Friday, March 17, 2017

Eclipse or Apocalypse?

Next fall, much of the continental United States will experience its first total solar eclipse in almost a century. American astronomers are looking forward to the event and are getting ready to take advantage of the opportunity to observe one of these eclipses without having to travel around the world. Total solar eclipses in general are unusual, but not that rare. What's rare is to see one without leaving home, since they only are total from particular locations.

Of course, it's not just the scientists who are interested in the event. Some apocalyptic Christians believe that the eclipse is yet another sign of The End of the World. You know, like that "blood moon" series of lunar eclipses in 2015 that heralded precisely nothing, unless, I suppose, your idea of an apocalypse is the election of the Trump Administration.

Gary Ray isn't worried about just travel plans and adequate eye protection. He's focused on the Rapture. Ray, a writer for the evangelical Christian publication Unsealed, views this eclipse as one of several astronomical signs that the day when Christians will be whisked away from the Earth is fast approaching.

"The Bible says a number of times that there's going to be signs in the heavens before Jesus Christ returns to Earth. We see this as possibly one of those," Ray said about the eclipse. He is even more interested in another astronomical event that will occur 33 days after the eclipse, on Sept. 23, 2017.

The Book of Revelation, which is full of extraordinary imagery, describes a woman "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head" who gives birth to a boy who will "rule all the nations with an iron scepter" while she is threatened by a red, seven-headed dragon. The woman then grows the wings of an eagle and is swallowed up by the earth.

Ray says that image will be created in the sky on Sept. 23. The constellation Virgo - representing the woman - will be clothed in sunlight, in a position that is over the moon and under nine stars and three planets. The planet Jupiter, which will have been inside Virgo - in her womb, in Ray's interpretation - will move out of Virgo, as if she is giving birth.

The first big problem there is that the whole idea of the Rapture is poorly supported in scripture. It's an innovation interpretation that came out of Millerism and only dates to the early 1800's. It's very likely that the original First Century Christians would likely have not even recognized the doctrine. The Book of Revelation doesn't say anything about Christians vanishing or flying up into the air aside from the 144,000 elders, which doesn't fit the "Rapture timeline" that the Neo-Millerists like so much. The idea comes from 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which to me and many mainstream Christians doesn't read like a literal statement.

But if we ignore that part, and treat September 23, 2017 as the date of Christ's return, I suppose what we really have is yet another date for the apocalypse. "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man," remember? That's from Mark, the oldest of the Gospels. Revelation, on the other hand, only dates back to the Second Century. Based on that, I'm going to go ahead as usual and make my prediction. The eclipse will come and go, September 23rd will come and go, and nothing particularly revelatory or apocalyptic will happen.

That's the prediction I always make, and longtime readers know that I've never been wrong. The same can't be said for the apocalyptic doomers.

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