February 1, 2010
Be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. Matthew 24:42
I was in the airport when the first reports about the earthquake in Haiti were coming in. Then I hopped a plane to Egypt, where for nine days I didn’t have access to an English newspaper or broadcast. It wasn’t until I got home that I learned the full scope of the tragedy.
(Don’t expect me to make some sort of pronouncement about God’s judgment or anything—there’s suffering and death on top of terrible poverty and years of corruption, and we need to be weeping along with Haiti (Romans 12:15), and helping, not wasting our time issuing verdicts).
Today I read a small item in the paper about recent seismic activity in Yellowstone. It seems that for the last couple of weeks, more than a hundred tiny tremors a day have rattled a section of the park about ten miles northwest of the Old Faithful geyser. Scientists monitoring the situation are on alert but not alarmed, and they don’t believe the tremors are indications of a larger event to come.
So much talk about earthquakes made me curious about where the word comes up in the Bible. I found several mentions. Amos 1:1 refers to one (a commentary says that earthquakes were so common that for the prophet to have noted it, it must have been unusually severe). Zechariah also cites this event (14:5), as does the historian Josephus, according to the commentary.
Then there is the earthquake that occurred when Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:50-54), which tore the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple (Exodus 26:37, 38:18; Hebrews 9:3), caused tombs to open and people to rise up out of them, and impressed a centurion so much that he believed in Jesus on the spot. I also read the account of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, praying and singing their hearts out when a temblor shook the foundations of the prison, flung open all the doors and unlocked the prisoners’ chains (Acts 16:25-34). Again, it made such an impact that the guard immediately became a Christian.
But perhaps the most compelling citations have to do with what is commonly called the end times, when Jesus returns to earth. When asked by His disciples what signs they should look for, Jesus mentions several things, including earthquakes, and gives further illustrations through several parables (Matthew 24 and 25). The book of Revelation alludes to many cosmic disturbances (6:12-14), and a series of tremors (8:5; 11:13, 19), including one that will be “such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth” (16:18). Sobering stuff.
Now, I’m not going to start predicting the end of the world is near, because Scripture explicitly states that’s impossible (Matthew 24:36, 42 50; 25:13), and we can be easily misled by false teachers who try to set dates (Matthew 24:4, 5, 11, 23, 24). The two abiding principles I do get from all these passages are, 1) when Jesus comes, it will be unmistakable (Matthew 24:27-31) and, 2) we need to act as if it would happen any moment (Matthew 24:42-44, 25:13).
I imagine most Haitians had no idea a massive earthquake was on the way—they were too busy just trying to survive to give it much thought, if any at all. In that, they are not too much different from the rest of us, as we plod along day by day, dealing with Yellowstone-like rumblings and occasional scary upheavals that can leave us shaken and bereft. But there will come a day when we’ll be hit by The Big One, which will be way beyond anything the world has ever experienced.
The question I ask myself is: will I be ready?