Since my article about the supposed fulfillment of the sign of Revelation 12:1–2 on September 23, 2017, went up on May 1, the article has generated much interest. To recap, Revelation 12:1–2 records a great sign in heaven—a woman about to give birth, clothed in the sun with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. The constellation Virgo represents a virgin (a woman), though I’ve never been able to pick out the outline of a woman in the stars of Virgo (unlike some constellations, such as Orion or Leo, where I can pick out the outline of what they are supposed to represent). During September and October each year, the sun appears in the constellation Virgo for about a month. For a day or two each month, the moon appears in the general vicinity of where Virgo’s feet are supposed to be. Therefore, there is a day or two each year with the sun in Virgo and the moon near her feet. This year, this occurs on September 23.
This year the planet Jupiter is in the constellation Virgo as well. Many websites are promoting the idea that Jupiter represents the child about to be born in the sign of Revelation 12:1–2. There are several arguments bolstered to support this claim. Jupiter was the king of the gods in Roman mythology (the equivalent was Zeus in Greek mythology). Therefore, Jupiter represents a king, and Christians recognize Jesus as the King of Kings (Revelation 19:16). People reason that, being near the womb of Virgo, this king is soon to be born. Some argue that the length of time Jupiter is spending in Virgo or in Virgo’s womb this year is equal to the human gestation period, which supposedly further enforces the supposed fulfillment of prophecy.
People also claim other strange things about the significance of Jupiter, though it begins to look like a Rorschach test or even astrology. The planet Jupiter takes 11.8 years to orbit the sun, and there are 12 constellations along the zodiac, so approximately every 12 years Jupiter spends about a year in Virgo. The year 2017 is one of those years when Jupiter is in Virgo. I’ve seen this happen four times before: 1969, 1981, 1993, and 2005. As on September 23 this year, each one of those previous years had a day or two when the sun was in Virgo, the moon was near the feet of Virgo, and Jupiter was in Virgo. So what makes this year so special?
So what makes this year so special?
The answer to that question supposedly lies in the other detail of this sign: a crown of 12 stars. The constellation Leo lies beyond, and hence above, the head of Virgo. The claim is that Leo has nine stars, but that the addition of three naked-eye planets this year, Mercury, Venus, and Mars, brings the total to twelve stars, thus conforming to the crown with 12 stars on the woman’s head. Leo is a considerable distance from Virgo (about 15 degrees). To fit the description of the sign, the crown would have to be atop the mother-of-all-beehive hairdos on Virgo’s head, but that’s a minor point.
As I pointed out in my previous article, Leo contains more than nine stars, so the addition of three planets this year won’t total twelve stars. The problem is that the Stellarium software used by people promoting this thesis connects nine stars to form the pattern of Leo. However, Stellarium plots other stars in Leo, though they aren’t connected to the nine outlining Leo. Many other depictions of Leo show varying numbers of stars connected to form the outline of a lion. I gave several examples of different star counts in my previous article. Since then, I consulted a planisphere that I’ve had for nearly 50 years and used to learn the constellations. It connects 10 stars to outline Leo, including the nine stars that Stellarium connects, plus Omicron Leonis that marks Leo’s front paws.
I am amazed by how many people who know next to nothing about astronomy want to debate me about this. Some argue that, yes, there are more stars in Leo, but in our light-polluted skies, we can’t see them all. So, I decided to check this. A few months ago, when Leo was still visible in the evening sky in late spring, one clear evening I attempted to see how many stars I could see from my light-polluted neighborhood in suburban Cincinnati. I easily counted 13. So much for that claim.
Others who wish to argue this point with me go entirely in the other direction, claiming that all or nearly all ancient depictions of Leo included nine and only nine stars. As it turns out, we have an authoritative source on ancient astronomy—Claudius Ptolemy’s Almagest. Ptolemy wrote the Almagest around AD 140. It is a compendium of ancient Greek astronomy, including a very detailed listing of stars in their respective constellations, along with ecliptic coordinates and estimates of magnitudes.1 Ptolemy catalogued a little more than 1,000 stars, and his coordinates permit astronomers today to unambiguously identify most of them. The Almagest was and is the authoritative source of the shapes and depictions of the original 48 constellations, including those in Stellarium. So I checked out the copy of the Almagest from the Answers in Genesis library. Ptolemy catalogued 27 stars in Leo, with detailed descriptions of which part of the lion each star corresponded to. Of these 27 stars, two were of the first magnitude, two of the second magnitude, six were of the third magnitude, eight were of the fourth magnitude, five were of the fifth magnitude, and four were of the sixth magnitude. Ptolemy also catalogued an additional eight stars that were near Leo but not part of the constellation itself (one star was fourth magnitude, four were fifth magnitude, and three were too faint to assign a magnitude).
If one creates a depiction of Leo with stars third magnitude and brighter according to Ptolemy, then Leo has ten stars. That is, to get a count of nine stars in Leo from the authoritative ancient source, one must ignore stars fainter than third magnitude and arbitrarily delete one third-magnitude star. There is no justification for this. All astronomers would concur with my assessment: there is no standard depiction of Leo containing nine stars, either from the ancient or modern world. Rather, how many stars any source today uses to depict the outline of Leo is merely a matter of preference.
But somehow in the minds of some people, Stellarium’s preference for nine stars outlining Leo has become the standard, despite all evidence to the contrary. The belief that there will be a literal fulfillment of the Revelation 12:1–2 sign on September 23, 2017, critically depends upon there being nine stars in Leo. However, just a little bit of knowledge of the history and practice of depicting constellations ought to reveal no basis for this claim. Again, I am amazed at the number of people willing to debate this point. Apparently, because they saw it on a YouTube video, it must be true.
Besides those who have contacted me to dispute how many stars are in Leo, others have asked me how often this allegedly rare series of astronomical events has happened in the past. The claim is that this conjunction of three naked-eye planets in Leo while the sun, moon, and Jupiter are so placed in Virgo has never happened in human history. In my previous article, I stated that this claim is false, though I offered no details. To check this claim would require much time to sift through the possibilities. I am glad that at least one person has attempted to do this. Christopher M. Graney found four instances where similar conjunctions happened in the past thousand years, on September 14, 1056; September 5, 1293; September 6, 1483; and September 24, 1827.2 Graney admitted that he may have missed a few other instances during the past millennium, so this might have happened even more than these four times in the past 1,000 years. He didn’t check for earlier dates, but certainly there were other examples in the previous 5,000 years. Therefore, the events of September 23, 2017, are not unique in history.
Many websites promoting the supposed September 23, 2017, event tie it to the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. How?
Many websites promoting the supposed September 23, 2017, event tie it to the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. How? By playing with many numbers and arcane facts. For instance, these two dates are separated by 33 days. The eclipse made landfall in the United States in Oregon, the 33rd state, and it exited the United States along the 33rd parallel of latitude in South Carolina. That is three 33s. Three times 33 is 99, and it has been 99 years since there was a total solar eclipse that crossed the United States from coast to coast (June 8, 1918, was the last one). The August 21 solar eclipse was 40 days before the day of Atonement in 2017 (September 29), and of course many people think that the number 40 has great significance. Salem, Oregon, was the first city of any size on the eclipse path. Salem means peace in Hebrew. But the point with greatest duration of the eclipse was near Cairo, Illinois, and since this city was named for the city in Egypt, a place that many Christians associate with evil, this must have some significance too. The next solar eclipse to cross the United States (April 8, 2024) is seven years after the 2017 eclipse, and, of course the number seven must have special significance too. Furthermore, the paths of totality of these two solar eclipses intersect near the middle of the lower 48 of the United States, forming a large X across the country, so this must have some great significance, such as God’s impending judgment on the United States.
I am sure that some people reading this are rolling their eyes and exclaiming, “Really?” But, sadly, far too many people take these things very seriously. If one cogitates on a few factoids or numbers long enough, one can find all sorts of arcane significance. Though largely forgotten now, many of the same people issuing dire prophetic pronouncements about the August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse made similar claims about the total solar eclipse on March 20, 2015, amid four total lunar eclipses in 2014–2015. This, too, was accompanied by a pack of factoids and numbers to make the case. However, the explicitly stated or implied prophetic events of Scripture did not occur at that time. Why must the situation be different this time? Please note, I am not questioning Bible prophecy; I am questioning those who have falsely interpreted Bible prophecy. They have a sorry track record; I honestly don’t understand why anyone, particularly Christians, listens to them anymore (Deuteronomy 18:22).
It’s also a shame that these people are treating these solar eclipses in such a negative way. Many other Christians and I flocked to the path of totality to view the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. This rare and glorious phenomenon is impossible to describe adequately, and no photographs do it justice. Rather than seeing doom and judgement, I witnessed the greatest display of God’s creative artistry that I know of. I wonder how many of these people witnessed totality. If they did, were they not moved to praise God?
In the weeks leading up to September 23, 2017, there have been several events in the news that people have claimed presage the Lord’s return that day. First, the United States has been hit by two powerful storms, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Second, there were two solar flares on September 6, the most powerful flares in a decade. Being scarcely two-and-a-half weeks prior to September 23, 2017, some people think this is significant. Third, on September 8, 2017, an 8.1 magnitude quake struck southern Mexico. Surely, for some reason, this must be evidence that there is something special about the sign of Revelation 12:1–2 being fulfilled on September 23, 2017, barely two weeks later.
It is easy for those who take a very short view of history to think these recent events have prophetic significance. However, those with longer-term memory question this. For instance, before Hurricane Harvey, a major hurricane had not struck the continental United States in a dozen years. It is easy to forget about the many powerful storms of the past, such as Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and Hurricane Camille in 1969, or even the 1900 Galveston Hurricane that may have killed as many as 12,000 people.
What about solar flares? It was a little more than a decade ago that there was an even more powerful solar flare, and there have been many before that. Perhaps the most powerful solar flare of the past few centuries happened in 1859, a solar flare called the Carrington Event. And what about earthquakes? True, the recent Mexico earthquake is the most powerful this year, and exceeds any earthquakes so far in 2016. However, there was an 8.3 magnitude earthquake in Chile in 2015 and an 8.2 magnitude quake in 2014, again in Chile. In fact, there were 13 magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquakes in the decade before 2017, including four in 2014 alone (one of those was magnitude 8.5). Most people today are ignorant of the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, estimated to have been magnitude 8.5-9.0.
What makes the very recent hurricanes, solar flares, and earthquakes especially significant, but the previous ones not? Keep in mind that some self-professed prophecy teachers of the past (and some still active today) claimed these events were harbingers of the Lord’s imminent return. Obviously, that was not the case. In a few weeks and months, these recent events will be events of the past, and they, too, will be examples of prophecy teachers probably being wrong in their pronouncements once again. At some point, for those who improperly interpret these things, these cries of wolf must lead to their loss of credibility and the disenchantment of their followers.
What do those who promote this thesis think will happen on September 23, 2017? Whether by explicit statement or strong implication, most think it will be what the Apostle Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, an event some Christians call the rapture. To support this, some are now teaching that Revelation 12:5 refers to the same event. That verse reads,
She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.
The argument is that the child is the church, and the child being caught up to God and his throne is the rapture. One major problem with this understanding is that the child of Revelation 12 is male, but in the Bible the church always is anthropomorphized in the feminine form (Ephesians 5:22–33; Revelation 19:7–9, 21:2, 9, 22:17). Furthermore, this is at odds with the established understanding that the child of Revelation 12 is Jesus. How do we know this is Jesus? The phrase “rod of iron” is used only three other times in Scripture: Psalm 2:9 and Revelation 2:27 and 19:15. Both Revelation 2:27 and Revelation 19:15 clearly refer to Jesus. Psalm 2 always has been recognized as being Messianic. Furthermore, Revelation 2:27 is a direct quotation of Psalm 2:9. Therefore, the inescapable conclusion is that the child of Revelation 12 is Jesus, not the church. To argue otherwise is to argue not only against longstanding universal understanding of Revelation 12, but also against Scripture itself.
Many people who see the fulfillment of Revelation 12 coming on September 23, 2017, would link 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 to at least some of the events that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:29–41. And to relate all of this to current events, they often identify the darkening of the sun and moon in Matthew 24:29 to these recent eclipses. There is much disagreement over the meaning of these two passages and how to properly integrate the two with one another and with the rest of Scripture. This is hardly the time or the place to do this, nor am I the one to do this, so I won’t have much more to say on these matters.
The most important part of Jesus’ message here was not that we attempt to figure out when it will be, but to be ready.
I will, however, close with two points. First, to those who strongly disagree with me on what might happen on September 23, 2017, I suggest we wait until September 24, 2017, to have this discussion. If I am wrong, I will be happy to admit that I was wrong—but will those who disagree with me also be willing to do so? Second, as I stated in the conclusion of my previous article, in one of these passages in question, Jesus specifically told us that no one other than the Father knows the day or hour when these things will come to pass (Matthew 24:36). The most important part of Jesus’ message here was not that we attempt to figure out when it will be, but to be ready. Many of the people who let me know they disagree with my understanding of these events seem to forget this. So I will ask the question again: are you ready?