The answer to the question of the bloody moon fixes the date of the crucifixion with precision. Beyond reasonable doubt, in fact, because a “blood moon” has a specific meaning. In ancient literature, not only the Bible, it means a lunar eclipse. Why bloody? Because when the moon is in eclipse it is in the Earth’s shadow. It receives no direct light from the sun, but is lit only by the dim light refracted and reddened by the Earth’s atmosphere. The moon in eclipse does glow a dull red, as you know if you have seen it.
This matters, because with Kepler’s equations we can determine exactly when historical eclipses occurred. Perhaps it will not surprise you to learn that only one Passover lunar eclipse was visible from Jerusalem while Pilate was in office (1). It occurred on April 3, 33 AD, the Day of the Cross.
That day followed a night of horrors predicted by the prophet Isaiah. In place of sleep for Jesus there were torch-lit hours of interrogation and mockery, spittle in the face and beatings, barbed lashes tearing flesh from his back and thorns pressed into his scalp. Isaiah wrote that the messiah would be beaten until “marred beyond human likeness” (2). And so, Jesus was brutalized during multiple “trials” and retrials before priests Annas and Caiaphas (3), King Herod (4) and Roman prefect Pontius Pilate (5). In the end, his fate was decided by a mob (6). He was marched to Golgotha, the “place of the skull,” and crucified. He would die within six hours.
The gospels tell the chronology. Hammers thudded spikes through Jesus and into the cross at 9 AM (7). He was raised up. At noon and for three hours the sky was darkened (8). In the Temple at Jerusalem, only priests were permitted to enter the presence of God—a thick curtain excluded common men. During the crucifixion, this veil was torn apart, top to bottom, as a shattering earthquake split rocks and broke open tombs (9). In the darkness and tumult of these signs, even the Roman guards regretted their part in the killing (10). Jesus died at 3 PM (11). He was removed from the cross before nightfall to preserve the sanctity of the impending Passover (12). But the signs and wonders did not end. When the moon rose that evening, it was blood red. We can imagine the wonder of those who were present through all of this, and their increasing dread as the signs kept coming.
But there is more which they could not see. Kepler’s equations indicate that the moon rose already in eclipse, already bloody, fulfilling Joel’s vision. Necessarily, this means that the eclipse commenced before moonrise. With software we can look below the horizon and see Earth’s shadow begin the eclipse. When we do, we find that at 3 PM, as Jesus was breathing his last on the cross, the moon was going to blood.
The sky at Christ’s birth can be viewed as a kind of visual poetry, with the new moon symbolically “birthed” at the foot of Virgo, the virgin. To complete that celestial poem, on the night of Jesus’ death the moon had returned to the foot of the virgin. But now it was a full moon. A life fully lived, blotted out in blood.