Earthquakes have caused widespread destruction and the deaths of millions of people. What does the Bible say about earthquakes in the end times? How should we respond?
Earthquakes—the seismic activity that causes the earth’s surface to shake or tremble—can be especially treacherous and terrifying. When the very earth we rely on without thought suddenly betrays us—and turns deadly—our whole world can come unglued.
Hearing the stories of survivors can bring home a little of the reality of these devastating disasters. Katie, who survived the 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquake, said:
“On Feb. 22nd I was the head teacher at a large busy preschool. I was in the bathroom with one little girl, when the shaking started I scooped her up to run back to the classroom to comfort the other children but I couldn’t stay on my feet. I ended up on the floor, holding that wee girl tight, terrified. I could hear the children screaming in the classrooms; I kept calling out ‘turtle turtle’ like we’d practiced but they were too scared to remember what to do. …
“I have children too—that was the hardest thing, I couldn’t get to them, I couldn’t get any contact with them. … [It was] the worst night of my life.”
Powerful and deadly
Historians have recorded many deadly quakes, and the evidence of such activity is readily seen in fallen ruins in earthquake-prone areas.
In modern history, the Valdivia quake (also called the great Chilean earthquake) of Sunday, May 22, 1960, was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the 20th century. The epicenter was approximately 570 kilometers (350 miles) south of Santiago, with Valdivia being the most affected city. It is estimated that up to 6,000 people were killed. Monetary costs were staggering—estimated up to $6 billion in terms of today’s currency.
The Tangshan quake in China (July 1976) killed up to 655,000 people; and on Jan. 12, 2012, a quake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale killed more than 220,000, injured up to 300,000, and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Haiti.
As the populations of the world’s megacities continue to rise, seismologists note that large-magnitude earthquakes could be especially devastating in numerous locations around the world. And even if the epicenter of the quake is some distance away, these types of temblors can also create tsunamis capable of wiping out vast numbers of people who happen to be in villages, towns and cities located on an ocean coast.
The Bible predicts a number of earth-shattering events prior to the return of Christ—the time spoken of in the Bible as “the time of the end” (Daniel 11:35, 40). Worsening natural disasters are looming on the horizon. As we will see, there is a strong link between these disasters and God’s warnings for people to repent of their sins.
One of the signs that precedes Christ’s second coming is devastating earthquakes. In the Olivet Prophecy Jesus Christ predicted several major trends that would occur in the end times before His return. This was in response to questions from His disciples, who asked, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
Listing some of these signs, Jesus said, “There will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:7, emphasis added throughout).
Warnings by ancient prophets
The ancient prophet Isaiah issued a similar warning for the end times. In a message that applied first to ancient Jerusalem and then to Jerusalem prior to the return of Christ, the prophet said, “You will be punished by the LORD of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with storm and tempest and the flame of devouring fire” (Isaiah 29:6).
During the “day of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:12), a time of judgment upon the nations when Christ returns, Isaiah said the people “shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, from the terror of the LORD and the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake the earth mightily” (Isaiah 2:19, compare verse 21).
New Testament verification
The book of Revelation speaks of several specific earthquakes that will occur in the end times. First, it notes that an earthquake will accompany the sixth seal (Revelation 6:12), an event that occurs before the seventh seal, which is also called the “day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31).
Various scriptures warn us that the end-time events will come to pass suddenly and unexpectedly. God issued a warning that we should not be “weighed down” by the “cares of this life” so that the day of Christ’s return arrives when we are not prepared.Revelation also mentions earthquakes in chapters 8:5; 11:13, 19; and states that the wrath of God will conclude with the greatest earthquake in mankind’s history. As John noted: “And there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth” (Revelation 16:18). This earthquake may cause the splitting of the Mount of Olives in two as Jesus descends to earth (Zechariah 14:4).
Suddenly, like a thief in the night
Now that we’ve seen the prophecies of earthquakes in the end times, we need to consider what they should motivate us to do. Various scriptures warn us that the end-time events will come to pass suddenly and unexpectedly. God issued a warning that we should not be “weighed down” by the “cares of this life” so that the day of Christ’s return arrives when we are not prepared. “For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21:34-35).
So it is up to each of us to “watch [like a sentry on guard duty] and pray always that we may be accounted worthy to escape these things which will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (verse 36).
There are a number of further warnings about the sudden and unexpected fulfillment of Bible prophecies:
- “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10).
- “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Revelation 3:3).
- “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Revelation 16:15).
- “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).
- “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. … Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6).
- The fall of the Babylonian system extant at the end time will happen quickly and suddenly: “Her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. … In one hour your judgment has come. … In one hour such great riches came to nothing. In one hour she is made desolate” (Revelation 18:8, 10, 17, 19).
- In the last book and the last chapter of the Bible, Christ stated, “Surely I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:20).
An earthquake analogy
To encourage Christians to remain faithful to God, the writer of the book of Hebrews referred to a prophecy by the Old Testament prophet Haggai, where God said, “Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations [Christ], and I will fill this temple with glory” (Haggai 2:6-7).
Although this prophecy in Haggai was directed toward the temple that was being rebuilt by the Jews, the author of the book of Hebrews used this concept of “shaking” to encourage us not to refuse God’s instruction as we shall “not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).
Continuing, the passage in Hebrews states, “But now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more [just before Christ’s return] I shake [margin: will shake] not only the earth, but also heaven.’ Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made [physical things], that the things which cannot be shaken may remain” (verses 26-27).
The point of this comparison is that we should firmly focus on “receiving a kingdom [the coming Kingdom of God] which cannot be shaken” by serving God “with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28). This coming Kingdom will stand forever because it cannot be shaken or destroyed (Daniel 2:44).This is the Kingdom Christ will establish at His coming and the end of the age.
Bible prophecy matters
All of us need to take the warnings of the Bible seriously. We must be careful not to make the mistake of rejecting any of its teachings because they don’t agree with our human reasoning—our opinions, our ideas and our beliefs.
Bible prophecy shows that unless mankind repents, earthquakes, along with other major calamities, will strike the earth in the not-too-distant future.
The prophecies of the Bible are important and relevant to us today!
God takes no pleasure in the suffering humans bring on themselves (2 Peter 3:9). Instead, He wants us to choose the way of happiness, joy and abundance that He offers to those who seek to please Him and live His way of life (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:9).
For additional study, start with the article “End Times Prophecy.”