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.
- Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, “Dating the Crucifixion,” Nature Magazine, Volume 306, December 22/29, 1983
- The Book of Isaiah, chapter 52:14 “Just as there were many who were appalled at him– his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness–”
- The Book of John, Chapter 18:13 “and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.”
And Chapter 18:24 “Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.”
- The Book of Luke, Chapter 23:11 “Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.”
- The Book of Luke, Chapter 23: “14 and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.’”
- The Book of Luke, Chapter 23: “18 With one voice they cried out, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’.”
- The Book of Mark, Chapter 15:25 “It was the third hour when they crucified him.”
As mentioned earlier, the gospel of Mark reckons the 24-hour day on Gallilean time, begining at sunrise, traditionally 6AM. Thus, the third hour is 9AM.
- The Book of Mark, Chapter 15:33 “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
As mentioned earlier, the gospel of Mark reckons the 24-hour day on Gaililean time, beginning at sunrise, traditionally 6AM. Thus, Mark is here reporting that the sun was darkened from noon until 3PM.
- The Book of Matthew, Chapter 27:51 “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.”
- The Book of Matthew, Chapter 27:54 “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’.”
- The Book of Matthew, Chapter 27:46 “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ –which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.”
As mentioned earlier, the day was reckoned by hours, starting at 6AM. Matthew is telling us that Jesus passed at about 3PM.
- The Book of John, Chapter 19:31 ”Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.”