by Duncan McKenzie
The Day of the Lord in Zechariah 14
What makes the interpretation of many of the OT passages concerning the ultimate day of the Lord complicated is the mixture of physical and spiritual fulfillments. The destruction of the land of Israel and Jerusalem that these passages speak of ultimately refers to the destruction and desolation of the Jewish nation that took place in AD 70. This was the time of the great tribulation at the end of the old covenant age (Dan. 11:40-12:7). That nothing unholy (Is. 4:3; Zech. 14:21) nor any alien (Joel 3:17) would enter Jerusalem after this time is not talking about a ban on sinners and foreigners in the physical city of Jerusalem in some future millennial kingdom; it is talking about the New Jerusalem. It is the New Jerusalem bride (those who are part of the new covenant, cf. Rev. 21:9-10)1 that nothing unholy would be able to enter at this time. Only those in the Lamb’s Book of Life are part of her: “And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Rev. 21:27).
THE ULTIMATE DAY OF THE LORD IN ZECHARIAH 14
Zechariah 14 is one of those sections of Scripture that point exclusively to the ultimate day of the Lord. Chapter 14 says that on the day of the Lord the city of Jerusalem would be captured, its women raped (cf. Is. 3:16-4:6), and the invaders (the Romans) would divide up the spoil in Jerusalem’s midst. The defeat of physical Jerusalem would be so complete at this time that the invaders would feel perfectly secure in dividing up the spoils in the city itself:
Behold the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
Zechariah 14:1-2; cf. Matthew 24:36-44 2
It was at this time that God would come and deliver his true people, the remnant (Zech. 14:3-11). If God is talking about delivering physical Jerusalem in Zechariah 14 he was tragically late, as the city had been plundered and its inhabitants (as well as most of the land of Israel, cf. Zech. 13:8-9) desolated. All that was left in physical Jerusalem was a remnant of raped women (v. 2). It was not physical Jerusalem that would be delivered at this time (at AD 70) but the New Jerusalem bride. The bride was the meek and humble people who would be left in the midst of Jerusalem (cf. Zeph. 3:12; Matt. 5:5). It was the New Jerusalem bride that would no longer have unclean people in her from this time on (Zech. 14:20-21; cf. Rev. 21:27). Consistent with this, Paul said the New Jerusalem and her children would receive their inheritance at the time that Old Jerusalem and her children were cast out (Gal. 4:24-31). We are told that these “things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants . . .” v. 24.
Zechariah goes on in chapter 14 to say that after physical Jerusalem was thoroughly defeated God would come and fight for his people:
Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. You will flee by the Valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord, My God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light.
Zechariah 14:3-7 NASB
This sequence is shown in Revelation 17-18 where the Antichrist is allowed to destroy harlot Babylon (i.e., Jerusalem; cf. Rev. 11:8). It is after the destruction of the great city (Rev. 17:18) that God comes with the armies of heaven and fights as on a day of battle (Zech. 14:3) against the beast and his armies. At this time God marries his New Jerusalem bride.
After these things [the destruction of the harlot in Rev. 17-18] I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” . . . And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound on many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His wife has made herself ready” . . . Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war . . . And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean followed Him on white horses.
Revelation 19:1-2, 6-7, 11, 14; cf. 21:9-10
This sequence of God destroying the city of Jerusalem and then marrying his bride can be seen in Matthew 22:1-10. At AD 70 God would send his armies to burn up the city of those who rejected the invitation to his Son’s wedding (v. 7), and then the wedding would go forward with a new people (8-10). Most of physical Israel would be cast out at this time of the messianic banquet at the full establishment of God’s kingdom (Matt. 8:10-12).
PHYSICAL JERUSALEM VS. NEW JERUSALEM
Some will no doubt argue that for me to say that Zechariah 14:1 and part of verse 2 (up to and including the part about the women being raped) is talking about the AD 70 destruction of physical Jerusalem and the rest of the chapter’s references to Jerusalem speak of the deliverance of the New Jerusalem is an inconsistent hermeneutic. This is a legitimate concern; my interpretation does involve a switching from a physical fulfillment to a spiritual fulfillment in verse 2, from physical Jerusalem to the New Jerusalem (the raped women being in physical Jerusalem; the saved remnant in the New Jerusalem; cf. Matt. 24:32-51). I would not even dare to offer such an interpretation if it were not for the fact that the NT backs it up.
The Jerusalem in Zechariah 14:2 in which the raped women are found is clearly physical Jerusalem. According to the book of Revelation, however, the Jerusalem in Zechariah 14:8 that the “living waters” flow out of is the New Jerusalem, the bride (Rev. 21:9-10).
And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter. And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one. All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site from Benjamin’s Gate as far as the place of the First Gate to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s wine presses. People will live in it, and there will no longer be a curse, for Jerusalem will dwell in security.
Zechariah 14:8-11 NASB
Again, it is the New Jerusalem bride, not physical Jerusalem, which has these waters of life (Zech. 14:8; cf. Rev. 21:27-22:2). It is the New Jerusalem that would be raised up (on a mountain) at this time (Zech 14:10; cf. Rev. 21:9-10). It is the New Jerusalem in which there would “no longer be a curse” (Zech. 14:11 NASB; cf. Rev. 22:3).
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God . . . Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.
Revelation 21:9-10; 22:1-5 NASB
It is the New Jerusalem bride that has the water of life flowing out of her, not physical Jerusalem (cf. John 4:10-14); it is the New Jerusalem that is the abode of the remnant (Zech. 14:2).
And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls.
Joel 2:28-32; cf. Acts 2:17-21
Thus, when the NT is figured into one’s interpretation of Zechariah 14 (something “literalists” consistently neglect to do),3 clearly there is a shift from the raped women of physical Jerusalem in verse 2 to the living waters of New Jerusalem in verse 8.
LIVING WATERS IN JERUSALEM
The living waters Zechariah prophesied of in Jerusalem at this time (Zech. 14:8) are of much deeper spiritual significance than a supposed future river in physical Jerusalem. The living waters that would flow out of the New Jerusalem on the day of the Lord symbolize the life-giving properties of God’s Holy Spirit. Consider Jesus’ reference to the ultimate meaning of the water used in the Feast of Tabernacles (the feast that Zech. 14:16-21 is referring to).
On the last day, that great day of the feast [of Tabernacles], Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive . . . .
John 7:37-39; cf. John 4:10-14
The living waters that flow from Jerusalem which Zechariah 14:8 speaks of are not composed of literal H2O in physical Jerusalem that will flow sometime in the future; they are symbolic of the life-giving properties of God’s Holy Spirit that are flowing today!
And behold I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work . . . And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Revelation 22:12, 17; cf. Matthew 16:27-28
Similarly, the life-giving properties of water from rain that would be withheld from those who would not acknowledge the Lord from this time forward (Zech. 14:16-17) speak of the water of life that is withheld from those who are not part of the New Jerusalem bride today. To take verses 16-19’s statement about the nations of the world going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in a literal physical sense is grossly misguided. It should be noted that Jesus taught just the opposite. He said the time was coming (and was already beginning) when people would no longer worship in Jerusalem:
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Notice how Jesus talks about living water as a symbol of the life-giving properties of God’s Spirit in this context: “Whoever drinks of this [physical] water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
Despite what many dispensationalists say, we are not going back to Temple worship in some future millennium; indeed it would be blasphemy to do so. For that matter, how, logistically, could hundreds of millions, let alone billions, of people all go up to the Temple to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles/Ingathering? There are not nearly enough airlines in the world to physically get everyone to Jerusalem, let alone room for them when they arrived. Such thinking is foolishness! The ultimate sacrifice has been given by Jesus (cf. Heb. 10:11-18). God wants us to worship him in Spirit and in truth, not go back to the elemental things of the old covenant. The Jerusalem that people need to come to today for living water is the New Jerusalem; they need to become part of the bride (now wife)!
There is a crucial principle of hermeneutics here: the NT needs to be factored into one’s interpretation of the OT; often the interpretation that the NT gives is a spiritual one not a literal physical one. So-called literalists often neglect this principle.
THE MOUNT OF OLIVES SPLIT IN TWO?
As for Zechariah’s images of the Mount of Olives being split in two to make a large valley (vv. 4-5) and Jerusalem being raised in elevation (v. 10), these are yet more examples of the symbolism found in prophetic language. DeMar writes the following along these lines:
In Micah 1:3 we are told that God “is coming forth from His place” to “come down and tread on the high places of the earth.” How is this descriptive language different from the Lord standing on the Mount of Olives with the result that it will split? Micah says “the mountains will melt under Him, and the valleys will be split, like wax before the fire, like water poured down on a steep place” (1:4) . . . [Similarly] Isaiah 40:4 is descriptive of earth-moving events that did not literally take place.
Clear the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley. 4
In Revelation, when John is shown the New Jerusalem bride she comes down out of heaven to an elevated place, to a high mountain (Rev. 21:9-10; cf. Zech. 14:10). Jerusalem being in a high place speaks of both her prominence and her closeness to God (he actually dwells in the midst of his bride today, Rev. 21:1-3; cf. 2 Cor. 6:16). Her elevation is no more literal than the whole world becoming a mountain at the AD 70 full establishment of God’s kingdom in Daniel 2:35, Daniel 2:44.
Daniel and Revelation both use symbolic changes in geography to portray this time of the full establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. When the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven, the sea ceases to exist (Rev. 21:1-2). If literal, this would be catastrophic, as we get most of our rain from the oceans. Without the sea this planet would quickly become a desert wasteland. What Revelation is portraying is that at AD 70 the whole world became the Land (i.e., the Holy Land) as the sea (the domain of the serpent, cf. Is. 27:1; 51:9-10; and abode of the Gentiles, Is. 60:5) ceased to exist at that time.5 This is the symbolic language of apocalyptic Scripture. Just as the mountains did not literally melt nor the valleys literally split at the coming of God against the northern kingdom of Israel in the eighth century BC (Mic. 1:1-6), neither did the Mount of Olives literally split in two at God’s coming on the ultimate day of the Lord at AD 70 (Zech. 14:4-5).
As to what the splitting of the Mount of Olives symbolizes, I believe the seventeenth-century Puritan Matthew Henry was on the right track:
These verses are dark and hard to be understood; but divers good expositors take this to be the meaning of them: God will carefully inspect Jerusalem, even then when the enemies of it are laying it waste: His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, whence he may take a full view of the city and temple, Mk. 13:3 . . . The partition-wall between Jews and Gentiles shall be taken away. The mountains about Jerusalem, and particularly this [the Mount of Olives], signified it to be an enclosure, and that it stood in the way of those who would approach to it. Between the Gentiles and Jerusalem this mountain of Bether, of division, stood, Cant. 2:17. But by the destruction of Jerusalem this mountain shall be made to cleave in the midst, and so the Jewish pale shall be taken down, and the church laid in common with the Gentiles, who were made one with the Jews by the breaking down of this middle wall of partition, Eph. 2:14. Who art thou, O great mountain? . . . A new and living way shall be opened to the new Jerusalem, both to see it and to come into it. The mountain being divided, one-half towards the north and the other half towards the south, there shall be a very great valley, that is, a broad way of communication opened between Jerusalem and the Gentile world, by which the Gentiles shall have free admission into the gospel-Jerusalem, and the word of the Lord, that goes forth from Jerusalem, shall have a free course into the Gentile world. Thus the way of the Lord is prepared, for every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and plain and pleasant valleys shall come in the room of them, Isa. 40:4. 6
Henry’s suggestion that the Mount of Olives splitting speaks of the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile being broken down fits well with the symbol of the sea (the abode of the Gentiles) ceasing to exist and the whole world becoming the Land at AD 70 (Rev. 21:1-2).
Finally, as I noted in my discussion of Daniel 12, the feast of Tabernacles/Ingathering that Zechariah 14 refers to was the last feast in Israel’s yearly cycle. It symbolized the ingathering of God’s people at the end of the old covenant age (cf. Matt. 13:36-43). I believe this feast was fulfilled in AD 70, 1,335 days after the coming of Titus to the Holy Land (the abomination of desolation, cf. Dan. 9:27), Daniel 12:6-12. Believers were gathered into the New Jerusalem (i.e., into the fullness of the new covenant) at this time (cf. Matt. 3:7-12; 24:15-34). This was the time of the full establishment of God’s kingdom, the time when the Lord exercised his kingship over “all the earth” (Zech. 14:9; cf. Dan. 2:44-45; Dan. 7:21-22, 27; Matt. 16:27-28; Rev. 11:15-18).
1. New Jerusalem is not a physical city. It is not a giant cube in the sky that God’s people live in (its length, breadth, and height are all said to be equal, Rev. 21:16); rather, it is a symbol of the totality of God’s faithful old and new covenant people (Rev. 21:12-14). That the New Jerusalem is cube-shaped is symbolic; the “city” is in the shape of a cube just as the holy of holies in the Temple was cube-shaped (1 Kings 6:20). The New Jerusalem is shaped like the holy of holies to symbolize that God’s presence dwells there (Rev. 21:1-3). The New Jerusalem is the Jerusalem that nothing unclean would enter after Jesus’ parousia (Rev. 21:27; 22:14-15). This is the Jerusalem whose walls would be called “Salvation” and her gates “Praise” (Is. 60:18). This is the Jerusalem that is the “mother” of those who are part of the new covenant (Gal. 4:26; cf. Is. 66:7-13). This is the Jerusalem that her sons and daughters (which would include Gentiles) would be gathered to on the ultimate day of the Lord (Is. 60; 66). This is the Jerusalem that God would be a wall of fire around (Zech. 2:4-5). This was the Jerusalem that no foreigner or anybody who was not holy would ever set foot in again (Joel 3: 17; Zech. 14:20-21; Rev. 21:9-10, 23-27). For a discussion of the concept of the New Jerusalem as a symbol of God’s people see Robert H. Gundry, “The New Jerusalem: People as Place, not Place for People,” Novum Testamentum XXIX, 3 (1987), 257.
2. I believe that Jesus’ reference to one being taken from Jerusalem and one left in Matthew 24:36-44 alludes to the reference to half taken and half left in Zechariah 14:2. The half left refers to the remnant who are left in the New Jerusalem.
3. This discussion brings up an important principle of hermeneutics: the NT is the final interpreter and authority on the meaning of a given OT passage. One has to integrate the NT in one’s interpretation of the OT. Dispensationalists are notorious for ignoring this principle. Too often it conflicts with their literal physical interpretations of Scripture. Dispensationalists usually say that Zechariah 14 is talking about physical changes in geography that will happen in earthly Jerusalem at some time in the future (e.g., the Mount of Olives split in two in v. 4; a life-giving river in v. 8). They see this as the time of the millennium, a time when Jesus will literally sit on David’s throne and physically rule over the world from Israel.
4. Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th ed., 441.
5. This is not teaching any kind of universalism. While the whole world became the kingdom of God at AD 70 (Dan. 7:21-27; Rev. 11:15-18) everybody is not part of the kingdom. In the first century, Rome ruled most of the then known world. Just because a person lived in the Roman Empire, however, did not mean he was necessarily a citizen of the Roman kingdom; indeed most were not. The citizens of the kingdom of God are those who are part of the New Jerusalem bride. These are the ones with access to the tree and water of life (Rev. 22:1-3, 14-15). To be a citizen of the kingdom of God one must come to the Lord (Rev. 22:17).
6. Matthew Henry, "Commentary on Zechariah 14," Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible Crosswalk.com, http://bible.crosswalk.com/Commentaries/MatthewHenryComplete/mhc-co....
The sun being darkened is often used in the context of God judging a nation.
EZEKIEL 30, 32: THE DAY OF THE LORD ON EGYPT
Ezekiel 30 speaks of a day of the Lord in the context of the armies of Babylon invading and defeating Egypt (“For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near; it will be a day of clouds . . . The sword shall come upon Egypt,” Ezek. 30:3-4; cf. Jer. 46). In Ezekiel 32 God talks of how he would fight against Egypt using the Babylonians as his “net’ to capture them and as his “sword” to destroy them.
And it came to pass in the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him: ‘You are like a young lion among the nations, and you are like a monster in the seas, bursting forth in your rivers, troubling the waters with your feet, and fouling their rivers.’ Thus says the Lord God: ‘I will therefore spread My net over you with a company of many people and they will draw you up in My net. Then I will leave you on the land; I will cast you out on the open fields, and cause to settle on you all the birds of the heavens, and with you I will fill the beasts of the whole earth. I will lay your flesh on the mountains, and fill the valleys with your carcass. I will also water the land with the flow of your blood, even to the mountains; and the riverbeds will be full of you. When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of the heaven I will make dark over you, and bring darkness upon your land,’ says the Lord God. ‘I will also trouble the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries which you have not known. Yes, I will make many peoples astonished at you, and their kings shall be horribly afraid of you when I brandish My sword before them; and they shall tremble every moment, every man for his own life, in the day of your fall.’ For thus says the Lord God: ‘the sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon you. By the swords of the mighty warriors, all of them the most terrible of the nations, I will cause your multitude to fall. They shall plunder the pomp of Egypt, and all its multitude shall be destroyed. Also I will destroy all its animals from beside its great waters; the foot of man shall muddy them no more, nor shall the hooves of animals muddy them. Then I will make their waters clear, and make their rivers run like oil,’ says the Lord God. ‘When I make the land of Egypt desolate and the country is destitute of all that once filled it, when I strike all who dwell in it, then they shall know that I am Lord.’”
The day of the Lord on Egypt would be a day of darkness (v. 8); in Ezekiel 30:3 it is said to be “a day of clouds.” God said he would darken the sun, moon, and stars at this time of his judgment on Egypt, c. 568 BC (Ezek. 32:7), that he would bring darkness to its land (cf. Rev. 16:10). Clearly this was not talking about the physical darkening of the luminary objects in the sky; it is symbolic language used to describe the judgment of the Egyptian Empire in the sixth century BC.
ISAIAH 13: THE DAY OF THE LORD ON BABYLON
Isaiah 13 talks of a day of the Lord (“Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand . . . .” v. 6) in the context of the armies of the Medes overthrowing the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC.
Behold the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine . . . Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger . . . Behold I will stir up the Medes against them, who will not regard silver; and as for gold, they will not delight in it. Also their bows will dash the young men to pieces, and they will have no pity on the fruit of the womb. And Babylon, the glory of the kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldean pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
Isaiah 13:9-10, 13, 17-19
Notice the imagery that Isaiah uses for the judgment of the Babylonian Empire: it would involve pain as a woman in childbirth (Is. 13:8; cf. Matt. 24:8 NASB; 1 Thess. 5:3). The sun, moon, and stars would not shine (Is. 13:10; cf. Matt. 24:29). God would shake the heavens and earth (v. 13; cf. Matt. 24:29). Obviously the sun, moon, and stars did not literally quit shining at this time that the Medes overthrew the Babylonians. The planet did not shake at this time. Similar to Ezekiel, Isaiah is using images of celestial and terrestrial upheaval to describe God bringing one nation (the Medes) against another (the Babylonians) to exercise his judgment.
It should be noted that Jesus borrowed from this language describing the fall of Babylon in his prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem: “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heaven will be shaken” (Mark 13:24-25). Wright had the following comments on this: “All this language [in Mark 13:24-25] refers to the fall of Jerusalem, which is to be understood against the scriptural background of the predicted destruction of Babylon.”[Jesus and the Victory of God, 321] Jerusalem had gone from being the persecuted to being the persecutor. She had destroyed God’s ultimate Temple, Jesus (John 2:18-22), and was persecuting God’s people; she had become like pagan Babylon (cf. Rev. 11:8; 17:18). Jesus’ use of this language of cosmic catastrophe to describe the fall of the Jewish nation is no more a literal description of the end of the universe than Scripture’s use of it to describe the sixth-century BC fall of Babylon.
This imagery of the darkening of the sun to indicate the darkening of a kingdom can be seen in Revelation as well. Consider Revelation 16:10, “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.” This is not talking about a literal eclipse of the sun that creates darkness; it is talking about the eclipse of a ruler and a kingdom (cf. Ezek. 32:7-8). This judgment is poured out on the throne of the beast. It is referring to how darkness came upon the Roman Empire in AD 68 with the death of Nero. Nero’s death left Rome in the dark; for the next year and a half she would go through a period of confusion and uncertainty. During this time two back-to-back civil wars would be fought as the empire came to the verge of collapse. Vespasian finally brought stability back to the empire when he became emperor at the end of AD 69.
The disagreements between futurists and preterists to a large extent boil down to a disagreement on hermeneutics, how the prophetic/apocalyptic sections of Scripture are to be interpreted. The literalist who says these pictures of cosmic catastrophe are to happen in a literal physical sense needs to examine how they are used in the rest of Scripture (e.g. Dan. 8:10, 24; Rev. 12:3-4)