I think I just read one of the most helpful explanations of what biblical apocalyptic language was used for:
If you had been a journalist in AD69, what language owuld you have used to describe the Year of the Four Emperors? Probably the same kind of cosmic, apocalyptic language that was used after September 11, 2001. ‘The End of the World’? Well, naturally. But it wasn’t of course. It was simply the end of a world order in which certain things had been assumed to be fixed and unalterable, and which were now discovered to be frail and vulnerable. Of course, highly charged metaphors about the sun, the moon and the stars invest such events with a particular significance, just as journalist language does when it speaks of an election in terms of a ‘landslide’ or of a new campaigning politician as a ‘tornado’.
– N.T. Wright (2013), Paul and the Faithfulness of God, p165-6.
Emphasis in the original.
Controversial, I know, but I’m adding it to the pile of ideas anyway!