The quake was not, according to the Richter scale, particularly severe. It did not take as many lives as many other earthquakes. Yet, two days before Christmas, there was a reminder of the terrible devastation that an earthquake causes. The Central American capital Managua, of the country of Nicaragua, was virtually wiped off the map. The quake, with its epicenter in the heart of this city, caused unbelievable destruction. Evidently no one knows for certain the number of lives taken. Time magazine presented the estimate of 6,000 dead and at least 20,000 injured. Other, later reports suggest more than 10,000 killed. Such numbers of dead seem difficult to imagine. Whole families were wiped out. The sorrow, the suffering, the destruction after just a few moments of quake are indescribable. The same Time magazine of January 8, 1973 presented through pictures the destruction and portrayed the horror of the scene.
Time listed other earthquakes of the past, including a list of those of this century. There was an earthquake in China in 1556 killing some, 830,000 people. Another in Lisbon, Portugal in 1755 killed some 50,000. In 1920 in China another earthquake killed 180,000. In 1923 in the Tokyo-Yokohama area 143,000 were killed. The list presents other quakes, each killing thousands of people. Since 1900 there were 26 quakes which caused serious damage and great loss of life. In our own country, in 1906, there was the great San Francisco earthquake when 700 were killed.
The question the child of God confronts when reading of all these disasters is: “Is this a sign that the end of time is near?” We think, often, that earthquakes especially are reminders that soon our Lord shall return on the clouds of glory. It might be well to consider what Scripture does teach concerning earthquakes.
Jesus speaks of those in that well-known passage ofMatthew 24. In Matt. 24:7 we read, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” These are presented as, part of the signs of Jesus’ coming and the end of the world (vs. 3).
Yet many have pointed out that earthquakes are not limited to any one location ion this earth and surely not to any one time-period. It is simply not so that severe earthquakes happened only in recent years. In recent years (from 1900 on) there has been nothing to compare to the magnitude of the earthquake of 1556 in China (see above). Can, then, earthquakes be considered as signs of the end of time? Are these not normal and usual events which have always taken place? Must we regard the Managua earthquake as merely a natural phenomenon unrelated to the end of time?
The Scriptural answer, of course is, “no.” These are definitely signs of the end of time. There is no doubt about that because Jesus Himself points this out. However, Jesus also states in Matt. 24:8, “All these are the beginning of sorrows.” This means that the signs Jesus mentions in verse 7, including earthquakes, are not to be considered indications only of the imminent end of time. They are rather the “beginning of sorrows.” Literally, these represent the “birth pangs” of the new creation. Each time one of these signs is seen, it is as the labor-pain of a woman in travail. These pains come not just at the moment of birth, but for some time before. So also the “beginnings of sorrows” are seen on this earth. Each pestilence, each famine, each earthquake (which cause great pain and suffering) is used by God in order that finally the new heavens and-new earth may be ushered in. These “pains” have been present from the beginning of time after the fall of man. There were earthquakes already before the coming of Christ. We read of some of these in the Old Testament books. These “pains” continue into the New Testament age. And each time these remind us that the coming of Christ is a little bit nearer.
Scripture does suggest certain truths which earthquakes must convey. This becomes evident as one considers the quakes recorded in Scripture and the times when these occurred. There was an earthquake at the time of Christ’s death. We read inMatt. 27:54, “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” Several times in the book of Revelation one reads also of earthquakes. These come near the end of this age and are extremely devastating. In Rev. 6:12, we read, “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became so bold. . .” Or we read in Rev. 16:18, “And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.”
The above earthquakes all come as sign of judgment of God upon a wicked and perverse generation. God shall tear apart this earth as it presently exists. He shall do all of this in His wrath against all wicked, reprobate, men. He shows to the: wicked no mercy. He destroys all that in which they boast. The very earth, which the wicked consider relatively permanent, shall open up before the wicked.
Each earthquake which comes upon this earth is God’s clear testimony of this judgment. It is His judgment already now, upon wicked men, but also a reminder of the final earthquake which shall rock the very foundations of this earth.
Children of God must consider earthquakes in that light too. We can not simply wring our hands and wish, as it were, that such would never happen. We can not simply deplore the terrible destruction and great loss of life. But we hear God speak to remind us that He has not forgotten His people here on the earth. His people may truly suffer much. These may be the scum of the earth; downtrodden of men. Sometimes one might think that there is not a just and holy God Who sees the wickedness of men and does judge. But we have had a comforting reminder again, two days before Christmas, that God does see and know and judge. We do not rejoice in loss of life or destruction of property as such. We do rejoice that God gives constant testimony that He has not forgotten the plight of His people here on the earth. We can observe the “beginning of sorrows” or “birth pangs” of the new creation. Do you see all of this when you read of another earthquake? We will be seeing more of these earthquakes in the days to come—and probably in our own country as well Remember why God sends these.
But another fact must be kept in mind in connection with these earthquakes. They are signs of renewal. There was an earthquake at the time of Christ’s death, but also again at the time of His resurrection from the dead. Both remind us that through the death and resurrection of Christ, there comes a renewal of all things. It is worthy to note that at Christ’s death, three things took place: the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom; the graves were opened; and the earth was rent. Each represented a tearing or rending of the old. Each rending was directly related to the death of Christ. Because of His suffering and death on the cross, the old is done away. The veil of the temple was rent (from top to bottom—thus, not by human hands) because through the death of Christ, His people now have direct access to their God. These need no more come by way of sacrifice, nor through the priest. The graves were opened as a sign of the fact that through the death of Christ, the grave no longer has the victory. His people shall arise from the graves in the last day in order to inherit the new heavens and new earth. But also the earth was rent. This earth is presently affected by the curse. The thorn and thistle still grow. Drought strikes the earth. The hot sun parches it. Famine racks it. Quakes change its very terrain. Disease destroys much of it. Death affects all of it. This is the earth on which we live—the earth under the curse for man’s transgression. Therefore also we read in Rom. 8:21, 22, “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”
The rending of the earth, therefore, at Christ’s death and again at His resurrection indicates that this old, corrupted earth shall be rent in order that the new might be ushered in. That curse presently affecting the earth can be removed because of the perfect work of Christ on the cross. He removed the curse and condemnation upon His people by satisfying the justice of God. Then the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption. The old must be rent in order that the new may come.
That reminds faithful children of God of the truth that they must have their hearts set on the heavenly rather than upon the things of the earth. The things of this earth shall surely pass away. Some place their hearts on the earthly. As the rich man in Christ’s parable, these make plans to take their ease, for their soul have gotten them much goods. But all these things shall be taken away: in the last day not only, but in the day of our death. None of the material can we take with us. Also God sends reminders of this fact. The rich of Managua in a moment were stripped of all that in which they had boasted. It does not take God long to remove from one everything that he has. How foolish, then, to set one’s heart upon earthly riches! The Christian looks rather for the new, which shall never be rent nor destroyed. There righteousness shall dwell. There we shall behold the face of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the reality for which the child of God longs.
May we learn, then, in the rending of this earth to look for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ when the earth shall be rent once more, and finally, in order that the new may come in all of its beauty. And each time we read of, or experience, the rending of this earth, we can truly say, “The Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5).