It was a blustery late-winter night and a wet one. Gusts of wind howled through the trees and whistled through the cracks causing our house to creak and groan. It wasn’t a night to be out stargazing. A pity, because this was the night of a total lunar eclipse, and none of us had ever witnessed one before. It did not seem likely that the moon would even be visible through the plush rain clouds that overcast the sky.
A friend called after 8:00 p.m. to tell us that the eclipse had begun and that it was visible. So we ventured out onto the deck.
The winds did not let us stay out long, but we kept checking on the moon through the next couple of hours. Sometimes it was hidden by rain clouds, but most of the time, the spectacular event was ours to behold and savour.
Today’s NZ Herald (dated 29 August 2007) reported how Alan Gilmore, a senior astronomer at the Mt John Observatory at Lake Tekapo in the South Island, described it: “The skies cleared dramatically about 9pm, and we’ve had good views since. We’ve been debating the colour and decided it’s perhaps a dried apricot.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reports: The lunar surface suddenly took on a dull reddish hue. The eerie glow was the result of light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Most of the light was scattered in all directions but the red light was largely able to pass through, bouncing off the lunar surface and turning it red.
To us, the moon looked like a dark little dull reddish jewel in the sky. Lunar eclipses are caused by the earth’s shadow falling on the moon. However, the earth does not block out the sun’s light totally, which is why we even see the moon during an eclipse. The light that falls on the moon is obviously not direct sunlight but light that is refracted by the earth’s atmosphere. Because this light passes through a dense layer of the earth’s atmosphere, the colour of the moon is different each time, depending on the quality of the atmosphere. If the atmosphere has more dust particles, like after some volcanic activity, the moon takes on a more reddish hue.
On every one of our journeys to the deck to have a peek, I could not help remembering the scriptures that describe the moon exactly as it looked now.
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev 6: 12-17)
No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’(Acts 2: 16-21)
The phrase ‘moon turning to blood’
I think this phrase has been consistently used to describe the Day of Judgment, when the Messiah will come again. It is true that the scripture just quoted from the second chapter of Acts relates to the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. How then can this mention about the moon turning to blood have anything to do with the final Day of Judgment?
In this passage, we see Peter, in his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost, refer to Joel’s prophecy about the ‘last days’ saying, “. . . No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days . . .” (Acts 2:16-17) The ‘this’ emphasizes the fact that Joel’s prophecy concerning the last days was fulfilled on that day. But the fulfillment was not just for that day, because the ‘last days’ spanned the Christian era, right from the beginning of the church on this earth to its end, from that Day of Pentecost to the Day of Judgment. The prophet Joel would not have known that his pronouncement would span so many centuries.
Joel’s prophecy is not unique in the way the length of time between the two events is overlooked.
Malachi prophesied concerning times of hope for Israel and mentioned the time of John the Baptist and the Day of Judgment in one breath without focusing on the intervening time. “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Mal 4:5-6)
Matthew 24 provides us with yet another example of this. It describes an interaction between the Lord Jesus and the disciples: Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:1-3)
The question in Matthew 24:3 is threefold:
- When will the temple be destroyed?
- What will be the sign of Your coming?
- What will be the sign of the end of the age?
To the disciples, according to their understanding at that time, these were three separate events. Jesus’ answer juxtaposes the judgment of the Jews, which shortly came to pass in 70 AD when the temple was destroyed, and the final judgment, covering the question in its entirety. About the final judgment, Jesus says: Immediately after the distress of those days 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. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matt 24: 29-31). Like the prophecies by Malachi and Joel, He too ignores the time gap between the first century and the end of this world.
The next lunar eclipse will occur on 21 February 2008 and will be visible in America, Europe, and Asia. For us in New Zealand, the next visible one will be on 21 Dec 2010. Whether I will live to see another lunar eclipse, I do not know. But every human being–past, present, and future–will stand before the Lord when the moon turns to blood and the sky recedes like a scroll, when great men will weep and tremble and wish they had never been born.
To be bold and confident on that day is a gift that God gives to all who come to Him, believing in His Son Jesus. This is the message of the Bible.
And Lord haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.