Apophis, the 2nd Trumpet?

Will Apophis fulfill the prophecy of the Second Trumpet of Revelation 8:8,9?

(edited 2024-06-16)

No, No and No, unless something unexpected and completely unprecedented in history happens.  And, yes, that is actually possible, but just barely.

An asteroid discovered in 2004, named Apophis will make history on Friday night, April 13, 2029. It will pass so close to the earth that it will be visible without a telescope for as long as five hours, starting in western Australia. In a slightly curved line all the way to Ireland, people will be able to look up and see a dim object, looking like a star or satellite, moving slowly across the sky from southeast to northwest. It may be the first time in human history that an asteroid was visible to the unaided eye. Many tiny asteroids which actually hit the earth have been seen, like the Cheyabinsk meteor that hit Russia in 2013. But that was because they entered the atmosphere, heated up to thousands of degrees and shined brightly as they burned up or crashed. Apophis will not enter the atmosphere, nor begin to glow, or become any brighter intrinsically as it passes. But it’s big enough to be seen at 18,000 miles! There have probably been thousands of articles, scientific and otherwise written about Apophis. But none like this one! Because I see in Apophis a chance to test a verse in the Bible.

One of the biggest issues in the study of Bible prophecy is the constant tension between symbolic language and literal physical descriptions. In Apocalyptic literature, a specialized style and symbolic vocabulary was developed over a 300+ year period. Most of these writings come from the few centuries between the conquests of Alexander the Great by 330 BC and the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. There are many of these, maybe over 100. Most scholars include the Books of Daniel and Revelation in this category. It may be that Daniel started the whole genre.

The book of Daniel, while introducing us to some of the most common imagery used to foretell the rise and fall of several ancient empires, is also the best guide for interpreting those vivid images. So, before the book of Revelation was written, Christian leaders were already familiar with what is now called ‘apocalyptic language’. So much so, that Peter and Jude quoted the non-canonical Book of Enoch, written in the apocalyptic style, in their canonical letters. But I don’t think this has prepared us for the Second Trumpet of Revelation. Is the Second Trumpet of Revelation a symbolic presentation of some past or future event, or is it a literal description of an asteroid hitting an ocean? By the end of this article, you should have a good idea why I think Apophis might be a good test of whether this prophecy is literal or not.

Before we can get any further, we need to pay attention to a major translation challenge found in Revelation 8:9. Every major English translation of the Bible appears to have deliberately mistranslated this text. The reason will be obvious. 

Here’s the NASB text of Revelation 8:8,9  

”The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was hurled into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.”

And the NIV:

”The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

When comparing the meaning of these two translations, you should see no significant variations between them. But there is one very odd difference. Notice the first phrase of verse 9. In the NASB, “…a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died.” Then in the newer NIV,  “…a third of the living creatures in the sea died.” It may not look like much of a difference, but there is an important story here.

The NASB follows the tradition started by the Wycliffe, Geneva and KJV versions of the Bible. The NIV follows a new tradition started in the late 20th Century. On the surface, the change from sea creatures that had life, to living creatures in the sea seems to be merely cosmetic, and the meaning is considered equivalent. But look at this in any Greek New Testament, or any Interlinear New Testament and you will see something odd.

In the Greek , the phrase says “the creatures in the sea, the ones having souls.” The word is ‘psuchas’ in the Greek, a plural noun literally meaning ‘souls’. It is usually translated ‘souls’ everywhere else in the Bible, but the lexicons seem to make allowance for this mistranslation. If John had meant to say ‘life’, he could have said ‘bios’ or maybe ‘zoe’.  But he used the word that today is pronounced ‘psyche’ and it really does mean soul. Why would John do this? 

When the Bible first came into English, whaling for its oil and other products was just becoming a big industry. In 1610, just before the KJV was published, King James had given a fleet of ships to a small whaling company so that England could dominate the new North Atlantic whaling industry. Regardless, it seems that they were uncomfortable with the obviously correct translation: “…a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had souls, died.”  I doubt that anyone was seriously concerned about the whaling industry, particularly Wycliffe, and he is the one who started this.

But there may be another more obvious concern. Only mankind has ‘immortal’ souls. What would happen to Christianity if everyone suddenly thought that some animals had souls? How could these animals be saved? Could we still eat them? This nightmare was clearly something to avoid. This is what everyone seems to have missed. The Old Testament use of ‘soul’ started with the creation of Adam, and is connected to the concept of breath, or the ‘breath of life.’ I think John was merely saying that when this ‘mountain’ hits the sea, it only kills the mammals, not the fish.  There would be a shockwave, stunning everything, but only the fish would survive. The whales and dolphins would drown. From here on, this will be assumed to have been John’s intent.

The first thing to notice is that if John is really saying this, it indicates that John’s writing has eyewitness quality.  This kind of information is clearly anachronistic. It is out of place in the history of knowledge. No human had witnessed an asteroid hit a sea, and no human had ever seen a dolphin or whale drowned by being stunned. Perhaps no one had ever conceived of a shockwave, or of something being stunned by one. Today, such an event can be simulated, tested, and accurately described. And yes, if Apophis hit an ocean, the shockwave would be tremendous. Most of the fish would survive, but many of the cetaceans (sea mammals) would not.

The second thing to notice is this kind of detail, besides being anachronistic, would be completely meaningless as a symbol for something. It has no precedent in Apocalyptic literature. And without some way of interpreting, it becomes a meaningless prophecy. There would seem to be no point in John recording it at all. I am sure that many have answered this to their own satisfaction, and many interpretations both symbolic or historical have been proposed, but nothing will compare to what else we find here.

There are no other significant translation issues, just basically matters of style.

After setting aside the possibility of a symbolic meaning, the next major interpretative issue would be to ask if this is this global or regional in its effect. Many interpreters today seem to have forgotten to ask this question. They just assume that the language requires a global interpretation. But this prophecy cannot be about a global event. If it were global, then we would be able to identify a place on the planet where a single asteroid could sink 1/3 of the world’s ships and kill 1/3 of the world’s cetaceans. If there is such a place it would have to be the Pacific Ocean, and the size of the asteroid would have to be 4 or more miles in diameter (IMO). Any asteroid that big would have caused major long-term disruptions of the entire planet’s biosphere. In Revelation, in the 6th Trumpet, which would seem to be no more than a few years later, Jerusalem is having business as usual. This would not be true after any asteroid capable of making the 2nd Trumpet a global event. So, if it is a regional event, where would that be? 

John wrote the Revelation from a small Island off the western coast of Turkey, Patmos. What if his vision, which occurred there, was from that perspective? In other words, what if he is looking south at the Eastern Mediterranean Sea in this vision? That helps with the following issues: the Jews and the land of Israel is the focus of the events foretold in Revelation. There is no other Sea as relevant to Israel as the Eastern Mediterranean. It is also a curious observation that the Mediterranean Sea is conveniently divided into almost even thirds by Greece and Italy. And it has lots of Cetaceans (ocean mammals). Thirteen species are native to the area east of Greece. Here’s where Apophis starts to become relevant. On its expected path by the earth, it will pass directly over this region of the Mediterranean Sea. And it will reach its perigee (closest approach) there or near there. Many are already making plans to be in the region to witness this unique historical flyover, and Jerusalem is among the best places to be to see it. The present conflict (2023-2024 Hamas War) has probably hampered some of those preparations. So for the sake of my hypothesis, I will treat the eastern Mediterranean as ground zero for the 2nd Trumpet.

There is a second piece of anachronistic, eyewitness information in these verses. No one would ever describe a meteor as a burning mountain. All meteors, because of their small size, are completely enveloped in bright fire, and commonly called ‘falling stars’ because that is what they look like. But since no one has ever seen an asteroid as big as a mountain hit the earth, John should have had no idea how to describe it unless he had seen it. And what he described has never been seen before, except of course, in movies!  He saw the mountain itself, and fire on it. He did not see just a ball of fire. This is a function of velocity. A large meteor, if it could fall slowly enough, might not be fully engulfed in flames. This can probably be calculated out and even very realistically simulated today. But John is not describing something moving fast enough to be a total fireball. It is partially on fire. Meteors often burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere between 10-60 miles per second. The speed and direction of the incoming meteor and its relationship to the orbital movement of the earth determine its relative speed when it begins to heat up in our atmosphere.

The situation with the orbit of Apophis is unique compared to most meteors.  Apophis’ orbit is very similar to Earth’s. It is less circular than the Earth’s orbit, and slightly smaller, so it travels around the sun a little faster than the earth, passing the earth about once every 7 years. When it passes by the earth in 2029, its relative orbital velocity will only be about 1 mile per second faster than Earth. I am not certain about that, because both objects’ velocity changes throughout their orbits, and it could be slightly higher. On average Apophis is moving at 19.1 miles per second, while the earth is orbiting the sun at 18.5 miles per second.

This is why Apophis has my attention. This orbital relationship seems to me to consistent with what John ‘saw’. If Apophis hit the earth at 20 or more miles per second, I doubt that John could have thought of it as a ‘large mountain on fire’. It would look like a ‘falling star’ not a burning mountain. But the Apophis speed relative to earth is very slow compared with most meteors. The earth’s own gravity would contribute to the incoming speed, so an Apophis impact would be fast enough to produce lots of heat, but slow enough for the flames’ coverage to be incomplete. Only a sophisticated computer model could test this, and I don’t have access to such. I have not found any information on this subject. I would appreciate any help.

Apophis would have the slowest possible impact speed for any known large asteroid. All other NEOs (Near Earth Objects) that are known are likely to have higher velocities relative to the earth. My apologies to any real astronomer reading this. I know this is not the way you would describe this. But I would appreciate a professional assessment of the idea that of all the known 2000+ PHAs (Potentially Hazardous Asteroids) that NASA is following, there is none that is anywhere near as big as Apophis, that would fly by it as slowly during a close encounter. Because of these three features, Apophis’ size, its orbital relationship and this uniquely well positioned flyby, there are no other candidates for a future literal fulfillment of the Second Trumpet. And the amazing coincidence of Apophis’ flyover path will never be repeated, not even by Apophis itself.

Most of this I learned several years before Apophis was discovered. In the late 1990’s I began to dissect this verse, and when the Arizona University online Asteroid Impact Simulator became available, I tried to model the Second Trumpet event, using most of the assumptions expressed here.  I used a half-mile diameter, rocky type asteroid, but at higher speeds and angles than might be expected if Apophis were used in such a simulation. I looked at the atmospheric shock wave, the heat wave, the tsunami, and the earthquake effects for the various coastal cities with different impact locations. Turns out the depth of the water really matters, and so does the angle. All this looked like something that would have a terrifying effect of anyone living in the Middle East but having few if any human causalities. There would be enough warning for major evacuations to take place. Most ships in the harbors will not survive. What other kinds of damage occurs is entirely dependent on proximity to the impact.

Imagine this, the 1000 foot wide asteroid Apophis strikes the earth and no one dies!  That is what it looks like to me. I am sure some will try to stay with their boats, and there will be some deaths, but we are not talking about millions, or even thousands.  One possible reason for putting this in the Bible might be so that those who study the Revelation will know this and not be afraid. I don’t consider the 2nd Trumpet to be associated with the Wrath of God. That is confined to the 7 Vials of Wrath, when God judges those who have submitted to the great evil ‘antichrist’. The Trumpets are the final announcements, the days of warning and preparation and soul searching, to prepare humanity for the Return of the Jewish Messiah.

Here is another concept that I associate with Apophis that is not relevant to any other asteroid candidate or any other scenario.  If we had determined in 2004 that Apophis was going to hit earth, we would have found a way to stop it. We had 25 years! But we ruled it out, so no preparations have been made to deflect it. If our solar system were struck today by a powerful force that shook up everything, disturbing the asteroids and comets, and if it made the exact tiny amount of change needed to turn Apophis into an impact threat, I doubt that even Elon Musk could stop it now. Apophis is thought to have a mass of 13.5 x 10^10 pounds, roughly 67 million tons, and moving at 19.1 miles per second. It would take a lot to change its trajectory even a tiny bit. But it would have to be miraculously precise. One astronomer-blogger posted that he had tried many different scenarios to discover one that might deflect Apophis into contact with the earth. He said that everything he tried had the opposite result of making impact even less likely. So, if any such perfectly well-tuned event were to happen, it would be one of supernatural finesse.

By the way. This is only the 2nd Trumpet. What comes before and after this?

If the 2nd Trumpet sign is fulfilled in 2029, what can we learn from it?  If it is not, what do we do then? This is my question. If we get to April 15, 2029, and the 2nd Trumpet has not happened, does that mean that it was symbolic all a long? Or maybe the Preterists or Historicists are right? I am watching with great interest. And I don’t really care which turns out to be true. I do think a literal astronomical event would have the most impact on Israel, although I cannot imagine what that impact would be. I can imagine what the Islamic world would say. They would see it as a warning from Allah and become even more fervent in their hatred of all things Jewish and Christian. At the very least, lots of people would become interested in Revelation, and many who had studied it their whole lives would be changing their minds about some things!