Probably some of the greatest errors in Biblical understanding occur because folks take literally what should be understood spiritually. Jesus told those to whom he preached that they erred because they didn’t take into consideration that the words he spoke were spiritual (John 6:61-63), and they kept trying to make sense of them literally (John 6:60). We can avoid this type of misunderstanding, if we use the word of God to interpret itself for us, by comparing one part of Scripture with another part (1Corinthians 2:13).
Both Jesus and Peter agree as to what constitutes the Day of the Lord, that is that it comes as a thief in the night and there will be signs in the heavens (Revelation 1:10; 3:3; 16:15: Matthew 24:29, 43; 2Peter 3:10). Joel claimed the heavenly signs pointed the coming of the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:10, 30-31). Jesus foretold of the same types of signs (Matthew 24:29), and Peter claimed the Day of the Lord brought new heavens and a new earth (2Peter 3:10). It all points to the same thing.
The language of Isaiah (Isaiah 13:9-11; 34:4-5) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 32:7-8) use the darkening of the sun, moon and stars to express the judgment of God. Similarly, Jesus points to heavenly signs (Matthew 24:29), whereby the heavenly bodies stop giving their light. Isaiah used the heavenly bodies to show the judgment of Babylon (Isaiah 13:2) and Idumea (Isaiah 34:5), while Ezekiel used the same kind of signs to show God’s judgment upon Egypt (Ezekiel 34:5). What Jesus does in his use of these same signs is to foretell his own judgment upon the nation of the Jews in Matthew 24:29.
This type of language is what we call apocalyptic. It is highly figurative and shouldn’t be taken literally. After all, who in his right mind could believe in a literal beast with seven heads (Revelation 13)? The figures mentioned have a meaning, which, if taken as it should be understood, tell a reasonable story about how God addresses the sins of men. For example, the sun in the apocalyptic language represents the king or leader of the nation. We know this to be true because immediately after judging Babylon in Isaiah 13, the prophet discusses his judgment again in the next chapter (Isaiah 14:4). There he refers to the king of Babylon as the morning star or the sun (Isaiah 14:12). This is substantiated more clearly by considering Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9-11. There the sun and moon represent Joseph’s mother and dad—Jacob and Rachel. The stars represent Joseph’s brothers. They are the patriarchs or leaders of the Jewish nation, which gave birth to Jesus (Romans 9:5; Hebrews 7:14; cf. Revelation 12:1).
In light of this understanding Jesus no doubt referred to the leaders of the Jewish nation (Matthew 24:29). They were cast down, and the Jews had no secure homeland. They no longer could represent God as expressed in their original covenant (Exodus 19:6). The Temple was destroyed. The nation didn’t exist any longer. The covenant was annulled, but what would this mean in terms of Peter’s heavens passing away and elements of the earth melting? Since the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD proved to the world that Jesus was the Christ, and he reigns in heaven (Matthew 24:30; Daniel 7:13-14; cf. Matthew 26:64), Peter means that the Jews no longer represent God to the world. The disciples of Christ have become a kingdom of priests to the world (Revelation 1:6; 5:10), bringing his word to the nations.
Before the Flood the patriarchs ruled the world without the intervention of God, until God decided to judge the whole world with the flood waters. He destroyed the patriarchs and all their works. On the other side of the Flood God used men as leaders of the nations to judge the more wicked nations. Israel, ideally was supposed to be God’s effective instrument of judgment, but they failed to carry out his will in that they wished to be like the nations they were supposed to judge and educate in the ways of the Lord. The flood waters changed how God intended to deal with mankind, and the judgment of Jerusalem by fire (war) accomplished the same thing in 70 AD as the Genesis Flood did in the days of Noah. The powers of the heavens and earth were shaken and changed as a result of both judgments.
Moses, quoted by Paul, predicted the failure of the Jewish people and that God would rebuke them through a foolish people (i.e. a people who were idolaters) who were not a people. They would provoke the Jews to jealousy (Deuteronomy 32:21; cf. Romans 10:19). The church or the disciples of Jesus have no human king, queen or princes. We are all servants, led by servants and ultimately led by God. He alone is our light, and no man can take his place (cf. 1Samuel 8:5).