by Bill Nugent
Ancient people had very little to distract them. They had no magazines, no novels, no radio, no TV, no NFL. They lived a subsistence economic existence with over 80% of their earnings committed to buy food. They worked from sunrise to sunset seven days a week. Only the Jews had a Sabbath. God invented the weekend and only the Jews rested on the Sabbath. The pagans did not.
The only free time most people had was at night. They slept on their flat rooftops during summers in the Mediterranean world and looked at the stars. The Bible tells us that God speaks to humanity through the stars. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). Of the stars, God said “Let them be for signs” (Gen. 1:14).
Most ancient civilizations had a keen interest in astronomy. Astronomy was perhaps the earliest of the sciences. The best and brightest of ancient people became astronomers and drew detailed star charts. Some of the early astronomers veered into astrology which is contrary to God’s word. Stars are for signs. Stars point to things but stars don’t run your life!
It should come as no surprise that the greatest event in history, the coming of the Messiah, should be preceded by signs in the stars and planets. I recently viewed Frederick Larson’s video “The Star of Bethlehem” which is available on Youtube. Larson gives great details on the signs that appeared in the ancient skies just before the birth of Christ. It is a fascinating presentation with the aid of astronomical software that shows the positions of the stars as seen from anywhere on earth at any time in history.
Larson showed that there was a triple conjunction of the planet Jupiter and the star Regulus in the constellation Leo as viewed from Babylon, beginning in September of 3 BC. He explained that earlier attempts to find signs in the stars in the years before Christ’s birth gave mediocre results because researchers looked for the signs in 5 or 6 BC. They looked at 5 or 6 BC because they thought that Herod the Great died in 4 BC. Since the Bible tells us that Herod was alive at the time of Christ’s birth, that made 4 BC, in their view, the absolute latest year that Jesus could have been born.
The Bible doesn’t give the exact time of Herod’s death. Their source for the exact timing of Herod’s death was the writings of Flavius Josephus. According to Larson, the later manuscripts of Josephus infer a date of 4 BC for the death of Herod. Earlier manuscripts of Josephus, which some scholars deem more accurate, infer a date of Herod’s death at 1 BC. Larson accepts the date of 1 BC.
Jupiter, largest of the planets, was considered to be the king planet and Regulus was considered to be the kingly star by ancient astronomers. In September of 3 BC Jupiter passed by Regulus, then went into retrograde motion (moved backwards as planets sometimes appear to do) and made a flat circle like a halo beside Regulus and then did this two more times. The conjunctions occurred in September of 3 BC, February of 2 BC and May of 2 BC. This is an extremely rare triple conjunction. The fact that it was in the constellation Leo made it point to Israel because the tribe of Judah (from whom the Jews derive the name “Jews”) is referred to in the Bible as a lion (Genesis 49:9) and “Leo” means “lion.” The Bible calls Jesus the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Larson postulates that the first of the three conjunctions of Jupiter and Regulus in September of 3 BC probably marks the time of the conception, not the birth, of Christ. He shows us that nine months later in June of 2 BC Jupiter and Venus entered into a bright conjunction that was brighter than anything but the sun and moon. Venus is the brightest planet and signifies female or mother. In this conjunction in June of 2 BC they saw Jupiter (king) and Venus (mother) together which implied the birth of a king.
Larson gives details of other signs involving the moon and the constellation Virgo that space forbids me to describe.
The rarity and spectacular nature of these signs got the Magi (eastern wise men, who were astronomers, possibly of Jewish descent) to saddle up their camels and head to Jerusalem. If Jesus was born in June of 2 BC and the Magi set out shortly after that, they would have arrived in Jerusalem several months after Christ’s birth and presented gifts to Him as he resided in a house and no longer in a manger in a stable. Matthew 2:11 refers to the holy family’s dwelling as a “house.”
Larson shows that Jupiter was moving forward and then stopped in the Autumn of 2 BC. Jupiter then went in retrograde motion and moved backwards and stopped on December 25th, 2 BC as viewed from Jerusalem in the southern sky, looking toward Bethlehem. December 25th? That date sounds familiar. I’ll have to look that up. Larson gives that date, not as the date of the birth of Christ but possibly the day that the Magi presented their gifts.
Larson then shifts forward decades later to the approximate time of the crucifixion of Christ in order to see what signs in the heavens were associated with it. Christ was crucified on a Friday. Friday is the sixth day of the week which is the day of preparation for Sabbath in ancient Jewish custom. The Gospels tell us that the Friday of the crucifixion was one day before the high Sabbath of the feast of Passover (John 19:31). History tells us Pilate ruled from 26 to 36 AD so it had to be in that time period.
The only day that fits all the criteria is April 3rd, 33 AD as the day of the crucifixion of Christ. It so happens that the moon went into eclipse that day and it went into eclipse just before moonrise. On that evening, just hours after Jesus was crucified, the moon rose as a blood moon! The moon appears red when it’s in eclipse. In Acts 2:20, Peter the apostle, in his famous Pentecost sermon, quotes a Bible prophecy from Joel 2:31 that mentions the moon turning to blood. The fact that a blood moon occurred immediately after the crucifixion of Christ no doubt made a strong impression on the people!
There were other signs in the heavens around the time of the crucifixion which space constrains me from describing.
It has been said that God has two books. One is the Bible and the other is nature. The beauty of nature and signs contained in nature are called external witnesses to the divine inspiration of the Bible. Nature, which is God’s creation, reveals things about God in the same way that a work of art is a reflection of the artist.
One famous artist is Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). His most famous work is a painting that depicts his three questions. His questions are: Where did I come from? What am I? and Where am I going?
In the Bible, God answers the three questions. He reveals that we were created by God, we are sentient beings created in God’s image and our destiny is to be together with Him in the bliss of heaven if we receive His forgiveness or in the chastisement of hell if we reject Him.
God has provided a way for us to receive His forgiveness. God sent Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of Israel, in fulfillment of over 300 Old Testament Bible prophecies. There were also signs in the stars and planets at the time of the birth and death of Christ. Christ suffered and died, taking upon Himself the penalty we deserved for our sins. He then rose from the dead. For this reason we can receive forgiveness through Christ, our sin bearer. Turn to Christ today to receive forgiveness of sins!