A number of well known (and not a few not-so-well known) Christian writers have written of late that the coming “blood moons” are Biblical harbingers of Jesus’s imminent return and will fulfill Joel 2:31. I have what for lack of a better term I’ll call a “minority report” view regarding the approaching astronomical and calendar phenomena labeled “The Blood Moons”: they have nothing to do with the imminent return of Christ. That I hold this view does not mean that I do not believe we live in the last days. The existence of Israel seems to me to be conclusive proof of that opinion.
But I’m not convinced that four lunar eclipses, even if they will occur on two consecutive sets of Jewish festivals, is the fulfillment (or even a fulfillment) of Joel 2:31. I take very seriously the Hebrew context and grammar of Joel 2:31 and the Greek grammar and context of Jesus’ comments about the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. In failing to consider the grammar, people are missing the point of the passage.
Let’s take a close look at the prophecy of Joel:
The sun will be given over to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of the great and terrifying Day of the Lord.
— Joel 2:31
As you can tell by reading this rendering of Joel’s prophecy cited by the Holy Bible: International Standard Version, there are two events described by one verb. The sun turns dark, and the moon turns red, both at the same time. There are not two actions going on at the same time, one affecting the sun and one affecting the moon. There is only one event going on, and it’s affecting both heavenly bodies at the same time.
The red moon isn’t being caused by sun light being filtered through the earth’s atmosphere to create an oft-observed reddish appearance to the moon. If the moon turns red in the earth’s shadow, by definition of the term eclipse, the sun is shining brightly on the other side of the earth!
Notice also that Joel doesn’t predict four lunar eclipses that will come a year apart. There’s only one event: the darkening of the sun, followed by a red hue coming to moonlight. The red hue is coming from a startling, if not downright terrifying, diminished output of visible light from the sun itself that causes the moon to turn red in appearance. Observers on earth will see a shift toward the red end of the light spectrum of the entire sun, not merely a lunar eclipse.
Whether the sun turning dark is an unexpected shift of our sun’s behavior to be like that of a red giant, or some other phenomenon that’s completely supernatural is anybody’s guess. Personally, I hold the view that the entire universe is electrical in nature, and that stars are an electrical phenomenon, powered by thermoelectric currents contained in interstellar and interplanetary plasma.
I don’t think our sun works by fusion of hydrogen into helium. I think its energy output is electrical, not thermonuclear, in origin. Maybe at the end of days God just turns off the switch?
At any rate, Scripture is completely silent on the cause of the phenomenon. It isn’t silent as to the purpose—it’s to serve as the final harbinger of the end of days, as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 24:29:
“Now immediately after the troubles of those days, ‘The sun will be darkened, the moon will not reflect its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers from the heavens will be disrupted.’”
— Matthew 24:29
The reader will notice that in this quote by Jesus from Joel 2:31, he renders the Hebrew phrase “the moon into blood” (which does not have a verb associated with it in the Hebrew text) by adding the Greek verb “will not reflect its light”. The pronoun “its” in the Greek refers to the light coming from the sun, not the moon. Jesus knew the moon reflects sun light. It does not shine with its own light.
Jesus is saying that the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy will not be light from the sun being reflected through the earth’s atmosphere. That’s what lunar eclipses contain. Instead, the moon will experience a diminution of light from the sun.
Now let’s look at what happens after the sun and moon are affected. According to Matthew 24:30–31:
Then the sign that is the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all ‘the tribes of the land will mourn’ as they see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. He’ll send out his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they’ll gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another.”
— Matthew 24:30–31
Do notice, won’t you please, how what Jesus has to say regarding the sun and moon flies in the face of current views about the events surrounding his return. Notice that:
First, the sun and moon being struck appears at the end of the time of trouble, not before it begins.
Second, the stars throughout the universe will fall from their courses. Heavenly “powers” (whatever that may entail, the text doesn’t say) will be disrupted.
Third, after all of these events occur Christ descends from heaven.
Our takeaway lesson from observing what Jesus had to say about the darkening of the sun and moon during the end of days should call us all to take our Biblical studies a bit more seriously. Maybe the next time something that has the appearance of being an end of days’ phenomenon pops up on our radar, perhaps we should take a closer look at what the Biblical text is saying. All sorts of troubles may be avoided by doing so.
Dr. William Welty is a Greek and Hebrew scholar and serves as a board member of Koinonia House. He is the Executive Director of The ISV Foundation of La Mirada, California, producers of the Holy Bible: International Standard Version. He also serves as Manager of SWANsat Holdings, LLC, a satellite-based telecommunications project currently headquartered in Southern California.