By Alex Newman
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – February was packed with celestial events – notably the meteor that exploded over Russia – and some theological leaders and experts are convinced that God is trying to send a message.
Citing biblical passages about signs and wonders in the heavens, more than a few have been talking about whether biblical prophecies in Scripture are being fulfilled.
One incident that received widespread coverage, for example, was a lightning bolt that struck St. Peter's Basilica just hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.
The meteor that shook Russia, along with numerous other meteors documented over the last month, also have believers and non-believers alike wondering where this all may be going.
A seeming surge in recent UFO sightings, corresponding with a deluge of coverage in the media and the entertainment industry over the last few years, plays a role as well, experts told WND.
Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, author of the New York Times bestseller "The Harbinger" as well as its DVD version, "The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment," the No. 1 faith video in the world, told WND he has been deluged with inquiries from people around the world as to what lies ahead.
"We know we're in the last days," Cahn said. "The signs are evident – Israel's return to the land, the world's focus on the Middle East, the increase in man's powers, including that of self-destruction, the increase in immorality and a massive worldwide apostasy."
Cahn, who also serves as president of Hope of the World ministries and the senior pastor and messianic rabbi of the Jerusalem Center/Beth Israel in New Jersey, said the evidence is becoming clear.
"In addition, there are very precise signs of biblical warning and judgment which have been manifesting, particularly in America," he warned.
"These signs, recorded in 'The Harbinger,' are distinct warnings given to a nation in defiance and departure from God. Thus, we're in a critical time of transition," Cahn concluded. "As we watch the spiritual and physical decline of America, it only further sets the stage for what the Bible foretells of the last days."
Signs and wonders in the Bible
As Bible readers know, there are numerous references to signs and wonders in the heavens found throughout Scripture.
Luke 21:25-26, for example, states: "And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken."
In the Old Testament, Joel 2:30-31 says: "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come."
The book of Revelation is known for its numerous references to signs and wonders in the heavens preceding the end of days.
Many other prophecies in both the New and Old testaments contain similar passages.
Russian meteor: A message from God?
On Feb. 15, the same day that a large asteroid passed some 18,000 miles from the Earth's surface, an unrelated explosion above the Chelyabinsk region of Russian released an estimated 500 kilotons of energy – the force of about 30 Hiroshima atomic bombs, according to news reports.
The impact was detected by sensors operated by the nuclear-watchdog International Monitoring System as far as Antarctica, over 9,000 miles away.
Contrary to early reports of a meteor shower, Russian officials and scientists said the blast – the largest infrasound event recorded in history – was caused by a single 10,000-ton meteor burning up in the lower atmosphere.
After the massive explosion over the Ural Mountains region, at least 1,000 injuries were reported. Thousands of buildings were also reported damaged.
Despite the magnitude of the explosion, the event was not the first of its kind.
More than a century ago, a suspected asteroid leveled almost 1,000 square miles of forest in remote Siberia in what eventually became known as the Tunguska event.
Indeed, over the last 4,000 years, scientists say tens of thousands of meteorites have hit the earth.
Still, Russians were suspicious of the official explanation.
A poll of readers published by the Noviye Izvestia newspaper found that just half of respondents believed the government's account.
Some thought it was a UFO or an alien invasion, while others, including a Russian politician, claimed it was some sort of secret U.S. government weapon.
"Our people remember the Soviet past, when news of disasters was concealed or lied about," Deputy Director Alexei Grazhdankin of the independent Moscow polling agency Levada Center told reporters.
"A lot of our people just prefer not to accept the safe explanations they were taught at school," Grazhdankin added. "Even when all necessary information is available, they don't want to believe it."
Despite all the talk of UFOs, alien invasions and U.S. weapons, a Christian leader had a different explanation: The spectacular blast was a message from God.
The Russian Orthodox bishop of Chelyabinsk and Zlatoust, Metropolitan Feofan, urged locals "not to lose the strength of will." He added that the narrow escape from devastation should spark reflection on how often people pray, as well as a reassessment of people's lives through the prism of Scripture.
"The Holy Bible says that God sends us signs and warnings through natural calamities," the Christian cleric said in a widely quoted statement. "The meteor shower seen last night was a reminder for residents of the Urals and the rest of the world that we all live in a fragile and unpredictable world."
"We must be happy that God has saved us from a more severe aftermath, and we must thank Him for this favor," Metropolitan Feofan said.
"A natural phenomenon must not incite panic or despondency," he concluded. "No natural disaster, sickness or even death can separate us from God. The only real evil in the world is sin."
The Orthodox bishop was hardly alone in seeing the hand of God behind the meteor.
Other meteors dazzle
On Feb. 16, the Associated Press, citing state-run media outlets, reported that Cuba experienced a similar, albeit smaller, meteor that also shook buildings and left residents bewildered.
"On Tuesday we left home to fish around five in the afternoon, and around 8:00 we saw a light in the heavens and then a big ball of fire, bigger than the sun," a local man said in the video cited by the AP.
A woman quoted in the report said her home "shook completely" and that she "had never heard such a strange thing."
Another major event happened over the skies of Southern California on Feb. 22, when a giant streak of light prompted dozens of eyewitness to file reports with the American Meteor Society.
Residents were apparently so concerned that government officials even responded to the event.
"We are in routine operations," the Los Angeles Fire Department said on Twitter. "There are no emergencies in Los Angeles related to the sighting of a bright light in our atmosphere."
A few days before that, numerous witnesses reported a meteor over Florida's Eastern coast, according to press reports.
Video of the event captured by startled onlookers was run by local media outlets.
"I was like, 'Wow! That's weird,'" West Palm Beach resident Amanda Mayer, who obtained footage of the event, told the local NBC affiliate. "I just started videotaping, and that's when it happened. I was pretty sure it was a meteor because of everything else that's been happening."
Operations Manager Mike Hankey with the American Meteor Society told WND that he has been asked a lot recently about whether or not the number of meteors has been increasing.
However, it is a hard question to answer, particularly since the U.S. Department of Defense stopped sharing its data about the phenomena with scientists in 2008.
"The number of meteor sightings filed with the AMS has been increasing over the last few years and also the last few months," Hankey said, adding, however, that this could be due to a number of factors unrelated to the actual frequency of events.
"At this point, we cannot in any way conclude that there is any real increase in fireball rates," he explained. "We can only conclude that more people are filling out reports on our site."
AMS is currently working on a statistical analysis of the data to try to explain the increase, Hankey said, offering links to information provided by other experts.
Starting Feb. 1, however, when a bright fireball soared over the Dallas, Texas, area, NASA made some interesting conclusions.
"This month, some big space rocks have been hitting Earth's atmosphere," Bill Cooke with NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office said on the agency's website. "There have been five or six notable fireballs that might have dropped meteorites around the United States."
What really has scientists and researches baffled, NASA said, is the extraordinary appearance and trajectory of the recent meteor events.
"These fireballs are particularly slow and penetrating," explained meteor expert and University of Western Ontario physics Professor Peter Brown.
"They hit the top of the atmosphere moving slower than 15 kilometers per second, decelerate rapidly, and make it to within 50 kilometers of Earth's surface," he added.
Senior Pastor Carl Gallups with Hickory Hammock Baptist Church, author of "The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith" and also a popular conservative talk-radio host, cautioned against drawing any biblical conclusions based on a particular incident or series of events.
"There is always a danger when we point to a specific thing and say that this is a definitive sign from God — especially some type of natural event," the widely respect Christian leader told WND in a phone interview.
"However, it cannot be denied that we are living in biblically prophetic times – some of the major signs being the fulfillment of Daniel chapter 12; the increase in transportation and communication technology over the last days; the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 and 39; Israel being surrounded by enemies that are conspiring and plotting against them; the prophecy of Israel being restored to the land in the last days, which was fulfilled in 1948; the prophecy in Mathew 24:14 where Jesus declares that this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached to all the earth and then the end shall come," Gallups said.
"When Jesus uttered those words, the Gospel had not yet been completed – He had not gone to the Cross, there was no empty tomb, the whole world had not been discovered, and the technology to take the Gospel to the whole world had not yet been invented," he added. "We're the only generation to see that fulfillment, so when you look at the clear biblical signs, then you add to it the seemingly increased activity of the heavenly signs and wonders, then you could certainly say that these might very well be harbingers of last-day prophetic events."
Gallups noted that he would not consider the meteor in Russia, for example, as proof that the world that the end times have arrived—after all, meteors have always fallen. The same holds true for tsunamis and earthquakes, which have also been around throughout human history.
"On the other hand, Jesus said that the very last days would be accompanied by signs in the heavens and rumblings on the earth,” he explained. “When you add all of these things together... I don't think it can be denied that we are getting very close to the return of the Lord."
Unidentified Flying Object sightings
Pastor Gallup also offered WND his thoughts on the UFO phenomenon, which appears to have become increasingly prominent in recent years and especially over the last few weeks.
In Mexico, which has become a hot spot for these types of events in recent years, at least two UFO sightings were documented in February over the Popocatepetl volcano outside of the capital.
On Feb. 21 at around 2 a.m., a "cigar-shaped" UFO can be seen clearly in video footage posted online that is making waves among researchers.
Before that, on Feb. 7, multiple strange lights were also caught on camera over the same volcano.
Analysts and researchers dealing with the subject claimed that video shows UFOs as well.
Also during the month of February, the Huffington Post and other major media outlets tracked a number of seemingly credible UFO reports out of Oregon, Florida and even Australia.
The same day as the blast over Russia, for example, two residents of Grants Pass in Oregon caught what they believe was a UFO on camera.
"At first I was like what's wrong with that star? I thought, whoa, that's kind of trippy. So I went to get him and he's like 'whoa! What is that?' And it started moving," one of the residents who captured the event on camera, Heather Scherffius, was quoted as saying in major media reports.
Gregory Soldner, who also witnessed the event, was amazed as well – even though he does not believe in UFOs.
"It looked like a metal disk of some sort. I'm not sure, but it was metal and the way it moved was weird," he said. "I mean, I don't believe in flying saucers, but I've never seen anything quite like this."
A local news station added a special light filter to the video footage, which helped reveal the bizarre phenomenon more clearly.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it was investigating the incident.
On Feb. 11, the Huffington Post and the International Business Times also reported an alleged UFO sighting over Melbourne, Australia, that was caught on video as well.
The bright lights in the sky are seen buzzing around and aligning in a variety of formations. At one point, one of the objects speeds off at a remarkable speed.
Countless other, similar reports around the world have emerged over the last few weeks.
UFO researchers say the vast majority have a simple explanation: birds, drones, airplanes, hot air balloons or natural phenomena. Many are hoaxes.
More than a few analysts believe government tests explain most, if not all, of the purported UFOs.
However, in recent years, the number of apparently unexplained UFO sightings documented by the mainstream media seems to have soared.
From Jerusalem and Moscow to Mexico City, Norway and all across China, the number of bizarre flying objects and celestial events dazzling witnesses without rational explanation is seemingly exploding.
The phenomenon has been getting quite a bit of attention in major media, too, with Fox News, CNN, Russia Today offering coverage.
Government also is taking notice.
In September of 2010, for instance, the United Nations appointed a so-called "alien ambassador" to be charged with coordinating Earth's response to a potential encounter with extraterrestrial life.
The entertainment industry, meanwhile, has also been focusing a lot more attention on UFOs and fictional alien invasions, with more than a few major shows and movies in recent years dealing with the subject.
Some Christian leaders who spoke with WND are suspicious about the widespread, global interest in purported unexplained aerial phenomena.
Many suspect that, if real, the UFOs are not actually space craft operated by extraterrestrial beings, despite the media hype.
Instead, more than a few experts who have studied the matter say the UFO phenomenon is more likely inter-dimensional.
Some Christian researchers believe UFOs and supposed "alien abductions" are related to demons and fallen angels – possibly a part of Satan's great deception foretold in the Scriptures.
In this line of thinking, authorities may try to deceive the public into believing absurdities and heresies related to UFOs and "aliens."
"I think these UFO appearances are demonically related," Senior Pastor Gallups told WND, citing scientific and biblical research.
"Why would these supposed aliens come here for the sole purpose of performing so-called sexual experiments, kidnappings, possessions, and trashing the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” he wondered. “Every time you talk to somebody who says they've had contact with an alien being, that's what it's about."
Like virtually every Christian researcher who has studied the UFO phenomena, Gallups believes the devil is hard at work trying to deceive the nations.
"My estimation is that this is all part of the last days deceptions — the signs and wonders from the heavens," he said, adding that Satan and the Anti-Christ would likely use the phenomenon as part of their effort to deceive the world with lies.
"I think the bottom line is that this is demonic,” continued Gallups, who served as a law enforcement officer and continues to serve on the Board of Regents for University of Mobile. “The whole thing is demonic and we're watching an outpouring of demonic appearances, demonic manifestations, and demonic activity, because I think we're living in the last days.
"Without putting a date on what I mean by the last days, I think we're living in the last days," he noted, echoing an increasingly widespread belief among Christians of all denominations.
"The only rational explanation is that this is a part of that demonic outpouring — that delusion, that deception of the last days, part of the signs and wonders in the heavens."
Other Christian experts in the field who spoke with WND had similar thoughts on the matter.
"These are signs preceding God's judgment of the world, as the Bible foretells," said author Paradox Brown, who has written extensively on the issue, including two books, "A Modern Guide to Demons and Fallen Angels" and "The Bible, Physics, and the Abilities of Fallen Angels: The Alien Abduction Phenomenon."
"The UFOs sightings and alien abduction reports today, in the case of paranormal events taking place, are being orchestrated by Satan and his fallen angels, as events leading up to this deception by Abaddon, as an Antichrist claiming to be humanity's god," Brown told WND, citing multiple passages in Scripture.
"There is a strong delusion coming, and people best get right with God through Jesus Christ His Son now, before these events come to pass," he concluded.
More celestial events coming soon
As WND reported last month, there will be more events in the sky to watch for later this year, including Comet ISON, which is expected to pass near earth and put on spectacular heavenly show by autumn.
"While the world did not end with the end of the Mayan calendar last year, Comet ISON is considered by some to be another celestial sign of things to come," wrote Koinonia Institute Executive Research Analyst Steve Elwart for WND, citing multiple passages from Scripture.