In an earlier article on biblical interpretation we saw that the biblical language of creation is used to signal the beginning of a new order. Likewise, the language of “de-creation” signals the end of an existing order. Each system under consideration may be socio-political or religious in nature or a combination. There was no appreciable difference to the ancient near-eastern mind. All governing authority rested upon the absolute claims of the various national deities. In any case, the language of de-creation is commonly used in the Bible to express the conclusion of a prevailing order or system in anticipation of the dawning of a new age.
For instance, in the book of Isaiah we read about the fall of the Babylonian empire as described in the metaphorical language of de-creation. Thus, God stirred up the Medes against the Babylonians with their ruin described in terms of cosmic collapse saying that the sun and stars will go dark and the moon will not shed its light (Isaiah 13:10, 13, 17, 19).
Isaiah’s words seem to describe the end of the physical world. However, they are intended to convey the overthrow of the reigning kingdom of Babylon by a superior invading force. These verses from Isaiah have absolutely nothing to do with a literal collapse of the universe. The prophet Ezekiel uses similar terms to describe the subjugation of Egypt by the Babylonians. (Ezekiel 32:2, 6-8, 11).
If we adhere to the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture we are led to understand that when Jesus claimed the Law would remain unchanged until the dissolution of the heaven and the earth (Matt. 5:18), He meant that there would be no change in the administration of the covenant until the old order had come to an end and the new covenant had begun. This change was signaled by the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord and was realized over the course of the ensuing generation. Paul reaffirmed this when he said that with the coming of the new covenant, Jesus made the first obsolete and what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. In other words, the process of de-creation was gradual, beginning with Jesus’ ascension and culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This is the thesis of the entire letter to the Hebrews; the old covenant has been superceded by the new and is passing away. Hence the foolishness of trying to hold onto the old. The fact that the old covenant was soon to disappear was made obvious by the coming of the Christ. And so, “God, who at many times and in many ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days (of the old covenant), spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2a, parenthesis added).
Clearly a Bible based understanding of de-creation language has broad ramifications concerning hermeneutics. For instance, Revelation 6:12-14 describes the the sun as becoming black as sackcloth and the moon becoming like blood. The text goes on to say that the stars of heaven will fall to the earth like when a fig tree casts her untimely figs when she is shaken by a mighty wind. The Revelation also says that heaven will depart like a scroll when it is rolled together and every mountain and island will be moved out of their places. Yet these things have already taken place. Using the Bible to interperet itself we understand that this is the same sort of language that Isaiah and Ezekiel use to describe the fall of a ruling order, not a literal process of cosmic upheaval. Is there any reason we should interpret John’s words differently? Obviously not.