We now leap beyond the crucifixion to add a last piece of evidence about the day of the cross. The Bible reports that the resurrected Messiah instructed his disciples not to leave Jerusalem until they received power from the Holy Spirit. They may have been confused, wondering if Jesus was talking about something political (1). But stay they did.
They were still there for the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover Feast and the crucifixion. Jerusalem was full of worshipers from all over the Near East. The Bible reports sudden startling events during this celebration: the sound of a great rushing wind, something like flames hovering about the disciples. Just as strange, the disciples began to speak, but not in their native Aramaic or Hebrew. They spoke in languages they had not learned. They were understood by countless foreign visitors to the city (2).
There was pandemonium. A boisterous crowd jostled closer. Travelers heard their own languages spoken by Galileans and were bewildered. Hecklers shouted: “They’re all drunk!” The apostle Peter jumped up amid the confusion. We can imagine his hand outstretched to still the crowd. He then boomed out his explanation of what was happening. Listen and consider as Peter argues from the words of the prophet Joel recorded circa 835 BC. From the Book of Acts, Chapter 2:
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”
Then Peter delivered the knockout punch. The Book of Acts, Chapter 2:
22 Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”
Peter asserts that Joel’s prophesy has been fulfilled and that his listeners know it—that they have seen the signs themselves. This is the same argument the apostle Paul made, as discussed in Setting the Stage on this web site. This argument would have had exactly no persuasive force unless Paul’s and Peter’s audiences knew that signs had occurred. Both men assumed that everybody knew about the signs. That’s powerful evidence that they had occurred. Of particular interest for us: Joel said there would be astronomical signs. And now Peter says, “you’ve seen them.” What were they?
“The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood…”
The gospels do recount that the sun was darkened on the day of the crucifixion from noon until 3 in the afternoon (3). Ancient non-Biblical sources confirm this. Phlegon Trallianus records in his history, Olympiades (4):
Trallianus, Olympiades: In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad, [AD 32-33] a failure of the Sun took place greater than any previously known, and night came on at the sixth hour of the day [noon], so that stars actually appeared in the sky; and a great earthquake took place in Bithynia and overthrew the greater part of Niceaea,”
This was obviously not a simple astronomical event. (5)
But what about the bloody moon?