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GREAT BALLS OF FIRE
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“I saw a large ball of fire, with a long tail that descended rapidly from the sky and fell before our incredulous eyes,” said teacher Elmer Adan Rivera. Francisco Aguilar Sabillon described it more graphically, “I arrived almost immediately to the site of the explosion – there were enormous flames, and everything was destroyed…I fled from the place, frightened.” Residents were terrified by the fireball that crashed and broke into a number of red and yellow pieces, igniting a fire that destroyed acres of coffee plants and a main highway on November 22, 1996. What were these people from Western Honduras describing? Was it space debris from an orbiting satellite? Was it a bomb? What caused this explosion and the resulting 165-foot wide crater? On December 15, scientists confirmed that a meteorite had slammed into a sparsely populated area of Honduras. The fireball, explosion and crater were caused by a meteorite estimated to be 6-10 feet in diameter. (Associated Press, 12/16/96)

In forthcoming studies, I will report on ever-increasing scientific data, which indicates to scientists and scholars alike, that planet Earth is coming precariously close to the end of its history. Many people make the mistake of evaluating political, social and geological events by finding Bible texts to support their specific understanding of how prophetic events will occur. For example, an event that stimulated significant apocalyptic interest was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. More than a dozen authors wrote religious books describing how this invasion and the worldwide response fulfilled Bible prophecy. The passage of time proved most of these conclusions to be in error. However, the Bible does predict significant political, social and geological events will occur before Christ’s second return. So, how do we keep a balanced perspective regarding “signs” of the end? Jesus advised His disciples to take a lesson from a fig tree. “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs gets tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.” (Matthew 24:32-33) If we use spiritual discernment God has given us, Christ’s return will not surprise us like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

The first few articles in this continuing series will address geological harbingers, each on concentrating on a specific geologic phenomenon. The Old testament prophet, Joel, when describing what would happen on Earth before Jesus returns wrote, “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” (Joel 2:30,31) The apostle Peter quoted this text after Pentecost (Acts 2). God’s purpose for Earth-shattering wonders is to awaken people to consider the gospel and recognize that the end of the world is at hand. For purposes of this and following articles, there ate two time-periods that need to be considered. Prior to casting down of the censer, described in Revelation 8:5,the number of geological catastrophes will continue to increase. As the number of earthquakes, meteorites/asteroids/comet appearances, volcano eruptions, floods hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters continue to escalate, a sense of impending doom permeates each individual’s thoughts. During the last century, the number of these “natural” events have continued to intensify with unparalleled proportions. In addition to natural geologic events, people are also concerned about what will happen after the year 2000.Some authors have labeled it “millennial fever.” Concern about the future and the next millennium prompts people to seek knowledge about the future. Interest in psychics, prophets (both true and false), new age concepts and apparitions, all demonstrate that people have a fear about the future. It may surprise you to learn that god has set these societal concerns in motion and will utilize them to the fullest to ensure that as many people as possible will be ready to hear the end time message and choose salvation. For example, NBC aired a mini-series about an asteroid impacting the Earth that causes devastating results. This is no accident. The media continues focus on apocalyptic issues because members of the media know the increasing interest people have in catastrophic situations.

The second time period involves the trumpets as described in Revelation 8. When the censer is cast down and the trumpets actually begin, the people of Earth will realize that this is far more than random acts of nature. The global nature of the events, the concise order in which they occur, allows no other alternative but to admit that these events are acts of God Unlike the increasing number of “natural” events that occur prior to the casting down of the censer, the timing, order, catastrophic and global nature of the trumpets events will compel people to listen to Revelation’s story. Incidentally, this series of articles will address each type of global event, provide current, relevant scientific information, evaluate the impact on public awareness (as related to Revelation’s story) and, through this process, demonstrate that god is in control. “I know that our LORD is great, that our LORD is greater than all gods. The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from earth; he sends lightening with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.”  (Psalm 135:5-7)

The History

Jesus made a statement to His disciples in Matthew 24:29 “Immediately after the distress of those days, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Think about what the disciples must have thought when He made that statement. Their only exposure to stars falling from the sky perhaps were meteorites that they may have seen on occasion, streaking through the night sky. John however, provided details in Revelation 8 as he outlined the first three trumpets. He described “hail and fire mixed with blood,” “a huge mountain,” and “a star, blazing like a torch.” With today’s scientific knowledge, we can comprehend much more of what Jesus and the apostle John were describing.

The human race has always had an interest in astronomy and the movement of celestial bodies. Many ancient calendars were based on the movements and alignment of stars. In pagan cultures, astrologists used the movement of stats as a basis for their conclusions. In fact, even the Hebrew calendar was based on the relationship between the equinoxes and the orbit of the moon. Even though there was much interest in heavenly bodies during Biblical times, it was not until the second century that Ptolemy developed a geometric scheme that predicted the motions of planets. He believed that Earth occupied the center of the universe. Finally, in 1543, Copernicus published his theory that Earth and the other planets revolved around the sun. As you might expect, this created enormous controversy among the authorities at that time. It took more than a century for the ideas proposed by Copernicus to be generally accepted. During this entire tome period, no one knew that asteroids even existed. The ancients believed that meteorites were stars that fell from the sky, since they could not see the asteroids. Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the first asteroid in 1801. He named it Ceres and it had a diameter of about 600 miles. Since that discovery, there has been an explosion in scientific knowledge about asteroids. In 1898, the asteroid Eros was discovered and for many years was thought to be Earth’s nearest neighbor – it approaches to within 14 million miles. With this history in mind, it is not hard to understand why the apostle John described the second trumpet as a huge mountain. His only personal exposure to objects impacting the Earth was watching a “star” (meteorite) fall from the sky. How could we possibly expect him to correlate a small speck of light trailing through the night sky something as “big as a mountain” being one and the same?  What is amazing about John’s description is that it has taken 18 centuries for us to understand what he described in a few short sentences. The remainder of this article will focus on what we know today about asteroids and how it integrates with Revelation’s story.

We are the Target

In ancient days, many theories were proposed about what existed in space. Lucian of Samosata wrote one of the early books written on this subject in the second century A.D. His fictional story tells of a man who was blown to the moon by a strong wind and another man that traveled to the moon on the wings of large birds. It was not until the early 1900’s that scientists began to understand that the area outside our atmosphere is a vacuum. Until recently, scientists thought that very few objects in outer space intersected with Earth’s orbit and if they did, were not large enough to cause damage. Even though impact craters have been observed on the moon for many centuries, only within the last 100 years have scientists discovered similar craters on Earth.

In the past decade, scientific thought has changed significantly. The consensus of astronomers and geologists alike is that our planet is in a cosmic shooting gallery of various objects from outer space. While the orbits of planets (and their moons) within our solar system are measurable and consistent, other objects move within our solar system that are either undetected or whose orbits are affected by the gravity of other planets. If objects, such as comets or asteroids impacted Earth, there would be global devastation. Depending on the size of the object, life on Earth, as we know it could come to an end. However, God’s word reveals in Revelation that the destruction caused by the first three trumpets will not completely destroy the human race. The impact in Honduras, mentioned at the beginning of this article, is one of several events that have occurred recently. Individuals in the United States have observed two meteors passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. On October 3, 1996, a meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere near Artesia, New Mexico where it began to break apart and eventually showered the Earth with Meteorites as far as Lubbock, Texas.

The largest meteor fragment bounced off the Earth’s atmosphere back into space, orbiting the earth once before landing near Bakersfield, California. Commuters in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. observed another meteor on December 17, 1996. People from McMinnville, Oregon to Canada saw the “fireball” (defined as a meteor that passes through Earth’s atmosphere, but does not strike Earth).

What are the Asteroids?

Asteroids, by definition, are any one of a large number of solid objects in the solar system that orbit the sun. Asteroids are made up of materials similar to elements found on earth. The characteristic that distinguishes asteroids and meteorites is not, as most people think, their relative size, Instead, when an interplanetary object enters Earth’s atmosphere, it is called a meteorite. Because asteroids orbit the sun, rather than a planet of the sun, they are sometimes known as “small planets.” Objects less than 33 feet in diameter that enter Earth’s atmosphere typically burn up and explode high in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, the objects that concern scientists today are those that are larger than 33 feet, and objects larger than one kilometer are considered to be “civilization threatening.”

The majority of asteroids orbits the sun between the planets of Mars and Jupiter and do not pose a significant threat to Earth. The orbits are elliptical, which means that one part of the orbit is closer to the sun than the remaining part. The Amor asteroids intersect the orbit of Mars; the Aten asteroids orbit the sun inside Earth’s orbit and the Trojan asteroids orbit the sun in a similar orbit and speed as Jupiter. However, the asteroids of consequence to Earth are the Apollo asteroids that intersect Earth’s orbit. Ten years ago, scientists believed only 50 asteroids intersected Earth’s orbit. Now, they are determined that asteroids have impacted Earth many times in the past.

Satellite photography has enabled scientists to identify over 100 impact sites even though many of the craters have been masked by erosion or filled with water. Technology has also improved our ability to locate and track asteroids. Since many asteroids have not been located, often we are not aware of how close asteroids are until they have already passed Earth. For example, in the Spring of 1989 asteroid 1989, FC passed our planet inside the orbit of the moon, but scientists did not see it coming.

What do we have to Fear?

Although we can observe previous impacts on earth, statistically the probability of Earth being impacted by an asteroid is quite small. It is interesting to note, however, that other statistically remote events that happen on Earth today are often called “acts of God.” For example, tornadoes are a common occurrence in the state of Kansas. Even though the probability of losing a home by a tornado is small, it still happens. Sadly, when this occurs, the results are often attributed to God. An asteroid impact causing global destruction can be compared to the tornado example. The probability of global destruction is remote, from a scientific sense. However, an asteroid impact is one of the few events that can be identified directly from the Scripture as an “act of God.” When the time is right, God will give planet Earth His warning. The consequence will be catastrophic that the human race will not be able to ignore it.

On June 30, 1908, an object about 200 feet in diameter exploded in the Siberian atmosphere about three miles above the ground, leveling trees for a 50-mile radius and causing destruction in an 800 square mile area. The energy released from the explosion was estimated to be 20 megatons, which is the size of a nuclear weapon designed to destroy a large city. A significant amount of dust was left in the upper atmosphere that was observed at night for several weeks after the explosion. Consequences from a larger impact would be even more severe. If an asteroid one-kilometer in size hits the ocean, it would cause a tsunami that would wipe out all the port cities in the ocean, not to mention cargo ships and oil tankers in its path. The ecological impact of previous oil spills would pale in comparison to this global destruction. Further, thousands of square miles surrounding an ocean impact site would become anoxic (oxygen deficient) for two reasons. First, the heat generated by the impact would boil the oxygen out of the water. Second, the force of the impact would stir the water, causing warmer, deeper water, which contains less oxygen, to be brought to the surface. This warm, anoxic water would be perfect breeding ground for red algae. (The prophet John described it as looking like blood.)

The consequences of a land impact are no less significant. An asteroid one-kilometer in diameter would cause an explosion and shock wave destroying everything for one hundred miles. At the point of impact, a crater would be formed causing an ejection of material back into the air. The larger sized material would already be fiery hot as it fell back to earth, would set fires across the continent. Consequences are not limited to the continent that takes the hit. The entire world population would be affected by resulting dust ejected into the air. The jet stream would carry the dust around the Earth, blocking sunlight and lowering temperatures, thereby, destroying crops around the world. Isn’t it interesting that man’s concern has been limited to “global warming.” God’s actions during the trumpets will cause this globe to experience both hotter and colder temperatures than our civilization has ever known.

It is reassuring to know that Biblical account of this future event demonstrates God’s control as He prepares people to hear Revelation’s story. Interest would have remained relatively low regarding asteroid impacts outside the scientific community without physical evidence. However, God gave plenty of physical evidence that immediately heightened the general public’s interest in interplanetary impacts in July 1994. At that time, fragments of comet Shoemaker – Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter at a speed of 60 kilometers a second. Interestingly, this astronomical event occurred only four months after the end of the Jubilee calendar. It certainly seems that this is more than just mere coincidence. Researchers have calculated the size of the impact fragments that hit Jupiter to be less than one kilometer in size, which computes to the 1.5-kilometer asteroid striking Earth (at a typical speed of 20 kilometers a second). Impacts of this magnitude are considered to be “civilization threatening.” From the scientific perspective: “No longer is the question how often is the Earth struck by objects 1km or 10km or more in diameter, but simply when and where will be the next strike…and what precise range of physical and environmental consequences may be expected.” (Dr.Clark Chapman, The Risk to civilization from Extraterrestrial Objects and Implications of the Shoemaker – Levy 9 Comet Crash, Abhandlungen der Geologischen Bundeanstalt, Wien, Vol. 53, pp. 51-54, 1996)

What Can we Do?

After the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact, people suddenly realized there was a significant threat posed by asteroids and many organizations continue to develop ways to reduce the possibility of an asteroid impact. As Christians, there are several points that can enhance our faith if we consider and accept them. First, God has chosen to reveal information about asteroids and their potential life-threatening consequences right on time. Advanced knowledge about the threat needed to exist before people could understand the eternal consequences. Further, God provided a physical demonstration of the devastation that could appear on Earth by giving us an object lesson on Jupiter. Second, the hearts and minds of Earth’s population are much more receptive to Revelation’s story when they see the object lesson. For example, if a person living in 1850 had come to the conclusion that trumpets two and three represented asteroid impacts, he or she would have been committed to an insane asylum. Even the timing of this new millennium (the year 2,000 and beyond) presents questions about the future, causing people to consider Revelation’s story. Third, now that the human race is aware of the threat, they are taking steps to reduce the potential of an asteroid impact. Scientist is seriously considering ways to identify and divert life-threatening objects so they will not hit Earth. Consequently, within the next two decades, if God does not act, technology will be so far advanced that asteroids will no longer be a threat to people of Earth. These three points converge so convincingly, that I believe it is safe to assume that history is on a collision course with the final acts of God.

The approach man typically takes to resolve problems follows this process. First, the problem has to be identified. Second, the problem has to be of a large enough scope to affect large numbers of people. Third, political entities attempt to address the concern of the people either by highlighting the issue or by providing funds to resolve the problem. Fourth, the funds are utilized in an attempt to resolve the problem. The issues of potential future asteroid impacts follow the same approach. In the late 1980’s, several scientific articles were written about the potential hazard of asteroid impacts. In fact, an organization in the Greater Dayton Area known as Wake Up America Seminars produced materials regarding this issue as early as 1986, before most of the scientific community had even considered the idea. They continued to share the relationship between asteroid impacts and Revelation’s story in their materials, but their feeble efforts were not enough to stimulate politicians to act. Finally, through the efforts of Clark Chapman and David Morrison, the House of Representatives in the United States Congress issued the following statement. “The chances of Earth being struck by a large asteroid are extremely small, but sense the consequences of such a collision are extremely large, the Committee believes it is prudent to assess the nature of the threat and prepare to deal with it. We have the technology to detect such asteroids and to prevent their collision with the Earth. The Committee therefore directs that NASA undertake two workshops studies. The first would define a program for dramatically increasing the detection rate of Earth-orbit crossing asteroids; this study would address the costs, schedule, technology and equipment required for precise definition of the orbits of such bodies. The second study would define systems and technologies to alter the orbits of such asteroids or to destroy them if they should pose a danger to life on Earth. The Committee recommends international participation in these studies and suggests that they be conducted within a year of passage of this legislation.” (1994 Statement from the House Committee on Science and technology, amendment to House Version of NASA Authorization Bill.)

With that statement, the political objective of “appearing to resolve the problem” was achieved. In response to this, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) issued a report in 1992 called the “Spaceguard Survey Report.” In the report, NASA addressed the hazard of asteroids, methods to detect them and projected costs of about 100 million dollars to implement the program. In 1994, within a week of the Shoe-maker-Levy 9 comet impact, the House Committee on Science and Technology required that the Department of Defense and NASA to identify and catalogue, within ten years, all asteroids and comets greater than 1 kilometer that cross Earth’s orbit.

Governmental activities concerning asteroids have not been limited to just the United States. On March 20, 1996, the Council of Europe issued an action titled “On the Detection of Asteroids and Comets Potentially Dangerous to Humankind” that addressed their concern about potential asteroid impacts and Near Earth Objects (NEOs) stating:

“The Assembly therefore welcomes various initiatives  - i.e. the “Spaceguard Survey” report published by NASA, the creation of the “Working Group on Near Earth Objects” by the International Astronomical Union, and the recent decision of the NEO community to set up a “Spaceguard Foundation” to coordinate the efforts at the international level – as important steps paving the way towards the development of a worldwide surveillance program aimed at discovering all potentially-hazardous NEOs and tracking their orbits forward by computer so that any impact could be foreseen some years in advance, allowing preventive actions to be taken as necessary.



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