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Blood moons and Bible prophecy
David Instone-Brewer delves into the world of astronomy as he examines recent claims of end-time signs.
Many Christians, especially in America, are expecting cataclysmic events this month when the last of a recent series of ‘blood moons’ will occur. John Hagee, pastor of a Texan megachurch and an influential Christian Zionist, has publicised the forthcoming blood moons in sermons, books and even a movie, Four Blood Moons. If this ‘moon turned to blood’ is indeed the one prophesied in the Bible, should you start stocking up food and building defences around your home?
Horoscopes and star charts are still incredibly important in some Eastern cultures, as well as being popular (‘just for fun’) in the West. Why is it that we just can’t lay down the notion that our destiny is tied up with those lights that shimmer above us? In ancient days, when stars and planets were thought to be capricious gods, this did make some kind of sense. The surprising thing is that this belief continued even after the Babylonians started accurately predicting heavenly events. When a lunar eclipse was due, for example, they put a condemned criminal on the throne for the day it occurred, so that the predicted bad fortune would fall on him rather than the king. Afterwards, they executed him.
The first mechanical computer, the Antikythera mechanism, was designed to log astronomical calculations. It was a complex matrix of bronze cogs and dials, and included a special function for predicting red lunar eclipses. It was probably based on a design by Archimedes in the third century BC, but in about 60 BC it was lost in a shipwreck on the way to Rome.
Like many inventions today, this had military applications. A terrible Greek naval disaster in 413 BC was attributed to a lunar eclipse, and in 585 BC Greek mathematician Thales was able to warn the embattled Lydians that a solar eclipse was due. They could have used this for military advantage in a battle with their long-term enemies, the Medes, but instead it appears that they used it to engineer a lasting peace, because when the darkness interrupted the fighting, they said that the gods were demanding an end to the war.
Even as late as 1504, Columbus was able to use a similar trick. He was stranded in Jamaica, where the islanders were fed up with having to feed his unruly men. With the help of his seaman’s almanac, he announced that the moon would show God’s anger if the islanders didn’t help. When the earth’s shadow fell across the moon so that it turned blood red, the islanders started wailing, begging forgiveness and bringing food.
PREDICTIONS OF JESUS’ RETURN
Few people today are bothered about blood moons, except for a small number of Christians. This is because the Bible contains a handful of predictions involving the moon turning to blood, some of which relate to end-time events. Blood moons by themselves occur relatively frequently – about once every two years on average. However, this year we are witnesses to something less common, a lunar tetrad: ie a group of four lunar eclipses that are always separated by six-month intervals. This tetrad spans from April last year until the last one, which will occur on 28th September 2015. In fact, this century is special because it will contain eight such tetrads, spanning from 2003-4 until the last in 2090-91.
Bible prophecy buffs point out that the eclipses happening this year are particularly significant because they all fall exactly on Jewish festivals: the ones in April 2014 and 2015 occur on the first day of Passover and the two in September are both on the first day of The Feast of Tabernacles. Hagee claims that every time a tetrad occurs on Jewish feast days, something traumatic and ‘world-changing’ happens to the nation of Israel. He believes many biblical prophecies concerning the nation of Israel are being fulfilled today.
BIBLICAL PROPHECY IS NOT A METHOD FOR PREDICTING THE FUTURE
Critics have pointed out that while all four blood moons are visible in the US, none are visible in Israel. Also, it’s not unusual for blood moon and Jewish feast dates to coincide. One in six of these blood moon tetrads always falls on Jewish feast days because, like them, Passover and Tabernacles always occur at full moon and are six lunar months apart. In fact, it would be more unusual if none of the eight tetrads this century lined up with these festivals.
In the Bible, darkened or blood moons are generally mentioned along with overwhelming destruction from God: on Judah (Joel 2:10, 31), Egypt (Ezekiel 32:7) and Babylon (Isaiah 13:10). It is also linked with the final ‘Day of the Lord’ (Joel 2:10; 3:15, Isaiah 13:10), so these verses are cited by Jesus and Peter when describing the second coming (Matthew 24:29; Acts 2:20). In Jesus’ description, these final blood moons come after ‘the distress of those days’ and immediately before ‘the Son of man coming on the clouds’ (v30).
However, these biblical descriptions probably aren’t the language of astronomical predictions. Blood moons were part of the shock and awe language of ancient divine warfare, along with the heavens being rolled up like a scroll and stars falling out of the sky (Isaiah 34:4; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:14). An equivalent modern threat would be: ‘We will flatten all your cities with mushroom clouds that darken the sun and turn the moon red.’ Someone who isn’t used to our idioms would be confused to find that bombed cities aren’t actually flat and that no fungi are involved.
Biblical prophecy is not given to us as a method for predicting the future. Rather, it is a means of giving comfort to those who will go through events that they can recognise in retrospect. If someone had tried to use Psalm 22 to predict the trials of the Messiah, they would have assumed he would have to face angry bulls and lions before being ravaged by dogs, perhaps in a Roman circus (Psalm 22:12-16). But after the event, we recognise that some parts of this psalm are metaphorical. When the predicted disasters occur, we will know that God is still in control because we will recognise the prophecies. But this only works in retrospect.
Perhaps one day we will look back on the blood moons of 2014-15 as significant events that the Bible foretold, although I doubt it. It is true that many Christians are suffering, especially where Islamic terrorism is unconstrained. However, we are not suffering a ‘great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be’, which is what will precede the blood moons just before Jesus’ second coming (Matthew 24:21, KJV).
As believers, our role is not to continually look for signs of the end; it is to keep evangelising in case this is the end…and also in case it isn’t.