OVERVIEWIf recent earthquakes in “various places” are harbingers of the end, what makes one quake “prophetic” but not another?

Earthquake - Photo by John Middelkoop on Unsplash
Photo by John Middelkoop on Unsplash

When I was a young Christian, books on the end-times were hot sellers. We were all eager to know just “when” we were on God’s prophetic clock, and what were the “signs” whereby we could know just how close the “end” was.

Well, that, at least, was why I devoured such books and listened to prophecy teachers. After all, was I not a member of the “last generation”? I must admit that, at first, I was convinced.

But over the years, I have observed that whenever prophecy “experts” listed the key “signs of the times” to demonstrate just how near the “end” was, invariably, they began by citing Jesus’ words on earthquakes, wars, and so on, a bit like a broken record. And he did warn his disciples to —

  • Beware, let no man deceive you, for many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; be not troubled: for these things must come to pass; but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famines and earthquakes in different places.”

And so, predictably, recent earthquakes in California have motivated many popular preachers to claim they might be harbingers of something prophetic that is about to occur. Of course, that is the Standard Operating Procedure employed by the “experts” whenever a seismic event of any significance occurs anywhere in the world, even in remote and barely inhabited areas.

But here’s my problem. Multiple earthquakes occur daily around the world, and especially in seismically active regions like the ‘Pacific Rim.’ So, how am I to determine which quake is prophetically significant?

For that matter, where does the New Testament teach that earthquakes are tools with which we can divine the future? All Jesus said was there will be “earthquakes in different places.” Yes, well, no disrespect, but tell me something I don’t know.

Nowhere did Jesus say that one earthquake would be more prophetically significant than any others, or exactly how we could make that determination. And nowhere did he predict that, in the “last days,” the frequency or intensity of seismic events would increase. That may be the popular interpretation, and that is all it is, and one that is imposed on his words so prophecy preachers can make their prophetic case.

Jesus did not say that earthquakes (or wars and famines) are signs of the “end.” He only stated that such things would occur, and that we should not be “troubled” when they do. And why not? Because “the end is not yet”!

Of course, Jesus did give one definitive “sign” that will indicate the imminence of the “end.” When “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole habitable earth for a testimony to all the nations, then the end will come.

But that is more of a task than a “sign.” Prior to his ascension, Jesus gave his disciples one mission, to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God to all nations. Only when that mission is finished will the “Son of Man come in power and glory” to gather his “elect” to himself. And the very fact that he has not done so is irrefutable evidence that the task remains incomplete. Yes, the Lord’s logic is circular, but deliberately so. “The end is not yet, therefore, we must get busy preaching the gospel!” Maybe that was the point he wanted us to get.

But Jesus did warn, and repeatedly so, about the “many” coming deceivers bent on deceiving “the elect,” and as “many” of them as possible. His warning stressed what the disciples would “hear”: Reports of wars and claims about earthquakes and famines “in different places.” In context, Jesus foresaw that these very “deceivers” would be the ones spreading such disinformation, and so it is today, with many of our most popular prophecy preachers, teachers, and authors.

How many times have we heard prophecy teachers issue such warnings over the last century or two, only to see our prophetic expectation fizzle out? It seems to me, if anything, the infiltration of churches by “many deceivers” is a far more reliable “sign” of the end’s proximity than any earthquake or the latest war “reported” in the daily news headlines.

None of this leads me to believe that we are not the “last generation,” or that he will not return soon. However, too many of us have been evaluating such questions with the wrong criteria. But if his return in glory is dependent on the church completing the one task assigned to it by him, then I must assume that day is a bit further off than I would like to think.

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