by Matthew L. Halsted
The Blood Moons came and went, and to everyone’s surprise, the world is still intact and still floating through the cosmos. The dust has settled (or is settling), and so maybe we can look at this whole issue with clearer vision. Before I talk about the “Blood Moon” prophecy specifically, I think it may be helpful for us 21st-century Americans to adopt the following maxim: “When it comes to end-of-the-world prophecies, be wary of profits.”
A lot of times, those teachers who espouse the sensational (whether that be about the Blood Moons, or identifying who the Antichrist is, or whatever) there is often a lot of money to be made on such ideas. (Aren’t you curious like me to know how much was made on the whole “Blood Moon” stuff?) In the Bible, people who spoke God’s word predictively were often called prophets. By contrast, in America, people who speak God’s word are, predictively, making huge profits. So, let’s remember that maxim above.
Another thing we Americans need to do better (probably every evangelical needs to do this) is to study Scripture more carefully. Our interpretive practices are often riddled with neglect. What I mean is that often we evangelicals cherry-pick our favorite apocalyptic verse, rip it from it’s immediate literary context, then rip it again from it’s historical context, then rip it further from its canonical context then exclaim, “Here’s what this verse means!” The only context, it seems, that we allow to come to bear upon our particular verse is our own 21st-century political context. (I think there’s a place for that; everyone reads from their own context, after all.) But the problem is when we let our context dominate the text. We often neglect the Jewish context in favor of our own.
Think of interpretation like a conversation. If one person dominates the entire conversation, it not longer becomes a “dialogue” but a monologue. If a person conducts conversations like this, they will walk away having never truly understood the other person–this often leads to miscommunication or something far worse (just ask married people). The reason, I suppose, we don’t let the original, historical, and literary context have any bearing on our understanding of the text is simply because I think we are dreadfully lazy. I fault the church’s leaders for this. (I’m hesitant to fault pastors so easily–they have huge amounts of responsibility and usually very little time to dedicate themselves to the ministry of teaching. This is terribly unfortunate, though often the reality. But I do think, therefore, that it is high time for pastors to realize the priority of the ministry of the Word, as Acts 6:1-4 models. In doing so, pastors must keep in mind their calling to teach the church not just what the Bible says, but also to teach how to go about learning what the Bible says [2 Tim 2:15]. The fact is, we are often good at indoctrination, but terrible about education.)
At any rate, in any act of conversing/dialoguing (say, in the context of marriage), the person who is unwilling to stop and take the time to listen to where the other is coming from–taking into consideration the hopes and concerns and thoughts (i.e., the “context”) of the other person–is lazy at best or at worse, unloving. I think this sounds harsh (I’m convicted about all of this myself). But I’m convinced that it’s true for those of us who call evangelicalism home. We evangelicals often make robust claims about our love for Scripture, but I wonder how genuine those claims really are at the end of the day. I think we mean well (no doubt), but passion without knowledge is just passion, which is prone to misdirection. As opposed to the popular way of going about interpretation (and the resulting hoopla surrounding the Blood Moons bestselling authors), here’s one (of many) helpful alternative way(s) of going about reading that particular prophecy: Listen carefully to the first Christians.
Joel 2:28-32 records the famous “blood moon” passage. How should we understand it? Again, let’s answer that question by asking how the first Christians understood it. It’s helpful to ask that question because (1) they don’t share our 21st century assumptions and, because of that, (2) they can challenge our own tightly-held presuppositions.
Acts 2:1-21 quotes the substance of Joel 2:28-32, and it does so in order to interpret it. The first Christians (St. Peter himself, in fact) offers his understanding of this enigmatic prophecy. What was it? How did he understand it? According to him, Joel’s prophecy finds its fulfillment at Pentecost–where the Spirit falls upon believers. Pentecost is where the Lord reveals that He, once more, is dwelling with His people (Joel 2:27). Pentecost is where the priesthood is poured upon all people–regardless of gender, age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, etc (see also Gal 3:28).
Instead of the Spirit dwelling only in a small room in a temple that sits on a small strip of land in the Middle East, the Spirit is now taking up residence in hearts all across the world. In some ways, this is still being fulfilled–with every conversion, with every heart finding rest in Christ. Peter sees the Joel prophecy as a dramatic fulfillment of not just the Temple language of the Old Covenant, but also an amazing reversal of humanity’s estrangement from other people groups (recall the Tower of Babel) and humanity’s estrangement from God (recall the sin at Eden). Pentecost brought dispersed peoples back together (Acts 2:5-12), and most importantly, it’s about God coming back to dwell with all people (Joel 2:27). In short, Pentecost is the beginning of how humanity is being restored to both itself and to God. It’s an amazing event.
A 21st century English speaker might call this event earth-shaking or mind-blowing or game-changing. (Pick your metaphor.) But an ancient Jewish prophet (Joel, say) might use his own metaphor. The coming of the Spirit upon all people is so remarkable that it’s “a moon-turning-to-blood event.” Unfortunately, we often get too caught up in the metaphor that we miss the thing the metaphor points toward. It’s like being so obsessed with the precise dimensions and color schemes of doors after hearing Jesus refer to himself as the “door” in John 10:7. All such obsessions miss the point.
Where do we go from here? Let’s keep in mind five things: (1) Remember that maxim above. (2) Remember metaphors. (3) Remember the canonical context. (4) Remember to love Scripture. (5) Remember your own 21st-century presuppositions.