Debunking the Luke 21:25 Connection to the Eclipse and Hurricane Harvey

In these past few days, I’ve seen several posts on Facebook regarding a supposed link between Luke 21:25, the August 21 solar eclipse and the August 25 formation of Hurricane Harvey.  Because those dates match the numbers 21 and 25, it is said to be a sign from God that we are nearing the last days.  It’s easy to get excited about such things, but we should always be diligent to check them out before putting too much stock in them.  Consider Solomon’s observation that “the first to present his case seems right until another comes along and questions him.” (Proverbs 18:17)

This brief article will demonstrate the various problems with linking Luke 21:25 with the eclipse and the hurricane.  For starters, here’s the passage in question:

Luke 21:25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves,

And here’s the argument from Pastor Mark Blitz that this passage is fulfilled or satisfied by the August 21 eclipse and Hurricane Harvey:

So, let’s get started examining his argument.  We’ll look first to see how well the description in the Bible passage actually matches the events in question.

DOES IT MATCH?

Here’s a closer look at the text that Mark Blitz is citing.

  1. “…sun and moon and stars”.  In the passage, there is mention of signs in the sun, moon, and stars.  The solar eclipse, of course, involves both the sun and the moon, but it did not involve the stars.  Thus does the solar eclipse not fully satisfy the model put forth in the passage.
  2. “…there will be signs” (plural).  The passage foretells “signs”, and not “a sign”.  The eclipse, being a singular event, does not satisfy the plurality of the passage.
  3. “…distress of nations in perplexity…”  The passage speaks of multi-national distress regarding “the roaring of the sea and the waves”.  Obviously, this is referring, in the pastor’s mind, to Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas, and later, Louisiana.  But is that event really a good match for “distress of nations in perplexity”?  Were there multiple nations involved in Harvey? And just what is there that is “perplexing” about a hurricane?  What is to be figured out?  Do not the US and Mexico experience hurricanes regularly?  This connection here is quite weak.

LITERAL OR FIGURATIVE?

The pastor assumes that Jesus was speaking literally of the “sun and moon and stars”, but this ought not be a foregone conclusion.  There’s a decent case to be made that many Bible passages use these terms figuratively.  (Read more here.)  The pastor does not even mention this possibility.  He also neglects to examine the possibility that the “roaring of the sea” might have been intended figuratively, as in the following passage where the same phrase appears to have been a reference to the unrest of certain humans:

Psalm 65:7 who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples,

The language of this verse makes it fairly clear that “the tumult of the peoples” is a clarification of the two previous mentions of “roaring”.  So, this is definitely a figurative use of “roaring of the seas”.  And this demands that we at least consider whether Jesus had the same sort of use in mind when he used the term.  Does his use of the same term prove that he meant it figuratively, as a reference to the tumult of the peoples?  Of course not.  But if we’re going to be intellectually honest with our interpretation of the Bible, we need to be very open to the fact that inspired writers had indeed made such figurative use of the phrase beforehand.  Further, if we are honest, we are forced to admit that Jesus did indeed use figurative language from time to time, as when he said to his apostles, “I am the vine; you are the branches.”  (John 15:15)

DATING HARVEY ON AUGUST 25

To make the August 25 date work (without which there would be zero reason to cite Luke 21:25), one has to cherry-pick the date on which the storm reached hurricane status.  A hurricane, of course, is simply a stronger version of what we would otherwise call a tropical storm.  Once sustained winds reach or exceed 74 mph, we call it a hurricane.  But the storm named Harvey existed much earlier than August 25.  It was named as a tropical storm on August 17, having reached the sustained winds of 39 mph necessary to qualify as a tropical storm.  Before that, it was considered a tropical depression.  (See a timeline of the storm’s early development here.)

In Jesus’ day, there was no such system for the classification of tropical storms.  It is highly doubtful that he would have distinguished between a tropical storm with winds at 74 mph or below, and one of 75 mph or above.  Now, someone might try to argue that August 25 is important because this is the day that Harvey made landfall, but if the “distress” and “perplexity” in the passage are indeed a reference to Harvey, we should note that people started getting concerned about (“distress” and “perplexity”) that storm several days before it made landfall on the 25th.  How, then, can the 25th be reasonably singled out as the date to be used in finding a relevant Bible verse?

CONTEXT!

The pastor has cherry-picked the verse in question out of its context.  A plain reading of the entire chapter suggests that the timing of the events foretold in Luke 21:25 should coincide, at least roughly, with the following:

  1. Widespread war.  Luke 21:10Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom….
  2. Great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences.  Luke 21:11a There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences.
  3. Terrors and great signs from heaven.  Luke 21:11 And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
  4. The arrest of the apostles.  Luke 21:12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.
  5. Jerusalem surrounded by armies.  Luke 21:20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.
  6. The Jews killed with swords and/or enslaved.  Luke 21:24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations
  7. People fainting with fear.  Luke 21:26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.

Does the big picture that Jesus painted in this discussion with his apostles seem to be a good description of the current events?  No.  In fact, the mention of the apostle’s arrests and deaths would seem to argue that Jesus was speaking of events that would happen in the First Century.  But even if he were not, our current situation does not very well match the scenario he described.

MORE THAN ONE 21:25 IN THE BIBLE

Why did the pastor choose this particular verse, as opposed to any of the other 21:25 instances in the Bible?  If the two dates in question rightly lead us to Luke 21:25, why should we not be equally convinced that they also lead us to every other 21:25 passage?  There are 16 verses in the Bible, such that the verse is the 25th verse in the 21st chapter of a book.  Here is a list of all of them. Note how very few of them would seem to have any relevance whatsoever to our circumstances today.

Genesis 21:25 When Abraham reproved Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized,

Exodus 21:25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Numbers 21:25 And Israel took all these cities, and Israel settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages.

Joshua 21:25 and out of the half-tribe of Manasseh, Taanach with its pasturelands, and Gath-rimmon with its pasturelands—two cities.

Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

1 Kings 21:25 (There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited.

2 Kings 21:25 Now the rest of the acts of Amon that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?

1 Chronicles 21:25 So David paid Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site.

Job 21:25 Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted of prosperity.

Proverbs 21:25 The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.

Ezekiel 21:25 And you, O profane wicked one, prince of Israel, whose day has come, the time of your final punishment,

Matthew 21:25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’

Luke 21:25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves,

John 21:25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Acts 21:25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled,[a] and from sexual immorality.”

Revelation 21:25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

CONCLUSION

Luke 21:25 presents a series of events that does not match our circumstances today very well.  And if we want to be really strict with Jesus’ prophecy, it also seems to have been referring to things that would happen in the lives of the apostles, back in the First Century, and not to events happening today.  Again, it’s easy to get excited over the possibility that something in the scriptures might be an explicit prophetic reference to something happening in our day, but such arguments are made again and again, and not one of them has checked out so far.  (See a long list of failed claims here.)

There is a constant drive to predict “the end of the world,” and it seems to be fueled in part by a case of poor translation in the King James Version.  In the same “Olivet Discourse” (covered in Luke 21, Mark 13, and Matthew 24-25), Jesus’ apostles ask this in the KJV:

Matthew 24:3 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

As it turns out, however, the Greek word for “world” here is αἰών.  Spelled in English, that’s aiōn, and it is the word from which we get our word, eon, which is synonymous with “age” or “epoch”.  In more modern translations, it is generally translated as “age”, as in this passage, where Jesus speaks of an age that was running at the time he spoke, and of one that was then yet to come:

Matthew 12:32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age (aiōn) or in the age (aiōn) to come.

If this use of “age” rather than “world” is right, and I think it is, then Jesus’ apostles were not asking about when the world would end, but about when the age would end.  And that’s quite a different question!  (Here is a search of “age” in the English Standard Version.  Please study its use for yourself.)  And if I’ve got it right, that change of ages happened in the First Century.  Consider how Paul said the change was imminent:

1 Corinthians 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

And Hebrews puts the change of the ages at roughly the same time as Jesus’ earthly ministry:

Hebrews 9:26b But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

It is very doubtful, then, that the events Jesus was describing were intended to foretell the end of the Planet Earth.  Indeed, a careful study of these things might save a good deal of consternation and needless excitement!