There are all kinds of fascinating intersections of the Bible and astronomy. The people who penned the Bible lived in a world very much in tune with the motions of the sun, moon, and stars.
But does the Bible endorse the belief that the sky can reveal the mind of God?
That’s a big question—too big for a single article—so let’s instead turn to a commonly cited text people believe is related to astronomy: Revelation 12:1-6.
I’ve received this question several times over the last year: “Are we about to see the fulfillment of Revelation 12?”
Revelation 12 and Virgo
There are some who believe Revelation 12 is a reference to a particular alignment of the sun, moon, and planets around the constellation Virgo. The text reads:
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth… She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Revelation 12:1-2,5)
Some believe that September 23, 2017, there will be a unique alignment of sky objects that fulfills this prophetic picture.
- “The woman” is the constellation Virgo. This constellation is represented as a woman in many ancient mythologies—from the groups who lived along the Euphrates, to the Eastern cultures of India and China, to the ancient Egyptians, to the classical cultures of Greece and Rome.
- “Clothed with the sun” means the sun will be aligned with Virgo. As the earth moves around the sun, the sun ends up being in the same line of sight with different constellations throughout the year (what we call the signs of the Zodiac). In Septembers, the sun is aligned with Virgo.
- “With the moon under her feet” means the moon will be aligned with the feet of Virgo. As the moon moves around the earth, it is also aligned with different constellations from month to month. On September 23, 2017, the moon will be near the feet of Virgo.
- “On her head a crown of twelve stars” means there will be 12 “stars” directly above the head of Virgo. The constellation Leo is directly above Virgo’s head, containing what many believe to be 9 bright stars. Through the latter half of the month of September 2017, there will be 3 planets aligned with the constellation Leo, bringing the number of bright “stars” above the head of Virgo to 12.
- “She gave birth to a male child” is a reference to Jupiter in the womb of Virgo. Throughout late August and most of September 2017, the planet Jupiter is lined up with the abdomen of Virgo. Jupiter was understood by the ancients to be the king of the planets, thus ruler is seen in the belly of Virgo.
Here’s what it will look like on September 23, 2017. (Bear in mind, no one will actually “see” this alignment because it takes place during the daytime.)
Is This Alignment Unique?
Some of these alignments are quite common:
- The sun is aligned with Virgo every year from mid-September to the end of October.
- The moon is at the feet of Virgo about once a month, so there’s at least one or two days every year when the moon is near the feet of Virgo while the sun is also in Virgo.
- Jupiter is aligned with Virgo about once every 11-12 years, spending over a month in the “belly” (depending on where you think her abdomen is), and at some point during that month, the sun will be aligned with her body and the moon will be at her feet.
So far, these 3 factors (the sun, the moon, and Jupiter) are in the right place at the same time once every 11-12 years.
But what about the 3 planets in Leo?
This configuration is far less common, but Professor Christopher M. Graney has found no less than 4 times in the past 1000 years when all of these alignments took place:
- September 14, 1056
- September 5, 1293
- September 6, 1483
- September 24, 1827
Contrary to some claims you read on the Internet, that this alignment only happens once in history or “once in 7000 years,” in reality this alignment seems to show up once every 240 years on average. So, yes, the alignment is rare—you would expect this any time you’re trying to line up 8 objects in the sky in a particular order (4 planets, 2 constellations, the sun, and the moon)—but it isn’t a once-in-human-history kind of event.
Furthermore, proponents of this theory also have to make the assumption that Leo has only 9 stars. In order to get to “a crown of twelve stars” using 3 planets, you need to start with only 9 stars, but there are a lot more than 9 stars in Leo. There are 13 stars alone that are brighter than magnitude 4.
Is This Solid Bible Interpretation?
More significant than the astronomy is the fact that this interpretation effectively takes a butcher knife to the book of Revelation. Only when you rip these verses out of their context can you get this astronomical interpretation.
1. If the heavenly sign of the dragon represents a spiritual reality, then the heavenly sign of the woman does as well—not a constellation. Another main character in Revelation 12 is a great red dragon. As far as I know, no proponent of this theory is willing to say the dragon is also a constellation, and for an obvious reason: the text tells us who the dragon actually is—”that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). It stands to reason that if the heavenly dragon sign is not constellation but a spiritual reality, then the woman is as well.
2. The woman flees into the wilderness, which is not something a constellation can do. The text says, “the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God” (12:6), and “the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished” (12:14). It is not clear what this would mean if the woman is Virgo.
3. The child she gives birth to is not a planet but Jesus. Saying Jupiter in the womb of Virgo is the child of Revelation 12 totally ignores what the book of Revelation says. Her offspring is “a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron,” a child who is “caught up to God and to his throne” (12:5). This is clearly Jesus who will come to rule the nations and is sitting at the right hand of God (Revelation 3:21; 19:15; Acts 1:9-11; 2:33; 7:56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 10:12; 1 Peter 3:22).
Verdict: The Woman in Revelation 12 is NOT Virgo
Jesus told the apostles, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). No doubt, the Bible speaks of events that will precede the coming of Christ, but an alignment of planets, satellites, and constellations is not one of them.