An eclipse of the Moon occurs when the Moon enters the Earth’s shadow. The best eclipses are when the Moon enters the Earth’s umbra, or full shadow. There is a stage of every partial and total eclipse when the Moon passes through the penumbra, or partial shadow of the Earth. This stage is hard to even notice, and only appears as a dimming of the Moon, not very apparent most of the time. There are also penumbral eclipses, when the Moon misses the umbra entirely, and these are usually not even reported in the media, since they are inconspicuous, with not much to see.
The total eclipse of Tuesday, April 15, 2014 is the first in a tetrad of total eclipses, four in a row, an uncommon alignment of the astronomical circumstances that cause eclipses to take place. There will be another total eclipse this year on October 8, and also on April 4 and September 28 of 2015. Tetrads are somewhat uncommon astronomical events. Interestingly, the eclipses of this tetrad also happen to coincide with the Jewish feasts of Passover and Sukkoth (or Tabernacles).
This series of eclipses is being represented as “Blood Moons” in a couple of books that are currently making the rounds, and the Christian media is all abuzz. These books are predicting that this tetrad of eclipses are prophetic portents, harbingers of significant events ahead for the nation of Israel, and even the End Times, presaging the Second Coming of Jesus.
Honestly friends, this touches a couple of my pet peeves. For one thing, I’ve been involved in astronomy education and promotion for over two decades, and it can be annoying when rookies with little knowledge or experience with astronomy jump in on the subject. (It’s also annoying when they sell way more books than I have ever been able to sell!)
For a long time, I’ve watched the “End Times” industry, which cranks out a new interpretation of Bible prophecy every couple years. So many Christians get blown around “by every wind of doctrine” and jump on the latest bandwagon. I’ve seen a lot of apocalyptic prophecies come and go since the 1970s, from back in the days of “The Late Great Planet Earth” and “88 Reasons Why Jesus is Coming Back in 1988.”
In Scriptures such as Matthew 24, Jesus teaches us that “but of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” Pop eschatology writers read a loophole into that verse, presuming to open up an acceptable window of time larger than a “day and hour” in which we should await Jesus’ return. But the apostles instruct us that the Day of the LORD will come “as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10) and Jesus also said that “therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”
I encourage everyone to consult their pastors for how to approach these issues, and be settled in their own minds. As for me an my house, I prefer to not get caught up in the latest End Times fads, which always seem to come and go. Insofar as the “Blood Moon” craze touches on astronomy, I would rather that Christians take the time to educate themselves about the wonders of God’s creation in the heavens above, and understand that eclipses are commonplace natural events.
The new “Blood Moon” theory turns on these well-known passages from Scripture:
The Sun shall be turned into darkness, and the Moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come. – Joel 2:31, quoted in Acts 2:20
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake, and the Sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the Moon became as blood. – Revelation 6:12
For many years, every time there is an eclipse, I always get an email from someone asking me if it is “a sign of the end times.” Long-time readers will recall the Update article Lunar Eclipse – the Sixth Seal? that explains why every little eclipse of the Moon cannot be construed as fulfilling these prophecies. Briefly, eclipses are very common natural phenomena, a couple of which occur every single year. Also, the causes of eclipses are well understood, today as well as back in New Testament times.
Fact is, there’s really nothing supernatural about eclipses, and no reason to believe that such common, well-understood natural phenomena should be construed as a divine sign in fulfillment of Scripture every time one comes around. Unfortunately, the term “Blood Moon” will probably now stick, and be associated with all future eclipses, further perpetuating this confusion.
The “Blood Moon” promoters are making a big deal out of the fact that the tetrad of lunar eclipses occurring in 2014 and 2015 coincide with the Jewish feasts of Passover in spring and Sukkoth (Tabernacles) in the fall. Well, this is not such a big deal either. The fact is, lunar eclipses can only occur at a Full Moon, when the Moon is behind the Earth, and passes through the Earth’s shadow. Because of the circumstances of eclipses, it’s a normal occurrence to have two lunar eclipses that are six months apart. It so happens that Passover and Sukkoth also occur at or near the Full Moon, and these feasts are also always six months apart.
For more info on eclipses and the astronomy of the Jewish feasts, check out the following articles, from previous newsletters:
Eclipses – Why Not Every Month?
A Brief History of Lunar Eclipses
The Paschal Moon (The Astronomy of Passover)
The Astronomy of the Jewish High Holy Days
The Astronomy of Easter
So it’s really not very unusual to have a lunar eclipse at either Passover or Sukkoth, or even at both. It’s simply a natural convergence of two lunar cycles. However, it is unusual to have four lunar eclipses in a row that fall over two consecutive commemorations of Passover and Sukkoth. But contrary to the “Blood Moon” teaching, there really is not a clear pattern of prophetically significant events that has accompanied previous instances of this convergence between a lunar eclipse tetrad and biblical feasts.
Though I have not read these books myself, I have read that the authors purport that previous eclipse tetrad feasts occurred in 1948, coinciding with the establishment of the state of Israel (a fave event with eschatology buffs), in 1967 with the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, and previously, in 1492, with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
Here are the factual eclipse events, calculated and posted at the NASA web site. The links will take you to pictures displaying the actual circumstances and visibility of each eclipse, so you can judge for yourselves:
1948 Apr 23 (Passover – grazing partial eclipse)
1948 Oct 18 (Sukkoth – penumbral eclipse)
1949 Apr 13 (Passover – total eclipse)
1949 Oct 07 (Sukkoth – total eclipse)
1950 Apr 02 (Passover – total eclipse)
1950 Sep 26 (Sukkoth – total eclipse)
As is apparent, there actually were two lunar eclipses in 1948, but these were practically invisible, especially from the global location of Israel. The actual tetrad did not occur until 1949 and 1950, after the establishment of the state of Israel. I don’t claim to have any insight into Bible prophecy, but it does not seem to me that a “sign” would have much prophetic value if it occurs after the event with which it is associated.
1967 Apr 24 (Passover – total eclipse)
1967 Oct 18 (Sukkoth – total eclipse)
1968 Apr 13 (Passover – total eclipse)
1968 Oct 06 (Sukkoth – total eclipse)
1969 Apr 02 (Passover – penumbral eclipse)
1969 Aug 27 (penumbral eclipse)
1969 Sep 25 (Sukkoth – penumbral eclipse)
For the tetrad of 1967-68, the first eclipse occurred prior to the Six Day War in June, 1967, and was visible from Israel. This still does not impress me as having much significance, since the other three eclipses occurred after the fact, though they were at least partly visible from Israel. Note that there were also three inconspicuous penumbral eclipses in 1969, during the feasts and in between. This is pointed out just to illustrate how the cycles of the Moon can line up with regular calendar events like these feasts.
1492 Apr 12 (Passover – penumbral eclipse)
1492 May 12 (penumbral eclipse)
1492 Oct 05 (Sukkoth – penumbral eclipse)
1493 Apr 02 (Passover – total eclipse)
1493 Sep 25 (Sukkoth – total eclipse)
1494 Mar 22 (Passover – total eclipse)
1494 Sep 15 (Sukkoth – total eclipse)
I’m not so certain how to handle these dates, as they were before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, and I’m not certain if the Spanish Jews of that period used the same calendar reckoning as in the modern Jewish calendar. Taking the data at face value, the feasts of 1492 occurred after the Edict of Expulsion from Spain, and both were accompanied by invisible penumbral eclipses, with another in between, in May of that year. The tetrad of total eclipses did not actually commence until 1493, which again is after the fact, and not very useful as a prophetic portent.
This secular astronomy page points out that there have been other lunar eclipse/Jewish feast tetrads in history:
However, none of these tetrads appear to coincide with any significant historical events in Jewish history.
For my own part, I am not persuaded that there is anything prophetically significant to the “Blood Moon” interpretation. But as with all such predictions, we’ll wait and see. There are some potential dire apocalyptic events on the horizon, such as the prospect of development of nuclear weapons by Iran. The LORD is control, and we can only pray and trust.
Hope this is enough of an explanation to help you better understand this issue and make an informed decision for yourself. Please feel free to share this with your pastor and any interested members of your congregation.