Article of the Month

February 2010


Haiti has just experienced a disastrous 7.0 earthquake. The terror of the moment would be life-altering in itself, but the aftermath is an ongoing nightmare. Our sympathies and aid for the victims should be an automatic response in all but the most hardened of human beings.

Skeptics (and all well-intentioned questioners) must ask, “Where is God in all of this? Why would a good and all-powerful God allow such things?” The answer is covered elsewhere on this website, and it is a most reasonable and satisfying answer. The purpose of this article, however, is other than the pursuit of that question. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that we are near the end of such tragedies, and we are at the threshold of a beautiful and safe earth.  (Isaiah 14:7)


To be sure, the Bible uses the word earthquake in its literal sense when simply reporting on history. (Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5) In one unusual instance the word is translated storm or tempest because it is referring  to an enormous shaking of the sea. (Matthew 8:24) This alternative translation is justified in that the root meaning of the word is SHAKING. The Greek word is SEISMOS from which we derive our English earthquake-related words: seismic, seismology, seismometer, etc.

Jesus uses the word as found in the three reports of the same prophetic sermon.  (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11).  Since Jesus’ context in those passages is the description of the period between his two advents, it is likely that he is using the words LITERALLY, in order to show the length of the period — a period when many nations will come and go, and a long series of disasters will continue:  “famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places.”  Thus, while the sermon itself is very prophetic and laden with symbolisms, earthquakes here are most probably just earthquakes.

HOWEVER: The Bible takes advantage of the nature of earthquakes to use the word as a descriptive symbol of the overthrow of existing religious, political, economic, and social systems. In the Bible, the earth is used as a symbol of established and entrenched ways of doing things. Thus, an earthquake is prophetically used to describe a revolution or event which shakes the old way of doing things to its very foundations. A very famous text (set to music in Handel’s MESSIAH) is found in Haggai 2:6, 7:

For thus saith the Lord of Hosts:
Yet once, it is a little while,
and I will shake the heavens, and
the earth, and the sea, and
the dry land;
And I will shake all nations, and
the desire of all nations shall come.

Now, that’s an earthquake!  But it is not intended to be a promise of a literal earthquake.   As is obvious from the close of the passage, the horrible “shaking” of everything that can be shaken, (every element of man’s society), is followed by what all mankind WANTS — a new, peaceful, fruitful, and living society.   Thus, an “earthquake” can be a very wonderful thing in prophecy; it brings in the Peaceable Kingdom.


Without going into the detail necessary to give a convincing explanation of the surrounding contexts, we will look at the five mentions of earthquakes in the symbolic writings of the book of Revelation.


Two of the five passages (Revelation 6:12 and 11:13) are references to that great “earthquake” which already is past and which is referred to by historians as THE FRENCH REVOLUTION. That event was, indeed, a mighty “earthquake” which overturned centuries of social, political, economic, and religious thinking. In a sense, it marks the beginning of what the book of Daniel calls THE TIME OF THE END — the turning point in history which re-directs events to the ultimate complete collapse of all of man’s institutions to make way for the promised KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH.


The three other passages (Revelation 8:5, 11:19, and 16:18) are about the LAST “EARTHQUAKE” which humanity will experience.  It is the one promised in Haggai 2:6, 7 (quoted above). In Revelation 16:18 it is part of what is called the Seventh Plague.  Revelation 8:5 (about the seven trumpets), and Revelation 11:19 (about the Seventh Trumpet) give encapsulated descriptions of this Seventh Plague and its “earthquake.” This event is commonly called “Armageddon.” 

This Armageddon earthquake is such a total overturn of all social norms — such a total destruction of man’s confidence in his ability to control himself and his environment — that it is described as being “such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.”

No one looks forward to such cataclysmic an event — EXCEPT, as before noted, for the fact that it will introduce everlasting peace, order, justice, and life upon a perfected earth. In this respect, we can be pleased that it is coming.

The Apostle Peter describes the same sequence of overturn into loveliness. His words are: “Looking for…the day of God wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat. Nevertheless, we, according to his promise, look for a new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (II Peter 3:12, 13)  Peter, like the Revelator, uses symbolisms. He is not speaking of literal heaven, earth, fire, dissolving, etc. He is describing the same dissolution of the bad things of our society as the Revelator described by the earthquake symbol.


Biblically speaking, we have only one symbolic “earthquake” left. We probably feel it coming instinctively. Just as natural earthquakes are frequently preceded by little tremors and by the warnings of seismic scientists, this symbolic earthquake has its warning signs. There are few people, religious or otherwise, who don’t “feel it in their bones” that mankind’s institutions are not on solid ground and that they are slipping precipitously toward their inevitable collapse. We keep hoping that some wise men will find ways to postpone the inevitable, but our hopes grow dimmer as time progresses. Man’s extremity (as the old adage states) will become God’s opportunity. As the 46th Psalm predicts:

“ Come, behold the works of the Lord,
what desolations he hath made in the earth.
He maketh wars to cease unto the ends
of the earth; he breaketh the bow,
and cutteth the spear in sunder;
he burneth the chariot in the fire.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the heathen;
I will be exalted in the earth.”

Hold on!  It will be a big one.  It will be worldwide.  But it will be the LAST one.  Then, forevermore, we will be happy.


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