The Great Sign in Heaven
What if God gave us a sign, would we even notice it? What if God, like He has done before, gave us a heavenly sign, a portent of great and terrible events? Would we even take notice? Are we, like so many that have come before us, so busy in our day-to-day lives that we never bother to even look up anymore? What if God gave us a heavenly sign today, would we notice? And if we did notice, would we care or just ignore it as some superstitious nonsense?
What if I told you that there is a forthcoming astronomical event that closely mirrors a sign from the Book of Revelation, stunning in its precision, context, and timing? Would you look up?
“And 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 being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.
And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns: and on his head seven diadems:
And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son.
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne. “
The Star of Bethlehem
Before I begin, I think it is important to establish some sense of context. We take it as an established and undeniable part of our faith that, 2,000 years ago, God used an astronomical event to communicate with man, the Star of Bethlehem. Many people, when picturing the Star of Bethlehem, if they picture it at all, think of this massive bright star over Bethlehem that was so obvious to everyone that it sent the Magi on a long trek to find the promised king.
We know that version of events is in error, for when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, just 8 kilometers from Bethlehem, they had to explain what it was they saw and why they interpreted it the way they did. King Herod, his court, and the rest of Jerusalem were largely ignorant of the events of the Star of Bethlehem. The people of Jerusalem, like us today, were busy providing for their families and going about their daily duties. Even though this great sign announcing the birth of the Savior, the very Son of God, was going on above their heads, they neither noticed it, nor cared about it.
In order to understand the proper context of the potential Revelation 12 sign, it is helpful to further examine the Star of Bethlehem. What was the Star of Bethlehem and how did the Magi see it when everybody else missed it? Short answer, they were paying attention.
I think that there is a compelling case that the Star of Bethlehem was a series of regular astronomical events involving rare conjunctions that symbolically indicated the birth of a king. It is important to note that this is emphatically not astrology. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines astrology as:
“…type of divination that involves the forecasting of earthly and human events through the observation and interpretation of the fixed stars, the Sun, the Moon, and the planets. Devotees believe that an understanding of the influence of the planets and stars on earthly affairs allows them to both predict and affect the destinies of individuals, groups, and nations.”
The Catholic Church explicitly condemns astrology, as it does all forms of divination (CCC 2116). But signs like the Star of Bethlehem are not divination of fates ordered by the stars, but regular astronomy and symbology with the idea that the God of the universe sometimes uses His creation to communicate with man. The bible is replete with instances that make this case. Psalm 19 states:
1 …The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world…
— PSALM 19:1-4
Paul directly quotes this Psalm in Romans when making the case that the Jews had knowledge that the Messiah had come.
17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they [the Jews] not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
— ROMANS 10:17-18
Paul is clearly making the case that the Jews had knowledge of the Messiah because the heavens told them so. Obviously Paul is not endorsing astrology, but indicating that God can and does sometimes use the heavens to announce His plans. There is much more that can be said on the differences between astrology and understanding heavenly signs, but suffice it for now to say that looking to the heavens for confirmation and announcement of God’s plans is legitimate within the proper context and application.
So what was the Star of Bethlehem? As mentioned, I think there is a compelling case that the Star of Bethlehem was a series of astronomical events with significant symbolism. More detail can be seen at BethlehemStar.net, but I will attempt a brief summary.
In 3/2 B.C., there occurred a rare triple conjunction of Jupiter (the king planet, through its retrograde motion) and Regulus (the king star). The Magi likely interpreted this rare triple conjunction as a giant neon sign in the heavens blinking KING-KING-KING. This all began at the Jewish New year and all within the constellation of Leo (the lion, a symbol of the tribe of Judah). So it heavily symbolized Jewish King from the tribe of Judah, a clear indication for those familiar with the Messiah. Further, rising right behind Leo was the constellation Virgo, with the sun and the moon at her feet.
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