Day 4: Look to the Stars

Perhaps nobody has invited modern culture to imagine the stars like the pioneer science fiction writer Isaac Asimov and the innovative science-fiction franchise Star Trek have.  

Isaac Asimov
Rochester Institute of Technology, PD-US-1978-89, via Wikimedia Commons

Isaac Asimov – 20th century most prominent science fiction writer

Born into a Soviet Jewish family, Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) moved with his family to the USA while still young. He was the most prolific writer of the 20th century, writing over 500 books. But he rose to fame with his science fiction writings, particularly the Foundation Series. Begun in the 1940s, the Foundation series a galaxy-spanning Empire. The Empire opposed two newer governments covering star clusters on opposite ends of the galaxy, called Foundation. The two Foundations were launched because the hero, through a fictional mathematics called psychohistory, predicted the decay of the Empire. The establishment of the Foundations would guard intergalactic civilization’s downfall. The book series has the heroes and villains blasting off between stars and planets we jet across oceans today.

20th Century most prominent Science Fiction on the screen

Shatner and Nimoy

This imagining of inter-stellar travel went from printed pages to TV screens with the broadcasting of Star Trek.  Star Trek featured William  Captain James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as First Officer Mr. Spock. They led their crew of the starship USS Enterprise into adventures across deep space as they traveled by warp speed across star systems. Shatner (1931-) and Nimoy (1931- 2015), were both born into Jewish families, only 4 days apart. Shatner was born in Canada and Nimoy in Ukraine.

These three superbly talented Jewish visionaries led the entire world to imagine stars, space travel, and mankind’s future there. In doing so, they followed their fellow Jew, Jesus, who also told us to look at the stars. However, he foretold a future cosmic sign so drastic that Asimov, Shatner, and Nimoy never visualized anything like it.

Jesus references the Stars

We are going through each day of Jesus’ final week, exploring him through his Jewish roots (synthesis here). He had uttered a Curse on Day 3, dooming his Jewish nation to desolate exile.  Jesus also predicted that his curse would expire, setting in motion events closing this age.  The disciples asked about this and Jesus explained. He predicted his return and how it would extinguish the stars. 

The Gospel records it like this. 

24 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Matthew 24: 1-3

He started by giving details of His Curse, predicting it would begin with the Temple’s destruction (occurring in 70 CE). Then in the evening, he left the Temple to go to the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem (i1). Since the Jewish day begins at sunset, it was now Wednesday, Day 4 of Passion Week. This was when he described his coming return.

Anticipating The End

We have an instinctive fear that the world is heading to some catastrophic end.  Whether through nuclear war, an asteroid impact, climate change, environmental collapse, or another pandemic, we fret over this threat.  Elon Musk’s reported motivation for SpaceX is so he can escape from the doomed Earth and restart mankind on Mars.

So we hope that, maybe somehow we can find some way to set the world right. Jesus claimed that this was precisely the mission he was on, but he taught that before he could fix wrong ‘out there’ he had to first cleanse our corruption within. Then, later, he would right the world in his Second Coming. Jesus anticipated his Second Coming on Day 4 of this week, describing the Signs of his return.

Day 4 – Signs of his Return

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.

26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Matthew 24: 4-31

Signs: The False and the True

On Day 4 Jesus looked past the coming destruction of the Temple. He taught that increasing evil, earthquakes, famines, wars, and persecutions would characterize the world before his return. Even so, he predicted that his message of Good News would still be announced across the whole world (v 14). As the world learned about Christ there would be growing numbers of false teachers and pseudo-claims about him and his return. Indisputable cosmic disturbances would be the true sign of his return in the midst of wars, chaos, and distress. 

Thus he calmly asked us to picture what science fiction visionaries famous for imagining all sorts of things in space could not imagine. He predicted an instantaneous and timed snuffing of the light from all stars, the sun, and the moon. A scene like that has not even been imagined by our brightest. Yet he soberly predicted a cosmic extinguishing of light to signal his return.

Then he calls himself the ‘Son of Man’, coming on the clouds of heaven. This references an ancient prophecy from Daniel about the coming of the Son of Man.

Assessing the Signs

In Asimov’s Foundation Series, mathematicians used the (fictional) science of psychohistory to predict the coming events in galactic history. Here Jesus also predicts large, sweeping events. He does so without using any analytical discipline, but based solely on his ability to foresee the future.   

This raises the all-important question:  Are his predictions accurate?

We can see that war, distress and earthquakes are increasing – so events generally seem to follow his outline.  But there are no disturbances in the heavens so his return is not just yet. 

How close might we be? 

Luke’s Perspective

To answer this we look at how Luke records, the conclusion of Jesus’ discourse.

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Luke 21: 20-24
Jerusalem Destroyed

We see here that Jesus not only predicted details of how the curse would unfold (Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews scattered around the world – which happened in 70 CE), he also predicted what would happen to the land during their exile (It would be in ‘desolation’ and ‘trampled on by the Gentiles’). For almost 2000 years, the land was trampled on by various Gentiles (Romans, Byzantines, Arab Muslims, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, and British). But Jesus predicted that this succession of foreign rulers would one day come to an end. He did so by qualifying that the land would be trampled ‘until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’. The Jewish people regained Jerusalem in 1967, after a 1900-year exile.

The Roaring and Tossing Seas

He then continued.

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

Luke 21: 25-26
Global Sea Level Past 40 years

An ongoing global discourse today concerns climate changes, rising sea levels, and increasing the intensity of ocean storms. Nations come together regularly in conferences like COP26/COP27 to try to develop global guidelines. That sounds a lot like, “Nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea”. Not all his predicted events have occurred yet, but some seem to be happening right now.

He concluded his predictions of events with this:

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Luke 21: 29-31

The Fig Tree greening up before our eyes

Remember the fig tree, symbolic of Israel, which he had cursed on Day 3? The withering of Israel began in 70CE when the Romans destroyed the Temple and it remained withered for 1900 years.  Jesus told us to look for green shoots from the fig tree to know when His return was ‘near’. In the last 70 years we have witnessed this ‘fig tree’ beginning to green and sprout leaves again. We literally saw this greening of the land from satellite imagery.  

Perhaps we should exercise care and watchfulness in our times since he warned against carelessness and indifference regarding his return.

Stay Alert!

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready,because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 24:36-51

Jesus then taught on his return using specific parables or stories. They are given here.

Day 4 Summary

On Wednesday, Day 4 of Passion Week, Jesus described the signs of his return. It climaxes with the extinguishing of the luminous heavenly bodies.

Day 4: Events of Passion Week compared to the Hebrew Torah regulations

He warned all of us to carefully watch for his return.  We can now see the fig tree greening, exactly as he said it would one day. So perhaps we should take heed.

The Gospel next records how His Enemy moved against him on Day 5.

  1.  Describing each day that week, Luke explains:  
    Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives.
    Luke 21:37  ↩︎