A Christian Perspective of the Total Solar Eclipse
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:
not only because I see it,
but because by it I see everything else.
A rover before NASA’s Curiosity
1793. It was a pivotal year in history for the United States of America, and it involved neither the young nation nor an American. It was the year in which Scottish frontiersman, Alexander Mackenzie, explored the northern reaches of Canada in search for a route to the Pacific Ocean. His claim for the British Empire motivated United States president Thomas Jefferson to organize the Corp of Discovery, more commonly known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, to lead America in securing her own frontier 12 years later.
Mackenzie possessed scientific training that enabled him to accomplish land surveying with a high degree of competence, if not personal fortitude, even in the intimidating Canadian wilderness.[i] Using his skill with instruments and astronomical tables, accurately fixing latitude was straightforward. But nailing down longitude was a much more difficult task. By observing the planet Jupiter and two of its moons on a fortuitous cloudless night, and calculating that with other observations, Mackenzie established a mark that was about one degree, or 60 miles, off course.[ii] Not bad considering the use of delicate equipment vastly inferior to that used today in high school science classes; not to mention that Jupiter is over 500 million miles from earth.
Since day one, mankind has always had a fascination with astronomy. It all started, however, on God’s Day One, and Day Four, of creation when He called light and heavenly bodies into existence and established their tasks of giving light upon the earth (Genesis 1:3-5, 14-19).
A Conjunction Is Not Just for Use in Grammar
The Bible says in Genesis 1:14, “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years.’ ”
From verse 16 we learn that the sun – our sun – was called “the greater light to rule the day,” and the moon – our moon – “the lesser light to rule the night.” The sun shines its light upon the earth, of course, and the moon reflects the sun’s light upon the earth, much like the reflector in a flashlight casts forth a light bulb’s glow. Both orbs are lights. Both the light bulb and the reflector are lights.
With billions of heavenly bodies moving throughout the universe, moving as it seems from our earthly viewpoint, some fantastic events are divinely bound to take place. In 2012, a “Venus transit” occurred during which the planet crossed in front of the sun, showing up as a small dot as it moved along its orbit (seen with shielded eyes, of course).[iii] When two planets or other celestial objects align so that they appear to be in the same, or nearly the same, place in the sky, it’s called a conjunction.[iv]
And there is no greater conjunction to witness than that of a full, or total, solar eclipse. God is, indeed, the Great Artist.
What Is a Solar Eclipse?
As a result of distance and other geometric features, the moon and sun appear to be the same size in the sky. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, completely covering the sun as it casts a shadow upon the surface of our planet. All three heavenly bodies are in conjunction. It doesn’t last long – less than three minutes in any one spot on earth in the path of totality.
The edges of the shadow are called the penumbra, an area of only partial eclipse (part of the sun is still visible, which also occurs during other types of solar eclipses). The central, dark spot of the shadow is the umbra where all of the sun is blocked by the moon during a total solar eclipse.[v]
What is the Christian Perspective?
From a Christian perspective, a total solar eclipse should remind followers of Jesus that they are in the “umbra” of the Cross – in the totality of the Cross’ purpose. Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the Cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:17-18)
In other words, the message of the Cross can effect a full change in a person’s life. It is the power of God!
Under the Cross of Christ life-giving blood washes us from our sins (Revelation 1:5). It’s a blood rite that must be experienced if one is to be a blood-brother to the Son of God. Blood not just dabbed here and there, but wiped over the entire life of a repentant sinner. Real blood that is red and warm, sticky and serous. Blood that once flowed through the veins of Jesus at 98.6 °F.
The blood of Jesus is unique blood, having man’s physical properties and the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power. It cannot be confined to days or dimensions. It transcends time and space at the same time and for all time. It defies all that could ever be known about hematology. It washes clean the dirtiest and filthiest sins man could ever invent. It doesn’t spoil, ever. That’s the miracle of its life-giving essence.[vi]
From the Cross of Christ Jesus declared, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Total. Complete. Robert Coleman said, “The cry of the Cross, ‘It is finished!’ was the most thrilling word ever heard by men or angels.”[vii] No other words were ever spoken that shook creation to its core (Matthew 27:51). No other postscript could be so powerfully uttered after darkness covered the surface of the earth (Matthew 27:45). Jesus took on sin and death. As the Cross and sin and death lined up in perfect conjunction, Jesus eclipsed the tragedy of the Fall,[viii] destroying the darkness of death and shining life-giving Light upon all people of all time in all places (John 1:4-9; 8:12; 9:5).
In the shadow of the Cross of Christ the clear message of life-saving grace can be seen. Here’s a good comparison: Only in the full shadow of a total solar eclipse can one view the sun without eye protection. During that short few minutes, the sun’s corona, chromosphere, and other solar prominences like solar flares can be observed. And only in the full shadow of the Cross can we see the Son’s death, burial, and resurrection. The Bible says, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” (I Corinthians 15:3b-4).
W.A. Criswell once preached, “The shadow of that Cross not only overshadowed the life of our Lord in all of His ministry, but the shadow of the Cross has fallen across this world and the centuries of time. In the center of the world, and in the heart of time, our Lord has planted His cross. And the world can never be the same again because He lived here and died here.”[ix]
Like a total eclipse of the sun casting its shadow upon the surface of the earth, the Cross casts its message upon the story of mankind. That message is the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord. The apostle Peter said, “The word which God sent… preaching peace through Jesus Christ – He is Lord of all – that word you know… Whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day and showed Him openly.” (Acts 10:36-37a, 39b-40).
As Christians, our perspective of the total solar eclipse can, and should, be cause for great celebration. Pay no attention to doomsday messages and apocalyptic threats about the end of time. These are meaningless and without truth. Jesus warned us that false prophets will try to deceive many (Matthew 25:24). In Mark 13:32, He assured us, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Take advantage of the opportunity for viewing the total solar eclipse. Celebrate with these verses as you do so:
- The Rising of the Sun
“But to you who fear My name, The Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2a). This is a beautiful picture fulfilled by Jesus Christ who heals by the power of the message of the Cross.[x]
- The Remission of Sin
Remission means forgiveness of sin.[xi] John the Baptizer said something significant about this, and light, in his mission to “go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, (to) give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76b-79)
- The Radiance of the Son
As a child of God, a believer in His Son Jesus Christ, you are filled with His Holy Spirit. You have the Light of Life (John 8:12). Heaven is your home. The Bible says in Revelation 22:5, “There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.”
Do You Want this Christian Perspective of the Solar Eclipse?
Can’t celebrate? Need Jesus? The Bible says that if you confess Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised His Son from being dead, you will be saved. For all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:9, 13).
Saved means to be rescued. The Bible says that we are all sinners in need of being rescued (Romans 3:23). Only Jesus can save us. Only He can forgive sin. “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12b)
Confess He is Lord. Believe that God raised Him from the dead.
“Jesus, I confess that You are Lord. I believe that God raised You from the dead. Thank You for saving me and filling me with Your Spirit.”
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise[xii]
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.
All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.
This hymn, written by Scottish pastor Walter C. Smith, is based on Paul’s exaltation to Timothy, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever” (I Timothy 1:17). Stateside, it first appeared in Hymnal, Amore Dei (Boston, 1890). The metric pattern is 220.127.116.11. The hymn is sung to the tune ST. DENIO, a Welsh folk song known as “Can Mlynedd i ‘nwar,” meaning ‘a hundred years from now.’ The tune made its feature appearance in The English Hymnal (Oxford, 1906).[xiii]
Unfortunately, many hymnals and recordings of Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise blend the fourth and fifth stanzas into one stanza, abandoning Smith’s heartfelt train of thought. Lamentably, The Baptist Hymnal does this. One could make the case that the fourth stanza is more difficult to perform with added syllables in the last two lines; however, that should not hinder even a semi-skilled musician. Theologically, these two stanzas are sound: The fourth stanza tells of angels veiling their sight while believers have the veil removed from their sight; the fifth stanza pleads, “O help us to see,” then affirms God’s glory, through Jesus, imparted to believers. Possibly, these two stanzas might challenge one who is struggling to understand the grace of God and His glory, theological hymnal editors notwithstanding. (These are my personal observations and not based on any resource.)
Biblical References to the Sun and/or Solar Activity
Here are some Scriptures that speak about the sun or solar activity. Remember, context is key. Don’t take the Scriptures out of context in your Bible study.
Joshua 1:14-15; 10:12-13
II Kings 23:11
II Samuel 23:4
Psalm 19:1-4; 74:16; 84:11; 104:19; 121:6; 136:7-9
Song of Solomon 1:6; 6:10
Ecclesiastes 1:9; 4:1; 12:1-2
Isaiah 18:4; 30:26; 38:8; 60:19-20
Matthew 5:45; 13:43; 24:29
Luke 21:25; 23:45
I Corinthians 15:40-41
Revelation 6:12; 7:16; 10:1; 12:1; 21:23
[i] Wrong, G. M. (1938). The Canadians. NYC: The Macmillan Company.
[ii] Ambrose, S. E. (1996). Undaunted courage. NYC: Simon & Schuster Ltd.
[iii] (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2017, from https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/venus-transit/en/
[iv] (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/conjunction
[v] For more information about the August 21, 2017, solar eclipse, which travels across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina, go to: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/.
[vi] Hamlin, Don. (2010). Bible devotions: lock stock & barrel – devotional reading for outdoorsmen. Lenexa, KS: Cookbook Publishers.
[vii] Coleman, R. E. (1984). The new covenant. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
[viii] The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery comments: “The phrase fall from innocence does not occur as such in Scripture, but the idea helps to shape the contours of the total Biblical narrative. Human history begins in innocence and then descends into tragedy, eventually to rise to a happy ending for those who accept God’s offer of salvation. … The actual Fall consists of disobedience – doing what God has forbidden the (first) human pair to do upon penalty of death.” Longman, T., Ryken, L., & Wilhoit, J. (2005). Dictionary of biblical imagery. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
[ix] Shadow of the Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from https://www.wacriswell.com/sermons/1976/shadow-of-the-cross/
[x] Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments: the Open Bible, New King James version. (1997). Nashville: T. Nelson. John MacArthur comments, “The reference is to the Messiah; He is the Lord our Righteousness… Healing will come only through the suffering of the Servant.” MacArthur, J. (2006). The MacArthur Bible commentary: unleashing Gods truth, one verse at a time. Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic.
[xi] Remission also means release from the guilt or penalty of sin. Butler, T. C. (1991). Holman Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Pub.
[xii] Smith, Walter Chalmers. (1824-1908). Immortal, invisible, God only wise. A hymn sung to the tune ST. DENIO (a Welsh folk song). (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/i/iigowise.htm
[xiii] Handbook to the Baptist hymnal. (1992). Nashville, TN: Convention Press.