The 8.9 – 9.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on Friday at 2:46 (their time) and the subsequent tsunami, left such wide-spread destruction that it is natural to question whether such an event is a “sign”. We humans often ask ourselves those type of questions after any major disaster. We might wonder if it’s a sign of global warming, a sign of geological upheaval, a sign of God’s displeasure, or a sign of the end of the world.
From Jesus until now, Christianity has talked about earthquakes as a sign of the end. Revelation speaks of a great earthquake and Jesus mentioned that earthquakes, famines and conflict would be like “birth pains” leading to the end.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
-(Jesus) Matthew 24:7-8 [NASB]
Birth pangs are characterized as increasing in frequency and intensity the closer they get to the final event. Because of that, many have explained that these events mentioned by Jesus will also become worse, and happen with greater frequency the closer we get to the end. Some teach it has always been getting worse, but with earthquakes at least, that is not conclusively proven by the evidence. Others teach that Jesus was simply speaking about what would happen as we approached the end. They explain that these events would begin to increase in frequency and intensity as the end approached. After all, most pregnancies do not include birth pangs for all nine months, but just as the end draws near.
If you’re wondering, USGS statistics for big quakes over the last 10 years go like this:
Year – Number of Earthquakes 7.0 or higher
2000 – 15
2001 – 16
2002 – 13
2003 – 15
2004 – 16
2005 – 11
2006 – 11
2007 – 18
2008 – 12
2009 – 17
2010 – 22
2011 – ?? (so far 8, on pace for about 25-30)
It does appear that there have been a few more quakes recently. Three of the last four years have had the most big earthquakes for the decade. Last year was THE most in at least thirty years, and this year we are on pace to beat it again. What does that mean?
By itself, nothing. If we had 50 such quakes in one year, I think geologists might start asking questions, but for now, we’re still in the normal range. 2010 might have had the most in the past thirty years or more, but it only beat 1995 by 2.
Biblically speaking, there are things for us to consider. Yes, there might be some prophetic significance given the state of the world. What Jesus said above, has some parallels with what Revelation 6 describes with the seven seals which are unleashed on the earth, especially the four horsemen.
Take three of the horsemen for example: the second rider takes peace from the earth, the third brings famine and economic distress, and the fourth brings death in various ways which could include natural disasters.
(I say it could include natural disasters because the word used in Revelation 6:8 does not mean MERELY “plague” or “pestilence” as most translations write it. There are words that specifically refer to plagues and pestilence and disease, but those words aren’t used here. The word in Revelation 6:8 literally says the Rider called Death will kill by “death.” That can mean any cause of death, not just disease and pestilence.)
Jesus likewise mentioned famines and conflict and certain natural disasters called earthquakes. The similarities in the description of the end by Jesus and the book of Revelation makes one wonder if both places in the Bible are referring to the same period of time? My guess is they are.
It is POSSIBLE that such a time is starting, but for now, that’s all we can say. Jesus also mentioned signs like these are “merely the beginning of birth pangs.” No need to freak out over them immediately. If the revolutions, resulting conflicts, possible economic meltdowns, and resulting death combined with natural disasters do actually arrive in Biblical proportions, well then we’ll find out soon enough.
For now, though, I think there is a more important Biblical principle to glean from the earthquake in Japan. Watching the scenes of destruction as they happened, I was reminded of the sobering truth that fulfillment of end-time Bible Prophecy would be horrifying. As the prophet Amos once said:
Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, For what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light; As when a man flees from a lion And a bear meets him, Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall And a snake bites him.
-Amos 5:18-19 [NASB]
If you are one of those folks who loves to study and/or debate Bible prophecy, someone who loves to try and figure things out, or just someone that is beginning to wonder what it all may mean, let the words of God through Amos be a wake up call. Darkness and suffering will not be exciting and fun, but it will be a call to work.
It will be a call to help those in need, to give and to sacrifice as Christians have done throughout the ages to relieve suffering and bring comfort. Don’t rejoice at an increase in earthquakes, instead figure out ways to help and bring assistance.
And don’t just read this blog to see if the quake in Japan has anything to do with the Bible. Pray for the people, send some aid their way if you can, and remember that God called you to be a light that shines during a day of darkness.
Whether those dark days are close to the end or not.