On Saturday, September 23, it was one of those rare moments where my husband and I were apart from each other. While he traveled to a friend's wedding, I was held up at my sister's house recovering from back surgery. We sent texts back and forth and then the conversation abruptly ended on my end. Once my phone had a chance to charge I let him know I was fully operational. He immediately responded using his quick wit and dry sense of humor, "Whew!… For a minute, there I thought maybe the rapture really did occur and I was left behind."
We both had a good chuckle about the whole thing but in all sincerity, many God-fearing people sat and waited for to be caught up in the twinkling of an eye on September 23, 2017! Yet here we are starting another work week and the world didn't come to an end. So what now? Maybe you knew someone who thought Saturday would be the start of God's eschatological plan. Maybe you clocked in on Monday and waited for your non-Christian co-workers to quip about how you better not have cashed in your 401k. Whatever your relationship to this prophecy, it seems best for the body of Christ to prepare for conversations about its coming and going due to the sensational manner by which it spread across social media. Below you will find an explanation of the September 23rd prophecy, along with an argument against its key points and a practical guide on how to talk to people about the unfulfilled nature of this event.
The Revelation 12 Sign:
The premise of the September 23rd prophecy is based on a distortion of the sign of the Woman documented by the Apostle John in the 12th chapter of Revelation.
"Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was screaming in labor pains, struggling to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns. 4 Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days." Revelation 12:1-6
Followers of this movement falsely identify the Child and they couple their misinterpretations with an astrological phenomenon that allegedly occurred on September 23rd. Let us outline below the identities of the three main characters in this text based on the September 23rd prophecy, as compared to the traditional interpretation of the text.
The identity of the woman is in Rev.12 is debated even among evangelical scholars, however, most believe that the Woman was a representation of Israel. The Old Testament often referred to Israel as a woman (reference Isaiah 54:1-6, Jeremiah 3:20, Hosea 2:19-20 etc.) The Woman is furthermore identified as Israel during the tribulation who is being persecuted and pursued by Satan in Revelation 12:13. The September 23rd prophecy also identifies the Woman of Revelation 12 to be Israel, although they believe that the imagery of the woman points to an astrological event explained in more detail below.
The identity of the Dragon is not highly debated as most see this as a representation Satan, the beast described in Revelation 11:7 and confirmed in Revelation 12:9 as the "ancient serpent."
The identity of the child is the lynchpin in the argument for and against the September 23rd prophecy. While the traditional interpretation identifies the child as Christ himself, those who follow the September 23rd prophecy believe the child to be a representation of the church. Their interpretation is based on the following reasons:
1. They interpret Revelation 12:5 as the foreshadowing of the resurrection and rapture of believing saints before the tribulation. Identifying the child as the church helps to sustain that the phrase "caught up to God." in verse 5 to signify the rapture of believers versus the ascension of Christ.
This interpretation is problematic because of the biblical use of the imagery of the woman and a child that lay the historical foundation for the sign revealed to John in Revelation 12. The Old Testament is peppered with imagery of Israel portrayed as a pregnant woman groaning in birth pains waiting for their deliverance from none other than the Messiah who is Jesus Christ. See Isaiah 26:17-18 and 66:7-9, as both describing a woman in labor who is Israel looking towards salvation.
2. Many September 23rd supports cite the Greek terms for "male child" versus "child" in verse 5 to allow for an alternative interpretation of who the child is. Followers have cited that while the term male child in Revelation 12: 5a seems to reference Christ, the term used in verse 5b is a different Greek word that can mean a male or female child. They cite the change in language to be evidence that the child who is "caught up" is not the male child, meaning Jesus Christ, rather the body of Christ- the children of God.
This interpretation is also problematic for various reasons. First, it lacks continuity in its hermeneutic approach (the manner by which you interpret scripture). To say that the very same text has a different referent for "the child" within the same strain of thought is abnormal. The differences in usage of the Greek term for a male child used in Revelation 5a versus 5b does not necessitate a different identity. It is not uncommon for scriptures to employ different words to signify the same subject. Even our current use of the English language may include two different nouns to describe the same person in one sentence. (example: Christen is a worker, she is an employee of a church.)
While the term for a male child versus the general term child used 5b are in fact different Greek words, it is also important to note that all throughout this text when a child is mentioned the noun is singular and in the neuter form and accompanied by an article. This means that whatever word is used to signify the child, the child in Revelation 12:5 is always pointing a singular specific child rather than a general child or children, which could be understood as the body of Christ.
Lastly, the child described in Revelation 12:5 fits the description of Christ's rule. Notice that the male child mention in our text above was to rule with an iron rod or scepter. Psalm 2:9 mentions God's chosen ruler with an iron rod and is echoed in Revelation 19:15, referring to Christ's millennial rule.
The Astrological Sign
Now that you have an understanding of the distortion of scripture behind this event, we can dive into the movement's use of astrology in order to set a date of the rapture of the saints. Much like many other date setting movements that have come before the September 23rd prophecy their calculations rest on extra-biblical revelation, meaning that its necessary proof is found outside of the canonical Bible. The reason why the Revelation 12 sign of the Woman is so crucial to this movement is that it couples with an event that allegedly occurred on September 23rd concerning the alignment of constellations.
There is a constellation called Virgo in the sky whose name is taken from a female figure in Greek mythology. Allegedly on September 23rd the sun and the moon and the planets would align to reflect the prophecy of the Woman in Revelation 12. The sun was to be at its neck as if the woman were "cloaked with the Sun." Revelation 12:1a The moon was supposed to have aligned with the feet of Virgo thus representing the moon "under her feet" from 12:1b and lastly Virgo's head would be surrounded by 12 stars much like the crown spoke of in our text. All of these astrological signs allegedly occurred on September 23rd. Therefore, followers of this movement used their misinterpretation of the child and the movement of the constellations do incorrectly set the date of the resurrection.
Just as the other pieces of the puzzle, the mixing of astrology and eschatological events is extremely problematic. First, it is problematic to look to astrology to determine biblical truths because astrology is seen as a form of divination in the Bible. Although you and I are accustomed to people looking at their astrological readings in the newspaper, or as personality markers and matchmaking tools, we cannot allow Satan to disguise wickedness (2 Corinthians 11:14-15) with fun and cherry anecdotes. Steve J. Cole writes in his exhibition on Spiritual Warfare, " Contrary to some TV programs where nice witches have supernatural power to do good, all satanic and demonic activity is wicked. Christians should never dabble in anything satanic or occult, including Ouija boards, seances, fortune telling, or astrology."
The bible depicts astrology as man made and void of power. Jeremiah 47:13 "You are tired out from listening to so much advice. Let them take their stand –the ones who see omens in the sky, who gaze at the stars, who make monthly predictions –let them rescue you from the disaster that is about to overtake you" Also see Daniel 2:10-11, and Daniel 4:7.
Lastly, there is no need to look anywhere else than the Bible itself in order to interpret the sign of the woman in Revelations 12. The depiction of the Woman cloaked in the Sun with stars around her head and the moon at her feet is based on the imagery from Joseph's dream in Genesis 37:9 "Then he had another dream, and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said. “I had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Joseph's dream foreshadowed his position and the future preeminence of the tribe of Judah and the house of David from which Jesus would be birthed. Since we have already demonstrated that the woman in Revelation 12 signifies Israel then it would make sense that this sign can be likened to Joseph's dream.
Now that you know the truth about the September 23rd prophecy what should you do with it? Here are some practical ways to engage with people who may follow this movement:
1. Steer away from arguments they typically do not bear fruit. Instead approach people with compassion and love (Titus 3:9, Proverbs 15:1).
2. If someone is willing to engage in a civil conversation stick to the scriptures mentioned above and ask them to justify their view using the Bible.
3. Get to the bottom of it. There is always an underlying reason why one has found themselves fixated on date setting and the end times. Remeber even Jesus Christ said in Matthew 24:36 "“But as for that day and hour no one knows it – not even the angels in heaven – except the Father alone. " When someone is unwilling to let the unknown stay the unknown it is typical because they have fallen prey to pridefulness.
4. Make sure to clarify the focus and mission of a Christian. Christians aren't called to meticulously craft charts to figure out when God chooses to start his apocalyptic plan. Instead, we find our sole charge and our purpose is to glorify God and tell others the about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Links for further study