In the Olivet Prophecy in Matthew 24, Jesus Christ prophesied some important end-time signs: "Immediately after the tribulation [the unprecedented time of trouble described earlier in the chapter] 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" (verse 29).
John expanded on this theme of heavenly signs under the inspiration of Jesus Christ. Revelation 6:12-17 records the sixth seal (see our booklet Are We Living in the Time of the End? to see more parallels between Matthew 24 and Revelation 6).
What would it take to get people's attention today? Likely it will take the awesome spectacles Christ foretold. The heavenly signs He mentioned will be clearly supernatural, and they will fulfill numerous prophecies of the Old Testament.
"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. 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! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?'" (Revelation 6:12-17).
Through the ages mankind has been fascinated by the heavenly bodies, sometimes worshipping them, sometimes reading portents in them. Unusual events such as eclipses and comets sparked fear and were seen as signs of impending disasters.
But modern man has mapped the heavens and calculated the eclipses and orbits of comets. What would it take to get people's attention today? Likely it will take the awesome spectacles Christ foretold. The heavenly signs He mentioned will be clearly supernatural, and they will fulfill numerous prophecies of the Old Testament.
A brief survey of heavenly signs
Jesus' description of a darkened sun and moon, falling stars and the heavens being shaken would have struck a chord in the minds of His audience. So would John's record, which included the element of an earthquake. Such events were described many times throughout the Old Testament in connection with the time called the Day of the Lord.
Isaiah's vivid imagery also talks about people hiding in the rocks "from the terror of the Lord" (Isaiah 2:10). Verses 11 and 12 go on to show part of the reason God will intervene in this way: "The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down. And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up—and it shall be brought low."
Human pride has always been a stumbling block to the incredible relationship God offers us—to be His children (1 John 3:1). Pride destroys our other relationships as well, leading to untold suffering and heartache. But seemingly the only way to break through a hardened shell of pride is to shake things up a bit. So that is what God will do.
In the midst of this traumatic time, people will finally see the worthlessness of their idols, which they will throw to "the moles and bats" (Isaiah 2:20). While this includes actual idols, charms and religious objects, the apostle Paul equates idolatry with our modern pastime of greed and covetousness (Colossians 3:5). Our cars, entertainment centers and other toys can be the focus of our attention and affections today, as much as a household god would be in a different society. Finally the greedy desire for more and more things will be seen for the pointless goal that it is.
Isaiah addresses the Day of the Lord again in Isaiah 13:9-11, this time tied in to the darkening of the stars, sun and moon.
Ezekiel also describes heavenly signs in his prophecy and lamentation for pharaoh and Egypt (Ezekiel 32:7-8). The darkness mentioned here is reminiscent of the ninth plague brought on Egypt at the time of the Exodus. And in the end times it seems darkness will also play a part in softening up the hard hearts of a world too long under Satan's sway.
Joel also pinpoints the time of these heavenly signs: "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31).
Haggai 2:6 reveals that God will once more "shake heaven and earth." The Nelson Study Bible says that this is "another way of speaking of the day of the Lord. The purpose of the day of the Lord is to prepare the earth for the glorious reign of Jesus Christ on earth."
Why a wrathful Lamb?
So why will God send the heavenly signs? Their purpose is to prepare for Christ's return and His Kingdom. Our loving God must wake this world up and expose its evils, including pride, idolatry and greed, to bring this world to repentance.
But still it can seem shocking to hear about "the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16). The word picture produces a stark contrast—it's hard to imagine a cuddly lamb as angry. Why is our loving Savior described as coming in wrath?
Part of the answer is seen a few verses earlier, in the opening of the fifth seal. Here saints who have been martyred just because they served God are pictured as crying out to God. "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10).
God's anger is righteous and controlled, and it is totally justified. Even His anger is motivated by love! This world is destroying itself with perverted thinking and depraved actions.
Christ compared the end time with the time of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39). In Noah's day humanity had descended to the depths of evil that worsened from generation to generation. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart" (Genesis 6:5-6).
God is grieved at all times to see those He created to be His sons and daughters destroying themselves. But at key times and places in history His grief and righteous anger—and His controlled power and endless love—demand action. The God who created humanity and who can bring us back to life expresses tough love when that is all that will get through to us. He did it with the world of Noah's day and with the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. And He will do it again in these last days.
Why does God hate sin so much? It goes against everything He stands for, and it has brought every evil and suffering on the world. When God's ways are practiced in the Kingdom of God, the world will know true peace and happiness. All tears will be wiped away and all sorrow will be comforted. Sin and its evil effects must be banished forever.