Updated: Mar 28, 2020
"And I saw an angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those
who live on the earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people;
and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory,
because the hour of His judgment has come.” (Rev 14:6-7)
The above verse was used daily in our chapel services at the Theological College I trained at, in Australia. I’ve always remembered it because of its concluding words “Fear God…for the hour of His judgement has come.” I have a feeling that not a lot of people will want to finish this article because it’s so unsettling. However we can’t just pick and choose which parts of Scripture we prefer, liking the better bits and ignoring the unpleasant ones. And while of course there’s a difference between what the Old and New Testaments tell us about certain things (like animal sacrifices for example), overall this one message is clear in both Testaments: God demands accountability for a Day of Reckoning.
“Each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom 14:12)
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and each one will be recompensed for deeds done while in the body, according to what we have done whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10).
Not only will that be a time of great inward trembling for many, it will also be manifest in the natural realm too. A great quaking on the earth and in the heavenlies.
Undeniably one of the aspects of the biblical End Time scenario deals with the physical upheaval that will befall the earth – and even the very universe. Hollywood of course has produced dozens of movies on this theme, mostly un-biblical. There are frightening scenarios of major earthquakes, stupendous waves wiping out coastal cities, asteroids hitting earth destroying most of humanity, super-bug plagues silently spreading their deadly diseases, etc – to say nothing of alien invaders!
If we believe the scriptural setting about the End Times, we can’t avoid noting the physical upheaval the Word says will also occur. Now while it’s quite reasonable to look at the social impact that will and is happening now (like same-sex marriage, legal abortion and increasingly, lawful euthanasia), we should also be vigilant and attentive to what Scripture says will happen physically to the planet.
I don’t want to make this teaching a “populist sensationalist” article, but I do want to alert us to the events that will happen on the earth, in it, and even upon the universe itself. The Bible tells us that there will be a final day of judgment, not only for humankind but seemingly even for creation itself. These events include dramatic astronomical signs in the heavens, visible to everyone on the earth. One of the reasons they will be observable is to PROVE that God is real and true. Unbelievers and scoffers alive at the End, will be rocked to the very core of their soul. It will be violently distressing for them. All of their opinions will be shaken and found to be hollow and entirely undependable.
Just in case you may not have seen all these verses in one place, here they are. I warn you, the staggering impact they might have could be un-nerving even for believers!
(Joel 2:30-31) “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 terrible day of YHWH comes.”
(Isa 24:18-20) “For the windows above are opened and the foundations of the earth shake. The earth is broken asunder, the earth is split through, the earth is shaken violently. The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard and it totters like a cottage, for its transgression is heavy upon it and it will fall, never to rise again.”
(Isa 34:4) “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fade away as the leaf fades from off the vine, and as a fading leaf from the fig-tree.”
(Zech 14:4) “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.”
(Matt 24:7-8) "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."
(Matt 24:29) “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”
(Luk 21:11) “There will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.”
(Luk 21:25-26) “There shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows; men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”
(2 Pet 3:7) “The heavens and earth have been reserved for fire and are being kept for the day when ungodly people will be judged and destroyed.”
(2 Pet 3:10-12) "The day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning and the elements will melt with intense heat!"
(Rev 6:12-14) “And when he opened the sixth seal I looked and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood; and the stars of the heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts her unripe figs when she is shaken by a great wind. And the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island moved out of their place.”
(Rev 20:11) "And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them."
(Rev 21:1) "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea."
No wonder people will “faint with fear” (Luke 21:26) and “cry out for the hills to cover them” (Rev 6:15). All this will be so mind-numbing and terrifying that people’s hearts will give way, their minds will be in deep despair and they’ll be traumatized beyond belief. It will be absolutely terrifying.
You may have seen people on TV who’ve just been through an earthquake for the first time, say how unsettling it was and how they panicked, feeling totally un-nerved. Well, multiply that ten thousand times and you may get a sense of how dramatic it will be.
“People will faint from fear and apprehension because of the things that are to come on the world, because the powers of heaven will be shaken.” (Luke 21:26)
In this verse “fear” literally means “to breath out the soul” and comes from a phrase meaning “to be put in fear, exceedingly so”. This fear reaction is so real that a person can actually be scared to death. When we’re faced with a life-threatening situation our nervous system uses adrenaline to transmit signals to parts of our body thus activating what’s called the “fight-or-flight” response. The chemical is very toxic in large amounts and quickly damages internal organs like the heart, kidneys, lungs and liver. Doctors believe that nearly all sudden death-events are caused by such damage to the heart.
So there you have it; “People will faint from fear…because of the things that are to come on the earth”.
One reason God will use these natural disasters is to bring people to their knees. His love for them will still be available, but as He knows the hearts of humanity, He also knows many will curse Him rather than cry out for mercy. Natural catastrophes are the most unsettling of all calamities because they are beyond our control. We might be able to deal somewhat with plagues, even put out raging bush fires but there’s no way we can halt earthquakes, stop the sun from giving light, or asteroids from showering the earth en-masse. These terrifying shakings will petrify people’s minds and they themselves will shake with uncontrollable dread. It will be frightening beyond our present comprehension with a complete unravelling of our normal social fabric, with widespread natural calamities.
When the ground beneath you is violently tossing and moving, the sky seemingly being “rolled up like a scroll”, the heavens start to dissolve with intense heat, and people around you screaming with panic – you can image the absolute horror of it. All this on top of nation fighting against nation, with all the political, social and anarchy it brings.
“There shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows; men fainting for fear for expectation of the things which are coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” (Luk 21:25-26).
To be fair, many commentators say that these “signs” are figurative and symbolic of the great Jewish political and social upheaval at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 onto the centuries that would follow. This is usual for most commentaries, particularly prior to the foundation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. So while we need some humility about interpreting this (because it’s a case of not knowing for certain) perhaps we should be more open to admit that Jesus was speaking literally.
Once you start using scripture metaphorically you have to be VERY careful knowing when to stop treating it as such. Besides that, the use of imagery and symbolism needs to adhere to a strict convention, otherwise you end up jumping from a literal to symbolic usage in the very same verse! Such an approach shows a blatant bias of scholarly misuse and evidences the confusion the person already has about the subject. Face value interpretation is nearly always the best option, unless it’s strikingly obvious the text is figurative. For example in Mark 9:45-47 Jesus says:
“If your foot causes you to stumble cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than having your two feet to be cast into hell and if your eye causes you to stumble throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than having two eyes, to be cast into hell.”
Jesus says we should do this, but how many blind and legless people do you see around you! No, the text in Mark is not to be taken at face value, it’s quite obviously figurative. This was a common teaching method used by Rabbis in Jesus’ day. To overstate a saying was not regarded as being misleading but used to make a dramatic and strong point. The hearers of Jesus’ time would’ve understood this; it’s we in our century who often get the meaning mixed up.
So it seems the immediate reference in Luke 21:25-26 could have been about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but its ultimate far-reaching reference is to Christ’s final coming and the End Times. Quite a number of End Time prophetic sayings have this two-fold aspect – one with an impending event in mind, and another meant for the latter days. It needs discernment, a bit of study, and guidance from the Spirit to know the difference. But once you get the hang of it, it works fairly well. Just don’t be too smug about your own interpretation and view!
About the earthquakes
In Scripture there’s a pattern about earthquakes relating to significant aspects of Christ’s life and ministry.
A prophesy about the Second Coming. “In that day His (Christ’s) feet will stand on the Mount of Olives…the Mount will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.” (Zech 14:4)
The Crucifixion. “The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” (Matt 27:51)
The Resurrection. “And a severe earthquake occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.” (Matt 28:2)
Future. “And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.” (Rev 11:19)
Future. “I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood.” (Rev 6:12)
Future. “The angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” (Rev 8:5)
Future. “And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” (Rev 11:13)
Future. “There were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.” (Rev 16:18)
It’s also interesting to note how often the Voice of God and angels are associated with earthquakes.
In Revelation, John wrote of a futuristic “great earthquake” associated with the opening of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12). This earthquake will not be the final “big one” but the precursor to the greatest earthquake ever. The “big one” will happen when the seventh bowl is poured out (Rev 16:16-20). This future “Armageddon earthquake” of verse 18 (sometimes called “the Messiah’s earthquake) is related to the return of Christ to Jerusalem (Acts 1:11 and Zech 14:4). When this happens it will cause severe geologic changes on a worldwide scale. After God’s voice (Rev 16:17) shakes the earth (Heb 12:26) with such astonishing geologic changes, His saints will receive a “kingdom which cannot be moved” (Heb 12:26-29). All this might seem figurative, but a close reading of the Revelation texts linked to the Acts 1:11 indicates this to be a literal event – you cannot split the two and still have integrity. We need to be honest about it.
Before these last great quakes happen though, He will use other earthquakes to capture our attention.
“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.” (Matt 24:7-8)
When you read the above text it seems to indicate that increasing earthquakes (along with famines) are major signs of the End. However according to some scientists, earthquakes are not actually increasing at all. Of course you might say that the worldly experts are out to trick us – but let’s not get too much into conspiracy here. We should be honest enough to check things out before we jump the gun.
According to scientists (UK) some research shows earthquakes don’t seem to be on the increase at all; it’s just that our reporting of them in the media is much better. You’ll need discernment about that! Whatever the actual truths are about earthquakes being on the increase or not, the point is that they are indicators of the start of things, but not signs of the closeness of the actual end.
Most of us have read in Matthew 24 of the “earthquakes in divers (various, many) places” and probably thought it meant more and more earthquakes. But that’s not what it plainly says. Jesus Himself told us that when these things start it’s not the End, but simply the “beginning of birth pangs” (verse 8). He didn’t say they would increase, just that when they’re observable in various places, it would be a sign of the beginning of travail (odin = birth pains).
The word odin means birth-pangs and Jews used the same phrase in earlier writings to describe the sufferings of the Messiah which were to come before He arrived. This phrase has been so misunderstood to imply that pain of various sorts would increase steadily in time, just as earthquakes do. When Paul used this same metaphor in Romans 8:18–25 his understanding of creation’s pain was not that anguish would grow steadily worse, but that the present period of suffering should provoke in us an eager longing for the consummation of the coming age. This is quite often the point of many scriptures, not simply to inform us of something, but also to cause us to reflect and then respond to what truth is being stated.
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. (Rom 8:22-23)
The author of Hebrews sees a similar hope, not in anticipating a future sign of ever-increasing earthquakes, but in the coming of a sudden and final cosmic cataclysm producing a “kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Heb 12:28). So looking at this accurately, these troubles and disasters are not simply signs of The End, but the hope of a glorious and eternal beginning. It’s somewhat ironic that verses we usually think refer to The End of Things actually point to the very opposite – the heralding of a New Beginning!
In scripture these earth-shaking powers are likened to the cataclysmic event at the time of Noah’s flood (2 Pet 3:6). We are told this is to happen one more time (Hag 2:6; Heb 12:26). This "one more time" is the convergence of all these End Time events at the "great and terrible day of YHWH" (Joel 2:31; 2 Thess chpt 2; Rev 6:12 and 16:18).
It’s quite clear that earthquakes have been used by God to highlight some of the most central events of Scripture. He uses these as signs of His judgment, His deliverance for His people, and also His desire to instruct and communicate. God the Creator uses earthquakes to emphasize the importance of a momentous event – He wants to make a point, but do we get it?
We may realise it’s God as the earthquakes are actually happening or perhaps just after, but do we take note when it’s prophesied well beforehand? I certainly hope so, because the quakes and their aftermath yet to come, are extremely chilling.
“There will be (1) great earthquakes; and in various places (2) plagues and famines; and there will be (3) terrors; and (4) great signs from heaven” (Luk 21:11).