One of the signs indicating the “beginning of sorrows” that Jesus Christ outlined (Matthew 24, also called the Olivet Discourse) was “earthquakes in various places” (verse 7). Do recent earthquakes signify that these “beginning” times are already here? If so, is it possible then to better pinpoint our time in terms of Biblical endtime prophecy? Certainly, earthquakes have been front page news this year. The most widely reported include New Zealand (6.3 on the Richter Scale, February 11) and the catastrophic 9.0-scale quake inJapan on March 11.
Two questions beckon: 1. Just when are earthquakes prophesied to increase?; and 2. Has their occurrence accelerated in recent times? Let’s turn our attention to prophecy first and return to Matthew 24. The entire 51 verses of this chapter are prophetic in character. As it happens, the section that we must address (verses 4 to 31) is much debated. However, in our narrow discussion of earthquakes, we are most interested in establishing a timeline and ascertaining any connections between Matthew 24 and Revelation. We conclude significant alignments do exist.
To begin, consider that at the time that Jesus spoke the Olivet prophecies to His disciples, there were yet no Christians (i.e. Spirit-filled converts; certainly very few that were Gentile followers). As such the Olivet Discourse is primarily directed to the Jews, though of course being of great importance to Christians, as well. (Otherwise, why would Matthew have included this account?) Taking this Jewish-centric perspective, we must then align this account with the timeline of the 7-year tribulation period that is the subject of the Chapters 4 to 20 in Revelation. Why? Because this 7-year period is expressly applied to the Jews by the prophets, (most notably by Daniel. See Daniel 9:27), this period being “a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then” (Daniel 12:1).
Events depicted in Matthew 24 are partitioned into three periods 1. Before “the end is yet to come” (verse 6); 2. During the “beginning of birth pains” (verse 8) and 3: Thereafter (from verse 9). A number of scholars have shown the parallels between the events outlined in Matthew 24 and Revelation (for which we lamentably do not have the space to examine in this article). We will look at just one key, this being the term “beginning of birth pains.”
According to Matthew, these are the events that happen before the end of the “beginning of birth pains”: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
We learn here that earthquakes begin to take place in the period that is the “beginning of birth pains.” After this, the really terrible times of persecution and other catastrophes takes place and not before. As such, these two periods correspond and conform to two stages of the 7-year Tribulation period. The Bible splits it into two halves, each being of 3 1/2 years in duration, the latter period itself named the Great Tribulation. This last half is also referred to as “Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). As such, the Jews and Jerusalem enjoy a period of relative peace during the first half. Then, the treaty with the Antichrist is broken and severe persecution of the Jews follows. Jerusalem is nearly annihilated and its denizens evacuated.
We conclude then that it is more likely that the world will see a sharp rise in earthquakes in the first half of the Tribulation and not before.
Has the incidence of earthquakes been increasing in recent years and decades? To be scientifically valid—not going beyond what can be ascertained from statistics—the answer is “probably not.” The chart we show on the front page (Please see the April 2011 issue of Eternal Value Review) will seem to validate a different conclusion. However, it is not. Why? Today, earthquake reporting is much improved.
Quoting the website of the United States Geological Survey (USG), “In 1931, there were about 350 [seismograph] stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 8,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by electronic mail, internet and satellite.” As such, statistics gathering and reporting has served to increase the earthquake counts as well as the perception of their incidence. In reality, occurrences have not risen, just the reporting of earthquakes of smaller size. This is exactly the phenomenon depicted in the pg.1 graph. Earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 (on the Richter Scale) or greater—the ones that historically were noticeably cataclysmic, and most likely to be reported—have remained fairly constant. In fact, one earthquake per year exceeding 9.0 on the Richter Scale (as was the recent occurrence in Japan) is considered normal.
So what about prophecy? Is it invalidated? Hardly. We must conclude that much greater earthquake activity lies ahead for the world. If our interpretation of Matthew 24 and the corresponding accounts of Revelation are correct, a pronounced increase—conclusively noticeable for all of mankind to recognize—will occur during the first half of the Tribulation period. This also corresponds to the understanding that the Tribulation period is in fact a period of time where God himself intervenes in the physical order of the earth. It is a time of God’s wrath.
Finally, as disastrous and powerful as the recent Japanese earthquake may have been, it will pale in comparison to the worst. The biggest earthquake of all time has yet to occur. As is prophesied in Revelation, one very big one has yet to take place. “No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake” (Revelation 16:8).