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These words are quoted from the Lord Jesus as recorded in his Olivet prophecy:

"There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven" (Luke 21:11; cp Mat 24:7; Mark 13:8).

The context of Jesus' words tell us several things:

a. "As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. 'Tell us,' they said, 'when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?' " (Mat 24:3). Great earthquakes will be one of the signs of Christ's coming and the end of the age.

b. "Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 'As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down' " (Luke 21:5,6). This suggests that at least some of the "great earthquakes" will cause the "throwing down" of the great and beautiful stones of the temple mount in Jerusalem. That is what great earthquakes do! Although the stones of Herod's temple itself were torn down and scattered by the Romans, the foundation stones of the Wailing Wall remain in place since the days of Jesus. Therefore, we could expect that there will be a "Last Days" earthquake in Jerusalem to finish the job.

California Shaking!

Recently [January 1990] an earthquake of more than moderate intensity struck the Los Angeles area. Local mountains rose as much as one foot. Nine highway overpasses snapped like twigs. An oil main and 250 gas lines ruptured, igniting untold numbers of fires. Over 3 million people were plunged into total darkness. 5,900 were injured. Twenty thousand were left homeless.

The toll in lost life (55 at last count)         has been quite small in comparison to other great quakes, due in large part to modern building codes. But the property damage (variously estimated at up to 30 billion dollars)         has been enormous, because the southern California area is one of the world's richest and most developed. This quake follows by just over four years an earthquake of comparable intensity, and comparable loss of life and property, in San Francisco.

The scientists, called "seismologists", who study earthquakes were quick to point out, in both cases, that these recent quakes -- and aftershocks -- were in no way "The Big One". This, they warn, is still coming... any time within the next 25 years, give or take a few! "The Big One", when it does strike, will be of an intensity many times greater than the most recent quakes. (An 8 on the Richter scale, by no means out of the question, would be 125 times more powerful than the recent 6.6!)         The consequent loss of life and property will be -- probably -- exponentially higher!

Such moderate earthquakes (although it is doubtful that they seem "moderate" to those who suffer through them!)         remind us of a couple of things: Firstly, that the very earth on which we stand, and which we take so much for granted, is a living, moving thing... controlled by a Power greater than man! And, secondly, that Jesus warned that "great earthquakes" will be a sign of the nearness of his return.

The causes of earthquakes

As a result of thermal energy within the earth's interior, the outer layers are subjected to various elastic stresses and pressures which build over periods of years or even of centuries. When these stresses exceed some local breaking point there is a sudden deformation in the earth's crust, accompanied by the release of vast amounts of stored-up energy. A fracture or rift occurs as portions of the earth's surface move one against another. Shock waves, of great intensity and causing enormous damage, emanate from the seismic center and radiate in all directions. These tremors are recorded in observation stations all over the world. By collating this information, seismologists can determine the focus and intensity of the earthquake.

Volcanic eruptions are sometimes associated with earthquakes, and these can add a further horror.

There is nothing new in the phenomena of earthquakes. They have been going on all through history, and form a part of the natural processes by which the surface of the earth is changed and molded through the centuries. Thus mountain ranges are raised up, river courses and coastlines changed, islands created or destroyed, and -- where human populations are involved -- many lives may be lost or irrevocably altered.

Quakes in earlier times, and even now in other parts of the world where modern building codes are primitive or non-existent, have resulted in enormous loss of life, in contrast to those earthquakes which have occurred virtually under the eye of the camera in California. Some examples:

Estimated lives lost
Asia Minor

These few examples demonstrate the worldwide distribution of earthquakes, and give some indication of the extent of damage and suffering that can result.

Are there more earthquakes today?

Some statistics indicate a sizeable increase in earthquakes in recent years.

The US Department of the Interior makes available publications such as Earthquakes and Volcanoes (bimonthly)         and Preliminary Determination of Epicenters (monthly). The latter publication lists all earthquakes recorded by some 350 centers throughout the world, listing details such as location and duration. These records show that up to 1948 (!)         the highest number of quakes reported in one year was 905. However, thereafter the annual totals (of all earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater on the Richter scale)         have increased markedly.

Earthquakes recorded
Over 13,000

It is possible, however, that some part of this perceived increase may be just that: a perception, caused by the continuing development and increasingly wider use of more sophisticated detection instruments.

While the increase of earthquakes worldwide, and the observation of earthquakes close at hand, may be serious reminders to us of the nearness of Christ's coming, surely the greatest signs -- including those involving earthquakes -- are to be seen in the Middle East.

Earthquakes in Israel: Rev 6

It has been pointed out that there are very many parallels between the Olivet prophecy and the Seals of Rev 6. In the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-17), there is a "great earthquake", bringing about signs in the sun, moon, and stars (cp Mat 24:29), and causing the "figs" to fall from the "fig tree" (cp Mat 24:32)         -- surely an indicator that this prophecy has to do with Israel -- just as does the Olivet prophecy! And the result of the sixth seal is... "the great day" of the "wrath of the Lamb... who can stand?"

Isaiah 2-4

"The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted... for all the cedars of Lebanon... all the oaks of Bashan... Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth" (Isa 2:12,13,19).

That this great shaking is centered upon Israel is clear from Isa 3:1,8 (part of the same prophetic section, despite the chapter break), where Jerusalem (compared to wicked Sodom in v 9; note the parallel in Rev 11:8)         will stagger, and Judah will fall. It is the Israelis whose great pride will be brought down by this divine shaking!

But, after Israel's pride is abased, then Jerusalem (with its survivors, by faith!)         will be made "holy" again (Isa 4:2-6).

Isaiah 24

This is one of those passages, quite common in the Old Testament, where the Hebrew eretz should be translated "land" (ie, of Israel)         rather than "earth":

"See, the LORD is going to lay waste the Land (eretz)         and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants -- it will be the same for priest as for people... The Land (eretz)         will be completely laid waste and totally plundered... The Land (eretz)         dries up and withers... the exalted of the Land (eretz)         languish. The Land (eretz)         is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant" (Isa 24:1-5).

That such severe devastation is to be visited upon Israel is proven by v 5: what land in all the earth is special home to the people who have broken God's everlasting covenant?

How is the devastation wrought? By a severe earthquake:

"The foundations of the Land (eretz)         shake. The Land (eretz)         is broken up, the Land (eretz)         is split asunder, the Land (eretz)         is thoroughly shaken. The Land (eretz)         reels like a drunkard, it sways like a hut in the wind" (Isa 24:18-20).

But, once again, the final outcome, when the proud of Israel have been abased, is that the LORD Almighty will reign in His city, Jerusalem, in the presence of the holy ones of old (v 23).

Ezekiel 38

But the divine wrath of earthquake will be directed not just against God's own nation Israel, but also and foremost against the enemies of Israel, led by "Gog":

"When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign LORD. In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble and every wall will fall to the ground" (Eze 38:18-20).

Joel 3

Once again, the prophet Joel sees Arab nations (Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Edom, Egypt: vv 4,19)         gathered into the Valley of Jehoshaphat (near Jerusalem)         in the Last Days (vv 2,14). But they will fall!

"The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble... But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel" (v 16).

Habakkuk 3

The language of this prophet is graphic, reminiscent of the pictures in Exodus, when God came down upon Mount Sinai in a cloud, with fire and lightning and thunder. In Habakkuk, God manifests Himself in judgment against the enemies of Israel and on behalf of His faithful people:

"He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed... the mountains saw you and writhed..." (vv 6-10).

Haggai 2

"In a little while," promises God, "I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations -- and... THEN... the desired (one)         of all nations will come, and I will fill this house (the temple on mount Zion in Jerusalem)         with glory" (vv 6,7). A great shaking in the Last Days, which will affect all nations, but which will also usher in the Day of the Desired One, who will return to his city and his temple, and will fill it with Divine glory!

Zechariah 14

And when he returns, that "Desired One", he will confront a city that is captive, in Gentile hands. His feet will stand upon the mount of Olives, to the east of the Holy City, and there will be a "great earthquake", causing the mount of Olives to be split in two from east to west (vv 3,4). And Jerusalem will be, literally, "raised up" (v 10), and figuratively exalted above all other "mountains" (cp Isa 2:2-4; Psa 48:2).

Revelation 16

Just as Jesus himself said, in the Olivet prophecy, the greatest of all earthquakes will be the prelude to the appearance of Israel's King, who will come to rule over Israel and all nations in the Kingdom of God:

"Behold, I come like a thief!... Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon... Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake... and the cities of the nations collapsed" (vv 15-19).


  1. Allan Dangerfield, "There will be great earthquakes", The Christadelphian, Nov 1990, pp 412,413.
  2. F. Russell, "The Bible and Earthquakes", The Australian Christadelphian Shield, Nov 1993, pp 8-11.
  3. Tony Benson, Stormy Winds Fulfilling His Will, pp 85-89,108-122.
  4. Harry Whittaker, Revelation: A Biblical Approach, pp 85-89.
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