Part 1. Setting the scene
"...and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." [Rev:6:12-13, The Holy Bible, 1813]
The Lisbon earthquake
In the year 1755 there occurred the most terrible earthquake ever recorded in history; it was known as the Lisbon earthquake, although it affected over four million square miles of the earth, from Greenland to Africa, and from Sweden to America. In Lisbon itself, 60 000 people perished in the course of just six minutes, much of the city was destroyed and a new quay in the harbour disappeared entirely, with all those who were on it at the time. The tidal wave caused by the quake was estimated to have been sixty feet high.
The dark day of North America.
In May, 1790, many of the eastern states of North America were enveloped in such absolute darkness that the day became known as the "Dark Day." Hershel, the astronomer wrote: "The morning was clear and pleasant, but at about eight o'clock there was observed an uncommon appearance in the sun. There were no clouds, but the air was thick, having a smoky appearance, and the sun shone with a pale, yellowish hue, but kept growing darker and darker, until it was hid from sight."
The impenetrable darkness lasted, with only a slight relaxation in the early evening, until one o'clock the following morning. No definite reason for this phenomenon has ever been established.
The star-fall of 1833
The third event which stoked the fire of millennial zeal was the amazing spectacle of tens of thousands of shooting stars filling the heavens with light over a period of several hours (from 2am until broad daylight in North America). Such were the numbers of stars that it was possible, at times, to read a book by the light they gave off. The display was seen over much of the earth and at its peak, it was estimated that some 34 000 meteors fell in an hour.
These three apparently isolated occurrences were joined in the minds of the people by the mention, in Chapter 6 of Revelation, THAT the the return of Christ would be preceded by an earthquake, the darkening of the sun, and the falling of the stars to earth. Also, in Matthew 24, Christ Himself is reported as saying:
"...shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken."
One other aspect worth mentioning is the prophecy in Matthew 24:13-14 where Christ is reported as having said,
"...and this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall come the end time."
I shall return to this in Chapter 5.