For decades now, modern-day prophecy writers have been claiming that the increase and severity of earthquakes are sure indicators that the rapture is near. Carl G. Johnson wrote in 1972 that “the greatest earthquakes that have ever shaken this world have all come since the close of World War I. Several of them shook the whole earth.”1 Peter LaLonde claims that the number of earthquakes per decade “has roughly doubled since the 1950’s.” David Allen Lewis offers a similar statistic: “There have been more earthquakes in the last 50 years than in the previous 1,500 years.” Michael D. Evans, whose book The American Prophecies is touted as an end-time tour de force by a number of dispensational advocates, wrote in an earlier prophecy work that “[T]he magnitude and frequency of earthquakes sets apart from any other time in spiritual history.” Jack Van Impe argued in a similar way: “History shows that the number of killer quakes remained fairly constant until the 1950s—averaging between two to four per decade. In the 1950s, there were nine. In the 1960s, there were 13. In the 1970s, there were 51. In the 1980s, there were 86. From 1990 through 1996, there have been more than 150.”2
As we will see, statistically there has not been an increase in the number of earthquakes or volcanoes in the past 100 years or an increase in their severity (see the chart for a sample of the historical record).3 Consider the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull that is wrecking havoc over Europe. Is it a unique, once in a lifetime occurrence? It’s not:
There are 35 active volcanoes in Iceland, and one eruption has been known to set off another. The worse case happened in 1783, with an eruption lasting eight months. That eruption killed off much of the livestock and agriculture in Iceland, which in turn caused the death of about 25% of the island’s population.
The eruption also eventually killed tens of thousands of people on the Continent. Benjamin Franklin was in Paris at the time and was one of the first to connect the rapid change in local weather that collapsed European agriculture with a volcanic explosion. 1783 became known as the horrible “year without summer.” Europe plunged into a period of poverty that lasted for years. Some historians believe that this may have contributed to the French Revolution of 1789.4
The 1783 eruption impacted America. “In North America, the winter of 1784 was the longest and one of the coldest on record. It was the longest period of below-zero temperatures in New England, the largest accumulation of snow in New Jersey, and the longest freezing over the Chesapeake Bay. There was ice skating in Charleston Harbor, a huge snowstorm hit the south, the Mississippi River froze at New Orleans, and there was ice in the Gulf of Mexico.”5
Like clockwork, when news reports started coming in about the deep-sea earthquake that created the massive tsunami that has killed more than 150,000 people in 2004, I predicted that prophecy writers would connect this tragic event to an end-of-the-world scenario. Hal Lindsey was one of the first to make the inevitable connection.6 Lindsey concentrates on Luke’s account of Jesus’ prophecy in the Olivet Discourse:
When Jesus was asked what the signs of His return would be, He painted a picture of a world torn by ethnic strife and war, famine in the midst of plenty, rocked by great earthquakes and ravaged by pestilences.
Lindsey uses Luke 21:11 for his apocalyptic reference point: “And there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” He claims that Jesus is referring to what will take place at a distant time, in a period just before the “rapture” and the great tribulation.
Lindsey has pulled the earthquake card before. He started in 1970 with the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth.7 In 1997, he wrote, “Earthquakes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, just as the Bible predicts for the last days before the return of Christ.”8 In 1994, he published similar statistics in the first edition of Planet Earth 2000 A.D. The source for Lindsey’s statistics is the authoritative United States Geological Survey in Boulder, Colorado. “But he does not give details of the report (report name, author, date, location, etc.).”9 Those who consider earthquakes to be a sign of our end of the age and the nearness of the rapture are missing some crucial biblical and historical data. First, the end of the age was a first-century event (1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1–2; 9:26; 10:24–25). Second, the sign of earthquakes only has meaning within the time context of the generation to whom Jesus was addressing (see my book Last Days Madness). Third, the statistics used by Lindsey and others cannot be substantiated by a study of the data.
As we will see, there is ample historical evidence that these earthquakes did take place before that first-century generation passed away. In fact, as history records, killer quakes and tsunamis have a long history. The August 27th, 1883 eruption of Krakatoa resulted in the deaths of 40,000 people, almost all of whom died from 100-foot tsunamis generated by the shock waves. Through eyewitness accounts, we learned that the explosion was heard thousands of miles away, and the eruption’s shock wave traveled around the world. The effects of the disaster were far-reaching and long-lasting:
Beyond the purely physical horrors of an event that has only very recently been properly understood, the eruption changed the world in more ways than could possibly be imagined. Dust swirled round the planet for years, causing temperatures to plummet and sunsets to turn vivid with lurid and unsettling displays of light. The effects of the immense waves were felt as far away as France. Barometers in Bogotá and Washington, D.C., went haywire. Bodies were washed up in Zanzibar. The sound of the island’s destruction was heard in Australia and India and on islands thousands of miles away. Most significant of all—in view of today’s new political climate—the eruption helped to trigger in Java a wave of murderous anti-Western militancy among fundamentalist Muslims: one of the first outbreaks of Islamic-inspired killings anywhere.10
What’s unique about earthquakes and volcanoes in our day is how quickly we learn about them through television, satellite transmission, and the Internet. News of the devastating effects of Krakatoa was transmitted by Morse Code. If, as Lindsey himself states, the December 26, 2004 “catastrophic tsunami was caused by the fourth most powerful undersea earthquake on record,” then there were three that were more powerful that we know about and many more that we don’t know about. It seems that there are more earthquakes today because of several factors:
A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications. In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more that 4,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by telex, computer and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years, and we are able to locate earthquakes more rapidly. The NEIC now locates about 12,000 to 14,000 earthquakes each year or approximately 35 per day. Also, because of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in natural disasters, the public now learns about more earthquakes. According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 18 major earthquakes (7.0–7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year.11
As history attests, devastating earthquakes are not new.
Lindsey continues: “Jesus indicates that all the natural disasters will begin to increase in frequency and intensity in concert with each other shortly before His return. And it is as these ‘birth pains’ begin to take place that believers in Jesus are to know that their deliverance is near.” There is no mention of an increase in the frequency or intensity of earthquakes in what Jesus says, only that they will occur “in various places” before “this generation,” that is, the generation of Jesus’ day, passed away.
The biblical record shows that earthquakes occurred before Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. Two earthquakes are mentioned in Matthew: When Jesus was crucified (27:54) and when the angel came down to roll the stone away from the tomb where Jesus was buried (28:2). This second earthquake is said to have been “severe.” Luke records in Acts that “a great earthquake” that shook “the foundations of the prison house” (Acts 16:26).
Secular historians of the time support the biblical record. “And as to earthquakes, many are mentioned by writers during a period just previous to 70 A.D. There were earthquakes in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Chios, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse, Campania, Rome, and Judea. It is interesting to note that the city of Pompeii was much damaged by an earthquake occurring on February 5, 63 A.D.”12 Henry Alford compiled the following list:
The principal earthquakes occurring between this prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem were, (1) a great earthquake in Crete, A.D. 46 or 47; (2) one at Rome on the day when Nero assumed the manly toga, A.D. 51; (3) one at Apamaea in Phrygia, mentioned by Tacitus, A.D. 53; (4) one at Laodicea in Phrygia, A.D. 60; (5) one in Campania. Seneca, in the year, A.D. 58, writes:—“How often have cities of Asia and Achaea fallen with one fatal shock! How many cities have been swallowed up in Syria, how many in Macedonia! How often has Cyprus been wasted by this calamity! How often has Paphos become a ruin! News has often been brought us of the demolition of whole cities at once.”13
Notice the tight geographical area of these earthquakes within a period of just 12 years. Their severity and frequency have not been eclipsed in modern times.
Flavius Josephus, an eyewitness to the events surrounding Jerusalem’s destruction, describes an earthquake in Judea of such magnitude “that the constitution of the universe was confounded for the destruction of men.”14 Of course, he was speaking metaphorically, because of the devastation brought to the holy city and sanctuary that were the identity of the Jewish people. Josephus goes on to write that the Judean earthquake was “no common” calamity, indicating that God Himself had brought it about for a special purpose. One commentator writes: “Perhaps no period in the world’s history has ever been so marked by these convulsions as that which intervenes between the Crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem.”15 Since the generation between A.D. 30 and 70 is past, there is no reason to attach prophetic significance to earthquakes in our day as a fulfillment of Matthew 24:7.
There’s another reason why earthquakes aren’t a sign. Dispensationalists insist that the “rapture” is a signless event. Here’s how dispensationalist John MacArthur, who is a representative of the signless, any-moment rapture view, explains the position:
It could happen at any moment. It is a signless, imminent event, it is the next thing, no signs necessary.16
MacArthur is not the only dispensationalist to make the any-moment, signless argument. James F. Stitzinger argues in a similar way: “The coming of Christ at the rapture is imminent, in the sense of an any-moment coming.”17 Paul Feinberg agrees: “[T]here is no mention of any signs or events that precede the Rapture of the church in any of the Rapture passages. The point seems to be that the believer prior to this event is to look, not for some sign, but the Lord from heaven.”18 The key phrase is, “there are no signs that precede the ‘rapture.’” “No signs” before the rapture is a fundamental tenet of dispensationalism. So why do dispensationalists insist on listing what they claim are end-time signs indicating that the rapture is near when their system demands that there can’t be any signs? Without signs to point to, no one would buy their books.
- Carl G. Johnson, Prophecy Made Plain for Times Like These (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), 86.(↩)
- These citations were taken from Richard Abanes, End-Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon? (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1998), 258–267.(↩)
- For a list of significant earthquakes through the centuries and a visual depiction of their devastating effects, go to http://nisee.berkeley.edu/kozak/ and click on “Chronological List.”(↩)
- Michio Kaku, “What Next From Iceland’s Volcano?,” The Wall Street Journal (April 20, 2010).(↩)
- See C. A. Wood. “The climatic effects of the 1783 Laki eruption,” in The Year Without a Summer? ed. C. R. Harrington (Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Nature, 1992), 58–77.(↩)
- Hal Lindsey, “Stingy Sam” (Dec. 30, 2004) www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=42171(↩)
- Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 52.(↩)
- Hal Lindsey, Apocalypse Code (Palos Verdes, CA: Western Front Ltd., 1997), 296.(↩)
- Steven A. Austin and Mark L. Strauss, “Are Earthquakes Signs of the End Times?: A Geological and Biblical Response to an Urban Legend,” Christian Research Journal, 21:4, 32. Through careful analysis, the authors refute the claim that there has been an increase of earthquakes in the periods stated by the above prophecy writers. In fact, the authors conclude, “Graphical plots of global earthquake frequency indicate overall a decreasing frequency of earthquakes” (38). A more detailed analysis can be found online at www.icr.org/research/sa/sa-r06.htm(↩)
- J. Marcellus Kik, Matthew Twenty-Four: An Exposition (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948), 93.(↩)
- Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, n.d.), 163.(↩)
- Quoted in Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, According to the Authorized Version; with Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations, and Copious Marginal References, 3 vols. (New York: Collins and Hannay, 1832), 3:108.(↩)
- Edward Hayes Plumptre, “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, ed. Charles John Ellicott, 8 vols. (London: Cassell and Company, 1897), 6:146.(↩)
- John MacArthur, “The Final Generation of the Future Judgment,” commentary on Luke 21:29–33 (GC 42-264): http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/42-264.htm(↩)
- James F. Stitzinger, “The Rapture in Twenty Centuries of Biblical Interpretation,” The Masters Seminary Journal 13:2 (Fall 2002), 152: http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj13e.pdf(↩)
- Paul D. Feinberg, “The Case for the Pretribulation Rapture Position,” The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational?, ed. Ben Chapman (Grand Rapids, MI: Academic Books, 1984), 80.(↩)