Heaven and Earth Shall Pass Away?

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Matt 24:32-35 I have good news for you: this passage doesn’t speak of the end of the earth. But it does speak of the end of something. In this article we will look to ancient Jewish and Biblical references in order to help us understand the idiom, “heaven and earth”, and discover why it needed to pass away.

I have good news for you: this passage doesn’t speak of the end of the earth. But it does speak of the end of something. In this article we will look to ancient Jewish and Biblical references in order to help us understand the idiom, “heaven and earth”, and discover why it needed to pass away.

For starters, based on the passage above we see that Matthew (and Luke, and Mark) provided us with a sense of urgency. The season of summer, and the timeframe of a generation (40 years) are linked with the passing of heaven and earth. Therefore, we must at least consider that this was an event that was to have taken place in the first century AD, and not in the distant future. The Jewish people of His day were the primary recipients of this prophecy, so we must place ourselves in their shoes. What’s interesting about Matthew 24:34-35 and Luke 21:22 is that they are connected to the warnings of the destruction of Israel and the Temple.

One of the most astounding discoveries for me came through the reading of David’s encounter with an angel of Yahweh God during his life. Not only is the experience he has spectacular, it also provides us with significant insight into the meaning of “heaven and earth”. Let’s read:

David at the Intersection of Heaven and Earth

“And Satan rose up against Israel, and he incited David to take a census of Israel. David therefore said to Joab and to the other generals of the army, “Go, number the Israelites from Beer-sheba to Dan, and report back to me that I may know their number.” …This command was evil in the sight of God, and he struck Israel. Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in doing this thing. Take away your servant’s guilt, for I have acted very foolishly.”

…Therefore the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand Israelites died. God also sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as the angel was on the point of destroying it, the Lord saw and changed his mind about the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, “Enough now! Stay your hand!”

The angel of the Lord was then standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. When David raised his eyes, he saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven (עֹמֵד בֵּין הָאָרֶץ וּבֵין הַשָּׁמַיִם), drawn sword in hand stretched out against Jerusalem. David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell face down, and David prayed to God: “Was it not I who ordered the census of the people? I am the one who sinned, I did this wicked thing. But these sheep, what have they done? O Lord, my God, strike me and my father’s family, but do not afflict your people with this plague!”

Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to tell David to go up and set up an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” 1 Chronicles 21:1-2, 7-8, 14-18

There is a lot going on here. For the sake of time, I’ll just focus on a couple things. For starters, David saw the angel of Yahweh God stationed between the earth and between the heavens. This vision echoes back to Jacob’s in Genesis 28. Jacob’s conclusion at that time, found in verse 17, was that he was standing upon a gate or portal to the heavenlies (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָֽיִם). For David, the experience was so significant that God instructed him to build an alter there.

The next point is perhaps even more important than the first, which is the significance of the place where David saw the angel. The angel was on the “threshing floor of Ornan (or Araunah, אֲרַוְנָה) the Jebusite”. Where was that? It was upon Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1), which would later become the building site of Solomon’s Temple.

Recap with me. David, the iconic King of Israel and the archetype of Jesus the Messiah had an encounter with an angel of God. The place became known as an intersection between heaven and earth, and God told David to set up an altar of worship at that place. Then Solomon, David’s son, builds one of the wonders of the ancient world upon this same sight: The Temple of Jerusalem. For the people of Israel, that place was thenceforth seen as an intersection between heaven and earth. And in the case of Luke 16:17, the contractual obligations of the Law would not fail or come and go either.

The other place in the Old Testament where we find mention of heaven and earth along with the Temple of Solomon is in the book of the prophet Haggai. In this book, Yahweh God speaks to Haggai after the first destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians. With that in mind, let us read the following:

“Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” ’ ”

Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?”

…‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?

…“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

…And again the word of the Lord came to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, saying, “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying:

‘I will shake heaven and earth. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms…” Haggai 1:2-3, 2:3, 6-7, 20-22

It is interesting to see that God said He would shake heaven and earth “once more”. The context of Yahweh’s words to the prophet was to provide them with hope and courage in a time of destruction and ruin. Jerusalem and the Temple were burnt and razed. God called this event a “shaking” (Hag 2:6). And what was the object of the verb? Heaven and earth. Now, did the planet and the 3rd heaven experience an earthquake? Doubtful. But what if heaven and earth was an idiom for the holy site, the Temple Mount, also known as Mount Zion?

Then the shaking of the Temple grounds would make sense both prophetically and historically. Why? Because God revealed to Haggai that the tragedy the people of Judah experienced would take place “once more” (Hag 2:6). This prophecy pointed to the second destruction in 70 AD at the hands of the Romans. We also know that the glory of God departed from the second Temple when the veil was torn (Matt 27:51), and this second Temple was ultimately destroyed in 70 AD. The fall of the Second Temple would make way for the nations to come to “the Desire of All Nations” (Hag 2:7), which is Jesus. Jesus was the embodiment of the סֻלָּם (sullam, weakly translated as “ladder”) of Genesis 28, where Jacob’s Ladder must have served as a spiritual inspiration in the minds of Hebrew thought in the centuries leading up to the construction of Solomon’s Temple. He, the Messiah, became the temple that Yahweh God would fill with His glory (Jn 2:19-21), along with the Saints of Jesus.[1]

This notion is confirmed through the epistle to the Hebrews:

“...For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’ Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” Heb 12:22-29

The writer of Hebrews is quoting the prophet Haggai, who prophesied during the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. Hebrews was written in the times leading up to the anticipated destruction of the Second Temple. Remember that Ezekiel prophesied leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and Israel failed to heed his words.

The writer of Hebrews says that the covenant received through Christ is not like that of Moses, which was embodied in the Temple and its rituals in the literal city of Jerusalem. Rather, our covenant is embodied in Christ, in the real Jerusalem that is from God’s eternal realm. Then a warning is issued to the Jewish readers, since the second Temple was about to be destroyed and apostate Israel with it: Do not refuse the prophetic warnings of Jesus who speaks upon the earth (in Matt 5:17-18; 24:34-35), for God who speaks from the heavenlies has not forgotten the words he spoke through the prophet Haggai. “Heaven and earth” was shaken and destroyed once, and it was about to be shaken and destroyed again in 70 AD.

As I’ve suggested earlier, their Temple, and the second one that replaced it, was considered to be the gateway between heaven and earth in Yahwistic minds. God Himself was said to have dwelt in the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest could enter once a year (Heb 9:7). God’s realm, heaven, had a physical location upon the earth. Nowhere else in those days could such a phenomenon be found.

In antiquity, we also find a similar idiom in Mesopotamia. Specifically, in the city of Babylon, Jerusalem’s doppelgänger. The great city of East had at its centre the fabled tower of Babel, which was later restored by Nebuchadnezzar II and served as a temple dedicated to the god Marduk. In Sumerian, the name of this towering temple was Etemenanki, “temple of the foundation of heaven and earth”.

Consider also that at the Matan Torah (giving of the Law) at Mt. Sanai, which the festival of Shavuot celebrates, was seen as the meeting of heaven and earth.[3] With the Talmud stating that the Hebrews all died in the presence of God when Moses received the Law, and were subsequently all raised back to life.[4] Thus, the Tabernacle of Moses, the First Temple, and the Second Temple became known as the “navel of the earth” and the “gateway to heaven”.[5]

Furthermore, the Temple itself was designed to bear symbolic representation of heaven and earth. Taking into account a worldview that believed the earth was flat and surrounded by the seas, consider the words of Flavius Josephus’ writings concerning the Temple of the Jews.

“For if anyone do but consider the fabric of the tabernacle… he will find they were every one made in way of imitation and representation of the universe. When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the Priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the sea: for these are accessible to all. But when he set apart the third division for God, it was because heaven is inaccessible to men…

“And for the veils, which were composed of four things, they declared the four elements. For the fine linen was proper to signify the earth; because the flax grows out of the earth. The purple signified the sea; because that colour is dyed by the blood of a sea shell-fish. The blue is fit to signify the air; and the scarlet will naturally be an indication of fire.

Now the vestment of the High Priest being made of linen, signified the earth; the blue denoted the sky; being like lightning in its pomegranates, and in the noise of the bells resembling thunder. And for the ephod it shewed that God had made the universe of four [elements:] and as for the gold interwoven, I suppose it related to the splendor by which all things are inlightened. He also appointed the breast-plate to be placed in the middle of the ephod, to resemble the earth: for that has the very middle place of the world. And the girdle which encompassed the High Priest round, signified the ocean: for that goes round about and includes the universe… And for the miter, which was of a blue colour, it seems to me to mean heaven: for how otherwise could the name of God be inscribed upon it?”[6]

Jewish tradition also considered the inner walls of the Temple to be representative of the waves of the seas, and the court surrounding the temple as the sea surrounding the world. [7]

The “elements” that Josephus described refer to the classical elements of antiquity: earth, water, air and fire. As for the veil in the Holy of Holies, though it was torn when Jesus died on the cross, it would have undoubtedly been repaired by the temple priests, since the Temple stood for another 40 years as the sacrificial system carried on. Thus, the veil that separated ‘heaven’ from ‘earth’ would be burned up as well, solidifying the fact that Jesus the slain Lamb was the ultimate sacrifice, embodying the Temple, and rendering the existing one obsolete.

Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 21 ties this language together with the destruction of the Temple by the Roman armies:

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near… But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled… for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near... Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” (Luke 21:20, 23-24, 26-28, 32)

“Heaven and earth”, that is, the Temple system, passed away. But not the prophecies of Jesus nor the requirements of the Law. Further, Jesus is emphatically clear that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple would take place in one generation, which was 40 years. Historically, we know this is true. And if we understand the Jewish language surrounding the Temple, then the words of Jesus and his Apostles become crystal clear.

Lastly, Matthew 5 provides the most linear and efficient summary of how and why the temple system passed away:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Matt 5:17-18

Before we can understand the meaning of heaven and earth passing away, two parameters must first be established. First, we must agree that Jesus was the only Jewish person to ever fully abide by the Law of Moses. He therefore received the covenantal blessings of the Law. Conversely, we must agree that everyone else who was in the covenant of Moses did not fully abide by it. Therefore, the covenantal consequences (curses) for breach of contract would be poured out on that religious system.

Moreover, Matthew has Jesus stating that part of the fulfilling the Law and the Prophets came through the passing away of heaven and earth! So how could He be combining an event in 70AD with a future event that has yet to take place? It doesn’t make sense.

Instead, we can read Matthew 5:17-18 as follows:

a) Jesus kept the Law and received the contractual benefits from his obliging. We too can share in those blessings through Christ.

b) The consequences for breach of contract came upon the temple system and all those who chose to continue under the terms of that covenant (the Law of Moses). This played out through the Roman invasion and destruction of Jerusalem.

c) Jesus said that heaven and earth, the temple system, needed to pass away in order for the Law of Moses to be fulfilled. In other words, both parts of Deuteronomy 28 needed to be satisfied – the benefits and the consequences. The benefits came to Jesus around 30 AD, and the consequences came upon the temple system in 70 AD.[9]

Matthew 5 also explains perfectly how Yahweh God concluded the Mosaic Covenant and the Mosaic Era. All the contractual requirements and consequences were satisfied and carried out in the 40 years of transition. Jesus did not destroy the covenant.[10] He came to make sure both sides of the ledger were completed with nothing left wanting.

As a result of these events, no one is required to maintain the Law of Moses. The contract is no longer in force. Its requirements have been lifted. And even if you wanted to, without the sacrificial system, and the Levites, and the Holy of Holies, you simply cannot fulfil the Law in a post-Temple world.

Grace and peace,

Leo De Siqueira

Footnotes: [1] See 1 Cor 3:16, 6:3; 1 Pet 2:5. [3] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3514990/jewish/What-Happened-at-Matan-Torah.htm [4] Talmud Shabbat 88b.

[5] Jub 8:19; 1 Enoch 26:1.

[6] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 3:7.7.

[7] b. Sukk. 51b, b.B.Bat. 4a; Numbers Rabbah 13:19.

[9] The tragedy here, as I will mention several times in this book, was that Yahweh God provided the Israelites with the option to unyoke themselves from the covenant of Moses without penalty. Yet for many reasons, the majority of those within the ancient borders of the Holy Land chose to stay under the Law and the responsibility of abiding by it. With this responsibility came the consequences for failure to oblige. See Galatians 4:21-31.

[10] To destroy the Law is to imply that He would have rendered to contract null and void. “When an obligation has ceased, the instrument creating it is canceled by the court by being torn or cut crosswise through the date, through the names of the witnesses, or through other important parts of the document. Hence any document which bears such cuts or scissions is invalid, the presumption being that its validity has ceased by a judicial act.” Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 52, 1; B. B. 168b.

Leo De Siqueira