Saturday, February 24, 2007

Signs of Jesus' coming? "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars ..." (Lk 21:25-26) #1

This is the start of an ongoing series of posts on what I consider to be possible "signs of the times" (Mt 16:3), i.e. signs of Jesus' second coming.

[Above: ASTEROID science fiction movie advertisement, NASA]

As stated in my post, "What I believe about Creation, Evolution and Design" under the heading, "Jesus Christ's return", "I ... assume that Jesus will return ... before 2037":

Jesus Christ's return (second coming). Jesus will return (Mat. 16:27; 24:30; 26:64; Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 11:26; 1 Thess. 4:16; Heb. 9:28; Rev. 1:7)! My interpretation is that we are in the period predicted by Jesus in Lk. 21:24-28, between Jerusalem being no longer under Gentile rule ("Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" v24b) which happened in 1967, and Jesus' return"with power and great glory" (v.27). That period will be characterised by "nations ... in anguish and perplexity" (v.25) and "Men ... faint[ing] from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world" (v.26). "When these things begin to take place" Jesus encouragement to His followers is to "stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (v.28). I assume (along with leading Christian theologians such as the late Anthony A. Hoekema and William Hendriksen) that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70, predicted by Jesus in the Olivet discourse (Mt 23:37-24:51, Mk 13:1-37; Lk 21:5-36), was a `type' of the second coming of Jesus. And therefore Jesus' prediction that "this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (Mt 24:34; Mk 13:30; Lk 21:32) applies also to the generation that will live to see Jesus' return. And since Jerusalem no longer being under Gentile rule in 1967 is one of the "all these things" that that generation living at the time of Jesus' return will experience, I therefore assume that Jesus will return before the bulk of that generation that lived in 1967 passes away, i.e. before 2037. See also my work-in-progress, "The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ."

At the risk of being consigned to "the lunatic fringe ... army of date-fixers" (although as an amillennialist I don't agree with "the premillennialists, the postmillennialists, Hal Lindsey and the British Israelites" and nor am I fixing a "date") by no doubt well-meaning, but in my opinion over-cautious, theologians:

"But Dr. Travis shows how the great unfinished aspect of Christ's return dominates the hope of the New Testament, and indicates general pointers to its fulfilment. It is at this point that the lunatic fringe normally enters the arena. The army of date-fixers, the premillennialists, the postmillennialists, Hal Lindsey and the British Israelites-Dr. Travis handles them all with courtesy but shows clearly and compellingly why and where he believes them to be in error." (Green, M., "Editor's Preface," in Travis, S.H., "I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus," Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1982, pp.7-8)

this first sign that I am interpreting a possible fulfillment (or part-fulfillment) of is Luke 21:25-26:

"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken."

One of my commentaries on Luke interprets this passage as predicting that, "before the end of the age ... the whole of the human world will be plunged into dreadful commotions-in the sun, the moon and the stars there will appear miraculous and alarming signs, the whole life of the nations on earth will be disrupted through the anxiety and terror that will overwhelm the people and render them desperate":

"[Luke 21:25-33] After referring in verse 24 to the period when the times of the nations will be fulfilled, i.e. to the end of the present age ... there is in verse 25 an immediate transition to the predictions concerning the Last Things before and at Jesus' second advent. 25, 26 While before the fall of Jerusalem there were only a few miraculous signs (cf. verse 11 " in divers places "), before the end of the age all creation and the whole of the human world will be plunged into dreadful commotions-in the sun, the moon and the stars there will appear miraculous and alarming signs, the whole life of the nations on earth will be disrupted through the anxiety and terror that will overwhelm the people and render them desperate. 27 In the midst of these circumstances of utmost distress the Son of Man, the exalted Christ, will come in His divine power and majesty, and in such a manner that every eye will see Him." (Geldenhuys, J.N., "Commentary on the Gospel of Luke," [1950], Marshall Morgan & Scott: London, Reprinted, 1961, pp.537-538)

Another commentary cautions that this is "vivid apocalyptic imagery" and "It is not easy to see how literally the words are meant to be taken" but "the main part of the meaning here" is that "Men will be perplexed and fearful" and "will know that strange things are happening, but will not understand what is about to befall them":

"LUKE 21:25-33 ... 25,26. In vivid apocalyptic imagery Jesus speaks of heavenly portents. It is not easy to see how literally the words are meant to be taken. Such language is often used in apocalyptic to denote sudden and violent change and the emergence of a new order. In any case this will be the main part of the meaning here. Men will be perplexed and fearful. They will know that strange things are happening, but will not understand what is about to befall them." (Morris, L., "The Gospel According to Luke: An Introduction and Commentary," The Tyndale New Testament commentaries, [1974], Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester UK, Reprinted, 1986, p.300. Emphasis original)

I have since late 2004 (see posts on my now terminated Yahoo group 25-Dec-04; 31-Dec-04 & 22-Apr-05 and this blog 08-Sep-05) regarded as a possible fulfillment or part-fulfillment of this particular sign of Jesus' coming, this asteroid Apophis (previously named 2004 MN4), which is "250-metre[s]-wide" and weighs "20-million-tonne[s]":

Asteroid threat demands response, experts warn, New Scientist, 17 February 2007 ... Kamchatkans and Venezuelans beware. A 20-million-tonne asteroid could be heading your way. Californians have even more reason to worry - the asteroid is more likely to hit the Pacific Ocean, triggering a tsunami that could devastate the west coast of North America. These are among the scenarios projected for asteroid Apophis, which researchers now say has a 1 in 45,000 chance of hitting Earth on 13 April 2036. Calculations show it would strike somewhere along a narrow track that stretches eastward from Siberia to the west coast of Africa. Compared to earlier estimates, the new figure represents a further reduction in the threat posed by Apophis ... But the threat is real enough, experts argue, to merit a United Nations protocol for dealing with the problem. "Someone will have to make a decision," says Russell Schweickart, a former Apollo astronaut and founder of the Association of Space Explorers. Because any plan for deflecting the asteroid away from Earth will need to be implemented well before an impact site is precisely known, he says, "this is inherently going to be an international decision". ... Beginning in the next few months, Schweickart's group will host a series of meetings to provide the UN with a 'decision process' for assessing and acting on the hazard posed by Apophis and other near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). A draft document ready for consideration by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is expected by 2009. During the past 10 years, a concerted search effort by astronomers has led to the detection of an estimated 90% of the asteroids that could threaten Earth with devastation on a global scale. In the coming decade, a next-generation search is likely to uncover most of the remaining global hazards, as well as many more smaller asteroids, like the 250-metre-wide Apophis, that could threaten millions of lives and cause significant damage on a regional scale. Currently, NASA's Near Earth Object programme lists 127 objects as potential impact risks. By 2020, Schweickart predicts, the list could number in the thousands. Because of the uncertainties involved in calculating asteroid trajectories, many will initially appear to have a small but real chance of hitting Earth in the next few decades. Too late In most cases, those threats will vanish with additional observations that will narrow the range of possible trajectories. However, in some cases the threat of an impact could persist long enough to require action. "If you wait to be certain, it could be too late," says Schweickart. Schweickart and others discussed options for dealing with Apophis and other asteroid risks at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, California, US. "Apophis forces us to think about what we might do if [an impact threat] reaches our threshold of pain," say Ed Lu of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, US. Lu, who led the discussion on asteroid deflection, warned that "simple methods are not so simple" when it comes to moving the mountain-sized chunks of rock that hurtle through our local region of the solar system. Among the least desirable options is the use of a nuclear warhead to blow up an approaching asteroid. "You could make life a lot worse," says Lu, by turning one potential impactor into many. 'Reshaping the solar system' Lu's favoured option is called a gravitational tractor. It involves placing a relatively massive spacecraft near enough to an approaching asteroid to shift its trajectory using only the minuscule force of gravity between the two objects. Although the method requires significant lead time and will not work in all cases, it has the advantage of controlling a hazardous object "in one piece", say Lu. According to Lu, Apophis is particularly amenable to this form of manoeuvring. Prior to its threatening approach in 2036, the asteroid will sweep past Earth in the spring of 2029. ...

and "will pass within 10,000 miles of Earth around 2029 and even closer in 2036":

Can Earth Dodge Asteroid Heading This Way? This One is Uncomfortably Close, Scientists Warn, and Some Wonder if It Needs to Be Deflected, ABC News, Greg Croft, Feb. 19, 2007 ... Circle your calendar. April 13th, 2036 could be a really, really bad day on planet Earth. A group of astronauts and engineers warns that an asteroid may pass uncomfortably close to Earth that day. The chances it will actually hit are just one in 45,000, but even at those odds, the scientists warn, the United Nations should consider a response. ... The scientists met this past weekend in San Francisco to discuss the potential threats asteroids pose to the Earth and what can be done to prevent a possible collision. Most feared is Apophis, a large asteroid that will pass within 10,000 miles of Earth around 2029 and even closer in 2036. Dr. Dan Barry, a retired astronaut, told ABC News, "Even if the probability is low of an asteroid hitting Earth, if it has the potential to have a significant impact, then it has to be looked at. It is the absolutely responsible thing to do. In fact, it would be irresponsible not to do so." Barry said more research is needed so that when a potentially dangerous asteroid is found, there is a plan in place. He said it is therefore important to start the search for asteroids now, to allow enough time to effectively deal with them. Scientists believe that if advance warnings of dangerous asteroids like Apophis can be made decades in advance, there will be enough time to try and knock them off course. Suddenly, Bruce Willis on a mission to stop a devastating asteroid from destroying Earth, as he did in the movie "Armageddon," does not seem as far-fetched. What Are The Solutions? Nobody knows for sure what it would take to push a massive asteroid off its course, but the theoretical possibilities include detonating weapons on an asteroid's surface or using gravitational pull to alter a possible collision course. But it could also break an asteroid into many pieces, all still headed toward Earth. Some scientists say a better option could be to launch a large satellite to rendezvous with an asteroid. The mass of the satellite alone could produce enough gravitational pull to change the asteroid's course. Another suggestion is to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid in the hopes of changing its direction. "Done far enough away, only a small deflection would be needed and it is kept in one piece," said Barry. In 1996, NEAR became the first spacecraft launched by NASA to orbit and land on an asteroid. The purpose of the mission was to determine the asteroid's mass, structure, gravity and magnetic field. Scientists hoped this important information would help them understand asteroids. So, while astronauts blowing up an asteroid may be movie fiction for now, scientists are already thinking about how to save Earth from a massive asteroid possibly on its way. ...

As an astronomer explains on a video: Collision course? (Video runs 5:08) in an article, Researchers seek UN action on asteroid threat, CBC, February 19, 2007, Apophis is actually "a couple of kilometers across" and it is going to pass so close to the Earth in 2029 that its orbit may be altered unpredictably such that it will collide with the Earth in 2036, as these older articles explain:

Astronomers Gear Up for Historic Asteroid Pass in 2029,, Ker Than, 22 August 2005 ... A large part of the uncertainty surrounding Apophis' movements is due something called the Yarkovsky Effect. When rotating bodies like asteroids pass through our solar system, they absorb solar radiation from the Sun that they then re-radiate. The miniscule but persistent pressure from this re-radiation can cause a rock to speed up or slow down and change its flight path. ... Astronomers know that in 2029, Apophis' path will be bent significantly by Earth's gravity. They don't know the exact outcome. In May, former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart sent a letter to NASA administrator Mike Griffin urging the agency to investigate whether in 2029 Apophis might enter certain gravitational "keyholes" near Earth that would alter the asteroid's flight path in a manner that could put it on a more certain collision course with our planet in 2036. ...

Asteroid Apophis: Dealing with Earth's Future Troublemaker,, David Senior, 3 November 2005 ... Asteroid 99942 Apophis - first labeled as 2004 MN4 -- is estimated to be roughly 1,000 feet (320 meters) in diameter. Were it to strike Earth, it would not set off global havoc but would generate significant local or regional damage, experts say. Worrisome to asteroid watchers is the exceptionally close flyby of Earth by Apophis on April 13, 2029. So close in fact, the space rock will be naked-eye visible as it darts by. And what can't be ruled out at this time is that Apophis may pass through a gravitational 'keyhole' - a spot that alters the asteroid's trajectory as it zips by our planet and might put it on the bee-line lane for banging into Earth seven years later.

and "ground-based observatories" may not "be able to provide enough accurate information in time to mount a mission to divert the asteroid, if that becomes necessary":

An asteroid, headed our way, Christian Science Monitor, July 26, 2005, Peter N. Spotts ... Humans live in a vast solar system where 2,000 feet seems a razor-thin distance. Yet it's just wide enough to trigger concerns that an asteroid due to buzz Earth on April 13, 2029 may shift its orbit enough to return and strike the planet seven years later. The concern: Within the object's range of possible fly-by distances lie a handful of gravitational "sweet spots," areas some 2,000 feet across that are also known as keyholes. The physics may sound complex, but the potential ramifications are plain enough. If the asteroid passes through the most probable keyhole, its new orbit would send it slamming into Earth in 2036. It's unclear to some experts whether ground-based observatories alone will be able to provide enough accurate information in time to mount a mission to divert the asteroid, if that becomes necessary. ...

As the above first two articles (and these others: ABC/Discovery News, Boston Globe, CNN, National Geographic, & The Economist) indicate, there are ways of deflecting this asteroid if: 1) a consortium of nations can agree to pay the ~US$300M cost; 2) they do it in time; and 3) it works; then Apopophis may not hit the Earth. Indeed, even if nothing is done it may still miss the Earth. But even then, it will still be part of an increased level of "On the earth... anguish and perplexity" with "Men ... faint[ing] from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world."

Especially as Apophis will return "back to the near vicinity of Earth every seven years, beginning in 2036, posing a serious threat each time":

How to Save the Planet , TIME, Aug. 13, 2005, Leon Jaroff... No wonder then that MN4 has been named Apophis, the Greek name for the Egyptian god of evil, destruction and darkness. But days after the initial discovery of the asteroid's trajectory, when astronomers found earlier, overlooked photos of the intruder in their archives and used them to refine estimates of its orbit, they were able to issue an all-clear. Apophis, it turns out, will come within as little as 15,000 miles from of Earth and will be visible to the naked eye in Europe and Africa on the evening of that April date, but will zoom safely past. Good news indeed. But there are still some reasons for concern. As it passes so close the asteroid, tugged by Earth's gravity, will change its orbital path. That could be very bad news. If the altered orbit results in Apophis passing through any of several "keyholes," specific regions of space only about 2,000 feet across, the asteroid would then return periodically to dangerously close encounters with Earth. Passage through the keyhole that astronomers think most likely to be the asteroid's target in 2029, for example, would bring it back to the near vicinity of Earth every seven years, beginning in 2036, posing a serious threat each time. ...

an you imagine what that would be like, if right now (let alone in ~30 years time (when the world is likely to be even more characterised by "anguish and perplexity" with "Men ... faint[ing] from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world") if Apophis was threatening Earth unpredictablly "every seven years ... posing a serious threat each time"?

And of course Apophis was only discovred three years ago and there could be an asteroid among the "about 100,000 such objects hidden among the haze of stars" that is heading for Earth and too big to deflect:

Asteroid 'Busters' Widen Search for Earth-Threatening Objects,, William J. Kole, 17 August 2006 ... PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- Astronomers are stepping up the global effort to scan the skies for "near-Earth objects'': asteroids and comets on a potential collision course with the planet and big enough to pack a deadly punch. The International Astronomical Union said Thursday it has set up a special task force to broaden and sharpen its focus on impact threats. Experts say there are an estimated 1,100 known objects that are 1 kilometer (about a half-mile) or wider across--large enough to not only take out a sizable European country but threaten the entire world. "The goal is to discover these killer asteroids before they discover us," said Nick Kaiser of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy, whose Pan-STARRS program will train four powerful digital cameras on the heavens to watch for would-be intruders. NASA's Spaceguard Survey, which already has identified 800 of the larger objects and has 103 on an impact risk watchlist, wants to find 90 percent by the end of 2008. The U.S. Congress has asked the space agency for a plan to comb the cosmos for faint objects as small as 140 meters (153 yards) across and log their position, speed and course by 2020. Astronomers will have their work cut out for them: Experts say there are about 100,000 such objects hidden among the haze of stars, and as many as 1 million half that size. One known as the Tunguska object slammed into remote central Siberia in 1908, unleashing energy equivalent to a 15-megaton nuclear bomb that wiped out 60 million trees over a 2,150-square-kilometer (830-square-mile) area. Had it hit a populated area, the loss of life would have been staggering. ... But widening the search for threatening objects creates a problem: Discoveries of potential threats could become commonplace, either creating unnecessary panic and confusion or lulling the public into a false sense of complacency. "We're now going to be finding such objects once a week instead of once a year," said David Morrison, a NASA scientist who will chair the new IAU task force on impact threats. .... Ultimately, Valsecchi conceded, mankind may not be able to dodge every cosmic bullet. Earth's craters bear silent witness to what can happen. "It's through collisions that planets are born," he said, "and through collisions that planets die."

since "We are overdue for a big one":

It's called Apophis. It's 390m wide. And it could hit Earth in 31 years time, The Guardian, Alok Jha, December 7, 2005 ...Nasa has estimated that an impact from Apophis, which has an outside chance of hitting the Earth in 2036, would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole of the Earth would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere. And, scientists insist, there is actually very little time left to decide. At a recent meeting of experts in near-Earth objects (NEOs) in London, scientists said it could take decades to design, test and build the required technology to deflect the asteroid. Monica Grady, an expert in meteorites at the Open University, said: "It's a question of when, not if, a near Earth object collides with Earth. Many of the smaller objects break up when they reach the Earth's atmosphere and have no impact. However, a NEO larger than 1km [wide] will collide with Earth every few hundred thousand years and a NEO larger than 6km, which could cause mass extinction, will collide with Earth every hundred million years. We are overdue for a big one."

What is striking (pun not intended!) to me about Apophis is that it will be threatening Earth about the time (2029-2036 AD) that the "generation" which was born in 1967 (when "Jerusalem" for the first time in ~1,900 years was no longer "trampled on by the Gentiles" - Lk 21:24b), will be in their seventies or older, and so will be about to "pass away"(Mt 24:34; Mk 13:30; Lk 21:32).

And I agree with evangelical theologian Harold O.J. Brown (see `tagline' below) that, in the context of "a sign of the imminent return of Christ", "Jerusalem is more important in the timetable of history than calendar dates"!

Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biology).

"Political events too have been urged as the fulfillment of some of the prerequisites laid down by Scripture for the return of Christ. There are many prophecies about the return of the Jews to their homeland. Frequently, it was expected that these events would be inaugurated by the Messiah him self, but it was also held that they would precede his return. At just about the time we have proposed for the end of the Chalcedonian era in theology, the fifteen-hundredth jubilee of 1951, the Jews finally did return to political power in the Holy Land. The state of Israel was established in 1948. Even more recently, in 1967, the Jewish people gained full possession of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. One prophecy of Jesus, unrealized for 1897 years, seems to have been fulfilled: `Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled' (Luke 21:24). Between 1948, when Israel was established, and 1967, when Jerusalem was recaptured, the `times of the Gentiles' were brought to an end-at least for the present-in the Holy Land. ... Does the reconquest of Jerusalem by the new state of Israel have immediate bearing on the end of the present age? Is it a sign of the imminent return of Christ? Christians have been warned by Jesus himself to be cautious about trying to discover the time of his return, yet he also advised them to `watch.' It is in the light of this admonition that we must consider the apparent collapse of Chalcedonian theology. Is this also a sign? Can it be the beginning of the `falling away' foretold by Paul? ... The geographical city of Jerusalem had already endured many shocks before the Six-Day War transferred it into Jewish hands once again in 1967. ... When the calendar stood at one thousand years since the birth of Christ, hundreds of thousands of Christians took it for a sign of the end, but it was not. Neither were the calendar dates 1200 and 1260. But Jerusalem is more important in the timetable of history than calendar dates. And so is Chalcedon." (Brown, H.O.J., "Epilogue: Signs of His Coming?" In "Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present," Doubleday & Co: New York NY, 1984, pp.448-450)

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