Signs in the Sky

Worldwide excitement was high on December 21, 2020 as a special event in the evening sky unfolded. We were disappointed but not surprised that a normal weather condition—cloudiness—obscured personal observation of what some have dubbed the “2020 Christmas Star,” a close conjunction of two bright planets, Jupiter and Saturn. This degree of planetary meeting has not visually occurred since AD 1226. We do not disclaim the astronomical significance of such an important planetary conjunction. Unusual or rare sky phenomena deserve special attention. Our natural inclination may lead us to assign theological significance to the event. Scriptural references to “Signs in the Sky” may indicate possible eschatological importance. This rare planetary conjunction inspires special attention among astronomers, but does it deserve to be highlighted among theologians?

The Gospels of Luke and Matthew have been important in end times predictions. Luke 21 and Matthew 24 contain commentary concerning the presence of signs, including “signs in the sky” and their occurrence in the future, especially at the  “end of the age.” Such speculation is natural. Has God provided guidelines for Christians to relate specific physical events to the end of the age?” This depends on how we interpret the guidelines and how precisely we demand time frames for the events. Generally, these chapters quote Jesus on (a) the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies in 70 AD, (b) generally stressful experiences in the time between the destruction of Jerusalem and the approach of the end of the age, and (c) the traumatic distress of nations at the return of Christ. Commentators have made efforts to interpret these passages. Their comments are helpful but very specific information on events, times, and places is not generally appropriate, to the disappointment of some students of scripture prophecy. Interpretation of end times prophecies is not an exact science.

The recent planetary spectacular may be explained in purely scientific terms. 

Following the rare December 21 close conjunction, the visual distance between the bodies slowly increased daily because of their absolute movement and Earth’s motion in relation to the planets. But on December 21 and succeeding days the display of combined light from the two planets was not exceedIngly bright as pictured on many Christmas greeting cards. 

Sky watchers are interested in visual events. Astrophysicists may focus more on effects of planetary revolution resulting from gravitational forces and laws of motion. Observers of unusual events such as the planetary display of December 21 have a plethora of scientific causes and effects to help explain the wonderful event. For example, we pose this question: Why are planets of the Solar System coplanar? Answer: Planets were formed from dust surrounding the ancient Sun. The dust began to spin and collapse into a flattened disc. Later the coplanar Solar System planets formed within this disc.

The prophecies in Luke and Matthew serve to remind us that our Creator is in control of all things, including physical events in our environment. Laws of nature were authored by God. The manner in which God uses natural events to carry out His will or foretell the future are not always in our purview. We posit that unusual or awe-inspiring astronomical events occur to focus attention on the workings of God in our physical world, to inspire our sense of beauty and worship, and sometimes to call attention to His authorship of future events.  

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