Few people know that long before I graduated from Bible College and eventually ordained as a minister, I dreamt of becoming an astronaut. Fueled by the limitless imaginations from popular science fiction, many a late night I’d stare up at the twinkling stars and dream big dreams that one day I would finally reach one of those distant lights.
Looking up at the stars has gotten a lot easier due to the newest Astronomy software called Stellarium. This amazing program actually calculates and then maps out the locations in the sky of all the stars past, present, and future over thousands of years.
As amazing as this software is to amateur astronomers, some Bible teachers believe Stellarium’s projections can be utilized in the study of Eschatology, unlocking the unsolved mysteries of Bible prophecy, especially those concerning the end times signs in the sky.
For example, researcher Frederick Larson utilized this fantastic tool in building his interpretation of the identity of the Star of Bethlehem. Others, such as Pastors John Hagee and Mark Biltz, utilized Stellarium’s projections in their Blood Moon research.
And today, new researchers including Scott Clarke of ERF Ministries, Kade Hawkins of Prophecy News Watch, and geologist Phil Moser have pushed Stellarium’s insights into a whole new direction, believing they have found yet another remarkable discovery. They call it “The Great Sign of Revelation 12.”
Google “The Great Sign” and you’ll encounter one of the hottest trending topics of 2017. Search results report this sign as “one of the most monumental signs in the history of Christianity” and “the biggest debate in prophecy.” Bold claims! And what’s so great about this Great Sign? Supposedly, a unique alignment of stars will tell the story of Jesus Christ’s return to rapture up His Church.
The Gospel in the Stars
The Magi of Matthew 2, who studied the alignment of the stars and constellations, gaped up at the “star in the East” and concluded correctly that the prophesied birth of the Messiah had finally arrived.
Likewise, the amateur astronomers of today also stare up at the constellations and believe they have discovered the story of the Messiah’s return being played out like a Gospel in the stars. They are so excited by Stellarium’s findings that they claim humanity teeters on the cusp of God rolling out some of the most astounding series of prophetic events in all of human history.
Speculations run wild that maybe the Great Sign pinpoints when the Church gets raptured away, or the Tribulation begins, or maybe the War of Gog-Magog wages, or even Damascus explodes, or a combination thereof. All theories lie on the table, though the most prominently held view theorizes the event will be the soon Rapture of the Church.
When looking up at the sky, what do these modern day magi think they are witnessing? They see Revelation 12:1-6 being playing out, which reads:
Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth… And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there 1,260 days.
Those who study Bible prophecy know that Revelation 12 stands out as a crucial prophetic chapter because it portrays a major theme of the Bible — the spiritual war between God and Satan. The traditional interpretation of Revelation 12’s symbols can be derived from other passages.
The imagery is taken directly from Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37. The Woman is Israel, who birthed the male Child — the Messiah. The Dragon, Satan, tried to “devour” Jesus using Herod’s slaughter of the babies of Bethlehem. But, the male Child ascended to God’s throne where He waits to return to earth and “rule the nations with a rod of iron” during His Millennial Kingdom.
Adherents of the Great Sign share that traditional interpretation of the symbols up to a point, but for the Child. They swap Jesus with the Church. It is the Church, and not Christ, who will be caught up to God and His throne. And there’s a date — September 23, 2017.
It is the very day when the constellation Virgo (a virgin woman clothed with the sun) will have at her feet the moon. The nine stars of the constellation Leo plus the three planets Mercury, Venus, and Mars will align atop her head (on her head a garland of twelve stars). The “king” planet Jupiter (the Child) will end its nine months circling within Virgo and finally exit east past her feet (she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth) and be carried away (i.e. raptured).
Reading through the copious online writings of Great Sign adherents, including Phil Moser’s book The Revelation 12 Sign, one cannot help but be struck by their passion for biblical authenticity and desire for the salvation of the lost. I did not encounter one researcher of the Great Sign whose heart was not earnestly seeking the truth.
But, they all struggled with a biblical paradox: the Bible’s forbidding of astrology (Leviticus 19:26-28,31; 20:6; and Isaiah 47:13) versus Jesus commanding Christians to be watchful of the signs in the heavens that herald His Second Coming (Matthew 24:29-31,44).
To unravel this paradox, adherents decry the Astrology accusation and defend the Great Sign as purely Astronomy. Supporters point out how God uses Astronomy to convey important messages. God commanded on Day 4 of the Creation, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David proclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-5).
Not just the sun, moon and stars, but God paraded the constellations to Job (Job 38:31-33). Job learned of Orion, Pleiades and Arcturus, which are all names of clusters of stars found in the Zodiac. God asks Job if he can bring out the Mazzaroth in its season, which is the Hebrew word for the constellations of the Zodiac. Therefore, it is argued that the stars must have functioned as a tool for the faithful of the Antediluvian age, along with oral tradition, in communicating God’s fundamental truths long before Moses ever wrote the Pentateuch. In other words, God wrote His Gospel in the stars of the Zodiac.
Satan is accused of having corrupted God’s Zodiac with cultic Astrology and its practice of divination, which the faithful are prohibited from engaging. With Astrology properly denounced, the Great Sign is defended as the return to what God originally intended when Christ pointed Christians to the sky to be watchful for a heavenly sign. Paradox resolved, supposedly.
Three primary problems immediately come to mind with the Great Sign functioning as a true indicator for pinpointing the Rapture of the Church happening on September 23, 2017.
First, adherents correctly interpret the Woman as Israel and the Dragon as Satan, but ignore the plain sense interpretation of the Revelation 12 Child being Jesus Christ, and instead misidentify the Child as the Church. Israel gave birth to the Church? The Church ascends to Heaven on her own? The Church rules the Millennial Kingdom with a rod of iron? While these could technically be argued, the Church remains an echo of the Messiah’s achievements. Many defenses have been given as to why the Child is believed to be the Church, but the interpretation struggles mightily to switch the two. The historical understanding of the Child being Jesus Christ resounds as the plain sense meaning, while the Church strains logic.
Second, Revelation 12 marks the midpoint of the seven-year Tribulation, when God supernaturally begins protecting Israel in the wilderness from the Antichrist’s wrath for the remaining specific 1,260 days. The Church raptured away some 3.5 years earlier dates long before the Jews flee into the wilderness. Revelation 12 cannot then happen as a sign marking the date of the Pre-Trib Rapture, or even in kicking off the entire seven years of the Tribulation, because 3.5 plus years of prophetic events must happen before the Jews flee.
And third, despite their call for doctrinal soundness, the Great Sign adherents’ various writings are steeped in sensationalist extra-biblical prophetic jargon such as Bible codes, Rapture dreams, September 23rd showing up in movie scripts, the rabbinic writings of Judah Ben Samuel, blood moons, numerology, Strong’s numbers tied to days, the Blue Beam Project, NASA conspiracies to hide Planet X, and astronomical alignments with the Great Pyramid of Giza. The list scrolls mind-numbingly on! Whatever reputability the Great Sign may have is buried in the Outer Limits, and not the Bible.
I must concede one thing — the timing of the Great Sign is intriguing. The year 2017 intersects with some very curious anniversaries: 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the UN resolution allowing Israel statehood, and 50 years since Israel recaptured Jerusalem. Plus, the Feast of Trumpets — the Jewish New Year’s celebration of Rosh Hashanah that many believe points to the Rapture — falls on September 21-22, 2017. The range of days preserves Jesus’ proclamation that nobody can know the specific day or hour of His return (Matthew 24:36,44).
What also makes this gathering of constellations and planets so unusual is that, according to Stellarium, such an arrangement has never fully taken place, or will so ever again. The alignment stands out as unique. And, to add to this most unusual astronomical event, 33 days beforehand on August 21st, a super-rare 2-3 hour long solar eclipse will darken the world.
That the Great Sign actually converges with so many of these important anniversaries, prophetic events, and signs of the end times piques my interest, though not my support. Regardless of the latest date-setting theory for the day of the Rapture, the authenticity of the Great Sign of Revelation 12 will be revealed as either true or false on September 24th. Who wouldn’t hope that on that day we will be celebrating the Bride reunited with Christ? But, I’m not putting any stock in an alignment of stars to reveal that day.