According to the Scriptures there are many signs of the times. To those who are acquainted with the language of the Bible, the reference of these signs is to the end of the ages, the present world and order of things as we now know and experience them. And, as the title of this department suggests, with those signs we are concerned. We are concerned with all of them in general, to be sure; but it should be our intention to point out very specific signs of the times in the light of God’s Word and to apply them to the people of God through careful explanation and analysis. And this I will attempt to do in this rubric, which I am scheduled to share with the Rev. H. Veldman during the present volume year. But before we examine the specific sign which is the title of this article, it is proper that we pause for a moment to understand the necessity and importance of this approach a bit more.
It is necessary to evaluate various current events in the light of Scripture for the simple reason that for the child of God the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and life. The Scriptures set forth the doctrines of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, telling us all that we need to know to enjoy eternal life. But there is much more. The Bible is not merely a collection of general truths which may provide some support and comfort for those who believe them, but the Bible is also the rule of life for the children of Christ. That, presupposes that the Scriptures speak to the people of God; there is a connection, a concrete tie between what Scripture says and what we experience as we walk our pilgrim way here below on the way to that eternal and heavenly city. Though the word is often misused and misapplied, in the true sense of the word the Bible is relevant to 20th century believers. And for Reformed Christians that means that all things must be viewed from a Scriptural perspective. And that in turn implies that all things must be viewed in the light of the establishment and realization of the kingdom and covenant of God in Jesus Christ. In this age of indifference, therefore, the people of God are called to see and understand that this is true and how it is true. It is thus incumbent upon us to point out this relevancy.
And, I believe, it is most important to be specific in this endeavor. We live in a world in which things happen at a dizzying pace. So much is going on so fast that it is almost impossible to keep up on the news today. We hear news of wars and strife all over the globe, of natural disasters, of economic and political change and conflict, of false Christs, and much more. And perhaps we are inclined simply to ignore many of these events, to tune out. There is just too much taking place for us to stay abreast, for from every side we are assaulted by the various media with all the news, the scope of which ranges from the local to the international and even the interplanetary. But if we ignore these events, we make a big mistake, because virtually all that takes place is, whether directly or indirectly, a sign of the end times, a portent of the realization and perfection of the kingdom of God in Christ. Thus, while it is impossible to write of all that transpires, it is my intention to treat major and significant manifestations of the signs of the times as they take place all around us.
One of those signs is that of “earthquakes in divers places,” in the words of our Lord in Mark 13:8, as well as in the parallel passages of Matthew 24:7 and Luke 21:11. The fact that earthquakes take place cannot be disputed. But what is so striking in our time is the frequency and severity with which they take place. According to a recent NBC news report, since the beginning of 1976 there have been 37 major quakes. The emphasis belongs on the “major,” that is, those which do damage or cause loss of life and injury. The vast numbers of lesser quakes are not even reckoned in this total. At the time of this writing, that number averages out to approximately one major earthquakeevery week. Of these 37 major tremors, three have been called disastrous: the one in Guatemala in February, and those in Red China and the Philippine Islands in August. The destruction and devastation in these was well-nigh unbelievable. Thousands were killed in Guatemala, whole towns were wiped out of existence, many lost their homes or were injured, damage ran into the millions of dollars, and the effects will be felt for years. In the Philippines quake the figures, as given by TIME magazine in its August 30 issue, include 3,100 dead, 3,700 missing, 1000 injured, and 90,000 homeless. And, while it is difficult to obtain any information from the Communists in China, an American recently returned from the vicinity of the tremendous upheaval there conservatively estimated the number of dead at 100,000, a mere 5% of the population near the epicenter. In addition to all of this, more earthquakes are predicted in various parts of the world, including California in the United States, where quakes occur with the greatest frequency.
Now all of these events are signs. In general, they are signs of the coming of the Son of God to perfect His saints and establish His kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth. But more specifically, they are signs of the judgment of God in a two-fold sense. In the first place, earthquakes generally are a sign off judgment. In Isaiah 29 woe is pronounced upon Ariel in the words of verse 6: “Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and with great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.” According to Revelation 6:12one of the manifestations of the sixth seal is a great earthquake. In Revelation 8:5 an earthquake is among the signs of the judgments to come through the sounding of the seven trumpets. And in Revelation 11:19 the earthquake is a sign of judgment closely associated with the presence of Almighty God. When we consider the nature of an earthquake this is not difficult to understand. God places many signs in His creation, although many of them are not destructive. But the earthquake is among those signs which must be considered most terrible of all. An earthquake is the trembling of the solid ground, an upheaval of all that seems to be solid and stable and permanent. The ground rolls and buckles, great crevasses appear in it, and the face of the ground is altered. Not only is such a thing most terrifying for those who experience it, but it is also extremely destructive, as the recent earthquakes make abundantly plain. Thus, the earthquake must be viewed in the light of Scripture as a manifestation of the wrath of God against sinful man, a manifestation which comes through the means of the creation which he has subjected to himself in the service of sin. Wicked man likes to think that he is master of the earth and that he can use it for his own purposes. But God in the earthquake witnesses very clearly that the earth is His and that He does with it as He pleases. Therefore, the earthquake is a sign that in the good pleasure of God He will destroy the present order of things in order to make way for the perfected creation to come. The earthquake is then in general a sign of the almighty and powerful judgment of God upon the wicked world throughout all of history.
Further, the earthquake is in the second place a sign of the final judgment of God at the end of time. According to Revelation 16:18 “a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great” takes place at the very end of time in connection with the battle of Armageddon. When rightly understood in the light of Scripture, this earthquake is the primary means whereby the present earth is destroyed in order that the new heavens and earth may come into existence. The earthquake of Revelation 16:18 will then be the final, catastrophic upheaval, resulting in the total destruction of the world as we know it. Of this final destruction all the other earthquakes are signs, also those of our day. When we understand the pattern of the book of Revelation, so that we see the progression of the seals to the trumpets to the vials to the final destruction, then it is clear that the earthquakes of the sixth seal and that preceding the seven trumpets are omens of that final tremor. God, as it were, gives warnings of that final catastrophe all through history, and with increasing clarity and frequency as the end approaches.
It is precisely that increasing clarity and frequence that the people of God see today if they are attentive to the signs of the times. Again in harmony with the pattern of the book of Revelation, we learn that progressively greater severity and intensity and frequency characterize the signs of the times as the end approaches. The data cited above make it very clear that we are witnessing this now, not only from the viewpoint of the frequency of major quakes, but also from the standpoint of their effect. These tremors, because of the development of communications and inter-dependence in the world of today, have a world-wide effect, especially from the economic viewpoint.
What then is the significance of these upheavals in nature? In the words of a Philippine official on the island of Mindanao, “God in all his glory did not let this happen without a reason.” (TIME, August 30, 1976). I have no way of knowing whether or not this man understood what he said, but truer words could hardly have been spoken. The significance is exactly the glory of God. That is Es purpose in all things, the highest goal of all that He is and does. God wishes and wills the glory of His own name. And therefore, all that He does has the manifestation and magnification of that glory as its reason. That is the reason for His salvation of His people in Jesus Christ. That is the central reason behind all that transpires in the history of heaven and earth. And that is also the deepest reason behind the sign of the earthquake. For, you understand, God glorifies Himself in and through the establishment and perfection of the kingdom of Christ. And the earthquake is one means whereby He realizes that kingdom. Make no mistake: God will be glorified. He will be glorified willingly and joyfully by His people, and in spite of themselves by the wicked. He will get that glory in the final and telic sense at the consummation; but He is even now getting it through the precursory signs, which testify to wicked and righteous alike that the final day of His glory is coming very fast.
As far as the wicked are concerned, the earthquake is a sign of the judgment unto condemnation. And wicked man can read those signs. Do not forget, he has what the Canons of Dordt call the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God. That in itself is sufficient to condemn him. But even the wicked in our day have the Scriptures, both in, written form and through the preaching of the gospel, for the white horse of Revelation has run throughout almost the entire world. Certainly wicked man does not believe the Scriptures and will not be receptive to the message of judgment through natural phenomena as interpreted in those Scriptures. He devises all sorts of means to avoid the truth. Man has his Richter scale for measuring the severity of earthquakes, his seismometers for detecting them, and his communications for informing the entire world about them. Man attempts to alleviate the effects of earthquakes by sending relief to their victims and by repairing the damage done. Man today even attempts to predict when and where earthquakes will occur, though he must admit that up to this time he has had very little success. No doubt man will someday even try to prevent or control earthquakes, since he already understands their cause as being movements of the various plates which comprise the crust of the earth. But in all of this the testimony of God is inescapable: He is coming in Christ to establish His kingdom, and that coming shall be in the way of judgment. Therefore, wicked man is left totally without excuse for his obstinate rebellion, in order that he may be righteously condemned unto the exaltation of the glory of the sovereign God.
But also for us who are God’s people these earthquakes have significance. Basically they testify to us as well as to the wicked that the coming of God in Christ is imminent. To us who see the signs of the times in nature, and read them properly in the light of God’s Word, the message is that our Lord is coming. But for us the message is not one of doom and judgment, but of comfort and hope. Perhaps we may be afraid in a human sense of these signs, especially if we are affected by a terrible earthquake. But by faith we know and believe that these signs mean our swift and sure salvation. Listen, then, people of God, to these signs and their testimony. If you do listen, then you will hear the footsteps of Christ as He comes for salvation and judgment. You will hear those footsteps in the earth, so that the very ground trembles at His coming. And when you hear those heavy steps resounding throughout the world, then your faith will be strengthened in the knowledge and conviction that your Lord is coming to execute judgment upon all the workers of iniquity, and to redeem you and all His elect Zion in the way of judgment, unto eternal perfection in the new heavens and the new earth. Watch, therefore, unto His coming.