By Armin Gesswein
People are scared! When is “The Big One” coming? Are we prepared?
The second major earthquake in San Francisco in our century gave us a big jolt! What can we say? Or do? All I could think of was “In wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2).
How can we pray? Are earthquakes predictable? There are many questions: Do they just happen? What is God saying? Doing? Are they judgments of God? If God is saying and doing something, what is it? Are they just “natural disasters”?
Everyone calls them Acts of God. What is the action?
Our generation is very shy about being judgmental, and we avoid any word about the Judgments of God. We don’t seem to understand them. We don’t major in messages on hell any more. We hardly even mention it. Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in Enfield, Massachusetts, and hundreds quaked with conviction and repentance. But to listen to most preaching today, God doesn’t get angry any more.
The Bible has a lot to say about earthquakes, and does not measure them according to the Richter scale.
My wife and I recently took time in our morning prayer together to read the New Testament Scriptures about earthquakes. Of course, there are others in the Old Testament, too. Mount Sinai shook the fear of God into Moses and every Israelite, and even every animal, at the giving of the Ten Commandments. And later, Isaiah the great prophet says: “When Your judgments are in the earth the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness?” (Isa. 26:9).
The great Apostle Paul says, “How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out” (Rom. 11:33).
Earthquakes in the Revelation
Let’s listen now to what God says about earthquakes in the last book of the Bible – The Revelation. We know that this book is full of symbolical language. But earthquakes there are still real earthquakes. And they are revealed as judgments of God.
In fact, the entire book is one of judgments:
(1) God is judging the seven churches, calling them to repent and get on fire for the Lord (Chapters 1, 2, 3). Peter also tells us that revival is judgment of God beginning at the house of God, and, “if the righteous scarcely be saved” he asks, “where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:18) Most of our preaching avoids this, and so there is little repentance and revival in our congregations.
(2) The rest of the book of Revelation depicts God’s judgments in the earth in many ways (Chapter 4 and following).
Earthquakes get specific attention in the book of Revelation. We see their connection with angel activity, keenly connected with the intercession of God’s saints. All the action proceeds from the Throne of God. It is the judgment activity of the Lord. And all of it is related to the churches from the beginning right through to the end. What a revelation this is!
Let us look at these Scriptures:
Revelation 6:12: “And I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, and the moon became like blood….” Here we see a lot of cosmic activity.
Revelation 8:22ff: “And I saw seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the Throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer, filled with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake….” Notice: the whole action was related to prayer and intercession.
Revelation 11:13: “And in the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; and in the earthquake 7000 men were killed. And the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
Here we see something new: the survivors were terrified and gave glory to God. Earlier, in chapter 9, verse 21, sinners were not doing that. They were simply hardened. I remember the Bakersfield area earthquake, how reports came of churches being filled for a time.
Revelation 11:19: The sanctuary is now opened, and the Ark of the Covenant is revealed. A mighty moment in history – accompanied also with mighty phenomena including an earthquake.
Finally, in Revelation 16:18: “And there were noises, thunderings, and lightnings, and there was a great earthquake, so mighty and so great an earthquake, such as had not been since men were on the earth. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell.…” Is this “The Big One”?
Yes, earthquakes are Acts of God in the Revelation. They are always Acts of God in the Scriptures. Jesus said in Matthew 24:7: “Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there shall be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” These, He says, “are the beginning of sorrows.” Something is born through these judgments. (“Sorrows” means “birthpangs.”)
When Jesus died on the cross “the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split” (Matt. 27:50).
On the morning of His resurrection, “There was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the sepulcher, and sat on it” (Matt. 28:2).
All these Acts of God make it clear that earthquakes do not “just happen.” God is shaking everything so that the things which cannot be shaken will remain (Heb. 12:27).
In the Revelation God is calling both the churches and the world to repent. We do not pay enough attention to the plain Scriptures which tell us that “all things” (including governments, nations, nature) are related to Christ and His church (Eph. 2:23, Rev. 1:22).
The prophet’s great prayer comes home to our hearts: “Revive us in the midst of the years…in the midst of the years make known…in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2).
We remember, too, that Jesus-in the midst of His end time prophesy, which includes earthquakes – burns these words into us: “This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14).