The Vision of the Cross fresco in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, painted by the Raphaelite school
Various prophecies made by Catholic saints and visionaries speak of the appearance of a great sign before a major renewal of the Church. The controversial and unapproved apparitions alleged to have occurred at Garabandal and Medjugorje are undoubtedly the most high profile, but it is often forgotten that the promise of a "great sign" is actually rooted in private revelations which have been approved by the Church. St. Faustina appears to refer to such an event in her diary:
Write this: Before I come as the just Judge, I am coming first as the King of Mercy. Before the day of justice arrives, there will be given to people a sign in the heavens of this sort: All light in the heavens will be extinguished, and there will be great darkness over the whole earth. Then the sign of the cross will be seen in the sky, and from the openings where the hands and the feet of the Savior were nailed will come forth great lights which will light up the earth for a period of time. This will take place shortly before the last day.
Our Lady of Akita similarly spoke of the "Sign left by My Son", as one of the only sources of solace in the period of chastisement that is still to befall humanity. And although the signs spoken of at Garabandal and Medjugorje seem to refer to this same event, they put a different spin on it which links the appearance of the sign to their respective locales - making it a matter of cautious discernment. So it would perhaps be wise not to connect it too closely in our minds with these sites. Whether or not the promised "Great Sign" will appear at Garabandal or Medjugorje, or both, remains to be seen, and their authenticity are open to doubt. But given that the sign is also described in approved private revelations, it seems that this event will happen, and that it will be one of the greatest apparitions in history - eclipsing even that of Fatima in importance.
The exact nature of this apparition remains somewhat vague, but St. Faustina's diary is perhaps the best source of information we have on this subject - so we should examine this in closer detail.
The darkness hanging over the earth described by St. Faustina appears to symbolise the spiritual darkness brought about by the Great Apostasy, which will be dispelled by the light of the Second Pentecost. Here, it is foretold that the Second Pentecost will be brought about following a major apparition of a cross in the sky. We know from various other prophecies that the Second Pentecost will be spearheaded by the Two Witnesses of Revelation, and that it is also in some way connected with the martyrdom of a pope - so there seems to be a series of inter-connected events that will lead to the restoration of the Church.
These prophecies of the dawn of a religious renewal after the appearance of a heavenly apparition, seem to be based largely upon Constantine's miraculous vision of the Chi-Rho symbol (also known as the Labarum) above the Sun before his decisive victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312AD. This crucially important event would ultimately lead to the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, and firmly establish Catholicism as the major religion of Europe over the course of the next two millennia. Constantine's vision is one of the earliest examples of a relation between heavenly apparitions and solar phenomena, which are so frequently prevalent in modern events - most notably the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima.
Constantine's miraculous vision of the Labarum is described by one of his contemporaries, the Early Church historian Eusebius of Caesaria:
Accordingly he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, when he was honored with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, Conquer by this . At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.
He said, moreover, that he doubted within himself what the import of this apparition could be. And while he continued to ponder and reason on its meaning, night suddenly came on; then in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sign which he had seen in the heavens, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies. At dawn of day he arose, and communicated the marvel to his friends: and then, calling together the workers in gold and precious stones, he sat in the midst of them, and described to them the figure of the sign he had seen, bidding them represent it in gold and precious stones. And this representation I myself have had an opportunity of seeing.
Now it was made in the following manner. A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of gold and precious stones; and within this, the symbol of the Saviour's name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P being intersected by X in its centre: and these letters the emperor was in the habit of wearing on his helmet at a later period. From the cross-bar of the spear was suspended a cloth, a royal piece, covered with a profuse embroidery of most brilliant precious stones; and which, being also richly interlaced with gold, presented an indescribable degree of beauty to the beholder. This banner was of a square form, and the upright staff, whose lower section was of great length, bore a golden half-length portrait of the pious emperor and his children on its upper part, beneath the trophy of the cross, and immediately above the embroidered banner.
The emperor constantly made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power, and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies.
(Life of Constantine I:28-31. See full text here)
A coin of Constatine dating to circa 337AD, showing the Labarum spearing a serpent
It should be further noted that the earliest authentic prophecy of the coming of the Great Monarch in the Latin version of the Tiburtine Sibyl, was actually based on the example of Constantine, rather than Charlemagne (see the full text of this prophecy in the earlier post here). So this could be yet another connection between the Two Witnesses of Revelation and the Angelic Pope and Great Monarch, who are similar prophesied conduits for the spread of Christianity at the end-time.
The appearance of a cross-shaped object in the sky also sounds remarkably similar to an event described by the widely respected 1st century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Josephus details the appearance of a "sword-shaped" star in the night sky above Jerusalem, which he regarded as an omen of its impending destruction in 70AD:
Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it...
...Besides these [signs], a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, "Let us remove hence."
(Josephus, Jewish Wars VI:5:3 See full text here)
Some commentators have suggested that the "sword" or "cross" shaped star described here by Josephus may have been a near-earth supernova visible in the night skies over Jerusalem. And there have been frequent comparisons of this description with the Star of Bethlehem - which appears to be symbolically connected with this event.
On an interesting side note, SN1054 - one of the few, and indeed best known, historically verifiable supernovae, took place in the year 1054AD, the exact year of the East-West schism that saw the division of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, ending a thousand years of Christian unity - which I suggest in the book may be the point of reference behind the millennial reign of Christ described in Rev 20.
The comet described by Josephus here would thus most likely be the appearance of Halley's Comet in 66AD, which we have already identified as the "Wormwood Star" described in the Book of Revelation (see the post Wormwood, Chernobyl and the Hrushiv Apparitions). So Josephus undoubtedly viewed these astronomical events as omens which heralded the onslaught of the First Jewish Revolt, which lasted between 66-70AD.
A slightly different version of these events is further recounted by the Roman historian Tacitus writing circa 115AD:
Prodigies had occurred, which this nation, prone to superstition, but hating all religious rites, did not deem it lawful to expiate by offering and sacrifice. There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure. Some few put a fearful meaning on these events, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire. These mysterious prophecies had pointed to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, with the usual blindness of ambition, had interpreted these mighty destinies of themselves, and could not be brought even by disasters to believe the truth.
(Histories, Book 5, v. 13. See full text here).
The sound of the "great multitude" described by Josephus, saying "Let us remove hence", brings to mind the voices of the multitudes in described in the Book of Revelation:
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants...”
...Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
(Rev 19:1-2; 6-8)
It also recalls the departure of the Shekinah from the Temple, symbolised by the tearing of the curtains, which took place after the eternal sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross rendered its functions as obsolete:
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
This in turn is intimately associated with the original, preterist interpretation behind the prophecy of the abomination of desolation:
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."
It thus seems that it was the prodigies described by Josephus that led to the flight of Christians from Jerusalem to Pella before the destruction of Jerusalem, which is described by Eusebius in his Church History:
But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come there from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.
(Church History III:5.3. See full text here)
And this in turn seems to be related to another passage in the Apocalypse concerning the voice from heaven telling the people of God to come out of Babylon before its impending judgement:
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities."
There are some echoes here of the escape of the Israelites from Egypt. And importantly, it also alludes to Lot's departure from Sodom before it was consumed by the fire and sulphur which descended from heaven. The two angels sent by God to rescue Lot and his family before the destruction of Sodom, directly foreshadow the coming of the Two Witnesses sent to rescue the people of God with the Second Pentecost before the destruction of the earth by fire:
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet..."
...Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings...
...“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
(Mal 4:1-2; 5)
It is this promised "Great Sign" that will inform the people of God to depart from the state of apostasy (which is represented by the captivity in Babylon), and return to the house of their Master before the arrival of the chastisement. As we shall see in the next post, it is this threat of chastisement which is symbolised by the angel with the flaming sword in the Third Secret of Fatima, who is halted through the intercession of the Virgin Mary to allow for a period of reconciliation. By examining its many allusions to passages in the Old Testament, we can gain a better sense of the true spiritual depth of the Third Secret. For now, it will suffice to conclude that the prophecy of the Second Secret was only partially fulfilled in the appearance of the aurora borealis of 1938. It seems that this event was a foreshadowing of things to come, and we should perhaps expect the ultimate fulfilment of this prophecy in the "Great Sign" that is still to arrive in the future. It is this sign that will announce the coming of the persecution of the Church and the Holy Father himself during the final tribulation, whilst also calling those who have fallen away from the faith into accepting a state of repentance:
When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father...
This will be the ultimate and final fulfillment of the prophecy of the "sign of the Son of Man", which Jesus said would appear before his arrival in Glory at the Second Coming, when he comes to bring judgment upon the earth:
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
This event, which was prefigured in the planetary alignment of the year 2000 (just as the Star of Bethlehem prefigured the ministry of Christ thirty years later), will be the final layer to the "sign of the Son of Man" prophecy.