissension in our brotherhood. … the family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. (Tertullian, Apology 39)
Almost none of us know anything about this kind of unity. Almost none of us have seen or experienced this kind of Christian life, of real church.
I’m going to tell you that I have, and I do, so that you know it is possible. Otherwise, most of you will find it impossible to believe because you’ve never seen it.
Jesus said, “The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light.” We can see that it is happening.
The Stars Will Fall from Heaven
I believe the stars represent the saints in Mark 13, not angels, as they may in the Book of the Revelation. We are compared to stars in 1 Corinthians 15, or at least the glory which will be revealed in us is compared to the differing glory of the stars of heaven.
Are the stars falling from heaven?
Charles Hacket, the national director of the Division of Home Ministries for the Assembly of God, said:
A soul at the altar does not generate much excitement in some circles because we realize approximately ninety-five out of every hundred will not become integrated into the church. In fact, most of them will not return for a second visit. (cited by Kirk Cameron & Ray Comfort, The Way of the Master [Wheaton, IL:Tyndale House Publishers, 2004] p. 61)
And so the stars fall from heaven as well.
The result is that the powers of heaven are shaken, not just because the sun is darkened, the moon is not giving its light, and the stars are falling from heaven, but also because we have lost our power with our light, an inevitable occurrence. Part of the reason that we fall away so rapidly is because we no longer know “the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:1-6).
That’s probably enough said. My hope is that looking at the situation around us might stir us to action.
The Good News
The good news comes after Jesus warns of the darkness of the sun and moon, the falling of the stars, and the loss of power. The key word in the following passage is “then”:
Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send out his angels, and will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the sky. (Mark 13:26-27)
Let us make good use of the time we have. Let us prepare ourselves, and let us rescue our fellow householders, that they would not fall, but would devote themselves to the One who will come, and who will have his reward with him.