In the previous post, I began to look at the way the writer of Matthew anticipates the darkness at the cross by alluding to darkness earlier within his gospel. This innertextuality serves to both prepare the reader for the darkness at the cross and to provide an interpretive lens through which to understand the darkness. I suggested that Matthew 24:29 serves as an innertextual allusion meant to both alert the reader to the coming darkness at the cross and the context of which, apocalyptic eschatological discourse, is meant to provide the interpretative lens through which both the darkness and the death of Jesus are to be viewed.
Immediately after the suffering of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory.
I attempted to situate this reference to darkness within the broader context of Matthew 24. I looked at some of the differing interpretive matrixes that have been used to understand the passage as a whole. Significantly, I considered whether Matthew 24:29 is meant to describe the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (either with metaphorical cosmic imagery or with the expectation of its destruction being accompanied by cosmic signs) or if it was meant to describe Jesus’ parousia and the end of the age. Yet to better understand this passage, and specifically the meaning of the cosmic darkness imagery, it is necessary to examine those Old Testament texts that Matthew 24:29 is drawing upon. In the same way that my previous posts have examined the Old Testament and pseudepigraphal texts that stand behind Matthew 27:45, it is important to look at the intertextual relationship with the Old Testament that stands behind Matthew 24:29. Understanding these allusions will help us better understand the meaning of the cosmic imagery within the context of Matthew 24 and, more significantly for our aims, how this passage informs our interpretation of the darkness at the cross and the meaning of Jesus’ death.
Old Testament Imagery
Matthew 24.29 is a rather free amalgamation of cosmic upheaval language alluding primarily to two Old Testament texts, Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4, though possibly influenced by Joel 2.10 and 4.15-16 (LXX). In this post I will look at the possible allusions to Isaiah while in my next post I will examine the more dubious allusions to Joel.
Jesus draws allusion to Isaiah 13.10 in the first line:
For the stars of heaven and Orion
and all the ornament of heaven
will not give light,
and σκοτισθήσεται (skotisthēsetai, it will be dark) when τοῦ ἡλίου (tou hēliou, the sun) rises,
And ἡ σελήνη (hē selēnē, the moon) οὐ δώσει (ou dōsei, will not give) τὸ φῶς αὐτῆς (to phōs autēs, its light).
Matthew’s ὁ ἥλιος σκοτισθήσεται (ho hēlios skotisthēsetai, the sun will be darkened) contains both ὁ ἥλιος (ho hēlios, the sun) and the future passive σκοτισθήσεται (skotisthēsetai, will be darkened) found in Isaiah. Matthew’s second line parallels the final line of Isaiah 13.10 closely; καὶ ἡ σελήνη οὐ δώσει τὸ φέγγος αὐτῆς (kai hē selēnē ou dōsei to pheggos autēs, and the moon will not give its light) for Isaiah’s καὶ ἡ σελήνη οὐ δώσει τὸ φῶς αὐτῆς (kai hē selēnē ou dōsei to phōs autēs, and the moon will not give its light). The only difference between Matthew and the LXX is the evangelist’s substitution of τὸ φέγγος (to pheggos, brilliancy, light) for Isaiah’s τὸ φῶς (to phōs, light).
The broader context of Isaiah standing behind this allusion is an oracle of the destruction of Babylon. Isaiah uses the cosmic language of darkness and celestial disturbance to paint the picture of Babylon’s demise as a climactic event of earth-shattering proportions. The imagery of cosmic darkness fills passages of YHWH’s judgment of Babylon, setting off both YHWH’s victory over the pagan city and the soon rescue and vindication of YHWH’s people who have experienced distress and hardship within it. This text sees not only YHWH’s destruction of the pagan city, but, following close on the heels of its destruction, the divine rescue of YHWH’s people. This follows precisely what would be expected from the model of eschatological tribulation, a time of tribulation often described through apocalyptic language followed by a time of salvation.
The second passage alluded to is Isaiah 34 in the third line, here with reference to falling stars:
Heaven shall roll up like a scroll,
and all τὰ ἄστρα (ta astra, the stars) πεσεῖται (peseitai, shall fall)
like leaves from a vine
and as leaves fall from a fig tree.
Matthew reads οἱ ἀστέρες πεσοῦνται ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (hoi asteres pesountai apo tou ouranou, the stars will fall from heaven), drawing from Isaiah’s πάντα τὰ ἄστρα πεσεῖται (panta ta astra peseitai, all the stars shall fall), though the evangelist uses the plural verb rather than the singular of the LXX. The addition of ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (apo tou ouranou, from heaven) may be drawn from the first line of Isaiah 13.10; ἀστέρες τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (asteres tou ouranou, stars of heaven). The usage of Isaiah 34 is similar to that of Isaiah 13, both being oracles of divine judgment and destruction of pagan cities, in this case, Edom, and both following the pattern of the destruction of an oppressive nation or city followed by deliverance of YHWH’s people.
As France notes, the darkness imagery accompanying the destruction of pagan cities extends also to Israel, as seen in Amos 8.9 where it is used not of judgment on pagan nations but on Israel’s northern and southern kingdoms. It is not too far a leap to see Jesus evoking this imagery of city destruction in response to the disciples’ question, using the prophetic language to indicate what is to be destroyed is more than merely an important building, but a power structure in step with pagan Babylon. The imagery of tribulation closely tied to vindication is present both within the larger context of Matthew 24 and will be important as we turn to look at how the context of Matthew 24:29 informs our reading of the crucifixion narrative and the darkness at the cross.
 Matt 24.29-30 NRSV; Gk. NA27
 Ibid. 334.
 Isa 13:10 NETS; Gk. LXX
 Adams, Stars. 154.
 Ibid. 154.
 Wright, People. 354.
 Isa 48.20; 52.11-12 cf. Jer 50.6, 8, 28; 51.6-10,45-46, 50-51, 57; Ibid. 356-357.
 Pitre, Jesus. 336.
 Isaiah 34:4
 Adams, Stars. 154.
 Pitre, Jesus. 334.
 France, Matthew. 922.
 Ibid. 923.