What is the biblical significance of the great earthquake that happened this past week in Istanbul Turkey? The death toll from that quake surged Friday to 9,082 dead and about 34,000 injured. It is believed that there are still about 35,000 people buried in the rubble. Is our planet Earth shaking with greater frequency and intensity than ever before in human history? Every time something like this happens the prophecy preachers start shouting, "The end is near." Is there a spiritual significance to this earthquake?
In The Promise, Hal Lindsey states, Jesus "warned that earthquakes would increase in frequency and intensity as this old earth prepared for its final cataclysm" (Page 198). He says that this piece of the prophetic "jigsaw puzzle" is supposed to be taking place in our day. In his book, Good-bye Planet Earth (1976), Seventh Day Adventist author, Robert H. Pierson, has a subheading "A Shaking, Quaking Planet." Under it he states:
With increasing frequency and intensity Mother Earth has been shaking and quaking. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. Multiplied thousands more will perish in greater earth spasms ahead. Never since the days of Noah has the world been so badly battered. Again God is speaking to us -- He is seeking to tell us that our time is short.
Are we supposed to some how see God's voice in this latest earthquake? Is God telling us our time is short? How short?
The most remarkable and detailed claims in this regard, however, are those made by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses and their Watch Tower Society. Maintaining that Christ's statement regarding "great earthquakes" (Luke chapter 21:11) has seen its true fulfillment only since 1914, the Watch Tower Society claims that we have experienced an enormous increase in such earthquakes since that year: The frequency of major earthquakes has increased about 20 times what it was on an average during the two thousand years before 1914. (Survival into a New Earth(1984), page 23.)
Before we examine what the Bible has to say on this issue, let me say that from a scientific standpoint, these claims of increased earthquake activity in our day are false. The earth has not been shaking and quaking with greater frequency.
Charles F. Richter, former President of the Seismological Society of America and the originator of the "Richter scale," in an article published in the December 1969 issue of Natural History magazine said: "One notices with some amusement that certain religious groups have picked this rather unfortunate time to insist that the number of earthquakes is increasing. In part they are misled by the increasing number of small earthquakes that are being catalogued and listed by newer, more sensitive stations throughout the world" (page 44).
Dr. Richter's statement was aimed at demonstrating that the claimed increase in the earthquake activity during our century finds no support in the recorded seismological data during the period of instrumentally measured seismicity, which covers the period from 1896, or more particularly from 1903 onward.
Dr. Richter's statement was made back in 1969. Why then, does Hal Lindsey make these claims in his book, The 1980's--Countdown to Armageddon?:
There have been many great earthquakes throughout history, but, according to surprisingly well-kept records, in the past they did not occur very frequently. The 20th century, however, has experienced an unprecedented increase in the frequency of these calamities. In fact, the number of earthquakes per decade has roughly doubled in each of the 10-year periods since 1950 (page 29).
The 1970's experienced the largest increase in the number of quakes known to history. In fact, the dramatic increase in quakes in 1976 led many scientists to say we are entering a period of great seismic disturbances (page 30).
Hal Lindsey is trying to prove his clams that we are in the "last days" by using scientific data. The problem is that what he says is not what the data really says.
More recent statistics published by other seismologists, who have carefully and objectively examined the matter, not only confirm the accuracy of Dr. Richter's statement, but show that it continued to be true into the 1970's.
What do the seismologists themselves say as to the overall picture? Have they found any marked difference between the frequency of earthquakes since 1914 compared with earlier centuries? Seismologists, J. Milne and A. W. Lee, declared, "There is no indication that seismic activity has increased or diminished appreciably throughout historic times." And Professor Markus Both agrees: "For earlier centuries we do not have the same reliable statistics, but there are no indications at all of any increase in the activity in the course of time."
As the ancient records become more and more sparse and incomplete the farther back in time we go, it is only natural that we have more and better information from the latest centuries than from the earlier ones. There is, however, one exception- Japan. The Japanese have kept a running record
of destructive earthquakes in that country (with its frequent seismic activity) reaching back to well before the birth of Christ. According to Milne's catalog, the number of destructive earthquakes in Japan recorded during each century from the ninth to the nineteenth are:
9th century - 40; 10th century - 17; 11th century - 20; 12th century - 18; 13th century - 16; 14th century - 19; 15th century - 36; 16th century - 17; 17th century - 26; 18th century - 31; 19th century - 27.
WHAT DO LEADING SEISMOLOGISTS SAY ABOUT EARTHQUAKES TODAY AND IN THE PAST?
"There is no indication that seismic activity has increased or diminished appreciably throughout historic time." Seismologists J. Milne and A. W. Lee, Earthquakes and Other Earth Movements, seventh edition (London, 1939), p. 155.
"For earlier centuries we do not have the same reliable statistics, but there are no indications at all of any increase in the activity in the course of time." Professor Markus Both (private letter dated June 17, 1983).
"I certainly would agree with both Professors Both and Richter in their assessment that there has been no significant increase in the number of earthquakes during this or any other century." Wilbur A. Rinehart, seismologist at the World Data Center A, Boulder, Colorado (private letter dated August 8, 1985).
An expert on the seismicity of the Mediterranean area, one of the earth's major earthquake regions, says,"Most certainly, there has been no increase in the seismic activity of the Mediterranean during this century. Quite the contrary, in the Eastern Mediterranean the activity of this century has been abnormally low when compared with that of the 10th-12th and 18th centuries." Professor N. N. Ambraseys (private letter dated August 9, 1985).
"I feel strongly that the seismicity has been stationary for thousands of years. . . . Excellent geological evidence for the stationarity has been obtained by Prof. Kerry Sieh of Caltech, for the San Andreas fault." Seismologist Keiiti Aki, professor at the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles (private letter dated September 5, 1985).
"There are indications that worldwide seismic activity if expressed in terms of earthquakes with magnitude 7 or over-has decreased steadily in the time from the beginning of the 20th century until now." Seweryn J. Duda, Professor of Geophysics, University of Hamburg (private letter dated July 7, 1986).
These quotes are from chapter 3 of the book, SIGN OF THE LAST DAYS - WHEN? by Carl Olof Jonsson and Wolfgang Herbst, Commentary Press, P.O. Box 43532, Atlanta, Georgia 30336. 1987.
Consequently, there is no evidence whatsoever in support of the claim that earthquake activity is markedly different in our century compared with earlier centuries. All information available points to the contrary.
Now, let's look at what the Bible says about earthquakes. First of all, Jesus only uses the word "earthquakes" three times in Scripture. They are all found in the Gospels in parallel accounts.
Matthew 24:7 (NKJV) "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.
Mark 13:8 and Luke 21:11 basically say the same thing. From these verses many have understood Jesus to be saying that earthquakes are a sign of the end of the world? That is not what Jesus said. Let's back up to the beginning of Matthew 24 and see if we can understand what Jesus is saying.
Matthew 24:1-3 (NKJV) Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." 3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
The disciples here ask Jesus a twofold question. First, they ask, "When will these things be?" All three of the synoptic gospels ask, "when." The "these things" refers to the temple's destruction in verse 2. In verse 1, the disciples point out the temple buildings to Jesus. In verse 2, Jesus says, "All 'these things' shall be destroyed." It should be clear that they are asking, "WHEN will the temple be destroyed? When will our house be left desolate?" After all Jesus had just said about judgment on Jerusalem, and then about not one stone being left upon another, the disciples' response is, "When?" That makes sense, doesn't it?
The second part of their question is," What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age."The disciples had one thing, and only one thing, on their mind, and that was the destruction of the temple. With the destruction of the temple, they connected the coming of Messiah and the end of the age.
Now, again, the "these things"-- the destruction of the temple, are connected with the end of the age. Some translations render this "end of the world." That is very confusing. The Greek word used here is aeon which means, "age." It is not talking about the end of the physical world; the word aeon means: "age, era, or a period of time." The expression "end of the age" refers to "the end of the Jewish age." The disciples knew that the fall of the temple and the destruction of the city meant the end of the Old Covenant age and the inauguration of a new age.
We could put the disciples' question this way, "When will the temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of your presence in power and glory as Messiah and the end of the Jewish age?" Amazingly, there is almost unanimity among commentators that the disciples associated the fall of Jerusalem with the Lord's parousia and the end of the age.
With these questions in mind, we move to Jesus' answer.
Matthew 24:4-5 (NKJV) And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. 5 "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many.
Who is the "them" in verse 4? It is the disciples. Please keep this in mind as we move through this chapter. Jesus is speaking to his disciples. Whatever Jesus' answer means, it must have meaning to them. Any application that we make to ourselves from Scripture can only be made after we understand what it meant to the original audience. Keep in mind the principle of original relevance. Why do I belabor this point? Because most folks today miss it.
James Stuart Russell in his book, The Parousia, says this concerning Matthew 24:4-14:
It is impossible to read this section and fail to perceive its distinct reference to the period between our Lord's crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem. Every word is spoken to the disciples, and to them alone. To imagine that the 'ye' and 'you' in this address apply, not to the disciples to whom Christ was speaking, but to some unknown and yet non-existent persons in a far distant age, is so preposterous a supposition as not to deserve serious notice.
So, Jesus tells his disciples that they will see FALSE MESSIAHS. Then in the next verse he tells them that "THEY" will hear of WARS AND RUMORS OF WARS:
Matthew 24:6 (NKJV) "And YOU will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that YOU are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but THE END IS NOT YET.
Wars are NOT a sign of the end, as the end of verse 6 clearly tells us. He will tell them later in this chapter that when they see a war, not hear of one, they are to flee.
Then Jesus tells THEM that they will see NATION FIGHTING NATION, FAMINES, PESTILENCE, and EARTHQUAKES:
Matthew 24:7 (NKJV) "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.
Did the disciple experience earthquakes in their life time? Yes, they did. Tacitus mentions earthquakes at Rome. He wrote, "Frequent earthquakes occurred, by which many houses were thrown down," and, "Twelve populous cities of Asia fell in ruins from an earthquake."
In spite of what Jesus said, "The end is not yet," many today take this passage out of context and speak ignorantly about "The signs of the times," trying to show that this or that battle, serious earthquake, or devastating famine is a sign of Christ's imminent return. ALL these things happened in the time prior to AD 70 and the fall of Jerusalem. They are not signs! As we look back over history, when has there been a time when there were not wars, famines, pestilence and earthquakes? These things are not signs. Jesus said to his disciples that these things are the "beginning of sorrows."
Matthew 24:8 (NKJV) "All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Earthquakes were not signs to the disciples and they are not signs today. Earthquakes are earthquakes, nothing more.
Matthew 24:9 (NKJV) "Then they will deliver YOU up to tribulation and kill YOU, and YOU will be hated by all nations for My name's sake.
Who will be delivered up and killed? THE DISCIPLES! Jesus said the disciples would be afflicted, beaten, imprisoned; they would be hated for his name's sake and some would be killed; they would be brought before councils, rulers, and kings, for a testimony; they would be given a mouth of wisdom which their adversaries could not dispute. The disciples experienced all of this before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, just as the Lord said they would. It was unmistakably fulfilled in every detail!
The disciples asked Jesus for a sign of the end and the first sign he gives them is in verse 14:
Matthew 24:14 (NKJV) "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and THEN THE END WILL COME.
Remember the disciples' question? "What shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?" What end is he talking about here? Unless we take this verse clear out of its setting, "the end" in view here is the end or destruction which was to come upon Jerusalem and the temple ending the Jewish age. Jerusalem would be destroyed, but "first" the gospel would be preached unto all nations.
Well, if all this happened in their day, and all was fulfilled before AD 70, was the gospel preached to all the world before Jerusalem fell? YES! Paul declares that the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven:
Colossians 1:5-6 (NKJV) because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;
Colossians 1:23 (NKJV) if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
In Matthew 24:14, the Greek word for preached is kerusso; it is in the future tense. But in Colossians 1:23, the same word kerusso is in the aorist tense (past). Jesus said that it is to be preached, and Paul says in AD 62, that it has been preached to every creature.
Listen, people, we are not living in the "Last Days." The last days ended in AD 70, they were the last days of Israel.
Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV) God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has IN THESE LAST DAYS spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
Jesus was speaking in the last days. Last days of what? The last days of the Old Covenant age.
Hebrews 9:26 (NKJV) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the END OF THE AGES, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
When was it that Jesus appeared? He was born not at the beginning, but at the end of the ages. Jesus was manifest at the end of the Jewish age. Peter says the same thing.
1 Peter 1:20 (NKJV) He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest IN THESE LAST TIMES FOR YOU
Jesus came during the last days of the age that was the Old Covenant age, the Jewish age. That age came to an end with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. All the things prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24 occurred at the end of that age. So, earthquakes are not a sign to us.
Why this great earthquake in Turkey? What does the Bible tell us about earthquakes? Well, we know that no earthquakes in the Bible are attributed to Satan. Many are attributed to God. This is because God is Lord of heaven and earth.
Luke 8:25 (NKJV) But He said to them, "Where is your faith?" And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, "Who can this be? FOR HE COMMANDS EVEN THE WINDS AND WATER, AND THEY OBEY HIM!"
Psalms 147:15-18 (NKJV) HE SENDS OUT HIS COMMAND TO THE EARTH; His word runs very swiftly. 16 He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes; 17 He casts out His hail like morsels; Who can stand before His cold? 18 He sends out His word and melts them; HE CAUSES HIS WIND TO BLOW, AND THE WATERS FLOW.
Psalms 104:32 (NKJV) HE LOOKS ON THE EARTH, AND IT TREMBLES; He touches the hills, and they smoke.
Job 9:6 (NKJV) He shakes the earth out of its place, And its pillars tremble;
Earthquakes are ultimately from God. Nature does not have a will of its own. We know that God does nothing without an infinitely wise and good purpose.
Isaiah 31:2 (NKJV) YET HE ALSO IS WISE AND WILL BRING DISASTER, And will not call back His words, But will arise against the house of evildoers, And against the help of those who work iniquity.
Psalms 100:5 (NKJV) FOR THE LORD IS GOOD; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.
Therefore, God had good and all-wise purposes for the heart-rending tragedy in Turkey that took thousands of lives on August 16, 1999. Indeed, he had hundreds of thousands of purposes, most of which will remain hidden to us. When things like this earthquake take place, we must keep in mind:
Romans 11:33 (NKJV) Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
We cannot begin to understand His decisions, His decrees; they are way past being able to be searched out. The words "past finding out" are a Greek hunting metaphor of hunters who would track animals and lose the path. If you try to follow what God is doing, you're going to lose the path. Because God's ways are unsearchable, we are shut up to faith.
Romans 11:34-35 (NKJV) "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" 35 "Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?"
In verse 34 and 35, he asks three rhetorical questions:
1. "Who has known the mind of the Lord?" Do you think that you can understand God's thought process?
Isaiah 55:8 (NKJV) "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD.
2. "Who has been His counselor?" Who does God go to for advice? Should He have come to you? We sometimes act as if He should have. What arrogance! If you had the power to change some of your circumstances in life, would you? Why? Has God messed up, made a mistake? Do we know better than He does? His wisdom is infinite, we must learn to trust Him in everything.
3. "Who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?" Who had God in debt to him? Who does God owe anything to? No one ever gave to God.
Romans 11:36 (NKJV) For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
The three prepositions used here, "of," "through" and "to," indicate that God is the source; the constantly working cause and the end of all things. God is the source of everything, God controls everything, and He made and controls everything for his own glory.
Revelation 4:11 (NKJV) "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created."
The purpose, the final purpose, the all inclusive purpose of everything is to display God's glory.
When we see a disaster such as the earthquake in Turkey, we shouldn't ask, "How could God do that?" We should see those people as an example of what we all deserve. They weren't worse sinners--they were an illustration of justice.
We all deserve the wrath of God because of our sin. Have you ever sinned? Yes, you have. Have you experienced God's wrath? No, and you never will if you have put your trust in the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. God's redemption of man is pure mercy! Praise God for His mercy because you don't deserve it. We deserve wrath, we deserve hell. Anything short of that should cause us to be grateful. Whenever we see God act in justice, or when things aren't going according to our plans, we shouldn't question God's fairness. We should realize what we really deserve, and be grateful that God is merciful.
God's unilateral taking of thousands of lives in Turkey is a loud declaration that "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21). The message for all the world is that life is a loan from God and belongs to him. He creates it, and gives it, and takes it according to his own will and owes us nothing. It is a great gift for believers to learn this truth and dedicate our lives to their true owner, rather than defraud him of what is rightfully His.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NKJV) Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For YOU WERE BOUGHT AT A PRICE; THEREFORE GLORIFY GOD IN YOUR BODY AND IN YOUR SPIRIT, WHICH ARE GOD'S.