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Bad Moon Rising

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of great awesome day of the Lord. (Joel 2:31)

In the last six months I’ve often been told about, or asked about, four ‘blood moons’ that are going to appear over Israel during the next two years. The excitement began to mount last year after the publication of John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change. Hagee – the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church, a Texas megachurch that boasts more than 20,000 ‘active members’ – was turned onto the blood moon teaching by Mark Biltz of El Shaddai Ministries, who challenged Hagee to study ‘the sun, moon, and stars as a source of prophetic revelation.’

During the years 1493/94, 1949/50 and 1967/68, at the festivals of Passover and Tabernacles, a series of ‘tetrads’ occurred. A tetrad is a series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses each spaced six months apart. Close to the time of each of those tetrads, momentous events occurred in connection with the Jewish people. In 1492, a year before the first of the listed tetrads, the Jews were expelled from Spain. In 1948, a year before another tetrad took place, the modern state of Israel was founded, and in June 1967, between the first and second lunar eclipses of a tetrad, the Six Day War occurred in which the Israelis, after 2,500 years, regained sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Tetrads are not uncommon and in this century we are set to experience a total of eight but a growing number of Bible teachers believe the upcoming sequence of total lunar eclipses to be particularly significant because they will coincide with Jewish festivals. The first full lunar eclipse will take place this year on 15 April at Passover, and the second at the Feast of Tabernacles on 8 October. Next year, full lunar eclipses will occur at Passover on 4 April and at Tabernacles on 28 September. Tetrad watchers believe that during the upcoming tetrad the moon will be ‘turned to blood,’ fulfilling the prophecy of Joel 2:31. Therefore, according to John Hagee, the next two years will be a time of ‘change’ for Israel.

The not-so-silvery moon

Because speculation about the events of the next couple of years is growing, and because I’ve been asked what I think about the teaching, and because there will be fallout from the prognostications, I’ve decided to go public.

First of all, there is no obvious reason why the term ‘blood moon’ should be associated with the tetrads because moons in full eclipse range in colour from dark brown and red to bright orange and, sometimes, yellow. So it’s far from easy to predict what colour the moon will appear during a total eclipse.

Second, contrary to what some tetrad watchers are predicting, none of the moons in the upcoming tetrad will appear ‘over’ Jerusalem or Israel. The only eclipse of the tetrad that will be visible in Israel will be the last. It will take place at the Feast of Tabernacles on 28 September 2015 but by the time it becomes visible to Israelis it will have almost set on the horizon and the phenomenon will be over in a matter of minutes. If you’re in Israel when it happens and you blink, you’ll miss it!

Bad moons rising

Third, tetrads have occurred frequently throughout human history and although in the last 500 years some occurred at or close to significant events in Jewish history there was absolutely no consistency about them. The series of total lunar eclipses that occurred at Passover and Tabernacles in 1493/94 took place after the Jews had been expelled from Spain, which was a bad event. The tetrad of 1949/50, however, took place after a good event: the rebirth of the Jewish state. When the sequence of four lunar eclipses took place at Passover and Tabernacles in 1967/68, the Six Day War during which the Israeli Defence Forces recaptured Jerusalem ( a good event), occurred between the first and second eclipses.

However, some of the most momentous events in Jewish history occurred when no tetrad took place. No tetrad occurred, for example, at the time of the Exodus, or the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587BC, or the crucifixion (by far the most momentous event in Jewish history), or the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, or close to the Holocaust. Furthermore, tetrads occurred during Passover and Tabernacles in 162/63AD, 795/96AD, 842/43AD and 860/61AD, during which nothing of significance relating to the Jewish nation occurred.

Fourth, according to Joel 2:31 not only will the moon be turned into blood before the coming of the day of the Lord, but also the sun will be turned into darkness. Tetrad watchers appear to be ignoring that equally significant celestial phenomenon.

Fifth, in Matthew 24:29, Jesus informed his disciples that the sun would be darkened, and the moon would fail to give its light ‘immediately after the tribulation of those days.’ The tribulation of which Jesus spoke was ‘the great tribulation’ (Mt 24:21), therefore since the first total lunar eclipse of the tetrad will take place at Passover on 14 April, and since the moon is to turn to blood ‘immediately after,’ are we to expect the great tribulation to start and finish sometime in the next six weeks?

‘Let the reader understand’

Each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record the Lord’s teaching on the Mount of Olives in significantly different ways and it is instructive to compare Luke’s account of the Olivet discourse with those of Matthew and Mark. Where the first two Evangelists record the Hebraic symbolism in the words of Jesus, Luke interprets the apocalyptic imagery. Where Matthew and Mark, for example, speak of Daniel’s ‘abomination of desolation,’ and add, ‘Whoever reads, let him understand’ (Mt 24:15; Mk 13:14), Luke 21:20 helps the reader to understand what the Lord means: ‘But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.’

Luke also enables us to understand that the Lord’s reference to the sun, moon and stars is highly symbolic: ‘For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’ (Lk 21:23-24).

Most Christians would say we are in the ‘Last Days’ but when Peter addressed the crowds in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, he stated that the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy of all God’s people prophesying was proof that he and his audience were in the ‘Last Days’. However, when John wrote his first New Testament letter over thirty years later, he could inform his readers that they were living in the ‘last hour’ (1 Jn 2:18)!

F. F. Bruce, in his commentary on Acts, says: ‘The “Last Days” began with Christ’s appearance on earth and will be consummated by his reappearance; they are the days during which the age to come overlays the present age. Hence the assurance with which Peter could quote the prophet’s words and declare “This is it.”’

Bruce specifically refers to Acts 2:19-21: He writes, ‘The wonders and signs to be revealed in the world of nature may have more relevance in their immediate setting than is sometimes realised. More particularly, little more than seven weeks earlier the people of Jerusalem had indeed seen the darkening of the sun, during the early afternoon of Good Friday, and later that same paschal afternoon the paschal full moon may well have risen blood red in the sky in consequence of that preternatural gloom. These phenomena are now interpreted as harbingers of the day of the Lord. . .’ (F. F. Bruce The Book of Acts, pp.61-62).

Nothing new under the moon

Last of all, I find it deeply disconcerting that one Bible teacher should encourage another to study ‘the sun, moon, and stars as a source of prophetic revelation.’ Didn’t God warn his people in Jeremiah 10:2: ‘Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them’?

The bottom line in Four Blood Moons is that Jesus is coming. With that much we can agree but is it necessary to sensationalise fairly common events such as lunar eclipses in order to press home that truth? In 1974, prophecy experts predicted the imminent return of the Lord following the publication of John Gribbin and Stephen Plageman’s best-seller The Jupiter Effect which described the horrors that were about to be unleashed on the world through the coming alignment of the planets of the solar system.

In 1980, one internationally acclaimed prophecy expert was so confident that the Lord would return by the end of the decade that he wrote The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. By the mid eighties, however, as the prophetic deadline approached, some of the prophetic pundits, notably an Australian Bible teacher began pushing the date back from 1988 to 1998. He went so far as to state that ‘the rabbis in Jerusalem’ had announced that their Messiah was going to ‘return’ in 1998! Apart from being a form of false prophecy, sensationalist claims that fail to deliver tend to engender cynicism, apathy or gullibility, all of which are corrosive of true faith.

On the night of 15 April this year, hundreds of thousands of tetrad watchers will wait to see the spring full moon turn blood red and will be disappointed. It is far from certain, however, that the moon will turn red even where the eclipse will be visible. If disappointed moon gazers comfort themselves with the hope that three more total lunar eclipses will take place in the following eighteen months, none of them will be visible in Europe and it is less than likely that any of the eclipsed moons will be red.

In the next couple of years and beyond, even if no blood moons occur, tetrad enthusiasts will scour the news intently for ‘changes’ relating to Israel. And find them they will, for when is Israel ever out of the news! There might be a peace deal with the Palestinians; there might be a worsening of the situation between Israel and its neighbours; there might be a breakdown in relations between Israel and the US or a strengthening of ties with a post-Obama administration; Israel might strike at Iran or Iran might step up its nuclear enrichment programme. But whatever happens, you can bet your bottom shekel that ‘changes’ will occur in the Jewish world and, when they do, tetrad watchers of the world will unite to say, ‘See. We told you so!’

This article first appeared in the Spring Herald 2014

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