Will the stars literally fall from heaven?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Does the Bible teach that the stars will actually fall from heaven? Matthew 24:29 says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” A parallel verse is Mark 13:25: “And the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” The book of Revelation says this as well, so what gives?

Answer: The account of Jesus talking about his return — and about the stars falling from heaven — appears in the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25-26). The apostle John uses similar language in Revelation 6:12-13, and all these evoke such Old Testament references as Isaiah 13:10, 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31 and Zephaniah 1:15.

As such, your question is well taken: will the stars actually fall? Or is this merely a figure of speech? But also, we can’t dismiss the possibilities that there is something else going on in those passages… like a combination of these elements. So — and as you can imagine — there are many different commentators who are saying many different things about this issue. What I will do then is list the major solutions and leave you to pick your personal favorite.

By way of overview, let me share John Oakes’ explanation of Mark 13:25 because Oakes emphasizes its apocalyptic nature, and he claims that there is scholastic consensus. Understanding that you are looking at an apocalyptic passage is key to figuring out whether the passage is literal or figurative.

The language in Mark 13:25 is what is known as apocalyptic.  This style of literature is used much in Jewish writing, both in the Bible and in extra-biblical writing. In apocalyptic writing, the author uses very dramatic pictures symbolically to represent something that is happening. Most often it is about a time when God comes to either save or to judge his or other people. There are dozens of examples of this in both Testaments. For example, in Acts 2:17-21 Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32, describing “wonders in the heavens… The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood…” This is not to be taken literally. There is much apocalyptic language in Revelation, of course, but there is similar apocalyptic language in Ezekiel 37, with the Valley of Dry Bones (a prophecy of the restoration of Israel) and Ezekiel 38 with Gog and Magog. Daniel has apocalyptic visions, and there is quite a bit of apocalyptic language in Isaiah and Zechariah. The visions of the Four Horns and the Four Craftsmen or the Man With a Measuring Line in Zechariah are all to be taken symbolically, not literally.

All or nearly all scholars will agree that Mark 13:25 is just such an apocalyptic passage. In fact, it is a quote from apocalyptic language in Isaiah 13:10 and Isaiah 34:4.  We should not look for any sort of literal fulfillment of Mark 13:25. This is not about an asteroid or a comet or a meteorite. Jesus is talking here about the events of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 in apocalyptic terms which his Jewish hearers would definitely understand. They would not have taken the comment about the sun, the moon and the objects falling from the sky literally, but they would have assumed that this is “the Day of the Lord” when God comes in judgement, which is exactly what happened when Jerusalem was destroyed. (Emphasis mine)

https://evidenceforchristianity.org/what-is-the-meaning-of-the-stars-falling-from-the-sky-in-mark-1325-is-that-an-asteroid-or-a-meteorite/

The biggest problem from a physical perspective in these verses is that stars cannot literally fall to the earth. If anything, it is the planet Earth that would fall to the stars! But proponents of a physical solution rightly ask, is anything too difficult for God? … and the answer is no! God could reorder the nature of physical things so that the stars would literally fall to earth as part of their nature… and that’s the first solution: suck it up! Interpret these passages in a wooden and literal fashion — and let God mop it up.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you here: interpreting these passages literalistically is my least favorite solution. But supporters of this interpretation point out that God did such things already. For instance, he extended the day (supposedly stopping the earth’s rotation) so the Israelites could finish the battle against the Amorites (Joshua 10:12–14). In like manner, he gave King Hezekiah the sign of the shadow retreating ten steps (2 Kings 20:1–11). He also caused the earth to open up and swallow Korah and his family on command... so he has a history of doing the unexpected with the earth (Numbers 16:31–33).

But I would argue that these are parlor tricks compared to having the stars fall literally. To make the stars “fall,” he would have to change the nature of physical reality — the nature he asks everyone to ponder-so-they-won’t-be-damned in Romans 1:18-20 — and that’s a big ask! But it’s a really big ask in a world where things like the stars falling are routinely used as literary figures — and that’s my argument: why would anyone stand on there head like this hermeneutically when it is neither a necessary, natural or plausible solution?

Even as a new believer I’ve never tripped over these types of verses. When I read them without prejudice — that is, as a reader with no eschatological template and no KJV-only or fundamentalist bents — I read them figuratively. But this is because I believe that God used common men and the ordinary rules of language to communicate the uncommon things in his word. If a person messes with that, I don’t know how anybody could claim to interpret the Bible. There would be no rules... and hermeneutics would be totally subjective.

So now you know where I stand and why. What I try to do in cases like these where there are a lot of possible “solutions” to difficult passages, is to list the options... so more options follow.

Some commentators say that these passages could be referencing a nuclear winter where the atmosphere will be dimmed and where the stars might be the nuclear missiles themselves. That is a symbolic solution that is still physical… with things falling from the sky.

Another of those physical solutions is that Jesus might be referencing meteor showers. This is a real physical phenomenon — one not uncommon in the northern latitudes — and one the ancient readers could understand. Furthermore, many people interpret these natural occurrences as signs. As to language, a single meteor is often called a shooting star… this, in spite of the fact, that it is not a star at all.

One notable star shower took place on the night of November 13, 1833. Reports have it that it was so bright at night that a newspaper could be read on the street. One writer said, "For nearly four hours the sky was literally ablaze." (Peter A. Millman, The Falling of the Stars, The Telescope, 7 (May-June, 1940) 57.) Given the biblical language — and given the drama and rarity of this event — you can see why some people thought that the end of the world had come.

Now, God wouldn’t break a sweat making meteor showers like this a global phenomenon. However, it is never dark all around the globe at the same time. So God would either have to do something with the sun or do something about the atmosphere — things he could certainly do. But if he has to muck around with the physics that much to bring meteor showers, why not go back to his changing physics altogether and making the stars fall literally.

Speaking of changing physics literally, let’s hear from Answers In Genesis (an organization I’m often at odds with) as they explain how flat-earth people explain the stars falling.

Flat-earthers argue that since these verses speak of the stars falling, then the stars will literally fall. They also assume that these stars will fall to the earth, an action that these two verses do not specifically state. This idea will be examined below. Flat-earthers claim that these stars falling to earth is impossible if the conventional understanding of cosmology is true. According to conventional cosmology, the stars are much larger and more massive than the earth, and the stars are very far away. Therefore, stars (as understood in the modern sense) can’t fall to the earth. Flat-earthers conclude that, on the other hand, this is quite plausible in the flat-earth model, where the stars are much closer and smaller than generally thought and are attached to a dome over the flat, disk-shaped earth. Hence, flat-earthers believe that these verses imply that the earth is flat.

https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/stars/stars-falling-from-heaven-flat-earth/

I will remind everyone who takes a physical solution to this problem that Revelation 8:12 has the stars still in heaven — even after they supposedly fell! The problem with that is you can’t have it both ways: if the stars fell physically, then the Bible contradicts itself. If you say that one is actual and one is figurative, then you’re committing the Taxicab Fallacy. But if the language of stars falling is figurative, then neither the Bible nor logic are molested.

Let’s look at some figurative solutions now.

In his book, The Apocalypse Code (p. 136), Hank Hanegraaff says, "While the language [of the sun, moon and stars] finds ultimate fulfillment in the second coming of Christ, it is inaugurated in the Jewish holocaust of AD 70. To suppose that stars are literally going to fall from the sky is nonsense. One star alone would obliterate the earth." Hanegraaff takes a strong figurative stance — calling the literal stance nonsense! What differentiates Hanegraaff is that his figurative interpretation manifests in partial preterism.

It is also plausible that the stars represent the rulers of the world at the time of Christ’s return. Any leaders not lining up with Christ during that manifestation of his kingdom would indeed be falling.

It is also possible that these passages are talking about the fall of evil spiritual forces. Many people understand Isaiah as referencing Satan when he talks about a fallen star. This connects nicely with Isaiah 34:4 and Revelation 6:13 where they speak about the host of heaven falling. The powers in the heavens are understood by many to be demonic forces that exist in the spirit world but who have an influence on Earth. Paul calls these “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

“Powers" is from the Greek root word dunamis, and that can mean the power of an army. “Heavens" is from the Greek root word Ouranos which can mean the sky or the spiritual realm of angels and demons. "Falling" is from the Greek root word pipto which can mean physically falling, falling prostrate in submission and fear, or being removed from power. So, thinking that these verses reference spiritual forces is a viable option — one that needs no physical accompaniment... but one that would not be hurt by one either.

Not everyone thinks that the old creation will be totally destroyed, though — and Hank Hanegraaff is one of these. (I’m on the fence!) But I’d like to make you aware of J Richard Middleton’s book A New Heaven and a New Earth (Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology) in which he said: “Despite vivid apocalyptic imagery of stars falling from heaven, the Bible never imagines the literal destruction of the cosmos in the eschaton.”

Now, that’s a whole other level of figurative interpretation — and it’s an important perspective. Let me quote Middleton about these emphases in his book:

When I began writing chapter 9 of A New Heaven and a New Earth (where I addressed a multitude of such “problem texts”) I already had a hunch that this imagery of heavenly destruction depicted the purification of the cosmos rather than its literal destruction (what will be eradicated is sin, not creation). And I found this to be a helpful perspective on many of the texts I examined.

It turns out that New Testament depictions of the sun and moon being darkened have multiple precedents in Old Testament prophetic texts that speak of the world-shaking significance of God’s judgment on the nations or on Israel.

I addressed many of these texts in chapter 6 of A New Heaven and a New Earth, including Isaiah 13:9-10; 24:23; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:30-30; 3:15-16; and Habakkuk 3:7-8. In none of these biblical texts does the language of celestial destabilization mean the literal eradication of the heavenly bodies. (Emphasis mine).

http://blog.bakeracademic.com/the-stars-will-fall-from-heaven/

I readily admit that, because I take the verse in question figuratively, I like Middleton’s approach. I haven’t read his book — although I’d like to... but time being what it is, the Baker Academic blog will have to do for this Q & A session.

I realize that I’ve given you a lot to think about. I pray that it helped you more than it confused you. May God bless you as you pursue his truth.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 2020302 Will the stars literally fall from heaven when Christ returns?).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)