I don’t mean to spook you, but something strange has been happening to the moon over the past two years. Every once in a while, as the moon hurtles around planet Earth, it ends up in the Earth’s shadow. This is called a lunar eclipse.
By itself, a lunar eclipse doesn’t cause astronomy nerds to hyperventilate with excitement, such as the one on the twenty-third of this month—the first of three eclipses this year. Anyone can see an eclipse if they’re willing to wait a couple of years and keep their eyes open at hours when nobody would be awake at all if they weren’t dealing with newborns or bladder issues.
What you might find spooky though is the frequency of total eclipses in the recent past and their apparently religious timing. The first of these was on April 15, 2014, which just happened to be the first day of the Jewish Passover—the most important festival in the Jewish year. It commemorates the miraculous way God rescued the Israelites from lives of slavery in Egypt. It also happens to be the time when Christ was crucified and resurrected.
The second notable total eclipse happened on October 8, 2014, which was the first day of another important Jewish festival, Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles. This was followed six months later by yet another total eclipse, again on the first day of Passover. Then, a few months later, bam, another total eclipse. Guess when it happened? That’s right, on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles—again. By the way, these total eclipses aren’t your typical lunar eclipses either.
The term “blood moon” may sound familiar to you. Let me remind you of a prophecy in the Bible’s book of Joel: “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31).
Are you getting chills yet? Is it possible that signs in the heavens are pointing to something big that’s about to happen on planet Earth? And is it possible that this is the kind of event that your homeowner’s insurance won’t cover? Is it possible you won’t need that retirement plan you’ve been working on?
Some preachers are convinced that these four blood moons, also known as a tetrad (a group of four), are an ominous portent. Texas televangelist, John Hagee, wrote a best-selling book titled Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change. In it, he predicted that this sequence of four lunar eclipses foreshadowed dramatic events in the state of Israel.
So far, nothing significant has happened.
The true and false blood moons
It turns out that a set of four blood moons, with each landing on a Jewish festival, has happened eight times since the last book of the Bible was written. It’s a naturally occurring sequence that’s helped out by the fact that the Jews use a lunar calendar. There’s some discussion about whether the arrival of these blood moons matched any landmarks in Jewish history. About the closest correlation Hagee could find is a tetrad that happened 10 months after Israel won the Six-Day War in 1967. But generally speaking, you want a prophetic sign to happen before the event it announces, not after it.
So, what about that Bible text in Joel? Does it point to a lunar tetrad? Probably not. Consider a parallel text that Jesus gave in Matthew 24:29: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
But this prophecy needs to be read in the context of the chapter within which it’s located. The darkened sun, moon and stars falling from the sky are signs of Jesus’ return. However, these don’t happen in isolation. So a tetrad doesn’t signify anything without some signs in the sun, moon and stars.*
In Genesis 1:14 God said that He made the sun, moon and stars “as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” So it does make sense that these heavenly bodies could also mark the nearness of His second coming. But it will probably happen in a way that can’t be confused with the ordinary cycles we already know.
Like Hagee, Christopher Columbus found an audience that was willing to confuse a natural lunar eclipse with a supernatural event—only he did it on purpose.
It happened on his fourth voyage to the New World, which all historians agree was not a great success. His ships were beaten down by a hurricane and two epic storms, which left them stranded in Saint Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. The tourist industry hadn’t yet come to this Caribbean island, so the crews had nowhere to live and nothing to eat. They broke up their ships to make shelters and depended on the hospitality of the natives for food. You know how much stress is involved in feeding your relatives when they show up for the holidays? Well, I imagine it’s worse when you have 200 sailors in the living room wondering what’s for dinner and nobody seems to know when they’ll leave!
The natives obliged them for a while but then started leaving hints that their charity soup kitchen was about to close. This is when Columbus got an idea. He used his astronomical tables to predict an eclipse and give himself the appearance of a god. On the night of February 29, 1504, he told the natives that they had made him angry by not feeding his crew, so he had decided to use his powers to make the moon disappear.
Can he really do that? the natives wondered. Later that night, the moon was covered in Earth’s shadow.
The natives were awestruck and approached Columbus with an offer to continue their catering service if he would return the moon. Columbus thought about it for what he judged was the right amount of time and then said, “You’ve got a deal.” The moon began coming out of Earth’s shadow.
The natives were fooled by the New World explorer. But be careful that you aren’t distracted by predictions that have better marketing than biblical substance. Jesus said, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. . . . Do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:24–27).
When Jesus comes, it won’t be subtle. It will be a big deal. In the meantime, you may see signs that seem pretty convincing. But, like the four blood moons, they won’t amount to much. When the real signs happen, you’ll know it.
“So that’s what He was talking about,” you’ll say. “I guess we won’t need that retirement plan.”
*In fact, signs in the sun, moon and stars, and a great shaking of the heavenly bodies (an earthquake) did happen on May 19, 1780, and an in-depth study of the Bible will reveal that this was in fact predicted to occur immediately after the Dark Ages when Christians were persecuted over a period of some 1260 years. Theologians believe these signs, including a period of persecution, will occur again just before Jesus’ return, but on a greater scale and once again, not in isolation but in conjunction.