Space enthusiasts in certain regions of the world will get free seats to a potentially once-in-a-lifetime event on the celestial stage later this month.
On July 27, lucky stargazers will see the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century ― also known as a blood moon. The nearly two-hour total eclipse will be visible to people in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, according to NASA.
Blood moons are not unusual occurrences. Still, these dramatic celestial events have inspired both awe and alarm throughout the centuries ― including among some fringe segments of American Christianity that take the appearance of blood moons to be a sign that the apocalypse is drawing nearer.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow and takes on a reddish glow, earning it the nickname “blood moon.” A total lunar eclipse takes a few hours to unfold and is particularly dramatic. It happens when the sun, Earth, and moon are perfectly lined up, which means the Earth’s shadow completely covers the moon. This moment of total obscuration is called a totality.
What’s particularly remarkable about this month’s lunar eclipse is how long its totality phase will last. NASA estimates the moon will be completely obscured for 1 hour and 43 minutes. The organization has published a list predicting the date and length of all lunar eclipses until 2100, and it doesn’t expect another totality as long as this one within the century.
A shorter total lunar eclipse occurred on January 31 this year. Another one is expected on Jan. 19, 2019, and will be visible from North and South America, Europe and Africa. NASA predicts there will be 85 total lunar eclipses between the years 2001 and 2100.
While most Christians do not see eclipses as a sign of the end times, July’s upcoming blood moon has already garnered interest in several Christian publications ― including The Christian Broadcasting Network and The Christian Post.
The biblical basis for blood moon prophecies is often traced to Joel 2:31, a Bible verse that predicts, “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”
Paul Begley, a Baptist pastor from Indiana with a significant following on YouTube, told his followers in a recent video that he doesn’t believe July 27 will be the end of the world. Still, he said the upcoming blood moon could be a sign that “these are the last days.”
In 2014 and 2015, a cluster of four blood moon events inspired a spate of new books and a sermon series promising to help Christians decode the biblical meaning of the celestial occurrences. The most popular book in this wave, written by the prominent Texas megachurch pastor John Hagee, became a New York Times bestseller. As recently as 2017, Hagee was still preaching his belief that those four blood moons coincided with key political events.
Craig Keener, a New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, told HuffPost he believes most biblical scholars would be uncomfortable with ascribing theological significance to blood moons. In his view, it’s more of a popular-level phenomenon than something that is taught from pulpits. In fact, he says, scripture “strongly prohibits” this kind of divination.
“One would think that after a few blood moons and lunar eclipses in history, people would recognize that such an event does not by itself mean that the end is coming. Jesus himself warned against setting dates for the end, noting that the day and hour are unknown,” Keener wrote in an email.
“Personally, as a Christian, I’m glad that some people are eager for Jesus’s return. But Christians should nurture that expectation without needing to look to blood moons and the like.”
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.