Another year, another “heavenly sign”

Virgo as depicted in Urania's Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For Jews worldwide, September 23, 2017 is part of the “Ten Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 20–22) and Yom Kippur (Sept. 29–30). For some Christian prophecy-chasers, it’s a red-letter day for a spectacular “heavenly sign” involving Israel. And as usual, their interpretation favors the “rapture-ready” Church at Israel’s expense.

The sensational “blood moon tetrad” prophecy of 2014–2015 had not yet been declared a flop when another harbinger was being announced for this coming fall: an appearance in the night sky of the Woman described in Revelation 12:

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.” (Rev. 12:1-2)

The celestial convergence (for convenience we’ll call it “R12–2017”) is reportedly a conjunction not seen for 7000 years: the constellation Virgo plus 12 other stars/planets borrowed from nearby Leo, with the moon, sun and Jupiter (as the “child” being birthed) all positioned according to the scenario in Rev. 12. Well, sort of. An illustration that has gone viral can be viewed here.

Most astonishing of all, say the promoters, R12–2017 will coincide with the Biblical Feast of Trumpets, Sept. 20–21. Well, not exactly… but close enough.

I won’t spend time debunking every detail. An orderly and balanced rebuttal by prophecy teacher Joel Richardson showed the actual projected movements of these heavenly bodies compared with R12–2017 expectations (to skip the introduction, scroll to time-mark 15:00).

Christian astronomers have likewise posted refutations online. Catholic astronomy professor Christopher Graney proved that contrary to the claim of uniqueness, the same configuration has occurred four times in the last millennium. Dr. Danny Faulkner, a published astronomer who contributes to “Answers in Genesis,” concurred with Graney and also discredited the prediction of 12 stars “crowning” Virgo’s head.

Meanwhile, proponents of R12–2017 faced another difficulty – locating the second half of the heavenly drama:

“Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.” (Rev. 12:3-4)

Some simply ignored that part, leaping from Rev. 12:2 to v.5 (“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron…”) and showing why this newborn son is the 2000-year-old Church. More conscientious souls hunted the sky for a fitting candidate for the Dragon.

To be consistent with R12–2017, it would have to be a heavenly body that threatens Jupiter. It would also need seven heads, ten horns and a tail that can send space debris crashing into Earth. The most popular solution fell short of that goal. But as the only one available, it was duly repeated across cyberspace.

The discoverer reported an unidentified celestial object moving towards the “feet” of Virgo, revealed as a blurry infrared image vaguely resembling a face. He speculated that this “red dragon” is the theoretical Planet X, a real body presumed to be orbiting beyond Neptune but not yet confirmed (see NASA for details). Perhaps unaware of the open global search underway for this planet, he confidently claimed that NASA and “Google Sky” have tried to hide evidence of its whereabouts… and he alone has outwitted them.

No further comment necessary.

However, an investigation revealed two different motives for promoting R12–2017. The Catholic interpretation sees the Woman as the Church, linking the sign’s fulfillment to visions of the Virgin Mary and papal announcements but confessing ignorance beyond that. The evangelical enthusiasts are far more confident. As dispensationalists, they identify the Woman as modern Israel and/or the Jewish people; the pantomime in the sky shows how Israel enters the Great Tribulation.

The role assigned to Israel in this scenario has attracted little attention or comment, so it became my focus.

Inevitably, the evangelical explanation of R12–2017 includes the dispensational doctrine of the Rapture, a secret return of Yeshua to remove the Church from the world before the Tribulation begins. Since date setting is controversial and risky, the typical presentation (as in this video) denies that R12–2017 is Rapture Day… but insists that September 23, 2017 must have something to do with it. After all, the Jewish Feast of Trumpets is a foreshadow of 1 Cor. 15:52 (“the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed”), a major support verse for the Rapture.

Other evangelicals have rejected the date’s significance, but not necessarily because Yeshua warned that no one can know “the day or the hour” of His return. Dr. Faulkner concluded his rebuttal of R12–2017 with different spiritual advice: “Instead of setting dates, we ought to be ready for His return at any moment.

This belief, called the “immanent return” doctrine, is an essential part of pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching. It hinges on the claim that all prophecies preceding the Lord’s return have been fulfilled, so the Rapture can happen at any time. To eliminate the as-yet unfulfilled prophecies concerning Israel’s restoration, the teaching postpones them until after the Rapture but before Yeshua’s public return – i.e. between a first “Second Coming” and a second “Second Coming”.

Oddly, those awaiting R12–2017 don’t expect Jupiter to suddenly leave its orbit and disappear from view, in order to fulfill the rest of verse 5: “…and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.” At this point the interpretation retroactively switches from planets to people. Jupiter becomes the Church, snatched from the earth into Heaven. The Woman morphs from Virgo to Israel, forced to run “into the wilderness” (v.6) to escape the Dragon. And the latter is no longer Planet X causing global catastrophe but the Antichrist chasing the Jews.

Nevertheless, after naming Israel as the central character, the sign-watchers reduce her to a bit player. One site sporting a second-by-second countdown to R12–2017 even notes that the heavenly display will be missed in Israel, since it will be daylight there: “…the entire constellation which would include all the elements of the sign is only above the horizon in Jerusalem between 11am-4pm.Another site argues that the sign will still be viewable in Israel after dark. But as far as both are concerned, R12–2017 is ultimately about Christians, not Jews.

For the countdown site, the impressive list of Jewish historical events they associate with this time is merely a build-up to the finale: The Church escapes, the Tribulation starts, and the Jews mark their greatest milestone ever. For the second site, the visibility of R12–2017 in Israel is a well-deserved parting rebuke from the Church: “How fitting that the sign that may be heralding the end of the Church Age will be seen right where the sun sets and the day ends” for the Jewish state.

(Actually, the Jewish day begins at sunset, but never mind.)

Some believers who oppose R12–2017 share the same callous disconnect from Israel. For example, while this Bible teacher took a clear stand that Rev.12 is speaking about the Jewish nation, he couldn’t quite acknowledge the Church’s Jewish origins: “Did Israel give birth to the Church? Well sort of….” And after rejecting Rev.12 as referring to the Rapture, he affirmed the same end-time scenario, writing that these verses “describe the events that Israel will endure during their great tribulation while the Church watches from heaven.”

Their great tribulation….” Not for the world, just for the Jews. And the Church’s preoccupation in Heaven will be to adore her Lord? No – to watch her rival suffer.

What does God think of these perspectives?

“Do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.” (Rom. 11:18)

“From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.” (Rom. 11:28)

“‘Comfort, comfort My people,’ says your God. ‘Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and call out to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.’” (Isa. 40:1–2)

Far from offering comfort to sin-weary Jerusalem, these brothers seem to relish the thought that although Israel was hardened – by God, for their sake – she will pay, big-time, for not joining the Church. The nation who shared her Messiah and her Bible with them is not their esteemed mother; she’s just some “woman” who (“sort of”) gave birth to them. Having served her purpose, she can be left behind as her beneficiaries fly heavenward without a care.

Another site promoting R12–2017 even proposes that Paul had such an abandonment in mind when he wrote of the Gentile’s role in making Israel want their Messiah: “Paul speaks of the Gentiles provoking the Jews to jealousy. If there were a time to be jealous, to see a sizable segment of Gentiles (and some believing Jews) get taken in the Rapture to safety before the coming Day of the Lord would be it.” If the jealousy comes too late for Israel to share in that blessed safety, no big deal. The Tribulation will do them good. “It will mean that many Jews will get on track and believe.” Finally.

Is this what it means to be “beloved for the sake of the fathers”? Can anyone imagine a worse slander of God’s character?

The growing numbers of failed predictions, violated Scriptures, perversions of God’s grace and insults to human intelligence don’t register on our “rapture-ready” brethren. They never seem to tire of “signs” that promise deliverance for themselves and trouble for the Jews.

It’s time for the wider Body of Messiah to find out why.